Dec. 2 0 1 4
I s s u e N o. 6
Max Vande Vaarst
Copyright ÂŠ 2014 Buffalo Almanack. All writing and photography property of their respective authors. Cover art by Allen Forrest. Buffalo Almanack is a non-profit publishing outfit founded in 2013. New issues are released quarterly, on the 15th of March, June, September and December. Inquire online for submission guidelines. www.buffaloalmanack.com Follow us @buffaloalmanack Like us at facebook.com/buffaloalmanack Tumbl with us at buffaloalmanack.tumblr.com
For Patrick Stickles, king of New Jersey, for reminding us that weâ€™re all a bunch of hopeless losers but whatever because life is pointless and everybodyâ€™s going to die anyway. Keep yr head up. The enemy is everywhere.
Editors’ Note Max Vande Vaarst Katie Morrison
Photography Jason Stocks
The Last Times You Saw Jenny McCreary Chris Vanjonack
Illustration Allen Forrest
My Sister’s Maid of Honor Shannon Perri
Featured Photography Sarah Ann Loreth
The 2014 Buffalo Almanack Pushcart Prize Nomination
Instructional: Making the Most of Daddy-Baby Time Christian Hayden
Photography Bruce Bales
Breakage Judith Goode
Photography Roberto Bettacchi
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
THE TAIL END Dispatches from the Artistic Frontier
Interview Aimee Bender
Interview Amy Sacka
Exhibition Review: The City Lost and Found Katie Morrison
Review: Station Eleven Heidi Willis
PAST PERFECT Review: The Dollmaker Jody Hobbs Hesler
It’s sometimes said that a writer’s greatest fear is the blank page, the uncertain multitude of creation, the words not yet said. Writers are, of course, like craftsmen, stone-carvers or woodworkers or really, freakily intense Lego builders – they take from the void and give us back a sliver of their spirit.
Yet writers also sometimes take from their spirit and give to the void,
transforming their art into a platform for mourning or grief, for the abscess of the heart that forms when something that was once a part of our lives is lost and gone from the earth forever.
All four of this issue’s short stories are in some ways stories of loss,
narratives cast in negative space. Whether they tell of dead lovers, failed marriages, broken dishes or lapsed sobriety, they are united in their capacity for expressing the most painful human emotions in ways that are, despite themselves, humorous and uplifting all the same.
Our fiction contributors are bolstered in this aim by the nineteen high-res
images that accompany them on these pages, including the dark, conceptual magic of featured photographer Sarah Ann Loreth. Taken all together, we believe, they form a strong and moving edition of our beloved magazine.
Please take the time to read, wonder and explore as we have. The winter
months are cold, dreary and full of loss, but we hope Issue No. 6 might prove an inspiring gain in your holiday reading. All the best, Max and Katie Editors
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
“When I travel, I do so as lightly as possible. I prefer to use a thin 9-12 mega-pixel camera. Nothing fancy. In the case of this photo – taken of the ceiling of the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall in Iceland – I used a Nikon Coolpix something or other.”
The Last Times You Saw Jenny McCreary
The last time you saw Jenny McCreary she was as beautiful as you had
ever seen her — all done up in her favorite blue dress and for once, barely even scowling. But she was also as dead as you had ever seen her, lying still in a cold open casket inside the crowded funeral home on Harrison Street across from the McDonalds with the broken arches.
Jenny was this girl you used to know, this woman you used to see. She was
two years younger, considerably smarter, and identified alternatively as a liberal and an anarchist. Jenny McCreary was this punk-rock high school burnout who hated everything, but especially God and also her parents, and so it was a troubling development for Jenny McCreary when it stopped being cool to hate God two months after it stopped being fashionable to resent her parents because she hated God, and she resented her parents and she got off on all the awe-inspired looks she got from underclassmen as she walked — bleeding — through the hallways and as she chewed tobacco and spit cynicisms behind the auxiliary gym.
“It’s bullshit,” she’d say whenever she’d come over after 6th period. “The
new thing is positivity.” It was around autumn. She was a junior. The leaves were orange and her face was always red. She’d say, “Everybody’s talking about community building and working on passion projects and reading John Green books. You know somebody actually wrote ‘DON’T FORGET TO BE AWESOME’ inside a bathroom stall the other day? It’s crazy. People used to write the most horrible shit.” Her mother had recently been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She almost never talked about it.
At Jenny’s funeral, all of her friends were there. You recognized some of
them, like this guy Greg who was sitting alone on a fold-out chair at the end of
an aisle and muttering something to himself. There were bags under his eyes. He had a bit of a neck beard. You approached him, hands in the pockets of your wrinkled khakis. “Hey Greg,” you said. “Hello, Henry,” Greg said, mournfully. He shook his head and stared in awe at Jenny’s open casket. “I can’t believe it,” he said. Jenny’s family was there too. Her father was weeping. Her sister was home from college. Jenny’s extended family was also in attendance, as well as members of the religious community even though she’d stopped practicing years ago. They all lined up to eulogize this dead twenty-one year old girl whose problems they had all shoved underneath the rug like a tiny piece of cat shit.
“She was a beautiful girl,” they said one by one. “An artist, a thinker, and
troubled but brilliant.” This one guy went on to say that she was rough around the edges but had a sort of a gruff appeal to her. like an 80’s horror movie. The consensus seemed to be that Jenny was odd girl, and that she liked strange things, but that her eccentric interests were symptomatic of her considerable intellect. One woman — you thought maybe it was her aunt? — stood up to say that Jenny would lock herself away in her room to recite poetry about oranges into a tape recorder. “She was odd,” Jenny’s maybe-aunt said, “but that was our Jenny.”
Jenny’s father stood last. You had never met him before but you had heard
all about him. His voice was rough but his face was kind. Midway through his first sentence he broke down. He started crying and shook his head and stepped down from the podium. Everyone clapped awkwardly and you clapped too. A few minutes later and everybody Jenny ever knew piled out of the funeral home. As you walked out, you glanced once more at the open casket. She looked
The Last Times You Saw Jenny McCreary
peaceful. You smiled. It was the last time you ever saw Jenny McCreary.
The last time you saw Jenny McCreary alive though, was at this coffee shop
called Holly’s in December. You weren’t surprised to see her there. Holly’s held a poetry slam on the first Friday of every month, free to the public, donations encouraged, and Jenny almost always read. She was always reading, always writing, always observing all of the characters in her life. She wrote poetry in her spare time and recited it with a rhythmic cadence and barely restrained anger at everything that ever happened to her or hadn’t happened to her during her time on planet Earth. She wrote about herself, she wrote about her mother, and she wrote about oranges.
You ran into her as you were heading for the bathroom. She was there with
this guy Greg, who you had never seen before but who you would see again at the funeral. All of Jenny’s friends were men, some of whom had been in her pants, some of whom wanted to be in her pants and one of whom was a homosexual.
“Um,” Jenny said when she saw you.
“Um,” you said when you saw her.
Jenny was friendly but awkward at first, though eventually she loosened
up. She said she was thinking of going to New York or to Los Angeles to try her hand at being an actress or a waitress or something glamorous or not glamorous, “or just about anything so long as it’s not in this town.”
As she spoke, you couldn’t help but look her over, objectively, not sexually.
She was thin and stringy-looking. Her arms were covered in trackmarks like the concrete at the Indy 500 and her eyes were bloodshot red. She trembled as she spoke, but she was still so alive looking. You never would have believed that
her father would find her dead a few months later, strung up by her neck in the basement of her childhood home while a repeat of The Twilight Zone played on the television set in front of her.
You wished Jenny good luck and shook Greg’s hand and wandered off to the
bathroom. You urinated and washed your hands. On the way out, you caught a glimpse of your own reflection in the mirror and zoned out for a few seconds, imagining old girlfriends wearing white wedding dresses.
The last time you saw Jenny McCreary as an object of romantic affection was
in her room the August before she graduated. Foreplay was always the best with her. She liked ear stuff and she liked rough stuff and she liked the taste of your lips more than you liked the taste of anything. She was good at banter, too. That was always so important when you were younger. One time, she came over late at night after you had gotten into a fight with a couple bruisers. You danced around telling her what happened and after a solid ten minutes of back and forth she pushed you against the wall and kissed you all enthusiastic-like. She said, “You taste like blood.”
You said, “I bite my lips when I’m nervous.”
She said, “I’m tired of all this he said/she said,” she said as she made like a
vampire and sucked the blood from your gums and shoved her tongue down your throat. That last time you were together, you talked on her bed and as she told you about her day, you could not help but stare off at the eccentric contents of her bulletin board. Her mother and father were attending a chemotherapy session. Her sister was at a friend’s place. Jenny kissed you, then she touched you, then she begged you to be better. She said, “The best thing about you is that you’re
The Last Times You Saw Jenny McCreary
passionate and you’re funny, but your jokes have all grown dark and morbid and you haven’t gotten excited about anything since Lost ended.”
That was all it took to get you indignant. You said that of course you still got
excited about things. She said yeah, like drugs, and then she said that you barely even got hard anymore. You said that she was just too young to understand sometimes. She said that you were just an asshole. You told her to screw off, and it launched into this giant fight that with no clear victor because arguments with you always seem to end in stalemate.
You said, “Bitch.”
You said, “Whore.”
You said all kinds of misogynistic shit because when your pride gets
wounded, you get like a feral goddamn cat that’s just had the blinding epiphany that it’s not going to be alive forever.
By the end of all the screaming, your throat was sore and Jenny was
exhausted. You were done. She wanted to keep fighting. And so when she tried to start something again, you stopped her by saying, “I can’t do this anymore.”
It took her a second to process what that meant but when it clicked her face
contorted and she sprung up from her bed, grabbed you by your arm and said, “Kill me, love me, stuff me in a closet and cut my jugular, but don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”
You left her like that.
You closed her bedroom door behind you for the last and final time and
stood there for a few seconds, listening for her reaction. After only a few seconds of what you could only assume was grieving, you heard the click of her tiny tape recorder and her confident voice reading off the words, “I am a very ordinary orange.”
The more you look back on it though, the more you start to realize that
there were really a thousand last times you saw Jenny McCreary. There was the last time you saw her as an innocent, as a friend, as a virgin. The last time you looked at her and saw someone invincible.
But even still, going forward, you see her a thousand more times because
you see kids like that all over the place, passed out drunk on a beanbag chair, tingling with excitement as they sniff drugs off a countertop and shaking with exhaustion as they wait to be absolved outside the catholic confessional. And it is the strangest thing, but they all look like Jenny McCreary.
The Last Times You Saw Jenny McCreary
Allen Forrest Ink
Allen Forrest Ink
“I am drawn toward emotion and feeling in art, so I have always used that as a guide to my work. I call myself an expressionist. I have a creative direction I want to go and my style will slowly evolve in different ways as it is influenced by other artists’ work I study and admire. Their work excites and pushes me, yet I always come back to doing it my way.”
Ink and contĂŠ
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
Right now I’m in a club full of sleazy men and frat boys, dancing to remixed pop songs at my sister’s bachelorette party. I’m her matron/maid of honor. When she asked me, I was married, so I was her matron, but during the time of her engagement, my husband and I have decided to divorce. Though it won’t be legally finalized by her wedding day, we’ve decided to go with the title “maid of honor” to minimize the attention to my marital status. My curly-haired, carefree sister seems so young, though she is older than I was when I married. I was twenty-five, she is twenty-seven. I’m now twenty-nine, almost thirty. She is drunk and screaming and wears a white sash that says “Carrie’s Last Night of Freedom,” which makes me shudder. The strobe lights catch the glitter in her eye shadow, and her beauty is overwhelming. She and her friends keep taking shots, but I just can’t bring myself to join them. The act of tossing my head back and letting poison roll down my throat is too reminiscent of recent bad decisions. I ask the bartender for a gin martini, but they don’t have vermouth at a place like this so I suck down two gin and tonics, hoping they’ll make the room spin so I can concentrate on standing instead of on much how I hate being here. I dance with my little sister beneath the flashing lights. I twirl her and hug her and tell her I’m happy for her. The music is so loud, I can feel it vibrating in my chest, and she can’t hear me so I mouth “I love you” and she mouths back “love you more” and I feel like I might cry so I mouth “be right back” and she mouths “where are you going” and I mouth “to pee” as I run to the restroom.
