B RU S H F I R E LITERATURE AND ARTS JOURNAL
B RU S H F I R E LITERATURE AND ARTS JOURNAL
EDITION 71, VOLUME 1
UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO
EDITOR’S NOTE : Dear Reader, Although there are many routes for you to take as you make your way through the dense and diverse terrain that lies ahead of you, one possible route you might consider exploring is one which will lead you through the desolate and ecstatic landscape of human consumption. At once a legimate, biological function necessary for sustaining ourselves throughout life, and at once an expansive outlook fostered by a culture which urges us to solve problems and seek fulfillment through an immense intake of various ‘goods’ — human consumption is a behavior which informs our relationships with the natural world, with the people we live alongside, and with the ‘selves’ we spend our lives trying to piece together. The oil we extract out of the ground to make plastics, the waves of information we allow to wash over us via digital devices, the basic hopes and expectations with which we nourish ourselves in an attempt to become more whole — each day, we consume and are cosumed by a dissonant mix of desires and needs we yearn satisfy. It is a line of thinking by which we have divided ourselves from our community and our environment — divided ourselves from ourselves. At the same time, it is an act which forces us to recognize that we are inextricably bound up in and responsible for our community and environment — for who we have been, and for who we have yet to become. Overall, this editon of the Brushfire is an attempt to better understand the role we play as consumers, and to place before you new possibilities, new grounds upon which to re-imagine this role, in relation to the future of the world and the people in it. Hope you enjoy,
Nick Huffman, EIC
P oe t ry Planting Basil in September
Unseeded Future Paths
The Houses I Grew Up In
Marsha P. Johnson Threw the First Brick
The Abrasive Effects of Sand
All the Eating
Adult Play in Berlin
The Poet MJ
Eye Made Lemonade
Dress of a Flower Girl
Marc Ellias Keller
C o n t e n t s Visual s Between Life and Death
Pale Abstract V
Confessions from a Terminus City Gulag
TV Boy Restrained
Pale Abstract IV
Me and My Embarrassment
Digging Childhood Holes to Nicaragua with my BFF
Designs for Troubled Times
Fire in Her Eyes
Between Life Sarah Cryan
Planting Basil Jordyn Becker
Have you ever run the rough Pad of your right ring finger Down one of the two leaves Of a freshly planted basil sprout, Thinking of how it will change, And have sprouted vivaciously Among other sprouts alike it, As you will have changed, And shrunken, your skin wilting And bones falling in on each other, Never able to gain a firm grasp, Until one cold exhausted day In the depths of the third week Of November a few large Languorous leaves will be ripped, Tormented, and flung In a can of hardly tepid Campbellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tomato soup You heat in the microwave?
Unseeded Future Paths Grace Pickard
I know the rose that molted between My Thighs Caused your tears, It caused mine too And because of that I’m sorry. Self-deprecating jokes— “Nature’s free abortion”— Landed in your ears and Tickled your image of me. Maybe I didn’t know Then how much I wanted To share something more with you. I wanted nature to grow inside Of me and to nurture our little plant. But the soil isn’t fertile and it’s not Springtime in our lives—yet (at least you tell me). I fear you were crying for The me that you lost when I decided I wanted a garden. Or maybe that’s just why I was crying.
compromise entonces, her new house was baby yellow she wanted it to stand out just enough to give someone something to think about
authenticity abuela never felt guilty for being as bright as God made her, that’s on you something in your bloodline dulled your palate
reality it’s all faded you see cause paint costs money and money goes and goes and goes...
badassery grandmother’s old house was bright pink and she stuck her tongue out to the housing committee cause no one i mean no one tells abuela what she can and can’t do
The Houses I Grew Up In
teeth i lost a locket with my grandmother’s picture if i can’t take care of her spirit how the hell am i supposed to take care of myself?
history i just might paint my house the scarlet back of cabbage or unapologetic sweet, sweet papaya bold colors that just make your mouth water
distance you know i need a big ol’ empty space just for me, for me, for me so i can write poetry naked and pray to moon goddesses laugh til my throat goes to blood and maybe i’ll get lonely but it’ll be fine i got all this time keeping me company to remember and forget and remember again
impatience i am tired of giving explanations.
curiosity i want to give someone something to think about but not so much they come around asking questions poking they nose in my mailbox (is that the tradeoff?)
Hembridge Heights Ellen Grace
Hembridge Heights was twenty stories high. It towered above the buildings surrounding it, a grey-bricked building with a glass door. It was blocked off from the street by a ten-foot-high red brick wall. The wall was divided by a huge gate: black, iron, smeared with anti-climb paint. When Mandy walked past the wall on her way home from work, it had a new addition—a huge canvas sign upon which was printed the words: HEMBRIDGE HEIGHTS REDEVELOPMENT — SHOW APARTMENTS AVAILABLE SUMMER 2018
Mandy stopped. She furrowed her brow and read the sign, two, three times. Her grip tightened on the strap of her handbag. She resumed at a new, faster pace. She shoved the gate open and wiped the black stains off her hands onto her greasy jeans. In a matter of seconds, she was punching the code into the number pad by the glass door. The lobby was empty save for the rows of letterboxes on the wall, and a woman. She was drawn, pale, her matted hair in disarray around her face. Manicured hands clutched a smartphone to her ear, and her voice wobbled as she spoke. “I don’t know, babe. We’ll think of something.” The woman passed Mandy and pushed open the glass door with her free hand, just as a tear made its way down her cheek, taking a long smudge of mascara with it. Mandy paid her no mind. She stormed up the stairs, three floors, and wrenched her keys from her pocket. She shoved them into the lock and threw the door open. The flat was dark. The curtains were pulled shut, and the only light came from the television screen. Mandy slammed the door shut, and a yelp sounded from the sofa. “Dawn?” Mandy called, and there was a desperate edge to her voice. Dawn scrabbled for the television remote and pressed mute. Mandy turned the light on. Dawn was standing behind the sofa, in the no man’s land that connected the living room and the kitchen, wringing her calloused hands. Dawn gulped. “Have you heard?”
