I s s u e N o. 7
Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst
Copyright ÂŠ 2015 Buffalo Almanack. All writing and photography property of their respective authors. Cover art by Justin Hamm. 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 Like us at facebook.com/buffaloalmanack On second thought, social media confuses us and we are people who are old.
For Bob Howe, 1928-2015 40 years a trainman on Indianaâ€™s Monon Railroad, a hard worker, caring husband, father and grandfather, loved by many.
Fine Art – “First Snow”
“First Snow” Mia Avramut Wax on clayboard
“I come from two worlds, which some insist on calling ‘Old’ and ‘New.’ My visual work — in acrylic, encaustic, ink, or mixed media — is an amalgam of recollections, glimpses, and observations of each. This particular work, which I call ‘First Snow,’ is a European memory, born out of my fascination with encaustic, the ancient medium of wax: The way it flows, captures the moment as if in amber, and ultimately reflects the light in a unique manner. The suggestion of tree bark stems from a dream of birch trees in the Ruhr valley, and from an affinity for Russian literature and film.
I used layering, carving, and scraping techniques to render the fragmented image of a landscape behind the curtain of snow. The resulting atmosphere and texture illustrate how versatile a vehicle wax can be, and how powerful in preserving and revealing images that would otherwise remain unseen.”
Fine Art – “First Snow” Mia Avramut
Editors’ Note Maxine Vande Vaarst Katie Morrison
Photography Eleanor Leonne Bennett
Fishtown, Down Michael Deagler
Woodshop Talk An Interview with Michael Deagler
Featured Comix Devon McFarland
Comix – “Two Birds” Peter Witte
Quo Vadis Jacob Michael King
Call for Submissions – “Where Thou Art”
Photography Justin Hamm
Woodshop Talk An Interview with Justin Hamm
Issue No. 7 - March 2015
Pressure Flaking Eric Boehling Lewis
Featured Photographer Frank Hallam Day
The Rendezvous Makenzie Barron
THE TAIL END (Presented by Midwestern Gothic) Dispatches from the Artistic Frontier
Interview Loli Kantor
Interview Ravi Mangla
A Selected Reading from “True Trans Soul Rebel” Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst
Review: Love Me Back Kelsey Osgood
PAST PERFECT Review: Maggie Cassidy Bridey Heing
Are you ready!? Are you reaaaaaaaaaady? Are you reaaaaaaaaaady for some incrementaaaaaaaaaal improooooooooovements!? (Activate Halloweencolored strobe lights.) (Activate fog machine.) (Activate boom box containing CD [Jock Jams, Vol. 2], taking care to skip voice track of ESPN personalities Dan Patrick and Chris “Boomer” Berman, moving directly into hour-long loop of 2 Unlimited.) Yes, Buffalo Almanack continues to get a little bit better by piecemeal, just like last issue! Much like rust, we do not sleep. Sometimes literally so. Because it’s 6am on release day and we’ve been slapping this thing together for so long now that the anchors on the TV news are already calling tonight “yesterday.” What can we say? The best things in life are those that happen at the latest possible minute, to the direct detriment of your physical and mental health. Never forget that.
Right, the improvements. Best one’s got to be our new Woodshop Talk
feature, in which we interview our two Inkslinger winners about the very stories and photographs they’ve published in this issue. Michael Deagler and Justin Hamm, our two masters in Creative Excellence, have so much goodness to offer on pages 31 and 73. Or, if, you know, words aren’t your thing, we’ve got comix now! The ever-spectacular featured artist Devon McFarland gets the ball rolling on this brave new medium with his deliciously fucked series “Boo Hoo” on page 35, followed immediately by Peter Witte with his grand minimalist one-off “Two Birds.” Remember: Buffalo Almanack is nothing if not a friend to all visual art forms, no matter how many colors, panels or fair use-protected Garfield cameos
Issue No. 7 - March 2015
they contain! Well, except sculpture. How would we even publish something like that? Fuck sculpture.
Perhaps most exciting of all, we’re also opening a public Call for Submissions
for our first-ever theme issue, “Where Thou Art.” We’re looking for short stories, creative non-fiction essays (another first!) and visual arts that represent your hometowns, home states, home countries and general happy places...and we’re offering cash prizes for those homely enough to step to the plate. Skip on over to page 61 to learn more!
Speaking of pages, you’ll also notice that this issue is basically 200 pages
long. That’s insane. Consider it a benefit of our online-only publishing platform. Consider it also the reason we haven’t gone to sleep yet. Let our insomnia become your satisfaction with expanded interviews starring photographer Loli Kantor and author Ravi Mangla, globe-hopping and eye-popping photojournalism from Frank Hallam Day and – as always – four of the best short fictions you’ll ever read, courtesy of Jacob Michael King, Eric Boehling Lewis, Makenzie Barron and the aforementioned Mr. Deagler.
It’s going to be one incredible issue – the best since the last and the best until
Y’all ready for this?
All the best, Max and Katie Editors
Eleanor Leonne Bennett
â€œI took this photo I wanted to embrace the texture of a food stuff as a medium. The little dots are just cous cous. I think it works to make a slightly unsettling image.â€?
Eleanor Leonne Bennett
Mangan had stayed for the funeral and two nights of drinking after, but
then had flown to Texas and a new sort of life. He left straight from the bar for the airport, or so Monk seemed to remember it: Mangan standing in the double doors of the tavern’s entrance, shrugging his shoulders into his suit jacket, saying that the old times had ended and that they all might as well get started on the new ones. “There are slow transitions and abrupt transitions,” he said. “This was an abrupt transition. Terribly fucking abrupt.” Like that.
Monk spent one last night alone in the empty rowhouse. Mangan’s things
were gone, and Denhelder’s had been picked up by his brothers or left out on the curb to be rifled through by the unwashed. Monk had looked on numbly as a fiend shuffled off in a pair of his friend’s sneakers. He thought about going out to stop the man but could think of no real reason to do so. Monk had few objects of his own in the house. He had never officially been on the lease and, as a result, had never officially moved in. Not that he ever had much to move, anywhere he lived. Each passing year out of college seemed to winnow away at his possessions, and by now he no longer needed boxes to contain them. When he left early the next evening, after locking the door and dropping the keys in the mail slot, Monk walked off with only a canvas grocery bag and a chipped coffee mug, appearing to all the world like he had spent the day in the dumpster of the local NPR affiliate.
It was June in Philadelphia. Kensington sat muggy and still along the
Delaware. Monk had the last pulses of a hangover rolling like a swell from the front of his skull to the back, the sort shaped by troubled sleep and a strong injection of caffeine. Normally he would have had a few drinks by now, but the refrigerator had been empty and he had superstitiously avoided Denhelder’s
remaining bourbon. He left the bottle alone on the kitchen counter when he locked the place up. A mistake, perhaps. But the late hangover was tolerable, the way rare sensations, even unpleasant ones, can be tolerable. In a way, he enjoyed it. The heat, fatigue and chemicals had engendered in him a complacent, end-ofthe-world buoyancy. The sky was clear and he felt inclined to find it beautiful.
Monk turned off small, crumbly Amber Street onto broader, crumbly
Frankford Avenue for what would be, he noted mawkishly, the last time. After all, no gentrifier can ever inhabit the same street twice, for it is not the same street and it is not the same gentrifier. Monk had few concrete plans for the future. Rather, he knew only that it lay before him in the same manner as the Philadelphia skyline: startling and brilliant, but obscured from view by many blocks of rowhouses. His docket for the evening contained only a drink at the Hall in Fishtown with the owners of a local film production company to discuss a possible writing gig. The meeting was a final gift of sorts from Mangan, who seemed to feel slightly guilty about leaving Monk jobless and homeless at the same time.
“I told them you write,” Mangan had said. “They’re good guys. They get
stuff made. And they’ll pay for drinks.”
Mangan had also said, when Monk promised to visit him in Austin, “Not too
soon. Don’t take this the wrong way, Monk, but I’d really love to see you again a year or so from now.” The comment had colored their farewell a bit.
The Hall was about twelve blocks down Frankford Avenue. Monk had made
the walk, drunk and sober, often enough that it felt like an easy distance. To take the El would be a waste of two bucks, the way a cup of coffee was a waste, or a Bic lighter. Impecunious times called for the sacrifice of conveniences in favor of necessities: booze, cigarettes, rent. And it had been a while since he had made
the full rent. Anyway, Monk understood austerity. He was a man of simple tastes, when it came right down to it. He was a writer, and though he was not starving, he thought it wise to remain broke and generally malnourished. For the art.
Kensington became Fishtown south of York Street, and the shift was
demarcated by the first appearances of the fish-adorned address signs. Just as Christians had marked their tombs in the catacombs of ancient Rome, Fishtowners marked their houses with the fish signs as a way to assert their continuing residency in the face of the young, upwardly-mobile horde that swarmed into their borders from trendier, southerly neighborhoods. It was the profile of a blue-backed shad. The founding fish, John McPhee had called it, and it had lent its name to the neighborhood because, historically, the local economy was based on catching the fish. Or canning it. Or selling it, or something. Monk wasnâ€™t a hundred percent on that. Monk was only vaguely aware of the shad, in the way that he was only vaguely aware of most things. He was vaguely aware of the fact that he needed to find somewhere to sleep that night, and that, sooner or later, he would also need to find employment, a fixed residence, a topic for his first book, love, enlightenment, etc. He had been hashing most of this out with Denhelder over the past few months, but they had never come to any hard conclusions. Life is a tough shad to lure, as the local saying probably went. But what Monk needed most was a very large beer.
From the outside, the Hall resembled the street-facing wall of any shuttered
industrial building, though one into which someone had cut large modern windows and a cavernous glass entranceway. The interior had the effect of a monastic cloister, with a ring of galleries surrounding an open beer garden,
anchored by rows of picnic tables and lit by saplings spangled in strands of soft electric bulbs. Monk was impressed. The Hall was new, an expensive first experiment by Philadelphia’s primary restaurant baron to expand his fiefdom into the river wards. Monk was a progressive cynic in that he was cynical of progress. He wanted to the hate the place, and yet it was so inviting and cheerful he decided to withhold judgment until he was drunk, in another bar and in more radical company.
The Hall was not crowded, and the filmmakers made themselves known to
Monk as soon as he wandered into the garden. “Mangan said you’d be wearing a truly ugly teal guayabera,” said one of them, offering Monk his hand. Monk silently cursed Mangan, who by now was probably safe on Texas terra firma. Monk was going through a one-shirt period of his life. Mangan knew that.
The filmmakers each had ten years on Monk, and yet they came across
boyishly in their topsiders and plaid shorts. The man who had made the shirt comment was called Giallo. He was the director and did most of the talking. The other was called Cronin and he seemed to be the money man. He also seemed rather humorless and ordered only a water when the waitress appeared. Giallo order a lambic in a small Belgian goblet. Monk ordered a liter of dunkel, which arrived in a cartoonishly large stein that he managed to mostly empty before having to say anything.
“Mangan told us about your friend,” Giallo was saying. “Dennis, was it?
“Denhelder,” said Monk, trying to catch the eye of the waitress again.
Denhelder would have ridiculed these bastards back to Center City, with their shorts and their sunglasses. “It’s just something that happens sometimes, I suppose.”
“That’s the sad truth,” said Giallo. “My aunt—”
Cronin interjected, his eyes like a tired jurist’s. “So you’ve worked on some
“No,” said Monk. “I was almost in a porno once, but I left before they started
Cronin frowned. Giallo, electing to take Monk’s answer as a joke, continued.
“Mangan told us you had written a few shorts.” “They were more sketches than short films. Comedy sketches, you know, for the Internet. That was back at school, when we all had a sense of humor.” Monk smiled the waitress over and ordered another liter.
“So what is it that you do, mostly?” asked Cronin.
“I write. I write and I jaunt.” “Jaunt?” asked Giallo. Monk nodded. “I go on jaunts, you know, to meet life and take it in. Mostly
I jaunt around Kensington. Tonight I’m jaunting in Fishtown. Who knows? Someday I may even leave these streets and jaunt in faraway places where they serve exotically-spiced chicken platters and cocktails with lychee nuts as garnish.” “You can get those in Chinatown,” said Cronin. “Can you?” said Monk. “You writers, you’re eccentric,” said Giallo, grinning as though he believed his teeth were lighting the whole garden. “But that’s how you do it, right? We need a good writer, Monk. There are so few of them in this city. Don’t ask me why. Maybe they think they have to leave.” “Not me,” said Monk. “Philadelphia is muse enough for me. I don’t need anywhere else.”
“Have you been anywhere else?” asked Cronin. “I don’t need to go anywhere else,” said Monk. “Well, we’ve been everywhere else,” said Giallo. “And you’re right, Monk. Philly is muse enough. All art is localized now: film, television, music, theater. It’s the new regionalism. Go local. It’s the same as produce from the local farmer’s market. Or beer from the local brewery. Artists must be ambassadors for their corners of the empire. We’ve heard enough New York and Hollywood stories. We need to tell our own stories. Let me tell you about our plan for our first feature, okay? We’ve worked on other people’s projects as they’ve come to town, Gray and Russell and Shyamalan, but we’re finally ready to do our own original thing, our first big thing—” “This won’t be our first big thing,” said Cronin. “This is too ambitious for our first big thing. Too expensive. Too many boat scenes. All set at night.” “We’re going to go big with it,” said Giallo. “Film is about going big. Bigger than appears possible, really—” “Period specific costumes, sets,” said Cronin. “It could be our second big thing, maybe, depending—” “Will you relax, Kevin?” said Giallo. “We’re not at work. Dream with me for a minute. Listen to this, Monk. It’s the height of Prohibition, right? 1933. We’re also four years into the Great Depression. Talk about soul-trying times, you know what I mean? So we open on the Delaware Bay….”
Giallo proceeded to describe what was, as best Monk could tell, the story of
a group of Delaware fisherman conscripted by a local mafia don to work as rum runners. There was no real order to it, and it veered from moments of extreme plot specificity to lists of abstract thematic nouns. Monk’s mind drifted away from the conversation more than once, fixing instead on his new beer, then
his empty glass, then another new beer, then the firefly-like lights on the little trees someone had planted in the pebble-covered earth of the garden, and then to speculation of what those trees would look like fully grown, in some future decade when Monk was dead and the Hall was long established and Fishtown was irrevocably changed and Philadelphia was only slightly older and no less indifferent to the schemes of her children.
Monk refocused on Giallo. “And there’s probably some religious symbolism
there,” the man was saying. “Since Jesus was a fisherman.”
“Well, no, he was carpenter, traditionally,” said Monk. “Peter and Andrew
were the fisherman. ‘I will make you fishers of men.’”
“That works even better,” said Giallo. “Yeah, you can write that into it. This
is going have layers to it, Monk. It’s about friendship. It’s about integrity. About a man forced to chose between honor and survival. It’s a period piece, right, but it’s also a timeless piece. The way the ocean they sail on is timeless.”
“The bay,” said Cronin.
“The way the bay they sail on is timeless as the ocean,” said Giallo.
“Right,” said Monk, shifting the pebbles beneath his shoes. “Not to interrupt
you, but how much does this pay, writing a script? I mean, I’ve got some other things in the works, so I need to know it’s worth setting aside the time.”