I miss my husband. I want to call him to come pick me up. I want him to make sure the girls get to the hotel safely while I lay down in the back seat of his car. My husband was a dentist. He still is one. The man who was my husband is a dentist. I guess he’s still
my husband on paper, too. But he moved into an apartment with the cat, and our house is now on the market. I get to live there until it sells, which our realtor says will likely be soon. The name of this bar is The Whistle. It has two stories: a dance floor on the first and an open deck up top. The place is strange. There are moose heads on the walls and a blood-red stain to the sticky concrete floor. It stinks of body odor and alcohol. The restroom has a line wrapped around the corner with girls in animal print dresses and short skirts. If I had behaved like a real Maid of Honor and planned my sister’s bachelorette party, we would not be here. But Carrie’s friends volunteered to make the plan considering my state. My sister kept saying it wasn’t about me, it was about my state. My state. My state is bad because I had sex with my boss. He asked me into his office after a team happy hour about six months ago. I walked in, buzzed from two shots and a margarita. We were celebrating a big win. He said to close the door and then he bent me over his desk. I bunched up my skirt and helped him pull down my panties. We continued like this for weeks. He texted me constantly. He said he loved me, though I didn’t believe it and never said it back. He bought me a gold charm bracelet that I of course could never wear, nor would I have wanted to. It was very tacky. Others started wondering why the boss and I were having daily one-on-one meetings, why our bodies always seemed magnetically pulled to one another in the break room. One of the ugly girls on the team had lunch with his wife. His wife confronted him. He confessed, said he was seduced and human, stressed and lonely. That he loved her and their family. That he wanted to work on the marriage. They enrolled in counseling, he bought her a new Mercedes, and he never talked to me again. I of course never thought he loved me. I don’t know what I thought. Not much. He couldn’t fire me or I could sue for sexual harassment. He was a civil attorney
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
and knew better, but he had the office manager let me go for poor work performance and cited evidence that I couldn’t deny: sometimes I got on Facebook, I used the copier for personal reasons even though there was a sign that said not to, I once looked at porn, albeit on accident. Though I’d been a paralegal there for five years, I received no severance pay.
The line to the restroom is moving so slowly. My feet hurt. It’s been four months since I’ve worked, so this is the first time I’ve worn heels in a while. The backs of my knees are sweating, and I want so badly for my husband to tell me to quit worrying, that everything will be okay. He wanted us to have a baby and grow old together and be happy and normal. I wanted all of these things, too, yet I never believed they could happen. A toilet stall opens and two girls spill out. I dash into the black metal stall and clink the lock shut. I’m relieved to have this tiny space to myself for the next five minutes. I’m alone. I pull down my panties to pee and rest my elbows on my thighs. There is a little residue of white powder on the metal toilet paper dispenser. I press my fingers on the snowy substance and wipe them across my gums. My mouth goes numb, but otherwise I feel nothing. My sister. My little seester. She is glowing. She has no doubt, no question, just excitement. She has hope and a future. She has no fucking clue. I wonder what I’ll say at her wedding. To my little sister and new brother — I wish you better luck than me! To my sister and brother, may the road go on forever and the party never end. To my sister and brother, try really hard to only fuck each other. To my sister and brother, consider that this might not work out. To my sister and brother, love each other, but please don’t ever forget: it’s hard being human. Someone starts to bang furiously on my stall door. “How long does it take to drop a
shit? There’s a fucking line out here,” the lady screams. Yes I know, bitch, I think to myself. I wish I cared enough to yell back. I pull up my panties, flush the toilet, and duck out of the bathroom without even washing my hands. I elbow my way back through the sticky, dank crowd. My head hurts from the flashing lights and pause in alcohol consumption. I get another gin and tonic. I climb upstairs and see my sister and her friends have moved to the more loungey second floor deck overlooking the city. It’s airy and I can breathe. “You okay?” my sister asks, her sash slipping down her bare shoulder. “Totally! That line was crazy.” “Why are you tapping your foot like that?” “Like what?” “You’ve been crying,” “No I haven’t.” “There’s mascara down your face.” “So what?” “Mary,” she says. “Can’t just one night be about me?” My knees buckle and I trip over my own artless body. Gin and tonic splash across my sister’s white party dress, and the smell of alcohol sickens the air. The other girls flutter to her aid before I can respond, a few running to grab the thin bar napkins. They wipe her down gently while staring at me, half drunk with stern eyes and hair sticking to their foreheads. They look like owls. I have ruined the party. The fun has been killed, and I hold the dagger. I wish I could float above and lift my sister with me far, far away, but instead I just stand there. “I’m so sorry,” I finally spit out. “Do you want to trade dresses or anything?” “No,” she says coldly, sucking on her bottom lip. I’m doing the best I can. What the hell did she expect from me? I’m here after all.
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
For her everything is good and that’s great but I don’t know how to act different than I am right now, though however I am right now is bad. I slouch my head down and feel my face burn. It’s not that I don’t feel bad, it’s just, I’m doing the best I can. What the hell... “Let’s all take a round of shots?” I say. “On me? Ladies?” I look at my sister and my sister looks at her friends and her friends look at her. No one breathes. One squatty girl named Jane, she seems a little dumb and thank God for her, nervously nods and then more begin to nod and then all heads are bobbing, and my sister forgivingly shrieks, “I’m getting married in a week!” We all scream and run to the bar. My little sister picks tequila and reaches for my hand and squeezes it. I feel the squeeze in my heart. The bartender hands us bright lime wedges and a saltshaker. We rub the lime on the backs of our hands and then shake salt over where we made our skin sticky. He lines up six little glasses of liquor, one for each of us. We cheer! Glasses clink. We lick the salt, down the tequila, and sink our teeth into the lime.
I try to laugh and be smiley with the girls, but inside my head I can’t stop asking myself the same questions over and over again. What made me agree that evening in my boss’s office? What made me agree the next time and the next? He wasn’t even attractive. He was paranoid and short and had yellow teeth that would have made my husband vomit. When I went home after that first night, I thought I’d feel guilty, but I didn’t. My husband asked if I had enough to eat and I said no, so he heated me up some leftover pizza and made me a Caesar salad. He filled a glass of water and asked that I drink it. I did. He then filled it back up and placed it on a coaster next to my plate. He poured himself a glass of white wine and sat down with me. He prefers white over red because
red can stain your teeth. What happened with my boss felt like a foggy dream, this peculiar, not real, not good dream. I kept waiting to wake up, and one day I did. It became real when I was fired and also when I learned that I was pregnant. I wasn’t sure who the father was. Which felt like a movie. Which felt like a cliché. Which in some ways still didn’t feel real at all. How could a man’s dick in my vagina make a baby in my stomach? I decided either way I didn’t want it — not like this. I asked my sister go to with me to the abortion clinic. She held my hand as we passed the protestors telling us we were hell-bound, and she didn’t even comment on how the place smelled of cleaning products and dead babies. Carrie was kind, but angry. Not about my situation, she said, but that I scheduled the appointment on the day of her engagement party. I didn’t mean to ruin her day, I just couldn’t keep track of time. All days seemed like one long night, so unreal that it was laughable.
Until I told my husband. Then it felt really real, for real.
The girls want to play truth or dare. One of them, a tall, pushy girl with dark hair, Lydia, asks me: Truth or dare? “Dare,” I say, matching her stare in intensity. “I dare you to kiss someone.” I look around at the sleezeballs in polo shirts. I want to slap the cocky grins off their faces. “Eww — truth,” I say. “You can’t switch,” Lydia says. “But everyone here is disgusting.” “That’s not true,” she says. “We’re here. Are you calling your sister disgusting?”
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
“Fine,” I say. I hate this chick. I walk up to her and slam my lips against hers and squirm my tongue between her teeth. “What’s wrong with you?” she screams, spitting and stepping back. And my sister laughs. God, my heart might explode, hearing my sister laugh. It’s the same laugh as when she was four and I was six. When she was eight and I was ten. We spent so many summers rolling on our backs in giggle storms, playing pranks on the neighbor boys or spying on my mother and her boyfriends. We’d lay in the backyard and watch rollie pollies move from one strand of grass to another, wondering who we would grow up to be. My turn. I ask my sister: Truth or dare? “Truth,” she says. My sister leans on Jane for support. Even when she loses her balance, she looks poised. My sister was a dancer in high school, and she still moves like one. Effortlessly. I want to ask her what she thinks of me. If she thinks there is any hope. I know I can’t, so instead I ask: “What, in your mind, was the best part of my wedding?” She pauses and looks down. The other girls raise their eyebrows and look like owls again. “You just seemed so happy,” she says. “You smiled like when we were kids, walking down the aisle.” “I was excited.” “And you looked bangin’ in your satin dress,” Carrie says. “That’s how I want my day to be.” “Thank you,” I whisper. I want to sit down but there is no place besides the sticky floor. “Should we head out soon?” “It’s only midnight,” she says, frowning. “Maybe I just need water.” I head to the bar.
My husband was frying eggs when I confessed. His response surprised me. “Do you know how important prenatal care is to babies’ teeth development?” he said. “You’ve been eating nothing but sugar. And you’ve been drinking.” “Did you hear me? Who cares? There is no longer any baby.” “I care,” he said, beginning to cry. He dropped his spatula and slid down to the kitchen floor. I joined him on the ground and leaned against the white cabinets. “It might not have been yours, in fact I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.” “So what? That’s not the baby’s fault. Stranger things have happened in this world than you and me raising that baby. You could’ve at least talked to me.” “I’m talking to you now.” I reached for his hand, but he pulled away. The room smelt like burnt egg. “Now is too late.” “I didn’t know you felt so strongly against abortion.” “I don’t feel strongly against abortion in general — I feel strongly against people like you getting an abortion.” “People like me?” “Yes. People with husbands and jobs and who are old enough to know better.” “Well, I don’t actually have a job, remember?” “Damn it, Mary, that’s beside the point.”
I get a drink and join back with the girls. We lean against the edge of the top floor balcony. The illuminated buildings are spinning. Sometimes I think of my unborn baby, what it was and what it might have been. A little thing with a fresh smell and perfectly clean slate, in absolute dependence of me. But the second it would have entered the world, it would have had to start changing. In
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
some ways, I kept my child from having to fail, to be overripe. And the baby did get a brief experience with life, albeit in utero, but still. I’ve heard life is very safe and happy and beautiful then. Like swimming in a lake of nutrients and love. Plus, you can’t do anything wrong yet. I protected my baby from ever having to be real, to be me. The city lights glitter around us, and I feel the night sky in my hair, it has a slight chill. I have an idea. “Let’s play a game. As boys walk past, we’ll rate them. When we all think someone is a ten, we can cat-call ‘em.” The girls look at each other for confirmation and begrudgingly agree. I stare at the men walking by and each time I hope it’s my husband, though I know none of them will be. I imagine him walking by in his blue scrubs and white tennis shoes. We see lots of fives, men with big guts and stupid hats. Probably the men of my future. I’m a five, or even a four or two or zero. I feel like a zero. “He’s at least an eight or nine,” One of the girls points to a blonde man with a broad chest wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. “I say ten.” My sister laughs. The few of us that can, whistle, and the rest make whistle-like calls. The guy looks up and grins. “My sister is getting married next week!” I yell. “Come join us!” “Why’d you do that?” Lydia asks. “This is girls’ only.” My sister is still laughing, but looks a little flushed. A minute later the guy taps on my shoulder and says his name is James. “Hi, I’m Mary. The maid of honor.” “Matron of honor,” Lydia says. “Can I get you ladies a drink?” “Sure. We’ll take a round of tequila shots,” I say.
