Blotterature Literary Magazine Volume 2, Issue 1 Winter 2015
Blotterature Literary Magazine is possible due to the countless hours put in by volunteer staff. Their passion for writing and dedication to the greater community of writers keeps the journal alive. Without it, Blotterature is still only as good as an empty jug of Maddog 20/20. (The strawberry-lime kind, though. Anything else is a poor substitute.) This go around, the editors would like to give thanks and mad praise to our staff, which grew this issue: our go-to, Kayla Greenwell, who handed Quinn great choices with CNF; Karl Koweski, whose fiction preferences helped us open our minds and spurred great discussions; and our across-the-pond poetry duo comprised of Sarah Nichols and Cat Conway (with whom Quinn shares a brain) for their impeccable taste. We can't leave out our Art Editor Taylor for the incredible job he did on creating this issues cover. As always, we thank our partners, children, friends, the jerks (Carol and Simon) and Kit-Tay the hungry beagle for tolerating the late nights of Julie and Quinn sitting at Julie’s kitchen table; and a special shout goes out to NWI’s Creepy Uncle and Blot Co-Founder Tim Murray, who’s come back into the fold. We love you and are glad to have your weird ass back. Oh, and the Literary Underground’s godmomma and our spirit animal, Michele “1L” McDannold, for her invaluable insight and newfound love (addiction?) to shljivovica. (Damn Macedonians.) Blotterature is a semiannual publication out of Northwest Indiana dedicated to merging blue collar writers and the art of fancy writing (educated, like an MFA and shit). Although we now are officially an LLC, we remain grateful for all pennies you, fair reader, throw our way. To donate, please visit our Web site at blotterature.com and look for the donate button. Cover Art: Sheri Wright, Aqua Globe (front) and All Roads Lead to Rome, photography Cover Layout: Taylor Lubbs
Blotterature Literary Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1 Copyright © 2015 All rights revert back to individual authors upon publication. For more information about submitting, please visit our website at blotterature.com. or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/Blotterature, or @Blotterature.
A word from this issue’s editor Hey there – Quinn here, and while Julie was off doing our paperwork to become a legit, bonafide LLC entity over the past few months, she left me the keys to the kingdom and said, “Here, you do it.” For those of you who know the two of us, you know that Julie’s the one with the plan of attack and I … well, I harbor no illusion of being able to carry a plan if it were handed to me in a paper bag with handles. So, what I believe we have here is a collection curated by pure feels from pieces that grabbed us all by the proverbial tashaci. Early on, Cat (aka “The other half of my brain”) pointed out there were themes (if you like that sort of thing) of water and steel running through this batch of submissions, which hey! awesome, because we’re from the Region, where we bathe in mercury disguised as water and cut our teeth on rebar. What I see, however, is a ton of alienation: From the kid dying trying to find his people in a cult of four and the man watching his mom die after his boyfriend left to the woman trying to re-acclimate to her culture for her mom and the college girl desperately wanting to come home, they were kind of a bleak bunch this time. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that -- just sayin’.) But there are also some truly funny moments, like preteen logic when finding a porno and what happens when you buy a sex toy at a mall novelty shop. (Hint: Probably nothing good.) AND, because I’m a news junky, there’s even a story about the news business. Oh! And circles! There are a lot of circles in the artwork we chose, which I don’t know is actually a theme in itself but sure produced some badass stuff. I could go on, but the fact is, all these pieces are top-notch, and I love them, and I hope y’all do, too. On with the show, Quinn Co-founder, Blotterature
Table of Contents 4
Don’t Mind the Vet, Marilyn Horn-Fahey
World 220.127.116.11, William Hicks
Anatomy Lesson, Amy L. Bailey
World 18.104.22.168, William Hicks
Carolina Field Dress, Jamison Lee
This Is More Than Homesickness, Ruth Towne
World 22.214.171.124, William Hicks
A Cinderella Story, Supie Dunbar
Heteronormativity, Siobhain McGuinness
The Big Muddy Silence, Siobhain McGuinness
Metapathologies and Gemeinschaftsgefühl, Siobhain McGuinness
The Healing Game, P.N. Porcino
Statue No Head Standing, Carl Scharwath
Hunter Bar, Jennifer Powers
Old Man, Meg Eden
The Angel of Death in the Bar, Colin Dodds
The Haymaker, Josh Zimmerer
Highway, Cari Oleskewicz
Crossing Paths, Adel Souto
Ryan, Allison Jensen
Peephole, Adel Souto
Hospital: Night, Alan Semrow
Television in Color, Alan Semrow
Even Then, Steve Klepetar
In the Circle of the Sun, Steve Klepetar
The Encampment, Steve Klepetar
Midnight, Adel Souto
A Six-Year Summer in South Carolina, David Priest
Baptism of Desire, Rita Anderson
The Long Way, Home, Rita Anderson
Men Who Like Airplanes But Donâ€™t Have Wings, Jennifer Fliss
Sea Glass, Amanda Kusek
Before Day Breaks, Michael Collins
The March 30 Incident, Chris Cain
For the Last American Killed in Vietnam, Nels Hanson
PHIL 328H, Roberto Carache Flores
Sediment, Phillip Aijian
Recipes That May Require More Than One Refrigerator, Phillip Aijian
We Take Care of Our Own, Marcie Friedman
The Flaming Vibrator, Courtney Campbell
Don't Mind the Vet The mobile made of armadillo bones rattled in the stiff cold breeze at the window. Bettina looked past it to the dirt hills dotted with sage brush, silver with frost. Cold morning outside, but hot in here, even with the window partly open, the mesquite logs in the small fireplace filling the whole house with their sweet warmth. "In English, Meyma," Bettina said again, careful not to sound impudent. This was her mother, after all. "Please say in English." Her mother lay pale and listless on her narrow bed, sighed and said, "For Chico sake, don't mind the vet." Bettina moved her chair closer to the bed and felt her mother's brow. "Meyma, what youâ€”what do you mean, 'Don't mind the vet'?" Chico the Chihuahua watched Bettina from his spot atop Meyma's stomach. Meyma stroked his little black ears with her thumb and finger and shook her head. "Eku nu eku nu." "You know I don't speak old words anymore. English, Meyma. English." Meyma turned her face away from Bettina, a gesture that meant the words would pain her to say. Bettina sat up straight in her little chair, extra-alert. "The eyes see what they see," Meyma said. "Don't mind the vet. Nothing more to say." Meyma talking in riddles, the way she had always done, like everyone here in town did. Not saying anything point blank, not like in San Antonio, where Bettina lived now and had lived for many years. In San Antonio, if you said, "I'll have the lemon-butter grilled salmon
and a glass of Pinot Noir," that is what you meant, and that is what you got. "Fine. Fine. I won't mind the vet," Bettina said and then muttered, before she could stop herself, "not even if he puts a goat in my attic." Meyma smiled at her use of the old phrase, but Bettina pretended not to notice. "But it's you who should see the doctor, not this dog. He's just sick because you don't feel good." Chico looked up at her with sad kind eyes and Bettina softened her tone. "Or maybe you're just not feeding him right." This morning, he had spit up ugly chunks of brown and red all over the straw rug. Meyma shook her head. "I sick because he sick. Once he better, I be. How it works." "Fine." Bettina checked her watch and got up to leave. "You not wearing that?" Meyma said, her black eyes big and round. Scared. Bettina looked down at her long-sleeved shirt, her slacks and boots. "Yes, why not?" Meyma turned her face away. "Too much. Too much. Wear the blue blouse. In the closet." Blue brought health, Bettina knew that. Or that is what Meyma believed, anyway. "It's too cold to wear that," she said and then added, when Meyma still looked perplexed, "I'm wearing a blue bra. Don't worry." She bundled up the dog in an old woven blanket and walked down the hard dirt road toward the vet's office. The sooner Meyma got to feeling better, the sooner Bettina could go home. Back to San 5
Antonio. Away from this cold dust hole 500 miles from anywhere. Back to her real life, back to her friends â€” the ones who glittered sharp and brilliant and piercing, like the bleached bones the townspeople here hung in windows to ward off evil. If getting back home meant taking Chico to the vet, then she would do it. In the vet's waiting room, a nurse with a long white braid sat reading a paperback. She took notice of Bettina and pointed her to an empty seat and went back to her reading. Chico snuggled into the crook of Bettina's arm and peeked out at the other women filling the room, coddling their dogs and their cats. All women, Bettina noticed. No men. Women she had seen throughout her growing-up years, coming down from the hills for the bonfires and the festivals. All women here, and all wearing such low-cut blouses. "Ay ko!" Poppy would have said, back in the day, for he had always admired the feminine form. None of them younger than 60, as far as Bettina could tell, and all showing their cleavage. Wearing blouses like she had found hanging in her mother's closet. Like the blue one Meyma had wanted her to wear. Bettina ran her fingers up the long line of buttons on her long-sleeved shirt. Even the top one was buttoned. Her friends in San Antonio wore shirts like this. Stiff and starched, like something a man might wear. The woman sitting next to Bettina had a broad brown face and long gray-black hair and held a despondent Pomeranian on her lap. "You're Evie's daughter," she said and grinned, revealing a mouth of silver teeth ("Such a mouth means luck and wisdom" -- another thing Poppy would have said). "How she be?" "Not as well as can be." An expression Bettina hadn't used in years, and yet it fell easily from her lips, like fluff from a cottonwood "And little dog worries about her," the woman said. "Poor little dog. Your meyma's best friend all these years, since your poppy passed."
The woman kissed the tips of fingers when she said it. Bettina nearly performed the ritual, too, but held herself in check. "She tell you about the vet?" The woman inclined her head toward the closed door of the examination room. "She told me not to mind the vet. What she -- what did she mean?" The woman smiled knowingly. "Ay keke. Let's say he not look you in the eye." She readjusted the neckline of her blouse, revealing a worn and wrinkled cleavage. Bettina noticed again all the low-cut blouses in the room and felt a pang of panic. Her hand went up to the buttons at the top of her neck. "You mean ..." "Just let him look." The woman readjusted her neckline again. "He a miracle worker. He need inspiration. Everyone know that." She nodded to the other woman in the waiting room and they responded in kind. "So don't mind the vet. For little dog sake. And your meyma." Not mind? Bettina didn't know how she could not mind. And her friends back in the city, how disgusted they would be! Just like when Bettina told them about the wintertime bonfire, and how the snakes sizzled on the fire. "Sounds ghastly," they said, their voices clinking like champagne glasses, and after that she didn't talk about home. Not even her favorite things. The flower parade. The salamander dance. If she listened hard, she could just make out what the vet said to each woman who entered the exam room. â€œThey are shy as two bunnies, she heard him say. â€œThe remind me of flying ducks." With each pronouncement, Bettina's hand flew to the buttons at her throat. More than once she got up to leave but sat right back down again, for Meyma's sake. Word would get back to Meyma that she had left without seeing the vet, and Meyma would cry. Not get angry, but cry. And that was worse.
But that was not the only reason Bettina stayed. Maybe, she thought, the vet really could cure the dog. She had seen such things before, on her very own body. The warts that fell off like scabs. The earaches and stomachaches, gone in a flash. All from the touch of sacred hands. If the vet could heal Chico, then Meyma would get better. And Bettina could go home. The door to the exam room opened, and the nurse pointed Bettina to go in. The woman with the silver teeth smiled encouragingly as Bettina crept toward the open door. The vet was short and thin, brown and sun-parched, just like the desert sages who wandered into town on occasion, singing praises to the Old Mother. He looked at Bettina's buttoned-up shirt as she set the dog down on the examination table. His small brown eyes held a warmth and a depth Bettina had not seen in many years, and she felt safe with him, like she did with the old priest who had taught her the old prayers, even though the vet would not take his eyes from her chest. Chico looked up at her, pleading with her not to mind, while back at home, Bettina knew, her mother lay on the couch, awaiting good news. "This is my mother's dog," she said and then quickly added, "I don't live here." Chico looked from the vet to Bettina. The vet looked briefly at the dog and then stared again at Bettina's covered-up chest. Stared at the long column of buttons, each one tight in place. He frowned slightly and his shoulders seemed to sag. "I don't live here," she said again. They stood there for a long silent moment, the vet staring at her chest and the dog looking from one to the other. The dog finally put his head down on his front paws and heaved a big sad sigh. "No can help the little dog," the vet said, still staring at her chest, and he seemed like he would cry as he put his gnarled hand on the doorknob to let her out.
"Wait." Bettina looked deep into the dog's scared wet eyes and sighed. She undid the top button. And the next. And the next until they were all undone. And when the vet kept his hand on the doorknob, she undid the clasp of her little blue bra and pulled it down. "They are like two healthy guinea pigs," he said, eyeing her breasts happily, unashamed, and he put a healing hand on the dog's stomach. And back at home, Bettina saw it clear as day: Meyma got up to make a stew. Marilyn Horn-Fahey is a technical editor and free-lance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her short stories have appeared in publications such as Marathon Review and Waterhouse Review.
World 126.96.36.199, William Hicks
AMY L. BAILEY
Anatomy Lesson The shit creek: we were up it, down it, and splashing through it every summer, and we never had a paddle. I can’t speak to the exact shit-to-rainwater ratio of the creek, so perhaps it wasn’t a true shit creek, but on many days, the rank of sewage whipped round on intermittent breezes and a dingy film reminiscent of dirty dishwater bubbled up along the banks and coated the rocks. The water was, at its best, a drainage creek that meandered alongside a narrow road overlooked by sparsely-spaced homes which sat well off the lane. We would crouch at the creek’s edge and watch the slender bodies of water striders flit, herky-jerky, across the surface, defying physics. We would pick, with sticks or fingers, among the stones of the stream for crawdads and shriek if we spotted one. We’d bounce like springs across wobbly rock islands to the opposite side where a wall of blue clay loomed, each striation a layer upon the last and formed long before us. And on those summer days drenched in humidity and boredom, we dared slip off our shoes and walk the length of the creek. Our toes slinking through the muddy bottom, avoiding jagged rock edges with ginger steps, the water up to our knees in parts, we were buffered and hidden by roadside brush to our right and the wall of clay to our left. We called to one another, laughed, squealed, and were all sure more than once we were either on our way to becoming lost or a creek-bottom critter would attack. “We should go back now!” someone (me?) would shout. “Shut up, don’t be a baby! Come on!” someone else would call back as I fell a little behind. And so I trudged on, a little terrified, a lot exhilarated. We had nowhere to be, no destination in mind, our barefooted steps, one in front of the other through uncharted cool waters, were as much adventure as we could handle. It was enough.
That creek was ours. And it was mine the day I discovered that magazine tucked away in the old bridge trestle. From our trailer park, the creek could only be arrived at on foot, and the path was through the woods. The woods were just as popular, if not more so, than the creek for general entertainment, so it was natural that exploration of the woods eventually led all of us trailer park kids to the creek. Older boys had blazed trails through the trees and underbrush on foot and on dirt bikes, but only one trail led to the creek, and to the spot where I found the magazine. This was what we called the Big Dipper. Being generally presumptuous and averse to etiquette or notrespassing signs, the voyage to the trail began by walking smack through the middle of the Abplanalps’ yard. Their aging beige trailer with brown trim had an addition jutting out of its left side with an attached deck which made cutting through the yard particularly noticeable. If Keith or his sister Shawn slammed through the screen door, we’d usually just shout, “Headed to the woods, see you later!” and hope they didn’t try to work up any power trips about not using their yard as a cut-through. Once into the woods, a brief winding path led to the head of the Big Dipper, so called because of its ski-jumplike hill with a carved out dip followed by a bump. When sledding, the bump would send a sled airborne before it came crashing back down. Sometimes the rider remained on the sled by the time it hit the bottom. Most times he wouldn’t. In the days without snow, though, the path was simply steep, following the downward trajectory of power lines through the woods, and kept mowed clean by the older boys on their two-stroke bikes who would ramp themselves off the Big Dipper and careen into the air. On foot, the trail stopped at the dead end of the one-lane road. On the side closest to the road, the creek’s bank was easily accessible. A bridge had once spanned the water, but the decking was long gone. Just the concrete pylons and bits of rusted metal trestle remained. We could amble down a few feet of weeds and loose rock to reach the water, bracing ourselves on a pylon. And one winter afternoon, when we went to the creek to see if it had iced over, I leaned against the structure and caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye.
There, tucked up into a nook in the ruddy iron, I spied something curved and paper-like. I reached in with my hand, snagged the paper, and pulled out a Playboy magazine. Fully intact, not even damaged by rain, the cover stared me down. I stared back for a moment. The background of the photo was white, and maybe the woman on the cover was wearing something red, or maybe nothing at all. The important thing was that in my hands I held a magazine full of naked grown women, and I had a decision to make. This, however, was not the first time I’d encountered pornography. In my earliest days in the trailer park, between the ages of five and six, a family with a seven- or eight-year-old girl lived two trailers down. They didn’t live there long, but it was long enough for me to befriend her in a tag-along capacity and visit the inside of her trailer at least once. This was the kind of girl who sang songs like, “There’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance, there’s a hole in the wall where the men can see it all.” In her red gym shorts with white piping and tight t-shirts and crop tops pulled across her distended belly, sandy hair cut into bangs and a near mullet, I’d follow her around just to hear what she said next. One scorching summer day, we escaped the heat and blinding sunlight by running into the cool darkness of her trailer’s living room. She skipped off down the hallway to find something while I stood alone to wait, blinking my eyes and adjusting to the shadows. Standing between me and the sagging sofa against the far wall was a glass coffee table, and spread wide on the table was a girly magazine. While I waited, I studied the picture without touching a page. The centerfold revealed a close-up profile of a nude woman on her back. It spanned only the distance between her navel and her chin. Her left nipple, pinkish purple, pointed skyward as her back arched. And there above her, hovering just an inch away from that erect nipple, another woman’s face entered the photograph. Her scarlet lips parted slightly and were suspended indefinitely, poised to make contact with the nipple. But just as suddenly as the neighbor girl ran off, she rushed back into the room, grabbed my hand, and we dashed back out the door into the searing sun, leaving the magazine and what it meant behind us in the darkness. Now, with an actual Playboy magazine in my hands, I had the chance to peruse it at my leisure and not be yanked away from the lessons it held. It didn’t seem to contain any girl-on-girl action, but that was 13
fine by me. I wanted to study bodies, not sexual situations, but keeping it was nearly as dangerous as putting it back would have been difficult. I could have put it back, likely where some boy had stashed it to revisit later. But I didn’t. I didn’t put it back in its hiding place at all. I took it, hid it in my winter coat, and carried it home on a long walk back up the Big Dipper, feeling the pages burn in secret against my chest as the cold air ached in my laboring lungs. Once back at home, secured behind the door of my bedroom, I fought a nervousness and fear worthy of any true felon. I knew very well I should not have this sort of thing in my possession, but as a young girl on the brink of real puberty and having read and re-read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, this was like a guidebook I could not relinquish. At the moment I decided to keep it, I had noble intentions: I felt deeply convicted that leaving it at the creek might allow young boys or smaller children to find it, and that could be terrible. But then that secret burned so strong, and the magazine under my mattress kept me awake like a hot pebble of a pea, that I simply couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. So I showed it to Brian. Brian, two years my junior, walked next door to my trailer, entered my room, shut the door, and I withdrew the magazine. We sat in the middle of my bed side by side, our backs leaning against the wood paneling. I held the magazine in my lap as we flipped through it. My role as Protector From Pornography quickly changed to Teacher of Female Anatomy. With each flip, we gazed at the women in their various poses and stages of undress while I schooled Brian on the contents before us. “Do you know what that is?” I asked as I pointed to a naked woman spread across the pages, her legs apart and a full bush on view to the world. “Yes.” “Well, what is it then if you know?”
