Buffalo Almanack, Issue No. 11

Page 1

I s s u e N o. 11

March 2016

Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst

Katie Morrison

John Gummere

Copyright Š 2016 Buffalo Almanack. All stories property of their respective authors. Cover photo by Kevin Michael Klipfel. Buffalo Almanack is a non-profit publishing outfit founded in 2013. New issues are released quarterly, on the last day of March, June, September and December. Inquire online for submission guidelines. www.buffaloalmanack.com Like us at facebook.com/buffaloalmanack

Kevin Michael Klipfel

Mamiya Super 23

Buffalo Almanack

s s e n i s y Bu l i m a F ck o l B AN

Public Grief Jessica Smith



Buffalo Alumn i Checkin g in wit h #Buffa loNatio 79 n

Things Joe Scott


Issue No. 11 - March 2016

Woo d AN shop Tal B k l ock


More Like Home Matt Denis


Appendix 73

AN Block


Family Business

It’s over? Pop asks Debra, the Golden Employment Agency counselor.

Next time wear a shirt without a picture of an upraised fist. Just a


Five minutes? he says, tipping his tan beret and easing out of the chair.

That’s not right, young lady. Getting here took me over an hour.

Her eyes widen, she straightens her index cards and points to the door. Bye.

In a stuffy windowless office across town, Mom leans forward and jabs

the eraser end of a chewed red pencil towards one of her advisees. All right, she says, raising a finger, but that’s all you get. Uno mas! One more chance, comprendo?

Pop has tried bending down to kiss her at the fondue party the night before,

hoping to ignite some primal reaction, but he’s misjudged by a few inches.

Phew, what is that stench? she asks, holding her nose.

Oh, he explains, probably the Gorgonzola I bought. Or maybe the raw

scallions I had for dinner.

Pop has been planning strategy for months. His idea: orchestrate a cease

fire and break the deadlock over a candlelit dinner. Once he catches her fooling around though with Mitzman, towards the middle of summer, he switches to the concept of sneak attack.

When Pop says No, he does not take it as a joke, in fact, No, he does

not believe Mom was just applying suntan lotion to that fat slob’s back, she announces to everyone attending the party who’ll listen that this is the pink limit, this is it, and she intends to see an attorney. Tomorrow! Furthermore,


AN Block

Mom says, she has already consulted her sister about the matter and, guess what, Sis is in total agreement: August is the perfect time.

Oh please, Sis says, what is with him? Selling No Hassle Waterbeds? Has he

totally lost it?

Well, Pop says, consider the source.

Don’t talk to me, Mom warns him. Please.

What intrigues her first is the jaunty handshake, the snappy way Pop

bounds up to introduce himself, Pep Larson he says, like he’s running for office, the spiel he delivers in the dining hall about activists idling in air-conditioned 8 cylinder cars, protesting atrocities against Nature. A propos of nothing. Her table mates clear their throats, eye one another and resume picking at rubbery Waldorf salads, while Mom drops her fork and just glares. Hmmm, says Pop, touching her chin, a most alarming case. Yes, yes indeed. I believe I may have to study you for a while, my dear. Over demitasse.

When he tosses his scarf over a shoulder and says, Cheerio! she covers her

mouth, cracks up and has to flee the room.

Is it what he said? she wonders, while brushing her hair in the mirror. Or

just how he phrases things, with that clipped nasal George Sanders accent? Well, I did think the pacing was rather crisp, Pop tells his roommate, how the bit sailed along, but was it really that funny? I’d give it rather a seven at most. On a scale of one to ten.

They spend the night before Graduation together, then make vague

promises to remain connected, but Pop boards a train west and Mom stays behind in the city.


Family Business

He sends her a cheery postcard with a photo of a man in a straw hat devouring a watermelon, then another a week later of a gypsy woman winking. His message: This is America! West of the Hudson!

She buys a two-tone late model Comet with the presents she gets for her

B.A., while her sister suffers an emotional collapse the week after dyeing her hair a resonant shade of brass.

When he phones from a Boulder gas station she spends twenty minutes

describing her sister’s condition with clinical precision.

So you think it’s what, he asks, dropping his last quarter into the slot, some

coincidence maybe? Or some like chemical reaction?

His calling might otherwise have surprised her, but she is preoccupied with

the twice-daily hospital visits and it’s not until the following week that it dawns on her he has extended a half-assed invitation to fly out and join him on the next leg of his odyssey. She finds an empty phone booth in the lobby and calls his parents, whom she has never met.

Does Muzz know any Barbara from Plainview, she could hear his mother

asking her husband.

Plainview? the man says, over the theme song to the Carol Burnett Show.

What do I know?

Pop is low on cash, sleep-deprived. Hitching west out of Colorado he leaves

his lucky lamb’s wool sweater in the car of an industrial chemist who outlines the critical role his research played in developing a breakthrough they call “permanent make-up.”

Far out, Pop mumbles, staring into the orange purple sunset. What a time-



AN Block

Mom finds out where he will be crashing when he reaches the Coast and

sends him a letter there on monogrammed pink tissue paper stationery which states her sincere intention to get together but, she is sorry to say, at the present moment it is out of the question, she is too enmeshed trying to keep her family intact to devote any energy to her personal life.

Mom signs it, Love, Barbara, and when he reads the florid, impeccably neat

curly-cue script upon arrival in California he resists the impulse to phone her again by ducking into the patchouli-scented New Revolution Cafe. LOVE, Barbara? he wonders, gorging on ancho-flavored popcorn, swaying to the sitar. Is that like some dinky classmate autographing your yearbook? Or might LOVE, Barbara perhaps mean something else in this context?

HePop observes signs of rampant prosperity throughout The Bay Area and

lands a part-time job in a car wash on the Berkeley-Oakland border. During lunch hour, he chugs Anchor Steam, gets woozy, gawks at passersby with polymorphous desire, flashes random peace signs and scribbles notes on the back of company flyers decrying all forms of authority.

Boy, you got one HAIL of a lot to learn, says Dixie, the head dishwasher at

the strip mall restaurant where he scrubs pots till past midnight each Saturday. Deed I do, Pop agrees.

He arrives at the all-night parties his friends throw long after the rest of the

gang is narcotized, and in the candlelight his longings drift mainly to Mom, so he plays Ray Charles on the stereo, You Don’t Know Me, because there’s no Nat Cole, and everyone edges closer to someone but him.


Family Business

Two months pass, he gets in a good mood and calls her again. When she

slurs some words he realizes how late it must be in New York.

Her sister is pregnant. Some druggy acting instructor. Aside from that, it’s

just status quo ante, she says, sounding slap happy. Daddy’s still threatening he’ll chuck it all and run off to Virginia, Mother continues professing that she has done nothing untoward that she can recall in raising her children; life follows a predictable pattern of action, inaction and reaction. They’re driving me coocoo, she says. Every day, asking, What are you doing with your life? Your fancy degree?

Hold on, he tells her, almost shouting, I’m coming back soon.

It’s a crackly connection. An impatient little man in a cardigan sweater is

pacing, waiting to use the phone.

I’m through rambling, Pop confides, I’m just about ready to attend graduate

school in The City.

They get married three years later, wearing identical white flowing robes.

Mom’s sister obtains an illegal abortion, soon after which she suffers nervous breakdown number three. Or is it three and a half? Pop wins a prestigious fellowship but concludes that academia is too formulaic, so he withdraws from the program.

Talking to you, his mother tells him, is like talking to a wall.

But Ma, he pleads, give me a break. It was bad for my equanimity. Not to

mention my complexion, all that time in the library. You want I should stagnate?

Go join a commune, she says. For all I care.


AN Block

He combs the morning papers for a position that could make a meaningful

impact, something in the helping professions.

Mom secures employment as a guidance counselor with full Blue Cross and

Blue Shield at a famous suburban high school.

They relocate from West 23rd Street to a garden apartment on the South

Shore of Long Island. Sometimes they venture out to buy house plants and explore remote shopping malls. They attend an emergency rally at the Nassau Coliseum, get all inspired, and then, later that week, watch most of a basketball game in a nearby facility. On Tuesdays they visit the ShopRite and on alternate weekend mornings Buzzy’s Laundromat. They share the cooking and buy strictly “natural” except for Ring Dings, pancake mix and an occasional box of Nonpareils. She insists they read every ingredient on every label. Stick to established winners, she begs him, please: Bonami, Entenmann’s, Wright & Ditson, Wamsutta, Tip Top, Sominex, Stearns and Foster. Usually she compiles a detailed list before shopping, but essential items still slip through the cracks. Why do things always take so long? Pop asks her. Let’s just get what we need. He grabs a bottle of generic red wine from southern Europe off the shelf and tosses it in the cart to commemorate some milestone in their relationship.

Don’t exert yourself, Mom says. Please.

Later she lights incense and an unscented candle, he puts Cowgirl in the Sand

on the turntable and Nature takes its course, just as Neil Young croons, “This is not the way it seems.’ Before the beginning of “Cinammon Girl.”


Family Business

Pop gets into a fender bender in a parking lot but the other guy speeds away

and he has just cancelled the collision insurance to economize since the Comet is now almost six years old.

Don’t blame me, he says, I had the right of way.

They agree not to tell Mom’s father, because the old man objects to

anything less than full coverage, but for weeks Mom squints at Pop as though her eyesight is failing. First she won’t talk to him, then he won’t talk to her. She tapes up typewritten lists of things she likes and doesn’t throughout the apartment. Do’s and Don’ts.

Why can’t you leave things alone ever, he asks her, why must you rearrange


So what is it you do all day? she asks.

Sip coffee, he tells her, and transcribe information. In painstaking detail.

Are you interested in seeing other women? she asks.

No, he says, he loves her.

Oh, she says, really? Then why don’t you get a job and take some of this

pressure off me?

Oh, he says, what a good idea! Okay, I’ll do it. Whatever you say. But he still

cannot find anything to his liking.

She suggests law school.

Now wouldn’t that gild the lily? Pop asks.

They argue, make up, and, in mid-kiss something catches his eye: Oxydol!

He denounces her for squandering funds on overpriced brand names while


AN Block

their budget remains so tight.

Budget? What budget? she says.

A poverty lawyer who doesn’t dress up, Pop muses, or is that just a touch


Can you speak fucking English, she requests. Just once?

He brings home a stray cat. It is charcoal gray. Mom rocks it in her arms,

says, We can’t keep this, and cries.

She drops him off every morning after he secures a position shelving books

at the town library, but Mr. Purvis does not appreciate his work habits and gets him to quit.

He passes cutting remarks when she sneaks a coloring book into the house

but she says she got it as a promo at the Shell station and besides, coloring something takes her mind off worrying and getting depressed.

What do you have to worry about? What?

Our future. I’m trying to color away my anger and stress.

He returns from tennis early after losing 6-1, 6-0, and discovers her on the

bare wood floor of her office one afternoon, curled up beside the radiator; she is wearing red Doctor Dentons, licking her lips, applying flesh tones to the cheek of a smiling medieval knight.

Oh, bless your little heart, he says, patting the top of her head. Un vrai



Family Business

Without looking up, she mentions a few of his more arcane preferences, tells

him to go take a shower and he heads straight to the basement.

They conclude something might be amiss.

Once in a great while they invite company over and Mom passes around

the postcards Pop has sent years before from his sojourn out west. Sometimes he coaxes her to play the guitar but she always apologizes for not practicing, or that the strings are frayed and out of tune. She tells virtual strangers how intensely lonely she feels. And depressed too, he reminds her, don’t leave that out. When The President gets caught red-handed they polish off a carafe of Vin Rose at a neighborhood clam house, run up a substantial tab and preach anarcho-syndicalist theory to the nodding waiter, right after shooting back a pair of complementary green Crème de Menthe. Once home they total their assets, huddle until dawn and make elaborate getaway plans in the event of a coup.

How far is Tasmania? Pop asks, checking The Atlas.

How much do you think we’d get, Mom says, for your old baseball cards?

Those Life Magazines?

They mail letters to former friends which avoid mentioning anything of

too specific a nature. They visit a counselor named James who comes highly recommended for his no-nonsense approach. He doesn’t throw anything away, she tells him. Ever. He drives crazy. Look, James says, things take time, stop all this fussing, what’s the worst that could happen? There are three reasons at


AN Block

least for every situation and most have a way of sorting themselves out. Without our meddling. Well, Pop says, that’s reassuring, Jimbo, but bad things come in three’s mostly too, n’est-ce pas? Stop cluttering your life up, James advises. Simplify!

Mom renounces coffee as a gesture of independence and Pop resolves to eat

more deli sandwiches and Burger King to combat his self-diagnosed amino acid deficiency.