He smiles and grazes my arm before heading to the bar. I follow behind because I can tell he wants me to. “Where are you going?” my sister asks. “Helping him get the drinks!” We go to the bar but he only buys two shots, and we take them down. The tequila burns. He says he knows a place and grabs my hand greedily, pulling me through the smothering mess of drunk, screaming people. I close my eyes and let him guide me downstairs and around dark corners. When I open my eyes I see we are in a single unit bathroom with one toilet and a shelf of cleaning supplies. It’s cooler in here. “The staff restroom,” he says, grinning. Despite his cocky smirk and stench of cologne I let him slip off my dress. At least he isn’t wearing a polo shirt. I like feeling his smooth hands run up and down my body like water. He shoves me to my knees and I unzip his jeans, hoping his cock will be my husband’s. It’s not, but I put it in my mouth anyways. He moans, and I keep going, my knees sore on the white tile. He presses my head down harder and I feel like I might choke, but then thankfully he finishes quickly. He zips himself up and walks out of the bathroom without a word. By the time I get my dress back on and exit the room, I know he’s left the club. I stumble my way back to the girls. “What’s wrong with you?” Lydia hisses. “What’s wrong with you?” I say back. “Let’s chill,” my sister says, though her face looks a little green. “I’m hot.” “That wasn’t the game,” Lydia says. “Besides, we don’t even know him. He could put roofies in our drinks.” “Oh my God, really?” I say. “He left, so you can chill out.” “You look like a mess,” Lydia says. “Excuse me?” I say.
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
Carrie leans over the railing and vomits. “Look what you’ve done,” Lydia says. “You’ve no clue how much you hurt your sister, do you?”
“I didn’t make her vomit — taking a million shots made her vomit. Carrie, let’s
get you to the bathroom.” “I’ll take her,” Lydia says. “I’m taking her,” I say. “Try not to get date-raped while I’m gone.” I peel my little sister off the railing and guide her to the bathroom though my vision is slightly blurred. There is no line when we arrive, but all the stalls are occupied. I go up to the large handicap one and bang on it, tell them to hurry up, my sister is sick. A girl in a wheelchair rolls out and I feel like a jerk. I’m too embarrassed to apologize. My sister and I slip into the stall and she crouches to her knees and vomits into the toilet. I sit beside her and hold her curly hair back. I hand her a piece of toilet paper to wipe her mouth. Her vomit smells like liquor. “I didn’t mean to get so drunk,” she says, starting to cry. “I’m so sorry.” “It’s your bachelorette party. It happens.” “This party is lame. I don’t even like drinking. I’m never drinking again.” “Everyone says that when they get sick,” I say. “And the party is not lame.” “You hate it.” “No I don’t.” We scoot back so our bodies lean against the cold wall, our legs splay out on the red concrete floor. “Mary?” “What?” “You don’t hurt me constantly,” she says, wiping her lip. “But you do hurt me sometimes.”
“What do you mean?” “You make me scared.” “Oh, Carrie. Please. You aren’t me.” Someone bangs on the door. “We are having a moment!” I scream. “Fuck you!” the person screams. “I gotta pee!” “FUCK YOU!” I yell back. It feels good. “You shouldn’t do that,” my sister says, pulling her knees to her chest. “Too late,” I say. “I wish you wouldn’t act like your life is over,” she says. “It’s terrifying.” “You never mess up, so don’t worry.” “That’s not true,” she says. Her head falls to my shoulder and my eyes water. I hope my sister doesn’t realize I sucked that sleaze off in the bathroom.
“What was it like?” I ask.
“What was what like?” “The procedure. I was pretty loopy on laughing gas, so I don’t really remember.” “You mean your abortion?” she says. “Yes.” “Now? You want me to bring that up now?” “Obviously. Yes. Now tell me.” “Fine. It was really quick. I sat by your head and just kept touching your forehead. You kept your eyes closed even though you weren’t asleep. Once you were deemed drugged enough, they put a giant vacuum-thing up to your, you know, and sucked out this clump of stuff,” she said. “It looked like a snotty, bloody oyster, not like a human at all.” “Do you think it died the second it left me?”
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
“No, probably when they scraped it off your uterus.” “I just hope it didn’t hurt — for the baby.” “Well it probably hurt at least a little.” Someone bangs on the door again. “This place sucks,” I sigh. “I’m hot.” “Do you want to go swimming or something?” “Yes,” she says eagerly. “But where could we go?” “Let’s go to that place we’d go in high school — off of Town Lake.” She nods yes and we exit the bathroom. I tell her to wait right by the door and I run and collect her friends. Lydia seems hesitant about the idea, but she agrees. After a short taxi ride, we walk down to the empty dock that during the day offers kayak rentals. The water is black, but the moon is out, round and reflecting on the lake. The night sky is spinning, and the other girls say it’s spinning for them, too, like cartwheels. It’s spinning because we are drunk, but I wonder if our visions all spin in the same direction. I ask, and the girls feel sick trying to notice if their sight is moving clockwise or counter-clockwise. When I get the spins, things always move on a titled clockwise axis. Carrie says she isn’t spinning anymore and feels sober after vomiting. It’s hard to focus, but I soon realize all the girls are staring at me, wondering what’s next. “My feet hurt,” I say. I take off my shoes and sit on the edge of the dock, letting my toes dangle and slip beneath the dark water. My sister kicks her heels off and then the other girls follow. Carrie sits next to me and grabs my hand, leans her head on my shoulder. I then lean my head on her head. I really don’t want to hurt her. I really do want her to be happy. It’s shocking how quiet the night sounds here. There is a barrier of trees that protects
the road from our vision. We could be out in the country. We could be in outer space. We could be anywhere. “You know it’s illegal to swim here,” Lydia says. “Who cares about a little bacteria? We’ll shower when we get to the hotel,” I say. “Carrie and I’ve dove off this dock a million times.” “It’s not because of bacteria, actually. It’s because the current is really strong,” a girl whose name I can never remember adds. The squatty girl, Jane, raises her eyebrows and chews on her lip. “That’s part of it. But there is also rebar and construction trash dumped all in this lake,” Lydia says. “Just last week someone jumped in and had a rod pole stab him. He died like a piece of meat on a shish kabob.” “Let’s live a little,” I say. “We should do something wild and commemorative — for the bride!” “Mary, maybe we shouldn’t,” Carrie adds. “Are you serious? We used to jump off this dock all the time!” “That was ten years ago.” “You were the one who wanted to swim,” I say. I slip out of my dress once again. I look down at my bloated thighs and bruised knees. I’m getting older, almost thirty, but the darkness is kind and forgiving. I know I’m pretty. Not my sister-pretty, but pretty enough. I let my hair down and close my eyes. I feel dizzy but strangely awake. All the girls are watching me. They think I’m crazy, but they don’t know life yet. They are still waiting for it to start, not understanding that the clock started the moment they were born, or even more, the moment they were conceived. There is no on switch. There is only an off. This is it. Carpe fucking diem. I stand toward the edge of the water and brace myself for the cold. “Don’t jump!” My sister screams. “Mary, please!”
My Sister’s Maid of Honor
My sister begins to sob, and Lydia strokes her back while glaring at me. “Carrie? ” “Please.” I want to jump more than anything. I want rebar to stab me and the opposing currents to tear me apart and duckweed to wrap around my ankles like weighted chains. I want to look up from underwater and see the moon. But I know if I jump all that will happen is I’ll be cold without a towel and made into a villain. I hate seeing Lydia hold my little sister, and I don’t want to make her cry. I really don’t want to scare Carrie — I want her to have hope. I don’t jump. Instead I lie down, my back against the wood dock. I look up at the night sky, feeling my chest rise and fall with every breath, thankful my sister hasn’t pressed me on what I’m going to do once the house sells.
Sarah Ann Loreth
Sarah Ann Loreth does not take photographs; she creates them from
scenes she pulls from deep within herself. Sarah is a fine art
photographer from New Hampshire, who specializes in self-portraiture
and conceptual portraiture. In her work she tries to convey a quiet
stillness of emotion with a connection to her natural surroundings.
From her use of color and surreality she creates a reality found only in
her imagination but with an emotion that is undeniably human. Her
work evokes a connection from the viewer, a feeling of oneness of the
human experience and a mystery that will leave you wondering how
the story will unfold.
Sarah Ann Loreth
Sarah Ann Loreth
Sarah Ann Loreth
Sarah Ann Loreth
With the passing of 2014 – our first full calendar year in operation – comes an exciting opportunity! Like the bulk of independent literary magazines in the United States, Buffalo Almanack is eligible to nominate a select number of contributed stories from the past twelve months for the Pushcart Prize, the marquee award of the “most honored literary project in America.”
For those of you who are writers, or are otherwise attuned to the small
press buzz, it is likely that you have prior experience with the Pushcart. Given the extraordinary pool of nominating publishers and the exacerbating factor that each publisher is permitted to champion as many as six stories annually, it is easy to see how the last four decades of cosmic-level growth in the litmag population have left the rolls of the Pushcart longlist a devalued commodity. Though the Prize itself remains a hugely illustrious and elusive honor, many
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
talented folks who write long enough and publish often enough manage to pick up a nomination – or two, or three, or four! – at some juncture of their career.
And yet getting nominated is also a huge freaking deal! At the least, it
signifies that your story was held in the utmost regard by its publisher, foremost among all of those printed that year. I can say from my own experience that it’s hard enough landing an acceptance, let alone to be named the best of the issue, let alone to be named the best of the year! That’s as powerful a compliment as we editors can offer, and to tether that intimate commendation to a major, national sweepstakes is a true editorial blessing. We can’t do much to make Pushcart consideration more exclusive or the award more attainable, but we can do plenty to make Buffalo Almanack’s nomination feel like the personalized round of applause that it is.
LAYING DOWN THE GROUND RULES
Bearing all of this in mind, we’ve determined to anoint only one Pushcart
story per year, and to further recognize that work as the official BUFFALO ALMANACK STORY OF THE YEAR!!! Yes, that gets three exclamation points. This is big stuff. Any of the sixteen stories that have appeared in the March, June, September and December 2014 issues of Buffalo Almanack can win, regardless of their prior Inkslinger award status. The chosen story will then be acknowledged as the “Story of the Year,” both on our website and in the announcement article of this and all future December issues.
No special priority is granted to story length or style, or to specific authors
based on personal identifying information (Sorry, it’s not possible for us to go blind on this one). And, of course, since this is also for our Pushcart pick, we’ll also forward the winning story along to prize committee with a very nice letter
and a whole lot of hope.
It gets better! We will, beginning in February 2017, compile our four most
recent Stories of the Year and re-print them together, with brand-new artwork and retrospective commentary in our quadrennial Issue of Champions. Pretty cool, right? I mean, we thought it was.
NOT WITHOUT A COUPLE OF EXCEPTIONS
So, who’s our big winner? I’ll get to that in a moment. For now that we’ve
established our basic set of rules in approaching the Pushcart Prize and our Story of the Year, we must go ahead and break them! Yes, faced with a pair of atypical circumstances, we’re forced to do things a bit differently in 2014 than we will in the future. Please know that both of these decisions, as with all choices involved in Pushcart and Story of the Year selection, were made only after a tremendous period of doubt and reflection. We try to operate our magazine within a mindset of ethical fairness, and never is that program more vital than in instances of acceptance and rejection.
First, I hope our earliest contributors will understand why we chose not
to present a Pushcart nominee in 2013 – we had, at that time, published only
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
eight stories and two issues, exactly half of our ordinary output. We were also exceedingly new, and had then (as perhaps we have now) a long way to go in staking our legitimacy as a publication. We did not think it appropriate under those limiting conditions to put forth a nominee.