“Well,” said Giallo, his face falling a bit. “That depends, really—”
“We can’t pay you anything now,” said Cronin. “You write it, we take it, we
form the corporation, we shop it around, get names attached, find the funding. We get to that stage, we can give you something.”
Giallo’s smile returned. “And of course you’d get some gross points—”
“Net points,” said Cronin.
“Net points on the film,” said Giallo. “Since you’d be with us from the
Monk knew nothing about points. “Hey, no offense,” he said, “but this
sounds like maybe money a year from now. I need some definitely money, you know? As soon as I can get it.”
“Well, maybe we can do something sooner,” said Giallo. “Do you think you
could work on this? Do you have ideas?”
“Loads of ideas,” said Monk, wanting to believe himself. “I’m made of
“Well, send us what you’ve got. Whatever you think of.” Giallo took a
business card from his wallet and slid it across the table. “Here’s the email address.”
“You’ve never sued anyone, have you?” asked Cronin.
Monk stuffed the card in his pocket. “No. Have you?”
“Great,” said Cronin, standing. “This was productive. Have another beer.
We’ll take care of the tab. Leave a tip if you want.” He glanced at the canvas bag by Monk’s feet, then added, “You know, I’ll just leave the tip.” He threw down a wad of bills and walked toward the entrance.
“This will be great, Monk,” said Giallo, shaking his hand again before
following Cronin. “It’s the movies, man. What’s better than the movies?”
Monk ordered a final liter and drank it alone at his picnic table. The sky
above the garden had darkened in the hour or so that he had sat there. The beer was doing its work, both on his blood and on his bladder. He wanted to piss and also to step back out onto Frankford for a cigarette, but, if the liters were as expensive as he guessed they were, he knew he would not return to the Hall anytime soon. He wanted to sit and enjoy it for a moment longer. The place had begun to fill up with people: attractive, fit people dressed for a night out
in Fishtown or a drink before heading down to Center City. The air was warm and the scent of wursts and schnitzel filled the garden, and he wished it was his friends that had been there with him: Denhelder with his booming laugh and Mangan with his sly derisions. He wished it were a month earlier, or a year, or five years for that matter. He finished his beer and picked a ten out of Cronin’s tip money. He left his chipped coffee mug in its place and went to look for a urinal.
Coming out of the bathroom he ran into Hector Villona on his way to the
kitchen. Hector was dressed in an all-black server’s uniform, with a black cast covering his right hand and forearm. “Hector,” said Monk. “You work here?” “For now,” said Hector, slapping the cast against Monk’s shoulder blades. “Sorry about Denhelder, pally. I was working Saturday or I would have been there.” “Yeah, well,” said Monk. “How’s the gig here? Think you can get me a job as a barback or something?” “I can’t help you,” said Hector, shrugging. “I vouched for Ivan O’Reilly last month and that turned into a shit-and-vomit festival. Figurative shit. Literal vomit. I’m not vouching for anybody else. A server’s word is bond, Monko. They were already pissed at me about this.” He held up his cast. “There’s a certain aesthetic they’re striving for here, and it ain’t brawler chic. And that’s another thing. You’re probably twenty pounds too heavy for this place.”
“I’m too fat?” asked Monk. “This is a beer hall in Fishtown.”
“This is a beer garden, and Fishtown is hip, man. No beer bellies here,
only beer flowers. Have you seen the pretzel girls?” Hector started back for the kitchen. “I’m off in an hour, man, going over to the Brenda’s. Quizzo. Do yourself a favor, pally, check out those pretzel girls.”
Monk stepped out into the warm night of Frankford Avenue, a cigarette in
his lips, patting his pockets in search of some complementary matches. He gave up and bummed a flame from a bouncer, then followed the old industrial wall south to the intersection with Girard and watched the people as they jogged to and fro across the trolley tracks. The crowd was not dissimilar to the one he had just left: youngish and handsome in their trendy hats and boots, with only the occasional representative of the homeless and damaged classes that were inescapable almost anywhere in Philadelphia. He spotted an old woman across the street, seated at a card table set up beneath the edifice of a long-dead bank. She seemed to be selling buttons: I Heart America and that sort of thing. For a moment he pictured the young peasant Christ in the streets of Sepphoris, hawking fish to Hellenized urbanites in his rough pidgin Greek. Then he heard the trolley coming and tried to time it so that he flicked his cigarette onto the track just as the carâ€™s concealed wheels rolled over it.
He crossed Frankford and entered the Brenda, perched tall and loud on the
corner, its large TAVERN sign illuminated over the intersection. The interior was a series of rooms of various sizes, decorated in a style that seemed to be half fifty-years-ago and half fifty-years-before-that. Quizzo was coming undone in the largest of the them, where a tall, bearish man with a curly, black beard was speaking into a microphone attached to a small, portable amplifier. His face was flush and there were already a few empty pint glasses at his two-top, and he seemed to be naming all the countries that shared a border with Austria. Monk spied Boodle and Kinsella huddled at a small table in the corner. Kinsella seemed content with a handshake, but Boodle made a big show of standing up and embracing Monk, laying his small red head against Monkâ€™s
chest. “Friends hug,” he said into Monk’s guayabera. “We all need to be more open and honest about expressing how we feel toward one another, while we still have time.”
Kinsella had not come on Saturday, but Boodle had purchased a suit, shaved
his ridiculous orange moustache and stoically stood and kneeled throughout the funeral Mass. He had also caused a minor stir by phrasing his condolences to Denhelder’s mother as, “Jesus, ma’am, what a game changer.”
Kinsella was already making excuses before Monk could sit down, shaking
his head, saying, “Yeah, man. I can’t do stuff like that. I can’t do friends in boxes. That’s too much for me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Monk. “It doesn’t matter. How’s the game
going?” “I don’t like this quiz master,” said Boodle loudly. “He editorializes.” Monk picked up an answer sheet. Its heading read, Monday Night Quizzo with Sam and Colleen. “I take it that’s Sam. Where’s Colleen?” “He says she left him like an hour ago,” said Kinsella. “He won’t stop whining about it.” “Hungary,” the quiz master intoned over his crackly sound system. “Now there’s a country where love goes to die.” “Get to the next round!” someone shouted, and there were rumbles of agreement. The quiz master looked like he might start to argue, but then plowed ahead, working from his laptop screen. “This round is sports. That should appease you guys, huh? Bread and circuses, that’s what you like, don’t you, Fishtown? Well maybe you can tell me who was the only Phillie to play in both the 1980 and 1993 World Series?”
“Darren Daulton,” whispered Boodle. “Write that down.”
“I’m gonna get a drink,” said Monk. He walked into the front room with the main bar and sat on a stool. It was
cooler in there, with fewer lights and fewer people. The Brenda was the sort of bar that served locally made craft beer at locally made craft prices. Monk ordered a lager brewed two blocks from his recent Amber Street address and paid twice what it should have taken to ship it to the bar by mail. “You know,” he said to the bartender, “this town used to pride itself on having a city-wide special of a beer and a shot for three bucks.”
“What would you like me to do with that information?” the bartender asked
and walked away.
Monk sipped his beer. He felt the manic urge to chug it down, but he was
running short on cash. He was glad to have run into Boodle: he could spend the night at Boodle’s place up on Jasper Street, where there would probably be a horrible handle of something or another in the freezer. He regretted, momentarily, his superstition regarding Denhelder’s bourbon.
“How’s it going in there?” asked a woman sitting a few stools down. At first
Monk thought that by in there she meant his head, but then he realized she was nodding in the direction of the Quizzo room.
“Not great, apparently,” he said. “Word is, Colleen left Sam, and he’s pretty
broken up about it.”
“I didn’t leave him,” she said. “Not yet, anyway. Not for good.”
“Are you Colleen?” asked Monk. He held up the answer sheet. “Colleen
of Monday Night Quizzo fame?” He moved down to the stool next to hers. She looked to be in her late thirties, attractive but with an aura of fatigue. Like a lot of the women he met. Most of them, really. “Will you sign this for me?” he
asked her, wagging the sheet.
“Funny,” she snorted. She sounded like she might have consumed as much
as Monk. “But you have an ugly shirt. Why are you in here? Don’t you like Quizzo?”
“It’s alright,” said Monk. “It’s just that it feels kinda….”
“Trivial?” she asked.
“I was trying not to use that word,” said Monk.
“Hmm,” she made her face serious. “Doesn’t everything get that way?”
“I hope not,” said Monk.
“What’s with the sack?” she asked, nodding at the canvas bag.
“These are all my worldly possessions,” he said, patting it with his palm.
“I’m a man, you know, so I’ve put aside childish things. But it turns out that, after childish things, there’s not a whole hell of a lot left.” He tipped his glass to her.
The woman peered at him as he drank. He felt as though she were trying to
look into his mind, as if she could figure out its make and the type of fuel it took. “What are you?” she asked. “Thirty-three?”
“Twenty-three,” he corrected.
“Whoa,” she said. “You need to slow down there, hon. You’re living too
“Thanks, Colleen,” Monk said, and he downed the rest of his beer, cash be
damned. “I think you look young as a sorority pledge. I hope they carded you when you came in here.”
“No, I didn’t mean you look all raggedy,” she said, patting his arm. “You
just have sad eyes. Or not even sad, but...bleary. Like you’ve already given up all hope. But you should have a few more years left of stupid hope, at least.”
Colleen’s turned mouth seemed to contain several complementary emotions
that Monk could not fully identify. Amusement, maybe. The mildest kind. “To tell you the truth,” said Monk, “one of my buddies died last week. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. But it’s making things weird.” “That is sad,” she said. “Was he a good man?” It was not the question Monk was expecting. “Of course,” he said. “Well. I don’t know. As good as I am. And I think I’m mostly good.” “Not that it’s only sad if he was a good man,” said Colleen. “It’s sad either way. But it always seems like the good people leave your life faster than the regular people. Don’t it? Almost like they all have inside information on some better place to be, like they all know something you don’t know about.” “Well, you and me can’t be very good, then,” said Monk. “If we’re still here.” “But that’s just how it seems,” said Colleen. “That’s the inherent problem with subjectivity. It’s always separating you from everything else. You’re on your side of the wall, and they’re all on the other side. So there is no we. We’re not still here. You’re still here, from your perspective. And I’m still here, from mine. And all the good people, from their perspectives, who knows? Maybe they’re not so good. It is a lonely way to experience the world, though. I do take issue with that.” Monk didn’t know how to respond. He could hear the Quizzo answers being read in the next room. He heard the voice of the quiz master say, “Larry Andersen,” and then, clearly, the voice of Boodle shout, “Mother fuck!” “So why did you leave the quiz master?” asked Monk. “Is he not one of the good people?” Colleen exhaled deeply, flaring her lips out like a duck. “Good as is left, I
guess. I didn’t leave him yet, though. Not for good.” She finished her drink and stood up, wobbling. “We’ll see if I meet anyone on the walk home, though. I’d take you with me, but you’ve got those eyes. That’s not something I’m up for right now.” “Fair enough,” said Monk. “What’s your name?” asked Colleen. “Monk,” said Monk. “Well, Monk,” she said. “You’re still here. And if you’re here, then your life is always worth salvaging.” She started for the door. “I’ve been trying,” Monk called after her.
“And how is it going?” she asked, and moved through the tavern’s entrance
and out of his life. Monk looked at his empty glass. “Terribly,” he said. “Terribly, terribly.”
In this way, the quiz master came to be assaulted: Monk went outside to smoke a cigarette. Next to the door was a trash can
and, without taking another look at its contents, he dropped his canvas bag into it. He breathed in deeply to get a sense of possessionlessness, then ducked into the alley off the street to be alone. He was sick of looking at all the pretty, happy people. They had been alcoholics together: Denhelder in the cheery, garrulous way, which never looked like alcoholism, and Monk in the maudlin way that looked like alcoholism even back when it wasn’t. Even though it always was. More than that, they had been true Philadelphia jaunters together. They would go down Fishtown, down Northern Liberties, down Center City where the whole goddamn country was born, down Pennsport where the mummers
kept their club houses, down Whitman where they would eat roast pork sandwiches with broccoli rabe and the sharpest provolone alongside the unfriendliest people. They would be unfriendly right back and it was all quite neighborly. It was all so goddamn friendly out in America: Heartland friendly, Walmart friendly, Mormon friendly, and all of it completely disingenuous. Philadelphians would be unfriendly as a sign of mutual respect. They didn’t want anything from you and so had no reason to smile at you all the goddamn time. Go Birds, go fuck yourself, get home safe. Philos in its purist form: the love that the rest of America forgot. Denhelder had understood all that, as much as Monk did. Whether or not Denhelder was a good person, Monk couldn’t say. Goodness seemed an illogical metric for describing a man. But Denhelder had been a real person. And an ingenuous person, despite his best efforts to the contrary. And he had been Monk’s friend. Monk heard a familiar string of curses and saw Boodle and Kinsella shuffling down the alley toward him. Boodle fumed quietly, while Kinsella’s mouth jabbered without cessation. “Rigged, bro. He doesn’t want people to win. I’ve never seen a quiz master with so much malice for the players. And zero respect for the game, when you get right down to it. This guy, he gets his cash payment, he gets his free drinks, he’s got pre-researched answers to questions that he came up with, and so he thinks he’s a big mahoff. Thinks he can shit all over the sport. I don’t care if your wife leaves you, takes the kids, and sets the house on fire, you gotta have some professionalism, am I right?” Monk heard a door open on his other side and turned to see the quiz master leaving through the back exit. He was carrying his little amp in one hand and his laptop bag in the other. Kinsella spotted the man just as Monk did.
“Well speak of the devil, it’s the inquisitor himself. Hey, Sam, got any more box office gross figures you’d like us to guess? Cause that’s not trivia knowledge, buddy, that’s just estimation.” The quiz master’s shoulders tightened, even as he swayed from the pints he had drunk. “Alright, fellas, I’m sick of this shit. I get to pick the questions. And I had shitty day today, so I’m sorry if they didn’t live up to your expectations.” The quiz master and Kinsella squared off in front of Monk. Boodle loomed over Kinsella’s shoulder, an unsettled look in his eyes. “Oh, did you have a bad day?” asked Kinsella. “Well welcome to the world, pal. Maybe I had a bad day. Maybe I’m trying to unwind, drink some beers, answer some trivia questions, maybe try to win a gift certificate.” The quizmaster put down his amp and took a pen out of his pocket. “Fine!” he shouted. “Where’s your answer sheet? You want me to put a star on it for you, you whiny sonsabitches?” Boodle suddenly had a steak knife in his fist. It was as if he had summoned it out of the darkness. He grabbed the quiz master’s collar, held the blade to his bearded throat, and shouted, “Darren Daulton, motherfucker! You wanna die tonight?” The quiz master bellowed in response, but ceased abruptly as a black-casted fist darted out of the air and struck him in his sweaty temple. The whole huge mulch bag of a man fell splayed out on the asphalt, unconscious. Monk stood looking on, his expression unchanged, feeling that he had been denied the necessary time to appropriately react to any of it. “Whoa, what the fuck, man?” said Kinsella to Hector, who now stood beside them in the alley. “He pulled a knife,” said Hector.