They share a magnum of Hungarian Bull’s Blood wine on their

anniversary, compose an adulatory letter to Cesar Chavez and swear resolutely off grape jelly. I will eat my peanut butter dry! Pop declares. Um, could you not call me Babs in public? Mom asks him. Or in private either? It’s unnerving. Much less your Little Babsy.

She saves up to buy a fancy silk blouse and he burns a hole in it with a

cigarette he bums at a party. They attend a lecture on The Lost World of Pompeii but he develops a throbbing headache. She drifts off to buy lime sherbet as he sits on a marble bench, rubbing his eyes, hoping it will just go away.

They visit an elderly woman on Central Park West who had once befriended

her grandfather, but the woman cannot help them now, she is too busy clearing her throat.

They visit a man further uptown on the same street who stares out his bay

window, keeps tapping his cheek and finally leans forward across an enormous oak desk to suggest that, in his humble opinion, her father had been the unsung hero of the Henry Wallace campaign. Locally at least.


Family Business

Get this Doc, Pop blurts the moment Mom excuses herself, Little Miss Babsy

here wants to deduct Girl Scout cookies, right off our Federal Income Tax. Can you imagine? The man blinks three times and swivels halfway around. Then, re-examining one of his miniature porcelain ornaments in the lamplight, he swivels back. I don’t know what to tell you, is all he says. I just don’t.

On the ride home it begins to pour. She asks why he never discusses his

family and their political leanings (which he characterizes as a shade to the right of the Russian Tea Room), prior to pointing out he’s driven north, instead of east, over the Triboro Bridge.

Did you ever sleep with anyone else, while we’ve been married? she says.

Technically? he asks.

They see a black-and-white film about a skinny youngster with no friends

and a family of desperate schemers who is scampering around rock piles in shorts and suspenders. The second feature stars an evasive man in a raincoat, slouching in doorways, lighting cigarettes, keeping a watchful eye on the street and adjusting his hat at a rakish angle. She insists they buy an upright piano.

They do not know enough people to help them move the piano so they ask

people they do not know.


AN Block

When they rent half a duplex shortly thereafter, a neighbor with an almost

incomprehensible accent claps her hand over her heart and says how relieved she is, she’d heard it might be a bunch of wild you-know-who’s. You can’t catch me! You can’t catch me, her ten year old says, until he spots the piano. Oooh, can you teach me? Pwease?

Pop bares his teeth and answers, No, kid, it’s just actually furniture.

Pop denounces shoveling the driveway with a vehemence he usually

reserves for mowing, and then declares that after The Revolution there will be No More Lawns. Or lawn mowers.

And, Mom chimes in, no more shiftless no-good lazy bums skulking around,

getting wasted by noon.

They begin to eat every supper out and complain bitterly about prices.

Inflation blows, Pop says. All you ever hear is, What goes up must come down,

but boy, is that bull!

Breakfast dishes accumulate in the sink, Mom intimates her feelings are hurt,

but the protest fast she initiates lasts only a day. Let me know, she says, when you make a decision. Any decision.

Well, uh, when I get the paper, Pop says, I read it through and through.

She takes a separate vacation with her family, flies back early and he

ambushes her at the airport with a bouquet of artificial flowers. I made these, he tells her. With my own two hands.


Family Business

She announces how she intends to spend more time with her sister, that

occasionally she might decide to stay with her overnight. Sis needs her. Sis lives in a cramped studio apartment on West 74th Street with barred windows, a pull out bed and no view of anything but dingy discolored bricks. He says fine, go see your sister, I can fend for myself.

He only initiates contact with other people when she is away. Then he goes

mainly to see Mitzman, a friend with whom he makes halfhearted efforts to play ping pong, debate baseball and watch politics on TV, but after repeated sneezing fits he realizes how allergic he has grown to Mitzman’s brand of pipe tobacco.

I’ll do the jokes, Pop reminds him, after a sweaty marathon length match.

To which Mitzman replies, That is exactly what she said. He barricades himself behind mounds of the latest gadgetry and, since his divorce, is known to eat five meals a day without consuming one green vegetable. He re-locates to accept a tenure track position in Hot Springs, Arkansas and sends long run-on letters insisting he must come back to New York for the summer, that none of the hicks know how to service his Saab 99. He describes a mysterious rash he’s developed.

Pop reads the highlights aloud and Mom cracks up.

That Mitzman, she says, what a head case.

A Mensa candidate he’s not, Pop agrees.

He inquires when she might be planning to see her sister again and she says,

all things considered, Sis is not easy to get a hold of lately.

She’s in one of those phases, Mom says, out all hours, so I guess I should

keep an eye on her.


AN Block

They attend a matinee at Radio City with two of his childhood

acquaintances, a couple she describes as totally gross, and after the show Pop insists the four of them go for a drink. My treat, he says.

The guy relates at an excruciating pace the protocol he has followed to get

licensed in Humanistic Psychology while Mom excuses herself to call her sister and Pop proceeds to get bombed.

So what are you up to lately? the woman finally asks.

Maintaining a low profile, Pop whispers, looking around. Just in case. Trying

to keep my energy up, reading Jean-Paul Sartre. But this time taking notes.

But what is it you do? she asks, and she leans in towards him, eyebrows

rising. Clean up drips, Pop says, liquidate assets and annoy random people. Speaking of which, how much money do you make? Combined, I mean, after withholding.

Mom comes back from her sister’s apartment quoting statistics, despondent

because Sis ignores all her sensible advice so Pop proposes they go for a little change of scenery. A yard sale, he suggests, to lift your disposition.

So what do you keep writing always? she asks.

Whatever happens to pop in my head, he says, inching backwards out of the

driveway. Drivel mostly. Tales of unrequited love. And alienated labor.

Can you at least send something off somewhere? Or is that too much effort?


Family Business

Doesn’t interest me. Hasn’t popped in my head.

Then what are you doing it for?

Well, he says, rounding a corner, these words come to me. I’m determined to

flush them out into the open, that’s all. To practice my sentence structure.

You’re not a kid anymore. You know, it’s high time—

Hold that thought! Cause I have this dream, he says, accelerating deftly onto

the Interstate, that one day you and me, or is it I, will open our own little Mom and Pop around these parts. A Curiosity Shoppe. And, please note, that’s with a silent ‘pe’ at the end.

Carrying what?

Souvenirs mainly. Tchotchkes, bric-a-brac, keepsakes and what have you.

That is your dream?

Yup. Just you and me, fox. Babsy and Muzz.

Muzzy! We are not playing house any more. Are you going to apply yourself

ever? You’re almost thirty.

Pee-Eee, he says. It’s a recurrent dream.

Muzzy! Watch OUT!


Woodshop Talk

AN Block is the author of the short story “Family Business� and winner of the Inkslinger Award in fiction for Issue No. 11. Here we chat with him about his process and his art. This is Woodshop Talk. 19

An Interview With AN Block

BUFFALO ALMANACK: To what degree is this story reflective of your

own family history? If this piece does signify a reflection of your own past, might I ask what brings you back to the old ‘family business’ these days?

AN BLOCK: The story is true without being at all literal. In other words,

none of it happened, and the characters, real as they are to me, are not representational portraits of any flesh and blood people. My take is that all families are magical and sacred, but also a little insane, each involved in creating their own mythical fantasy world. To me this is what makes them, and Mom and Pop, an endless source of fascination. In one sense, everything I write is reflective of my own family history, but in another, this story is not biographical, not even close. Certain random facts are taken from families I have known and observed, including my own, but much more so from those that I have imagined, those that are on some sort of journey of self-definition, maybe by creating a business.

BA: You’ve said that “Family Business” took over fifty rounds of revision

to complete. What did that process look like? Can you walk us through all the little pains of your process?

AN: First of all, not pains but joys. Big question. To me it always comes

down to zeroing in on the exact voice I want, which I don’t often find easy to get. It’s about what sounds right and what conveys the inner meaning of the emerging story most effectively. So I experiment a lot and, if necessary, do many revisions: 1st person, 3rd person objective, 3rd person close, etc. Same with tenses. Same with pacing. Then I try to get the tone right. My acid test: does it sound right? But characterizing it in this manner makes the process sound mechanistic or analytical, which is not accurate. It’s all about the feel and the sound.


Woodshop Talk

What came to me, after I first played with the story long enough to know it

with any degree of intimacy, was to make the unnamed gender neutral narrator (who might just be the child of “Mom and Pop” and who might just be telling this story many years later, perhaps after they’re dead, or divorced, or who might be the unborn child, or who might not be a child at all) sound like the voice over for a classic Alain Resnais movie. Once I heard that voice in my head, I was like, Yes! That’s what this story needs. So the tone I decided to go for was somewhat flat, bloodless, world weary, detached, episodic, a monotone actually, reporting all this weirdo behavior at a remove from the characters. Each paragraph its own self-contained scene in a movie about characters who take themselves and their dramas a bit too seriously. But not just any movie, I wanted a specific black and white feel, with maybe some sepia, and very few bursts of color. I wanted a soft focus, mostly long shots that faded out, alternating with a smaller number of close ups and explosions of intensity, where the “camera” zooms in, all narrated in a suppressed distant tone. That wasn’t easy for me to get to. I found I had to ruthlessly eliminate most of the description. So I had to keep rewriting. BA: Pop is such a curious figure, a sort of lax genius whose Keep on Truckin’ persona belies a much more bitter interior life. What’s more, he seems to dominate Mom from the get-go, dictating the structure and circumstances of her life until her best recourse are adult coloring books. So who is Pop—eternal flower child, or something more dire?

AN: I love Mom and Pop equally, although I can’t really explain what

motivates them in any rational sense. Like many couples caught up in turbulent times, they are a bit off center. They’re also quite fuzzy, intended to be


An Interview With AN Block

somewhat of a Rorschach Test. There’s a lot of negative space in this story. In other words, the implications of what I’ve intentionally left out are almost as important as what I’ve actually written. Is there hope for these two? Are they representative of “their generation?” I see them both as passive aggressive, selfaggrandizing, delusional, overly sensitive, unwilling to grow up, two lovably absurd losers who have found one another and are bonded together, but are not sure whether they want to be. To me Pop is less connected to other people than Mom is; he’s also more of an optimist and a free spirit, although he’s more dependent on her than she is on him. Mom is more part of the “real world” and she is a worrier. Maybe there’s a connection. The point is that they’ve got each other’s number and neither one likes to look at reality too hard, especially Pop. He’s certainly more of an “escapist” and dreamer. So, in that sense, maybe he is an aging flower child, with all the freight that carries, being a close to thirty year old unemployed know it all. BA: What is “the revolution” that Pop looks forward to? You joke that it’s the once-and-forever defeat of lawn mowers, but it seems your characters are awaiting something more profound. Will it ever come?

AN: They’re waiting for Godot. Waiting to be rescued, to be swept away, to

experience something transformative but they don’t know what it would even look like. Pop’s offhand comment about the revolution coming is meant as a self-effacing joke. Mom throws it back at him and he has no reply: he is a selfindulgent, lazy under-achiever, although this is not meant as a value judgment, he just hasn’t found what it is that inspires or means anything to him. On the other hand, maybe the ending, with Mom yelling WATCH OUT, holds out some hope. Are they about to crash? Will that shake them out of their trap?


Matt Denis


More Like Home


At noon, they take lunch. From the top drawer of a tool chest in the corner

of the workshop, Benny takes two plates, two napkins, two enamel coffee cups, some salt and pepper, and a bottle of hot sauce. Freckles splits what’s left of the coffee in his thermos between the cups as they sit down. An orange generator hums and rumbles in the corner of the room, filling the silence and powering two heaters they’ve got set up nearby. Benny tries to mix it up with lunch. Sometimes he brings cold cuts; sometimes he cooks noodles at home the night before and packs a jar of sauce. Freckles, he knows without looking, will have a sub from the gas station down the street, and will load it with the hot sauce. Neither of them really ever uses the salt or pepper, but Benny still likes having it there. Makes the plant seem more like home.

One of the stray dogs that nose around the place all day pads into the room,

feet silent on the rubble, and sniffs around the table before curling up at Benny’s feet. Benny tears off a corner of his sandwich and drops it.

“You know what’s funny?” he asks.

Freckles doesn’t say anything, just looks over the rim of his cup at Benny. He

looks older when he’s sulking, Benny thinks; the lines in his face a little deeper, his greasy gray hair stringier beneath his hat and where it comes to rest on his shoulders.

“The dogs don’t have names.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means we never named the dogs. We’ve been coming here for over a year


Matt Denis

now and I don’t think I’ve seen every room yet. I don’t know. It’s just funny.”

“Fuck that,” Freckles says.