TWO CHAMPIONS MORE
The time for 2013 Pushcarts has long since passed, but we’d still like to
recognize the work we felt represented the strongest effort of any printed beneath our banner in that year. For this honor I have tapped Jared Yates Sexton’s “The Hook and the Haymaker,” a shit-tough yarn about a down-andout boxer taking his licks in love and the ring.
Congratulations, Mr. Sexton! We’ll see you in the Issue of Champions in a
little more than two years.
Secondly, we had the unbelievable fortune and privilege in 2014 to publish a
new piece of fiction by acclaimed Winter’s Bone and The Maid’s Version author Daniel Woodrell, an eternal favorite of both mine and Katie’s long before we ever imagined that we’d be helping birth one of his hardscrabble tales of crime in the Missouri Ozarks into the world. In one sense, Mr. Woodrell is not so different from our other contributors: he works hard, he makes great art and he deserves to be heard. In another sense, most of our contributors are lesserknown (for now!) amateurs. Mr. Woodrell’s name and history carries a prestige that few others in our pages can duplicate. For this reason, we decided back in March that it would be best to turn in another direction for our Inkslinger Award.
Remember how I said we’d only designate one Pushcart nominee? Time for
another judgment call. While it is true that we will only name one work as Story
of the Year, that story will be accompanied in representing Buffalo Almanack before the Pushcart committee by Daniel Woodrell’s “Johanna Stull.” Mr. Woodrell’s standing and reputation again force us to tweak our own guidelines in the pursuit of fair recognition for outstanding work.
THE BIG WINNER
Okay. That’s a long enough introduction. Here’s what you want to know:
who won Story of the Year?
Answer: Andy Bailey’s “The Parlay,” as seen in June’s Issue No. 4.
Why? Because it was funny. Because it was original. Because it told a story
that took us places we never thought a story could takes us, like a underground Chinese gambling ring and the puke deck of the Las Vegas Stratosphere. Because it had heart and wit and whatever the hell moxie is. And because we think it, perhaps more than any other story we’ve yet run, symbolized the sort of weirdo risk-taking we’re looking for in our fiction. There’s not much else to it.
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
We LOVE the Parlay, and we’re guessing a lot of you did as well.
Way to go Andy Bailey, Jared Yates Sexton and Daniel Woodrell! Two Stories
of the Year, two Pushcart nominees and three fine examples of the literary master-class doing its thing. It’s been an honor to collaborate with and publish you all. We sincerely wish you – and all twenty-four of our fiction contributors – the best of everything writing has to offer.
Instructional: Making the Most of Daddy-Baby Time
Begin by explaining to the baby that this is Daddy-Baby time! Inform
the baby that Daddy-Baby time will be a thrice weekly event, four hours each session, while Mommy goes back to work at Dr. Aspen’s office.
Touch the baby’s palm and let its fingers curl around you like four little
snakes. Scoop the baby up, parade it around, sing a song to both of you. Being alone with the baby is like being alone with the dog.
Tell the baby all your problems. Tell the baby about your company’s
diminishing market share. Teach the baby about free-market capitalism. Take out your Ideas Notebook and draw the baby a diagram of the five forces of the market. Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. With one left over. Famine, pestilence, war, death, and the bargaining power of suppliers.
Laugh with the baby. Five forces, four horsemen. So stupid. Plus it’s not
the bargaining power of suppliers you’re worried about. It’s the threat of new entrants. Overseas entrants.
Explain to the baby about outsourcing. Put your hand over your heart and
tell the baby that you know outsourcing makes sense from a global-economic standpoint. Tell the baby you’re not racist! Chuckle with the baby. The baby knows you’re not racist. You wish all of those Filipino and Chinese fathers the best. There are other babies in the world, of course, and they all deserve a chance! Make sure the baby knows you’re not racist.
It’s funny how you can tell the baby a lot of things you can’t tell its mother.
Take a break. Retrieve some milk from the fridge. Heat it up. While the milk
is on the stove, let the dog sniff the baby. It’s good to socialize the baby to the dog and vice versa. Take the baby’s hand and run it along the softer fur under the dog’s chin. Do this until either party grows bored.
Is the baby wet? Smell the baby. No, the baby is not wet.
Squirt some breast milk on your arm. Perfect. Feed the baby from the bottle.
Contemplate, as you do every time you feed the baby, how glad you are that you do not have to attach the breast pump to your own nipples.
Waltz the baby around the apartment. Avoid the boxes of unsold overstock.
Or, better yet, pretend the boxes are something fun. A castle? A labyrinth!
Pretend you and the baby are fighting a minotaur. Is the baby adventuring with you? Or are you rescuing the baby from the monster’s clutches? Better make it a co-adventurer. That way the baby will grow up feeling that it has agency.
Get winded. Sit down on the sofa. Avoid the cushion with the spring poking
out. Oof! Tell the baby gently that it is heavy! Jeez, baby!, you can say.
Place the baby on your lap. Smell its head. It’s okay! Take a deep, soothing
draught of the baby’s head. The baby will not mind. Dandle it a bit, if you like. Say ‘dandle, dandle’ softly as you do so. Then laugh with the baby. ‘Isn’t Daddy silly?’ you can ask the baby rhetorically.
Look around the apartment. Look at the spaghetti splatter on the kitchen
wall. Should you leave that for Mommy to clean up? You should not. Mommy will be tired after her first day back at work.
Bring the baby over to the stain. Think better of this. Was the baby aware of
last night’s fight? The fight that led to Mommy slamming the wooden spoon down in the saucepan and spattering spaghetti all over the wall? Had the baby been aware of what was happening? Does the baby recall you sitting alone at the kitchen table after Mommy had gone to bed and staring at the table cloth so long that it went out of focus and the pattern blurred and became three dimensional and moved you to recall those 3-D Magic Eye posters from elementary school and how you were the first one in your family to see them and get it and remark that it was horse or a galaxy?
Instructional: Making the Most of Daddy-Baby Time
It’s very likely that the baby does not recall this.
Still. It might be better to clean the stain outside of the baby’s line of vision,
so that it doesn’t remember the fight and begin crying and thus taint DaddyBaby time. So with that in mind place the baby into its crib, spin the farm animal-themed mobile, and go clean the spaghetti stain.
Wait. Sniff the baby. Ah. Now the baby is wet.
Change the baby. Hum while you change the baby. What are you humming?
What is that? You cannot quite – oh no. You are humming that song “Higher” by Creed. Why are you humming that? Do not hum Creed to the baby.
Reflect on those Chinese and Filipino fathers. Do they change their babies?
Probably not. Probably they make the babies’ Mommies do it? No, no. Stop thinking that way. Stop thinking terrible thoughts about entire groups of people, even if those groups of people are causing you to lose your livelihood. Do you want the baby to grow up thinking like that? Of course you don’t.
Get a fresh diaper. Note that it’s the last one in the package. Write ‘diapers’
on the whiteboard by the calendar. Should you text Mommy and ask her to bring home dia – No. Obviously not. You should take the baby out for a walk and go to the store and pick them up yourself. Jeez, doesn’t Mommy do enough? Remember that your credit card is not an option. Check your pockets for cash. Do you have enough? Probably not. Count the coins in the jar on the bookshelf. Hold each coin up so the baby can see it. Then say the denomination of the coin in a loud cheerful voice so that this becomes a learning experience for the baby. Don’t sweep the coins off the table in fit of rage when the total only comes to $6.84! What kind of example is that to set for the baby? Great – the sound has woken the dog and now the dog has run in barking. And there are dimes and nickels all over the floor along with the cheerios and stray oats from Mommy’s
morning oatmeal. Great. Just great.
Try not to let the baby see you cry. To avoid this put the baby down for
a nap early. Whisper to the baby that you love it. Tell it you hope that that is enough. Tell the baby that Daddy is trying.
Okay, okay, that’s enough crying. Clear your throat. Look at the baby as if to
say, ‘I don’t know what all that was about!’
Sit on the bench by the window and wait for Mommy to come home, or the
baby to wake up. Eat something. Pet the dog. Reflect that one day you’ll have so much work that you won’t even have a minute for Daddy-Baby time, and that that will be sad too, in its own way.
Get up. Go to the kitchen and scrub the spaghetti sauce stain until the wall is
bone white. Go down for the mail. Thank whatever you’re praying to that there are no fresh bills. Throw away a catalogue Mommy got and while you’re at it throw away the little diagram of the five forces too.
Go to the sofa with your Ideas Notebook. Write out a new business plan,
pausing occasionally to tap your mechanical pencil against the coffee table and stare thoughtfully at the ceiling. Spend all afternoon if you must. Make yourself some tea if you need a break.
Listen! Is that Mommy clomping on the stairs?
It is. Waylay Mommy before she gets to the nursery. Hug her even if she
won’t hug you back. Kiss her on her cheeks and her ears and her eyelids if she starts crying. Whisper into her hairline that you’re sorry. Tell her that everything will be all right, and that you love her, and that she doesn’t need to worry anymore because you have a new plan. Then go into the nursery and gaze at the sleeping baby together.
Repeat as necessary.
Instructional: Making the Most of Daddy-Baby Time
Canon EOS Rebel XS N
â€œWhen I make a photograph I want something to hold on to. 35mm film allows me to have not only memories, but also physical copies. My work with film is focused on taking an environment out of its context and into another. I chase the decayed, the concealed, and the forgotten. I want my viewers to remember, while simultaneously making new memories. I want those who see my photographs to hold on to something less fleeting than the moment.â€?
Canon EOS Rebel XS N
Canon EOS Rebel XS N
I sat with Anne all afternoon the day she got out of detox. Anne is a good Irish Catholic woman and it pained her to talk about her homeless days, twenty years all told, of living in a corrugated cardboard box somewhere in Queens (I didn’t register the street name) and shooting up, losing her teeth along the way, and all the other sordid details, including sex for drugs. So she talked instead about her daughter’s wedding and showed me pictures, raving about the girl’s sterling history, her brief experience with substances and how she quickly found God and the program, and about the daughter’s husband, who looked stout and unremarkable in the pictures. It was a miracle that her daughter had come back to her — and here there were more tears and me holding the box of tissues for Anne and taking one myself, not for tears but because my nose was running.
The apartment where Anne lived was cold (the reason for my runny
nose) and dark, but would have been nice because it was in an old brick house but her furniture was shapeless and had no flare. The house had been divided into four such apartments and the old wood floors were scuffed and probably had been painted at some point. Anne’s neighbors brought her dinner when they cooked, coming up the stairs with the plate of food in one hand and a beer in the other. They had no concept of sobriety.
One neighbor, Adam, a young saturnine type who sporadically drank
and went to meetings, stopped by and made a show of concern for Anne’s welfare. She said Adam spent his free time studying greenhouse gases and took any opportunity he could to talk about the gas’s deleterious effect on the ozone layer. He was an expert, a fanatic. She called him the god of greenhouse gases. He was tall and in fact towered over us like a gloomy Greek god.
We sat on a couch with a pattern under a spread thrown over to cover
stains, and I kept my jacket around my shoulders. This was my first twelve-step call. I felt nervous and honorable, both at once. I was also glad that Anne made excellent coffee.
Getting there had been an operation. We left the meeting and stopped
at the ATM, where Anne had arranged for a ride with Grateful John, an older program junkie with a gray braid who was said to smoke a lot of pot and abuse his wife. Inside the bank lobby they made a cash transaction, in which Grateful John gave Anne dollar bills wrapped in a paper receipt, Anne teared up, and outside we had to climb over a dirty snow bank to get into Grateful John’s car.
Anne helped me into the passenger seat because people think I’m more
fragile than I am and that my bones will break if they so much as look at me. I’m neither old nor breakable but I have to admit I’m not the rough-hewn type. My friends, all rugged, fear for me in bad weather and rush to protect me.