“He pulled a pen,” said Kinsella. “He’s the quiz master.” “Yeah, I pulled the knife,” said Boodle, holding up the knife. “I was just spooking him with it.” “Shit, really?” said Hector. “Well, fuck you, Boodle, you sociopath.” “Man, he’s out. You’re fucked, Kinsella,” said Boodle. “Why am I fucked? I didn’t hit him,” said Kinsella. “Yeah, but you’re the one he’s gonna remember,” said Boodle. “Fuck,” said Kinsella. “Goddamn it.” “If he remembers anything,” said Hector. “Well, check his pockets, at least,” said Boodle, kneeling down. “See if he’s got that Quizzo cash.” Hector stuck out his cast, shaking it. “Come on, don’t rob this guy, pally. He’s definitely calling the cops if we rob him.” “No, you weren’t here. He was a dick. And he’s wasted,” said Kinsella. “Anything he remembers, they’re not gonna believe it.” “This is stupid,” said Hector. “This is unseemly.” Boodle was rifling through the quiz master’s pockets. “Look, all I know is, my friend died last week, and I’m trying to get some rounds with my friends that are still alive. Let’s get some fucking whiskey. You guys all so rich you’re gonna turn down free money? Cause that’s a sin in and of itself.” Boodle looked up at Monk. “You got cash, Monk?” Monk looked back down the alley. He could see the young, well-dressed, no-problems people walking up and down the street beyond its entrance. They all seemed to be laughing with each other, holding hands or jostling each other playfully, calling out to each other, smiling, at ease. If they noticed that down in the alley there was a man lying on the ground, with four other men looming
over him, they didn’t seem to care. Maybe they didn’t want to ruin their night with intervention. Or maybe they truly thought there was nothing amiss. Maybe they figured that, in any group of five men, four of them would eventually knock the fifth one down. Even if they didn’t mean it out of malice. Even if they were all the best of friends. “I don’t,” said Monk. “Check his pockets.”
They went down Frankford a few blocks more, to the Berbery, which sat almost by itself on a street of former factories that had all either become lofts or were becoming lofts or aspired to become lofts some day. Inside, it was Eighties Night. The music was loud and the dancefloor was full of what seemed to Monk to be very young people. They were dancing like club kids, drinking nonspecific cocktails out of clear plastic cups, just whatever alcohol was available with whatever was sweet enough to wash it down. Boodle danced wildly among them. He had taken the quiz master’s amp and microphone, and as as he danced he screamed into it, volume spun all the way up, competing with the tracks on the speakers, singing along if he knew the words and shrieking his own if he didn’t. There had been almost three hundred dollars in the quiz master’s wallet, and Hector seemed set on spending every penny of it on bourbon. He kept bringing shots over on a tray that he had borrowed through some benefit of the service fraternity, and he would set them down in front of each of them on the table at the small booth they had commandeered. “Cheers, boys,” he would say, “to Gregory Denhelder, our brother. We’ll never see the likes of him again.” Then, “Cheers, boys, to Sean Mangan, our Texan. We never needed him anyway.” Then, “Cheers, boys, to Dennis Monk, our homeless, jobless, bookless writer.
You don’t need a home, Monk. All of Philadelphia is your home.” At some point it became too much to bear, as it always did, every night, because Monk could never stop until it became just a little too much. The beat became oppressive and his guts were in rebellion, and the company of other people felt like a crowd of strangers haggling over his bones. He stood and beelined for the door, out into the air again, and walked away from the heat and sound, along the last patch of Frankford before it hit Delaware Avenue and ceased to be. Across the wide arterial was the casino that the state had erected a few years earlier, before anyone knew that Fishtown would be reborn through migration, when the thought went that the only way to save the neighborhood’s economy was to offer one more vice to lure in those last elusive shad. The complex was bright the way that no day was ever bright, brighter than any real thing, the sort of bright that can only be a trick for the lonely and the lost. Monk threw up in the street. “Pussy,” someone said. Monk looked over and realized that Kinsella had stumbled out after him and was now pissing on a concrete median that had been installed to block off a lot where they were either building a gas station or tearing one down. “Christ, what time is it?” Kinsella asked, his head bent back, his eyes closed to the sky. It made Monk think of days on Amber Street when the house was still stuffed with furniture, when life felt so crowded that the very notion that it could ever be emptied out again seemed mere millenarianism. And it made him think of nights — not the night when Denhelder dropped soundlessly to the pavement because he had a bomb in his blood that no one knew about, not the night when Monk and Mangan joked another minute before they turned around with their mouths still full of laughter — but of normal
nights walking home along Amber Street with dawn only an hour or two away, with the city quiet like it got sometimes, with Monk sucking down the last cigarette in his pack, with Mangan stumbling like he did when he got that gone and Denhelder fumbling with his key in the door, asking, “So, boys, when we gonna knock this shit off?” And Monk would say, “Tomorrow,” like he was saying it now, looking across the avenue at the casino that was lit up as if electricity was brand new and free and forever, and at the blackness beyond it that was the Delaware River, and at the deeper blackness beyond the river that was New Jersey and a whole other entity entirely. “Tomorrow,” said Monk. Like that.
Michael Deagler is the author of the short story “Fishtown, Down,” winner of this issue’s Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence. Here we chat with him about his process and his story. This is Woodshop Talk.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Hi Michael, thanks for taking on our first
Woodshop Talk like this. It’s very cool to have you on board. I want to start by saying that “Fishtown, Down” is an intensely cool piece. Where did it come from? Monk is such a caricature in many ways of the dour, sardonic
An Interview With Michael Deagler
twentysomething drifter. Is there anything autobiographical about him or the story at large? Have you ever threatened a quizmaster with a knife over Darren Daulton?
MICHAEL DEAGLER: Thanks, I’m just honored to be included. I have
never personally assaulted a quizmaster, though it is a recurring fantasy of mine. Monk and I do share some similarities, but Monk is also definitely a fairly common type of young person. There are a lot of Monks out there, in every city. Certainly in Philadelphia. Our generation — or at least the members of it that I know — tends to be overeducated, underemployed, artistically-inclined and enamoured of city life. To an even greater extent than previous generations, I think. And that’s pretty much who Monk is. He’s got vague ambitions, abstract obsessions, mundane deficiencies, and no clear path ahead of him. His world is changing more quickly than he can react to it. Which is a problem that often besets me, as well.
BA: For as much of a ramble as this story is, it is clear that its heart, like the heart of Monk himself, lives in the bones and bruises of Philadelphia. You’ve got this movie director Giallo championing “the new regionalism,” in which artists “must be ambassadors for their corners of the empire,” and that’s a belief which has underpinned Buffalo Almanack from its outset. You can see it right now in the scope and aims of our “Where Thou Art” contest. In literature and in life, what is it that makes a place home? How do you find your corner of the empire? MD: I’m very much an advocate of regionalism. Particularly Philadelphia regionalism, since our best and brightest tend to move away and spend their gifts in the service of other cities. But I don’t think everyone has to be a
regionalist. There’s no correct way for a writer to establish a relationship to place. We live in a time when people chose neighborhoods with the same selfawareness that they chose eyeglass frames. All residences are equally fertile. All residents are equally righteous. That said, my favorite writers tend to be the ones who build their myths out of their native locality: Irvine Welsh, Roddy Doyle, Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock, anyone from Florida. Every place needs a few artists to celebrate it and criticize it and help it to shape its vision of itself. I’m not saying artists should stay home and never move to Brooklyn, but you should realize that Brooklyn probably doesn’t need your art. That place where you used to buy beer underage and loiter in parking lots: that’s the place that probably needs your art.
BA: We’re calling this bit our Woodshop Talk, right, so let’s get into making-of type business for a question. Is there anything you’d want to tell us about how this piece came together – where or how or when you wrote it, or where or how or when you think you do your best writing? How does the facture of your storytelling play out for you? Share as much or as little as you like. MD: This story was written as part of a linked collection that shares characters and locales — it was actually written to fall in the middle of the collection, spatially and temporally. I originally envisioned it as being a bit like “After The Race” from Dubliners: short, frenetic, buoyant, a story about money misspent and problems ignored. Some of that influence remains, but as I wrote the story it became longer-winded, more despondent, a little more blatant in its attitude. The toughest thing about this story is that it’s a young-men-drinkingin-bars story, which most people (rightly) despise. On top of that, it’s a story
An Interview With Michael Deagler
about grief, which is also a heavily travelled avenue in fiction. So I had to work doubly hard to make it palatable despite its genre, to keep it engaging, dynamic, and as original as possible.
BA: The story is over, but it’s clear that Monk’s jaunting days are nowhere near an end. If you had to keep writing, if you had to see the character through the next month or year or the remainder of his lifetime, where do you think Monk goes from here? What does “tomorrow” look like? MD: There are other Monk stories, which may or may not make it into print. I do hope things work out for him. He’s young enough that he has ample time to clean himself up, figure himself out, and even move to a different place, should he chose to do so. But I can’t say he’ll be alright. Unfortunately, a lot of people are never alright. I’m not wholly convinced any Millennials will be alright. I have difficulty imagining what “tomorrow” looks like for any of us, economically or emotionally. I think Monk’s main problem (besides the alcoholism) is the same problem that a lot of creative people have during that transitional phase between school and whatever’s next: he needs to find his project. It’s easy to stagnate when there’s no clear path forward. I’m optimistic for Monk, though. He’s still alive, which is the most important thing. The living tend to figure things out, given adequate time.
“The most important aspect of Boo Hoo as a story is that you can literally read it anywhere – downstairs, upstairs, without stairs, while on stairs, you really don’t have to be moving at all to read it either – this is a huge plus for people who like to stand still or stay in one place.”
“We all seek to be loved, to connect with other beings. It feels good to be loved. Rejection, though, is also a significant part of life. It’s a significant and painful and sad part of life...”
Comix – “Two Birds”
“...In ‘Two Birds’ I examined rejection. I’m not sure how birds actually feel about rejection, but I’d guess that they experience it as a kind of sadness in the same way as you or I do. And even if I learned that birds don’t feel sadness at being rejected, I would feel it for them.” Peter Witte
Pen on printer paper
Jacob Michael King
He had Bob Ross hair, but I let him fuck me. Maybe thirty-eight, with a paunch and a button-up jean shirt. Also: cowboy boots, and he wasn’t kidding about them. He had soft eyes and big hands and he wanted me. After the week I’d had, I needed it. Afterwards, we were drunk and climbed to the roof of his shitty apartment building. We smoked cigarettes in the pre-dawn and leaned back in the lawn chairs he’d set up. Fuchsia clouds scrolled down the purple firmament, starless. He asked me, “So what was your name at first?” I asked him what he meant, though I knew. I looked at him. Flushed, he leaned back and said something about how light pollution was beautiful. I didn’t want to talk about light pollution. I told him my birth certificate said “Joseph,” but that Joseph had drowned in a sea of eyeliner and hormone patches and resplendent wigs. I told him that I had washed up. “My name,” I said, “is Themis.” “Themis,” said Bob Ross Hair. Then he smiled and, fidgeting about in his lawn chair, ended up hunching forward. “Where’d you come up with that?” he asked. “A peacemaking impulse,” I told him. He wanted more but I didn’t give it. Instead I said, “I’m an abortion driver.” He looked punctured. I said, “I mean I drive girls to the clinic. I volunteer.” He mumbled something about how gratifying that must be. “Not really,” I said, and now he looked annoyed. “Okay, so then why do you do it?” he asked. Like he knew where I was going.
Jacob Michael King
Like I was being a difficult woman. Like he’d seen a lot of difficult women in his day. “I’m not being a bitch,” I said, which somehow shook him. “I saw the play last week.” He looked at me like I was full of shit, like how are you still alive, then? But he didn’t say it.
These days, the theater was precarious and aggressive. Like a mass shooting or a car bomb. The setting was always somewhere banal: a shopping mall, an office building, places where people would suddenly stop and form an audience. Actors (dreadfully warped in appearance or vibe or both, often self-mutilated) were appointed. Perhaps they picked themselves – none were available for comment. Anyhow, they’d start performing. Sometimes there was a kind of dream-narrative to the pieces, and sometimes they’d just spit these oblique little aphorisms. Whatever route was taken, the conclusion, inevitably, was the same: actor and audience would drown in a fatal madness. Everyone, or nearly everyone, would be dead before the curtain. It was a nasty new way to expire. You didn’t know whom it would hit, or when. For a year, you might find yourself etching patterns into your stomach with a pen-knife. You just wouldn’t think about it. But then your time on stage would come.
“I was far enough away,” I said. “But barely. I made it. But I haven’t slept... I mean, if I wasn’t fucked up enough already, right?” I pinkened as the words escaped me. He’d gotten me to spread my legs
without knowing my name. How gauche, to bare myself like this. It painted me as a pouty type, an attention vampire. But still I kept talking. “Apparently,” I said, “I can’t seem to talk about anything else. So you might as well hear it.” For a while now, there had been people screaming a couple blocks away. He’d left the windows of his apartment open, and the sound had leaked in during our little rendezvous. It sullied the mood, such as it was, but only slightly. Obnoxious, but not alarming. A gaggle of bums having a fit. Now the gaggle was closer. We could hear what they were saying. Different voices, the same refrain: “Who is the man with no face? Show me this man with no face! Where is the faceless man?” they called. He stiffened like someone stuck a finger in him. He leaned back and nodded and his eyes went from almonds to thumbnails. He looked serious, and I felt a pinch unnerved. “Got any faceless friends you can send their way?” I asked. “I think I know what they mean,” he said. I laughed, he didn’t. “Don’t bother about it,” he said. “Just tell your story.” “This was last week,” I said. “This was my first day on the job.”
There Queen Themis stood, leaning against her shitty car, smoking and just generally looking hot. Attire: Leopard tights hugged thigh and calf to meet matching maryjanes that clicked subtly, like fingers snapping. An alligator cover-up over a pink spaghetti strap
Jacob Michael King
over a C cup bra over breasts full and soft that even the cis girls envied. Then that explosion of pink hair (monstrous and fabulous, positively regal) which she’d bought last week and wore for the first time today. Sure, they looked. The shopping-bagged Goodwill demographic with its unwashed hair. One man was hunched over a bench, jeans bowed in a grinning crescent, teasing his fuzzy ass. He’d finished his microwave burrito, was kissing rice from his fingers when he dared to scoff. Then the bus pulled up. Something tiny and scared stepped off: Latin, with long black hair and black eyes; sneakered, with nice jeans and a t-shirt that had “Go Girl!” written on it in sequins. If she was seventeen, she looked young for it. And so Queen Themis, maryjanes snapping and pink locks bouncing, walked right up. “I’m Themis,” she said. She extended her arm to an elegant sickle. Go Girl met it with a touch limp and brief. Well, this was unpleasant. Themis knew you didn’t meet girls like her every day, and her skin had thickened accordingly. She’d become inured to the open mouths and stammers, even to the occasional, misplaced gender pronoun. But Go Girl looked at Themis like she had something in her teeth. “I’m your driver,” Themis said, and waved to her car. They started walking. Go Girl asked for a cigarette, so for a minute they leaned on her car and smoked. From her handbag (which was blind-you shiny, dreadful) she drew a phone and started texting. Now Themis, not a nosy woman, was looking at the phone because it was a nice one. She suspected that Go Girl was blessed with affluent parents and the plebeian taste of the nouveau comfortable. But, during this briefest of glances, she did happen to see the word “tranny” being typed.