“Hair,” he replied with an impatient air of “Duh” in his voice. I had to make sure Brian knew women, and in fact, both makes and models, grew hair between their legs. This was a big deal, I thought, and it was going to happen to all of us. After we thumbed through the each page and Brian’s pre-pubescent retina had been branded with more naked woman skin than he could handle, he left and I tucked the magazine away yet again. But then the guilt grabbed hold of me. I had shown naked women to a little boy! I was surely going to hell, or a juvenile detention center, for that. So I found a plastic grocery bag, pulled the magazine back out, and tore every single last page of it from cover to cover into tiny bits and placed the porn confetti in the bag. I stashed the bag away, out of sight. In the days following, while still wondering what to do with the nowdestroyed magazine, I mentioned my find to two older boys. Josh and Mike were both about five years older. Josh was clearly gay but didn’t yet know it. He was crafty and creative, building and assembling entire Ewok villages and huts out of craft supplies. He sewed miniature felt Christmas ornaments in a makeshift sewing room he’d assembled in his tiny, mirrored sliding-door closet. Mike, who was his exact opposite, was a cocksure and mouthy sort who prided himself on the pursuit of creative insults like calling people a “third-degreetick-infested-butt-hair.” His oft-repeated story of choice was about how his dad once saw a hooker on a downtown street corner holding a sign which read, “I’ll quack on your jack.” Mike was often in trouble for his mouth and his rowdy side. In fact, he was once escorted to our front door by his mother who gripped a baseball bat in her right hand and Mike’s arm in her left. She informed us he was there to apologize for chasing me down and yelling threats about raping me. That frightful attack was apparently all in jest and was followed by guffaws of laughter on his part. I did not guffaw with him. And the incident had happened while Josh, Mike, and I had been off riding bikes together one sunny day. His sense of humor often went astray at the oddest moments. But still, I had mentioned the Playboy to both of them, and they instantly wanted to see it.
“I tore it up though. It’s in a million pieces.” “So? Bring it anyway,” they said. And so, a plan was hatched. There was absolutely no reason for a plan. I could have just slyly grabbed the bag and marched down to one of their houses to look at it. But that was too easy and not nearly as covert as the weight of the situation called for. Instead, I devised an elaborate scheme where, on the coming weekend, I would rise early with the dawn, sneak out of the house with the bag full of tits and ass, run to Josh’s house where he and Mike would already be waiting and Josh’s mom would be gone to work. Then we could secretly piece together the nipples in the privacy of Josh’s bedroom. That’s not weird or suspicious: teenage boys rising at 5:30 on a Saturday morning to greet a young girl at the front door and invite her to the bedroom. Clearly I, who rarely woke on weekends before 10 or 11 A.M., had this plan well thought out. The morning came, and I had set an alarm to wake up early. I dressed quickly and grabbed the bag to cram under my coat only to realize my mom was already awake. My mom has always been an early riser, and she hunched over the kitchen table in her blue fuzzy robe drinking her second cup of tea and watching television. I had to get out of the house; the boys were waiting. So I sauntered through the living room to the front door like it might as well have been noon. “What are you doing up? And where you off to at this hour?” my mom inquired. Had to think fast. Had to come up with something on the fly. “Uh, I’m going over to Josh’s to play,” I blurted. “Before six in the morning?” “Yeah, he couldn’t play later today,” I said, hopefully saving it. “Whatever.”
And that’s what I got for being a really good kid. I was trusted with a bag of porn under my coat racing off to share it with boys at dawn. Out I flew into the frigid morning air, running at top speed three trailers down to Josh’s in the early grey light of day. I knocked on the door with a light rap, Josh cracked the door open and in I slipped with the bag in tow. Obviously flustered, and with a nervously quiet giggle, he ushered me to the bedroom where the 15-year-old boy who had once chased me down and threatened to rape me waited. Inside Josh’s room, the three of us sat in a circle on the carpeted floor. I revealed the bag, dropped it in the center of our circle with a huff, and showed them what we were up against. Josh seemed to be in on it for curiosity’s sake, and he probably liked the secrecy of the moment. Having volunteered his house as neutral ground, Josh may have also liked the attention from Mike and having him in his bedroom. Oblivious and craving only naked women, Mike immediately dug into the ultimate puzzle. And for the next hour or so we picked jagged pieces of paper out and tried to identify them. “What’s this? Does this go with that page? Is that her arm?” “Oh, yes! Look at this one!” Mike said with glee as he found a larger piece of someone’s left breast. And so it went, piecing together torn paper to gain some semblance of coherence in the once decadent photographs. It was just another moment in a long line of sad attempts at titillation by desperate teenage boys. And I was the facilitator. I was the center of attention. I was the cool girl who found porn and showed it around. I didn’t get all high and mighty about it, telling them they shouldn’t look at such things, that they were “disgusting” or “gross” for wanting to. No, the boys needed me for the job. Older boys at that. Yes, one was gay and the other was crude and demeaning, but they wanted me and what I had. Thankfully, neither of them ever wanted what I actually had, just what I had found carefully tucked away at the creek. Although I looked from time to time, I never again found anything more than crawdads, clumps of algae, or shiny rocks down at the creek. After my meeting with Mike and Josh, I unceremoniously 17
tossed the sack of shredded Playboy models away in our trashcan outside just before the garbage truck came. I was important to someone for those moments tucked away in a room, scouring a bag of paper for glimpses of lady parts. But the glow of my importance didn’t last long. Shortly after, we all hit ages where we stopped riding bikes together and started only seeing each other on the sidewalk and waving, or not waving. We’d glance in the other’s direction and keep moving. Josh went goth and openly gay finally, wearing a delicate silver chain from his pierced ear to his pierced nose, and he drove his boyfriends around in an old light blue VW bug. One of the last times I ran into Mike, it was in the hallway of the high school one spring as my eighth grade class toured the halls for the impending fall. He was a senior, and I spotted him walking into the library. I casually called out, “Hey, Mike.” He threw me a quick wave and the library door shut behind him. I longed for the other eighth graders to notice. For in that moment, I knew a senior boy, and we shared an early-morning secret because of a creek, when the creek was still ours.
Amy L. Bailey is a writer, copy editor and Yankee transplant living in Birmingham, Alabama. Her work has previously appeared in Exit 13 Magazine and Shemom, among others, and is forthcoming in Revolution House and Baseline.
WORLD 188.8.131.52 WILLIAM HICKS
Carolina Field Dress At dawn we still the weaving sea. Flaying Carolinaâ€™s ocean, wet speckles on the deck glide like dust across tile. Our engine spits a foamy spectrum, squinting into sun: a rainbow. Raw wind muffles talk of the Super Bowl. Twenty yards on either side, the brine disregards. Our boat settles in the stench of crowning whales. One football field away, a whopper bends my pole. I drag her in despite the drawl of Dramamine in my arms. She looâ€™ praynan! Randall howls, watching her brawl. Someone swings a metal pole. Blue sheets hug the iron hook. Yank aboard a broad new place to bleed, just above the pelvic fin and below the eye leaks. A stripe of wildflowers garnishes the membrane. Crowfoot yellow and blue, blurry in the sun. Jonquil buds bulging. She wrenches now, thrashing red the deck, afterbirth. Draining, she puckers at the mist.
Jamison Lee is a postdoctoral fellow at Illinois State University, where he studies digital audio poetics, mindfulness and composition, critical pedagogy and the ethics of off-color humor; and teaches courses in composition, creative writing, humor theory, and literature. His most recent work appears in Stanley the Whale, Cordite, and Touchstone Literary Journal. Lee lives in Normal, Illinois.
This Is More than Homesickness I’m trapped in my perspective or whatever. No one feels what I do exactly, but at least if I were at home I’d be feeling closer to those I love. Instead, their old news is my new news. New news. The newest information. I never got that before. Now it’s nestled on a page next to its partner. Even those words get to be side-by-side. I don’t. And old news? It’s just nonsense. I want to be close again for more than three months or three weeks or three days or whatever fragmented break I’m on. I send my friends letters so they’ll feel special. Nevermind. I really send them letters so they’ll write back, but they don’t. I never feel less special than when they ask for my address again. Why can’t they just write it down once? Apparently, it’s too cumbersome to memorize and not useful enough to warrant the paper. Lately, I couldn’t afford stamps. They are forgetting me, I just know it. And that’s much more disheartening than simple homesickness. I’m fighting. Fighting the distance from the house I grew up in; fighting my long-distance relationships; now fighting myself. I made four phone calls on a Friday night: to Shannon in San Diego, to my parents Tim and Becky and brothers Ethan and Jesse, to Isaac, to Kayla. Naturally, I heard my dad say he loves me. Quite unnaturally, Isaac and Kayla both heard me sniff-sniffle-suck in sobs. I described to Kayla that unthinkingly, I kept rubbing my fist in wide clockwise ellipses up and down my left thigh. How pathetic is that? She called it self-soothing, something her eleven-year-old nephew Will, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, frequently does. I see now that I’m more than sad; I’m oh-so-very sad. After my call, my mom sent a text saying, “You sounded very happy. I’m glad.” So I’m also more than fake; I’m oh-so-very fake. Yes, it’s my third year here. No, I don’t have a concrete identity. No, my name is Ruth. Yes, we’ve met before. Yes, I’m a Professional Writing major. No, that’s not an English major. Yes, I’m on the track team. No, I’m a thrower, not a runner. Yes, I’d go home if I could. No, I can’t. Yes, I’m counting down the days. No, I can’t tell my roommate because she says she’s sorry she’s not them. Yes, I know I’m hurting 22
her by my hurting. No, I don’t know whose turn it is to be hurt this time. Yes, if I sound happy she’ll be glad. No, I’m not at all happy here. Yes, I’m okay. No, I’m really not okay at all. Yes, I’m terrified. Ruth Towne has been living in Ohio for three years now, and craves sticky pine pitch, split wood, bags of balsam fir and anything that reminds her of home. She also loves German Shepherds, evergreen landscapes and long weekend camping trips.
WORLD 184.108.40.206, WILLIAM HICKS
William D. Hicks is a writer who lives in Chicago, Illinois by himself (any offers?). Contrary to popular belief, he is not related to the famous comedian Bill Hicks (though heâ€™s just as funny in his own right). Hicks will someday publish his memoirs, but most likely they will be about Bill Hicksâ€™ life. His poetry has appeared in Outburst Magazine, The Legendary, Horizon Magazine, Breadcrumb Sins, Inwood Indiana Literary Magazine, The Short Humour Site (UK), The Four Cornered Universe, Save the Last Stall for Me and Mosaic. His art appears in The Legendary and as cover art in Anti-Poetry and Sketch. 24
A Cinderella Story She is 65 years old and living a lie. But that is about to change. She stands in front of the mirror, makes adjustments to her posture, sucks her stomach in. As a birthday present to herself she ordered a tasteful yet sexy black sheath dress with a thigh-high slit. That good looking UPS man delivered it earlier today. It’s my birthday, she told him just see him smile. She turns to the side. That new body shaper underwear is doing its job. She ordered a wig, too. And new high heels. Stilettos. Red. They’re hard to walk in. She’s been practicing all day and still displays an unattractive oafish gait. But that shoe will look provocative as she sits on a bar stool, legs crossed, swinging a smoothly shaved leg back and forth, her thigh-high slit widening each time she extends her leg as if saying I’m available. As she gets into the cab she notices a smirk on the driver’s face. It’s unsettling, but what can one do? She gives him the address. When they arrive at the bar, she pays the fare, tells him to keep the change. “You disgust me,” he says, despite the generous tip. She will not let that little bald-headed prick upset her. She has come here to drink and dance, to perch on a bar stool and flirt, to make new friends. Quite literally taking the e-mailed advice of her granddaughter: “Happy Birthday--Remember you’re still young, live it up while you can.” The words “while you can” seem to contradict “still young” but she appreciates the message, nonetheless. The sign on the fuchsia steel door promises A SAFE AND SEXY PLACE FOR GIRLS LIKE US. Happy birthday she tells herself as she pulls the heavy door open and enters the Powder Puff. Without going into detail, she has a great time. She even gets some well needed makeup tips. And when the Powder Puff closes, she and two other girls decide to go to another tranny bar. A taxi pulls up. And who do you suppose is driving that cab?
The rest of the night is a blur. She’s had a lot to drink. She’s a girl with a man’s level of testosterone. Seeing that cabbie again enraged her. She doesn’t remember coming home, or getting undressed. She realizes she is missing a shoe. She turns the TV on and there it is. On the morning news. Her red shoe. Looking sexy. They’re saying it’s a murder weapon. A cabdriver is dead. They believe the Stiletto Killing was committed by a woman with very large feet. Police are going door to door with the shoe looking for a fit. Supie Dunbar started writing after retirement. She has been published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal and in the Journal of Ordinary Thought. Supie lives in Chicago with her dog, Charlie.
Heteronormativity “I’m a case of mistaken identity.”-Evelyn Desert of the Hearts
I didn’t mind her Adam’s apple, in fact, I loved it, like I loved how my shoes stuck to the brick-colored floor, sprinkled with iridescent dust and glitter. I danced to the Tina Turner impersonator, who called us bitches as the smell of puke filled the silences. I didn’t mind that chocolate made me thirsty or that one Blue Moon got me drunk; I was a dehydrated cheap date. Drag costumes were like the alcohol content that traced its tongue along my throat; theoretical façades for the socially constructed ideal person. I listened to Proud Mary, moving my arm up and down like a groundswell each time Tina sang ‘rollin.’ I didn’t mind that makeup was a Feminist’s enemy like a human carnivore was to a vegetarian, because the Queens were too captivating for me to reject vanity. I wanted to be thirsty for authenticity and teleological tolerance, overdosing on sequin dresses while swaying to ‘da, do, do, do.’ I didn’t mind the absurdity in being attracted to a man who was dressed as a woman, and what kind of implications that it had to my sequestered sexuality. I held onto my date’s arm while mesmerized by Tina’s glistening dress and hooker-heels. I did mind the vituperation for why Tina decided to dance as a woman, as if having a slew of pathologies was necessary to explain why she danced at Reno’s 27
only gay bar. I admired her ability to blend her self-acceptance and eye shadow into harmonious hues upon her eyelids, even when part of the audience whispered, and my date shifted his body uncomfortably towards the Exit.
The Big Muddy Silence “That's where you'll find me. Some place I've never been. Underwater.” -Joshua Radin, Singer
The Mississippi River reflected beams of light upon different parts of my body and bench as I sat opening and closing my mouth, popping my ears as if I had just climbed out of the river. My water-logged silence outlined his fingerprints around my neck, and the purple of his pressure matched that of the river’s incontinence as it swelled beyond the levee’s boundaries. Piecemeal disclosures caused flashbacks of the flood to return to the drainage tiles that once trusted Big Muddy. Slit and mud silenced the truth as the flood coerced the damaged drainage tiles and denigrated their structure and foundational soundness. From Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico 2,340 miles of textbook domestic acrimony rippled through the watershed. The flood happened July 13th, 2014, 28
reported that night, but not written about until July 20th, when even then the engineers and professionals couldn’t conjure a cogent-enough argument to have me testify against him. A month and eleven days later, and the flood’s debris remains strewn across the shoals and sandbars like the leftover destruction of a toddler’s play date. The jetty no longer protects the shore.
Metapathologies and Gemeinschaftsgefühl “Does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature?” Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly:
A Memoir of Life in Death My throat, tongue, and teeth became distended with the blue-ringed octopus’s suckers and tentacles. I couldn’t scream, so instead snatched each stem out, and studied the blood that slid down my arms. I sucked in my lips, traced my newly freed tongue alongside each abrasion the octopus left, and cried as my body dismorphic disorder fogged the bathroom mirror. He hated what my reflection told me I looked like when the December air streamed through our bedroom’s screen of defense. His aggression made me think of vellum volumes of Feminist theory as the night aberrated from the day’s trajectory before the lilies poured into decanters 29
upon the sealed suicide letters the police sought. He only became connected when I forgot I didn’t know how to swim while the Pacific Ocean poured into my mouth and cramped my atrophied muscles into orange slices left waiting on the sidewalk’s crack in May. His sheets were covered with red lipstick stains of protest, and when it was over he laughed and asked for a glass of water before the octopus thrust the rest of its regenerated arms down my oceanic shouts no one heard. My therapist always stresses the Anorexic’s obsession with control while forgetting why— it was our only choice. No one ever listens to the behaviorally disordered, but instead gives us a red basketball to play with in a yellow-painted windowless room while robots and conspiracy theories surround the lithium-induced cat-nappers in the time-warp of the psych ward. Sometimes, I stare at the ‘legal 2000’ a med-tech has written next to my name before she administers me copious amounts of federally-funded Prozac, diagnosing me with the reassurance that my visit is transient. My bunkmate turns over with night terrors, like the time I lost my hair tie in the cherry-flavored charcoal that coated the left side of the ambulance. I call out, and the musical timbre of my voice, without his, soothes me, as I contort my body to feel my bones beneath the sheets.