Anne has the lumpy peasant features of a character in a Thomas Hardy
novel. Her skin is ruddy and marred from years of living on the street and in shelters. Her cat, by contrast, is a young beauty, tabby striped with glittering eyes and an anxious cry. She ran from room to room, stopping to rub against our legs, then setting off again.
When Anne talked about the cat she cried, and as things turned
increasingly mawkish I asked what kind of coffeemaker Anne had. That was when I learned about Gevalia’s free offer of a coffeemaker you could buy over the Internet in exchange for signing up to receive Gevalia coffee, all delivered free of shipping cost, to your door.
She’d sign me up, Anne, said. Did I want one? No, no, her treat for the
one-time cost, she insisted, it was the least she could do, seeing as how I was spending all this time with her. Anne is generous. She could easily be one of
those supporting Hardy characters who’ll give you their plate of potatoes and go hungry themselves. I couldn’t talk her out of the Gevalia offer so while Anne was at her computer I walked down the hall to use the bathroom. It was a long room with a low window from which you could see some of the large, trembling fir trees in the driveway. I was satisfied. I have the fatal flaw of needing one element of grace every few hours or I’m lost.
We drank more coffee, which could have been hotter, anything could
have been hotter on that frigid day, but I concentrated on keeping myself a vessel into which Anne could pour her confessions without shame. I, in turn, would insert what I hoped were brief but usable fragments of wisdom into the conversation. These were program slogans or better, excerpts from the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve, intended to comfort and guide us broken-down souls when we faltered: one day at a time, keep it simple, a Power greater than ourselves, the key of willingness.
Anne is a chronic relapser, in and out of the rooms so she knew what I
was talking about when I made these quotations. I hoped that I had it in me to soothe her, trusting in the power my own unanswered questions to make my statements solid enough for her. I took heart and tried not to view the flashing images of myself as a paper doll, light enough to blow away in the wind and consequently empty of any wisdom at all. I’m not a chronic relapser. I have long and good sobriety. It’s my relationship with God that’s the problem.
We forged on with our coffee and our first steps toward Anne’s new
sobriety. She was willing, raw, and humbled by her recent bender. She told me that her neighbors had called an ambulance when they heard the thud. She had fallen against the formica counter, knocking herself out and cutting a bloody gash in her head. The EMTs had to restrain her when she came to. The cat had
run out, terrified. My cat, Anne said. So your life became unmanageable, I said, dotting the i’s and feeling like a fraud but glad that I could comfort this person, two feelings at war with one another but not altogether unlike.
It’s funny about Anne but I can’t place her. She’s a peasant but with
some finish. She speaks well and her manners are so perfect you don’t notice them, which, I learned, is a mark of refinement. I was raised by my two maiden aunts, both school teachers, who taught me all about manners and now I verge on snobbism. I’m used to placing my acquaintances on the social scale. When Anne laughs, however, a whole barroom seems to be laughing with her — beery and hale and rowdy. It could be Anne’s voice that gives her away. It’s rutted like a dirt road.
Anne confided to me that she wanted to go back to dental hygienist’s
school, a sad thing to contemplate on a sunless day when your body is broken down by hepatitis C and you’re not too far from fifty. She spoke of her aspirations and I encouraged her, reminding her of the promises in the Big Book. One day at a time, I said.
“I’m feeling tired,” Anne said.
“I can imagine.”
“How ‘bout if I drive you home?”
I was flustered by her manners, so fine they were painful. How long had
Anne been waiting for me, the supposedly well-bred one, to leave? I hurried to shrug my arms into my coat sleeves, further embarrassed and at a loss for phrases I could construct in apology for staying so long.
“I’d like to walk,” I said.
Was I sure? I was sure. I said goodbye to Anne and the cat, Miranda.
What a nice name. Miranda. Would Anne be okay? I was gushing, still flustered.
I kissed Anne. I wanted to kiss Miranda more but the cat was too skittish. I walked down the driveway and out into the street. It was raining. The rain turned to sleet and freezing rain as I walked. But I put up the hood of my parka. I was testing my faith, pressing hard to see where it would give and where I would have to shore it up.
I walked up Division Street, which, appropriately, separates the village
in two, intersecting with Main Street and housing shops and restaurants on the upper two blocks. Coming from the other direction in winter, you got a stark view of the stone bank of the Esopus, and beyond, the metal framework of the bridge. Below, near the bridge, where I began my walk, the street is residential, typically storefronts converted to apartments. I passed the display cases, some decorated with a few potted geraniums, short on light in the northeastern winter, others with figurines or religious icons, dusty and in need of care. On nice days, the owners place a chair on the sidewalk and sit to watch the traffic speed up and down the thoroughfare.
The weather was ugly. I turned a corner and stopped at Lorraine’s house
on a side street, opening her outside door and passing through the entry room, which was a clutter of cardboard boxes and lamp shades. Lorraine was sitting at her kitchen table looking at a thick restaurant cup half filled with coffee. Lorraine takes heavy medication, which causes her to lack affect and fall asleep while you’re talking to her. When she speaks, only her mouth moves. I can’t remember when I last heard Lorraine laugh. She’s short and overweight, and her face is puffy, but otherwise she still carries this girlish and pretty air, with her bobbed hair and her bangs, which were once blond and are now a neutered gray color with hopeful blond highlights.
I greeted her, smiling through the fog on my glasses.
Lorraine has ALS in remission and if you ask her how she is you may be surprised by the grimness of her disease. I told her I’d just come from visiting Anne.
“Has she started drinking yet?”
“You’re not optimistic.”
I offered to make coffee for us, looking to cheer things up. Lorraine
directed me to the jar of instant in a top cupboard. We each had a cup, and Lorraine asked if I was sponsoring Anne. I said I was, temporarily.
“Uh-oh,” Lorraine said.
“Why uh-oh?” I said
“Just don’t take it personal if she slips,” Lorraine said.
“I won’t,” I said.
“You better not,” Lorraine said.
We exchanged chitchat.
“Bobby went out,” Lorraine said.
“I guess he doesn’t have very good sobriety,” I said.
“You better believe it.”
The light was turning muddy in Lorraine’s kitchen and I visualized the
trees as black lace against the sky from the windows of my upstairs apartment. I felt restive but still I sat. I could never tell if my presence made any difference one way or the other to Lorraine, yet people said she appreciated a visit. She didn’t get out much. A brown globule of coffee had accumulated at each corner of her mouth.
Lorraine’s husband drives an ambulance and he comes home between
shifts, bending over her stiffly seated form to kiss her. He places the kisses with tenderness. I imagined him scraping up parts of the dead from the tarmac after gruesome car wrecks, and returning home to his depressive wife. I wondered if he dreams of that girlish blonde woman with the bobbed hair and bangs, wearing slim little skirts over bare legs.
I left Lorraine and continued up the hill, passing three gift shops, a
jewelry store, an antique store, and our one Mexican food shop. Some of the men in town air grievances about the Hispanics who run the shop. If they aren’t illegals, they’re coyotes. One way or another, they’re bilking good American folk out of their money. I passed faces that looked familiar because this is a village and you see the same people every day, and most of the people here are related, at least through cousinship. If they aren’t related, they come from the same Italian or German stock. They look alike and might as well be cousins.
There was a storeowner outside one of the gift shops, smoking his
hourly cigarette under cover of his fedora, his gaze blank. The rain and sleet had cleared up, but the air had a cutting chill to it. The sky was a sharp blue with an edging of salmon at the horizon.
The speaker at the evening meeting was a large man with a fat face and
a fat Buddha belly. He took off his tweed cabby hat and put it down on the table. He was tan, having just returned from a visit to relatives in Florida, with whom he was reunited. He was a retired butcher. He could drink a bottle of beer underwater and come up standing. Now his Higher Power was always at his side. He went to bed with a smile on his face and woke up with a smile on his face. I could see how that was possible: his face was broad enough to accommodate such a smile. The topic for discussion was attitude.
After the meeting I stood on the sidewalk and lit a cigarette. I took a puff, felt shaky, and felt a hard cold bump as I hit the sidewalk. The man in the cabby hat helped me to my feet. He took out his handkerchief and blotted my face.
“My wrist, I said.” I held out my hand.
“Lemme see,” he said. “Your wrist is broken. Listen, my car’s right here,
I’ll drive you to the hospital, you’ll get it set —”
I protested, he prevailed. In the car, which was not a big Buick town car
as I expected, but a Toyota Corolla, he was gigantic behind the wheel.
“You’re safe now, you don’t have to cry no more,” he said.
“Was I crying?”
“It’s all right, Constance,” he said, “you’re safe now.”
I said, “I didn’t feel unsafe before. I broke my wrist, was all.”
“You were hurting real bad,” he said.
“How did you know my name?” I said.
“You shared it at the meeting, remember?” he said.
“I’m sorry but I can’t remember yours,” I said.
I was moving toward the door on my side of the car.
“It’s Robert,” he said, “but call me anything. Bob, Rob, Slob, you name it
— it don’t matter.”
The car sped toward Kingston or across the river. I was dizzy, I couldn’t
tell which direction.
Inside the hospital, Robert sat beside the gurney. I thought it must have
been for hours, although when I was alert again he said that it was just a few minutes. While the doctor was casting my wrist, I had the idea of asking if there was another exit I could use that would allow me to bypass Robert and the waiting area. I was so busy developing this scenario that I didn’t notice the
pain until the doctor was finished. By then I was dizzy again, and a nurse was pushing me through to the waiting area in a wheelchair.
“See, Constance? Good as new,” Robert said.
I mumbled that yes, it was.
On the drive home, I thought about Robert’s use of my name, which was
formal and correct. Usually, I introduced myself as Constance and people called me Connie. Could he be smart enough to use my full name while taking other greasy liberties with impunity?
I was still mulling the name issue when we got to my house. Robert
helped me out of the car and asked if he could come in and use the bathroom. It had been a long day and I was in pain, exhausted, and thinking unkind thoughts about another member of the fellowship.
I sat on the sofa in the living room, waiting for Robert to leave, when he
called my name. I thought he might be ill, needed help, or was having a heart attack. Who knew why a man would call from the bathroom? I went in. He met me at the door, ready. He had a small, not quite hard penis. I wasn’t prepared to defend myself. We wrestled on the floor, and my sling fell off in the scuffle. He couldn’t come so I had to blow him to get him out of my apartment.
Over the next few days my sober women friends came to stay with me.
They brought soup and hot tea, and sat on the cane rocking chair in my room until I fell asleep. Anne was among them, and Lorraine.
Anne said, “One bad apple doesn’t spoil the barrel.” This old homily
made me think about the smell of apples from our neighbor’s orchard at my aunts’ summer house. I tried to remember if there were any rotten apples at the bottom of bushel barrel the neighbor gave us each September.
My sponsor Polly came, wearing her cascading necklaces and turquoise
bracelets, her silk tunic and red leather flats, heavily made up as always and wearing some exotic scent on her skin. When she left my house, Polly would drive back to West Hurley and her nineteenth century farmhouse, where she would go to bed in her bedroom without a door. She had insisted that the house be left just as it had been when her late husband, who had been in the process of restoring it, died of a coronary. None of the rooms had doors so when you put your hand out for a knob there was nothing, only empty space. Her house was like that: full of empty spaces. Drafts blew through the house into the bedrooms without doors and from one bedroom to another and to nowhere.
On the first night that I went to bed alone in my apartment, I picked up
my old King James Bible. It seemed as good as anything to keep me company until sleep came.
In the morning, the FedEx delivery person came to my apartment door
with a large square box. I opened it to find a shiny stainless steel Gevalia coffee maker, two packages of Gevalia coffee, and a stainless steel coffee scoop. The preprinted note inside the box said, â€œBest wishes from Anne.â€?
When I called Anne to thank her, I heard the barroom tone of her voice,
amplified by the telephone. Her words were unintelligible.