“You don’t get to do that. You could get treatment. I could go with you. But I

won’t do this goodbye tour shit.”

Outside, it’s early December and they say it might snow today. The wind

cuts a low whistling path through all of Packard’s broken windows. The landscape is scrubbed raw and weedy. In the distance, Detroit juts out of the horizon, half-covered by fog, like a mirage.

Benny stifles a cough and pictures shreds in his lungs glowing. He tries to

look Freckles in the eye, but he’s digging at something under his fingernail.


The Packard Plant stopped making cars in 1958. For a while after, a few

companies moved quietly in and out of the complex, using it for storage. Plywood theater sets are still rolled into the corners, boas and robes snaking out of boxes beside them; a few doors over, a fleet of broken-down long haul trucks rusts idly. Remnants of a shoe warehouse—leather laces, cedar trees, dustcovered cans of black polish—sit in long-forgotten piles on the second floor, picked at by looters every now and again. Sometimes Freckles swears he can smell varnish, the gloss of his father’s wingtips, the ones he only ever wore to weddings and funerals, stagnant in the late morning air.

It’s been empty for a decade now. Nobody owns it and nobody seems to be

coming for it. All the work went south, where they don’t organize and negotiate the types of pensions that will float Benny and Freckles for the rest of their lives.

The city is disappearing, Benny and Freckles agree. The streets are empty.


More Like Home

The places their fathers went for drinks and wings after work are closed. Their own friends from the plant have long since moved to the suburbs, or to Florida, and don’t call, and the houses they left behind are brittle skeletons with their roofs caved, or blackened from the inside by Devil’s Night arson. Plywood over the windows, graffiti over that.

Benny and Freckles keep showing up at the plant because it’s the only

thing they recognize anymore. There’s no real project beyond being there and remembering. Most of what they do is maintenance: they patch holes in the plaster walls, clear rubble, replace light bulbs, hunt fire hazards, and put the fires out when they don’t get to the hazards in time. There’s no rush anymore, no assembly line, no constant drone of machinery, or voice of God foreman behind glass on the second floor, punching the intercom button. No paycheck that depends on anything. No paycheck at all.

Still, in the plant, nothing is a surprise. Their bodies already know what

to do; haven’t ever done anything else. At night they linger in the parking lot before going home—Benny to Poletown, Freckles to Hamtramck—shooting the shit and picking out the dark pockets of extinguished streetlights in the distance. Looters strip the copper wire to sell, Freckles tells Benny, and they shake their heads. We’re the dam against the coming tide, Benny says.


Benny finds a box truck after lunch whose lift gate is rusted to hell. Freckles,

giving it a look over, can almost put his finger through the worst spots, the metal turning to orange dust and smudging his fingers.

“You want it?” Benny asks from across the room, wheeling the welding cart

to the truck.


Matt Denis

Freckles laughs. “Welding and me? Not friends anymore,” he says, holding

his pocked arm up as proof. “I’ll find you the metal, though.”

Benny’s a fantastic welder. Freckles wipes socket wrenches in the corner

and watches him work. Amidst the pale gray stillness of the workshop, Benny is half-obscured in glow, like an overexposed photograph; time seems to stop, or at least slow to the rhythm of the wand dragged precisely over the seam of the lift gate. Freckles pictures the muscles in the back of Benny’s arm, hidden under his work jacket, humming the same way they did 30 years ago. He remembers the way his own breath used to sound under the mask during a weld, hollow and important. Remembers hovering over the chaos the wand whipped up: listening to it, manipulating it, galvanizing it. Making something that would glow for a bit and cool to a patch-up.

When Benny cuts the power and lifts the mask, Freckles watches the light in

the room reorganize itself in a religious silence and knows that the World looks different because they forced it to.

“Still got it?” he asks, walking over to where Benny is wiping his forehead

with the sleeve of his jacket.

“See for yourself,” Benny says with mock modesty.

Freckles doesn’t need to look to know that it will be flawless. With a coat

of black paint over the whole bit, it would look brand new. But that’s another day, he knows, or not at all. He makes a show of poring over the work anyway, bringing his face inches from the lift, wiping his hand over the seam and then smelling it.

“Not bad,” he says, squeezing Benny’s shoulder, “with me retired, you

might just be the best welder here.”

Benny smiles. “Fuck you, too,” he says.


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Benny had the first cigarette of his life up the street from the Packard Plant

when he was 13, huddled in his friend’s garage during a rain. His dad had been working doubles in the weeks since his mother left for Phoenix. She left him a nine-page letter explaining why, and he stuck it under his mattress, read it every week until he had it memorized, and then burned it.

They’d moved to a smaller place in Poletown when he started working

on cars. His dad taught Benny how to change the oil in his Cadillac late on a Saturday night with the garage door open to a late autumn chill.

“This is your responsibility now,” he told Benny, who from then on would

check the mileage every Sunday after dinner, and took all the shop classes he could at school.

He met Marion at a bar downtown when he was 22 and working second

shift at Clark Street Assembly. She was a friend of a friend, and she was gorgeous. He asked his friend for her number and they went on seven dates before he kissed her. They got married a year later.

Freckles he met ten years later, when he moved to the Cadillac Plant in

Hamtramck and they shared a workstation. Sometimes, orange weld showers would drift over to where Freckles was working, settling and smoldering on his sleeve. Benny worked on the other side of the station and never got hit. He used to feel guilty—sometimes he thought about switching sides, but he never did, and Freckles never asked. Even now, Benny can smell the bitter hint of briefly ignited cotton; can picture the nearly invisible road map of welts on Freckles’ forearm—the source of a nickname for him, a source of pride for both of them. Proof that things used to be made.

Marion got sick not long after he retired and didn’t make it far. She had


Matt Denis

a depressingly white hospital room that she shared with someone else, and a bunch of machines that made the inevitable hurt less for her. As for Benny, nothing made it hurt less. One time late in the process, after another round of unsuccessful chemo, she couldn’t even remember who he was, and she looked so different.

He was 62, drifting along a Mobius strip of depression and uselessness,

when Freckles started calling every week to talk about the Packard Plant—their responsibility to it.

A couple months ago, at Detroit Mercy, the doctor told him that the cancer

was in his lungs, that they didn’t catch it early. Benny sensed the loose thread smell of Marion’s perfume in the office, where it couldn’t have been anything else, and pictured a map of all his footsteps from the time he was born to right then. They’d all be in the same couple square miles—from Poletown, to the plants, to the street where he and Marion stayed; footprints the bright red of a heat map, so many overlapping that his neighborhoods were pure color.

And now he’s sweeping the workshop with Freckles after a weld, where the

late afternoon sun on the dust and metal shavings makes a glittering tornado, and he’s not afraid to die. But he doesn’t want to be alone. He’s thankful for Freckles, needs him, in a way that he doesn’t seem to have the ability to express. He was only able to tell him about he cancer at all because it was hurting too much to swallow the coughing fits all day. I can’t do this without you, he should tell him now. Or: I love you. But instead he points his broom like a cane and makes his voice quake geriatric.

“I tell ya, Sonny, back when I was a kid, a Packard was the car to have,” he

says. Freckles glances up at him, but only for a second, and then goes back to sweeping.

“Fine. Sulk, then,” Benny says.


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Most nights after work, when he gets home, Freckles pours himself a

whiskey and builds a fire. Home is a bungalow on Westwood Drive that he bought for $300 on foreclosure a couple months ago. He sold his old house, and a ’67 Mustang he was restoring, for start-up money and moved in. At the time, it wasn’t much more than a permanent tent. The first few nights he slept with the plywood still on the windows and woke up late in the morning on weekends, when the seams of light coming through were already bright yellow. His stuff, most of it, anyway, is still piled in the corner of the room just inside the door. He’s got a water heater now, but still no working furnace, and the paint is peeling in all the corners. On weekends, when he and Benny don’t go to Packard, Freckles walks to the hardware store up the road and hangs out for a while, buys a Turkish taffy, figures out what he should do next in the house, and what he’ll need to do it.

Or sometimes he’ll visit his father at the Home in Grosse Pointe, a few miles

east. Freckles can still remember, as a kid, his father taking him to the garages of bachelor co-workers who’d bought Packards and kept them gleaming privately in their garages. He remembers being astounded by the chrome, the winged backs capped in red, round taillights. They looked indestructible and graceful at the same time—like something that would float rather than roll.

“You built this?” He would ask his father, who’d chuckle with is buddy and

nod, saluting one another and the car with their cans of Stroh’s.

So it’s strange now, when he visits, to see Dad hunched and small in a chair

by the window, looking out from behind the blue-gray film of his eyes. It’s hard to talk about much anymore.

“Where are you working these days?”


Matt Denis

His father always starts that way, because works comes first.

“At the plant, Pop.”

“Which one?”


A flicker of recognition at that. “Good for you,” his father says, “like it’s own

city, that place.”

Freckles always just nods. He’s sure that his father knows the plant is closed.

Down in some place inside him that’s been scraped open and scabbed closed too many times, and now is shriveling up with everything else. They haven’t made cars there since Freckles was born, and so their presence in his life has never been more than a mirage, something ghostly, a perfectly contoured outline in a few dimly remembered garages.

Freckles’ father helped him get his first job—at the Cadillac plant, across

I-94 from Packard. By then it was already damn near the only option. Working there, it was impossible for Freckles to ignore that Packard was closed. He could always feel it out there, stretched long and low on the horizon, its shadowed recesses like heavy-lidded eyes, broken bits making the rows of windows look like a set of sucker-punched teeth grinning at him. He read in a newspaper editorial once that Packard was “the poster child for post-industrial blight,” and even if he didn’t entirely know what that meant, the words stuck with him. They made it seem like the plant was still churning, still producing something, even if it was something sad that no one could wrap their hands around. He found himself turning the words over in his cheeks with breakfast, or mouthing them to the rhythm of his work, like an invocation.

Anything that’s used up its usefulness has no choice but to start dying,

decaying. Freckles prefers to be on the upswing. That’s why he moved. There was nothing wrong with his old house, no fear of the neighborhood being too


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dangerous, no major structural damage; hell, the two houses were the same size, even—a couple square feet from one another. It just got too stagnant. It didn’t need him anymore. There was nothing to do at night but turn on the TV, get a little drunk, and ride out the downswing.

He feels destined for Packard in the same way. He’s lived in Detroit his

whole life, and Detroit never sat around and waited for things to die. It built them. And if anyone came looking for that city now, amidst the vacants and vagrants, he wanted them to be able to find it throbbing in his muscles, hardening into knots on his feet, getting stuck under his fingernails. That’s what he tells his father, who he knows can’t process it anymore. Still, it feels important to say.

He’s never told his father about Benny—afraid he’d say too much.

Earlier in the year, in late April, he and Benny were hanging tarp over some

of the bigger broken windows while a soft rain fell. The Tigers were in Boston and they had the game on the radio—Detroit down one late, but with the bases loaded and their best hitter up.

“He’ll ground into a double play,” Benny said.

“Bullshit. He’s the MVP; this is what we pay him for,” Freckles said, and

each of them stopped what they were doing and leaned a little toward the radio where the double play went 6-4-3 to end the threat. Freckles expected to see a smug look on Benny’s face, but instead saw him climb down the ladder, curse under his breath, and chuck his hammer into a pile of clutter on the opposite side of the room. He realized then that he loved Benny—for the way his heart ignored what his head told him was inevitable, for his openness, for how he still allowed the World to hurt him because the flip side was worse—and that he had for a very long time.


Matt Denis


They quit working late in the afternoon, when there’s bits of purple

backlighting the darkening gray sky, but they don’t go home. They sit in the front room and watch the snow falling in silence. Benny can hear laughter from the other side of the plant making its way to them. Normally they’d go check it out. Scavengers come for what machinery they can haul away, or what’s left of the wire in the walls. Sometimes it’s just kids, nosing around after school on a dare. A couple times, Benny and Freckles have stomped out fires that just seemed to materialize—one of the reasons the city wants to tear the place down. Today it doesn’t seem worth it. Most of the time, when they go looking for the voices, they can’t find them. And there’s so much refuse in the plant that it’s hard to know what’s missing. It’s getting impossible to keep the outside out. The only thing Benny’s able to know for sure is the fire, not the spark that started it. The empty space, but not what was taken.

He looks at Freckles, who seems to know what he’s thinking.

“What’s the point, right?” Freckles says. “Since we’re in the business of

giving up now.”

Freckles won’t look at him, and Benny wonders if he’s crying.