“I like your lipstick,” said Go Girl like she was looking at some shit drawing by the daughter she wouldn’t have, telling her it was beautiful. Themis wanted to read that bitch like a priest reads the liturgy to unwashed pagans. She wanted to take the bitch to school and fail her so she’d repeat the grade and learn some more. But Themis held her tongue. Instead, she said, “Thanks,” and fingered lips glossed with a glittery emerald. She took a deep breath and another drag and glared bullets at the burrito man with his ass hanging out. He looked Themis over with lust and hate commingled. This is what she got for leaving the house.
Go Girl dissolved when they got in the car, collapsed into Themis. And the car was hot, but Themis would feel weird – what with Go Girl’s little nails, their polish chipping, digging needily into her alligator cover up – shifting about to grab the keys and turn the engine. Queen Themis felt her anger supplanted. Not by pity, but by awe: she felt affectation in the girl’s display, the niggling itch that she was performing. Go Girl’s desperation was secondhand, cribbed from television and YA novels. But then she told Themis she’d been raped, and Themis melted. And Themis cried too, because she knew what that was like. Many times. Once she’d been held down as a gang of ballcapped animals kicked her ass and knifed her jeans open and tore her panties and breached her. The blood, the shit, the way they’d stomped on her cock. One had cut her face but his hands shook from conscience or innocence or both. He was as gentle as someone cutting your face could be. Scabs for a couple months, but no scars.
When I told Bob Ross Hair, I would of course reign in this autobiographical
Jacob Michael King
flourish. I’d just say, “I’ve been to that rodeo,” take a drag and sigh like I’d lived too much to look this good. His intensity was unnerving. He blinked about once a minute. And the bums, or whoever they were. They sounded like they were right outside, still screaming for the man with no face.
So Themis hugged Go Girl tighter, chiding herself for her bitchiness. Go Girl said she was embarrassed and Themis said no and petted her hair. They started driving, and Go Girl was quiet. Themis said she could smoke in her car, so Go Girl rolled down the window. Themis gave her a cigarette. “It’s all my fault,” said Go Girl. Queen Themis, having heard that one before, called bullshit. “It is,” Go Girl said. “He has a girlfriend and his girlfriend’s a cheerleader. He plays football. He’s like Mr. High School. He’s Mr. Perfect and nobody would believe it but we were in his room and he came on to me. He kissed me and I turned away but then he started kissing my neck. I said no but he said he couldn’t stop, that I was so pretty that he couldn’t stand it. He told me he’d been in love with me, like, forever. Like he knew me since middle school and he’d always been in love with me. He was giving these compliments but his hand was over my mouth and he was pushing my head into the floor. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t even say anything. Like I wasn’t even that scared yet because I was, like, just shocked. And then...” Go Girl started misting up again before the final “he raped me.” She drew a soiled kleenex from her purse, dabbed her eyes and hunched. Then came more sobs. Queen Themis felt her bitch light glow red-hot. Poor Themis. Her heart was an island in a sea of sarcasm and piss. Now a
turd had washed up on its tender shores. As the turd could speak and weep and smoke, she mistook it for human and let it dry on her beach. But now the turd had lied, and this Queen Themis could not forgive. “What were you wearing?” Themis asked. “What?” said Go Girl. “I mean when you got pillaged. I was wearing a miniskirt the last time.” She was quiet for a second. Themis wondered if she’d bite back. “Just shorts,” she said. “No shirt?” “I mean, yeah,” she said. Now a pinch (but just a pinch) of frustration. “I mean, I had on a sweater.” “Must’ve been the shorts. I bet they were tight. You’re pretty enough, you should watch what you wear. At least for a few more years.” Themis combed through her pink wig, grinned and kid-punched Go Girl’s shoulder. “Chin up, honey,” said Themis. “Nobody’s perfect.” Silence all the way to the clinic. Queen Themis wondered if this whole volunteer bit was an attempt to understand a paradox of womanhood. Themis had a cock, and it was poison to her. It dangled like a tumor between her legs. She remembered being a teenager, splaying scissor blades on either side of it, hating herself for not going through with it and wishing her bulbous deformity (and it was growing) would just fall off. What she wouldn’t give for an ovary. But here were women who’d have the miracle of their sex scraped from them and lobbed in a biohazard bin. Oh, she knew they had their reasons. But she would’ve whored herself or robbed banks to hold a baby that was hers. She knew this was selfish. In
Jacob Michael King
moments of self-reproach, she wondered if her chromosomal affliction wasn’t just. They came to the clinic. Go Girl opened the door before they stopped moving. Themis would probably get a talking-to later: Go Girl pretty much ran her lying ass inside. Not a curtsey, not a “thank you.”
Bob Ross Hair was all enraptured. It got me a bit queasy. What, with the gaggle outside and all, screaming (and now it was pretty much a chant, horrid and guttural) for the man with no face. “And then you could just feel it happen,” I said. “I was okay and the people in the clinic were okay. I was still at the edge of the clinic’s parking lot. Maybe by like a foot.”
Queen Themis sat for a minute with the engine running and the passenger door open. A mood had fallen. Oh, it was sweet, and she swam in it. She must’ve been hexed. She felt a spell worm its way inside and pop her volition. She walked from her still-purring car. There was a park across the street. If dirty needles and used condoms got your slippers twinkling, this was the place for you. But something was happening. Cars were stopping and people were getting out. The street between the clinic and the park was clogged. So were the sidewalks, but there was a space cleared in the middle so Themis could see. Themis saw a woman in a bathrobe. Older, with a thick chin and a round frame. The severed snout of a cow was mounted to her forehead, perhaps by superglue. Viscera dangled in her eyes like bangs. The woman said, “I am not myself.”
A man stood on either side of her. The man to her right faced her, and the man on her left faced away. “I am burdened with your nagging, and by the rhythms of your body. The disgusting particulars of your humanity diminish you,” said the man to her left. “I am enraptured. The droop of your eyes, the flat uncomeliness of your breasts, they sing to me. You are not poetry: you are the source of all poems,” said the man to her right. “I can never be seen,” said the woman. “I am unknown. I am recognized only by what I am not.” The woman undid her robe. She knelt. She was naked underneath, and a string was stitched by an amateur hand from her vulva to the top of her sternum. The wound puffed. Blood seeped. A sewing needle, still threaded, glinted on the end of the string and hung just below her chin. “I have no other means of seeing,” said the man to her left. “Perhaps there is an inner light,” the man on her right said. “And the body, a collusion of accidents, serves only to obscure it,” said the man to her left. “Find my substance,” said the woman. Now Themis noticed the fingernails of the men. They were long and whittled to sharp points. They must have taken years to grow. They dug into the woman’s meaty trunk, and before long she was disemboweled. Her intestines spilled onto the sidewalk. She did not move or blink. The men stood. The woman slackened and fell forward. “Lord, where are you going?” Asked the man on the left. “Your substance eludes me,” said the man on the right.
Jacob Michael King
Among the spectators was a police officer. He moved through the stopped cars and people and stood facing the men. He drew his pistol and the men knelt. He shot them both in the head, and turned to the crowd. “Find my substance,” he said. He took the gun in his mouth and fired. Then there was frenzy. The crowd tore and bit at each other. They disrobed and mounted one another on the backs of cars or on the pavement. One man had opened the gas cap of his car and put his mouth around it. Three men were on the other side, tipping the car until his mouth was filled and he stood and spat gasoline on them and on himself. Someone brought a lighter and fired them up. The burning men disrobed and fucked until their muscles were burned away. Others went to them and caught fire themselves. They walked through the crowd, spreading it, until everyone was burning.
I told him that I’d spent the last week recovering. Drinking cheap brandy, pretending to read. I told him I had stared absently at so many walls or windows and that, tonight, I figured a plowing might do me good. I sighed, and hoped he’d make a joke or get heated for a second round. Just below us, the gaggle was sounding. “The man with no face! Who is the man with no face?” one yelled. A wispy smile from Bob Ross Hair. I felt something clever coming. “Makes you wonder,” he said, “you know, when the play really started.” I said it didn’t, really. “If you think about it, that little girl you drove to the clinic was acting the whole time. Just like a play. And you were her audience. I mean, we’re all acting. You wear your hair and your make-up and shit. You use your voice in a certain
way. I do, too.” “Have I told you that I think you’re brilliant?” I asked, hoping he’d find his way to the nearest gasoline orgy. “All that bitterness? That’s just acting, too. You’re acting right now. The play goes on until you die. I mean, really, what’s the difference? That the actors in those plays...that they die? I mean, don’t we? Don’t we just take longer? At least with them things are, well, I guess ‘cathartic’ is the word I’m looking for.” “I’m certain,” I said, “that ‘cathartic’ is the word you’re looking for. Now that you’ve found it, I hope you don’t mind me stepping out.” I touched his leg, but Bob Ross Hair was stiff. He’d suddenly paled. He looked like an exorcist might do him good. Sirens. Muffled, distant, and then closing in. The sirens stopped, but the lights still spun. The sound of a car door opening. And then, from the megaphone, “Would the man with no face please step out of the building? Please. Would the faceless man come?” “I think I know what they mean,” said Bob Ross Hair. He was glazed over, taken. “I do,” he said, “I think. Like those nails on the men. They’d been growing them for years. It was a preparation, in itself a performance. But when did it begin? Does one prepare, or is one prepared by something backstage? What distinguishes an actor? I think... I think I know what they mean. Look.” He turned his chin up. Under his beard there was stitching sewn from jaw to jaw. In the darkness of his room I had not seen it. “Feel free to fuck off anytime,” I said. “I’ve stopped lying,” he said, and now it was my turn to look punctured. “You,” said Bob Ross Hair, “you condemn the liar when you were born a lie.
Jacob Michael King
You, a woman: your body lies to you. It says that you are a man. All flesh is yolked with untruth. A foul hallucination... a collusion of accidents...” He stood. He started tearing at the stitching, muttering all the while, “I think I know... I think I know what they mean...” Blood fell from him, and I started walking. A girl like me always knows where the exits are. There was a door on the far side of the building, well-lit, with no gaggle. This was a show I didn’t care to see.
Home. It’s where “your story begins” and where about a statistical third of Americans wind up dying. Home is “where the heart is;” home is the “nicest word there is;” and home is “wherever I’m with you.” Home is also one of the few true universals in a world constructed on difference and division. Everyone is from somewhere. Every life that takes place on this earth must also by necessity ‘takes place’ on this earth. We are all just chapters in the greater
Issue No. 7 - March 2015
ongoing stories of our homes. So why not share your story of home with our readers? And, better question, why not cash in on it? Buffalo Almanack is excited to announce and open submissions for “Where Thou Art,” our first theme issue! Where thou art...that’s a double question when you think of it. Not only do we want to know where you come from, what’s it like or why you love it/hate it, but we also want to know how your connection to that place informs your artistic vision today. As such, we’ve expanded our horizons to include creative non-fiction in addition to our usual fare of short stories and the visual arts. From flag-bunted photos of main street that would make the Chamber of Commerce proud to charcoal sketches of the neighborhood cemetery where you and Melissa Adams used to smoke pot after geometry – from subtle fiction that speaks to the essential Ohioness of Ohio, or a documentary essay that explains precisely where Schenectady is and why we’re all pronouncing it wrong, there are no wrong approaches. Nor are you limited to the United States! Curse our Americentric arrogance – we want to hear about the places near and dear to you, even if they’re thousands of miles away from us. What’s in it for you? Well, why don’t we sweeten the pot a bit and double those Inkslinger payouts – $100 apiece to the best work of writing and visual art – and a $50 consolation prize to a third runner-up of either genre? Sounds good to us! Everybody on the planet is eligible, no entry cost is required, and you have plenty of time to prepare – subs will remain open from March to November of 2015. Be sure to visit www.buffaloalmanack.com for further rules and details, or email us at email@example.com with any questions you might have. Welcome home, dear readers...it doesn’t matter where you are, because you’ve never really left.
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
â€œRural landscapes have long been important to my work as a poet. I began trying to capture them in photographs several years ago, first as a way into poems, and then, finally, as what I hope is a legitimate artistic pursuit in their own right...â€?
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
â€œ...Each of the photos here is named for a lyric from an old folk, blues, or country song. When I go out to shoot pictures, I like to shut off my GPS and drive around the backroads of rural Missouri, trying to get lost if I can. These songs ride shotgun.â€?
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
Inkslinger Award Winner 68
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
Canon T2i, edited in Snapspeed
Justin Hamm is a poet and photographer, winner of this issueâ€™s Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence. Here we chat with him about his process and his art. This is Woodshop Talk. ***
BUFFALO ALMANACK: The field of Midwestern literature is experiencing
a popular surge, characterized by the sort of grim rural landscapes and interwoven family narratives typified by Buffalo Almanack alumni Daniel Woodrell, Robert James Russell and Amy Greene.Â Do you think we can we 73
An Interview With Justin Hamm
talk about a contemporary “Midwestern photoscape” in a similar way? As both a poet and visual artist, what does Midwestern art look like to you?
JUSTIN HAMM: Let me start with the second question first. To me,
Midwestern art looks like those writers you mention and those stories you mention, for sure. And obviously I’m coming from a kind of a “traditional,” albeit a little less gritty, Midwestern place with a lot of my poems and photos. That’s my upbringing. I’ve discovered a pretty intense love for it over time.
But I try to be aware that this is just one small part of a much larger picture.
The region is highly varied, and there are so many different experiences. For instance, I was lucky enough to have a poem selected for New Poetry from the Midwest 2014, which comes out from New American Press in April. In reading the proofs I saw how diverse a group of voices could be while still being Midwestern. That really excites me.
How that relates to photography I’m not sure, since I’m just beginning
to feel my way out in that field. There are groups on Instagram or Flickr and Tumblrs dedicated to a certain kind of picture that equates to the literature you mention, so people are into it. And there are pros that make tremendously moving pictures in this vein.
But at the same time, we did a Midwestern issue for the museum of americana
and the photographers we featured took pictures of urban youth, the yards of suburban houses, and the gritty snow that accumulates in wheel wells of cars. The point is again that there is a lot of variety, so I think we can say this style represents one type of “Midwestern photoscape,” and I’m glad it’s popular right now, but it isn’t necessarily the “Midwestern photoscape.”
BA: How did you encounter these moments you chose to photograph? Most seem to be taken from the road, suggesting you’ve been out driving Missouri field and farm (an eternal Midwestern pastime). Was there any sort of scouting process or could we say you were on a “photographic safari?” JH: As you note, these are pictures “from the road.” I spend a lot of time driving. I’m a school librarian in a widely spread out, rural district, and I travel to a different school building each day, so I really have four different commutes in a given week. I don’t have an organized scouting process, but a couple of these pictures are landscapes I’ve driven through many, many times and said, “One day I’ll stop and take the time to shoot that,” and then on a particular day, I guess, the lighting was just too good not to stop, or I had some extra time on the way home.