Mandy pulled her handbag over her head and dumped it on the floor. It was followed by her jacket, then her tabard; her name tag clattered against the linoleum. “There’s a bloody sign on the wall!” Mandy cried, gesturing with her arm to nowhere in particular. “The meeting was only this morning!” Dawn’s eyes glistened. “Yeah, well, you did say they wouldn’t pay us no mind.” Mandy deflated. “Yeah, but…I still thought…” She took a deep breath, “I still thought they might at least pretend they hadn’t made up their minds.” Dawn bit her lip. “I know, Mand. I know.” Mandy ran her hands through her hair, then looked over to the muted television. She dropped her arms to her sides. “You know what? Let’s just…I really wanna sit down. I’ll make us a cup of tea.” Five minutes later they were sat on the sofa with a steaming cuppa each, while the adverts played on the television on quiet. “Eileen worked so hard.” “I know.” Mandy put a hand on Dawn’s shoulder. “The whole building signed that petition.” “I know.” Mandy squeezed Dawn’s shoulder. “We even had some people over from the estate, and from in town an’ all.” “I know,” Mandy sighed. “They really don’t care, do they?” Mandy lifted her hand off Dawn’s shoulder. “Nope. They don’t give a crap about us.” Dawn sniffed. Mandy looked over, and Dawn’s eyes were scrunched shut and she was covering her mouth with her hand. “Hey.” Mandy put her cup down on the floor and took Dawn’s shoulders in her hands. “Dawn. Look at me.” Dawn sucked in a breath and lowered her hand. She met Mandy’s eyes. “How could they do this to us?” “Cause they’re bastards, that’s why. Cause we don’t mean a thing to them. At best, they can exploit us; at worst, we’re just an eyesore.” Dawn let out a sob. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. As tears ran down her cheeks, she looked up to Mandy, and whimpered, “But where are we gonna live?” Mandy locked her jaw. “Well, that’s the thing. We’re not supposed to.”
Sutro Baths Nathan Lachner
“The eye is adapted to perceive change in an environment. The eye is desensitized when completely fixed on a stimulus that is unmoving, thus becoming blind.” I stood on rocks crumbled into dust-like specs, as bands of light speared the landscape like a bluegill. Luminance bounced off ships, dissolved by water in the atmosphere, pillars glimmering and half sunken in water, seagulls floating through the air like white plastic bags. People were walking up and down the tide as they gawked, their pants rolled up above their grain-covered shins, and then I saw you: with the strands of your blood-like hair as it rippled out in the wind like tentacles, lips curled upwards to press the skin of your cheeks into trenches, and your own eyes— flaring the sun back at me like the ocean’s surface. It made me wince in that moment, when the light dove straight to my retina. I imagined a tunnel of mirrors going on indefinitely, becoming sea foam green in the distance, then shut my eyelids like the cold-steel hatch of a submarine, as I tried to find in the depths of me, the last time that I really saw you.
In retrospect convincing my daughter to play the role of flower girl was easiest, though that in itself took three days. No, it was nothing compared to the efforts of my wife setting out to find the pure white dress, that was the greater task. In the end she found one where she really and truly wanted to find one: at St. Vincent de Paul. Of all the things the two of us care about most these days, not splashing out for anything new, for the sake of reusing, this is almost as important as not spending the money because we don’t have it; especially for something so fleeting as a dress likely only to be worn once. I struggle daily with the desire to acquire, wanting to be rich because it’s easier, wanting money so I can buy a bike for each of my kids, an orange Raleigh “Chopper” would be nice, like the one I saw at Canadian Tire the other day (they’re making them again), like my best friend had when I was a kid. I wanted his so badly. But no, we should all be doing without. We’re making quite a mess. A few days after my wife found the dress, and it was a beautiful thing this dress, simple and uncomplicated, a few days after, Patrick came by. He teaches out at the university, environmental studies. He had the shoes we needed. His daughter is two years older than ours and luckily it often works out like this, he has what we need, though in this case, not the dress. Apparently, his daughter has never been a flower girl. “You hear?” he said, settling into one of our ratty chairs, “They’re having a competition. They want to put something on the side of the road on the way into town. You know, like the giant nickel or a dinosaur, that sort of thing? Something to put us on the map.” “Care for a drink, Pat?” my wife called from the other room. “Sure,” he said, “Beer if you have any.” “So,” I said, “Any ideas?” “What? Oh, I don’t know, what about a gigantic ear plug, or,” and here he laughed, “A huge chicken in a contamination suit? Who could miss that?” “Why not something we can use?” I suggested. “Like a giant blue bin,” said my wife, entering the room with Patrick’s beer. “That’d turn heads.” “Sure,” I said, “But why not just put up a sign that says: Send Us Your Trash.” 18
“Recycling,” corrected my wife. “Speaking of signs,” said Patrick, “Either of you looked at the local rag this week?” My wife and I shook our heads. “There’s this piece about a man who came home from work the other day and hanging on his neighbour’s clothes’ line, staring him right in the face, in block letters: YOUR WIFE HAS A LOVER.” “Really?” I said. “Well,” said Pat, “Yes, really.” “Oh, well,” said my wife, as if mildly disappointed, “That’ll be the end of another happy marriage, I suppose,” and Patrick shrugged and looked across to the other side of the room where my daughter had appeared. “Hello, Adele,” he said, warmly. My daughter said, “Hi,” and proceeded to ask if anyone’d seen her helmet around. She wanted to get out on her scooter. None of us had seen her helmet and she left the room, my wife calling after her to say there were shoes for her to try on, but she was too far away to hear or else didn’t care. ~ Have you noticed the shoes lately? The ones hanging from the telephone lines? The first time I saw this I thought it quite poignant, the perfect way of saying: Look, I’m packing it in, I’m done. But I’ve seen so many now that the gesture seems somehow diminished. A shame, really. That so spirited a message should lose its potency. Things are more obvious to me these days. I see something like the shoes and feel I understand. On the way to Ottawa for the wedding we stopped for pizza, the three of us, me, my wife, our daughter. (The boys stayed home with friends.) Pulling out the credit card at the end, as I’d known I would, I realized I was feeling the same thing I do when I procrastinate. Putting off, deferring. A curious sense of pleasure often goes with this, a tiny thrill, since attached to it is the feeling that probably I shouldn’t be doing this. And I find this frightening. That it could be in our nature to lure ourselves onward into foreseeable trouble. On the drive to Ottawa we saw a giant goose, a giant rocking chair, a UFO. Help me out here. I’ve a question. It’s this: Is it true that all that is worth doing in this world takes effort? Or is this just a line we pull out whenever we notice a thing is difficult, and saying it is supposed to somehow make it all seem worth it? Because keeping that dress on my daughter the day of the wedding was nearly impossible. It was scratchy. It was awkward. And 19