“Alan, come on,” Benny says, and he can hear the pleading in his voice,

the strangeness of the name, which still seems right somehow. Freckles scoffs through the wounded look on his face, grabs his coat off the back of the chair. Benny watches him leave through an empty space where a door used to be, out into the courtyard that separates the two wings of the plant. He follows him out there. The snow is pretty heavy now and Freckles turns his face up into it, squeezes his eyes shut, and takes a long breath through his nose.

“Don’t hold it against me,” Benny says to Freckles.


More Like Home

“Sorry, I plan to.”

“I want you to be there.”

Freckles finally looks at him.

“Be where?”

“You know. With me. At the end.”

Freckles laughs a little, his face like there’s a taste he can’t get out of his


“You’ve been walking around with this for months and you only told me

today,” he says.

“I wanted to tell you sooner. I don’t know how to explain it, but I can’t bring

myself to do much of anything lately. Like whatever I do will be tainted and sick when it comes out.”

“Do it anyway,” Freckles says. “That’s what you need my help for: fighting.

Best part of throwing in the towel is that it’s easy. You don’t need anyone else.”

“It’s too late for treatment,” Benny says. “And I went through all that with

Marion and it didn’t change a thing. It just made both of us feel worse.”

Freckles doesn’t say anything for a while. He never has much to say when

Marion comes up.

“At the end,” he says, like he’s still trying to pull the words into an order that

makes sense. Benny reaches for his hand, but Freckles pulls it away.

“I’m not your wife, man. You need something from me, so now I get to love

you? That’s too late. Not worth it.”

Benny knows he should be surprised to hear that, but he’s not. Freckles

turns his face upward again, and Benny follows his eyes. From where they’re standing it’s just layers of redbrick and snow. The archway is missing bricks, the rusted pale green of the steel scaffolding, the jagged rows of spaces where


Matt Denis

windows used to be. And inside, room after room of empty shadowed spaces, graffiti like neon on the concrete pillars, one after another. This could easily be the end of the world.


Benny doesn’t show for work the next day. Freckles sits in his car with the

heat gushing until almost 10 before he goes in. He doesn’t leave at five, just sits in the yellowish light of the shop, humming to himself and looking around at everything left behind by all the people who didn’t care to embalm what they’d killed. He stays until the generator runs out, gathers up the gas cans to refill the next day, and exits into the half-dark. The wind is picking up, but Freckles can’t bring himself to go home. He realizes that he’s always been alone, but that now he’s lonely. And he understands what a difference that makes.

The rest of the week is more of the same. Freckles shows up a little later each

day, and by Wednesday he’s given up hope of arriving to find Benny leaned against the brick, smoking, or blowing into his hands against the cold. Freckles knows that he’ll keep going to the plant every day, now only out of a sense of duty. Because things will always never be the same, but you still try to outlive them anyway.

Nights he takes the gas cans and walks the neighborhoods surrounding

the plant. The world is quiet, covered in bluish shadow. Apparitions in mangy winter coats shove their hands into their pockets and talk under extinguished streetlights. Blocks of boarded up houses breathe out of their wounds at him. Even the inhabited streets are quiet—just the blue-washed flicker of televisions in dark living rooms. He walks until the snow leaks through the cracks in his boots and his toes go numb, before circling back to his car.


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Pulling up with the gas cans a few weeks later, Freckles sees his front door

ajar, a weak wedge of light spilling onto the front steps. The kid can’t be much more than 16. He’s got greasy black hair that hangs in strings to his shoulders and a Red Wings beanie that he’s pulled down over it, the logo swung to the back where Freckles can see it as he creeps up the front steps. The kid is going through his stuff; he’s rooting through the pile in the corner of the front room, and he’s laid out at his feet the things he’ll be taking with him. Freckles tallies the kid’s haul: a cordless drill, a small boombox, and half a bottle of whiskey. And he’s not done yet. He doesn’t hear Freckles enter the house behind him, and Freckles stands there for a second and feels the tables, finally, turned. For a few seconds, he knows he can inflict himself on the World. But instead he sighs and puts the gas cans down hard on the wood floor. The kid flinches and turns around the see Freckles there in the doorway.

The kid’s face is all fear for a second: eyes open wide and darting around

the room. They’re the only part of him moving, the rest rigid and still. Freckles doesn’t say anything, just keeps looking between the kid and his pile on the ground with what he hopes is a determined amusement.

“Hey Justin,” the kid says to the empty room, and that’s when Freckles can

hear the rustle in the kitchen and knows that someone else is here. The other kid has no fear in his face. He’s older than the first one, and his jacket is torn at the elbows, little bits of fluff tufting out at odd angles. Underneath, he’s got a white t-shirt, gone yellow with filth, with the Ford logo on it. When he smiles, Freckles can see that his teeth are graying and small in his mouth.

“Howdy,” he says, crossing to where Freckles is standing, “I guess this is

your place? We won’t be long.”

Freckles feels sweat on his face, but doesn’t think he’s nervous.


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“Fuck you,” he tells the kid, whose smile just gets bigger.

“Oh, ouch, man,” the kid says, clutching at his heart. “Why you gotta be so


Freckles finally blinks. “Help yourself,” he says, “there’s a toothbrush in the

bathroom. I’d definitely be grabbing that if I were you.”

The smile goes out of the kid’s face and he licks his lips and looks at his

partner, still crouched by the pile of loot. Freckles turns that way, too.

“Is this what you do?” He asks, “Is this your job?”

The younger kid just shrugs.

“Everyone has to make a living,” Justin says from beside Freckles, and

stoops to pick up one of the gas cans from the floor. “This is definitely something we could use,” he says, popping the cap and splashing some on the floor at Freckles’ feet. From this close, Freckles can smell the warm rot of the kid’s breath; see his eyes like down power lines scraping the ground. He feels out of place in his own home, like it doesn’t belong to him anymore. He’s just drifting through, flotsam swept up in the tide. The kid pulls a book of matches from his pocket and lights one, eyes widening as he holds it in front of Freckles’ face.

“Don’t say no one ever did anything for you,” the kid says, blowing the

match out and patting Freckles on the shoulder. “Let’s go,” he tells the other kid, who gathers up the pile of things they’re taking, and follows him out the door.

Freckles stands where he is for a long time with his eyes closed. He can

smell the sulfur singe of the lit match lingering, and a long way away a siren is howling through the night. He thinks about Benny: the light seeping back into the room around him when he’s finished a weld; snow melting into drops on his boots, quivering a little before rolling off; his cracked fingernails and swollen


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knuckles that would probably make his touch rough. Probably.


Benny’s house hasn’t changed since Marion died. Alone, he looks out of

place in it. There’s still the floral print sofa in the sunken living room, feet disappearing into heavy soft carpet. The kitchen floor is linoleum, slick with fake shine, cupboards white, trimmed in unstained wood at the bottom. Above the mantel, the crystal figurines Marion collected are still lined up, looking out. Someday soon, Benny is going to die, Freckles thinks, and then a real estate agent will walk through with young couples who know vaguely that cars used to be built here, but little else. Who talk about art and authenticity and rebirth. They’ll find it charming, but move slowly through the house with the agent, talking about changes they’d make.

Benny had answered the door in his pajamas at 11 in the morning, and

didn’t seem surprised or pleased or upset to see him. Just gaunt—Freckles felt a pang of something awful when he saw him, how different he looked.

They’re sitting on the couch now, eating the sandwiches Freckles brought

over from a place in Corktown they both like, and Freckles is telling Benny about the break-in.

“I’m glad you’re alright,” Benny says, and pats Freckles on the hand,

squeezing a little before he turns back to his sandwich.

“I just stood there,” Freckles says.

“Yeah, well,” Benny says and looks out the window at his frozen backyard.

They talk through lunch. About the plant, what needs done; about the type

of lock Freckles should install on his front door; about friends they had back when everything was humming; about dying.


Matt Denis

“You can’t just stay here,” Freckles tells him.

“Yeah, I know,” Benny says, “but I’ll be here for a while. Until I can’t stand

it. Then I’ll call.”

“Call?” Freckles says.

“Yeah, the ambulance,” Benny says.

Around dusk, Freckles balls up the foil from the sandwiches and takes it to

the kitchen. He washes the dishes in the sink and takes the garbage, which is overflowing, out to the curb. He changes the sheets on Benny’s bed to something flannel he finds in the closet between the master bedroom and the bathroom. When he comes back out into the living room, Benny is asleep on the couch. Freckles thinks about leaving a note, or a letter, but doesn’t. He pulls a chair in from the kitchen, and sits down.


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Jessica Smith


Public Grief

It has been eight months since Anthony left, and Jenny is certain that

during those months she has been, at least in public, a perfect model of Broken Up With. She has been sad, but not too sad. Quiet, but not too quiet. Reserved, but not too reserved. She forced herself to go on dates again—bad ones—and she expertly dispensed with each horrible guy: the one who ate his chapped lip skin, the one who offered her cocaine after they hugged hello, and the one whose mother texted sixteen times during their meal. Jenny makes jokes about it. She thanks her friends when they comment that despite it all she seems in fine spirits.

“Good for you!” they say. “You’re doing what you’re supposed to do!”

But Jenny doesn’t know what that means: what she is supposed to do. Is

she supposed to be kind to herself? Rest up? Let loose? Feel her feelings? Those are the platitudes people recycle on the recently-bereft—she’s said those things herself, a thousand times—as if language sanitized to sympathy card standards actually does the trick. But the truth is, things are not going well. Mostly because she recently learned Anthony and his new girlfriend celebrated their one-year anniversary— problematic news, considering it has only been eight months since Anthony and Jenny’s own breakup. After finding out, Jenny drank a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream from the back of the fridge and puked all over her kitchen floor. She didn’t have the strength to scrub up, and so she put herself to bed. In the morning she woke to find the floor licked clean, courtesy of the cat.

No one needs to know these things. It’s hard enough for Jenny to know these

things, and this is why she is relieved when her mother calls with news about her brother. 42

Jessica Smith

“He’s at it again,” she says. “The whole family should be here so he

understands he has our support.”

What she’s asking is for Jenny to come home and carry out an intervention

for Will. This will be his third. Will’s interventions aren’t the glamorous types that would get him on television. They aren’t done for reasons any producer would find sexy. There is no drug addiction. No alcohol. No crazy sex stuff. No distressing hoarding of gerbils or Band-Aids or dehydrated astronaut food. Instead, there is credit card debt. Unspeakable credit card debt.

“He needs,” her mother says, “a united front. He needs to see we’re all here

to help him.”

But Jenny has no idea how her presence will help him rebound from being

$20,000 in the hole at the age of twenty-five. Still, this is a problem that is not her own, and it has nothing to do with Anthony and his new girlfriend—who writes a blog featuring pictures of her cat wrapped in scarves—and this intervention, this not-her-own-problem, is something Jenny can rally behind, so she says yes, fine, okay, I’ll come home. And then she hangs up and cries so loudly the people in the apartment upstairs pound on the floor and shout down, asking if she is all right.

It is noon when Jenny arrives at her parents’ house in Buffalo. This is where

her brother currently resides, as he was forcibly removed from his ghettoadjacent apartment for non-payment. Jenny shoves her suitcase in a corner and pours herself a bowl of cereal. Will comes downstairs moments later. He looks at Jenny. Then at the clock. Then back at Jenny. He rubs sleep from his eyes.

“Fuck,” he says. “Hi.”


Public Grief

“Yeah,” she says, “nice to see you too.”

“What are you doing here?” he asks. He lifts the milk from the counter and

sniffs it. “No one said you were coming.”

It’s strange to see him puttering around the house they grew up in. He looks

out of place there: an adult wearing satin pajama bottoms decorated with flames. He has three days’ worth of scruff on his face and a clump of cat fur stuck in his hair because nightly he and his cat Marvin fall asleep spooning.

Jenny plucks the fur off his head and hands it to him. He shoves it in his


“I had a few free days,” she says. “I’m on my way to Cairo for work.”

“Egypt?” he says. “What now? Riding horses bareback to the pyramids?”

Will makes no effort to hide his disdain for her job. He thinks it’s criminal

to get paid to write about travel in a syndicated column published in those cityspecific monthly magazines—Portland!, The Cleve, Hotlanta, and so on—that are mostly advertisements for coffee shops and gem boutiques.

Will does what he considers real work. He’s a cashier at a home

improvement store, and he likes the job because he gets to wear a tool belt and sometimes is asked to be in their commercials. Their mother sent a tape of the last one to Jenny, a five-second clip of her brother gesturing grandly to new water-efficient toilets.

Shortly after that commercial aired, Will was promoted to assistant head

cashier, and when Jenny heard the news she sent home a card. She addressed it to Will “Ass. Head Cashier” Boyd. It now hangs on his bedroom door like it’s a placard marking his dressing room at the Tonight Show.

“No pyramids,” Jenny says. “I’ve already done a column on the pyramids.”