The rest of the photos come from just trying to get lost on the backroads
around Missouri. Every once in a while I’ll find a Saturday afternoon where I can take a few hours and drive around with the GPS in my phone off. The element of surprise is a big part of the process. Of course I have in mind some of what I’m looking for — I like solitary objects in big open spaces and I feel an emotional pull toward the ruins of old barns and houses and factories and small town main streets — but I like being surprised at what I find, reacting to the scenes with my first gut feeling. Come to think of it, it isn’t so different from writing poems. I’m wandering around lost most of the time, and I just try to trust that sooner or later a worthwhile image will come along, one that makes me feel something deep enough I’ll want to share it with other people, if I can.
BA: Can you describe your technical process as a photographer
An Interview With Justin Hamm
(equipment, framing, editing, etc.)? JH: Sure. I use a Canon T2i with, alternately, a 75-300mm lens, a prime 50mm lens, and a Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens. I also use my iphone on occasion.
I already know the images I’m making are going to be processed, so I try
to keep that in mind as I’m choosing how to go about shooting a subject. For instance, I like to use texture, and I know the textures I use look good on a sky or a large area of blurred background, so I’ll try to think about how to incorporate that into the image as I’m setting up a shot. I also think about the filters I’m going to apply later. Otherwise, a lot of it is just gut. Am I emphasizing what initially drew me to the scene through the framing or composition? I don’t have any formal training in photography or photo editing. Probably I could use some.
I do adjust some of the settings in camera, especially if I’m shooting in black
and white, since I really like it contrasty and noir-like and I can get that in a way I haven’t been able to with a photo editor. I use the default windows photo gallery for basic tweaks in contrast, sharpness, highlights and shadows, etc. From there I use Snapspeed on my iPad. By combining textures and filters in different ways I’ve found some looks that I really like, looks that help convey the deep feeling I get from being in these rural places.
BA: In addition to your photography, you’re also the author of Lessons in Ruin, a well-received book of poetry, and the founding editor of the museum of americana, an online literary review of “the old, dying [and] forgotten.” What more can you tell us about these ventures? What stories do your poems begin that your photography might continue, and vice versa?
JH: All three ventures are tied up in an interest in region, American history, Americana, the Midwest, personal history, rusty and dusty old things, and so forth. These subjects are comprised of such rich, complicated, oftentimes contradictory and controversial matter, and I wanted to create a place to publish work that revives them, reworks them, and ultimately reconsiders their meaning. Hence the museum of americana. There’s a lot to celebrate in American cultural history, and of course just as much to be ashamed of. But all of it is worth thinking about and none of it should be forgotten. Our writers and artists try to bring that culture out, hold it up to the light, and examine it.
I’m a poet/short fiction writer first, but my poetry and photography are
definitely related to one another. Readers of Lessons in Ruin would recognize the landscape of my photos in a number of the poems. In fact, when I first started taking pictures of the Midwest four or five years ago, I did it as a way to spark poems, to connect to the landscape I wanted to write about. To write what I feel like are my best poems, I have to get to a certain place in my head and in my chest, and I found these solitary excursions helped me get there. I had time to meditate over different ideas while driving and setting up shots.
I suppose the difference is that the poems are populated with people. Rather
than the landscape itself — as my pictures depict — I’m after the relationship of people to the landscape or the location in my poems. I think I could get there with photos, too, eventually, but I’m still shy about asking strangers to take their picture, and a lot of rural Midwesterners around here are camera averse for whatever reason. Also, I think it would change the solitary appeal of going out to shoot photos for me.
You mentioned in your artist’s statement that the photos of this series were
An Interview With Justin Hamm
inspired by various folk songs on your car radio. What songs were these and in what ways do they inform your art?
Actually, I put together a playlist that includes songs with the lyrics that I
titled these pictures after — old folk, blues, country, and jazz songs. Each lyric isn’t necessarily from the song that was playing when I took a given picture, but rather what came to mind as I edited them. I have a handful of playlists like this specifically for when I’m out shooting. Although it isn’t a one-to-one thing — I wasn’t out there trying to take a picture to represent a Robert Johnson lyric — ultimately what I’m listening to affects the kind of pictures I end up taking. The feeling comes out in the picture and in the processing because I’m in the mindset of the music.
Other mediums have always inspired me. A great painting or a powerful
novel has an energy to it, and I love filling up on that energy before trying to write. I don’t mean so I can write about the novel or the painting, and I don’t mean so I can emulate the artist’s style, either, although I try to do both of those things sometimes. I mean more just taking in the feeling or energy of a work of art and seeing where that leads you when you mix it up with your own ideas.
Old music is especially important to me in that way. I talked about needing
to get to a certain place in my head and my heart, and old music almost always gets me there. It can be earnest, weird, poetic, clever, dark, heartbreaking, or even just outright silly, and I love it for all those things. And of course because it makes me think of my childhood and my grandpa who first introduced me to early country and the Grand Ole Opry stuff, and the Pentecostal church where I first heard old-time spirituals. I’m constantly trying to learn more about old music. It’s a deep well. There’s a haunted aspect to that kind of music that especially grabs me. It isn’t so different from the feeling you get walking around 78
a dying Midwestern small town.
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Hank Williams “Hellhound on my Trail,” Robert Johnson “I Was Young When I Left Home,” Bob Dylan “Goodnight Irene,” Lead Belly “You Are My Sunshine,” Gene Autry “Gloomy Sunday,” Billie Holiday “Blowin’ Down that Old Dusty Road,” Woody Guthrie “Death Letter,” Son House “The House Carpenter,” Doc Watson “Satan is Real,” The Louvin Brothers “St. James Infirmary,” Louis Armstrong “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” The Carter Family “In the Pines,” The Kossoy Sisters “Come on in My Kitchen,” Robert Johnson “Moonshiner,” Roscoe Holcomb “It Wasn’t Got Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” Kitty Wells “Farther Along,” Mississippi John Hurt “Wildwood Flower,” The Carter Family “In the Jailhouse Now,” Webb Pierce
Listen to Justin’s playlist on Spotify! Visit http://open.spotify.com/user/12133609048/playlist/3xV1JwA5opd2wrorkZM48B (Clickable link available on the Buffalo Almanack website) 79
An Interview With Justin Hamm
Eric Boehling Lewis
One thing about being a grownup, you forget how mean some kids are. The principal at Jeremy’s school calls and says, Your son has been suspended for stabbing Martin Rooney in the shoulder with a pencil, and I’m like, My son? Are you sure?
I go pick him up from the dean’s office because apparently he’s not even
allowed to finish out the day, and Jeremy’s left eye is swollen and I ask, What in the Christ happened? And the dean says, all official, like a lawyer, Allegedly some bullying transpired in the locker room when they were changing for P.E. This is the public school system with their ridiculous blanket policies, and any fighting is an automatic suspension even if it was in self-defense. I flip the dean the bird on our way out, and he just sits there shaking his head.
On the way home, I stop at 7-11 and buy us a couple Slurpees to show I’m
not pissed. Poor Jeremy is still in full-on mope mode, so I tell him he can have anything he wants from the magazine rack and without even browsing he springs for Guns & Ammo. Immediately, I think, Oh shit, potential Columbine kid in the works, redirect, redirect. So very casually I ask if he noticed the video game mags, the muscle mags, even the Maxim-type mags that Lydia would definitely not approve of. He’s like, Nope, this one, final answer.
The drive home is silent and ranks as one of the more awkward car rides of
my life, right up there with the time I pulled my wang out for Tammy Delrico and she was like, No, Kyle, I seriously just needed a lift from work.
When we get home, I nuke some Easy Mac for the J-man and then am like,
J-man, guard the castle while I go pick up your moms. Except I don’t pick her up. Lydia knows to take the bus if I’m not at the hospital by four-fifteen, so I head over to Tom Rooney’s place.
Eric Boehling Lewis
Tommy and I went to school together. He was always Mr. Popular and a real
smug dickhole. I’m guessing the apple didn’t fall far. His house is this enormous tri-level in Wellesley with concrete lions out guarding the stoop as if it were a museum or something. I park my truck on his immaculate lawn and sit there revving the engine, which creates all this rank smoke on account of my bad muffler.
Tom rushes out of the house waving both arms and yelling to stop it, so I
cut the engine and ask him where his son gets off picking on a kid half his size. At which point, Martin comes out on the porch and is wearing a sling and looks like he’s been crying. I’m about to say something like, Geez, kid, tough break, but then Tom’s on his cellphone saying, Hello? Henrico County police?, and I’m like, Point taken, dillhole. I leave some pretty deep ruts in his sod on my way out.
Coming home, I make a slight detour and pop in at Melito’s. Brenda is
behind the bar on a step ladder chalking through the specials they’re out of, and for a minute I get this choice view of her can as she’s reaching up to futz with the chalk board, then I catch myself and I’m like, Married married married married. Even though Brenda is a total MILF, I was hoping for Ronnie because I’m looking for a little advice. But I order a whiskey sour and float my troubles past her anyways. Brenda, God love her, is no help. I polish another whiskey sour for good measure and step out for a smoke.
So I’m moseying down past the other stores in the shopping center — cigar
store, music store, a yoga studio in the cursed slot where nothing makes it over a year — when lo and behold I find myself in front of the Disco Sports window display, half of which is regular sports and half of which is paintball. I’m like, Eureka! I go in and through the magic of credit cards I walk out with two
factory-refurbished Tippmann 98s and a three-gallon bag of purple paintballs.
Driving home, I strategize. On the surface, this purchase looks perhaps a tad
foolhardy, what with three out of our five credit cards already maxed out, what with my not-at-the-present-moment being gainfully employed — the things that I know Lydia will rather screechingly point out, her being the more frugal, the more level-headed, the more employed one of us. This last point she never fails to mention.
But I concoct a plan. Before going into the house, I stash the goodies in the
shed, then present them to Jeremy the next day while the moms is at work. Ergo it is not just me but the bruised-up J-man she’ll be forced to say no to. Which of course she won’t, she can’t.
She gets home looking all frumpy in her scrubs and Jeremy’s like Mom!
Thanks! Best early birthday ever!, and she looks confused but then sees the gear and gives me this look like, You are so dead meat, hombre, to which I return this feeble grin of like, Yes, I am.
Lydia has this ability that I don’t, which is the ability to bottle up rage
and wait as long as it takes until the exact right moment and then whoosh, armageddon. So once Jeremy is in bed and I’m watching Leno, she comes in and stands in front of the TV, and I say to myself OK, time to pay the piper. And I do. Boy do I.
Next day is pure bliss. The best part about paintball isn’t even the paintball
itself, it’s building the range. Luckily, there’s nothing but woods behind our backyard, plus we’re well stocked with building materials. Back when I was still working maintenance at Champions Pointe Economy Apartments, we had this like swimming pool-size trash compactor that the
Eric Boehling Lewis
residents chucked all their garbage into. Well, Champions Pointe being what we call a high-turnover complex, you can imagine what all got thrown out on a weekly basis. And seeing as running the compactor fell under my jurisdiction, I had the pick of the litter, so to speak. Whenever I’d spot something too good to crush, I’d rope up and rappel down to help myself. You wouldn’t believe the loot folks toss. In my backyard, I’ve got an RVport full of nearly perfect coffee tables, statuettes, nightstands, curtain rods, refrigerator doors, pet carriers, you name it. So me and the J-man have plenty to work with is what I’m saying. We have our best day ever. I sling a rug over the back fence so we can climb without getting snagged, and we set about building barricades and forts and obstacles. You know, dig a little trough and set a coffee table end-up in the trough with two legs against a tree, with a few leg-to-tree nails for good measure — stuff like that. Talk about father-son bonding! Him home from school and me between jobs, this is living. And when we’re taking a breather and Jeremy gives me this combo nod-smile of like, Pops, this is just what I needed, I want to video that nod and play it for Lydia and shout, See? See what I did for our poor, depressed son! But I just savor the moment and sip my Gatorade.
We head back over the fence and start some serious digging for the coup de
grass: the bunker. It’s going to be this bathroom-sized hole with little dug-out steps, covered by this old sheet metal sign for Seredni Re-Tread Tires that we found out in the woods.
And then it happens. You know the saying, “a blessing in disguise”? Well
this is whatever the opposite of that is. Greeks bearing gifts? Something along those lines.
We get about two feet down, past the soil and into the clay, when Jeremy
spots it. The arrowhead. He snatches it up and runs around with his fists in the air like Rocky at the art museum and I’m like, Hold on bub, let’s take a gander at that thing, see whether it’s a fake or not. He brings it over and it sure looks real enough, though, all honesty, I have no clue as to what gives away a phony arrowhead. What I notice are these fingernail-shaped contours where the stone was chipped away. I test the edge against my thumb and it’s still surprisingly sharp.
Jeremy suggests we put it on eBay right then and there, dirt and all, but
I’ve seen Antiques Roadshow enough to know you got to get an appraisal first. Although I do admittedly start counting my chickens, recalling how Jody Zachariah found an arrowhead back in ’88 and got sixty bucks for it from this somethingologist, and so figuring for inflation I could be looking at a cool hundred, easy. Which of course I’d split halvsies with the J-man.
I’m about to call the university and then a light bulb goes on like, Hello,
college visit for little Indiana Jones here? Never too early to start the ol’ short list? So off we go.
I swing us by the golden arches first for a couple dollar menu cheeseburgers,
which is very much a Thing We Do Not Tell the Moms, processed beef being verboten ever since Lydia saw a “Dateline” where they’d found like pig taints and rat fur in some of the processing vats.
Universities are weird. They’re not like schools, where there is an easy-
to-find main office. Universities are just a buttload of buildings with names like McIntyre Hall, and since when is a building a hall? Point being it takes us forever to figure out where we need to get to, which ends up being the department of anthropology, in this awesome ‘hall’ that looks like an old-timey courthouse.
Eric Boehling Lewis
In the anthro building, we talk to this total poindexter who’s wearing a
cardigan on top of a sweater vest, with tufts of gray hair coming out of his ears and an honest-to-god rat-tail. I dig the arrowhead out of my pocket and he takes it and is like, Oh my! Oh, oh.
That’s all he says for a good five minutes. Dude pulls a magnifying glass out
of his cardigan pocket and just goes to town looking the thing over, making little grunts and whinnies and occasionally coughing like frigging Aqualung into his armpit.
First thing he says, and I find this odd, is he says, What’s your address? I
need you to write it down. To which I go, Beg pardon? Then he goes into this longwinded bunch of jargon of which I understand precisely zilch, so he gives up and has his little goon or gopher or whoever re-explain. The long and short of it being this arrowhead was made with a rare pressure flaking technique, said style being specific to the Nottoway Indian tribe. I cut him off, go — Pressure flanking? — and he makes a show of sighing and being put out, and explains how it’s this method of pressing the rock slow but firm with a sharp point, until a little stone shaving pops off, and that’s done hundreds of times until the dull old rock transforms into a lethal implement (his word, implement). And so again, this style of pressure flaking was specific to the Nottoway tribe, or so they’d thought, and if I’d really found this arrowhead in my neck of the woods then this was big doings because it meant either A: the Nottaways covered a lot more territory than previously thought, or B: a local tribe had peaceably hung with the Nottoways and aped their style, or C: wild card.
To which I am like, OK, and you need my address because?
Because we need to set up an archaeological dig of the entire area, says goon.
Jeremy and I look at each other like, What the fug? And I go, Sorry man, no
can do. That’s where me and my son play paintball. So if you could just give me the cash for the arrowhead...