Siobhain McGuinness is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, triple majoring in Philosophy, English Creative Writing, and Psychology. Her poetry collection, Obfuscation of the Mindâ€™s Eye, was chosen to be presented at the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society International Convention 2014, and River Current, in Savannah, GA, February 25th-March 1st, 2014. Her second poetry collection, Folie Ă€ Deux, was selected for presentation at the Sigma Tau Delta, English Honor Society International Convention 2015: Borderlands and Enchantments, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Healing Game I stood up, straightened my skirt and called the police. I stood up, straightened my skirt and called for help until passersby in the night came to my rescue. I stood up, straightened my skirt and called for help until passersby in the night came to restrain the man with the scar on his hand while we waited for the police to arrive. I stood up, straightened my skirt and walked slowly to where the police held the man with the scar on his hand and looked him in the eye. I said, “He’s the one.” I stood up, straightened my skirt and ran down the street after the man with the scar on his hand, tripping and holding him to the pavement until the police could arrive. I stood up, straightened my skirt and ran down the street after the man with the scar on his hand, tripping him and bashing his head against the pavement, over and over. I stood up, straightened my skirt and ran down the street after the man with the scar on his hand, pushing him off the pavement into the hood of an oncoming delivery truck that blared its horn but did not have time stop. I said, “Sorry for the mess.” I stood up, straightened my skirt, took a pistol from my purse and shot the man with the scar on his hand in the back. I stood up, straightened my skirt, took a pistol from my purse and shot the man with the scar on his hand in the back of the knee, then walked slowly to where he lay in pain and stood on his chest until the
spike of my heel drove through his heart and the light went out in his eyes. I stood up, straightened my skirt, walked slowly to where the man with the scar on his hand was lying in pain, cut off his little penis and lodged the bloody stump in the back of his throat. â€œIs this what you meant?â€? I asked. I stood up, straightened my skirt and quietly followed the man with the scar on his hand to his home, which I burned to the ground. I stood up, straightened my skirt and quietly followed the man with the scar on his hand to his home, where I handcuffed him to the radiator before burning the house to the ground. I stood up, straightened my skirt and quietly followed the man with the scar on his hand to his home, where I handcuffed him to the radiator and called Tory to come and show him some of the tricks he had learned in his youth in and out of prisons. I stood up, straightened my skirt and walked to my house at the end of the block. There, I turned on all the lights and took a hot shower and went to sleep. And I never told anyone about the man or the scar on his hand. P.N. Porcino does not advocate violence but thinks about it often while working and writing in New York. You can read more stories penned by the same unsteady hand in Circa Journal and The Westchester Review.
STATUE NO HEAD STANDING, CARL SCHARWATH
Carl Scharwath's work appears worldwide with over fifty published poems and five short stories. He recently won the National Poetry Contest award on behalf of Writers One Flight Up. The poem was selected and critiqued by Vivian Shipley a Pulitzer Prize nominee. His first poetry book Journey To Become Forgotten was published by Kind of a Hurricane Press. His art photography were featured in the Conclave Journal and Edgar Allen Poet. 34
HUNTER BAR In a quiet town, there’s Hunter Bar. It’s hidden away within the shadowy countryside. Around the corner, at the Route 24 intersection, cops wait in a gas station parking lot. They wait for the bar to empty out. They sip stale coffee and take notes. The beer signs glow through the pines. They flicker like lightning bugs on a warm summer evening. But tonight it’s not summer and it’s not warm. Everything is frozen, including Anna’s facial expression as she walks into Hunter Bar. The hardwood floors are sprinkled with popcorn and beer bottle tops. They play CCR and Mellencamp on the juke box, and bearded men dance cheek-to-cheek with ladies in leather jackets. Anna watches the men tilt and dip and kiss the women. Something sinks inside of her. Anna perches on a stool at the bar. She sports a poor-boy cap. Her eyes are dark—like she’s already dead—and red from crying all day, alone, now gulping Blue Moon out of a tall, water-stained glass. The burly guy from across the bar eyes her. He’s maybe forty, forty-five. Older. His stare is fixed, immoveable, almost discomforting. She usually never smiles back, but things are different now that Sam broke up with her, so she returns a grin. He slides off his bar stool. He waddles a bit from the extra weight around his middle. He’s harmless. Her throat tightens, ready to reject him, until a slow song comes on the jukebox, and something tells her to live a little. She allows his company. “Buy you another?” he asks. “Blue Moon,” she says. “Thanks.” “My pleasure.” He has rough, calloused hands, the fingernails uneven and edged in grease. A couple of hours pass and she can’t believe how much they have in common. They clink beers. Laugh. Touch. “Would you like to go see the lights?” “Lights?” she asks.
“Yeah, the lights. Rich neighborhood I know of has all these fancy lights up for Christmas.” Anna hesitates, thinks for a moment. The burly man peels the label off his beer bottle, waiting for an answer. Stay busy, just go, she thinks. She stares at her empty glass, says, “Sure.” Outside the wind snatches her poor-boy cap and tosses it into the darkness, reminding Anna of unknowns stronger than herself, perhaps hiding and waiting. The burly man parked his pickup truck away from the other vehicles. “Why’d you park so far away?” she asks. “Don’t like parking next to drunks. They scratch up my truck.” The beer eases her mind, jellies her legs. The hopelessness disappears, but she knows thoughts of Sam will crowd her mind once she arrives home alone. The burly man opens the truck door for her. He shoves items off the seat and onto the floor. “Jump in,” he says. The wind hisses through the trees, then, somehow, before she jumps in the truck, her body hits the ground. The gritty parking lot scrapes her face. She tastes dirt, earthy and rich. She feels the crunch of sand between her teeth, the burly man’s strength, steel-toed boots jabbing her ribs, calloused hands on her skin, wet breath. Later, the burly man drives past the cops in the gas station parking lot. He plows down Route 24, shaking, exhilarated. He passes Anna’s house off Route 24, with the above-ground pool in back and a battered swing set rusty from the Atlantic rains. He passes the 7Eleven where she hung out in high school, the local park where she sipped stolen cans of beer in middle school, the swimming hole in elementary school, Saint Mary’s Church for her baptism, escaping Hunter Bar where her parents met, where they clinked beers on their first date, where CCR and Mellencamp played on the juke box, where Anna wasn’t even a thought, five miles from home, at Hunter Bar, deep in the country.
Jennifer Powers graduated from Western Connecticut State University's MFA program in May 2014, and has stories published or forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Folio, Hawaiâ€™i Pacific Review, Grasslimb, Diverse Voices Quarterly and The Oddville Press.
Old Man The old man in the park kisses my hand and hands me his phone number, the name of his train stop. No house number. He says, I’d love to practice English with a true American. Old man, no more polite talk. I will never bang you. If I was a quick thinker, I would’ve said, I’m sorry but I don’t speak English. I would’ve walked into the water and become a kappa. But my friend says: you are Asian on the inside, white on the outside. I hide my mouth behind my hand, apologize, tell him that I am moving and do not know my new address. The old man laughs in my face. He says, You don’t need to avoid me. His teeth are so gold, I could pull them out, one by one, and sell them.
Meg Eden's work has been published in various magazines, including B O D Y, Drunken Boat, Mudfish, and Rock & Sling. Her work received second place in the 2014 Ian MacMillan Fiction contest. Her collections include Your Son(The Florence Kahn Memorial Award), Rotary Phones and Facebook(Dancing Girl Press) and The Girl Who Came Back (Red Bird Chapbooks). She teaches at the University of Maryland and will be a visiting writer at AACC in 2014.
The Angel of Death in the Bar The angel of death is a weak little man who sits in a bar, finishing other people’s sentences and other people’s drinks and never looking you in the eye. He says that what you can’t admit when you’re sober is that you hate the world because the world was drunk before you arrived. The whole scene is as unlikely as the first song or the last song. The jukebox kicks in and a saintly Johnny Cash plays all the rooms in hell tonight. The people who can imagine nothing but Saturday night and their need of it are better than them who think they can make up their own names, the angel says. The lights come on and the music changes. Last call wakes us from a strange dream of sex and violence. I lose the angel of death in the lights, in the sound of a hundred hands reaching into pockets. I hear the word and know it’s time. They only call me sir when they ask me to leave. Colin Dodds grew up in Massachusetts and completed his education in New York City. He’s the author of several novels, including WINDFALL and The Last Bad Job. Dodds’ screenplay, Refreshment, was named a semifinalist in the 2010 American Zoetrope Contest.
The Haymaker So yeah, here I am sitting in the middle of a church that is literally being consumed in a torrent of flames. The polyurethane coating of the pews has long since melted and peeled away and the fumes waft inside my nose and mouth and I’m getting all sorts of high, I guess. I can see the peculiar way fire reflects off stained glass as it drips slowly onto the granite floor. My body just starts to ignore the fact that my skin is slowly becoming charcoal, that my lungs are drying up like prunes and my blood is simmering inside my veins. Trust me, it’s agonizing at first but once you realize that you’re nothing, or, well, that you’re about to become nothing everything gets a lot easier. Then again if I was actually committed to the grand scheme of nothing, if I were truly a humbled disciple of the Voodoo, I wouldn’t even be in this situation at all. “Holding on to something,” the Haymaker would say, “is the opposite of nothing. It is your one weakness.” I kind of see what he was talking about now. *** The Haymaker is sitting across from me. Of course, his name isn’t really the Haymaker. It’s Maurice or Eric, or Sam, but we’re pretty sure he just tells everyone something different. All we know is that we can only address him as the Haymaker. Even when his Mom opens the door to the basement, letting that sliver of pathetic light crawl across the concrete, she addresses him as the Haymaker, which I’m not sure shows how truly great this guy must be (I mean, he’s the only one with facial hair after all) or how needy for his affection his Mom must really be. It’s always: “Haymaker, can I get anybody something to drink?” Or: “Haymaker, I’m going to the store, try not get the police called on you again.”
And sometimes: “Haymaker, can I talk to you for a second? No? Oh, well, you are your father’s son.” The Haymaker says he doesn’t believe in fathers, though. In fact, he says a lot of things. I like that about him a lot. Well, I don’t know, but when I come back to his basement a couple of days later I’m going to love everything about him. He’s sitting across from me going through what he calls his vetting process, which I kind of get what that is. His eyes are sunken in, like two polished sapphires plopped in wet, dark sand. His hair is unnecessarily greasy, and day-old sweat glistens off his skin and sticks to stray lashes that fall on his cheek. He’s got this goatee thing going for him, the black of his hairs puff out thinly more than coming together but impressive to us nonetheless. The pencil in his hand twirls and spins with great finesse as the three others stand around us, arms crossed, cigarettes in mouths, foots tapping. I try not to sweat. I got to really make this stick. I really need something right about now. “So, what’s your name,” Haymaker asks. The dim light overhead swings back and forth, our shadows dance along the top of the table. “Michael. I mean, Mike. People call me Mike, I guess.” I don’t want to be polished here. My grandma calls me Michael. I want my enemies to scream Mike with blood clogging in the base of their throats. Like I said, I really need something right about now. “That true, Corey?” “Most of us call him Pussyfoot.” Goddamnit, Corey. Don’t ruin this for me. “Why Pussyfoot?” “Didn’t know we needed a reason?” “Good answer.”
The Haymaker jots a couple of things down on a legal pad, draws some arrows, circles something and then gives me a death stare when I try to peer. He drops the pencil on the table, crosses his arms behind his head and leans on the legs of his chair. His calm demeanor could paint the snow black. “So, Pussyfoot, tell me: Who are you?” “I just told you. My name’s Mike.” “But who are you?” I look around me and the three others are stoic and haven’t broken from their routine. They’re all drenched in cold sweat as well, and don’t seem to notice that all of their cigarettes are ninety-percent ash. The girl in the group starts to wobble for a second but the guy next to her gives her a stern elbow in the side. “Pussyfoot,” I say. “No, who are you?” He leans across the table and lets the light flood across the top of his head. He motions his hand out towards the girl as she glares blankly at the cinderblock walls. He motions his hand again and the guy next to her gives her another stern elbow in the side. She quickly pulls something out from deep in her jacket pocket. It’s a baggie crumpled up and mashed together and looks old and dusty and might even be stained. The Haymaker grabs the baggie, shakes it loose, opens it, sniffs it and then licks his finger. He twists and turns his finger inside the baggie and pulls it out, and I can see it’s covered in a pinkish, damp powder. Maintaining eye contact, he reaches towards my mouth, lodges his finger inside and swivels it along my gums. It tastes like stale chlorine and kosher salt and bad, bad cough medicine. I jolt back, brushing up against Corey who is standing behind me. “What the fuck, dude?” None of them move, not even to take out their now clearly burnt-out cigarettes. The Haymaker smiles at me, his teeth uncannily clean and pearly: a complete contrast to the rest of him. 42
“I said, who are you?” “I’m leaving.” The stairs creek and stretch as I make my way up and one cracks under the weight of my fat ass. The sunshine creeping underneath the door starts to expand and I can feel it jet through my face, turning blue and pale green as it meets my eyes. The distance to the basement grows larger and larger and I can physically feel it become part of my past. Cold sweat snakes down my neck and wraps around my Adam’s apple like a hand and I just want to be the fuck out of here. As I go to grab for the doorknob I can hear the Haymaker chuckle in a nebula of smoke. “Bye, Leaving.” Nobody else laughs. I run for the street, making my way home as fast as I can, watching the streaks of cars whizzing by like a sustained note, their vibrancy a hazard to birds or children passing through. I get home, run to my room, slam my face into my stained pillow and try to dream it all away, but then I feel calm. I could paint the snow black. Fuck the Haymaker… all of them. I am nothing but I once was— *** Nobody knew that there was going to be some lady in the church when we start throwing Molotov cocktails in there. And nobody was expecting it to be the Haymaker’s own Mom—except maybe the Haymaker. He probably knew. He’s just standing there so calm, painting the snow black, as we hear her shouting out for help. “Pathetic cries for salvation,” the Haymaker calls them. Through the aqua and purple tinting of the windows we see her form running from one end to the other, knocking over candles and crucifixes and holy ornaments as she tries to find an exit not blocked by her impending doom. I tug at the Haymaker’s coat. 43
“Shouldn’t we do something,” I ask. “We are nothing. We can do nothing. It is the Voodoo’s will.” “I am nothing but I once was,” everybody says except for me. I’m bolting into the church where I kind of just shove Mrs. Haymaker through the gusts of flames and out a side door. Unfortunately, to prove how shitty my life really is, rafters fall right in front of me and I end getting trapped in place of her. Classic. Pure bullshit. But I guess if the Voodoo wills it. *** Behind the garden shed adjacent to Northview High, Miles and Celine are waiting for me, their legs quaking in the cold. Neither of them believes in the constraints of pants, a diabolical invention by our Oppressors to make us feel contained and formal. Miles wears only shorts, the same pair of shorts, all year round and makes sure to leave his four Illuminati inspired tattoos visible from every angle. Celine wears only skirts and summer dresses, but she can pull them off. She’s cute in that way. At least, she’s as cute as a valium-dependent, free-love associated, occasional self-harming fifteen year old can be— which, trust me, is plenty cute. Most of the times when we have our meetings, I spend the two-hours and eleven minutes trying to get a glimpse of a side-boob or something. She brags to me constantly on how Miles took her to get a tattoo when he went to get his latest one, a tasteful rendition of James Madison’s head attached to a tarantula’s body devouring Southeast Asia. (He says it’s a commentary on our Oppressors.) Celine also brags to me how I’ll never get to see her tattoo, “if you know what I mean.” I want to know what she means. Scuttling across the snow, I’m trying to keep all of my books cradled in my armpit as I motion with my hands the secret signal. Miles pulls out the baggie, licks his finger, dips it in the Voodoo and when I 44
approach, swivels it along my gums. He does the same for him and for Celine and we all sit ass-deep in the snow, backs stretched against the shed. Celine pulls out a Pall Mall, sending it down my way. “I am nothing but I once was,” I say, lighting the cigarette. “I am nothing but I once was,” they both repeat. We sit in the immaculate silence of the Ohio winter. The clouds swarm the sun like battleships that would carry slaves of men, the soldiers of our enemy, always trying to block out the light. “Obedient little bastards,” the Haymaker calls them. The battleship clouds would have names like S.S. HumanScum or, like, S.S. DoWhatITellYou. But we’d be there to kick their asses. We’d burn them all down to the ground, riding in our magnificent ships with names like S.S. FuckYou or, like, S.S. SuckMyGiganticCock. The Haymaker tells us that’s regressive thinking. And he’s right. The Haymaker’s only a couple of years older than us, I think nineteen or twenty, but he’s a lot smarter than all of us combined. He told us how he spent a year at this super-secret private liberal college down by Washington and how he met the nation’s brightest minds who taught him the secret to existence, or the existence of secrets. I can’t really remember. He told us that he was going on to do amazing things until he realized he was being fucking brainwashed. Yeah, can you believe it? Brainwashed. He said he had to fight his way out of there, throwing chairs at Professors and even had to stab a security guard with his car keys while the guy was holding him down. He said they introduced him to the Voodoo and when he wanted to spread it across the globe they tried to murder his ass and frame it as a suicide. He said that nothing matters and that our reality is a lie and he’s seen the other dimension, the Voodoo dimension, and he needs us to aid in his mission. The Haymaker says a lot of things but, like I said, I really need something right about now. All three of us are sitting in the snow when Miles gets a text. He intently contemplates what he’s read and shows it to Celine and she gives him this off-kilter smile, like, This-Is-what-the-Voodoo-wants. They both get up dusting the snow from their bare legs. Miles sticks a little more Voodoo in my mouth. I know where they’re going. 45
“Why can’t I go with you guys,” I ask. “Pussyfoot, you know the Haymaker doesn’t allow it. This is between me and him and her…and Corey if he shows up this time,” Miles says. “Man, everybody else gets to get fucked. Bullshit, dude.” I try to push myself from the ground but my hands fall endlessly into the pitfall of snow. I lose my grip. Sinking back into the wall of the shed, I watch as the two of them walk away, leaving me to stare at the battle-ship clouds. Welling up with anger, I’m starting to get a little horny too. Celine’s ass just kind of drops flat in her skirt, but I like that a lot. She doesn’t have anything to prove. “You don’t have anything to prove,” I yell at her. “Go feel up your own tits, Biggie,” Miles yells back. “We’ve all got nothing to prove,” Celine says. “Remember…” “I am nothing but I once was,” we all say in unison. I just wish I could at least get an over-the-pants handy. *** The basement of the Haymaker’s dead step-dad’s house is not the most appropriate meeting place for our kind. We’re better than this. We demand satisfaction and respect and nothing. I demand nothing. “We could build a clubhouse,” I say. “You know, like, a secret meeting place for our kind. A lair. A bunker of sorts.” “Yeah, and maybe no girls would be allowed, right,” Corey jokes while Miles rubs some dip of the Voodoo into his mouth. Celine is in process of rolling another what I think is a joint.