since the wedding was outside on a lovely fall day all my daughter wanted to do was cartwheels. It’s all we heard all afternoon. Never mind how beautiful they look: What else should flower girls at outdoor ceremonies wish to do? Cartwheels. It’s no wonder weddings are such feats of engineering these days; must be life’s only major event we feel we actually have any control over. And how does this manifest itself? With matching dresses and balloons, conspicuous centrepieces and white linen; as excess. The wedding in this case was my niece Allie’s, and she and the groom looked fabulous. King and queen for a day, as the tradition goes. At the reception I had two glasses of red wine too quickly and perhaps this accounts for what followed, because, as I sat there looking at the pageant all about me, I was unable to stop myself wondering how much longer we can go on like this, pretending we aren’t on the verge of some kind of collapse. I come over like this all the time these days, though I rarely share it with others. I’d liked to have turned it off for that one day. But I couldn’t. At our table was family mostly, though off to my right was this one soul who apparently held no special allegiance to either bride or groom. He was married to one of the bride’s maids. His name was Brent. Young and bright and cocksure; spirit, father and child of the industrial revolution. He was talking to my wife. I listened for a while. He was this, he was that, he played badminton, he studied law, he had a small business importing sportswear from someplace naughty: Indonesia, Bangladesh, Haiti. I listened while I watched my daughter. After the ceremony, after all the pictures were taken, we’d let her change her shoes, but foolishly insisted she keep the dress on. Between courses she was up and down the aisles with the other flower girl. We’d allowed her a few cartwheels before coming inside, evidently too few. Or perhaps too many, the poor dress was not doing at all well. I overheard this Brent saying how our waste sites will likely prove fascinating to future archaeologists. Before I could stop myself, before I registered that I was having the thought at all, I said: “But it’s not likely there’ll be any archaeologists in the future, is it?” Brent looked at me quickly, evidently unaware I’d been listening. “No one’ll be doing that,” I said, “We’ll all be scrambling to stay warm and find enough to eat.” Brent looked at my wife, apparently checking to see if I was on the level. She smiled politely, this being her way of showing she’s along for the 20
ride, though unfortunately it often comes across as much the opposite. “It is,” said Brent, shifting in his seat, “Only a wedding. Nothing we can do today.” “Look at all this though,” I said, “How can we go on like this? Eating everything up? One way or another it has to change. Either everything will run out and it’ll all come crashing down in a hurry and leave us in total chaos or we have to change the way we’re living and for that to happen everyone’s going to have to change the way they’re behaving.” I was shaking as I said this. Like I said, I don’t usually share these thoughts. Too confrontational for me. “Well,” said Brent, slowly at first, “If you really want to reach everyone you should do it on TV. You want to create the fashion of going without? Incorporate it into a sitcom, or a soap opera. Probably your best bet. Show people trying to outdo each other in what they can give up. Make it hip.” This wasn’t what I expected. The knot in my gut eased. One moment I’d been gathering ammunition, preparing to fire off my ideas on how to save the world: mandatory labels showing the true costs of things (the environmental impact, exploitation of labour); the need for government control over the price of gas so we might wean ourselves from depending on it so much; incentives to generate local industries and local food production. Oh, I could have gone on and on. And the instant I saw I didn’t have to I was so grateful my eyes nearly filled with tears. I withdrew and looked away and had another glass of wine and watched my daughter run along behind the head table while glasses clinked and the bride and groom kissed. By the minute it was becoming more obvious that my daughter’s dress was never intended for the kind of abuse it was getting, one side had come almost completely apart. Her. She’s the reason. She and our boys. Suddenly what happens beyond the span of my own life matters. I thought about what Brent had said and wondered what it would look like, a TV show where everyone let everything go and was happier for it. But who’d believe it? And who’d advertise during such a show? And who’d watch? My daughter swept past and modelled the failure of her dress, a few stubborn threads were all that held it together. She wasn’t smiling exactly but I could see she was enjoying this. She’s at the age that if I made the mistake of telling her explicitly that we had nothing else for her to wear she’d have tried even harder to finish it off, so I said nothing. I rubbed her back and asked if she was having a good time. 21
“Uh-huh,” she said, took a drink of water and bolted off once more. Miraculously the last few threads held till we got back to the hotel. ~ On the drive home we saw a giant shovel, a giant eggplant, a six car pile-up. The day Patrick came around to retrieve his daughter’s shoes the weather turned colder. The wind was up as well. As he stepped into the house he handed me the community paper, which, he informed us, had been about to blow off our front porch. He took a seat in the living room and declined a drink. He looked tired. I didn’t ask why. My wife presented him with the shoes we’d borrowed and he said we might as well keep them, probably wouldn’t fit his daughter any more anyway. “Oh,” he said, softly, “Did you hear?” “What?” “What they settled on? For that thing they’re going to build by the road?” “No. What?” “A giant rubber tire,” he announced slowly, milking the full effect. “Not really?” I shook my head. My wife said, “How ridiculous.” There was a pause, then she told Patrick he was looking tired. He nodded but said nothing. A little later he got up and left and I sat back with the stack of flyers which came in with the paper and I flipped through them one by one thinking, my god, how spoiled we are. It’s just obscene. Half-cynically, half-seriously I went on to wonder why we don’t just go ahead and squander what’s left making giant useless things. For posterity. For the archaeologists who’ll never be. Why not? What else are we doing? Maybe someone will get the joke. On the chair beside me, the shoes. How small they seemed. How much smaller if dangling from a telephone line. A little after Patrick left, my wife handed me a shoulder bag. She was smiling triumphantly. I smiled back. “What’s this?” I said. “A shoulder bag.” “Yes...?” “I made it from that dress, the one from the wedding. What do you think? Yours if you want.” A white shoulder bag. All right. I smiled and said thank you. I stepped outside into the wind to see how our daughter was doing. 22
She was out on the sidewalk with a little table covered with some of her old toys, trying to raise enough money to replace the scooter she’d left out while we were gone which had disappeared. She wasn’t happy that we wouldn’t just give her a new one. Clearly this was not her idea of how things ought to go. “Sell anything yet?” I asked. “No,” she said, her hands digging deeper into her pockets. The little paper sign on the front of the table flapped in the wind. “Not the best day for this, is it?” “No,” she said again, not looking at me. I turned and looked towards our neighbours to the west, the ones who put up a fence almost as soon as they moved in. They have it all. Every new gadget, every accessory, the snow-blower, the patio furniture, motion-sensitive lighting. Probably no different inside. There’s one thing I haven’t noticed though: a clothes line. As this occurred to me, I remembered the story Patrick mentioned and I tried to imagine what these neighbours of ours might ever wish to say to me and my family, what warning. I know what I’d hang on mine, in block letters I’d put: THIS WILL SOUND STRANGE SINCE THERE IS NO PRECEDENT IN LIVING MEMORY BUT IT APPEARS OUR TURN IS ALMOST OVER. BRACE YOURSELVES. Of course, more than a fence stands in the way. I was about to head in when I noticed something small and shiny up at the edge of their lawn. I asked my daughter if the boy next door rode a scooter. “I don’t know,” shrugged my daughter. “Well...” I said, “Then how about my new bag, what do you think?” My daughter turned and looked. “Pretty ugly,” she said. I said, “Yeah. I guess. Maybe I should draw something on it. Want to help?” No, came her answer. She did not want to.