No dice, explains goon. Apparently when you find historical junk in the
ground, you basically have to forfeit that area, lest you be prepared to weather quite the legal shitstorm. (I’m paraphrasing here.)
Guess how Lydia takes this news. Calmly? Please. She nearly bursts her
spleen she flips out so hard. You know that scene at the end of Total Recall where Schwarzenegger goes outside the space-lock without his space helmet? And his eyes bug out of his head and he turns bright pink and his veins swell up like sausages? That’s Lydia’s face when I try cutting the tension with a little humor, telling her there is Nottoway around this dig. Guess where I sleep that night. Just guess.
By the time I wake up next morning the house is empty and the backyard
looks like the first five minutes of Jurassic Park, when all those nerds in khaki shorts were brushing dust off the dinosaur bones. I waste the whole day trying to return the paintball guns, then trying to sell them to Play-It-Again Sports, then going to the driving range and shooting at the golf ball picker-upper-cart until the manager comes over and cordially invites me to get the fuck out of his establishment before he calls the fuzz.
When I get home Lydia and Jeremy are at the dinette eating flounder and
cauliflower casserole, and without looking up Lydia goes, Your plate’s in the oven. Then she asks the J-man how his first day back at school went, and he mumbles like two words, and they keep eating, not looking up. It’s pretty clear that the Paternal Unit, a.k.a. moi, is contributing basically nada to Team Nelson.
Eric Boehling Lewis
I take my plate into the computer room and sit there without turning the light on, kind of fishing for pity but at the same time knowing I don’t deserve it.
That night I can’t sleep. I’m on the couch, staring at the ceiling fan, and
Sarge, the neighbor’s dog, starts barking his head off. I open the sliding back door and Sarge is standing right up against our fence barking like a metronome. He doesn’t stop when he sees me, if he even sees me. He does this whenever coons get into my trash cans. When Sarge gets like this the only solution is to pop him with the BB gun, just on like one pump, to scare him back into his kennel. I go into the laundry room for the gun, and when I come back outside Sarge stops barking. He goes downward-dog and does this little whimper, staring at some spot in my backyard. Then I see it. Him. I see him. Out near where my back fence used to be, some guy in an Indian costume is standing in the middle of the dig site. He’s hard to make out at first, then my eyes adjust, and I can see every detail of him in the moonlight. He’s wearing tan leather pants and no shirt and a really gaudy necklace made of little bones or beads or something whitish. He doesn’t have any face paint or head decorations, just long, luxurious black hair. I ask him where the rest of the Village People are at, and he just looks at me. I stare back for probably a good twenty seconds, then I snap to and raise the barrel of the BB gun. He laughs, and his laugh comes off as a threat or maybe a dare, and I feel my pecker shrivel right up into my balls.
I sight down the barrel and call out, This is my yard, Chief. No response. I repeat myself. He grunts something in a language I’ve never
heard. I take several steps forward and am like, Yo! Spreken ze English? You
know, Een-glish? He looks me in the eye and then nods toward the dug-up ground. He speaks that gibberish again, sounding upset this time. Then he starts stomping around in circles, working himself up into like a grown-man tantrum. A mantrum. He stops and says something to me, stamping his foot and gesturing toward the ground like, Can’t you see? Then I notice the blood. At first I think it’s some sort of Indian body paint, but I inch a little closer and nope, blood. Streaming down his right side from a gnarly gash under his armpit. You know how in paintings Jesus has this big wound in his side? This one is gorier. It doesn’t seem to bother him, though. He is way more wigged out by this tarp on the ground. He keeps trying to kick it or drag it away, but he keeps missing it or losing his grip or something. I ditch the BB gun and walk over and lift the tarp myself. Even though I am half expecting there to be a skeleton underneath, I still am royally surprised when the thing under the tarp is indeed a skeleton. I look back over at Chief, who is pointing at the bones and making quite a ruckus, and I am like, Oh, duh, ghost. He crouches down by me, slaps his chest and then slaps the bones — or rather, he slaps at and through the bones, and I’m like, Yes, you. You, bones. Bones equal Chief. Roger. And he mimes putting armloads of things on top of the bones, as in I guess burying the skeleton? Piling rocks on it? Something in that ballpark.
Negatory, I say. Fraid not, Chief. I mime un-piling the imaginary rock pile,
shaking my head like Stevie Wonder. The Indian clams up and stomps off into the woods.
I look around and it’s like the whole thing never happened. Sarge is nowhere
Eric Boehling Lewis
in sight. Except for my back porch light, the whole neighborhood is dark, and the shy whining of nocturnal insects is the only sound.
I go back in the house thinking I oughta tell Lydia. She always knows what
to do. She’ll tell me I was sleepwalking, and I’ll believe her. But I pause outside our bedroom door — she’s crying. Crying in that painful way where she’s basically sobbing but is also suppressing her sobs, hoping nobody will hear. So I head back to the couch and stare up at a crack in the plaster.
At some point I guess I fall asleep, because I wake up and it’s almost noon
and the house is quiet save the faint sounds trickling in from the excavation out back. Lydia has left me a note on the dinette. Next to the note are our credit card statements and a letter from the bank. She’s highlighted the credit card statements, my purchases in pink and hers in yellow. Her purchases are things like groceries, a monthly bus pass, copays for Jeremy’s orthodontist and an eyeglasses repair kit. My purchases? Star Wars memorabilia off eBay, a handle of Evan Williams and sour mix, custom bowling shoes, two video games... It keeps going but you get the point. The letter from the bank is more bad news re: our mortgage.
Her note says:
Look what you’re doing to our family. Where is the Kyle Nelson I fell in love with?
haven’t been on a job interview in months, you spend money like an 8-year-old,
haven’t touched me in so long I’ve forgotten what it feels like. You’re not a
man anymore. If you can’t forgive yourself, we’ll never be whole again. Consider this goodbye.
Lydia and I used to be a team. When we were in twelfth grade, she came
to every one of my games, always sitting right on the fifty-yard line, hollering my name and clanging a cowbell. When she was in nursing school and I was a nighttime security guard, I’d call her from work and quiz her for hours on the flash cards she’d packed in my lunchbox. And when Jeremy was born preemie, we’d propped each other up for those six hellish weeks when we couldn’t bring him home from the hospital.
I know where she’ll go — to stay with her sister and her husband out in
Powhatan County. She’ll have them swing by Tuckahoe Middle and pick up Jeremy. But I won’t go after them, at least not yet, because Lydia is right. I’m not the man I was. Not since the incident.
The incident involves the jumbo trash compactor at Champions Pointe and
me accidentally crushing a newborn that had been left in there in a shoebox. It sounds weird, I know, and I don’t want to go into the details.
But then here come the fucking details, parading through my mind like a
goddamn fumble-in-review. The strange sound I heard just as I pressed the green button. Or was it just before I pressed the green button? How when I heard the shriek, I froze for three seconds before hitting the red button. How those three seconds probably meant everything. How the cop had to borrow my dustpan to scoop up the little bits that had squished out of the shoebox. And how the great big evidence bag just had to be see-through.
On top of the fridge, there’s a good bit left of the handle of Evan Williams,
but not enough for the way I’m feeling. So I open up the medicine cabinet and scan the orange pill bottles. Mercifully, there’s a half dozen Flexeril left from
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when Lydia threw her back out last year. I chew a couple so they’ll hit faster, then I sit in the bathtub with Evan and turn the shower on full blast. I get the water going painfully hot. I’ve still got my clothes on, and they start to feel like those steaming towels you might get at a fancy Oriental restaurant, like P. F. Chang’s.
It feels sort of good, giving in to all the badness of my life, letting it whittle
me down to almost nothing. I can see how suicide must feel nice, when there’s nothing else you can do right. It’s like looking the awfulness square in the eye and saying, Agreed! My eyes shut.
I wake up freezing. All the hot water is used up and the showerhead is
spraying pure cold. Getting out of the tub takes a while because the muscle relaxer has really kicked in.
The living room is obscenely bright. Out through the sliding glass door I can
see the dig team clinking away, and I realize it’s not even two in the afternoon. I mosey on out there, toying with the idea of telling them about the Indian ghost.
At first nobody will make eye contact, even though they obviously see
me. Hard to miss the soaking wet, handle of bourbon-carrying guy wearing a ‘WHO FARTED?’ t-shirt. Then I’ve got the rat-tailed professor racing over to me, dressed like he’s on safari, a big fake grin on his mug, asking me how I’m “getting on.” I ask him loudly whether he knows this place is haunted by an Injun. He replies that no, he was not aware of any Native American apparitions in the area. I tell him I can prove it, I know that the skeleton they dug up died of a massive wound to the right side of the torso. To which Professor Rat-tail replies they could tell that from the skeleton, and why have I been snooping around the dig
site, and don’t I know how sensitive the site is? He makes some pretty good points, so my only response is to stand there staring at him and finish the Evan in one long tilt. I got nothing against this old nerd, but I am not in the frame of mind to stand a browbeating. Instead of being irate and telling me to get lost, which I know he has the right to do, he tries the old nice-guy routine. He asks if I’d like to see the new stuff they’ve dug up, so I don’t feel compelled to come poking around later. Turns out there’s another skeleton, this one with its skull bashed in. The pelvis tells them it’s a lady skeleton. I say, This is all very interesting but do you think maybe y’all could show a little fucking respect and re-bury these poor dead Injuns and give me back my paintball course? So then he tells me to beat it, only in that way that pompous brainiacs say things. The whole thing feels like one big joke I’m not in on.
Apparently there are some scientists who are looking into whether infants feel pain the same as older kids and adults. Their line of thinking is that the brain and nerves are still learning how to work together, so maybe pain isn’t felt as intensly when you’re a baby. Take for example how when an infant smacks his forehead into the edge of a coffee table, it takes several seconds for it to register that he’s hurt. You know how a baby’s face will crumple up like a tissue before he starts crying? That. So it’s not that infants can’t feel pain, but they might not feel it as bad as we’d assume. My grief counselor told me about this hypothesis back when I was on suicide watch.
Sounds like a crock of shit.
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Tonight Sarge is at it again. This time I don’t bother fetching the BB gun. Whistling “YMCA,” I nuke some water in a ‘World’s Greatest Mom’ mug, stir in a packet of instant coffee and stroll on out to chat with the Chief. What surprises me isn’t that there’s a new ghost standing alongside Chief. That part I expected. What catches me off guard, and sends coffee shooting out my nose, is that she’s topless. None of that demure Land O’Lakes shit. I play it cool. I just nod like, Wassup, Pocahontas. The lady Indian has this serene almost-smile, like the cartoon Buddha logo of this one hippy-dippy incense shop at the mall. Chief is another story. Dude is flipping. He’s even more keyed up than last night, as in tonight he’s not just angry, he’s like tormented, as if he just stepped on a yellow jacket nest. Pocahontas watches him try to lift the tarp, which the diggers have pinned to the ground with tent stakes. Chief moves slow, with the tense concentration of a Jenga champ. For a second the tarp starts to rustle, but then his fingers slip through and he’s yelling again. The woman gives me that self-conscious, apologetic smile that a mom makes when her toddler is going nuts in the cereal aisle.
Chief doesn’t even notice me until I step in and pull up the stakes and toss
the tarp aside, at which point he drops to his knees, wailing over Pocahontas’s skeleton. He grabs fistfuls of his beautiful hair, yanking it out. He pounds his chest until his huge necklace breaks apart, shards lodging in his flesh. Pocahontas kneels behind him, wraps her arms around his middle and leans her head on his shoulder. She nuzzles the side of his face and sings something quiet and repetitive. As she rocks him back and forth, moonlight glistens off a wet, softball-size crater in the back of her head. After a minute he turns to her, collapses in her thin arms, and they quiver softly, snorting and snotting and
weeping, her still trying to sing.
They’re young. They remind me of myself and Lydia, years, many years ago.
She would never cry like this with me now, seeing as I’m the cause of her crying these days. After the incident, she tried to comfort me, but I wouldn’t let her. The grief counselor warned that if I kept telling Lydia to leave me be, eventually she would. And she did.
I go back inside. I’d like to help, but they are being so intimate I feel like a
perv sticking around.
It’s after three, but I haven’t eaten all day, so I make Jeremy’s favorite: mac
‘n’ cheese with cut-up hotdogs. I watch late-night infomercials and eat straight out of the saucepan, trying to stay awake. The nightmares were bad enough back when I only had the incident on my conscience. Now this.
Some excited Brit is telling me how miserable I am slicing tomahtoes with my
outdated kitchen knife. I sip my cocktail of Robitussin and Pepsi, and say, Mm, quite right old chap. I’m not watching him, I’m watching the wall. It’s flashing bluely, the TV’s light fading down the hallway into blackness.
At the end of the hall, a yellow glow appears in the gap under Jeremy’s door.
I mute the tube and stealth-crawl toward the door, listening. At first I don’t hear anything. Then I get the distinct sound of someone turning pages. I enter the room and there’s Jeremy, sitting cross-legged on the floor, Guns & Ammo open in his lap.
He looks up and says, Hey Pops, we gonna play paintball or what?
How’d you get in here? I ask. Does your mother know where you are? But
he doesn’t answer. He just leafs through the magazine, stopping on a two-page spread of some high-tech assault rifle. Hubba hubba, Jeremy says.
I crawl closer. I bend down and try to catch his eye. I tell him, Son, I screwed
Eric Boehling Lewis
up. I’ve had some rotten luck. But I’ll fix everything, I swear.
Mom told me you didn’t even do it, he says without looking up.
Mom says the coroner said the baby was already dead, and you know it. Jeremy flips the page of his magazine and goes, Hello, nurse! Hubba hubba
Sometimes this thing happens where my eardrums start throbbing and my
lungs shut off and the only thing I can do is put my forehead on the carpet and try really hard to breathe.
God only knows what I’ve been dreaming when out of nowhere an army
tank appears, blasting its giant cannon or turret or whatever. I try to ignore it but it just gets louder. Then it isn’t a tank at all, it’s a fist banging on the front door. And I’m not wherever I just was, I’m on the sofa. I pop up to get the door, except my right leg is tingly and dead so I collapse on the floor along with the saucepan of uneaten mac ‘n’ cheese and cut-up hotdogs.
I open the door, and even though I see one of Henrico County’s finest, my
first thought is that it’s been ages since anyone has used the front door. The whole stoop is overrun with waist-high weeds I don’t even know the names of. When did it get this bad? Has my house become that house, the one everybody else is ashamed of?
It must be a while that I’m standing there thinking these things, because the
first thing the cop says is Mr. Nelson? Sir? You all right?
I say Yes, of course, and ask him how long the front stoop has looked so
The cop, whose glinting chrome nametag says Tangard, asks if I want to put
some clothes on, and I take stock and realize I’m sporting some long-expired tighty-whities, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and one tube sock. I say Nah, I’m good, and invite Officer Tangard inside. A few people I hadn’t noticed before trail in behind him — the rat-tail professor, a couple be-khakied goons and a fat man in a sharp suit.
The cop eyes the spilled macaroni in the living room, then squints down the
hallway and asks, Is anybody else home? You tell me, I say. We all listen for a few seconds and then Officer Tangard goes, Hello? Guess not.