“No clubhouses,” the Haymaker says, standing above the rest of us. He oozes dominance out of his pores. It’s cold, sleek and shines in the light; little droplets skating down his cheek and forehead. “I could use a change in environment,” chimes Celine. “Oh, well then have some of this. It’ll for sure change your environment,” Corey says as he takes some Voodoo and dips it into her mouth. Her legs go limp and her back arches against the couch as she slides close and closer to the floor. She grabs for nothing in the air, and then follows with her fingers whole entire galaxies collecting inside her pupils. “Only one thing matters,” Haymaker says with a grin, once again his uncannily pearly teeth glowing through. “Nothing.” We all nod in agreement. “I am nothing but I once was,” all five of us say in chorus. I try to clear the phlegm in my throat but it’s all dry. It’s almost impossible to even swallow. “So, why are we burning down a church?” *** “So, you’re, like, an anarchist,” I ask the Haymaker the second time I visit the basement. This time we’re all relaxed on plush couches and fold-up chairs, passing a joint, or what I think is a joint. I guess this is the initiation process. “No, Anarchists are nothing but a bunch of organized has-beens with something to prove. They have ideology…scum.” “Nihilist then?” Corey and Miles scoff at me, giving each other that look as Miles escorts his hand along Celine’s knee.
“Same thing,” the Haymaker replies. “But worse. They give the illusion of not having an ideology, but really they’re just lying to themselves. They are nothing but the cleverest in the herd, but part of the herd nonetheless.” “But don’t we, I mean, you have an ideology? Don’t you have something to believe in?” “I told you: when I first came into contact with the Voodoo I was transported to another dimension, one that you could not possibly even try to fathom in your constrained perception. And I’m not talking about just my mind being transported. It was my whole fucking body. I wandered in a realm that has nothing to do with our own and I felt as though I was one and I was nothing and everything was as majestically useless as it could be.” “Which is when you met the beings,” Corey interrupts “Right, I met these extra dimensional beings who were not made of matter or even energy but composited of themselves. They just were.” The Haymaker takes a long and exasperated drag from the joint and then takes another puff for safe measure, passing it along to Miles. “These beings then schooled me in the true meaning behind our existence. They taught me things that I would never have learned if I spent a thousand years in that prison of a school. I knew then that I was being brainwashed by the Oppressors, which they, the beings, told me all about. They were my liberation and now I shall be yours.” Everyone pauses, absorbing every word the Haymaker’s saying. I see the way Celine eyes him up and down and crosses her legs, the front of her skirt getting caught between her thighs. “So, what did they teach you? What’s the truth, the meaning?” They’re all flabbergasted. Corey smacks the back of my head, taking extra effort to make sure the bones in his palm made contact with my skull. The hanging light was starting to shift color and the shadows walk from one end of the basement to the other in a panic. 48
“I can’t remember. I was really fucked up.” “You can’t remember?” “I think it was a sign. I couldn’t remember because there wasn’t anything to remember. There was no recollection of the truth because there was no truth. There was only me and the Voodoo and the other dimension and none of it mattered.” “So, we believe in the Voodoo? The Voodoo is our ideology.” The Haymaker squints, pinching his nose while waving away the joint being passed around. “Okay, asshole, are you even listening to me?” “I’m trying.” “We believe in nothing because there is nothing to believe in. Do you understand that much? Can your fat-ass, over saturated on corn chips and internet brain comprehend the message I am giving you at this moment?” “Yeah, but isn’t that Nihilism?” “Oh, come-the-flying-fuck on,” the Haymaker screams at me throwing his hands into the clutter of the basement trying to find something to throw. Corey and Miles begin to surround me, gripping my shoulders, shaking me like a fucking animal, some estranged fat puppy that they were going to fix one way or another. Celine just sits there. But she doesn’t do anything, nothing bless her heart. She may pity who I am but pity could get me to at least second base, third base if I really strung it out to an incredible performance. The Haymaker grips my pudgy cheeks with his fingers, the stench of sweat clinging to my nostrils. He brushes his goatee against my ear but, instead of whispering, he starts to shout. “Mike. Pussyfoot. Are you listening? Listen to me right now. Nihilists believe in something. It’s called Nihilism. It’s stupid. It’s arbitrary. It’s downright oppressive, just like the rest of the lot. We believe in 49
nothing because there is nothing and the Voodoo has given us that gift. Get it?” I couldn’t lose my cool here. I really need something right about now, and my best option is nothing. I’m not playing the hand that I’ve been dealt because no one even gave me any cards. I think the Haymaker would like that, my own little philosophizing here, but I shouldn’t say anything except yes. Can’t fuck this up, I hear Celine’s pretty loose. I really need something right about now. “Yeah, I got it. I was just making sure it really was nothing.” The Haymaker grabs the baggie of Voodoo, licks his finger, digs it in, and swivels it along my gums. It’s the third time he’d done it to me since I went back to the Haymaker’s. *** So yeah, here I am dying by a combination of dehydration, suffocation, inflammation, combustion, and oddly enough a brain tumor they will discover traces of in my autopsy. The doctors will say that it came from a ridiculous combination of prescription drugs: a little bit of Valium, a shit ton of Xanax, some motion sickness pill only found in Thailand, several pain-killers available by mail from India, and three unidentifiable new experimental mood-altering medications the FDA refuses to approve. The doctors will also be able to point to the fact that all of these drugs were ground up, synthesized, cooked and ground up again and show strong similarities to a street drug gaining momentum outside of D.C. How do I know all of this, especially since I’m in the process of blistering and burning and crumbling into non-existence? Because they’re telling me this—the beings. They approach me in the midst of my final moments calmly just being among the flames. I can’t describe them, though. They’re kind of nothing. Just a composite of themselves. Well played, Haymaker. But they tell me they don’t know who this Haymaker is. “Didn’t you come into contact with him while he embraced the Voodoo? Told him the secret to existence, or the existence of secrets?”
The boundaries of my body become less and less apparent. I don’t feel like the fat ass I am. I could really use something right about now. They deliver. I can see through the shit of everybody now. Miles, you fuck. Giving up someone as wonderful and damaged as Celine to some pasty, sweaty, twenty year old drop out in the name of nothing? What a stupid thing to hold onto: nothing. Corey, go fuck yourself, too. Seriously. You’re the only one who called me Pussyfoot. And what a horrible nickname. What did that even mean? Was my foot a pussy, or did I once accidentally kick a girl in the vag, or what? You can also hold onto nothing, you idiot. But Celine, I know you contemplated going after me. Or at least it crossed your mind. You don’t have anything to prove. I know you liked my idea of a clubhouse, it was a good idea. You even mentioned it as all four of you watched the church, and the pews, and me burn into the December sky in puffs of harsh, blackened smoke. You said, “Why didn’t we just tear the thing down and use the scraps to build a new place to meet?” You were always so ambitious. You just never knew it. I would forgive you, Celine, but the Voodoo, or, well, the Haymaker doesn’t will it. If the Haymaker believes in nothing, but also wills it does that mean he wills nothing? I don’t even know what “will” means. The whole Voodoo thing didn’t make a lot of sense to any of us, but it was fun, I guess. It was definitely something. And I really could’ve used something right about then. But now, only this I know: I am a martyr for nothing. I believe in nothing. I am nothing but I once was– Josh Zimmerer is a senior Creative Writing major at Capital University. After being a part of the local music scene and spending too much time working in pizza shops, he intends to get his MFA in fiction. Blotterature is his first publication.
Highway Mentally ill rats on a pole meant for Girls! Girls! Girls! Jesus saves the next rest area and eats boiled peanuts by the handful Confederate flags â€“ Repent! blow off rusted trucks selling grouper not rebellion This peppered highway runs north and south between breezes and sealed windows Exit now for peaches a feverish unstartling death Cari Oleskewicz is poet and writer based in Tampa and currently traveling through Italy. Her work has been published in a number of online and print publications, including The Found Poetry Review, Main Street Rag, Five2One Magazine, Commonline Journal, Diverse Verses Quarterly, Imitation Fruit Literary Journal and Sasee Magazine; and is presently working on a novel-inverse.
CROSSING PATHS, 15X9, ADEL SOUTO
Ryan I want to tell him how sorry I am for being a careless older sister. Apologize for cutting his hair in 2nd grade so his kindergarten picture makes him look like a goofy puppy -- shaved head, ears flapping like bat wings, a shining red cold sore on his lower lip. The time I painted his nails with Mom’s shiny red nail polish with the black lid and splattered the polish on his face, his baby-like fingers, his favorite green T-shirt. When we were 10 and 8 and I yanked his hair and dragged him crying down the hall away from my American Girl dolls. When his athletic junior high classmates bullied him, and I bullied him more, taking my social anxiety out on him, an embodiment of the awkwardness I so ardently fought to suppress. Glaring at him sideways over dinnertime spaghetti, hiding his ripped up tennis shoes under the bench “where they belong,” pushing, pushing, pushing. For the December, January, February high school mornings I clicked the child safety lock and rolled down the passenger-side window as a form of icy passive-aggressive revenge; he farted in the bathroom that morning before I had the chance to brush my teeth and curl my hair. For not listening to Emily and Genevieve and Katie, the girls who told me that he threw away his strawberry NutriGrain breakfast bars and complimentary banana every morning at school and claimed he “wasn’t hungry” for lunch for weeks and weeks and weeks. For not kicking down the door of the Princeton High School guidance office; Mr. Brian Church, the guidance counselor defended me and said I was “going places” but called him “a disgrace” and “shameful." He sent Mom and Dad a Snapchat of a maroon-and-orange-clad Buddhist monk sitting in a McDonald’s in Nashville, Tennessee. I sat on the edge of a parking lot at 9:20 pm on August 30th and cried when Dad sent me an angry text for not calling Mom on her 50th birthday. Ryan caught a bus and a train overnight to surprise her.
Allison Jensen is an aspiring writer from rural Illinois. She has been published in the Antique Explorer and the Illinois Country Explorer, two small magazines that have a heart for local businesses in North Central Illinois. In her free time, she enjoys knitting hats and reading too many books at one time.
PEEPHOLE, 15X9, ADEL SOUTO
Hospital: Night The one smell I hate more than any other is that of hospitals—of that alcohol they use to cover up the smell of death, only to cover everything else around it. I truly believe I never could have worked in one, though it should have maybe been that way. I always preferred family clinics with the doctors, who say things to each other— complain over drinks maybe on Friday evenings when the schedules allow for it. I walk to the nurse’s station and tell her who I am. She says I do not have to sign in, that I am family. I thank her and think about how I might take the dogs for a walk when I get home tonight. I knock and enter her room. My gut sinks like it has every time I’ve entered before. Once, she took me and Monica out to see the redwoods. That was the day she told me that, no matter what happens, a mother’s love is always stronger than a father’s. That day, she wore a red house dress. Now, house dresses like that are known as vintage. About nine months after that trip to the redwoods, she divorced my father. He still brings it up. Tells us stories about when we were kids, when my mother was there—how happy we were, how proud he is of us now. She turns to me, the stringy oxygen tubes running through her nose. She smiles at me and, somewhere in it, I can still locate her effortless, eternal beauty. The one she passed onto me. That day when she smelled smoke on me for the first time, I thought she was going to slaughter me. She told me to look at her. Did I want to be like her? Monica is in Alaska; she hasn’t been to visit yet. Me, I’ve been here each night. Each morning, I drive south for a little over an hour and a half. After work, I drive the same route, but north. I tend to the dogs and go to see Mother.
I moved here for Grady, but he broke it off. I still don’t really know why. Mother asks me how I am doing and I tell her such a thing does not matter at all. She always told me to make wise choices, to listen closely to her guidance, words of wisdom. I always did. And I truly did when she told me to follow my heart. Now, she lies here and tells me that it does matter. It matters everything to her. She says she’s tired of talking about what she’s been up to. She only wants to know about me. A piece of dust flickers in my eye like a shining star. I feel it drop down my cheek as I sit by her side. She tells me that I should never give up and that she thinks I have given up. “I haven’t,” I say. “I’m only taking a break.” “See more men. Take advantage of your time, Tom, for it is very short.” “I need to take a break.” And my mother says, “Tommy, dear, I want you to tell me about the saddest thing you have ever seen in your life.” “What?” “I want you to do this for me.” I think about what to say, about how after saying it, I will probably ask my mother the same question—how maybe I don’t want to hear her answer. I lean in a bit closer to her, curl up comfortably to her legs. “I think it comes down to two. Is it ok if I say both?” “Yes, dear.”
“Okay, well, the first one happened when I first moved here. I went to a bookstore and went to a section of photography books. I was interested in that then. Really interested in how a persona could be built through means of art. How these photographers were, in a lot of ways, their portraits. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a reason they were taken. I opened and paged through this book by I don’t know who. It was a woman. A woman photographer. And her pictures were of women that she photographed in a woman’s center. Beneath each close-up of these women, bloodied and bruised and beaten, it said their name and that they had been a victim of domestic abuse or of rape. I thought I’d die. I realized then that maybe one day I’d like to help these women at a center or something.” My mother reaches her hand out to mine and says, “You are one of the best people I know, my son.” I want to say the next, but this moment, it’s tearing my stomach apart. My heart sinks lower as I stare into her aging eyes. She says, “I’m waiting, Tommy.” I continue holding my mother’s hand and begin again. “One night, at my place over by the lake. The one I had for a year, when I got my first job out of college. I was sitting out and it was raining and whatever happened behind the woods that laced the back of the complex, weird noises were coming out of it. I was smoking. I was smoking a cigarette and, from the corner of my eye, I could see the figure of something. I looked at it and it was a cat, a feral cat, getting poured on. I watched as it paced around, searching hard, hard, hard to find cover, but it couldn’t get away from the rain. I started to cry. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen.” Mother rubs my hand with her thumb. I ask her if she would like to share and she shakes her head no. She says, “Tell me the baddest thing that has ever happened to you.” I breathe in and reply, “I think the baddest things that have ever happened to me have only ever been a result of my own bad thoughts, things I have said to myself, done to myself. It’s been only from me.”
My mother grins and nods her head. She says, “Isn’t that interesting, Tom? How we can learn a great deal just by explaining things like that.” I remember that day, my mother in her red house dress. We played hide and seek, running through the redwoods. I feared Monica would get lost, but I also trusted. I trusted that mother was there to make me trust. I look into her eyes and she smiles at me. I smile back. People explain to me often that things like this are just a part of life, but right now, more than ever, I cannot accept things like that. I cannot believe things like that. And I cannot understand simple explanations just like that.
Television in Color I recall things lying on my parent’s expensive couch, watching the television, but not really watching it. In L.A., they tell you stories about dreams, about seeking answers through art. And nowadays, they consider art to be television. My mom, Laura, walks past with a Bloody Mary in hand. It’s 8 a.m. on a Tuesday. Following her are two Shih Tzus that are brother and sister, five years old and still not potty trained. My mother ignores them and, somehow, I think that’s why they like her most. She says, “Roger! Please, please, please take a shower today.” And I say nothing. Ten weeks ago, the love of my life—the man I thought I’d marry once all these marriage equality rulings were passed, he walked out on me, citing nothing. But, in my heart and in my head, I knew just what it was. It was him. It was the man I met one night. At this party, Timothy looked at him like he saw something familiar and I knew just what it was. It was his asshole, his cock, his balls, his taint. Once upon a time, Timothy looked at me in the same way. Kissed me good morning and kissed me good night. He prepared dinner as I made the one and a half hour commute south in my Toyota Prius every evening.
Timothy’s left me for the other man, making another man of me. I wake up in the mornings and I lie on the expensive couch, soaking in humorous storylines, but laughing not at all. I do not eat until I have to. And sometimes I do not have to because coffee and cigarettes and vodka have a really great way of curbing hunger. My career faltered as a result of Timothy’s departure. I used to live and breathe success and glory. I was good at it, attending meetings and eating expensive sandwiches that the administrative assistant had purchased just for my cause. Two weeks after being fired, I was diagnosed with cancer. Melanoma—the really not good kind. The doctors tell me not to live the way I am. And I do not listen, because I cannot listen. The sister Shih Tzu, Mary Jane, climbs up on the couch. I pet her stomach and she purrs like a kitten. Shih Tzu means “little lion” in Chinese. It is true they have feline tendencies. She licks my face and I can smell the distant scent of shit. My sister, Fran, walks into the room. She is smoking a cigarette and sipping at a drink similar to my mother’s. She is wearing a very expensive pajama suit and her hair looks perfect. I wonder for a moment how she does it, but I really do know. She asks me if I know where she got these pajamas. I stare at the television, mess my hair up and purse my lips. Fran asks me again if I know. This time, I roll my eyes and make eye contact, as if to suggest that it is her turn to tell me. Fran says, “They’re Vera Wang.” I tell Fran that Vera Wang should stick to wedding dresses. All she does is huff, implying that I am scum and she is power and fame and glory. The truth of the matter is that Fran hasn’t been laid in at least three years. And it’s certainly not from lack of trying; she dresses her best, goes to parlors to get her hair dyed the same color 61
that it naturally is. She gets her manis, her pedis. She lives a life that revolves around seeking beauty and, in the end, I know that sort of behavior can only eventually translate into horrifically botched plastic surgery. I tell her to go. It passes right by Fran and she sits down next to my feet on the couch. She puts her hand on them (I can smell my feet from here). Fran says, “You know, Rog, you gotta just get up. There is a life to live. You have to keep moving. Live in the present.” My therapist used to tell me things like this. Three months into our sessions, he dropped dead from cardiac arrest. “Do you ever, like, do anything?” I ask. Fran laughs uproariously. She says, “Aw. You are just a treat.” She claps her hands, says, “You know, Rog, that is the very question that you should be asking yourself. What have you done lately?” “I have cancer.” “True.” This is when Fran stands up with her beverage in hand. On her way out, she lights another cigarette. I grab for my pack and light my own. I am going to die. And I feel freer than I have in all my life. But it’s a strange free, like letting go and fearing nothing, which might just be the scariest feeling of them all. I hear my mother screaming at my brother, Tony. She tells him to masturbate into a napkin, a toilet, a Kleenex, the shower—not his underwear. She’s telling him that he’s making life for the maid, Esmeralda, very difficult. I can hear him squealing, I can hear the manic attack coming on. Tony suffers from severe anxiety attacks and there is absolutely no wonder why.
Alan Semrow lives in Wisconsin . His fiction and poetry have been featured in publications including BlazeVOX14, Red Fez, The Bicycle Review, Barney Street, and Wordplay; he won the Essayist Award from the University of WisconsinStevens Point English Department for his nonfiction work.
Even Then In the carriage of snakes they bore you down past blue cypress to heaving pits of stone, but even in that hearse you felt a river rise in you, a gladness banked against the sky of yellow day.