â€œAs you know, Italy is a peninsula and therefore has thousands of kilometers of coastline with a myriad of beautiful beaches. Some are attended by VIPs or are private beaches of exclusive clubs. The beaches represented by this series, captured in eastern Sicily, are frequented by ordinary people. Sometimes in order to reach them you have to walk along trails under the hot sun that become crowded in the summer.â€? Sicily - Italy, 2014
â€œThis shot taken on a beach in the south of Sicily provides us with vital dynanism: The wonder of the hot summer seawaters and the outcropping rocks and the two ladies in perfect relaxation, partaking in the confidentiality of their conversation. In a few minutes they will rise to get back on their deckchairs in the noise of the crowded beach.â€?
Inkslinger Award Winner
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
Aimee Bender Author The Color Master
“The City Lost and Found” Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago Review by Katie Morrison Station Eleven Novel by Emily St. John Mandel Review by Heidi Willis
Amy Sacka Visual Artist Lost & Found in Detroit
PAST PERFECT: The Dollmaker Novel by Harriette Arnow Review by Jody Hesler
Aimee Bender is the author of five books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) which was a NY Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000) which was an L.A. Times pick of the year, Willful Creatures (2005) which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010) which recently won the SCIBA award for best fiction, and an Alex Award, and The Color Master, released this last August, a NY Times Notable book for 2013.
Her short fiction has been published in Granta, GQ, Harper’s, Tin House,
McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, and many more places, as well as heard on PRI’s This American Life and Selected Shorts. She has received two Pushcart prizes, was nominated for the TipTree award in 2005, and the Shirley Jackson short story award in 2010. Her fiction has been translated into sixteen languages.
She lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches creative writing at USC. ~
BUFFALO ALMANACK: For as long as you’ve been writing, media outlets have referred to your fabulist style as being representative of “modern fairy tale.” It’s become sort of the go-to tagline to explain your work to others. How do you feel about this perception? What might it get right and what might it get wrong? AIMEE BENDER: I like the idea that the writer writes the work and the reader or critic or interpreter decides how to categorize it. So, with that in mind, I am interested in all perceptions of my work, and I am stuttering and useless when I try to describe it myself. I’m fine with modern fairy tale, or magical realism, even though both sort of fit and sort of don’t. I love fairy tales and they are definitely diving boards for me. I love Calvino and GG Marquez and Carter
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and of course grandfather Kafka, and also someone like Beckett, who is not magical, but absurd, and so the spectrum becomes so large and I’m just happy to be included anywhere on it. If I had to pick a term, maybe I’m most into ‘slipstream’ and ‘speculative’ because they are so open.
BA: You recently interviewed with Brad Listi for the 300th episode of his ever-indispensable OTHERPPL podcast. It was a great listen, and what we found most remarkable was your comment that, since having twins in 2013, your dedicated writing time has dropped to roughly 10 minutes per day. You were previously renowned for writing two hours or more each day. So this is a new phase of your life, and it looks like your writing is going along for the ride. What excites you about that? How did you initially approach this adjustment? AB: Ha! Fun and funny to me that you call it renowned. It is a big change, that’s for sure. I’m up to 20 minutes, plus an hour one evening, but that’s because their naps changed. It’s all new to me, but what I’m discovering so far is that the same stuff comes up around 10 minutes as it did for 120 minutes—as in, today sucks, I have nothing, or hey, that was productive! or, I hate this, or, I can’t wait! or
any various versions. It’s like a little microcosm of the old thing. I can’t write as much, but I can write something, and it feels good to be making a piece of my day writing-related, since I’m up to the ears in baby details. Also, I did the 2 hours a day for 17 years, so I was ready to shake it up. I was starting to feel a little tied to it.
BA: Let’s talk a bit about Southern California. You were born in L.A., grew up there, live there and presently teach there in your capacity as a professor of English with USC’s creative writing and literature program. You got your MFA down the street in Irvine and your BA at UC-San Diego. Much of your writing is situated there, and in “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” your character Rose Edelstein uses her extrasensory palate to distinguish California orange slices from Florida ones, as though there were some sweeter quality of California-ness innate in those fruits beyond their subtle difference of taste. What is it about Southern California that makes it home for you? How do you make sense of that place in your writing? AB: I seem to be traveling up and down the coast of California, since I spent a few years in Northern CA in the middle of all those places you listed but all still within the state for the most part. I didn’t really expect to be an adult in L.A. but I also felt intrigued to try it out, to take the place I lived in as a kid, and to rediscover it on different terms. And, it helps that it’s a gargantuan metropolis, and one that has grown wonderfully in the last ten years in terms of the other arts. I also like underdogs, or like going against a city’s expectations. There are many things I don’t like about L.A.—the usual complaints—but I especially like being a fiction writer in a screenwriter’s city; I like being a reader who likes to
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walk here, I like wearing sweatpants in Hollywood. I just like pushing against the assumptions. I once told a friend that if I moved to Portland I might become a Neo-Con. Like that.
BA: Our favorite section of your website has got to be the writing exercises page. In the past it’s asked us to imagine a “fortune teller who is half correct” and “an unrealistic New Year’s resolution.” Right now it’s conceiving of a mechanical problem in an air-conditioned dome. Where do these ideas come from? Why give them away online rather than build on them yourself? AB: There are boundless writing exercises to do and I’ve found that if it’s fresh for me, it tends to come out fresher for the students or writers doing them so in that way tossing them into the wind seems good for all. I mean, I can use them too if I want. I’m so glad you like it and hope you use it! I also just really believe in the writing exercise as such a useful way to jog one’s mind out of its usual pathways into something new—it shuts down the inner critic a bit. So I guess even making them up is an exercise for me.
BA: What ideas have you had that have blown you away at the moment of
their conception? They didn’t have to develop into your favorite stories, nor any stories at all – we’re just wondering when you’ve known by instinct that you’ve hit on something special. What separates a “keeper” from a passing flash of inspiration? AB: You know, it’s only in the writing that it happens, or happens meaningfully, when I’m sitting and actually typing, so as an idea, no idea really stands out. So many seem interesting and then on the page as they go along turn flat so I can’t even recall which ones those were since they soured when tried out. I’m still interested in the idea of a person who can find lost items, as in the story “Loser”, but just because it seems like something I could write more about someday. I find it repeatedly interesting that lost items are somewhere. It gets to me.
BA: Our personal favorite “idea” is probably from “Drunken Mimi,” which appeared in your debut collection, The Girl With the Flammable Skirt. There’s just something about a high school imp on stilts falling in love with a mermaid who has this hypersensitive, almost sexually energized hair... it proves difficult to forget. The finished product is only six pages, but the thought of it is so gorgeously surreal that it could grab a reader in half that space. Where did that come from? Were you still a student at Irvine when this story was generated, and if so, what did your workshop make of it? AB: Fun to hear this. I was at Irvine, doing my MFA, and had felt very encouraged by the workshop to try things out, so it was great fun to turn that into a grad workshop, when just a few months before I was sure they would never accept such a thing. They were wonderfully supportive; I had such an open group of peers sitting around the table with me. I don’t know where it
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came from, as it just seemed to develop as the story went along, but in retrospect it seems the true main thing about a mermaid is her lack of a lower body. Wonderful poet Matthea Harvey recently turned out a book with a load of mermaid poems in it and she did this great interview at “The Paris Review”; they asked her ‘why mermaids?’, and this is what she said: “Because they’re sex objects who can’t have sex. Because there’s a whole school of gender issues swimming around them. Because we live among so many unspoken boundaries that sometimes it’s a relief to have such an explicit one. Because we all know the feeling of being divided and not belonging. Because we don’t acknowledge our animal selves enough.”
BA: You’re very upfront about building your stories around spectacular conceits. Many begin with these great world-setting hooks, like, “My lover is experiencing reverse evolution” and “The ogre’s wife was a good woman.” Why jump-start a story that way? Is there a difference in process between those that have hooks and those that do not? AB: So, I think you are giving me more of a sense of intention here than I have when writing. There is no ‘why’. There really is no workable plan. I’ve been thinking about this a lot these days, and want to try to write some kind of essay or something about it. Because I don’t sit down with a goal and when I do, it spectacularly fails, about 99 percent of the time. So the reason those stories start that way is simply because I found the sentence had enough in it to lead me to another stenence and on and on until there was a story to look at and rework. And, that many other times, conceits or openings fall on their faces and don’t work. What you see is something I felt worked enough to show other people.
For the ones that don’t have hooks, it’s the same deal—something inside the sentence felt charged enough to lead me to the next line. And then discoveries happen from there. It all is important to me, as an idea—that a writer doesn’t need to sit down with any intention at all, except, probably, to try to be open to what bubbles up. I say ‘probably’ because it will bubble up anyway and sometimes you don’t even need to be open to it! You just need to sit there and get bored enough to do something.
BA: Reading through your portfolio, it’s obvious that you’re one of those peculiarly blessed types for whom short story writing and novel writing appear to come with equal ease. Is that true? How do you distinguish between those budding stories that are to become shorts and those that grow up into full-fledged novels? Might we someday see a novel length revisiting of a past short story? AB: Thank you, that’s very nice of you. I find novels harder but also more fascinating in a way because there is a greater wandering time and it takes longer to hit on the line that will pull through that many pages. Especially because I can’t plan—I have tried to plan but the wandering seems to be the way to go. A story can go as long as it goes and then drop. It’s hard to describe how I distinguish between them except a story has a different velocity inside it and a novel seems to want to ask more questions, to open up more, and because of that, I can’t seem to make a story into a novel. A story once done seems to be done, even if I liked the characters.
BA: Perhaps one of the benefits (drawbacks?) of occupying such a high-profile 91
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position is that you’ve been interviewed and interviewed and re-interviewed to death, and a lot of those conversations have touched on a number of common topics (we apologize if we’ve gotten similarly redundant!). Is there anything we’re not asking that you’d like to tell us? Some thought on writing that’s been overlooked? AB: I am, in truth, kind of promiscuous with my interviews! I have done a lot of them. I keep saying yes when people ask. But they seem to energize me, is the truth, too—I like talking about writing, and it reminds me what I love about writing, so it is a little like a chiropractic experience for me. No other topics, no, but I do like these questions, so thank you! They were fun to answer.
Amy Sacka is a Detroit-based photo journalist. Her path to photography started when she became a writer at Getty Images. She got to look at professional shots everyday, hear world-class, award-winning photographers talk about their craft and help art directors pick out the best photos for their collaborations. It gave her a foundation for understanding what makes a photo work.
Her current interest is in the city of Detroit. It’s the city next to her hometown and
she is fascinated by everything about it. She moved there to discover what it’s really about — beyond the headlines and pictures of ruin we see in papers and magazines.
She is also curious about our culture’s evolving concept of “home.” She believes
that with our increasingly mobile, well-traveled world, we’re all encouraged to live anywhere and everywhere. And she personally has – from England to Australia and in various parts of the US. She’s been curious about what this mobility does to our ability to establish roots, to feel a belonging in a place that knows us. She wanted to see if moving closer to home would help her answer these questions, as well as learn more about Detroit, the city so many of us are taught to fear. Follow her online at: Facebook: Amy Sacka Photography Instagram: amysackaphotography Website: amysackaphotography.com ~ BUFFALO ALMANACK: It seems that the concept of “home” is a central theme in your projects. What is it about photography that makes it such a strong medium for exploration of this issue? AMY SACKA: Photos are simply a way into the questions I have about home.
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I’m not sure if they answer them, but they certainly make me think about them. For example, when I was taking pictures of the demolition of The Brewster Projects, it was because I happened to be driving by and something grabbed me visually. Maybe it was smoke from the demolition or skaters skating in the face of it. But later, when I was reviewing the photos, I could hear the songs of people who had lived there. Diana Ross is one of those people. I’d think, “This was someone’s home, and now it’s coming down. There are lifetimes in these buildings.” Maybe they’re eyesores that need to be bulldozed, but there’s also a grief in their removal, a sadness in the passing of things. I remember asking myself, “Will the land remember this history, will it remember the people who called it home? What will revitalization do to our history? Will we forget?” I try to write a little something with all of my photos, and these were the concepts I was thinking about at the time. Photos are always a beginning for me, instigating examination.