He explains that the diggers were none too pleased to find their
archaeological whatnots tampered with, and he shows me some papers that I gather are a special kind of restraining order — special because it’s not a person but a dig site I’m not allowed to go near. He paperclips his card to my copy of the restraining order and sticks it on my fridge with a Century21 magnet. Then he leads our little powwow out through the sliding glass door and directs my attention to a line of orange nylon ribbon, the kind you see around construction sites, that cuts my backyard in half. Fortunately, the yard goes back quite a ways, so both sheds and the RV-port are still in my domain. If I’m caught going past that line, he’ll have no choice but to come back and arrest me.
The suit, who I reckon is the university’s lawyer, chimes in and says they
won’t hesitate to sue me for all I’ve got. I laugh at the notion of all I’ve got, and so does Officer Tangard.
Glenda is the name I gave to the baby I killed. It’s the name Lydia and I
would have given our daughter if we’d been able to conceive again. We wanted Jeremy to have a companion. I’m an only child and I never wanted that for him. All the only children I’ve known carry around a hint of sadness which I
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figure comes from childhood, from being lonesome all the time. I played catch by throwing a baseball as high as I could, then scrambling to get under it. For Monopoly I played as the hat, the shoe, and the racecar all at once. I sent myself to jail and charged myself fines for landing on Park Place.
Lydia and I tried for another. Lord, we tried. When Jeremy was eighteen
months we went off birth control, hoping it would just happen again. When it didn’t just happen, we tried the rhythm method. Lydia took her temperature at the same time each morning and followed a whole damn pamphlet full of rules. No dice. Then we took the money that we’d saved up for a second car and blew it on in-vitro. It sort of worked a couple times, but she miscarried and the second one happened late second trimester, which was far enough along that they had to do a DNC surgery to clean her out.
As soon as she recovered from the DNC, our gynecologist suggested
exploratory surgery to poke around and see what the fug was up with her baby-maker. The surgery didn’t show anything unusual, except that Lydia’s uterus was slightly off-center and tilted back at a weird angle, which our doctor admitted wasn’t all that uncommon. You’d like it to be all symmetrical in there, but no big wup if it isn’t.
We decided to try one last time, even though we were scared. It ended badly.
Another conception, good vitals all the way up until third trimester, then some minor complications, then bed rest. We kept saying optimistic things to each other even though we both knew what was coming. You get so accustomed to bad luck that you can read the future. Lydia’s water broke nine weeks early. It was stillborn. It was a girl.
Jeremy was young and moldable and we tried to shield him from our
mourning. No little sister after all, ho-hum; onward and upward! Me and Lydia
were good pretenders. Sometimes we pretended so good we actually tricked ourselves into believing we were happy again.
Then the incident. Bad idea calling it Glenda, my grief counselor said. Better to call it ‘it.’ Which
was easy to say if you hadn’t heard her scream as you crushed her to death. What a way to go — terrified and alone in a cardboard coffin in some smelly, dark pit. No matter how I die, it can’t make up for the way I killed her.
This time I don’t wait for Sarge to start barking. At dusk, I go sit in the
grass just barely on the kosher side of the ribbon. Chief shows up in under two cigarettes. He kind of fades in, like something out of Star Trek. He looks exhausted. His hair is still ripped out, his necklace splintered, his chest bloody. I was hoping he’d like reboot each day, but apparently even the dead can’t catch a break.
He sees me and nods. Then he’s staring at my Marlboro. I duck under the
ribbon and hold out the cigarette and go Smokum peace pipe? and he reaches out and grabs it on the second try. He holds it more like a joint, which I probably would too if I’d never seen a cigarette, but when he goes to take a drag the light goes out. He hands it back and I re-light it, making sure there’s a nice glowing cherry in the end, but then he tries again and the same thing happens.
Kind of a dick move on God’s part, you ask me. So you can be dug up out of
eternal rest and have your soul tormented, yet you can’t enjoy a smoke break? What kind of asshole rules are these?
I give him the ‘I’m sorry’ shrug and flick the butt back over into friendly
territory, and then Pocahontas arrives and Chief starts wigging out all over again.
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Now that’s love. His own soul being cast into never-ending restlessness is one thing, but his lady? Whole nother ballgame.
Just like last night, Pocahontas is looking finer than a frog hair, except
tonight she’s not so mellow. More like worried, is how I’d describe her expression.
Now Chief is royally pissed. He goes to this big pile of dirt and picks out
the rocks and hurls them everywhere. Every now and then he muffs a throw, as in the rock drops through his hand, but for the most part he’s got the whole physical manipulation thing down. He grabs the biggest rock in the pile and starts whaling on the dig team’s generator. Then Pocahontas starts screaming. Then I see why.
We are now a party of four. We are plus one baby, and it ain’t pretty. The
poor thing was cut damn near clean in two. Its insides drag the dirt as it crawls around blubbering.
Pocahontas stoops and picks him up by the armpits. The little guy starts to
peel in half, but she catches his bottom and accordions him back together. She fusses over these little smudges on his face, licking her thumb and rubbing away the dirt. She bounces him and shushes him and kisses his nose, and he goes right on screaming. You haven’t seen worry until you’ve seen the face of a mother who can’t stop her baby crying. She reminds me so much of Lydia, how when we first brought Jeremy home from the hospital and he was colicky for three months, and we’d both have given a major appendage to stop his shrieking.
My brain kicks into gear. I’m the only person who knows about these
guys, ergo their continued suffering is on my bar tab, so to speak. Which is just what I need, even more bad karma. But we can’t just grab shovels and re-bury
the remains. All that would achieve is me getting locked up and them getting promptly re-unburied. I could steal the skeletons — tarp up all the bone fragments and hightail it over to maybe Louisa County and plunk them in a hole someplace and hope nobody notices. Nope, that dog won’t hunt either. The only thing to do is somehow convince old Professor Rat-tail to move on to greener paintball courses.
I run back inside and snatch the restraining order off the fridge. His name’s
got to be in there somewhere. The print is small and there are lots of Latiny words like “pursuant,” but finally I find the guy’s name. Malcolm Brinkley. There’s two of them in the white pages but one’s listed out in Goochland County and one’s on University Drive. Guess which one I call first.
He lets the answering machine pick up and once it beeps I start shouting
that crazy shit is going down at the dig site and he’d better hurry over here if he wants to save his precious skeletons. Then I hear a clatter and his voice and he wants to know what’s the meaning of all this. I tell him, No details over the phone, just come quick and come alone. Click.
Not fifteen minutes later he screeches up my driveway and barrels around
the side of the house hollering to leave his specimens alone. Then he drops to his knees, trembling. There’s enough light from the back porch light that even without his eyes adjusting to the dark, he can see what all is happening.
I hadn’t meant to scare him. I walk over gingerly and help him up,
explaining in my library voice that it gets worse and worse the more his team digs them up. How at the rate they’re going, by the end of the week we’ll have some Poltergeist meets The Shining shit on our hands.
When I lead the professor down into the dig area, Pocahontas shrinks away,
Eric Boehling Lewis
covering the baby’s eyes, but Chief stalks him, taunting and slapping himself in the chest. Let’s have a look at those bones, I say.
Right as I bend over to pull up the tarp, I hear a sound like if you were to
drop a cantaloupe from a building. There’s this almost simultaneous highpitched whinny, and I whip around in time to hear the professor’s pitiful little parting sounds. Chief has that big rock in both hands. He whoops and sprawls onto his knees and keeps going to town on the professor’s noggin, busting it to smithereens.
I race over and steal the rock just as Chief’s raising it up above his head. I
shout something at him, I don’t know what. I’m too upset to process.
There’s a scurrying sound from back toward the house. Then a voice yells
What in the name of—? I know that voice. It’s Tangard’s voice. Of course. What’s the first thing you do when some wack-job tells you to come alone? You call the fugging cops.
I’m standing in the muck of the fresh corpse. Officer Tangard barks at me to
turn around and put my hands behind my head. I turn around. Hands behind your head! He screams again. The bloody rock is in my hands. But I can explain. If only the Chief — I look around. Chief is gone. Pocahontas, the baby, gone. I walk toward him. He’s got to understand. Get down! he shouts. I keep walking. Let me show you, I say. He shoots twice. Wouldn’t you? A crack shot. The second bullet is a waste of perfectly good lead.
Once, when I was maybe eight or nine, I spent the summer with my
grandparents back in east Tennessee. One day I was way out in the cow pasture, climbing a lone tree. I went to change branches, reached for a limb and put all my weight onto it. The limb was dead rotten. It snapped, and when I hit the ground I got the wind knocked out of me. The broken arm was nothing compared to that feeling of not being able to suck wind. That’s what it felt like, getting shot in the chest. It was more a sensation of limitless dread than it was a pain. The dying part, which happened in the same instant, was like a big flash of those trippy patterns you see when you rub your eyes hard.
The cosmic joke is on me. Wouldn’t you know it — ages ago, Lydia and I got talked into agreeing to donate our bodies to science when we died. As in, no burial, no cremation, and, you guessed it, an indefinite sentence of earthwandering, a sentence that ends when — if — you’re eventually given a restful burial. So, what happens to a donated body? In my case, I’m a semester-long anatomy lesson at the medical school downtown. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, me and a couple dozen other cadavers get vivisected by sleepdeprived future doctors. It’s not a bad gig. Sure, my dissectors, Viv and Nathan, made fun of my tiny pecker on day one. They even lopped it off and tried to play hacky sack with it. But those poor kids get put through the academic ringer. They got to blow off steam some whichaway. At night all us cadavers hang out, swap stories. Honestly, there’s far lonesomer ways to spend an afterlife. I’m making friends. We’ve got this running joke where everybody greets everybody else as John Doe or Jane Doe.
Eric Boehling Lewis
Makes me laugh every time. Plus, rumor has it when the med students are done, we all get cremated and given back to our next of kin. Phalanges crossed!
I visit the former chez Nelson some nights. The dig was put on hiatus, of course, what with it being a crime scene. For a week the yard was lousy with local news crews and police tape, then there was a triple murder over in the Museum District and the place cleared out. Professor Brinkley’s team tried to resume the dig some weeks later, but by then the mortgage had been in default for over six months and the property had reverted back to Wells Fargo. Lydia didn’t fight to keep it. Who can blame her? Wells Fargo wanting to flip the house and recoup some of their loss, they bulldozed a few truckloads of dirt over the dig and listed the property as a short sale. The university fought to re-open the dig, but you know who’s got the slicker lawyers. They hired an efficient middle-aged redhead from Keller Williams to sell the place, and it went for less than half of what Lydia and I owed. Some nights I go all the way out to Powhatan and visit my family. I never appear to them — it would be selfish. Hard enough moving on without Dad’s ghost popping by. Lydia and her sister Naomi and her husband Randy have rallied together to help Jeremy make the transition. It’s a little painful seeing them three parent my kid better than I ever did, but mostly it’s a relief. If they’re better off without me then I have less to feel guilty about.
Lydia has been kind to me. She tells Naomi and Randy and the J-man that
the trash compactor incident messed me up way more than I let on, and I wasn’t myself those last seven months, including when I murdered Professor Brinkley.
Which I didn’t do, but how could they know that?
There’s so much to tell.
One thing that struck me as weird: I never got this like flash of wisdom, or
universal understanding, or however you might describe it. That’s one thing I always expected about death: some sort of mind-blowing revelation that puts you at peace with everything. Maybe that does still happen, but not until you’re planted for good. Maybe you can’t access the wisdom so long as your soul is still restless. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the Indians were so tortured. Maybe they’d been dragged back down a level. I want to believe that they’re splendidly happy now. I’m still waiting for my wisdom. I’m waiting to meet Chief and Pocahontas and their baby and baby Glenda, and learn their real names. And I’m waiting to see Jeremy transform into a man, waiting to see Lydia in the afterlife, so I can explain everything to her, including how sorry I am for falling off the map and leaving her to clean up my mess. I do a lot of waiting.
“Lahore is a center of Sufi culture, but I became interested in Lahore and Sufis as two separate things. I had an assignment in Khartoum a few years ago, and stumbled onto the amazing weekly Sufi celebrations in Omdurman. I then became aware of the history of violence against Sufis, the most peaceful people, by Sunni extremists. Quite independently, a friend with great experience in South Asia mentioned the beauty of Lahore, the ‘pearl of the Punjab.’”
Frank Hallam Day
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
â€œA year later I took advantage of an assignment in Pakistan to spend a few nights in Lahore during the 967th annual Rus Data Baksh Ganj, a festival which honored that Sufi saint. I hired a local facilitator and a driver with a very small van. For this festival worshipers come from afar bringing offerings of milk to the saintâ€™s shrine. They set up tents, large and small, along the main road to the temple, cook food and brew tea to hand out to the multitudes, and hold concerts for sacred music.â€?
Frank Hallam Day
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
Frank Hallam Day
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
Frank Hallam Day
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
â€œFor four nights we met late in the afternoon and explored the city and its festival until early in the morning. We dropped in on their families, visited the dentist, took relatives for rides in the van and enjoyed late night suppers together. We were acutely aware of the danger of Sunni attack. In fact, ten hours after our last shoot the exact spot where we had been standing by a security checkpoint was destroyed by a suicide bomber with many casualties. The bomb had been concealed in a container of milk.â€?
Frank Hallam Day
Frank Hallam Day
Canon 5D Mk II
I’m standing at the wide open front door. I’m looking through the screen door but I’m not opening it. The chicken-skin-translucent tops of her feet are blue, and her ruddy grape toes look ready to burst. It’s twenty-two degrees and she’s wearing turquoise flip-flops.
Baking is therapeutic, a form of medication. There are things that render null the value of the medication, things that chip away at the process. Anything interruptive, anything that fractures a recipe or cracks it open, anything that sullies the haven surrounding the practice.
What I’m thinking about while I stand there, a wet bowl in one hand and the towel I’m using to dry the dishes in the other, is the way she said her name the first time we met. “I’m Annalise.” Like Anna-leez, except she didn’t sound presumptuous. She raised her arm, gave a small wave. “Call me Anna,” she said. Like Ah-na. Water is draining off the bowl and dripping into a little puddle on the floor. I’m trying to put the towel to the bowl to dry it, but I can’t force the two together. On the other side of the screen, Anna lifts her forearm. A greeting.
The air swirling through the screen door is savagely cold. I feel my lips
shrivel. I think that if I try to say anything, if I move my face at all, my lips will crack and I’ll be standing there like an idiot bleeding all down my chin. Anna’s making no expression with her face, so it just rests there, and her resting expression is this beautiful scowl that I had forgotten. Only now it’s turned up on my stoop and I have to use the stairway banister to steady myself against the
force of it.
I keep to an order. First, I collect the dishes. From in the sink and off the dining table and off the granite counters, I put them all in the dishwasher. I wet a blue sponge — blue for counters, yellow for dishes — and wipe the countertops, careful to retrieve the crumbs that collect in the corners and around the base of the electric kettle. I scrub the pans by hand because my wife doesn’t like them going in the dishwasher, and I agree with her. After the kitchen and the dining room are clean, I gather up the dishes from elsewhere in the house. I don’t want any plates or ringed tea cups appearing in the kitchen while I’m whipping the frosting for a cake or toasting hazelnuts. No filmy cereal bowls. No tupperware emptied of last night’s dinner. I want to see nothing when I’m finished reminiscent of the world beyond the recipe, nothing but two or three mixing bowls, the whisk or the spatula or the wooden spoon, measuring cups, a butter knife and probably a fork, all soaking in the sink, an asian pear crisp or a rosemary cake rising inside the pinging hot oven.