In the Circle of the Sun I woke a crow just before dawn stroked the eastern sky and watched it wheel away in blessed dark. I breathed a lightning trail. Somewhere rain hammered on the sleepless and the cold. TVâ€™s flickered and the bad news began again. In the circle of the sun I held a hammer in my hands kneeling on the rough-shingled roof. No one blessed me then, or found a strand of my gray hair. Whenever I ate, food tasted of salt and straw. All alone I made a nest of twigs. No one opened a secret door. Here in the season of colorless skies, I embrace chill and a little swirling breeze. What thirst! Twice I nearly curled around your feet, purring my velvet tones. Everything changes. I breathe and the world disappears. Cats come home and I hear nothing but hard bare claws skittering on the kitchen floor.
The Encampment Through dead leaves, freezing rain then snow and crashing limbs and here come voices and shrieking signs, mud hard packed and frozen now packages scattered on white ground in the place where we once held hands, red howling and no homes just fingers bleeding and a carousel of painted horses nipping flesh. Steve Klepetar's work has received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. His latest collections include Speaking to the Field Mice (Sweatshoppe Publications), Blue Season (with Joseph Lisowski, mgv2>publishing), My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto (Flutter Press), and Return of the Bride of Frankenstein (Kind of a Hurricane Press).
MIDNIGHT, ADEL SOUTO
Adel Souto is a Cuban-born artist, writer, and musician, currently living in Brooklyn, NYC. He has written for his own fanzines starting in the early 90s, and has contributed pieces to numerous magazines, fanzines, and websites since. He has released several books, including a “best of”, a chapbook on the subject of a 30-day vow of silence, and has also translated the works of Spanish poets. His work has shown in galleries in NYC, Philadelphia, and Miami, as well as in Europe. As side projects, he produces the public access TV show, Brooklyn’s Alright, and is heavily involved with her musical outfit, 156, which has a handful of releases on several labels across the U.S.
A Six-Year Summer in South Carolina If school years were the pages of my early life, houses were the chapters. But before school ever started, from the time I was born till when I turned six, I lived in South Carolina. For me, like most summers, this period always has lacked form. I am aware of facts: my mother’s Masters work at the state university, my father’s short-lived position at the town’s Bible College, my siblings’ trouble at school, our welfare checks. But what I feel when I remember that chapter is heat—the heat that thickened in your throat, that melted the air above the asphalt, that evaporated your energy along with your sweat. My brothers and sister and I would cluster around the air conditioning window unit. But our parents—trading time typing at the Commodore 64 and mumbling to each other, “Not enough time, not enough time,” a refrain they renewed when entering their sixties they— drove us back into the heat. I remember standing at my back door, humid Carolinian dusk dampening my t-shirt. The vibrating evening beckoned me from the hushed A/C swirling at my back. Behind our house was graduated wildlife first— a kempt yard, then a tendriled slope to a stream and finally, a border demarcated by watersmooth stones and full forest. I spent long evenings running my hands over those pebbles and watching the bracken lean out from the trees and dip its fronds into the water as if to sip. Into the woods some ways, there were raised railroad tracks. I still don’t know if they were abandoned; I never heard a train or saw someone working on them, but the ivy siege never reached farther than halfway up the twin embankments of dolostones buoying the rails. I sometimes dreamed of secret gardeners, swathed in Spanish moss and stealing from the trees by moonlight, gripping silver pruning shears to clip the vines creeping up the white stones. I never followed the tracks far. I would balance on one rail like a tightrope walker, pretending the ballast inches below was only open air. Once I stared straight up at a single cloud for nearly an hour, until 67
I fully believed I teetered on a rail stretching across that empty whiteblue sky, suspended high above the trees, and that cloud was my only companion, floating silently. In that moment, all was still. My father and brothers once played a trick on me. They blindfolded me and stood me on a two-by-four. Then each brother began to lift his end of the plank so I rose on it, rocking. I held their shoulders for balance, and my father held my waist. They lifted me higher and higher, above their heads, until I had nothing to steady me. Then my brothers let go. I was only inches from the ground; when I pulled off the blindfold, my brothers and dad were crouched around me, laughing. I wavered on that steel rail hanging above the trees for a time, then fell six inches and six hundred feet simultaneously. When I was older, I went back for the first time in over a decade. The house we lived in was painted beige and lining the front walk, like newly straight teeth, stood an ankle-high picket fence. I abandoned my shoes beside the stream and retraced the rail with my bare feet, sliding the smooth steel beneath my soles. The tracks went on for miles exactly as I remembered, with forest unfurling in every direction as far as I could see. In the distance, farther up the track, coal black smoke smudged the sky. I turned around when I saw it and didnâ€™t look back. David Priest is recent college graduate and journalist in central Indiana who starting this year will be living in an artist residency outside Philadelphia, developing his writing craft before applying to MFA programs. Blotterature is his first literary publication.
Baptism of Desire The church recognizes the will to change as change. With the first itch, it is summer, the private school girls still parking down the street. Eating melon, we watch the moon and plan a week at the beach. Next door, music rattles the gutters. Every night, it's the same song: he will kill her before heâ€™ll lose her. A woman falls off her bike into the street, her foot still in the stirrup, her partner struggling to remove her helmet. Phoning for help, I recall the swimmer's cap Sister brought to class to reenact the tale of a woman, dying from shark attack, who had begged her fiancĂŠ to baptize her with ocean water from her cap. How to imagine is not to shape, except in faith, which is as close as I have come to understanding love. How desiring perfects us. As the ambulance pulls off, I study the cyclist's face between flashes of red, fear shaping his love, and I think of the swimmers: Would he have loved her as dearly had she lived to disappoint him? You insist I come in out of the rain, and I hear Sister, urging us not to sleep with men we will marry, until we have.
The Long Way, Home In the dark on an unlit road, you take the corners sharply, tempting fate to take us off the course we precariously wend. I have done my best not to make the evening adventure, but it is almost too much: the beauty of outdated architecture, a long drive to a dinner neither of us can afford, and the demands of your gaze, food turning cold on the plate, fed by the want in your eyes, a forbidden feast. Brushing past you in the doorway, I know I let you stand too close too often, and when you seize me in your arms to inhale my exhalation, the pounding in my temple answers your silent plea. --Returning home, we talk about the river that runs parallel to the narrow lane, a black strip except where trace light glistens, reflected off the waterâ€™s surface. Nerves on fire, I half-listen to your stories, refusing to let my eyes or mind settle on anything, afraid an image will stay, singed into memory, made precious. Unclasping my hands, I wiggle my fingers as if releasing something too sacred to hold, checking, again, the catch of my seat belt.
Rita Anderson was poetry editor of Ellipsis (annual literary publication, University of New Orleans), and sheâ€™s won the Houston Poetry Festival, the Gerreighty Prize, the Robert F. Gibbons Poetry Award, an award from the Academy of American Poets and the Cheyney Award (best published poem). Her poetry has been published in Spoon River Poetry Review, Words Work, Transcendence, PHIction, Persona (50th Anniversary Edition), The Artful Mind, Ellipsis, Di-Verse-City: An Austin Poetry Anthology and Explorations (University of Alaska Press).
Men Who Like Airplanes But Don't Have Wings We meet every Thursday night in the upstairs room of the Livingston Lanes bowling alley. The floor is grey speckled linoleum, the walls are faux-wood and the remnants of cigarette smoke no longer allowed indoors permeates the stale air. At tonight's meeting, there are seven men and I watch them pick their cuticles and furtively look around the room until we begin. We are all seated in a circle on cheap folding chairs with uneven legs. A full circumference of flannel and vice. “So, who wants to go next? We have time for one more,” I ask. The sound of the new guy, Mitchell, biting his fingernails and the tick-tick of a clicking a pen is the only response. “No one? Steve?” I point my Phoenix Airport Marriot pen at the man sitting next to Mitchell. Steve shakes his shiny head. “Okay, Mitchell. I know it's your first day, but why don't you give it a shot?” Mitchell sits erect and his eyes dart around, never finding their mark. He doesn’t yet have that slouch that the old-timers get. “I’m not really that good at … Can't I just … y'know, listen?” “Well, that's not how we do things here Mitchell,” I say. “Right, but …” I point to his pants. They look unwashed, but he looks like he might have once been a suit, like so many of them. I was never a suit. I prefer Dockers. “Now, what's that in your pocket?” I can see Mitchell fiddling with something in the lower reaches of his jeans pocket. It can be only one of two things and I know what it is.
“Nothing,” Mitchell responds. “It's nothing,” and he abandons the pocket, looks down and begins to bite the nails off his other hand. Such a distasteful habit. I’m not convinced. And he really does have to be honest. With us. With himself. Those are the steps. “Oh, c'mon now. What have you got in–” Then Steve, pipes up. “Uh … I can go.” “Thank you, Steve, but I think it will be good for Mitchell,” I assert, leaning toward the sweating new addition. I look under his heavy lids, forcing his eyes to meet mine. As I do, I slowly bring my head up and Mitchell mirrors me until he is facing me straight on. “Mitchell, you came here. You already made the first step,” I say. “Okay. Fine. I'm uh … y'know, Mitchell.” “Hi, Mitchell,” intones the group. “And uh … okay. Here goes: So I, uh … brought my son on his first plane ride, right? He's five. And so the stewardess–” “Flight attendant,” I correct. It’s important to be correct. They don’t like to be called stewardesses. I should know. All these men. Not a single woman. There was one once. She had actually been a flight attendant (rare for this kind of group), and when I once told her there were rules about who could and who could not be a stewardess, so she could not possibly be one, she slapped me. If only I had said “flight attendant.” I regret that every day. Her name was Paula and she was lame (clinically), and she broke my heart. Mitchell is still talking. “Yeah, we just got onto the plane and were waiting by the cockpit and the … flight attendant–” he says it carefully, “smiles at my son and starts to fuss all over him and asks how old he is and I … well, I just know it’s coming.”
“What Mitchell? What's coming?” I ask. “You know.” “No, I don't know,” I say and smile. Yes, of course I know. I breathe these men’s anguish three times a week. I know. I get up from my seat and walk toward Mitchell in a slow friendly gait. I will not surprise him. I will walk to him, hands in a soft fist, facing downward as I approach. The same way you approach a dog you do not know. “So … uh … she asks Max – that's my son – if he had ever had a pair of wings.” Mitchell stops. The group has abandoned their slouches and is now intent on Mitchell's story. The pen clicking has ceased. The only sound is the muted rolling thunder from the bowling balls below. “Go on,” I coax as I near. Mitchell continues, “and from somewhere in the galley –” “That's where they always keep them!” calls out one of the men behind me. I think it’s Patrick. He has a falsetto type voice that is incongruous to his burly, dumpy body. “Sometimes they're in the snack cart,” I say. My eyebrows sink closer to my eyes. I can feel their weight. “Sometimes the pilot has them,” another says. Mitchell continues. “Well, she pulls it out of her little apron and it's so shiny and so small and has those little red and blue A's and I can't … I can't help but grab it.” A collective sigh is emitted from the group; they understand. “And so then, she thinks I'm like … kidding, y'know? And little Max is looking up at me and he's so sad, right? But I don't have one from American Airlines yet and it'd be so perfect in my collection and Max is about to cry. I can see it, right? And the stewardess is still kind of smiling and people are pushing at us to move on up the aisle and I ask if Max can have another. If I can … well … keep it, right?” 74
“And?” I press. This is where it gets good. The stories are all the same. Desire. Heartache. Heartbreak. “Yeah, so did you get it?” another man asks. I’m not sure who. I'm really zoned in now. “Uh … I can't. I don't want to go on.” There are faint tears at the corner of Mitchell's eyes and he rubs them away with his fists. “Yes, you can Mitchell. You can,” I urge. But Mitchell has his face in one hand and his other thrust back in his pocket. “No.” “Yes.” “No.” “We've all been there,” says one of the men. I nod. “Yeah, we've been there bro,” says Steve, and places a hand on Mitchell's shoulder. Mitchell looks out at the circle. Some large. Some scrawny. Some young. Some old. All at the edge of their seats and tethers. They want to know. They need to know. We need to know. “So uh … the stewardess …” “Flight attendant,” I correct again. “Flight attendant, yeah … she … uh … she says that was the last one, and as soon as she says it, Max begins to lose it.” “It's so hard when family gets involved,” I say. “And … the stewar- flight attendant isn't smiling anymore and she says, 'Mister, now that's for the boy,’ and Max is crying his little eyes out and the other passengers start looking at us and I just … can't. I grab Max, push past the line and run back down the jetway.”
“You didn't even take the flight,” I say, shaking my head. “Right.” “Wings not earned man,” says Steve. He removes his hand from Mitchell's shoulder, “You gotta earn 'em.” “And Max?” I ask Mitchell. For it always comes down to the kid. Or the wife. Or the girl. That’s how they get broken. “He got over it. I guess. Eventually. But those little heaves. Y'know when kids do that? It's like they'll stop breathing right there.” “Now, Mitchell. In your pocket. Give it over,” I encourage. Slowly, tentatively, Mitchell pulls the wings pin out and holds it tight in his fist. I know it’s there. The group has not seen the glint of faux gold, but I have. He licks his lips and I can see that beneath the bitten-tothe-quick dirty fingernail of his thumb, he has started to bleed. There is blood. They are blood wings. That must be painful. I couldn't do it. That's really why Paula left. “Now,” I say, “give it here.” Mitchell hesitates. I’m giddy. He opens his palm and looks down. “I even have TWA and Pan Am and they're not around anymore,” Mitchell grouses. “American’s rumored to be going out of business.” Agreeable mutters from the crowd. I keep my hand outstretched. My triceps begin to quiver. But I keep my palm open, hand as steady as I can. Ready to receive. He’s right. They might go bankrupt. They might merge. They may stop deciding to give these out along with the already defunct seafood platters and turkey dinners for budgetary reasons. These wings may soon be rarer than the extra leg room they promised. “What if I never get a chance to –” Mitchell whines. “They don't even count man, if you didn't fly,” says Steve. 76
“Steve’s right,” I say. “And think of Max.” Mitchell deflates, sinks lower on the back of the seat, the front right leg of the chair wobbling in the air precariously. I go on. “Think of how sad Max was. How sad you made him. It doesn't have to be this way.” Mitchell tips back on the chair and drops the wings and the small sound the plastic pin makes when it hits the floor is like a rip in my chest. There is silence. A breath. A click of a pen. Another breath. I kneel in front of Mitchell and place my hands on his knees. The denim is stiff with filth and I balance only the tips of my fingers there and say, “Usually it takes a lot more meetings to get to where you got today Mitchell. You did good. You were strong.” I think of my own collection, the prized ones in framed shadow boxes on the wall, like butterflies. I remember the flights, the fasten seatbelt signs, the astringent smell of the lavatories, the ping of someone calling a flight attendant over, the tiny cans of tomato juice, the man in 14A, the woman in 5B, the frown of the stewardess. Paula. I could leave the wings where they lay. It’s just a pin. It’s for kids. I could walk out the room with these men searching for abdication and forgiveness. I turn to the group and address the circle of men, the greasy, the depressed, the searching, the hopeful. “Wingmen, well done today.” As the chairs scrape back and the heaves of large men fill the room. A few linger, assessing whether they could scoop up the wings without anyone knowing better. But I wait. And they move on. Then I feel a thick hand on my back. “You did good too,” Steve says as he presses his lips into a semi-smile. He keeps walking out and leaves me alone in an empty circle of chairs no longer occupied by stories, by flannel, by vice. I sit in one of the rusty seats. I slouch and lean back and as I do the chair falls backwards. My head hits the floor and the offending chair angrily follows and we find ourselves crumpled on the linoleum, my hand crushing the discarded wings pin. It stings. Then it soothes. I slowly close my palm around it. It fits perfectly. I stand, the throbbing at the base of my skull demanding I do something to alleviate the 77
pain. I shouldn't. For Paula, I should leave the trinket where it lay. For these men that I lead, I shouldn't take the pin. I breathe in. I breathe out. I can't do it. I can't abandon my wings. I shove the pin in my pocket. I’ll try again next time. In the private cloister of my pocket, I finger the smooth double A's, the pointy wing tips. Back in my car, I lean the seat back and turn on the motor. In the dull rain the windows fog up quickly. Behind me the headlights of a car turn on. It's bright, like a new car’s lights. The halo they provide is almost angelic. I hold the double “A”s up in the radiance and admire the structural integrity of such a tiny piece. The luster of the plastic induced shine. The excitement that just these small wings imply; travels to far-away places, of affairs, the exotic, the luxury, the children, the family. The car behind me revs to life and drives away. I am left in foggy darkness. I struggle to pull my seat up and open the glove compartment. As I do, hundreds of airline wings pins come clattering out. The vaguely chemical but hygienic smell fills my Datsun. I leave the ones that fall and add the latest treasure to my pile. Jennifer Fliss is a New York-raised, Wisconsin- and California- schooled, Seattle-based writer. She holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and a certificate in Literary Fiction from the University of Washington. Her writing can be found online and in print with publications and websites such as Brain Child, Stratus, Daily Mom, Behind the Book, BookerMarks, and The Well Read Fish.
Sea Glass There was a time when my family would drive to the Atlantic every February during spring break. The beaches, once flush with bronzed skin, were barren and blustery, and despite all the boarded up stores and closed up Fried Dough shops, it was my favorite trip to make. We were alone on the beaches except for occasional elderly residents bundled tight and walking the shore in boots. I liked seeing sand on their winter hats and gloves. February is always the best time to search for sea glass; the waves are rough enough to smooth the edges of the broken bottle bits and there is no one else around to collect the best colors and shapes. My brothers and I kept the really good pieces in a jar in their bedroom. From one of our last trips, one to Maine, I have a favorite photograph of us in front of a lighthouse. I say “have” but really, I’m remembering it. I’m not sure where it resides now. In it, the sky behind us is summer blue. My brothers flank me on either side, our mutt dog held between my hands, and we are all perched on top of a large rock. I’m in a rose pink sweater and my hair is wrapped into two little buns on top of my head. I was very proud of my hair that day. We’re all in sensible shoes and smiling. Our father took the photo. Day trips and vacations were essential to our lives. “We don’t have a lot of time,” my mother would say, as if the aging process had been sped up, our adult teeth coming in like crops. “We won’t always get to do this.” I had once smirked at VHS cases in the video store that claimed the movie inside was “A Coming of Age Tale.” I didn’t see how anyone’s coming of age story could be so clear-cut, like there was a line drawn in the sand between childhood and adulthood. I was always desperate to be older, to have a car, to move away, to be more than I was. Time does not move during childhood; it’s like the day I was helping in the kitchen and realized I could see over the counter but didn’t remember growing. I always wanted that line drawn in the sand, and I wanted to cross it faster despite my mother’s warnings.