Will sticks his head in the freezer and comes out with bags of frozen fruit.


Jessica Smith

“Well, all right,” he says. “If it’s not the pyramids, then what is it?” He jiggles the bags in Jenny’s face. “Smoothie?”

She shakes her head. “I’m doing a foodie thing. A culinary tour of Egypt.”

Will puts fruit chunks into the blender and starts it whirring. He has to shout

over the sound. “ARE YOU GOING TO EAT DOG?” he asks.

Jenny narrows her eyes at him and waits for him to shut off the blender.

“They don’t eat dog there,” she says.

“No, no. They do,” he says. “People always talk about that.”

Jenny takes her bowl to the sink. There is no sense telling him he’s wrong

and that he’s thinking of Asian countries.

“I guess if they serve me dog,” she says, “I’ll have to eat it. It would be

disrespectful if I made a big fuss.”

“Fuck that,” he says. “I wouldn’t eat dog if they paid me a million dollars.”

Jenny can almost see the thoughts taking shape in his head, so she decides to

give him a nudge. “Not even one tiny bite of dog?” she asks.

“Well,” Will says slowly, “maybe. Maybe just one.”

For two days, Jenny attends secret meetings with her parents. They gather wherever they can, wherever Will isn’t. The basement. The upstairs bathroom. The backyard, obscured by the lilac bush. This intervention, they decide, will be the one that does it. This is the one that will stick. It will be more serious and structured than the ones that came before. He’ll know they mean business.

The whole series of interventions started when Will came weeping to their

mother with a pile of bills totaling $2,000. This was shortly after he’d been kicked out of college for a combination of reasons: failing each of his classes and “borrowing” his professor’s 1959 Ford Galaxie for a joyride.


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Getting kicked out of school didn’t seem to faze him for about a month until all his friends packed up their Christmas gifts and went back to campus. While his friends got kegs and girlfriends, Will got a job at Picasso’s Pizza and took up the hobby of buying things he could not afford—never anything essential, never anything anyone could understand. Instead, he bought a pet turtle and neon running lights for his car. At the county fair that summer, he commissioned a pink wax bust of himself. But the $2,000 debt was easy to recover from, especially after their mother threatened to take over his finances. Will squared himself away and got a second job. He paid off the credit card. He got bored with the turtle and sold it on Craigslist. Then he met Mindi from South Buffalo. Mindi from South Buffalo—who introduced herself that way, full name and birthplace every time. She worked at the OTB and, like most girls from South Buffalo, had long, curly brown hair, overly gelled so it crunched when touched, and an affinity for bright pink lipstick that went out of style in 1989. Mindi liked things. Not expensive things per se, but lots of things. She liked the idea of bulk. She also liked to travel, but she turned her nose up at the places Jenny had been. “The Highland Games?” she said once at a family reunion, when Jenny was discussing the best places she’d been that year. “What the fuck is that?” Mindi said. “I guarantee ninety-five percent of your readers just want to go to Disneyland and call it a day.” Mindi hated Jenny and made no effort to hide it. Last Christmas—Mindi’s final holiday as Will’s girlfriend—she hung a stocking on the mantel for Jenny and after dinner insisted she open it in front of everyone. It was crammed full of diet pills, Spanx, and a few Xanax she’d bought off one of her coworkers. “I figured you’d need that stuff,” she said. “It’s perfect for someone in your


Jessica Smith

situation.” She turned then to Aunt Maude, who was hard of hearing, and shouted for clarification. “HER BOYFRIEND RECENTLY DUMPED HER, MAUDE.” A year after dating Mindi, Will’s credit card had multiplied into several credit cards, and the total damage was $9,000. But then after Mindi broke up with Will and left him with their apartment and a stack of bills it was $20,000. With debt that pervasive, there was only one thing Will could do: move back home. He took up residence in his old room, papering over train wallpaper with posters of porn stars. Their mother took over his finances, cutting his credit cards into matchsticks while Will wept, pounding the table and chanting, Failure! Failure! Failure! No one really believed that would be the last time.

On day four in Buffalo, Jenny sleeps late and goes downstairs to find Will already puttering around the kitchen. He is holding Marvin like a baby, and the cat purrs, clutching Will’s chin in his paws. They gaze at each other, tender as lovers. “No work today?” Jenny asks. “Day off.” Will passes the cat to her. He has a pound of bacon frying on the stove and the makings of a smoothie melting all over the counter. “I’m going to run errands,” he says. “Want to come?” “I have plans,” Jenny says. She’s been thinking about a bath. A long one, where she can cry in peace. “Yes,” Will says slowly, like she is slow or otherwise addled, “your plans are to run errands with me. If you’re very good I’ll buy you an ice cream cone later.” He turns, lifting his shirt to reveal a wad of singles stuck in the waistband of his


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satin pajamas. “Or, more precisely, Mom will buy you an ice cream cone.” “Your bacon’s out of control,” Jenny says. Marvin struggles in her arms. She clutches him tightly and he gives up, sags against her and whines once, pitifully. “Why do you have money from Mom?” “I weeded the flower garden,” Will says. “It was a fucking mess.” “Must be nice,” Jenny says. “When I used to do that, it was called a chore. No money changed hands.” Will stops poking the bacon and the fork hovers above the frying pan, undulating as if held aloft by a lazy wind. “Yeah,” he says, “it’s real nice. It’s great. I love being twenty-five and having my parents dole out allowance money. It’s fucking fantastic.” “Hey,” Jenny says. “Come on. I didn’t mean it like that.” “Yeah, right,” Will says. “You meant it.” He flips the bacon and a tidal wave of grease washes over the lip of the frying pan. He frowns, his face stuck in a way that makes Jenny think of the wax bust he’d commissioned at the fair. After Intervention #2—this one held around the fire pit in the backyard, everyone drinking sangria—Will ran upstairs to grab the bust and then held it ceremoniously over the bonfire. “This,” he declared as the wax started to melt, “is symbolic. This is my fresh start. This is my life that is no longer filled with pointless shit.” When it got too hot for him to stand close to the flame, he speared his likeness on a stick and held it, S’mores style, over the fire until one side of his face drooped, as if the bust had suffered a stroke. “Listen,” he says, “I’m sorry I can’t be you, Little Miss Perfect, Little Miss I’ve Done Everything Right.” Jenny laughs. “I wish,” she says. “I really wish that were true.”


Jessica Smith

“Oh, stop,” he says. “You’ve got a job where you make assloads of money, and they send you all around the world for free. You don’t ever have to set foot in an office. You write from home in your sweatpants. You have a huge apartment far away from this fucking place. And you think you haven’t done everything right? Are you a moron?” Jenny opens her mouth but shuts it quickly because what can she say? That she has made a habit of tragic romantic choices, the last of which left her face-down on her couch, late-night infomercials about grill gloves or chicken rotisseries or light-up socket wrenches playing in the background while she tried to summon the strength to stand? She had lost hours of her life to showercrying jags and X-Files marathons. She cried so much, so loudly, and so long that she one day opened her door to find a note pinned there from her upstairs neighbors. Just remember, it said, you’re never truly alone. It was written on the back of a flyer for a support group that met at a church down the road. Not long after that, she lugged her empty wine bottles—five bags’ worth for the three months since Anthony had left—back to the redemption center and the cashier, looking at the final tally, whistled. “That must’ve been some party,” she said. All this because Jenny had not been able to say no when a coworker suggested she go out and have some fun with his cousin, a cocky young towtruck driver whose giant smile unraveled everyone standing near him. But after they were introduced Jenny found herself stuck between wanting and knowing better. And she did know better, instantly and always. It was just hard to resist him. Anthony could make anyone love him. Once, on a trip to the DMV during lunch hour, Jenny and Anthony stood in line for fifty-five minutes to see the only employee on duty. It was July, a


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day nudging toward record highs, and the office’s air-conditioning wheezed, spewing dust into the air. The woman behind the counter was exhausted. The skin beneath her eyes was so purple-blue it looked bruised, and two large lakes of sweat dampened the material around her ample breasts. Twice that hour customers ended up screaming at her. She shouted at three others who hadn’t presented the correct forms. When they neared the front of the line, Jenny suggested they make a run for it, but Anthony waited. When it was finally their turn, he smiled at the woman—a little shyly at first before raising his head and washing her in the fullness of his attention—and she actually fanned herself, as if this were a sitcom and he was the hunky plumber come to flush her pipes. She ended up waiving Anthony’s fees and sending him away with a wink. “See?” Anthony asked. His face so smug Jenny wanted to both punch and kiss him. The inconsistency of the relationship was what made her believe she could bear it. Yes, Anthony did awful, shitty things all the time, but when he got around to acting nice he would do something truly amazing, something that made her felt known and loved, and she could feed off that for weeks. Once, Anthony took a day off to build a bookshelf that fit the awkward dimensions of the corner nook in their apartment because he noticed she was out of space. But just a month later he forgot her thirtieth birthday and realized only when Jenny, who’d waited all day thinking some grand party or surprise would eventually reveal itself, started weeping after they went to bed. When he realized his mistake, Anthony sat up angrily. “Don’t be such a fucking bitch about it,” he said and tore the covers off her so he could go sleep on the couch. For two years she paid their rent. She endured his sulking when she


Jessica Smith

answered a phone call from a male friend. She made the best of it when he got high with his cousins at his family’s Christmas party, leaving her to mingle on her own, awkwardly, in front of the chips and dip.

She’d told these things to almost no one, certainly not Will. But what would

he think if she told him now? He lived his life so publicly—his emotions belonged not just to him but everyone he came into contact with: family, friends, gas station attendants, toll takers, McDonald’s employees—and he would never understand why she hadn’t told anyone these things. He might even think she made them up.

Will turns to plate his bacon and then sets it in front of her. “Eat that,” he

says, “and I’ll make you a smoothie. And don’t think you’re going to get out of coming with me today.” “Fine,” Jenny says. “Where are we going?” Will dumps mango and pineapple into the blender. He slices a banana. “To work so I can get my check,” he says, “and then the grocery store.” He blends the ingredients for a minute then brings the whole pitcher to the table with two glasses. “Drink this,” he instructs, “and hurry the fuck up. We’ve got shit to do.”

They drive to the home improvement store where Will is greeted like Norm from Cheers—everyone hollering his name at once, even customers puzzling over paint or twine or toilet seats—and he gets his check. After that, they go to the grocery store, where Will wanders the aisles aimlessly. He plucks a handful of grapes in the produce department and leisurely snacks on them as he compares detergents. They leave the store with an odd assortment of things: a large bottle of Tide, a weight-lifting magazine, a dozen eggs, shaving cream. “What is up with your grocery list?” Jenny asks. She clutches the bags as


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Will guns the motor to speed through a yellow light. “And where are we going? Shouldn’t we be headed home?” The intervention is nigh. Just before they’d left, Jenny fielded a phone call from her mother, taking it in the bathroom where she ran the shower so Will couldn’t hear, and they’d finalized plans. “Do you think,” their mother asked, “he suspects anything?” Across the hall, Will was in his bedroom blaring 80s music: Warrant, Poison, Boston. Jenny opened the door a crack and saw him showing off his muscles to a poster of a porn star dressed as a nurse. “I think we’re fine,” Jenny told her. But now, a snag. If Will keeps her out much longer it’s going to be a problem. He acts like hasn’t heard her. He makes a few turns and suddenly Jenny recognizes where they are. She knows exactly where they are going. “South Buffalo?” she asks. “Really?” “Yes, really.” “If you think my day is going consist of me sitting in the car while you go have a fight with Mindi from South Buffalo, you are sadly mistaken. Turn this car around.” “You’ll be happy to know Mindi from South Buffalo is on vacation,” Will says. He pulls up to a stoplight next to carload of giggling high school blonds. He throws a smile their way. They dissolve into hysterics. One girl in the back turns beet red and covers her face. Jenny swats her brother. “It’s green,” she says, “and they were, like, seventeen years old. Stop it.” They make the turns Jenny has made dozens of times with Will, picking up Mindi for Thanksgiving or Christmas or family


Jessica Smith

reunions or birthday parties, and when they finally near her street, Jenny grabs the steering wheel. “If she’s on vacation, what are we doing here?” she asks. “Lots of people live on this street,” he says. “It’s lovely.”

It is a typical South Buffalo street: tall houses crammed close together,

separated only by thin strips of concrete serving as driveways. The family cars are parked nose to tail, the last car’s bumper sagging almost into the street. Old Polish ladies are seated on the decks next to faded American flags that flutter listlessly in the wind. Even though it is eighty-five degrees out, each grandmother’s hair is tucked under a babushka, a thin kerchief.