BA: As a harrowing “post-urban” space, Detroit’s contemporary identity has been marked and solidified by photography to a far greater degree than most other American cities. The legacy of “ruin porn” speaks to the harmful implications of this process. How did you seek to avoid this trap in your “Detroit Architecture” series? In what ways might you and other local photographers work to foster a positive photographic narrative for Detroit? AS: Like many photographers, I was initially attracted to abandoned Detroit. Who had seen anything like this? But a lot of that was coming from a spectator perspective. I was on the outside looking at Detroit as something that wasn’t my problem, the car crash on the side of the road. When I moved here, everything became personal. I am living it now. And honestly, taking pictures of ruin
became boring to me.
What did interest me were buildings like the Guardian, the Fisher Building,
the Yamasakis – stunning buildings that were blocks away from me this whole time that I knew nothing about growing up. I’m doubtful many of my friends were aware of them either. How could this be? And again, it’s not necessarily that the buildings exist, it’s the question – how come I didn’t know about them? Maybe I’ve been missing a big part of the Detroit story. That interested me.
Not to mention all the amazing people I was meeting just walking on the
street every day. They were friendly, joyous, welcoming, kind. The Detroit I was getting to know wasn’t something to fear, and that surprised me. That’s what my camera gravitated toward. I didn’t necessarily set out to photograph positive Detroit, I just wanted to shoot what inspired me or what provoked questions in me. Even the good things about Detroit made me question my distant relationship with Detroit in the past. Who are all these people I know nothing about?
That said, I’m not sure I’d encourage other photographers to shoot Detroit
in the same vein. Only because I think photographers should shoot what interests them individually. If it’s the ruin of Detroit, maybe that helps the photographer understand the city or their own grief in a more intimate way. Each photographer has to decide how he or she is going to get to the truth.
BA: A number of samples from your “Lost & Found in Detroit” series feature comments from your photographic subjects. How do you approach conversations with these persons? In what ways do these discussions transform the meaning of your images? AS: The conversations are as much a part of the photo as the photo itself,
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whether they accompany the photo in a post or just remain in my memory. Sometimes I will see people who look intriguing to me and I will approach them and tell them what I see in them. I often try to ask them about their relationship with Detroit – do you live here, how long, why did you stay, do you want to leave? I am interested in why people come and go, and why people stay – maybe because I’ve always longed to belong to a place, and I wonder what gives people a sense of belonging. Is it being in a place for years on end, is it having a connection since childhood, or is it just that the place suits your personality?
Other times, people will see me with my camera and ask me to take their
picture. I admire people who want to show themselves to me. The photo starts the conversation and is a way in to that person’s interior. They might not see it that way, but I do.
BA: “Lost & Found in Detroit” and “The Next 500 Days” are both extensive projects, the former covering a documentary span of 500 days in real time, the latter only now a fifth of the way toward that goal. How have these
undertakings evolved over time? What have been the most surprising discoveries you’ve made in their progress? AS: When I came up with the idea for this project, I was living in Seattle. I had lived in different cities around the world before that, but I never quite felt at home in any these places. I moved back home to Detroit to see if living in the area of my childhood would garner a deeper sense of belonging for me.
In my first series, “Lost and Found in Detroit,” I was freshly arrived and
stumbling toward those answers. That series reflects this strange relationship I had with the city – I knew the city because I grew up in the suburbs around it, but there were so many things I didn’t know about it. “Lost and Found in Detroit” feels almost like a traveler’s photos, discovering new sights, sounds and people, and tapping into questions about rootlessness and trying to belong.
“The Next 500 Days” is from the perspective of someone who has now
been in Detroit for two years. Now, I actually even own a home in Detroit, so I’m committing myself to being here. I’m interested in how the photos will change as my roots grow. In this series, I think my photos will show a deeper complexity in composition and subject matter. I’m guessing they will lean into more of the issues affecting Detroit, and my own involvement in them as I become more engaged.
BA: How do you approach photographing architectural materials compared to human portraiture? AS: In some senses, there is no difference in approach. I always lead with feeling. How does what’s inside the frame feel to me? Does it stir something in me? Do I want to know more about it? Whether it’s a building or a person, I’m always sensing something about the geometric beauty of a scene, the spatial
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relationship between objects, the patterns created by color and lines. But it’s not analytical, it’s a gut reaction to the moment or the scene and how it’s arranging itself in front of me.
BA: What are the greatest challenges of person-centered street photography? AS: Choosing when to engage and when to be invisible. Most street photographers strive to be invisible. And often the result is photos that exhibit great spontaneity and a very authentic relationship with the moment, capturing how life is truly behaving. There’s a certain magic about that. However, the trade-off can be detachment – a photo that doesn’t get to the interior of people. When I choose to engage with people, I see more, in a very personal and intimate way. There’s a magic about those moments too. I’m always juggling how involved I want to be.
BA: It’s a simple question, but an important one: What makes Detroiters special? What message, if any, are you trying to tell the world about Detroit? AS: Detroit is true to itself. It’s not trying to be something that’s it’s not. And in that sense, it feels more genuine and real than other cities that have a wealth of financial resources. As far as what I want to say about Detroit, maybe it’s simply that the pictures only tell a sliver of the story, come see for yourself.
Review – The City Lost and Found at the AIC
In the midst of acts of civil disobedience and rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri and throughout many other American cities, “The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960-1980” at the Art Institute of Chicago presents the potential for contemporary exhibitions to act not simply as social currency, but as significant sites of understanding, hope, and healing. The show, in all its archival glory, provided a strange sense of comfort against the recent exposure of our cities’ long-standing fractures in highly publicized reactions to racist police brutality. On the one hand,
the exhibition demonstrates that these spaces of violence have persisted in multifarious ways for many decades. On the other hand, “The City Lost and Found” also shows that these dissonant moments provide some of the most thrilling, authentic, and important scenes for art as social practice. This is not to aestheticize the pain of racism, poverty, crime, and other themes in twentieth-century American urban history, but to argue that art has offered and can offer still the most comprehensive, emotional, and ethical lens with which to view these significant issues. If anything, the show’s vastness proves just how much artists care about and engage with American cities and their citizens. The Art Institute’s curatorial contextualization, for its part, proves the historical significance and appropriateness of these engagements. The limits of this context, however, raise interesting questions about the limits of historical usefulness.
Let me emphasize my positionality in this review: by pure coincidence,
this exhibition was pretty much made for me. Nothing interests me more than the expansive visual language with which American cities were described in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The show includes photography, drawings, mixed media, film, and documents of visual culture. Featured artists included Romare Bearden, Martha Rosler, Gordon Matta-Clark, Allan Kaprow, Bruce Davidson, and dozens more icons (and should-be icons) of 20th century art. The result is a constellation of works across these cities and years. Although each city was given a distinct narrative, from a distance the lines between New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were unclear. Although when taken from a detailed historical perspective this may appear problematic, it does speak to a larger aesthetic (and, indeed, historic) theme connecting these points in space and time. The “look” hinges on documentary realism. Photography features most
Review – The City Lost and Found at the AIC
prominently in the show, and per usual the Art Institute does an excellent job providing the art form the dignity and intellect it deserves. Bruce Davidson’s significant contribution to documentary photography, a two-year (1966-1968) portrait of a single block in East Harlem, is described as “[offering] the public a complex image of urban life and experience while also allowing architects, planners, and journalists to imagine and propose new futures for American cities.
This statement from the Art Institute parallels much of the language used
currently to described art in American cities — most notably, Detroit, Michigan. Although the New York, Chicago, and L.A. trio makes most geographic sense from a curator’s point of view, Detroit could have been included in a major way to even further develop the show’s contextual framework. Photographs and artwork made surrounding the 1967 Twelfth Street Riot should have at least been mentioned alongside images of the Watts Rebellion of 1965, Chicago’s uprisings at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and New York’s 1964 Harlem race riot. After all, the riots in the summer of 1967 (most notably Detroit and Newark, New Jersey) gave magazines such as LIFE, which featured heavily throughout the show, some of its most provocative images and stories. Perhaps, though, images of Detroit would have fit too soberly in the Art Institute’s vision. “Architects, planners, and journalists” are certainly proposing “new futures” for Detroit right now, but that immediately references the “blank canvas” trope of the blasted city. New York, Chicago, and L.A. are not framed as grimly in contemporary imagination (interpretations such as “Chiraq” notwithstanding). Detroit’s omission is not necessarily a fault of the exhibition; rather, it speaks to the motivations of the show. The exhibit is hopeful overall, emphasizing city as a space for aesthetic (re)imagination.
“The City Lost and Found” is simply too large to summarize in a written
review. It stands alone as its own narrative, and the book publication of the show is ambitious in its duplication and expansion of materials included in the museum. Perhaps the most touching and emblematic piece to summarize the show is Romare Bearden’s “The Block” collages. These twodimensional assemblages are tremendous and take up a large portion of the New York section’s wall space. With his characteristic spirited application and arrangement, Bearden uses photographs, drawing, and bits of paper to lovingly create an entire Harlem block. Vignettes of individual apartments suggest the multitude of interwoven, yet individual stories — stories of hard work, heartbreak, success, struggle, and love—that characterize the urban landscape. The layered materials only further drives home this seemingly infinite complexity. At the Art Institute of Chicago, “The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960-1980” begins the vital act of capturing this complexity and narrating it for the public today. THE CITY LOST AND FOUND: CAPTURING NEW YORK, CHICAGO, AND LOS ANGELES, 1960-1980 Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago Chicago, IL October 26, 2014-January 11th, 2015
Review â€“ Station Eleven
At the height of the Ebola frenzy, on the day the fourth infected person
was admitted to a U.S. hospital, Emily St. John Mandelâ€™s fourth novel, Station Eleven, arrived on store shelves. The timing could not have been better for this post-apocalyptic novel, which is built upon the premise of a world decimated by a virulent flu.
The story begins on a snowy night in a Toronto theatre where aging and
troubled Hollywood star Arthur Leander dies of a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. Eight-year-old actress Kirsten watches from just feet away as the other actors, confused by the unexpected drama, move aside for audience member Jeevan to perform CPR. Eventually, Jeevan pulls the young
girl away from the scene, depositing her with her wrangler before getting a call from a doctor friend: The flu is here. Leave now. In the short span of pages that follows, Mandel sets all of the key pieces in play: a child actor, a man with a complex connection to a fallen celebrity and the hint of death still to come. As Arthur’s fellow thespians gather to raise a glass in remembrance, Mandel writes, “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.”
Some will be put off by the lack of description Mandel offers of the epidemic
or the resulting chaos. Jeevan describes it merely as “the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through his life.” The book itself takes this same approach – delineating the before and the after with the precision of a surgeon’s knife: “There was the flu that exploded like a neutron bomb over the surface of the earth and the shock of the collapse that followed.”
Mandel spends a mere seven paragraphs orienting the reader to this new
Earth: “No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights…No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light…No more countries…No more police…No more Internet. No more social media…No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room.” And then, suddenly, it is twenty years later.
In the “post-collapse” era, the tiny miracles of electricity, of automobiles
and packaged foods, of computers and telephones are vague memories. The day-to-day is instead about mere survival: food, water, shelter, safety. Kirsten, just eight when the flu swept away 99% of the population, is now in her late twenties and living with a traveling symphony whose caravan proclaims in its painted lettering, “Survival is insufficient.” In these new Dark Ages, the music
Review – Station Eleven
and theatre bring small communities rare diversions, although some are not as welcoming as others.