Foundling Rich Heller
The peeping duckling hung—her stubby wings and tiny webfeet tangled, bent—upon the fence of plastic mesh. The flies in rings beset her silly, glossy bill. “They’re gone!” she seemed to cry. “My mother left me here to die.” We cut her loose and made her safe within our garden satchel—whisked her near and far to find a tender brood this waif could join. With great relief we spied a wave in lily pads of carefree paddlers. Joy released our waddling friend—again, so brave— who raced to bond anew. Perhaps the koi amongst the cattails knew that mallards kill their tainted young. We didn’t. It haunts us still.
Marsha P. Johnson Threw the First Brick Daniel Putney
For my queer forebears Two by two, hands of dirt, they grapple my shoulders from behind. Cowboy sweat slips into my slashes, burns, our stenches mingle to form smoky sarsaparilla death. Right flank laps blood off my ear, carves a river across deflated chest, whispers, You like that, queer? Leftie lifts cig from lips, rubs it real good into my wrist, cackles in tune to hyena brothers, sisters who love to devour meat like me. Thrust face first onto copper-flaked barbed wire, I smell blood, taste enamel dislodged, sliced through tongue, gums, empty sockets. Two by two, their hands force my head into spikes three: one for cheek, one for nose, one for eye yolk. Splish, fluid leaks from punctured sclera, sight becomes oblivion, hot breath crawls down my neck. Tie him up, make it tight. My legs are married to splintered posts, fingers mangled, no need to shackle dead parts. Boots clack against gravel, two by two, shadows shuffle into their pickup. The engine screeches its awakening, headlights, I speak your language, please take me to purgatory. Rush, sweepâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the truck targets my wilting flesh, I hear a Yahoo! before bumper meets skull, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s black. 28
Pale Abstract V Paul Luikart
1. It’s easy to build a sandbox with pre-cut frames bags of sand and the proper tools and the proper luck and the proper spot underneath a white pine tree.
2. It’s easy to tear down a sandbox weighed down with dead pine needles sand scattered in the grass and broken plastic toys and buckets with holes and shovels without handles underneath a white pine tree.
The Abrasive Effects
3. It’s easy to cover up a sandbox with mulch, dirt and grass clippings sand buried underground and rocks and boards and crickets and spiders and leaves and sticks underneath the white pine tree.
Senior Moment Marc Elias Keller
It was the day after Thanksgiving and a gray flannel sky prophesied an early snowfall. Anne Greenwood stood in her father’s bathroom, twisting her long curly hair into a strict bun and meticulously tucking in the wispy graying sides. “I’m serious, Dad. I won’t be back until after six tonight.” Her words were perfectly clear even through a mouthful of bobby pins. “You’re sure you can do this?” Samuel grunted in exasperated assent to her third asking of that question. He looked after his grandson David regularly, usually just for a couple hours while Anne ran some errands, but today she’d been called in for an unexpected shift at the hospital and all the reliable sitters were booked. Much as she wanted to spend the day with David, taking him to ride on the Christmas train at the mall, she couldn’t pass up the overtime pay, not after what she’d spent on Hanukkah. Anne walked toward the door of the apartment, surveying the room like a detective, pausing to check the thermostat. “You paid the electric bill this month?” “Yes.” “You’re sure? Because last month—” “I know,” Samuel interrupted. “It was an accident. A mistake. People make them. Maybe not you, but—” “All right,” Anne said hurriedly. “I’m late.” She dug through an aged designer purse for her car keys and then gave her father and her son a goodbye kiss. “He has his video game and some DVDs and he knows how to work the player. But no sugar. We’ve been doing really well with that.” Anne opened the door and drew back from the bite of wintry air. “If you really need me, call the hospital and they’ll page me.” Samuel buttoned his sand-colored cardigan with wizened hands, blotched with brown spots and crisscrossed with bluish-gray veins. “We’ll be just fine,” he huffed. “Go to work.” ~ Their day started out, indeed, perfectly fine. David watched a movie while Samuel browsed through the paper and cleaned up from breakfast. As he finished wiping toast crumbs from the counter, his grandson came into the kitchen, holding a framed photograph of a boy and a girl 32
building a sandcastle, their hands gloved with gloopy wet sand. They were about six, the same age as David now, and they wore matching white tank tops emblazoned with blocky blue letters spelling out “Black Rock Bay.” “Pop-Pop? Who’s that?” “That’s me,” Samuel answered, putting on his glasses and smiling in surprise at the forgotten photo. It must have been hiding behind another one on the shelf. “And my sister.” “You have a sister?” “Well, she died before you were born.” David looked down at the dusty picture. “And you went to the beach?” “Every summer. To Black Rock Bay. Your mom went there, too, when she was a girl.” Samuel reminisced to David about those summer vacations so many decades ago, first with his own parents and his sister, and then with his wife and young Anne. No matter the year, every weeklong visit to Black Rock Bay was the same. Days at the beach and nights strolling about town. Early breakfasts at Uncle Bob’s Pancakes and sunset dinners on the patio of Bayside Motel. Waiting in line at Spangler’s Creamery. Books from Happily Ever After and hermit crabs from Roy’s Emporium. Late night walks to contemplate the dark, mysterious ocean. The boy listened for a minute and then picked up his video game. “I liked games when I was your age, too,” Samuel said. “We’d go to Johnny’s at Black Rock Bay.” “Johnny’s?” “Sure. Johnny’s Arcade. We loved it there.” David peppered him with questions and listened attentively about Skee-Ball and Whack-a-Mole. “But now they probably have video games like you play,” Samuel said. “Like Skyjumper?” “Well—sure. Probably.” David leapt up from the sofa. “Pop-Pop. I want to go to Black Rock Bay.” “You will, Davey boy. Your mom will take you.” “Today, Pop-Pop. Let’s go.” At first Samuel just laughed. But actually—why not? They had at least six hours before Anne came back and there was a nearby bus route that passed through Black Rock Bay. They could see the beach, browse 33