I remember the photograph because it was one of the last taken before we all began to spin away from one another. Our tightly wound spool began to come undone when I discovered alcohol and the parties that came with it. We kept unwinding as my younger brother found a passion for skateboards and metal music, and the older one found structure working long hours that put him into coma-like naps on our couch at midday. I’d call him drunk, looking for a ride home. Our parents found divorce, and then the spool was bare. The jar of sea glass is gone now; the beach is still there. I’ve taken boyfriends to see what remains and to cling to a past life, to whisper something to them when I really want to yell. I try to say, “This is where I was young,” but I can’t. I always look down and point out that our bootprints wash away just as fast as footprints. The ocean doesn’t know the difference. It just keeps crashing. Amanda Kusek is a poet with a non-fiction problem. She made good on her promise to leave her small Massachusetts hometown and now lives and works in New York City.
Before Day Breaks Just before dawn the swirling water mist flattens down the souls of trees back into their native shapelessness; their images descend to remember living on the surface of the water, passing through birdsong and matins of frogs. Hands to the sky and toes just skipping over the water like stones thrown by children, the nymphs of the haze skip quickly, whirling all essences together. Soon, the sun will seem all things separate. Michael Collinsâ€™ poems have appeared numerous publications, including Grist, Kenning Journal, Pank, SOFTBLOW and Smartish Pace. His first chapbook, How to Sing when People Cut off your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water, won the Exact Change Press Chapbook Contest in 2014. A full-length collection, Psalmanadala, is forthcoming.
The March 30 Incident “Say Johansson, we gotta sell this place.” “You think?” Johansson said. “Sure, look at it, it’s got everything, mountains, beaches, pretty girls, and rain forests –well at least they look like rain forests,” Hanrahan said. It was the same everyday with Hanrahan, browsing the local tourist rags, gazing at the white sandy beaches of Kompong Som. “That’s a great picture of a Hill Tribe lady, isn’t it?” Hanrahan said. He lifted the magazine, show and tell, but Johansson wasn’t interested. He hoped Hanrahan wasn’t getting wanderlust, or worse a case of cold feet. “Rough night?” Hanrahan asked. Johansson stood up and moved toward the whiteboard. It was blank. It was always blank, and the pens he bought from the small stall at the old market were always bone dry. “Shit,” he said, as he tossed the pen aside. He couldn’t remember what he was going to write anyway. It was too early and the kid hadn’t brought him his coffee. “It’s opening day soon. You still follow the Mets?” Hanrahan asked. He had a newspaper to deal with and he figured if he ignored Hanrahan long enough he’d stop talking. Dogleg right, par four, five-iron looked about right, Johansson thought. He was on the back nine sitting in his golf cart drinking a beer. He couldn’t remember the last time he swung a golf club. Johansson had run the presses at the New York Post, and he knew a little about the business. He wasn’t so sure about Hanrahan. His only working experience was managing a Kinko’s in some Midwest factory 82
town. They hatched the plan over a long night of drinking in Bangkok, and soon crossed the border, renting the first shop house they could find. Johansson gave himself the title of editor-in-chief, and Harahan the executive editor, fine for the first few days, but what they really needed was someone who could write. Three months had passed and the paper hadn’t made a dime. Six more, he thought, and the money dries up. Meanwhile every bum in town banged on the door looking for work. He needed coffee, and needed it bad. Soon his latest crew of rejects would crawl through the door, and soon he’d need to pay them. He saw a pile of cash stacked as high as Hanrahan’s desk chair, and a pointy headed imbecile with a box of matches standing above it. Why are you mocking me? He asked the imbecile. The geek struck a match and dangled it above the pile of money. Johansson couldn’t watch what came next. Snap out of it. The whiteboard remained white, and a fly landed on Hanrahan’s nose and sat there. He was too lazy to brush it off. Hanrahan was too lazy for just about anything that required motion. “We should write a guidebook,” Hanrahan said. Johansson laughed as he stared at the stack of unsold newspapers sitting in the corner. He was growing impatient with the enterprise and the Khmer kid, who was late bringing him his coffee. “That’s it,” Johansson said. “What’s it—?” “—I remembered what I wanted to write on the whiteboard. Remind me to fire the kid, after he brings me my coffee.” “It’s Sunday. He’s off.”
Johansson moved toward his desk. “Sunday? I thought it was Monday.” He again looked at the stack of newspapers. He did a quick calculation in his head. On Tuesday the old woman would come to collect the rent and he wondered if he had it. Maybe he’d go to the beach instead, he thought. For the next few minutes there was silence and Johansson took a quick look at the books: rent, salaries, paper, supplies, and the electric bill. He was the real imbecile. He figured if things got tough he could always give up his apartment and sleep in the office, make up fake names and do the writing himself. He’d try to keep Mann if he could. A group of Khmers holding signs walked past the shop house and he looked at the clock. Eight-fifteen, and Mann hadn’t called. He hadn’t heard a peep out of him in nearly a week. He hoped Mann hadn’t forgotten. Why can’t they hold these rallies on a Monday? He thought. He never met Mann and hired him on his reputation alone. He hadn’t regretted his decision. He was a good writer. What he was doing in Cambodia, Johansson didn’t know. He was always somewhere, riding his motorcycle and beating the bushes for a story. So far, he had delivered as promised and kept this sorry excuse for a newspaper going. Late last month, he covered a shootout at a Toul Kok karaoke palace and a brothel bust in Oresay. A local police Colonel paraded half naked Vietnamese girls through the streets. A great picture, the girl’s book-ended by two grinning green shirted policemen. Mann had taken it himself and it helped sell a lot of newspapers. Johansson turned and stared out at the street. “Expecting someone?” Hanrahan asked. “Coffee would do.” He only paid the boy forty dollars a month, and without him he’d have to deliver the papers himself.
“Mann,” Johansson said. “What about him?” “Have you heard from him?” “Nope.” Johansson was worried. What if he overslept? Why hadn’t he called to confirm? The rally was the story, and Mann was good at finding that certain angle. He needed to sell some papers this week. He was out late drinking at the Cat House. He remembered having words with the managing editor of the other English language daily. What were they arguing about? Baldy walked in at about half past two wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. She stepped in between the two of them as things got hot and then put him in a Tuk-Tuk. That was the last thing he remembered. “I need coffee,” he shouted at the white board. More Khmer’s walked by and he wondered how many would come out to hear Sam Rainsy speak. The guy can put a jacked up taxing girl to sleep, he thought. What was the angle? Rainsy wearing a new pair of specks, mixing French and Khmer, the guy was as queer as a threedollar bill. He hoped Mann would work something out. Hanrahan was on the phone speaking Khmer. He heard the words Som Café, bee, and he started feeling better. At least he would have his coffee soon. A motorcycle taxi stopped in front of the office with Baldy on the back. She was still wearing her cap, but she had ditched the sunglasses. Stupid girl, she’s ass backwards, he thought. He watched her pay the driver with a fist full of crumbled 100 Riel notes that she probably picked off a bar room floor. “What’s her name again?” Johansson asked. “Beth.” 85
“Good morning,” Johansson said as she entered. She passed without saying a word; straight to her desk she removed her cap. Poor thing, he thought. She had lost a fistful of hair from the front of her head in the last week. She was hitting it hard, Martini’s on the weekends and a dive bar near the old market during the week. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a stack of papers. Johansson watched her, he knew her kind, as mean as they come with or without the booze. “You didn’t have to come in today,” he said. She grunted and began marking the papers in red ink. “Good morning Beth,” Hanrahan said. “Good morning.” “Sure, you say ‘Good morning’ to him, but not to the guy who pays you.” She looked up from her papers, ten kinds of hate in her eyes, still slightly shit faced and fighting the shakes. “I should have let him kick your ass,” she said. All this hostility and still the Khmers floated past in flip-flops. Back to his books, maybe he had added something wrong. Nope. All hope was lost; someone had to go. He looked up at Baldy, the logical choice. He did the math. Two more accounts this week, a girly bar and a doctor’s office, a dubious Aussie quack he had met at a party a week ago. She looked like an old drunk in a wig and cowboy boots. Was she a woman, or a man in drag? He couldn’t tell and hoped he never needed her services. The host was an NGO creep from Geneva with a hair lip he tried to hide under a mustache. He had a couple of young Khmer boys circling him like outhouse flies. But the food was free, and the wine was French.
He was still a few hundred in the hole. “Beth?” “Yes,” she said. “Thanks for getting me home last night.” She shook her head and he watched a couple of blond hairs land on the desk. The managing editor was younger and in better shape. He had a couple of his crew with him, guys with experience who actually knew how to run a newspaper. All he had was Kinko’s Hanrahan and a couple of drunken cast offs. Baldy couldn’t find work if the rest of the fourth tier journalists in town committed group suicide. I’ll take Mann off your hands, the editor told him. I’ll pay him eight hundred a month. Jesus, a guy could live pretty well on that, he thought, as he tossed down three thousand Riel for another beer. He only paid Mann five hundred. Mann could find work anywhere, he thought, as a Khmer girl walked in holding two cups of coffee. “Finally, for fuck’s sake.” He tipped the girl two thousand Riel, and sat down at his desk. He’d bet his bottom dollar that the coffee tasted like shit, but it was something at least. A truck drove by with a bunch of peasant hanging off the back and an old man shouting into a bullhorn. Baldy stood up. “It looks like it’s gonna be big.” “Maybe you should get down there,” Johansson said. “I ain’t goin near that place. Let Mann handle it.” Mann again, everything was up to Mann. He told them he had worked in Bangkok for several years and then spent a few months hunting wild boar up in the jungle. With a resume like that who wouldn’t have hired him. He said his father worked at Newsweek in the 60’s, but he 87
didn’t check into it. The guy could write, he thought. That was all he cared about. Baldy on the other hand could barely construct a sentence. The door opened and the Poet walked in, another stumblebum, and today he was wearing a suit and a tie. “Jesus Christ what are you dressed up for?” Hanrahan shouted. The Poet walked across the room like he was royalty. “Going to a wedding later,” the Poet said. “Oh, yeah, who’s getting married?” Baldy asked. “Another idiot I guess.” He tossed a manila folder on Johansson’s desk. “Any coffee?” he asked “Nope.” Johansson nailed it. The coffee tasted like shit. His bottom dollar flew out of his wallet and landed at the feet of a Martini’s taxi girl. The place went mad, and in the ensuing commotion a Vietnamese hooker broke a nail. The outhouse flies had landed. Johansson looked at the clock. “You’re late,” he said. “So fire me. Every Khmer in the city is out there,” the Poet said. The Poet looked like he hadn’t shaved in a week. There were food stains on his tie and he had two scratches under his left eye. Johansson figured he had been fighting with his Khmer wife again. A few weeks ago he had pushed her off a second floor balcony and she landed in a pile of garbage. The Poet could write but his hygiene was questionable. Johansson tried not to get within two feet of him, which was OK with him since the Poet’s personality was equally repellent. He had a PhD in Journalism from Ball State University and taught at Northwestern. 88
Johansson never asked what brought him to Cambodia. He didn’t want to know. The Poet pointed at the folder on the desk. “I got four stories for you.” “What’s with the scratches?” Hanrahan asked. “Fuck off.” In 1992, Mann drove a truck for the UNTAC crew. He made the wife beating poet look like a sissy. He reached for the can of disinfectant and sprayed the room, hoping that the Poet would get the hint. The Poet crossed his legs and thrust a finger up his nose. Jesus any deeper and he’d tickle his own brain, Johansson thought. It had grown quiet outside. The KNP crowd was listening to speeches and holding their English language signs, hoping the world press would pay attention. He heard sirens, a few, nothing to worry about, just crowd control: the Prime Minister’s goon squad making noise. He knew they would have the water cannons at the ready. The crowd might even enjoy getting a little wet. “Mann, are you there?” “I hear you boss. I won’t let you down…” The last member of his crew finally arrived, lightening fingers, the California kid was standing in the street looking off into the distance. He must have heard the sirens as well. The little shit, wouldn’t dirty his hands with a story like that, Johansson thought. He liked the boy, as gentle as a kitten and rarely talked back. Not yet corrupted by this dump, he thought, but give it time. Nobody was working, and Hanrahan had fallen asleep in his chair. “Hey, Hanrahan this isn’t Kinko’s get your lazy ass in gear.” He hadn’t touched his coffee and Johansson wanted it. The kid entered, the fastest typist in Cambodia, Johansson figured about eighty words a minute. You could see smoke coming out of the kid’s ears as he worked. There was everything to like about the kid. 89
“Hey kid, fetch me another coffee,” Johansson said. “Get it yourself.” So much for everything to like… Hanrahan stretched, putting his hands behind his head. “Hey kid, why don’t you go down to the National Assembly and see what’s going on?” “No, too dangerous, let Mann handle it.” The kid was the face of the paper but Mann, its balls. Mann said he lived in a shack on the other side of the river. The rest of the crew lived in air-conditioned rooms, except for Baldy who slept in a 108th street dive bar. Bunch of pussies. The kid sat down to do some work, a piece on the slum houses near the Russian Embassy. A real yawner, but Johansson figured it would sell some papers. Anal retentive, he thought, the kid never handed in sloppy work. He reached into his bag, pulling out his notes and neatly arranged them on his desk. He was a bit too anal retentive for Johansson’s tastes, but he worked hard in a town where no one seemed to do anything but sleep and screw. Jesus, look at him go, and not a hair out of place. A real do-gooder, he thought, and the NGO crowd tells him everything, even the old queen from Geneva. The kid began typing away on the old computer. He was at work, his polished fingernails hitting the keys, and the rest of his punch-drunk crew disappeared. His mind wandered and Johansson wondered what the kid did in his free time. He certainly didn’t go to the bars. He imagined him sitting in his room reading textbooks or working on his dissertation. In a few years, he’d get a job at a real paper, the Straight Times or the Nation in Bangkok. At the very least, he’d work for Mr. Slick at the other English language daily. He pictured the Poet’s future, dead in a room at the Walkabout Hotel, and Baldy alone in a bar drinking Mekong Whiskey straight up. 90
Hanrahan would die of a heart attack while screwing a bar girl, and Mann was out shooting white elephants near the Vietnam border. As for himself, he would run the paper into the ground and go back home, taking Hanrahan’s old job at Kinko’s. Hanrahan started going through his files, torn articles from last week’s International Herald Tribune. He lifted his head and let out a yawn. “Glad to see you have joined the living,” Johansson said. The Poet began picking at the scab under his left eye. “I guess he doesn’t understand the true meaning of ‘Fuck off’,” he added. After a few hours of clever plagiarizing, Hanrahan would have his articles written. Baldy scoffed, the kid was outraged, but Johansson turned a blind eye to it. “Journalistic integrity!” the kid screamed. Hanrahan was neither a journalist nor had integrity, and he pointed toward the front door. They both stayed. It was that or home. He looked at the clock, nearly nine. The floorshow at the National Assembly would wind down soon. The sirens, the bloody sirens, he heard them again. Crowd control, that’s all. The Khmer’s would shuffle home and the world would go on. “When do you think Mann will call?” Hanrahan asked. Baldy looked up from her papers. “How come he doesn’t have to come to the office every day?” Johansson ignored her. It wasn’t the first time someone had asked. “Hanrahan, have you ever seen Mann?” The Poet asked. “Nope.” “I saw him once,” the kid said. “He was riding his motorcycle across the Japanese Bridge.” Baldy laughed. “How did you know it was Mann?”
“I just figured it was him.” “I think you made him up,” she said to Johansson. Maybe he did. He had never seen Mann either, but he wasn’t going to say anything to this sorry bunch. “Mann, Johansson’s imaginary friend.” Baldy wasn’t going to let it go. She had turned into a real bulldog. She must need a few days off, he thought, or something harder, a can or Sterno or a bottle of white lightening. A great big pill would end the misery. “Shut up, we have a deadline!” he shouted. “You’re just jealous because Mann does the work of ten,” Hanrahan said. “Sure, because he’s ten different writers.” “He could write better than you if he were an armless dwarf in a wheelchair,” the Poet shot back. Johansson’s head was pounding and it felt like a hundred degrees in the small room. “Christ, just do your work,” he said to them. “Why can’t I sit poolside with the NGO crowd?” he thought. He could fly out tomorrow on the 9:10, leave it all behind for Bangkok and a teaching job paying fifteen hundred a month. “Hanny, are you going to drink the rest of that coffee?” Johansson asked. “—No, why?” “Then give it to me.” He needed to do something with his hands or they’d end up around Baldy’s neck.
She had to go. He could replace her with a pencil-holding chimpanzee if he could find one. Let her drink herself to death, or work for the smartassed managing editor. He had made his decision. He could no longer afford to keep the three of them, and she was the logical choice. She would either cry or punch him in the nose and he hoped for the latter. Nine fifteen and the sirens had stopped. In Bangkok he’d enjoy his breakfast, bacon and eggs with a side of potatoes. In the evening he’d sit on his balcony and watch the Bangkok skyline instead of this broken down place, play poker or catch a movie. Twice a week he’d sit under the blue and red lights at Nana Plaza. The women were tall and beautiful and not pimply-faced teenagers from the provinces. Balls, he thought. The phone rang and for a few seconds they all stared at it. “That’s never happened before,” the kid said. Hanrahan picked it up. “Hello, yeah…” He began scribbling on a piece of paper. Johansson imagined the worst. He could pack his bags and get out of town in two, maybe three hours. He would go overland, blow a hundred on a taxi and cross at Poipet. Once in Thailand, it was a seven-hour bus ride to Bangkok. By midnight he’d have a beer in his hand, sitting in a bar on a small Soi off Sukhumvit Road. Hanrahan hung up the phone. “Well,” Johansson said. “That was Mann. There was a grenade attack at the rally; twenty dead and a bunch wounded. One of the wounded was an American.” For a brief moment his tired mind snapped. He was at sea on a Key West charter serving Ernest Hemingway a beer. “Sir, I like your work, but I prefer Bellow.” “To each his own,” Hemingway replied. “Next time you bring me a beer, make it a cold one—” 93
The grinning imbecile tugged at his shirt bringing him back to reality. “What about Mann?” “He’ll send the story later.” Mann had delivered as usual. The world collapsed in on itself forming a perfectly dimpled golf ball. He swung the one wood and scored a hole in one. Johansson picked up two fists full of paper and tossed them across the room. “See. SEE,” he screamed in Baldy’s direction. “Mann can be in ten places at once. I don’t give a rat’s ass. The guy can clone himself for all I care.” Baldy sat there grinning like an idiot and the Poet stared down at his food stained tie. The kid was dumfounded, open mouthed, and Johansson noticed his left eye twitching. He hoped he had caught his competition flat-footed, the smarmy editor would piss in his pants. He walked to the white board and pretended to draw a huge question mark. Why was he wasting his money on a bunch of no-talent bums when Mann was doing all the work? “Work, work, work!” he screamed. Silence fell over the small room, the only sound the click clack of lightning fingers at his keyboard. He was way too young to let this stuff get to him. He had a career to think about, and the rest of them were hanging by a thread. Double dogleg, Jesus that was a tough one, he thought. He wondered if Mann played golf. Probably not. He was superhuman, dodging bullets and jumping over landmines. Mann’s wife came in every two weeks to pick up his pay packet. A Khmer kid who always wore the same pink shirt delivered his stories. He sat at his desk and finished Hanrahan’s coffee. It wasn’t as good as a beer, but it would do. His head hurt and his chest was pounding, but 94
he felt good. Better than he felt in months. Later he would play poker with the Malaysian businessman, the guard at the embassy and the sexy German secretary. Maybe he would even win a few bucks. Heâ€™d worry about the rent tomorrow. Chris Cain is an American writer currently living in Thailand. His previous creative work is in film and photography, in which he was awarded a Puffin Grant for his photography in Cambodia, where the story takes place. Cain has published several poems in small publications, and this is his first attempt at fiction.