“Will, come on,” Jenny says. She glances at the clock on the dash. The

intervention is only a few hours away, and she will need at least two drinks before it begins. They have to go home.

And for a moment it seems like Will is listening. He slows the car and pulls

to the side of the road, but instead of making a U-turn, he parallels the car into a tight spot between two beat-up Oldsmobiles. He peers up the street, looking at the house where Mindi lives with her parents, brothers, and a grandmother who fizzles in and out of lucidity. The grandmother was the only thing that endeared Jenny to Mindi. She’d met the woman once, when they came to fetch Mindi for Will’s twenty-third birthday party, and when they were introduced Mindi’s grandmother held out her hand and said, “You may kiss my ring.” Her hand was topped with a strawberry ring pop. Jenny curtsied, ducked her head, and kissed it.

As soon as they were back in the car Mindi waved her finger in Jenny’s face.

“You better not have been making fun of my grandmother,” she said, “because if you were, I will punch you in the cunt.”

That Will ever loved such a girl made no sense to Jenny. But Anthony—the


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real Anthony, not the sanitized version whose narrative she created—wouldn’t make sense to Will either. Or anyone.

Will touches the grocery bags, taking inventory. “Trust me,” he says. “She

is on vacation.” He inventories the bag’s contents: the detergent, the shaving cream, the eggs. It suddenly dawns on Jenny: her brother is going to destroy Mindi from South Buffalo’s house. He’s going to egg it, hose it down with shaving cream and detergent, and turn it into a giant mountain fresh slick.

Jenny slumps in her seat. This is not part of the plan. Her parents will kill

her if they are late, and they will kill her twice if she lets Will get dragged off to jail for defacing private property.

“Will,” she says, insistent now. She wants him to own up. “What are we

doing here?”

Will stops fussing with the bags. In the stillness, the chorus of South Buffalo

fills the car. Broken Polish shouts. A far-off ice cream truck. Rap music. The rumble of a car over cobblestone. Will’s face is suddenly more serious than she’s ever seen it.

“You’d tell me if something was going on, right?” He studies her. “Why are

you in Buffalo?” he asks. “I mean, really?”

Jenny takes a deep breath, trying to pull together a lie, but Will hits the

steering wheel before she can think of anything.

“I knew it,” he says. “Jesus fucking Christ!”


“Another intervention.” He hits the steering wheel again, this time glancing

off the horn. The beep startles a squirrel into rushing across the street. “Who’s coming?”

Jenny says nothing, but then he jabs her in the arm. “Everyone,” she says.


Jessica Smith

A boy on a bike rides by the car and aims his fingers, cocked to an imaginary trigger, at Will. “Bang!” the boy yells.

“Oh, just go ahead!” Will shouts as the boy speeds off toward the next block.

“It’ll be better that way.” He covers his face with his hands. “I can’t do it again,” he says. His voice trembles, making him sound much younger than he is. “How many more of these can I sit through without hating myself completely?”

“Oh, shut up,” Jenny says. “Hate yourself? You used to own a wax bust of

your own head.”

Will’s face pales. He looks exhausted. “Jenny,” he says slowly, “you don’t

know fucking shit.”

When Jenny and Will were small, their parents complained about their

fighting, which was bitter and unpredictable. They could be laughing together, playing, sharing, having a lovely time, but a second later one of them would scream so shrilly their parents would rush to find them, expecting blood and disaster.

When they got older Jenny tried to explain it, both to her parents and herself,

but she could never quite find the words. It was deep and chemical, her need to fight with Will. It wasn’t anything she had control over. It could come out of nowhere, even now that they were adults. She still gave in—it continued to be beyond her control, too visceral a part of her to remove—and a few years ago when the family had vacationed together in Key West, Jenny and Will fought bitterly for an entire day, reducing their mother to tears. She left the room wailing “Why do my children hate each other?”

And now the air in the car has changed. Jenny can feel a singe of heat at

the base of her neck, a sharp bite of rage. She would like to hit her brother. She would like to open her mouth and scream. Not words, just sound.


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“Don’t talk to me like that,” she says.

Will ignores her. “You know,” he says, “if you were a good sister, you’d

convince them to stop doing this shit. You wouldn’t help them.”

“I don’t help them,” Jenny says. “What do you think I do, pick out embossed

invitations and put them in the mail? I just come when they say you need help.”

“Oh, isn’t that darling,” Will says. “That’s why you’re here? To help me in

my time of need? Jesus Christ, Jenny, are you hearing yourself?”

Jenny hits him. It’s a perfect slap, right across the face, and it leaves her hand

stinging. He stares, stunned, before shoving her so hard she slams against the side of the car. She scrambles outside, slamming the door. She forces herself to take deep breaths.

Will calls her name from inside the car, but she won’t turn. She stares down

the road. The little boy on the bike has come back around the block and whizzes past, peppering the car with fake gun spray. He races off, one hand flipping Jenny the bird.

Willy’s door opens. “That little motherfucker,” he says. “I will end him if he

goes by again.” He comes out, slamming the door behind him, and the sound echoes down the street. A few houses away, one of the Polish grandmothers leans forward to squint in their direction. “What was that about in there?” Will asks. His voice is even now, and calm. “Where did that come from?” These are entirely new questions. She’s been buried under the usual ones for months now: How are you? Are you okay? How do you feel? And she has always replied appropriately: I’m all right. Yes. I’m fine. No one wants the real answers; they just want credit for asking. So much polite maneuvering. It’s exhausting.


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“Fuck.” Jenny is crying. Will says her name, and Jenny covers her face with

her hands. “I can’t do this anymore,” she says.

At the end of the street a teenage boy drags a push mower from the garage.

A recycling bin overturns from the wind. The distant ice cream truck winds steadily closer. Jenny lets out a long breath.

“Anthony once told me I was a slut because I wore dresses,” she says. This

is something she has never told anyone, mostly because she is horrified by her response, which was to stop wearing dresses.

The ice cream truck has turned onto Mindi from South Buffalo’s street and a

tightly braided chain of children follows. The bike desperado swings by again, blowing past without a glance, headed for his snack.

Will kicks a stone in his direction. “We need to get out of here,” he says.

Jenny presses her fingers to her cheeks, which are hot and wet from her

tears. “But what about everyone at home?” she says.

Will doesn’t answer. He points to her door. “Get in,” he says, and she does.

Will drives them to a dive called Vinny’s near the grain elevators. Inside, the

TV is set to the Quick Draw lottery, and a couple of old men in suspenders are keeping track of the numbers. They look up when Will and Jenny come through the door, their faces registering nothing. They turn back to their game.

“Best wings in the city,” Will says. He opens his arms wide, as if the dreary

bar were a great expanse. He has yet to mention what they’re going to do about all the people waiting for them. He pulls out two bar stools. “Totally under the radar,” he says.

Will puts in a double order and they settle in with beer, watching the


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animated ball bounce and choose Quick Draw numbers. 11. 22. 79. 44. 8. 12. One man crumples his paper and throws it behind the bar, where it banks off a bottle of tequila and lands neatly in the trash. He reaches for a new score sheet.

Will touches his fingers to his forehead, lightly, as if warding off a headache.

“Let me tell you what I think,” he says. His voice sounds strange rising from the silence. “I think you’re under the impression that you’re the only person who’s ever made a really bad romantic decision.”

Jenny makes a face. “Come on.”

“Well, you’re pretty hard on yourself.”

Jenny presses her fingernail into the damp edge of her coaster and crimps

a moat into the cardboard. “I knew better,” she says. “There was never a time I didn’t know he was an asshole.”

Will signals for another beer. “Mindi used to steal from me,” he says. “I

caught her taking money from my wallet. Like, regularly.”

“Is that supposed to surprise me?” Jenny asks. “I already knew Mindi was


“And so did I,” Will says. “I figured that out early on.”


“So sometimes people stay when they know they shouldn’t.”

And there it is. How he let himself off the hook: sometimes people do stupid

things. “I think there’s something more to it than that,” she says.

“And that’s your problem,” he says. His new beer arrives, foam rising over

the lip. “Sometimes life really can be that simple.” The bartender reappears with their wings, and Will takes it upon himself to divvy up the order. Her sets a plate, a stack of napkins, and a wet nap in front of Jenny.

“But,” she begins, and Will closes his eyes.


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“Jesus Christ,” he says. He sets a wing aside and wipes his mouth. “Jen, this

is part of your problem. Really. The analyzing. You make yourself crazy. You’re completely missing the good part.”

“The good part,” she says.

Will opens his arms again, gesturing to the liquor bottles and dart machines

and old posters of Jim Kelly. “Yes,” he says. “This. This is the best part. You got away.”

“I didn’t exactly get away,” she says. “He cheated on me. That’s


Will waves his hand in the air, scattering her concerns. His face is stained

orange-red from the wing sauce. “It doesn’t change the facts,” he says. “It’s time to move on.”

“You were just about to shaving-cream your ex-girlfriend’s house,” Jenny

says. “And you’re talking to me about moving on?”

Will grins. “The fact that I don’t take my own advice does not diminish its

quality,” he says.

And then their phones light up, the rings sounding maniacal against the

quiet backdrop of the bar. Their parents. Both of them. Their father calling Will, their mother calling Jenny. She pictures them in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by intervention attendees. There’s a variety of dips and cheeses on the table and a makeshift bar erected in the corner. They’ll have brought out the top shelf liquors and crystal highballs. She has to hand it to them: they know how to throw a party.

Will mutes his ringer and turns back to the Quick Draw.

“What are we going to do?” Jenny asks. She feels panic rising in her throat.

“We’re not going to answer.”


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Both phones go still. The missed calls register, but then, suddenly, they are

ringing again—their dad calling Jenny this time, their mom calling Will.

Jenny reaches for her phone, but Will clamps his hand down on hers.

“Jenny,” he says. “Don’t.” He shakes his head. “Let’s just sit here a little while longer, okay?”

A rush of compassion overtakes Jenny and she sways against the brass rail

of the bar. For maybe the first time in her life, she wants to listen to her brother. She puts the phone down. She doesn’t answer. She won’t give them up. Instead, she reaches for her beer then puts her head on Will’s shoulder, while on the bar their phones continue to clutter with calls from people who want them to be somewhere they aren’t ready to be.


Joe Scott



Morning, there’s a woman in front of my shack.

Mangled earlobe, a fat mole sprouting multiple black hairs on her neck. She

says they’re giving away free food, first come first serve, up at Gray Park. She has a trim figure, seductive curves to her. She squats like a dog and then lets her back down against the tin wall of my shack.

I’ve never seen her before.

She cranes her chin toward me. “Spare a buck so I can go down and get a


Another mole on the top of her breast is jagged, reddish, huge, maybe


“I’ve seen you work,” she says. “Spare something, yeah?” She frowns and

nods. “Spare a rock maybe?”

I say to her, “Smoked all I had yesterday.”

She doesn’t believe me.

Grendel, my cat, whines, meowing at the wall. The woman acknowledges

the noise with just her eyes and for only for a second.

She rests her head against the wall and plays with something in her pocket.

“Food at Gray Park,” she says, “sounds nice today.”

She stays sitting there with the scratching and whining at her back—

scratching and whining for me—and I go.

The man who lives in the shack in front of mine—a nicer shack, a house

I guess, a shitty house, but it’s got a basement which is important in Wichita, Kansas—is Fred. Fred sells things in the parking lot on the corner. I find the things to sell.


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Up an alley, down another, maybe a mile’s walk through cool air under a

hot sun, kind of sun that warms your bones, kind of air that gives you goose bumps in a breeze, I find a block of shit: a row of squat brick apartments set in gravel lots, abandoned. Gleaming blue dumpsters occupy the parking spaces. Across the street, behind the buildings, is an undeveloped field. Even seeing so far, there’s nothing to see but the sky, its own kind of wall.

A kid, a teenager I guess, carries an armload of bed-pillows and chucks them

over the wall of the dumpster next to me.

“I’m just gonna take a look,” I say to him.

He avoids my eyes as he turns and walks back to the building. Smart kid,

I guess. Don’t give a dude like me an ounce of attention. If you give a bum a cookie, right? It’s a waste of time, and you’re risking God knows what. Bums can be fucking assholes.

I jump and prop myself on the wall of the dumpster with my forearms. It’s

all cushions, bed and couch, blankets, a mattress or two, and in the far corner a short pile of teddy bears. The metal begins to cook my arms. I fall back on my heels on hard dirt. The kid is already back, hugging a big, broken rollie chair, and he’s staring at me. His eyes give my nerves one firm shake. He heaves the chair over. He seems to wait for it to crash, but of course it doesn’t. He walks casually away, concealing apprehension. The dirt, after a minute, cooks my feet.