The arts play a significant role in the book. There are, of course, the
Shakespearian troupes and the symphony players who form the small band of entertainers, but there are also rescued books, illuminating tattoos, newspapers, museums, and the comic book the novel is named for. Here Mandel reminds us that the things we fear losing – the things that make our modern world function – are not what truly matter. We can do without the WiFi and the Cloud, without the cell phones and televisions, but we cannot do without the things that sing to our hearts.
There is little linear about this novel. It bounces in time and in character,
exploring the long life of Arthur, glimpsing Jeevan’s past and present, touching on the lives of stranded airline passengers, and, most prominently, showing the post-pandemic world of Kirsten and the traveling Symphony. At times, especially in the first half, these people seem, at most, only loosely connected, and at other times, nearly random. But the stories eventually intertwine into a tapestry of lives that show how each of us becomes a ripple in another’s journey through this world.
Station Eleven is a 2014 National Book Award Finalist, and rightly so.
This book is equal parts haunting and equal parts uplifting, both poetry and prophecy. In our own time of Ebola and swine flu, of the fear of pandemics and the chaos that may result, Mandel takes us to the edge of the worst case scenario and drops us over the cliff, proving in the process that hope can endure. Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel Knopf 352 pages, $14.97 108
Past Perfect Review – The Dollmaker
If you haven’t heard of The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow, blame William Faulkner. Apparently, the powers that be determined 1954 was his year to win the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, which he did for his work A Fable – a book that ultimately failed to earn a spot in the canon of his best works. The Dollmaker was in the running for those prizes that same year. If it had won, it very well might have become standard reading for high school juniors, American Studies majors, or at least for earnest English majors across this land. In my opinion, every teacher you’ve ever had should have told you to
Jody Hobbs Hesler
read this book.
Why? Because The Dollmaker is about everything. It is the quintessential
Great American Novel.
It’s about rural America and love for the land. It’s about World War II
and how it robbed communities, especially rural ones, of their men, leaving them without farmhands, teachers, drivers, doctors or mechanics. It’s about the transfer of rural culture to cities for factory work and how this transition strangled the self-sufficiency and identity out of the people who had to move. It’s about family, about caring for your own against phenomenal losses. It’s about community, in all its savagery and splendor. It’s about early unions and the fight for fair labor practices. It’s about one powerful woman, emblematic of all powerful women, held back by religious and social custom and her role within her family. It’s about how hard it is for a woman to allow herself to be an artist.
Gertie Nevels is a Kentucky farmer, descended from generations of farmers
before her. Her family’s land is entailed to her brother, so she and her husband Clovis work as tenant farmers, paying their rent in labor and produce. Clovis’s work as a tinkerer and mechanic, fixing mostly coal machinery and the odd automobile, adds to their income, except they soon find coal miners and passing cars in short supply during the War. Gertie’s dream is to buy land so she and her family can keep all the fruits of their labors, afford to get the littlest bit ahead, and so she might have evenings free to whittle as much as she pleases. She has this piece of cherry wood, and one day she will have time to free the face she sees lurking behind the grain.
Gertie is the heart and soul of this book. Of all characters I’ve met in
literature, she is by far the most vivid. If she walked into the room, I would
Past Perfect Review – The Dollmaker
know her at once. She would be taller than all of the women and most of the men – formidable and ungainly. She would be built for hard work, with chapped hands, sun-and-wind-roughed skin. Her hair would be mussed. She would have a look of concentration and would be in the middle of an important daily task. Short a task important enough, she would busy her hands with her carving, which she saved for times when she had satisfied every other demand. For Gertie, the demands are endless.
The opening scene presents a perfect example of the expanse of Gertie’s
responsibilities, as well as her virtually unstoppable resilience. In it, she rides her donkey to the road, flags down a car, and coerces a military officer into giving her a ride to the hospital to get help for her ailing son, Amos. We learn later that he has diphtheria. All we know at first is that Gertie will stop at nothing to save him. She even gives the boy a roadside tracheotomy, whittling a tiny pipe out of a twig in order to let him breathe.
Further evidence of Gertie’s self-sufficiency comes when, after years and
years working various tenant farms while Clovis made scattershot money with his “tinkering,” she manages to save enough money to buy her own place – the Tipton place. In order to do this, she scrimps little bits of money from her labors around the farm and combines it with the money from the sale of her brother Henley’s livestock, which he bequeathed to her after his death in the War. Having her own place would mean that “[n]ever, never would she have to move again; never see again that weary, sullen look on Reuben [her eldest son]’s face that came when they worked together in a field not their own, and he knew that half his sweat went to another man.”
Fearful of Clovis’s furture, Gertie prepares her children for the day the
Tipton place will be theirs, telling them, “[b]ut pretty’s th least uv it. It’ll be
Jody Hobbs Hesler
warm in th winter an cool in th summer, an no matter how hard th wind blows that house’ll never shake, an th hard north wind’ull never tetch it” (57). Gertie feels the horror of the War in the loss of her brother, but expresses hope that “[i]t was if the war and Henley’s death had been a plan to help set her and her children free so that she might live and be beholden to no man, not even to Clovis” (151). This worldview signifies liberation from custom and convention, ushering in a social order that recognizes, validates, and thrives on Gertie’s strengths and skills.
But that social order never arrives. Clovis winds up in Detroit instead of in
battle. He wants his family to be with him, and the power of custom dictates what happens next. As states the prior owner of the Tipton Place, “I cain’t let a piece a land come atween a woman an her man an her people.”
Detroit is no Paradise, and every aspect of the place seems bent on
facilitating Gertie’s undoing. Their new home is in a project so recently constructed that even the cab driver who takes them there from the train station has never heard of it. Inside, her impression of the place does not improve. “The tired, hungry, shivering children looked at Gertie, their eyes asking and expecting of her the warmth and food she had always given,” and for the first time in her children’s lives, she has no idea what to do next.
Uprooted and without direction, Gertie finds little left of her own familiar
self. Her “whittlen” offers her only solace. In the beginning, in her special block of wood “[t]here was only the top of a head, tilted forward a little, bowed, or maybe only looking down, but plainly someone there, crouching, a secret being hidden in the wood, waiting to rise and shed the wood and be done with the hiding.” As Gertie develops the carving in spare and stolen moments, she cuts her sorrows into it, and “…more than her walks through the alleys among
Past Perfect Review – The Dollmaker
the tumultuous sea of children the man in the wood gave rest and peace from thoughts of the things lost behind her and the things ahead she feared” (563).
As the work progresses, everyone who sees it has an opinion about whose
face might be peeking out of the wood. The devoutly Catholic Mrs. Daly sees the Blessed Mary. Gertie’s daughter Cassie sees her trouble-making imaginary friend, Callie Lou. Gertie goes back and forth, sometimes picturing a laughing Jesus, other times Judas, the moment before he returns the pieces of silver.
Everyone who sees it admires it, asks after it. Clearly, Gertie is more artist
than whittler. Her hand-carved dolls and toys begin to fetch attention and paying customers. She labors over the work with the focus and care of an artist, but her husband sees opportunity. He and “the tool-and-die man” he befriends soon outfit a jigsaw to cut patterns for dolls and other items so that Gertie may mass-produce her merchandise. Need, demands and expectations once again rub the life out of those things that Gertie loves.
It is the power of change that drives all of these threads: the importance and
the dangers of adjusting, those things you lose and those things you gain. Gertie loses her heritage, the opportunity to thrive by the work of her own hands, the fabric of her family and even the art of her “whittlen.” What she gains is harder to name. Maybe it’s the dreaded “adjustment” she speaks sharply against when teachers at the school seem determined to bend her children to the new, harsher ways of city life. Whatever she gains, it’s clear that in this new place it’s her losses that now define her. The Dollmaker Harriette Arnow Scribner 549 pages, $28.49
Jody Hobbs Hesler
ruce Bales is able to see things from all angles. In the blink of a second Bruce will have already surrounded his subject, imagining it from all vantage points and deciding where to click his shutter. His eye for photography is that of an eagleâ€™s stalking the shores of the Mississippi in the dead of winter. Just as the eagle must hunt, it is out of necessity that Bruce makes photographs.
oberto Bettacchi is an Italian hobbyist fine art photographer (street, scapes, travel). Born in Rome, where he lives. Photography is one of his great passions. He loves to freeze moments of life, causing emotions. Usually he shoots in raw format, personally taking care of the digital enhancing process.
llen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He works in many mediums: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles and digital media in art and design at Bellevue College, receiving degrees in web multimedia, authoring and digital video production.
udith Goode was born and raised in New York City. She attended the High School of Music & Art, with a major in music, and Bard College with a major in languages and literature. She received a Traveling Fulbright and an Italian Government Award to study in Italy. She received a full fellowship to the Writerâ€™s Workshop at the University of Iowa. Goodeâ€™s short stories have appeared in Calliope, Forge and the Bangalore Review.
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
hristian Hayden lives in Chicago, IL. He is the winner of the 2013 William Richey Short Fiction Contest. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot, Yemassee, decomP, Great Lakes Review and others.
ody Hobbs Hesler lives and writes in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fiction, feature articles, essays, and book reviews appear or are forthcoming in The Georgia Review, PANK, Steel Toe Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Prime Number, Pearl, Charlottesville Family Magazine, A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah and other places. You can find out more at jodyhobbshesler. com.
arah Ann Loreth is the cofounder and instructor at The Wild Ones, Inc., an annual summer traveling workshop tour and nonprofit organization set up to aide in the growth of photographic artists by providing affordable education in both photographic techniques and business consulting while providing a supportive and ongoing global community.
hannon Perri lives in Austin with her husband and menagerie of pets. She is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Texas State University and holds a Masterâ€™s degree in Social Work from the University of Texas. Her writing has previously appeared in Fiddleblack and In The Fray.
ason Stocks was born in Arkansas and raised in Mississippi. He received his BFA from Goddard College and his MFA from Pine Manor College. His passions include architectural preservation, social work, and all forms of environmental stewardship. Presently he shares a small apartment in south Florida with one super-sweet king snake named Sophie, a chihuahua named Bubby, and two timid tarantulas.
hris Vanjonack is an undergraduate studying English Education and Creative Writing at Colorado State University. His fiction has appeared previously in Crack the Spine and The Greyrock Review.
eidi Willis is the author of the novel Some Kind of Normal. Her work has appeared in The Potomac Review, PANK, Fiction Writers Review and Campus Life. Willis received her MFA in creative writing from Pacific University and currently lives in Virginia where she works as an editor and college writing tutor.
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
M ax Vande Vaarst is the founder of Buffalo Almanack and serves as its
Fiction Editor. Maxâ€™s work has been featured in such publications as A cappella Zoo, JMWW and Jersey Devil Press. He received his B.A. in English and History from Purdue University. He is currently living in Laramie, Wyoming and is pursuing an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Wyoming.
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 trying to make a stable living with said degree. 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. 6 - Dec. 2014
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 clientâ€™s needs. He received his B.A. in architecture from Columbia University in 1977 and lives in Philadelphia.
lesser-known element of the famed Paul Bunyan legend, Johnny Inkslinger served as Bunyanâ€™s office clerk and bookkeeper. To keep up with the demands of his bossâ€™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 art piece of each issue, as selected by our editors. The cash prize as of December 2014 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 personal checks or money orders will be delivered to the winners via the U.S.P.S. sometime during that same month.
Issue No. 6 - Dec. 2014
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. What then are we looking for? Well, we’re looking for greatness. We’re looking for rich and muscular prose, for stories that make us believe we’ll never read better. We’re looking for plot, for character, for setting, for diction. We’re looking for a writer’s best because the world deserves their best and we know they’ve got what it takes to deliver. Concerning the visual arts, we invest in a diverse range of subjects and styles (with an emphasis on photography). 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.
Short fiction from Chris Vanjonack, Shannon Perri, Christian Hayden and Judith Goode.