For the Last American Killed in Vietnam For days now we have wondered who it would be, how old, which state, the color of your sister’s hair. Somehow I think you knew. In a hayfield like any American boy you thought of long black cars and lines of people you couldn’t touch through the bullet-proof glass. Sometimes you saw your face pressed into coins and children home from school on your birthday. In a game once chasing the white ball maybe your arms changed for a second to wings waving goodbye above a field on fire. Once like all of us you must have fallen under a hay rake or dived into shallow water, your forehead just missing a gold pebble that was death. And so like us you went on with your life as a man in debt hears the screech and swerve of a mortgage due on a wet night. In an old movie or I guess first in a book someone said, “It was written.” You knew all along and didn’t let on. When you fell maybe you almost smiled as if meeting a lost friend at a high school reunion. Even here Earth shook as you held your waiting patient shadow at last. Nels Hanson has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart Prize nominations in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and has appeared in Antioch Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review and other journals. Poems appeared in Word Riot, Oklahoma Review, Pacific Review and other magazines, and are in press at Sharkpack Review Annual, The Straddler, Four Chambers Press, The Write Place at the Write Time, Stoneboat, Squalorly, Meat for Tea, Sediments, Works & Days, Hamilton Stone Review, and The Mad Hatter's Review.
ROBERTO CARCACHE FLORES
PHIL 328H (In Loving Memory of Jack Roberts)
Unofficial Log #1: January 19th, 10:56PM Classes begin tomorrow. Last Friday, Dr. Murray summoned me into his office via email. In this brief correspondence he outlined the “need to discuss a delicate subject.” My immediate overreaction centered on what I considered a shocking turn of events concerning my ascending star in the Humanities Department. But after a cup of milk with vanilla extract and various mental skittering eased by my vanity, I realized just how unlikely that was. My student feedback had been positive as far as I knew. Most of my colleagues respected me or at least my work, and I was just on the verge of finishing a hopefully successful second book which revisited Unamuno as a predecessor to existentialism. It wasn’t a truly new concept but still. Instead I went into Dr. Murray’s office and found his usual three-day stubble whiter than I last remembered. He looked weary but happy to see me. After putting on his glasses and closing the door, he cleared his throat and said: “It’s about our friend David.” Dr. David Landaverde was one of the oldest members in the Department. He was a Mexican philosopher from the UNAM, specialized in a vast range of subjects, most notoriously the liberation theology. He was an established speaker in the Latin American conference circuit and got published at least twice a year in wellknown journals. No one knew anything else. The legend of Dr. Landaverde was chimeric across faculties. Some said he’d been in Cuba during the Revolution. Others concurred that at some point he abandoned a Jesuit sect in order to marry and try his luck with sports gambling. The truth was that Dr. Landaverde’s private life was truly private, forcibly imposed as such on others, and no one could doubt his qualifications.
Dr. Murray tore off a post-it note, began scribbling on it, and passed it over with undisguised annoyance. The note read: PHIL 338H Azúa, Nietzsche, and the One Minute Song. He almost smiled at my confusion but his lips seemed stuck in place, smirking. “This is the name of David’s Honors class for this semester. He was adamant about the title and not discussing the content. He dismissed it as interdisciplinary course and asked me to respect his seniority. I couldn’t say no. I want you to please sit-in, maybe the Tuesday after next, and send me a log of what you see. Can I count on you?” Of course, I said. Now I just have to work on my log format for next week. Log #1: Tuesday, January 27th, 9:50AM I received an email earlier in the week from Dr. Murray notifying me that David missed his first two classes. They’d been in touch and he was definitely coming today. I arrived at the classroom ten minutes earlier, having finished my own lecture right as an accounting class ended. Once the room cleared up, I chose a seat at the back row. At 9:50, only three students had made their way into the classroom wearing hoodies, what looked like felt boots and sweatpants. Ten minutes passed and four more students came in with similar attire, albeit one wore jeans. A couple of minutes earlier, I’d been asked whether or not I was a sub, which I politely denied. At 10:15, I had no choice but to call off the class, apologizing on behalf of Dr. Landaverde. I gracefully accepted their grumbles and dirty looks in order to revise this log before sending it off. Log #2: Thursday, January 29th, 9:50AM Dr. Landaverde called in sick on Tuesday about two hours after his class was supposed to end. He also requested a ground-floor classroom to make the walk easier for him. Dr. Murray agreed and notified the students. His distrust grew, given the circumstances, and so he asked me to sit-in once again. My lecture dragged along more than usual for reasons that are neither here nor there. I luckily made it there at five to 10.
I found the same group of students chatting happily in a much smaller classroom. It didn’t surprise me since the number of Philosophy majors doesn’t exceed the low thirties, a number which can only diminish when taking into account the Honors aspect of the class. David was nowhere to be found. What I did spot was a scattered pile of assorted miniature chocolates on the large desk, right where you’d expect to see scattered paperwork. I greeted the class, found a seat at the back and read a chalk scribbled note on the board which said: “Went to the restroom. Take a chocolate as a token of my sincerest apologies”- DLR I gave the room a brief scan. The students had indeed accepted the token and then some. But before I opted to do the same, David came back into the room. Streaks of silver hair hung above his forehead like numb pine needles. He wore a navy suit and white collared shirt, coffee tainted at the chest and unbuttoned near his hairy belly button. The khakis had been ironed at least. After giving me a brief a nod, David began his lecture. “Hello class, I’m Dr. Landaverde, feel free to call me Dave. I can see you all accepted my token. Thank you. You’ve saved me the difficulty of letting perfectly expired sweets go to waste.” Visible panic ensued along with a prolonged and painful silence. I don’t think anyone made a real attempt at calling on their gagging reflexes but the intentions were surely there. David let out a short, hollow chuckle, resembling the crackling of firewood. “Relax, I’m only joking” he said. “Surely you felt though a strong level of disappointment mixed with revulsion and possibly even hatred towards the source of this simple deception. Now, I want you to think about what you felt and look into your earliest memories for a comparable situation. Write a brief summary to present to the class in fifteen minutes.” Mumbles ensued and I considered asking David to step outside. He merely winked when we established eye contact. I wasn’t his superior or even a true colleague in terms of experience. So I inwardly
shrugged and thought about his assignment. Silence confirmed the entire class had done the same. It was probably my fifth birthday party since my parents were still together. We had a piñata in the garden, pizza, and I invited my best friend from kindergarten. The real attraction was the magician, though. It was almost a religious experience and at the very end of his act, he pulled a rabbit out of his hat just for me. Unfortunately, once the party was over my mother said I couldn’t keep it because of my allergies. Did the loss and tears scar me? I don’t know. It certainly didn’t make an animal lover. Over twenty minutes passed. David pointed at the student closest to him and the expositions began. Someone talked about having received an M-rated game for Christmas and not being able to keep it. A lucky pet experiencer talked about the time Spot ran away from home. Another person mentioned their trading cards being stolen in the cafeteria during their first day of school. But there was one student who was very hesitant. She was the only one wearing jeans and a puffy brown jacket which made her a likely commuter. Her paper almost audibly rattled in her hands. David sort of straightened up and his complacent smile turned into an expression of attentiveness. The student began to speak with a soft, yet clear voice which in no way implied fragility. “It was early March and I was six. My parents had called the babysitter. I remember crying because my babysitter wouldn’t let me have any ice cream after dinner. My parents promised they’d be right back. Both of them had been music journalists when they were younger, which is how they met. It was their first time going to a gig in the city since I was born. I remember waiting and waiting in my bed with the lights off. The roads had been slippery on 9W. They didn’t make it to the show. I kept waiting.” An invisible rift seemed to separate Dr. Landaverde and the student from the rest of the class. They stared at each other as if in search of something buried long ago. There was nothing to say. The other students turned their attention towards me as if expecting me to intervene. I could only bring myself to do a strained throat clearance. 100
David looked up as if reemerging from a cold pool and said, “Right. I think that’s enough for day one guys. I’ve posted a couple of chapters from Azúa’s Historia de un idiota contada por él mismo on Blackboard. Please print them out and read them for next class. We’ll discuss some of his ideas. Sorry again for the absences. I promise there’ll be no more chocolate jokes next time.” Once all the students were gone, David seemed as disheveled as before and disappointed it was me who stayed on after class. I explained my role as an objective observer, voicing the concerns we had in the Department about his prolonged absence, and expressed a desire to be of any service to him. He kind of looked at me as if I were a channel on the verge of being changed and said “Thank you.” Unofficial Log #2, February 11th, 1:34AM After an unsuccessful search through the Spanish Lit section, wordof-mouth badgering among a few colleagues, an intra-library loan request to Baruch’s Spanish collection and a week long waiting period, I’ve finally received and blazed through Félix de Azúa’s novel—an easy feat given the book’s brevity and directness. Although it can easily be labelled as unorthodox teaching material, there are some true metaphysical gems and a few chronicles college kids can enjoy. Among them I can include (roughly translated by yours truly) Azúa’s Idiot identifying his entry into university as an opportunity to “meet the specialists on happiness.” He also refers to casual sex as “a conversation between the deaf-mute” and love as a “synthesis between political happiness (collective, ethical, and dogmatic) and sexual happiness (individual, aesthetical, and heedless).” It is unlikely Dr. Murray had a chance to search another misplaced copy, seeing as he’s having me sit through another lecture the day after tomorrow. Oh wait, it’s already Monday. I really have to stop reading with the lights off and the T.V. on mute. It’s kind of fun finding the right channel to serve as a stable light source. The home shopping networks work best. Time to start planning mid-terms. Log #3, February 12th, 9:50AM I was late once again. One of my students stayed after class to ask me whether or not the cumulative midterm would include everything 101
we’ve studied so far. David’s class seemed a lot more surprised to see me this time around, as if I was an intruder, rightfully so perhaps. David himself gave me another wink and motioned me to an empty seat. He looked a lot cleaner, but he was wearing this black Christmas sweater with a bridge of smiling gingerbread men sewn across his chest. “As I was saying, the first lecture given by Nietzsche on the future of German education remains controversial because he questioned the necessity of education being extended to the masses, portraying it as an erosion of education itself which, in his eyes, would become just another element of the capitalist market. I would assume there are no idealists left among you who see philosophy as a source of intellectual fulfillment. I’m paraphrasing here, but in Nietzsche’s parable, the philosopher tells his student that a rational man wouldn’t rationally pursue being cultured if he knew just how alone this pursuit would leave him. For the rest of you hoping to make a career out of this, well, bless your hearts. Now, please remember we have a mid-term scheduled for the 24th. Yes, go ahead, check your virtual calendars. It is two weeks from today. I can’t guarantee the Azúa chapters will be included, but you definitely have to read Nietzsche’s lectures. Be prepared for anything, my friends. As I said before, an important engagement awaits, which is why I’ve called the great Professor Lima to fill in the rest of the lecture. Is the show obliged to go on? It should, because if it didn’t you’d be sitting here with a dumb look on your faces. I will see you all on Thursday. Thanks again, Ed.” Nice. I fumbled a mixture of monosyllables with the intention of having a word with David but he was out the door before I could spew the semantic equivalent of mystery meat. I felt I had two viable choices, which manifested themselves during an excused trip to the restroom after a minute spent on throat clearing: I could either end the class early or go on an improvised rant on Nietzsche, a philosopher I’d only read about in modern publications. We all have our calculated limitations. So I looked in the mirror, brushed those few chosen strands of hair remaining on my forehead, thanked them for their bravery, and made my way back to class. 102
“Thank you for your understanding. You aren’t the only ones who still can’t get used to Dr. Landaverde’s surprises. It wasn’t so long ago that I had to sit through similar ordeals as a student. The worse thing someone can do is try and bullshit you. Yes, I said it. Some professors may say otherwise, but your time is precious. Some of you have jobs; others like working out and practicing sports, I don’t know. In the end, I’m sure you’ll find something to do. Enjoy the rest of the day. Again, I apologize for Dr. Landaverde’s irresponsible behavior. It will be notified to the appropriate authorities.” Unofficial Log #3, February 14th, 11:49PM It’s nice to have nothing resembling romanticism on a Valentine’s Day. Of course, I’ve been asked to sit through David’s midterms. It’s nice having all of these books on my lap. It’s getting to the point where I might even go for a poem. Wait, never mind. Must be the milkshake. Log #4, February 24th, 9:50AM I love it when my students feel the need to ask for extra time on an entry-level philosophy course as if it could make up for all the unread texts and absences. I was late to David’s class, a fact which will surely be omitted from my final report. After making my way downstairs I heard the music in the hallway. I almost crossed my fingers. It didn’t change anything. All of the students had the same look on their faces, listening, or simply staring at what appeared to be a blank piece of paper in front of them. Well, the exception was X, the commuter student whose name I will omit out of respect. She was the only one doing any writing, almost furiously so. An old battery powered boombox sat on David’s desk; the kind everyone is now too embarrassed to admit they used to bring to the beach. His hand rested on a small pile of exams. He motioned me to a seat once again and handed me a sheet, which read: “Why do you think an artist would compose a song as short as this one? Use the material discussed up to this point.”
I realized David would rewind the cassette tape every two minutes or so. I realized there were tears streaming down through David’s wrinkles, reminiscent of clear fjords meandering through brown ravines. I realized there was some sort of reaction expected of me. I realized the song had arrested every visible reaction. “Song” is perhaps an inadequate description. It was more of a ditty which began with a sequence of alternating bass lines. Then came the soft sound of a synth, maybe a Casio, I don’t know, music isn’t my thing. But what hit me the most was that French horn, like a battle call after a horrible defeat, isolated, withdrawn. The rest of the students eventually began to tackle the exam. I probably would have done the same -- not for the grade but just to show that I cared. I did get up from my seat and tapped David on the shoulder and asked to have a word outside. His back almost recoiled. His whisper ventured through his phlegm and whatever was keeping him around. “I have to watch the tape.” It was all he had to say, and it was enough for me to pat him on the back before making my way out the classroom. I knew the correct thing to do. But Dr. Murray was busy giving his famous Chaucer class and it wasn’t really an emergency. I could always make the argument that the examinations for the Honors kids were historically a bit on the symbolic side. So I went outside even though it was freezing. A student was smoking a cigarette by the door. I asked him for one and he kindly obliged. I found myself humming the one minute song. Unofficial Log #4, March 24th 7:43PM David vanished shortly after the midterms. Well, that’s likely to be inaccurate for all I know. The facts are that he never came back to school. He also got rid of his cellphone and put his small house in Piermont up for sale during the first week of March. His emergency contact was a Salvadoran poet who hadn’t seen him for over a year. It was clear that he left willingly though, or at least it was easier for everyone to think so.
The rumor mill around Dr. Landaverde’s myth has been circulating savagely ever since. The words “persecuted anarchist” and “drug addict” have been used in the same sentence. Some of the blame also landed on me for interrupting his lessons and being Dr. Murray’s mole in the Department. His PHIL 328H was merged with a sociology class and everyone will likely receive an A at the end of the semester, barring any further catastrophes. Unofficial Log#5, April 10th, 9:28PM I really didn’t think these logs would continue, but chance, or whatever it is we regard as such, would have it otherwise. I ran into X in the library basement, sitting cross legged on the floor at the Spanish Lit section. She no longer had the puffy brown coat and took a while before recognizing me. “Hello, I don’t know if you remember me but I’m Dr. Lima, I was asked to observe Dr. Landaverde’s class a bunch of times.” “Yes, I do remember you.” “You see, I really don’t mean to bother you but there’s been something that’s kind of been troubling me, given all of the recent developments surrounding David. I sort of have a question to ask you, but it’s all right if you’d rather not talk about it.” “What is it?” “Do you remember the day of your mid-term?” “Yes, what of it?” “Well, when I first came into the room, I noticed you were the only one in the class who was doing any writing. All of your classmates sort of had a blank look on their faces but you seemed to really know what you were doing. Is there a particular reason for it? Like, did you find it easy or…” “It was the song.” “The song?” 105
“Yes, I knew it.” “How?” “It’s from the first Neutral Milk Hotel album. My parents used to play it a lot before the accident. It was one of their favorite bands.” “I see. I’m really sorry about what happened. I know it is probably the wrong time to be asking this, but I wanted to know if you talked to David about this song or anything like that? It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.” “Well, you have to promise to keep this between us.” “I will write it in my diary. That is all. You have my word.” “Okay. The song David played is titled Avery Island/April 1st. The album is also called Avery Island. He said his wife’s middle name was Avery and she hated it. She also passed …The song reminded him of her. He looked everywhere for the tape. And that particular song sort of devastated him for reasons he couldn’t explain. He wanted to see if any of us could do so for him.” “I see. Did he by any chance say he was leaving?” “No. But I like to think he went sailing down to Avery Island. It’s actually a place in Louisiana you can also access by road. Maybe he’s travelling down the Atlantic, bordering the tip of Florida, and into the Gulf, playing that song, reading his crazy books, and letting his tears hit the ocean.” “I’d like to think so too. Thank you, please call me Ed, and feel free to talk if you need anything.” “Thank you, I’m X.” Roberto Carcache Flores is a writer from El Salvador whose work has been featured in places like the Eunoia Review, the Legendary and Potluck. 106
Sediment Southbound, these trains neglect the ways of their forbears. No longer visored with cowcatchers, a few helms reside in museums, their scenery a slow wash of sixth graders corralled into field trips. Others litter junkyards, the back lots of gas stations, untended fields where old bulls break their legs in gopher holes, low to the wind and leave behind their crescent crowns. They are stacked among stones, the old iron, beacon for the farmhand. His horse detects a scent of coffee distant but sharp against the lilting snow.