the shops, have some lunch, and then ride the bus back. The boy could use something other than a blinking screen in his life and Anne never let him do anything. “All right, Davey. Let’s do it. We’ll take the bus.” The boy jolted like ice water had been dumped on him. “Really?” “Sure. Why not?” David rushed to the bathroom while Samuel called up New Jersey Transit to check the bus schedule. The lady who answered gave him the information brusquely and mentioned it was also available online, prompting Samuel to frown at his kaput computer. Every time he booted it up, ominous warnings appeared on the screen. He’d designed navigation systems for the Navy and built radios from scratch—but he couldn’t get rid of these damned error boxes. And calling a repair company had only led to weeks of Anne fighting to get charges reversed and then confiscating his credit card. “I’m not a damn baby,” he’d told her, just like when she’d decided his driving days were done and he’d have to rely on the paratransit van. “I didn’t say that. But you’re exactly who these scammers prey on, Dad, and I can’t go through this hassle again.” ~ For most of the bus ride toward the Jersey Shore, Samuel didn’t notice the old woman across the aisle. But by the time the Black Rock Bay water tower came into sight, toothpaste-green against the gray sky, the bus was empty except for the three of them, and David had dozed off, his head pressed against the window and his small hands still gripping his handheld video game. In the quiet of the hybrid bus, Samuel realized that the frowzy old woman was talking to herself, mumbling a cryptic monologue punctuated with pauses where a companion would have replied. She wore a frazzled brown sweater and tan slacks, heavily stained by coffee or tea, or both. Chipped eyeglasses with scratchy lenses rested crookedly on the bridge of her pale nose and her head was tilted to the slant of the glasses. Her short silvery hair was an uncombed cacophony of cowlicks. He leaned toward the woman. “Ma’am? Everything all right?” She looked up at him and scowled, her strong chin jutting out like the bottom of a crescent moon. Then she went on with her monologue. Ten minutes later the bus halted at the only stop in Black Rock Bay, a bench in front of a convenience store a block off the beach. At the hiss of the air brakes the old woman stood up, disembarked with surprising 34
agility, and quickly disappeared around the corner. “Here we are, Davey boy,” Samuel said, rising slowly, feeling pain blossom from his persnickety knees. It was a shame that Anne had waited so long to have a child and he was such an old grandfather. As he passed the bus driver Samuel asked if the old woman was a regular rider. “Lot of folks ride the bus, sir.” “Yes, I know that, but—do you think she should be traveling alone?” “She paid the fare,” the driver replied absently, looking at a paper timetable clipped to the sunvisor. “We don’t ask much more than that.” Samuel frowned. “But she might be—” The bus driver pointed toward Second Avenue, the town’s main shopping strip. “Police station’s a few blocks down, if you want to talk to them. But I got to go.” The accordion door snapped shut and the bus glided away toward the freeway. David tugged on Samuel’s arm. “Pop-Pop. I have to go potty.” They went into the convenience store, David taking the steps to the electronic door and Samuel shuffling up the concrete ramp. After they used the bathroom, David stopped at the deli station and started tapping at a touchscreen ordering system. “Come on,” Samuel said, coaxing David along. “We’ll get a real lunch at Arabella’s a little later.” He tied the boy’s shoes and asked where he wanted to go first. David squirmed excitedly. “The arcade.” “All right,” Samuel laughed. “It’s just over here.” ~ Johnny’s Arcade was just where Samuel remembered it, but the door was locked, the inside of the arcade very dark, and the video games and pinball machines were covered with white sheets. Taped to the door was a hand-lettered sign: “Thanks for Another Great Summer! See You Next Year.” “Pop-Pop.” “I know, Davey. Just—come here a second.” It wasn’t just the arcade. All the shops on Second Avenue were closed. Spangler’s Creamery. Taffy’s Fudge Kitchen. Roy’s Emporium and Uncle Bob’s Pancake House. Even Arabella’s Ristorante, with its familiar red and white awning. He’d never been here at any other time than the summer and hadn’t for a moment anticipated everything being 35
shuttered. Samuel looked again at Johnny’s Arcade, its vintage sign advertising “Electronic Games for Kids of All Ages.” These beloved places looked just like he remembered—which, he realized, was exactly what people wanted from Black Rock Bay, why they came in droves every summer and paid the high prices. The town never changed because it wasn’t a real town, just a seaside resort, aswarm for a season and abandoned otherwise. “Pop-Pop.” “All right, Davey. Don’t whine. Just give me a minute.” Samuel fumbled for the paper schedule he’d taken from the bus. It was almost three hours until the next one and it was way too far for a taxi. “Pop-Pop.” “Davey!” “I’m hungry.” They started back down Second Avenue toward the convenience store, the old man’s cranky knees complaining at every step. The sun was far behind the clouds and the breeze off the ocean made it feel much colder than back at home. An electronic bell once again announced their entry into in the convenience store. David used the touchscreen to customize a turkey hoagie as Samuel leaned against the counter, the warmth of the store a mild relief to his knees. The only other shopper was a tall man in a trucker’s cap pondering over a colorful display of refrigerated sodas and energy drinks. “What do you want, Pop-Pop?” “Just do the same as you, Davey.” While the hoagies were being assembled, David picked out a bag of potato chips, a bottle of Sprite, and a pack of red licorice. Samuel raised a gray eyebrow. “Your mom doesn’t let you have that, does she?” “Please?” “Well”—Samuel winked, thinking of his father giving him and his sister nickels for the Fudgy-Wudgy Man—“just this once.” The convenience store didn’t have a sitting area, so they went back outside, where a rush of cold air instantly nullified any lingering warmth from the store. Within earshot was the soothing susurration of the ocean and Samuel suggested they eat on the beach. “You’ll like it, Davey,” he said. “You can look at the waves.” He led the boy up the wooden steps and then onto the empty expanse of soft sand, where they trundled down a 36