I find the ladder around the backside of the dumpster and climb in.

Struggling to stand tall on the cushions, taking stock of the outside world, I see more kids hauling shit out of the buildings. They march. They hollow, gut, dislodge, and they take fixtures, pipes, wall hangings, papers, documents, files, photos, all value-items in a pile by the dumpsters. The kid who’s already seen me is back again. He tosses one end-table and then another end-table into the



opposite side of the dumpster. As he walks away this time, he takes a cell phone from his pocket and seems to dial a number.

My legs sink as I walk. I climb over the chair which floats on the cushions

like a capsized boat in water. I wade past the end-tables. I dig into the stuffed animals. The pile’s deep. It goes below the surface of cushions and all the way to the bottom.

I fill a garbage bag which I’ve brought along tucked in the waist of my


The kid’s coming back; I hear him.

There’s a knock on the dumpster with a polite, chipper beat, like, can Jason

come out to play?

I toss the bag over, listen to it plop on the hot dirt, and then climb after it.

The kid is standing a ways off. There’s a man waiting for me. He wears Dickies boots and Dickies pants and a plaid button down, tucked. He’s got a square shape to him.

“You looking for work, guy,” he asks.

I don’t know what to say. I never know what to say. The kids have all

stopped in their tracks and are now watching this conversation. I try to just stare at my feet.

“I’d pay you 25 for the day. Normal’s 30, but I can give you all of 25,” he


I realize my feet are burning again, so I take a step back into a patch of grass.

“See, the day’s already started, guy,” the man says.

When I look at him now, I think I recognize him, but I can’t say where from.

I’m sweating and blushing, and he won’t let this question go. I want so badly to say yes. Pay me. Fuck Fred. Fred can find his own shit. You pay me whatever the


Joe Scott

fuck you want. But a million little strings seem to be tugging me away, tugging me back down the alleys and away from these eyes.

“I can get you your own pair of boots,” the man says.

“No thank you, sir,” I say.

Before I leave, he puts his hand on my shoulder. He tells me to only take

from the dumpsters. He says, long as I do that, there won’t be problems. He lowers his voice. He says, “You hear?” He adjusts his pants, and he says it again, “You hear?”

By Fred’s tent, a car sits half in the street, half in the lot. Is it dead? A man

hangs his whole torso out the window. He’s shaking his head. A boy on the sidewalk yells and throws his hands, pointing somewhere. The boy says, “I will see you later.”

I’m talking to Fred as this is happening. I have no idea how it started. I have

no idea what it is.

A police car, stuck in the lane behind the scene, blares a crowd horn.

The man retracts his torso, and the car peels off. Traffic begins to creep


“Why’d you call him ‘sir?” Fred says to me.

He wears sweat like an accessory, beads locked in the pores across his cheeks

and up his long forehead. He smiles.

His smile reminds me that he is, in fact, a handsome man. I am, in fact, an

ugly man.

“Maybe he used to be your sergeant in the war?”

I shake my head.

“Professor in college?” Fred says. “Partner at the law firm?”



I plop myself down in the lawn chair that Fred’s brought for me. I say

probably not, and Fred laughs. His laugh is big and obnoxious. It makes me feel good, good enough to stick around today. Grendel can wait to be fed. He’ll meow all day and maybe tear something up, but he’ll still love me when I get home.

Fred adds to his cardboard sign, “Bears, 4 for $1.”

The weather is nice and the traffic for the tent is nicer. Clouds give the sun a

rest from time to time. The electronics from my last haul sell, and now the bears are mostly all that’s left.

Fred has a lady, but he smiles and laughs with the women who come by.

I hang back. He knows a lot of them and they know him. More people know him than he remembers. When some men give him a knowing handshake and a “take it easy,” he comes back and says to me he didn’t know that dude, didn’t want to know that dude, or he thinks that dude used to run with such and such a crowd back when he was drinking.

I ask Fred how he feels about food at Gray Park. “Some charity must be

giving it out,” I say. “How do you feel about that,” I say again.

“Heard it’s rotten,” he says.

He says, yeah, they’re already people sick from it. He says, you know,

if it’s the first thing you’ve eaten in a few days, it’s liable to kill you. This doctor, a friend of his—or used to be but he’s a real fucking asshole—he told Fred all about the health hazards of spoiled food on an intermittently used gastrointestinal system.

A bony hand comes down on Fred’s shoulder. He jerks away and spins. The

hand belongs to an old woman. Her skin is papery and spotted. Her hair is in a tight, gray fro. Fred greets her with a hug. When he tries to pull away, she holds


Joe Scott

him. She moves her paper lips to his ear and whispers. Raspy breath pouring from her, she glances at me. Her eyes are yellow.

Fred turns to me. He says he has to pop around the corner for a second. He

asks if I can hold down the fort. He tells me I need to sell some shit today. He says money is the life stream, and the stream’s drying.

“Keep your chin up and smile,” he says. “Key to sales, kid, is to sell.”

The street noises wax and wane with flips of the adjacent traffic light. Only

cars pass. Easy to forget these metal things are the faces of people, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, young suburban groups of jackass teens. The city fades from dull gray to white hot as clouds cover the sun and then pass.

Wind rattles the dry weeds that sprout from cracks in the parking lot

beneath the tent.

A pretty lady, clear skin, a sun dress to her knees, and a little girl come by

holding hands. I don’t smile because my smile, I know, is uglier than my face, having recently lost a tooth. Tripped and landed on a bike rack.

I try to look positive without smiling. It’s in the eyes, I think.

She looks over the whole table, the spots where electronics used to be, but

now they’re empty spots with signs advertising iPods for 10, cell phones for 20, non-working laptops for 5, and then she comes to the bears. The little girl watches the traffic move as the light at the corner turns. The lady looks up at me with this giddy, mousy smile and bright eyes.

“My kids would love them,” she says. Then she starts talking.

She’s a teacher. Well she doesn’t get paid like a teacher because she isn’t a

full-on teacher with certification or whatever they give you these days. She has a whole class and all that, but still. Anyways, like “certified” teachers get paid crap! So she gets paid very little, obviously, and she just needs these for her



kids. They’re kindergarteners, and she is a kindergarten teacher even though she wanted fifth graders. She doesn’t know what kindergarteners like these days, but parents love to see mounds of stuffed animals in their kids’ classroom, right?

The little girl watches the traffic pitch to a stop, that endless moment when

no one can go, and then again it creeps forward. A fresh, cool breeze blows her hair back.

“How much for the whole table,” the lady says.

I count the animals. Should be nine dollars, but I don’t say anything.

She says, “You know all of them should be nine, right? Well I only have


“Sounds about right to me,” I say.

I smile. Immediately, I look at my feet.

When I look back up at her, she’s counting one dollar bills.

I let her use the trash bag I used to carry them earlier. And I’m done selling.

Money in my pocket. I could tell Fred she took them for six, but maybe he’d say that’s too low for the lot, and what’s an extra buck for me? Wouldn’t do that to a friend anyways.

As she fills the bag, I tell her I’m thinking about going up to Gray Park for a

bite. I ask her if she’s heard anything about that today.

Without stopping (pick, examine, stuff down into the trash bag) she says that

actually, she thinks she heard that there was a shooting up there. “Good food, but maybe too good, right?”

She knots the bag and nods. She pulls the girl’s hand, and they’re gone.

Fred comes back with vague eyes not really concentrating on anything. He

looks like he’s been crying. After a moment standing, just standing, he says “We get robbed?”


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“Sold them all. Cut a lady a deal for seven,” I say.

“Fuck.” He says, “What do we sell now?”

“Shit,” he says.

“I don’t know,” I say, “Nothing.”

“Were there more animals in that trash?”

There were probably twenty I didn’t grab, but I don’t mention it.

He tells me to go back anyways. He tells me to earn my keep. He tells me we

need to sell more before the storm rolls through. “Old bitch said it’s gonna be a big one,” he says.

I look up at the clouds while I walk. One direction they’re the kind you’re

supposed to guess what they look like with your lady or your kids; the other way’s the kind you sit out late on your porch and watch roll in while your lady strokes your hair. It’s the kind of storm that’ll make a racket against my tin roof all night. Grendel will meow pathetically and curl up tight against me.

At the block of shit, the kids stand around near the buildings drinking beer.

The man paying them is there too. Elbows stuck at ninety degrees with the beers in hand, they all watch me. When I start to climb the dumpster and they remember why I’m here, they begin to drink again.

The dumpster is full now. The animals are buried under broken furniture

and garbage, rotten food and molded planks of cardboard. It smells like vomit and mayonnaise.

My feet don’t sink. I toe into flat, hard spots, trying to judge if my weight

will hold.

My foot breaks through into a sort of crevasse. Pulling it out, something

drags against my skin. I can feel flesh unzipping. This’ll need stitches, I know.



I’ll have to put glue on it, since I can’t ever seem to stitch too good.

I balance on one foot to look at it.

It’s barely deep enough to turn pink, and so I plod on to the far side of the


In the corner where the animals should be, I dig. I throw everything behind

me. Shit clangs against the metal walls of the dumpster. I lose myself in the motion, prying shit from shit and throwing it. The clanging becomes a storm.

“Excuse me, man,” someone shouts to me. It’s the well-dressed man’s voice.

I stop and keep my head down.

“Are you going to be long? We have trucks coming to get these, hopefully...

hopefully in less than ten minutes.”

Even with my head down, I feel everyone staring through the dumpster

at me. Everything here is waiting on me. I try to think where I know this man from. I try to think why this is a problem. When the trucks come I will hear them. When I hear them, I can either get out or lie down and go with them.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I say, “I just want these animals.”

He sighs loudly. He says “Look, guy, I can’t just be sitting around here

waiting on your ass, not making shit.”

I think his name is Mike. I think he’s a mean son of bitch with a whiny wife

and bratty kids. I can picture all this but not where I know him from.

“Well get the fuck out,” he says.

I dig. He bangs on the walls of the dumpster. He yells and bangs and bangs.

He calls me a dirty bum, tells me to crawl my ass outta there. Then he stops, and I stop with him. I hear him say something to the drinking kids. A joke, I assume, but no one laughs.

I dig quietly until I get to the animals. Grime now clings to their fur, and


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some are damp. I don’t have another trash bag.

I take my shirt off and fill it. They’re too wide to fall through the collar or the

sleeves. The eye and the ear of a red something sticks out of one of the sleeves. I get maybe eleven.

I don’t know if anyone watches me get out, because I won’t look.

Walking back down the alleys, rain speckles the pavement. Every once in a

while, a drop pricks my scalp.

At the tent, Fred isn’t in sight.

I set the bears up without him and wait.

First the gusts whip at the trees. Then the rain comes in sideways. The whole

city is darkened and twisted, but the cars still creep forward. I stand at a small dry space at one corner of the tent. Orbs of ice bounce against the pavement and onto my feet. The animals tumble off the table and roll away into the parking lot. When they’re fully soaked, they stick to the pavement. They look dead.

Fred isn’t coming back.

When the big siren wails over the city, I throw my shirt on and jog toward

me and Fred’s shacks. I weave through the cars sitting at the light and take to the alleys.

I bang on Fred’s door: no answer. I bang on his back door: no answer. I tap

on one of his basement windows. Light gleams out at me. Beside the glare, I can make out Fred’s face. He yells something at me, but I can’t hear over the rain and the hail that washes over my body and beats the side of his house. I go to the back door and bang again and again. I don’t think he’s coming. But the door opens.

Inside, fresh silence surrounds me, and the deep, wet chill in my body finally



occurs to me. I wait for Fred to show me to the basement. He looks at me like he wants to say something. His chest heaves. I nod, hello. He tells me to wait. He goes and rummages around in the kitchen, looking for something, probably some valuable to take into the basement. While I shiver and drip all over his floor, I can hear the clanging on the roof of my shack across the way. It rings like an ugly percussion instrument. Maybe while Fred looks for whatever the hell he’s looking for, the hail will break that shack and I won’t care. Fred will have whatever pointless thing he’s looking for, my shack will be leveled, and that’ll be that.

Fred comes back from rummaging with nothing, and we go down into his


We don’t talk for a while. We just sit with the radio. There’s so much static,

we can’t hear the weathermen, or maybe Fred never set it to a station. Maybe he wants the white noise to fill the air.

Looking out the basement window, I imagine seeing the woman from this

morning. I see her walking by, taking a beating from the rain miserably but triumphantly with a bag of food at her side. And I see her dead at Gray Park, poisoned and shot, waiting for a tornado to carry her away. In any event, I probably won’t ever meet her again.

“Where’s your lady,” I say to Fred.

“Don’t have one,” he says.