Recipes that May Require More Than One Refrigerator Love (Romantic) Take two ripe individuals. Tenderize with meat mallet. Score vertically in center and split the hearts. Drizzle two cups of time at room temperature. Stir briefly and wait. Some heat may be needed, but attend closelyâ€”burns easily. Serves two. ** Malice 107
Take two or more individuals of any maturity. Place in small container and shake vigorously. Dice in leftovers from previous love, if available. Bring to boil. Freeze in three cups of whiskey and three cups of vinegar. Repeat several times. Serves one. ** Confusion Take one or more individuals and place in containers of alternating size and shape. Turn lights on and off. Read aloud different recipes, naming ingredients not present. Misidentify and slice with dull instrument. Ignore. Serve. Phillip Aijan is currently a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine and earned an MA in poetry and creative writing from the University of Missouri in 2010. When heâ€™s not thinking about Shakespeare's politics, heâ€™s hanging out with my wife, writing poetry or music, or dreaming about the perfect Hawaiian pizza.
We Take Care of Our Own As soon as Janice heard from Eleanor that another one had run off, she hopped into her Chrysler LeBaron and drove around town slipping notes through mail slots: Meeting Called, 7pm, Janice’s. At the last stop, the one furthest from the center of town, she clutched a railing that wobbled under her broad hand and wheezed her way up the lopsided staircase onto the water-stained porch. For this house, she had a more formal invitation, written in cursive on one of her pink stationary cards with her initials JLS embossed at the top. She hadn’t been to this house in years, and the metal box labeled mail appeared to be rusted shut. If the curtains had been open, she might have knocked, but the house just seemed so somber that she slipped the note between the screen door and jam, and put out a prayer that it wouldn’t get blown away. Then, because she was feeling a case of the heebie jeebies, she walked as fast as her size eight pumps could take her and didn’t feel completely comforted until she heard the resistant groan of springs as she sank back into her seat. The women arrived early, chattering their way over the belled threshold into Janice’s café. There were seven of them in all. From the shortest to the tallest, there was a good twelve inches between them and about the same proportional range in width, with Janice being the most well-endowed in all directions. They laid their coats and purses on an empty booth and headed over to where Janice had set out doilied plastic trays of snacks and chilled bottles of soda, which dripped beads of condensation onto the pink laminate countertop. The conversation started light. The ladies talked about the mildness of the winter; the sale on grapes at Piggly Wiggly—small but surprisingly sweet, considering the season; and the flyer for the musical that would be passing through town in March. The women who watched All My Children talked about All My Children, and the women who preferred General Hospital nodded politely. There was a lot they didn’t say. Elizabeth didn’t mention her money problems, how she’d placed two packed herringbone suitcases by the door, knowing an eviction notice wasn’t far off. Marilyn didn’t mention she’d wasted the afternoon sifting through sepia-tinged 109
honeymoon photos, her finger lingering on the image of her frozen smile as fleeting a fashion as the pleather coat she’d been wearing at the time. And, as Deborah twisted the cap off a Diet Sprite, she kept to herself that, earlier that day, after twelve failed attempts to open the lid, she’d shattered a Clausen pickle jar in the sink then stared at the mess wondering how many shards she would need to eat to cut away the hurt that lined the inside of her like a hidden layer of skin. “Ladies, ladies.” Janice called out. “We’re just waiting for one new person and then we’ll begin.” The voices hushed. Some had heard the news, some had not. Eleanor, who had gotten it from Judy, the police chief’s wife, was given the stage. She relayed that Barbara Neally had filed a missing persons report that morning for one Charles Neally, location unknown. As if in a choreographed move, the women nodded. They knew, through personal experience, that Charles Neally would turn up sooner or later, maybe in Poughkeepsie with some gal named Clarissa, or in Branson with some dancer named Pam or, even, in Killington with a model named Steven, which, as Betty knew, could very well happen. Sooner or later there would be a sighting by a private eye followed by a lamenting phone call, or a check would arrive in the mail with a hastily written note, but no return address. It had been almost six months since someone’s husband had run off, but no, they weren’t surprised that another member to the group had been added. The group had been Janice’s idea after the third husband had left, and the women obliged. It was, after all, an excuse to leave the stillness of homes that sighed with the absence of football games on TV and barely concealed burps at the dinner table. Janice had a nose for the news, and she acted quickly. Always the first to show up with a pie for a promotion or a blanket for a baby, she knew the key for these women was reassurance. Her job was to get in before the bitterness sank beneath the surface, while there was still time to set the course towards healing and forgiveness. “It’s just a matter of patience,” Janice was known to say. Once the men returned, and Janice was as certain as cinnamon that they would, the women needed to be ready, hair in place, smile painted on, to begrudgingly allow them back home. Then, things would go back to the way they used to be: dinner parties and nights of canasta, the 110
discretionary fund from a weekly paycheck that could be used for manicures or a new crock-pot from Sears. The old way of life that meant something. “Yes, yes, it’s just about staying patient,” Janice would say. And Janice was a patient lady. Her husband, Harold, had been the first to vanish, his barber shop long since repurposed for storage by the neighboring five and dime, although his presence in the diner was still felt by way of a silver-plated framed photo next to the coffee urns from which Harold’s bug eyes kept a steady watch on the unfortunate customer who sat on the nearby stool. Yes, Janice was patient—except, that is, when it came to punctuality. She frowned, her chins creasing downward. Assuming Barbara Neally had received her note, she was now officially tardy by a quarter of an hour. None of the women knew the Neallys well. The couple had moved up from New York into the old Harrison place, which had been empty for years and was in bad need of repair. Marilyn, who was the real estate agent for the property, said it had been purchased for a steal. They were in their late forties, both artists trying to be self-sustaining. Ed Hill, who worked for the telephone company, had reported to his sister Betty that they had built a chicken coop (quite poorly mind you) and had attempted to start a garden even though the backyard was rocky and overgrown with thistle and poison ivy. The husband wasn’t seen often but Barbara would make appearances in town, riding in on her bicycle for the things they couldn’t grow: toothpaste and tampons, coffee and the New York Times. She was a fish out of the pond with her ripped jeans and flapping long gray hair; that made the women titter, “Hasn’t she heard of Clairol?” When approached for conversation, Barbara would smile politely, but there were no extended chats at the post office counter, or in line at the drugstore. She always seemed in a rush; as if she had an important meeting and just couldn’t spare the time for idle prattle. Not long after they’d moved in, Janice had her runner, Jonah, bring over a welcome basket with some fresh-from-the-oven biscuits and last-season’s jam sheltered under one of her embroidered café dishtowels. But there hadn’t been so much as a thank you note in response, so until now, she’d left well enough alone. At 7:18, there was a loud rapping at the window. The women stopped their conversations, pausing mid-bite on their pigs in a blanket, to stare at the late arrival. Barbara Neally peered in from the other side 111
and rapped again harder so that the vinyl sign advertising Janice’s “breakfast surprise $4.95” skipped against the glass. “Humph.” Janice grunted loudly, so all could hear, as she strode over to the door. With a flick of her wrist she spun the lock into the open position then, readied with a smile and a pat to the back of her hair, swung the door inward. “Welcome.” Barbara entered, part saunter, part glide. “Barbara,” she said and stuck her hand towards Janice the way city folks often did, as if it were a competition to make the first move. Janice nodded, extending a limp hand. She found it rude for the woman to introduce herself when they’d seen each other countless times in passing, and it bothered her that Barbara didn’t look like a woman troubled, certainly not anything like the others had at their time of loss: teary-eyed and helpless, like abandoned runts of a litter. After re-locking the door, she gestured to the rest of the group. “Surely you’ve seen some of the women here, but we’ll get to introductions shortly. We’re already quite behind.” Janice began to show Barbara where to set her purse then realized the woman was wearing, of all things, a fanny pack. “You see,” she continued, “we’re way past schedule and the ladies like to make it home in time to watch their ten o’clock news. I personally think the things they show are not conducive to a restful night of beauty sleep, but-,” she gestured towards the seated ladies, “girls will be girls.” Barbara’s lips twitched. Even with her gray hair, she was easily the youngest of the bunch. Plus, there seemed to be something especially ancient in the women’s drab outfits, their tautly pulled hair styles and the frown lines that ran like troughs down their tired faces. She took the one remaining folding chair. As she looked around, the women averted their eyes.
Janice removed her agenda from the grease-stained plastic pocket she kept by the cash register for delivery receipts. She had designed the agenda based on something she had read in a Good Housekeeping magazine. The article had been about party planning for a purposeful cause, although truthfully, they only ever made it through Items number one, “Introductions”; two, “Opening Remarks”; and three, “Sharing Time.” The last item, number seven, was “Suggestions,” so Janice multitasked by passing around a cleaned-out, industrial-sized Peach can which still gave off a faint syrupy smell. The women would jot their suggestions on slips of paper but, even though they were anonymous, they steered towards the respectable: I do so appreciate you for cheering me up.” “Always good for the reminder to stay strong.” “Your blueberry muffins were so delicious, I must get the recipe.” However, if during the Opening Remarks Janice’s sightline hadn’t been focused on a higher plane somewhere between heaven and the corner air-conditioning unit, she might have noticed the clenched fingers, the flicking nail, the pinched forearm skin that would have alerted her to speed things up a bit. Tonight, with a stranger in their midst, she was prepared to run on a little longer, but about five minutes into her speech about the weakness of men and the female’s inner resolve, she heard a throat clearing and saw a suede-encapsulated arm slither into the air like a viper. “Yes, Barbara,” Janice said, in her most patient voice. “Hey, Janice, I don’t mean to be disrespectful or anything, but what exactly are we doing here?” Janice bristled. “I beg your pardon. Was it not clear in the invitation? This is a support group, my dear.” “Oh, there’s no need to patronize. Obviously these women are in need, but what exactly are you supporting? A commitment to putting their feet in cement?” The ladies tittered behind napkins as a few made furtive glances towards the hostess. Janice wore a look of incredulity, as if a
customer had informed her that they found her service lacking and would not be paying for their Club Sandwich with extra bacon. “I beg your pardon.” Janice spluttered, for once at a loss for words. Barbara turned her attention to the women around her. “Ladies, I’m not saying there’s not something in your drinking water that’s given your guys the need to high tail it out of here after-,” she paused and did a quick estimate, “thirty odd years of marriage. But, if it was me, I’d be living it up. ‘Halleluiah!’ I’d say. No smelly man clothes to wash, no hairs to clear out of the sink. You should be eating bon bons and dancing to the moon.” Before she could stop herself, Elizabeth blurted, “Maybe some of us can’t afford bon bons.” Then she slapped her hand over her mouth to trap any further outbursts. Barbara dismissed the comment with a wave. “There’s no charge for dancing, and the last time I checked there’s no viewing fee for the moon.” She walked to the window and peered out. “Looks like a nice bright one to me.” Janice could no longer contain herself. “Aren’t you even the least bit worried about your husband? He could be dead in a creek for all you know.” Barbara let out a sound between a harrumph and a laugh. “Charlie is most likely in a creek, but the man thrives in nature. You see, he’s not all up there.” She tapped her forefinger to her head. “Twice a year, he has to disappear into the woods or he’ll go totally crazy. I just put in the report on the off chance he gets spotted somewhere. That way, they aren’t thinking he’s a hobo and start pulling out shotguns. In red, flashing letters Janice’s brain screamed, “Interloper! Interloper,” and then she too slapped her hand over her mouth, as if afraid the words would wrestle their way past her tightly pinched lips. 114
Barbara walked over to the transistor radio that Janice kept on the counter for the weather warnings, flipped it on and turned the dial until she landed on a music station that crackled a ‘70s disco song through the tinny speakers. Then, to everyone’s alarm, she started to sway around the room, waving her arms, and shaking her hips. Spotting Marilyn’s tapping foot (it was, after all, a bouncy beat) she reached out to pull her to her feet, ignoring the frantic head shaking as Marilyn tried to object. Once up, Marilyn’s feet stayed planted but her top half swayed almost imperceptibly, as if a breeze was listing her gently side to side. One by one the other ladies stood too—first Elizabeth, then Debbie, then Betty—so as not to leave any of their flock on its own. Against their own volition, they felt themselves sway to the music, their heads bobbing wisps of hair loose, their hands tapping the beat onto their polyester-clad thighs. Janice regained her composure and, striding to the counter, turned off the radio so abruptly it sounded like a needle scratching off a record. “I believe it is time for you to go.” Barbara shrugged and winked at the group. Without even a “Fair thee well,” she sauntered to the door, flipping the lock herself, which made Janice bristle even further. As the jingle of the doorbells died away, the room erupted into conversation. “Can you believe her?” “The audacity.” “Can you believe the fringe on her jacket?” When it was clear it would be no use getting everyone to settle down, Janice, feeling somewhat redeemed by the outrage, set out the cherry pie she’d been saving for the end. But she missed the whispers, heads down and hands cupped for extra measure.
“I’d forgotten I liked to dance.” “I hadn’t heard that song in years. “That sure is a pretty moon.” The next day, Elizabeth pulled the want ads out of the Daily Herald and circled three secretarial positions. She had, after all, won a certificate for fastest typing her senior year of high school. Marilyn decided to rearrange the living room furniture, just for something new. Debbie went to Sal’s Butcher Shop and picked out three oversized pickles from the barrel, snapping the end with her teeth as the salty juice dribbled down her chin. Barbara disappeared a few days later, and word was that she’d forwarded her mail to a New York apartment on the Upper East Side. As for Janice, she pursed her lips and said no more about the incident, but a few days later, some customers noted next to the coffee urns an empty spot where the yellow paint shone brighter. In the kitchen, the short order cooks, Juan and Henry, thought Janice was trying to scare them into working harder by hanging the photo of her old man over the fryer, but after several weeks the splattering grease covered the photo in its entirety and they forgot it was there. Marcie Friedman is a Baltimore native and Northwestern graduate. She currently lives in Chicago, where she manages a long-running theater production.
The Flaming Vibrator My sweaty palms rested on the gray steering wheel and my gaze flickered to the smartphone on the seat beside me. I had visited Spencer’s in the La Palmera Mall twice last week on my way home from class at Texas A&M Corpus Christi in an attempt to find a vibrator. Funny thing—I couldn’t locate them. Not one. I combed the entire store with my eyes, too embarrassed to ask for help, then retreated back to the parking lot. Two days later, I did the same thing. When I got home that night, I looked online and found countless vibrators on the store’s webpage. My conclusion: They must only be sold online or were hidden in the back from plain view. Now I sat in my car, determined to try one last time. But this time, I would call first. I slowly picked up the phone and began to dial. After five different tries, someone finally answered. I cleared my throat and said, “So, do you sell vibrators in the store or do I have to order them online?” After a brief pause the woman on the other end answered, “We sell them in the store.” Horror washed over me as I realized how out of my league I was. How could I use a vibrator if I didn’t even know enough of what they looked like to find one? I’d combed the entire store twice and found nothing. “Great!” I managed, “What kinds do you sell in the store?” The woman sounded a bit annoyed. “That’s a very vague question, ma’am. We probably have like twenty different kinds.” My jaw dropped. Twenty? And I couldn’t find one? Unable to disguise the awe and excitement in my voice, I exclaimed, “Wow! Sounds like I just need to come in, then!” and quickly hung up. As I waded between parked cars, I gave myself a pep talk. I wouldn’t leave empty handed this time, dammit! I wouldn’t fail a third time. I would muster up the balls to ask for help as soon as I walked in. When my feet stopped outside the store, I took a deep breath, and strode swiftly toward the counter before I could change my mind.
“Excuse me,” I said in the most confident and forthright voice I could conjure, “Where is your vibrational section?” Blue fingernails stopped counting cash and a woman with green hair and a pierced nose and lip turned slowly toward me. She shut the register and looked me up and down. “Back wall,” she said dryly. “I’m sorry, which one?” She pointed directly behind her. I nodded and began to push past blow-up sex dolls and dick-shaped candy. As promised, the back center wall was filled with limitless vibrators. There were large ones, small ones, metallic ones, gel ones; something called a Rabbit, minivibes, finger-vibes and so on. I began to sweat, overwhelmed by the choices. I didn’t have much cash on me, and some of them were quite expensive, so I decided to go with the cheapest option available and see how I liked it first. I picked up a pink neon mini-vibe for under ten dollars. Beaming with pride from my successful mission, I sped down I-37 at ninety miles an hour bumping Ludacris’ Release Therapy. I plunged into my empty driveway, stomped on the emergency brake and ran to my room. Popping the silver lid off of the top, I tried to slide an AA battery down into the pink hollow tube but couldn’t wedge it past the metal wiring. Already aroused, I impatiently crammed it down even further. Little wisps of smoke started to spiral out of the tube. I moved the battery to the left and cursed as it sparked, burning my thumb. The battery was stuck and a stench filled the air as the pink plastic started to melt. Panicked, I grabbed my car keys in one hand, cursing at the burning vibrator I held in the other, and drove around the corner to the nearest Stripes. Eager to relieve the burning sensation in my fingers, I dumped it in the first trash can I saw. I gasped when I realized my potentially fatal error: It was by the gas pumps.
With the awareness that at any moment the whole place could blow to bits, I jumped into my black Camry and sped away, never looking in the rearview mirror. I didn’t want to know. But I was already imagining the headlines: RELIGIOUS PARENTS PROVE CORRECT, MASTURBATION MAY CAUSE SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION. Courtney Campbell graduated from Del Mar College in May 2013 with an Associate of Arts degree in English with Emphasis in Literature and currently attends Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, where she majors in English and minors in Creative Writing and Philosophy. Her short story, “Existential Exorcism,” is published in Linden Avenue Literary Journal and her poem, “Ode to the Clitoris,” in the Switchgrass Review.
Front Cover Art: Aqua Globe Back Cover Art: All Roads Lead to Rome Artist: Two-time Pushcart Prize and Kentucky Poet Laureate nominee, Sheri L. Wright is the author of six books of poetry, including the most recent, The Feast of Erasure. Wrightâ€™s visual work has appeared in numerous journals, including Blood Orange Review, Prick of the Spindle, Blood Lotus Journal and Subliminal Interiors. In 2012, Ms. Wright was a contributor to the Sister Cities Project Lvlds: Creatively Linking Leeds and Louisville. Her photography has been shown across the Ohio Valley region and abroad. Currently, she is working on her first documentary film, Tracking Fire.
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