little path bisecting shallow dunes and a sawtooth wooden fence. The salty, fishy smell of the beach was fainter in the cold weather, but still detectable. David arranged himself on the plastic bag from the convenience store while Samuel sat down on the cold sand. The cloud cover looked even thicker over the ocean and blended in with the drab gray of the ocean. He’d never been on an empty beach and he smiled at the deserted seascape. Not a person was in sight in either direction and there wasn’t a speck of litter on the sand. No airplanes with trailing banner ads for casinos and insurance companies. No portable stereos or calliopean tweets of lifeguards’ whistles when someone went too far out in the waves. No video screens or cars or other people—just the peace and quiet of so many bygone summers at Black Rock Bay. “Pop-Pop. I’m getting sandy.” Samuel sighed. “It’s the beach, Davey. It’s supposed to be sandy.” After nibbling the sandwich for a few minutes and eating most of the chips, David picked up the handheld video game but then put it back down. Samuel nodded approvingly, about to praise the boy, when David told him that the batteries were dead. “That’s all right, Davey. You don’t need to play video games now. Just enjoy—” “Pop-Pop. I want to play my game.” “All right. Don’t whine. They probably sell batteries at that store.” He had to go to the bathroom anyway. “Can you stay here for just five minutes?” The boy nodded. Samuel held up the pack of licorice. “If you stay right here and finish your sandwich, you can have this when I come back.” He heaved himself to his feet and ambled toward the wooden steps leading off the beach. When he got to the convenience store the little green bench out front was occupied—by the old woman from the bus, still talking as though she’d never stopped. “Everything all right, ma’am?” She looked up at him coldly. “We live in empty rooms.” He nodded to her, went into the store and used the toilet, dispensed two cups of black coffee, and went to the register. “And that?” The clerk nodded toward the pack of licorice. “Oh. No. I paid for this already.” The clerk tilted her head uneasily. “Are you sure, sir?” 37
“Yes. I was in here before. With my grandson.” After a moment of uncomfortable silence, the clerk shrugged. “It’s fine. You can have it.” She nodded toward a waiting customer behind Samuel, another trucker. Samuel paid for the coffees, grumbling at this chain store, thinking about Black Rock Bay’s local merchants he’d supported for decades— none who would ever accuse him of thieving a damned pack of candy. ~ Outside it was snowing, lightly, the flakes sticking rapidly to the grass and more slowly to the pavement. Samuel sat down next to the woman, just to rest his knees for a moment, and held out one of the cups. “Coffee.” She looked at him warily, her frizzy gray hair glistening with moisture, and then took the cup. “We live in empty rooms,” she said again. Samuel smiled uneasily. “Yes, well, it’s certainly empty around here.” She gazed toward the strip of closed shops. “No cinnamon buns today.” This time he smiled genuinely: he knew exactly what she meant. Next to the arcade was a bakery: he remembered smelling pastries every morning as he walked to the beach with his sister and parents. The bakery was closed today, like everything else on Second Avenue. “That’s right,” Samuel said, wiping snowflakes off the lenses of his glasses. “The Baker’s Dozen. Right across from the fudge shows.” Her thin lips formed a grin. “Freeee samples.” “Yep. Freeee samples, every night.” He smiled at the memory of him and his sister in front of Taffy’s, eagerly plucking tiny cubes of fudge from the big silver tray. A young Hispanic man dressed in paint-splattered canvas overalls walked into the convenience store while looking at his phone, and Samuel suddenly remembered—David and the video game batteries. Damn it, how long had it been? He stood up frantically, stumbling at the sharp pain in his knee and clutching the old woman’s shoulder to steady himself. She dropped her cup and coffee splashed over her shoes. “No, no, no, no,” she moaned, stomping her feet. “Come with me for now,” Samuel said, grabbing her icicle fingers and pulling her toward the beach. He hustled her up the wooden steps and then onto the sand. “Davey boy!” This was the right spot: despite the thin layer of snow, he saw the 38
plastic bag from the convenience store and the white deli paper that had been wrapped around the hoagies. But David himself was nowhere to be seen. Samuel strained to look into the ocean—“David!”—and then stared hard in both directions down the empty beach. “Look for a little boy!” he yelled at the old woman. “Look!” “There are no boys in this world!” she screeched, sitting down in the sand. “DA-VID!”—but most of Samuel’s cry was lost between the white noise of the waves and the wind. Most likely, he thought, David went looking for him and turned the wrong way, away from the convenience store. “Let’s go,” Samuel said, pulling the woman’s hand. “Damn it, let’s go.” He yanked on her arm again, but this time she yanked back. His knees flared up in agony and he toppled forward onto the frosty sand. Samuel fumbled to put his glasses back on and waited for the wave of pain to recede so he could stand up. He felt like he was about to cry for the first time since his wife died four years ago. “DA-VID!” He looked back at the old woman. “Help me!” She clawed up some sand and threw it in his face. Suddenly the dull noise of the wind and waves was slashed by a loud electronic chirp and the snowy air was lit up by red and blue flashes. Moments later, two police officers, a man and a woman, and David, with a cut on his cheek and wrapped in a ratty brown blanket, appeared at the top of the wooden steps. Samuel leaned forward in relief. “Davey!” The male cop walked forward and held out his hands. His nameplate said “Delmonico.” “Sir—just stay seated for a moment.” Delmonico peered curiously at Samuel and the old woman, side by side in the snowy sand. The other cop, the woman, brought David forward. She pointed to Samuel and David nodded. “You’re his grandfather?” Delmonico asked Samuel, who nodded. Delmonico asked for ID and then looked over at the old woman. “Ma’am? What’s your name, ma’am?” The officer waved his hand in front of her face when she didn’t reply. “What’s her name?” he asked Samuel. “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” “I—I just met her today.” Delmonico frowned and helped Samuel to his feet. “All right. Let’s 39