The radio pitch wavers. Fred looks up from his lap to me. He just stares for a

while. Then he sucks at his teeth.

Looking into my eyes, he says, “What’s your name again?”

My mind stumbles. I think for a while, for too long.

He jumps in before I can answer, “Didn’t you have a cat, man?”


Buffalo Almanack


Block is a recent convert to fiction writing whose stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Per Contra, Bicycle Review, Umbrella Factory (a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee), Foliate Oak, Down in the Dirt and others. He has an MA in History and is a Master of Wine who teaches at Boston University. He is a contributing editor at the Improper Bostonian and has published dozens of non-fiction pieces on wine and food.


att Denis is a graduate of Purdue University and a third-year fiction student in the MFA program at UMass Boston, where he’s currently at work on Something Worse, a collection of stories set in postindustrial Detroit, MI and Braddock, PA. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Breakwater Review and the Kenyon Review.


arah Katharina Kayß is an internationally published author and winner of the manuscript award of the German Writers Association (2013) for her poetry and essay collection “Ich mag die Welt, so wie sie ist” (2014). Sarah edits the bilingual literary magazine the Transnational and is currently a PhD student in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. You can visit her at sarahkatharinakayss.com.


oe Scott is from Wichita, Kansas, born 1987. He now lives in Seattle. He has edited for the lit mag Bastards and Whores, and reported/edited for the news mag YES! Magazine. His fiction has appeared in Sonora Review, Adroit Journal, Arcadia, and Not One of Us. He makes his money in kitchens—not the fancy kind. He can be found online at JoeScottTheWriter.com.


Issue No. 11 - March 2016


essica Smith is no stranger to hard winters. She grew up outside Buffalo, New York and went on to live in both Minnesota and Maine. Her work has been published in Ruminate, Qu, Lunch Ticket, Aji Magazine, the Portland Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place. She teaches at the Central Maine Community College.


Buffalo Almanack

M axine Allison Vande Vaarst is a scholar, writer and critic, as well as the

founding editor of Buffalo Almanack. She has lectured at conferences from Paris to Toronto, and her stories have been featured in numerous publications, including BULL, Inscape and A cappella Zoo. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming with her wife Alissa and is pursuing an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Wyoming. Max is a proud transgender woman, and an even prouder daughter of the great(est) state of New Jersey. She is an unapologetic fan of the New York Jets and doesn’t care that you know this.

Katie Morrison serves as Visual Arts Editor for Buffalo Almanack. She received her M.A. in Art History from the University of Colorado and is presently committed to spreading her love for art throughout Indiana, through her work with both the Tippecanoe Arts Federation and Purdue University. Her research tracks issues of race, violence, and urban identity in American photography. She is an avid cat enthusiast and possesses a deep passion for iced coffee.


Issue No. 11 - March 2016

J ohn Gummere operates Studio 264, a graphic design studio serving

businesses, institutions and non-profits coast-to-coast. Illustration has long been his specialty, and he works in a variety of media and styles depending on what is most suitable for his client’s needs. He received his B.A. in architecture from Columbia University in 1977 and lives in Philadelphia.


Buffalo Almanack


lesser-known element of the famed Paul Bunyan legend, Johnny Inkslinger served as Bunyan’s office clerk and bookkeeper. To keep up with the demands of his boss’s outsized work, Inkslinger invented a heavy-duty fountain pen, which drew its ink from a barrel-tap and hose. Buffalo Almanack is pleased to have established the Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence in his honor. This award is issued to the best short story and individual visual art piece of each issue, as selected by our editors. The cash prize as of now is $50 per winner, though this amount may be raised in the future as more funds becomes available. There are no fees required for entry into the Inkslinger sweepstakes and all submissions to Buffalo Almanack are automatically in the running. Winners are notified shortly before the release of their respective issue and are recognized on the Buffalo Almanack website, as well as in the pages of our digital journal. A pair of money orders will be delivered to the winners via the U.S.P.S. sometime during that same month.


Issue No. 11 - March 2016

Founded in Denver, Colorado in 2013, Buffalo Almanack is an attempt to dredge the online arts journal—as saturated an endeavor as any these days—from the morass of clinical snobbishness. We don’t care if our contributors hold fine arts degrees or just okay arts degrees no arts degrees at all, and we sure as hell don’t care if our readers do. Our lone desire is to showcase talent to the world, regardless of how that talent finds us.

As such, Buffalo Almanack considers fiction of all styles and genres. We neither discriminate against the traditional nor the experimental, neither the “literary” nor the fantastic. Our interest in domestic micro-fiction is as great as our interest in space-travel novellas and we’ll always save a seat for the remarkable and unexpected. Concerning the visual arts, we invest in a diverse range of subjects and styles, and welcome submissions from each and every medium under the sun. We are attracted foremost to strong composition, skilled technical craft and assertive authorial presence. We want art that tells stories, whether through a single frame or a broader narrative series. We want art that makes us ask questions, that leads us to wish we had been there behind the brush, pencil or camera ourselves. 78

Buffalo Almanack

CHECKING IN ON #BUFFALONATION What’s the old saying? A buffalo never forgets? Publishing with Buffalo Almanack isn’t just a fantastic way to share your art with the public, it also marks you as a proud lifelong sister or brother in our big, sexy litmag family. On this page we check in with our past contributors to see what kind of accomplishments they’ve secured in the time since they appeared in our pages. BRUCE BALES (Photographer) I am currently finishing a series of seven silent films as part of a series titled “Spectrum.” I am also writing, directing, and producing two short films this Spring, one titled “Face Thy Father” and one titled “Level 6.” I am in postproduction on a full-length documentary titled “We’re Still Here,” and I continue to produce music videos around the Midwest.


Issue No. 11 - March 2016

JESSICA BARKSDALE (Author, “Caught”) Some sort of big news is that Audible bought the audio rights to “Caught” which appeared in Buffalo Almanack, and they are going to be producing it, along with seven of my other short stories. My novel “The Burning Hour” should be out any day now. And my stories have recently been published in the East Bay Review, Marathon Review, and Waypoints to name a few. Mostly, I’m trying to stay dry in a thankfully wet California. MAKENZIE BARRON (Author, “The Rendezvous”) I’m teaching composition at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, CO. I’ve also been working as the genre editor in fiction at Qu literary magazine. My thesis, a collection of short stories, will be completed in May 2016, when I will graduate from the MFA program at Queens University.

ELEANOR LEONNE BENNETT (Photographer) I have just achieved a credit in my Bachelor’s equivalent professional diploma in digital marketing. I also have the front cover of the latest issue of Under the Radar Magazine.

MELANIE CLEMMONS (Visual artist) I graduated with my MFA in digital art from University of Colorado-Boulder in May 2015 and have since been teaching digital art 1 and 2 and the University of Colorado-Boulder as well as running the Studio Project, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA)’s teen intern program.

MICHAEL DEAGLER (Author, “Fishtown, Down”) This past fall, I had stories in Issue 36.3 of New England Review and Issue No. 178 of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading. I have a story in the Spring/ Summer ‘16 issue of Slice, which comes out at the end of March. I also have stories forthcoming in The Sun, Kenyon Review, and the Minnesota Review, all due out this summer.


Buffalo Almanack

BRUCE LOUIS DODSON (Photographer) I have finished writing, re-writing, and revising my novella, “Dearie”. It is now with my editor who will undoubtedly find mistakes and typos. I’m taking a few weeks off, converting some old 35mm slides to digital. It’s still snowing here in Sweden, but not so much. Spring just around the corner... we hope. ERICA X EISEN (Autor, “Collaboration Horizontale”) I’ve had a couple of publications since—at Lumen, Atticus Review, and Salamander. I also gave my first reading at an event hosted by Salamander, alongside the poet Gail Mazur. KELLYE EISWORTH (Photographer) I am currently preparing for my MFA thesis exhibition on the 1st and graduating from my masters program in May. KATHERINE FORBES RILEY (Author, “What the Sea Brings”) I have new stories out in Crack the Spine and Spartan. PAUL HAMILTON (Author, “From the Blog of Exceptional-Man”) I’ve had six recent publications, including a horror short in Shock Totem; historical science fiction in Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry; speculative flash in freeze frame fiction; and a couple of different quasi-zombie tales both online and in print. This year I’ve also dipped into the editorial side and have begun publishing microfiction in weekly installments, collected in monthly ezines called 200 CCs. RICHARD MARK GLOVER (Author, “Foucault Hill”) I’ve had a few more stories published, but tons more rejected. One story I wrote, “Synthetics” did make Bookend Review’s Best of 2014 issue. I’ve got a publisher in Australia that is going to pub my collection of short stories with the working title; Luck and Other Truths. Meantime, I’ve moved my family to the Caribbean and run a hydro-carbon free tour to the reefs here. My kids are learning Spanish which makes me very proud.


Issue No. 11 - March 2016

KEVIN MICHAEL KLIPFEL (Photographer) Since some of my pictures were published in the June 2015 issue of Buffalo Almanack, I’ve had features on my work and photos published in Velvet Eyes, Watershed Review, Vogue Italia’s PhotoVogue feature, Analog Magazine, Mull it Over, and have several new prints of recent work available for purchase on my website. JACOB MICHAEL KING (Author, “Quo Vadis”) A story of mine was published in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. It’s an homage to H.P. Lovecraft, and it’s called “The Great Excuse.” Besides that, I received a Pushcart nomination for a story that ran in the Winter 2015 issue of Permafrost. It’s called “Dear Denny.” BRANDON MC IVOR (Author, “Foxhole”) Since the last Almanack, I’ve tried my hand at a book review, which Open Letters Monthly was gracious enough to publish. The book I chose to review was Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. Like me, James is a Caribbean writer (which made me especially interested in his work). And, unlike me, his novel won the Man Booker Prize for fiction. EMILY LACKEY (Author, “Rise and Fall”) I recently had a piece published at the Billfold. NICOLAS LEPRE (Author, “Violator”) My novel-in-stories is done now. It’s called Pretend You’re Really Here, and between you and me, I’ve queried about 20 agents and three of them are reading the full manuscript now. No official news on that front at this point, but I’m hopeful. In usable news, I recently had stories published at Hawai’i Pacific Review and Burrow Press Review. ERIC BOHLING LEWIS (Author, “Pressure Flaking”) The Oxford American is going to be publishing a story of mine in their summer fiction issue (published in June). Apart from that, my MFA is in its final semester, and I’m looking forward to having the time to revise all these first drafts I’ve submitted over the past couple years.


Buffalo Almanack

SHANNON PERRI (Author, “My Sister’s Maid of Honor”) I have story titled “The Resurrection Act,” out now in Joyland. ANA PRUNDARU (Photographer) I had some artwork published recently in CALYX and forthcoming in Thin Air. Had poems and prose recently with TheFem, Gloom Cupboard, and Off the Coast, with more forthcoming from velvet-tail, Bitterzoet and Thread. Two poetry chaps are forthcoming this summer from Etched Press and Dancing Girl Press. *note* Ana encourages readers to research and take action against Lyme disease, especially this May, which is Lyme Disease Awareness Month!* LIAM O’BRIEN (Author, “Frankie and Johnny Were Sweethearts”) Liam O’Brien is currently finishing up his poetry MFA at the University of Iowa, and trying to figure out what’s next. In 2015, he helped to found Vetch: A Magazine of Trans Poetry and Poetics; the second issue is due out at the end of March. Liam and the other editors are very excited about the response Vetch is receiving from poets, non-poets, and news sources. HÈCTOR RAMIREZ (Author, “Three Stories”) I’m co-editing what’s shaping up to be an AMAZING poetry anthology, Bettering American Poetry (BlazeVOX Books 2016), with writers from all different backgrounds uniting to resist the dubious category of the “best” poetry and spotlight work that is “bettering” the “American” poetic landscape. Still in the works is, for lack of a better word, a demonstration I’m helping put on at AWP which we’re calling “AWP is Us” (in response to the controversial statements that AWP subcommittee member Kate Gale published in the Huffington Post back in August). We want to bring those writers who feel unwelcome or excluded by the conference to make their voices heard, meet each other, and continue working toward realizing a vision of what a conference of writers and publishers could look like. And somewhere in the middle of all that, I’m trying to finish my novel about Xicanx identity, assimilation, memory, change, family, borders, history, music, murals, and the community of Boyle Heights Los Angeles. And also, you know, graduate from CU with my MFA.


Issue No. 11 - March 2016

JARED YATES SEXTON (Author, “The Hook and the Haymaker”) My book I Am The Oil Of The Engine Of The World came out February 29th from Split Lip Press and is available there and on Amazon. Also, over at Atticus Review, I’m reporting live from the presidential campaign until election night.



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