sort it out in the station. At least it’ll be warm.” The old woman let Delmonico grip her forearm and lead her toward the wooden steps. Samuel asked what happened to David’s face and the woman officer said that David said he’d tripped going up the wooden steps. “Did you strike the boy, sir?” she asked. “Of course not.” “You’re sure about that?” “Yes.” When Samuel was near David he put his hand on the boy’s bony shoulder. “Everything’ll be fine, Davey boy,” he said. David squirmed away from Samuel. “Pop-Pop?” “Yes?” “I hate you!” ~ The ride to the Black Rock Bay police station took less than three minutes. The woman officer led David and the old woman to separate rooms and Delmonico stayed with Samuel in a little lobby to keep asking him about the old woman, who hadn’t said a word since the police came onto the beach. It was warm in the station and Samuel took off his overcoat, noticing Delmonico smile at his plaid-shirt-and-suspenders outfit. “All I know is that she took the bus—” The woman officer came into the lobby. “She’s from Crestview.” “Him too?” Delmonico asked, nodding toward Samuel. “No, they don’t have a record of him.” “Because I don’t live there,” Samuel interjected testily. Delmonico nodded dismissively and poured himself a mug of coffee, taking a sugar packet from a souvenir tin that used to hold salt water taffy. “Have Greg ride her back,” he told the woman officer. “How about the kid’s mother?” “Voicemail.” “She doesn’t answer her phone at work,” Samuel muttered. It occurred to him that when he’d visited Black Rock Bay as a child David’s age, his family didn’t touch a phone for an entire week. “Where’s work?” Delmonico asked. Samuel hesitated. “You know, this is all silly. I can just take him back on the bus and his mother will come to my apartment.” Delmonico shook his head and spoke with surprising gentleness. “I’m sure you understand, sir, why I can’t release the boy back into your 40
custody.” “Am I under arrest?” “Not if you help us make sure the boy’s safe.” Samuel stared down at the gray plastic table and thought about the empty beach. “I just lost track of time,” he muttered. Delmonico smiled. “Senior moment?” Then he leaned closer and spoke sternly. “Anyway, sir—it really would be better for you and your grandson if you help us out.” He sipped his coffee and ripped open another sugar packet. “She’s a nurse,” Samuel finally offered. “At St. Paul’s. Anne Greenwood.” Delmonico made a note on a brown paper napkin. “How about the father?” “He lives in Florida.” “Anyone else come down here today?” “Just me and David.” “You’re sure?” “Yes,” Samuel snapped. “I just wanted to show him Black Rock Bay.” Delmonico chuckled. “In November? What’d you think you’d see?” Then the officer left to make the call and there was nothing for Samuel to do but wait until Anne arrived. It didn’t matter, anyway, whether or not he was under arrest. He knew where he was headed: with the old woman in Crestview Care Center, where they put old folks like him who’d made too many mistakes, whose minds were fast becoming unfixable kaput computers. Crestview—where the residents wore bibs at mealtimes whether they wanted to or not. He’d seen those bibs when he’d visited an old Navy buddy, those brown oblong bibs with Velcro straps. But Anne would say she had no other choice to make sure he was properly cared for. She was a nurse, after all, and that’s how she divided up the world: those who could care for themselves and those who couldn’t. ~ When Anne rushed into the police station, in a trim burgundy coat over her nurse’s tunic and scrubs, she was as distraught as expected, huffing out her answers to Delmonico’s questions and ignoring Samuel to go and comfort David in the other room. After a few minutes, she came out, scowling, and approached her father. Samuel stood up and started buttoning up his old overcoat, avoiding 41
his daughter’s eyes. “It’s not as bad as it looks, Anne.” “No?” She flashed a white business card with a name and contact information under Bergen County Family Services. “Now let’s go,” she hissed, tucking a frizzy lock of hair behind her ear. “Before the roads get even worse.” Anne signed a form at what looked like a bank teller’s window near the door of the police station and then bundled up David, who was holding a half-eaten candy bar. “Honey, where’s your video game?” “I dropped it,” he sniffled. “When I fell.” “I’ll buy him a new one,” Samuel said quickly. Stepping carefully on the wet pavement, he settled into the front passenger seat and David climbed in the back. “Buckle up,” Anne ordered. “Both of you.” She drove slowly out of the parking lot, two hands gripping the wheel, frequently glancing at David in the rearview mirror. Samuel looked out at the darkened storefronts along Second Avenue. Roy’s Emporium. Johnny’s Arcade. The Baker’s Dozen and Taffy’s Fudge Kitchen. All empty and hibernating now, their awnings sagging under the accumulating snow. It struck him for a moment that the resort town, ghostly and inutile for three seasons a year, was, perhaps, something of a waste of space. But nevertheless, just before the car turned onto the freeway, Samuel opened his window for one last sniff of Black Rock Bay. Anne instantly felt the chill invade the car, glanced over unamused, and closed her father’s window with a button on her door. Then she locked the car windows and drove toward home.
She is the queen of the tiny plaza restaurant. She spills out of her seat, over leaning shopping bags placed to be seen. She spews smoke undeterred by coughs, from closeby tables stares, shaking heads. Complains about the wine. Bring me another then! Nail tapping on the new bottle crackling in ice. Next to her, the prince of Florence on his iphone, flicking back blonde hair, not looking up, not eating. She does all the eating for everyone.
Adult Play Matthew Friday
A rare thing in a city resisting: a cafe that offers wifi. Silence. Phone junkies all tapped into elsewheres, chunky power packs slapped down like foundation stones for a New World Order. Rapid ticking thumbs, barely blinking, faces sucked into the screen, sitting inside or outside. Only hushed talking from those not converted, embarrassed to use Old School voices not fingers. The waiter struggles out a smile, a few words of an old alphabet as he feeds the addicted flamkucken. At the end of the street, the Freidrichshain Volkspark, screams of playing children.
TV Boy Restrained
Pale Abstract IV Paul Luikart
The Poet MJ Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m mobile without you then connect up thrust your piece into my plug hole. I electrify buzz recharge when we grope. This conjoining is orgasmic voltaic juice magnetic motor-driven power-ridden. The charge perks up and up stimulating tension rousing distension. Daily nightly contact come into position dominance edge charge our hook ups. Love and love bedded energize sizzling urge mobile and recharge plug. 49
I tried using the pressure of anotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hands on my body to forget the way yours had felt I thought perhaps his would blur the impressions you had left as if memory would fall from my frame and onto the floor as easily as the clothing I allowed an acquaintance to peel from my flesh
Eye Made Lemonade Kylie Masznicz
Life gave me a blessing Yellow, sunny and light I squirted it into my eye. Red burn overtaking white Tears making me blind And as I cried and cried I learned my first lesson Never accept a gift from life.
Silhouette Alec Brown
I saw a man in a trash compactor. He was moaning about his wife And about the money he owed But the steel walls were leaning in to kiss each other And his voice drowned under the engine I only saw him for a moment From far, far above I was dangling on a swing Suspended from the sun The dump and the city vanished And the Pacific appeared beneath me My ropes cut through Blackened clouds, pregnant with water My feet danced on the air Birds couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t keep up I swung over Antarctica Its glacial heads peering up at me, curious I went up and up into the stars And then beyond them Suspended so far above I hung, weightless, in front of the moon Her swollen shape hung there Alone, just like me The light went out. The sun did too. Her face was lit only by the pale light from the world below I could feel my breath clouding against her skin As we floated together in the dark
So I tapped her powdered face Just once With my pinkie toe
Chauntelle Murphy 55
Double Exposed Sarah Cryan
People Tend Jeffrey Erlacher
[people tend] to fall apart or
hold it together
in nature as a rule things fall apart in closed systems
our eyes closed
some light never still makes it through doom is not absence as we are told it
is unrecognizable presence
subservient in nature there is no absence only what is tomorrow is not tomorrow when I will fall apart
what it is yet here
or hold it together it is not yet here 57
Mark Burke When the old horn sounds from two stars away, I’ll follow our old path, carry my best stones up to the slopes just below the tree line, the small valleys and ridges where we’d hide and tell our stories. You’d run for my count of fifteen, I’d open my eyes, picture where you’d hide, scavenge the shadows, the eddies of air behind the boulders, search for you through the voices of the sky. Each time I’d carry home a stone I found, whale’s eye granite, basalt, veined sandstone. I’d move them like puzzle pieces on my table, a nub of white crystal at the center, the radio dial to tune until I heard your voice again. I carried my trove to every town, built the shrine again on each dresser, talked to you wherever you’d gone. Up along the eastern ridges where we played, where the sun spills over stone lips, there is a chasm where I’ve gone to throw my voice, come back in the way you’d say my name, the place where we promised to meet when we were tired of the war. The rock edges flute notes from the wind, gusts shredded into whistled runs darting the air like wrens. Though your life is woven to another pledge, I can still hear you from this distance. Some climber may find my stones, talismans for you I’ve carried and piled here into a mound to mark where we’d traded pieces of our time. I’ll wait for you here. 58
S ta f f Ryan Dawley, Literary Editor “One day we were growing up in Paradise, careless that the next we would lose it forever.”
Ivana Lang, Visual Arts Director “Groovy times are upon us.”
Claire Carlson, PR Manager “Even with all the degrees of separation, we all came from the earth and will inevitably return to the earth. So please take care of her.”
Matt Cotter, Zine Editor “Please recycle, and turn off your TV once in a while. Go outside and play.”
Nick Huffman, Editor-in-Chief â&#x20AC;&#x153;Wait for the world to respond in our terms, and we will hear nothing â&#x20AC;&#x201D; even as the fires rage in plain sight.â&#x20AC;?
Special Thanks The Brushfire would like to express our sincerest gratitude to all the artists and student organizations whose efforts furnished this journal with thoughtful content, and whose craft inspired us to think of the journal as its own experimental work of art. In particular, we would like to thank both the Creative Writing Club and Wolf Pack Radio for inviting us to collaborate with them and for encouraging the local artists within their midsts to share their work with us. On a final note, we would like express our thanks to Maya Delgado and Christopher Nelson, our two most oustanding volunteers. Maya showed up to every meeting, reviewed nearly one hundred artworks, and provided crucial feedback that helped the editors generate the design for this journal. Christopher jumped into the review process at its busiest hour and provided in-depth responses to a substantial number of artworks, which helped us develop a more unified focus for the themes of this edition. To both of you, we are grateful for your support and your passion for the arts.
Colophon The Brushfire is the oldest literature and arts journal at the University of Nevada, Reno. Established in 1950, this nationally recognized, biannual publication provides an opportunity for emerging artists and writers to publish and share their work. With each iteration of the Brushfire, we strive to represent the diversity, originality, and interests of our community. Athelas is used for the body text and Futura is used for the headline text throughout the journal. A. Carlisle & Company of Nevada printed this FSC-certified, 8.5 x 5.5-inch book on 100-pound paper. As a UNR organization, we also strive to be the creative outlet for our student body. Our priority is to connect with the various art communities throughout Reno. However, anyone may submit to Brushfire. While we focus primarily on student and Reno-based work, we continually receive and publish art from across the country. To all of our submitters: we greatly appreciate your creativity, dedication, and love for the arts and freedom of expression. You are what makes Brushfire unique. Thank you.
Brushfire recieved the 2016 ACP Best-0f-Show Award for Literary Magazine, and recieved an honorable mention for the 2017 Pinnacle Awards.
WANT TO HAVE YOUR WORK PUBLISHED? Brushfire publishes bianually. We accept all printable forms of art. Our deadlines for the spring and fall semesters can be found online. To learn more about submitting, visit us at unrbrushfire.org Have beef with the journal? Let the Editor know! firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright ÂŠ 2018 Brushfire and its individual contributors. All rights reserved by the respective artists. Original work is used with the expressed permission of the artists. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher. The opinions expressed in this publication and its associated website and social media are not necessarily those of the University of Nevada, Reno, or of the student body. Brushfire is funded by The Associated Students of the University of Nevada.
journal layout cover art artist
: Brushfire Staff : Sea Spill : Judith Skillman