We’d met in Madison, Anna and I. At college. We’d both gone immediately to graduate school, she in Minneapolis and me in Tucson. She didn’t have to teach, and thank goodness for that. She was always saying what a miserable teacher she would make. This was one thing I found attractive about her: that she was in tune with her own inadequacies without ever letting them discourage her. They were something separate that she could point to, outside of herself but covered in her fingerprints, the waste basket in the corner or her empty champagne flute left sitting on the bar. She’d completed her first semester studying drawing and had received an
illustrious grant. She’d called me, wanting to celebrate. Her flight had cost $120 at the last minute and mine had cost $96. That’s round-trip for both of those, so there’s a reason we’d decided to reunite in Las Vegas. It’s the cheap flight capital of the world is why. Anna was waiting on the cement strip under the UNITED sign, clutching the strap of her duffel with both hands. It was blazing down there. The heat rising off the black tar made her look like she was reeling, swaying in that nauseous, at-sea way. It had been seven months since I’d seen her. In that time the image of her body had clung to the empty spaces in the air around me. Her shoulders were as big and square as I’d remembered, and her shoulder-blades were rolled back and taut, like she’d just walked out of a hot yoga class. She was sweating. I don’t think she stopped sweating that entire weekend.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. I pressed BAKE and the oven beeped. I pressed the upward-facing triangle
and the oven beeped again. The screen flashed 375. A green bulb glowed next to the word PREHEAT. It was nearing two o’ clock. The sun was high and winter pale. I walked into the living room where the girls were lying on the sofa watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the same cartoon version from when I was a kid. Chelsea is nine years old and Joni is eight. They’re both very perceptive, Joni in terms of being observant and Chelsea in terms of her good, visceral memory. Chelsea’s one of those kids who finds things by visualizing them. She’ll sit still and shut her eyes, but not in a desperate scrunched way. She’ll look serene, like she might doze off and whack her head on the wall behind her. Then her eyes will spring open and she’ll casually trot over to wherever she left the thing she
was looking for, her favorite pen on the mantel or her headband underneath the kitchen table. If Chelsea likes the show that’s playing on TV, she’ll say to Joni in this syrupy mother’s voice, “Please go get the glass on Mom’s bedside table,” and Joni will run hands-and-feet up the stairs and clomp back down holding the glass for Chelsea to see. Chelsea will say, “Take that to daddy. Oh, and the bowls we used when we were playing kitties. Remember? Under your bed? Remember, Joni? Please go get those.” “Where’s the blue snowflake mug?” I said, and the girls lolled their heads in my direction. Chelsea rose off the sofa and walked into my wife’s office where the girls built a fort on the treadmill we bought two years ago. She crawled into the fort and popped out with the mug. In the living room, the Whos sang a wistful chorus. “Anything else?” I asked. She poked her head in and recovered the pink and yellow plastic popcorn bowls and a spoon from the first set of silverware my wife and I bought together.
Anna had this aliveness about her. Not in a cheery way, not in a love-oflife way, but an energy that was riotous and fertile. Like a fullness. She always seemed very full, and many things were always coming out of her. Hair, for one. She had long, leonine hair. It made my neck tired to look at all that hair, but she never lifted it over her head and held it with her hands in a great pile to give her neck a break, never seemed agitated by its clinging around her sweaty temples. Her eyelashes arced nearly to her eyebrows, lovely and thick and long. Elsewhere, also. The hair on her shins and
in her armpits and all the way up between her thighs and trailing down from her bellybutton, it was all dark and straight. The pores on her face were large and always kind of brimming.
On top of all this, her whole self, the sum of all these parts, seemed always to
be spreading wider, inhaling more deeply, expanding. Anna opened the back door of the sedan and shoved her duffel off of her shoulder. She ducked into the passenger’s seat and yanked the door shut. I stared at her expectantly, waiting for a greeting, a kiss. She unhooked the button on her shorts and pulled her T-shirt over her head. She looked at me. “Are you gonna go?” she asked, pointing toward the open lane, perspiring, her shorts flayed and the dark sweat circles obvious on her teal bra.
Cream the peanut butter, oil, and sugars. I reached for the large glass mixing bowl at the back of the corner cabinet. I wanted to make a double batch of cookies — you never know how many holiday party invitations you’ll receive at the eleventh hour. Two years ago, Chelsea insisted that we attend a winter solstice party being hosted by the parents of a boy in her class. This was before I had begun to bake, before we’d had reason to suspect anything. The party would take place that same evening. Chelsea balked at the cupcakes I’d purchased on my way home from work: red and green frosted stuck with miniature, plastic Disney figurines.
“It’s a solstice party, Dad! You can’t bring Christmas colors to a solstice
party! Oh my god, and it’s Disney Christmas!” I set the heavy glass bowl on the counter and measured out the peanut butter, then the oil. A frozen afternoon light came through the window, so suited to the season that it felt artificial.
I filled the electric kettle to brew a pot of coffee. We have a glass coffee pot that looks pretty nice, Euro-Scandinavian or maybe retro-Americana, simple and thick-walled. My wife bought it. I weighed forty grams of beans into the grinder and dumped the grounds into the coffee paper. I swept the grinder clean with a narrow bamboo basting brush. The key to making the perfect pot is ritual. Ritual, and bringing your water just shy of a boil.
The dishwasher chugged. The hot water splashed and the kitchen began
to smell sudsy and sweet. These steps, the polished countertops, the steaming dishwasher, the bamboo brush and everything flowery, they’re all part of the therapy.
When I received my two weeks’ notice at work, my wife scheduled a joint appointment for us with the psychologist at the cancer treatment center. It’s a good center, lots of resources beyond the standard patient services: individual support groups, family support groups, community yoga classes, healthy dinners. We had never gone out of our way to take advantage of the services, but we hadn’t thought I would lose my job. I’d been the head of human resources at a large art distribution company. “It’s a management position,” I’d said. “Nothing wrong with prioritizing order when you’re in management.” I’d smiled, tried to keep it casual. “It’s just,” my boss had said, “it doesn’t look good if our head of HR isn’t in tip-top mental shape.” I don’t know when we all got so obsessed with tip-top. What happened to doing a decent job? Where was the praise for punctuality? The diagnosis was unsurprising, its predictability embarrassing: a desire to exert control in the face of uncontrollable circumstances, evidenced in obsessive
compulsive tendencies. The doctor was young, probably in her early thirties, and wearing a ribbed turtleneck. I wondered if she worried about being too pretty, if she made eye contact with herself in the mirror and thought, I shouldn’t look too good while I deliver the bad news to that husband whose wife will become a single mother in the next four months. “OCD?” my wife said. “I knew it!” My wife is competitive. She teaches physics at the university. She’s intellectually intimidating and also quite strong — physically strong. Her arms in particular are impressive, and not just in that toned, Michelle Obama way. My wife wears suit jackets to work and women are always saying things to her about shoulder pads — about how they’re back, about different types of shoulder pads, about where she buys her jackets.. But my wife doesn’t wear shoulder pads, and knowing this is like a sexy secret. “Not OCD,” the doctor insisted. Next to me, my wife slumped into her chair, genuinely disappointed. “What you’ve got going on is not a disorder.” I squinted, looked at the doctor sideways. “The baking powder incident?” When I’d first taken up baking, I’d let Joni help make a batch of breakfast muffins. She’d poured a quarter teaspoon of salt followed by a tablespoon of baking powder into the dry blend, though the recipe had called for the powder first and salt second. I could never yell at her for a thing like that, but when she’d run into the living room to check on her show I’d dumped the dry ingredients into the trashcan and begun again. The barrier protecting the process had been penetrated. “Borderline disorder, tops,” the doctor said. She coughed into her elbow. She was careful to explain to us that my recent behavior was the result of things taking place on a psychological level. That my new tendencies could be managed, but that we should not ruminate over solving anything. “Solving is
beside the point,” she said. “The point is comfort. The point is repetition. The point is stability.” “Whose comfort!” I wanted to say. “Whose stability!” I was ashamed at the rote defense mechanisms of my psyche, the ways they were inconveniencing my family. I wished we had discovered, in my deep subconscious, someone selfeffacing and generous and significantly more pain tolerant.
Add the eggs and the vanilla. I cracked two eggs into a measuring cup and whisked them to an even, yolky yellow. The crash and squeal of a toy commercial blared from the living room. “Girls, mute on the commercials please.” The volume cut. I combined the whisked eggs and vanilla with the butters and sugars.
One thing that happened that weekend with Anna: she told the waitress at the Ethiopian restaurant, the concierge at the hotel, the cleaning woman pushing the toilet-paper trolley, the couple we met in the hot tub, the Chinese family putting on sunscreen outside their car while we stood outside the rental car. She told them all that we had just gotten married. The man at the hotel front desk said it would be his pleasure to upgrade us to a queen plus room with hillside views. The room had french doors that opened onto a little white fence that kept you from falling nine stories to the parking lot. Right away Anna opened those doors. “Look at our gran balconié,” she said, flourishing her arms over her head. Her armpit hair bristled. She knocked over a vase of fabric flowers.
That evening, she was lying on the bed in the hotel bathrobe lifting one leg and then the other in the air, twirling each and repeating the words, water ballet, water ballet when someone knocked on the door. I opened it. A young woman in a waist apron handed me a bottle of champagne and a styrofoam plate on which sat two chocolate-covered strawberries wrapped in cellophane. “Congratulations,” the woman said. I came out of the vestibule carrying the champagne and strawberries. Anna leapt past me and flung open the door, smashing it against the wall. “Mercí!” she called to the woman in the waist apron. “Mercí! Mercí” She waved to the woman with her whole arm, like a generous queen.
My wife was not thrilled when I brought home the French-milled soap. “This is a new level,” she said. “It’s pretty much the same level,” I said. “We already have soap,” she said. “Now you need a special soap? This is a new level.” I should have waited to show her the soap until she had set the down the grocery bags and kicked off her boots. “Then it’s an improved level,” I said. “A more sophisticated level. Less run-of-the-mill neurotic.” And I believed it, too. I still believe it, especially when I’m washing my hands with the French-milled soap and the coffee is beginning to bloom and the kitchen smells of lavender and coffee and more lavender.
Combine the spices, flour, soda and salt; stir to mix. Add to the creamed mixture. I sifted the flour, soda and salt into a small glass bowl. I measured out the ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg and turned the soft mixture with a fork. I spoke
out loud. “Provence!” I said, “We bought it while we were vacationing!” I waved my hand near the French-milled soap like, What? This? “You haven’t vacationed in the south of France?” I said. “God, you must! You must!” Chelsea came into the kitchen. “What, Daddy?” I was quiet. I hummed along every now and again with the Whos and pretended that I don’t mind that I will never vacation in the south of France.
It was the deepest point in the night, the charcoal morning hours before the beginning of our last day. We were lying in bed and she asked me, “Should I move to Tucson?” Instinctively, before I could stop myself, I said no. But I didn’t mean it. Or, I meant it, meant that she shouldn’t move to Tucson, but I didn’t mean what else it meant. I didn’t mean that I wasn’t in it for the long term. Or that I didn’t want the gift of her commitment. The truth is, I wanted the gift of her commitment, but I didn’t want what came with it. What she was offering. Her flexibility, her yielding. Because what if she sacrificed her schooling to come to Tucson, and then she resented me for it? That was the simple explanation. But also, I knew then — and I know it now, or I tell myself so — I never wanted Anna to give up anything. It would have tarnished her. It sounds cruel to say, but it would have cheapened her. To be with her, to earn her attention, was an accomplishment and a prize. If she gave it to me? If she reduced herself enough fit inside my Tucson apartment, fit in my bed, fit in the palm of my hand? I wouldn’t want it. What I wanted was to feel the bigness and the chaos of her. I wanted things with her to feel as they always had: that there were no boundaries, no end points, no destinations. I was sorry that I said that. Or, sorry that I said it in the way I did.
Two weeks ago, after I’d pulled a tray of lemon-lavender biscotti from the oven, Joni bounded into the kitchen. “It’s your birthday, Daddy!” The biscotti had crisped up nicely, my best batch. I was Swiffering the kitchen floor. I Swiffered toward Joni, growling. “Daddy!” She jumped past me. I spun and inched the Swiffer toward her. She shrieked. “Daddy!” Chelsea ran into the kitchen. “Daddy! It’s your birthday!” “Watch out, Chelsea!” Joni said. “He’ll try to get you!” Joni waved her hands. “Over here!” Their socks were peppermint striped, dangling from the ends of their toes. I sang the Nutcracker Ballet March and the girls grand jetéd from one end of the kitchen to the other, avoiding my reach. All the spinning made my head feel heavy. Breathing felt tiresome.
“Girls! The birthday party!” my wife said. Chelsea and Joni disappeared from the kitchen. “Let’s put these on a plate,” my wife said, standing over the biscotti. “What’s
this?” I said. “We wanted to.” She looked at me. “I wanted to. Nothing big, just a little birthday surprise.” She carried the plate of biscotti and I followed her into the dining room. The girls sang the Happy Birthday song. “Candles!” Chelsea interrupted the chorus. “Get the candles!” The biscotti were too brittle. They cracked and would not hold the candles. My wife let the girls hold one birthday candle in each of their hands, four candles total for my final birthday. She lit them quickly and I blew them out right away, but not before a drop of wax melted down to Joni’s finger. She began
to cry, but she stopped when my wife asked her to retrieve the present they’d wrapped. Joni ran into my wife’s office and Chelsea said, “Isn’t it time to eat these long cookies already?” The girls fingered the edge of the wrapped package while I untied the bow. “I like to take my time,” I said. “Enjoy the whole experience.” “Daddy!” The girls said together. “No, Daddy! Rip it!” Chelsea said. “Let’s save this paper,” I said. “And the bow, too. Very gentle with the bow.” “Rip it, Dad!” Chelsea said. “Rip it!” Joni said. “Rip it!” my wife said. The gift was a linen pinafore apron, slate-colored, exquisite. “Let me put it on!” Chelsea said. My wife opened it wide and both girls slid their arms into the apron, Chelsea coming out one armhole and Joni out the other. My birthday is in August.
Form the dough into balls by hand and place on the cookie sheet. Allow about 3 inches between each cookie. I resisted the temptation to dig through the girls’ art closet for the ruler. I made myself sit down at the kitchen table. I topped off my coffee and rubbed the palm of my hand against my chest. I thought I could feel the individual fibers of the linen apron. The Whos were singing again. Da hoo doray, da hoo doray. It was the final scene of the movie, the triumphant Who chorus.
Anna broke up with me. We were at the airport and we’d returned the rental
car, handed the keys across the counter. The rental desk was set off along one of those little passageways between baggage claim and covered parking. We were standing there and people kept grut grut grutting their roller suitcases past us over the textured floor. The outside doors let in heat like poison and the inside doors let in frozen manufactured air. Back and forth. Each time either set of sliding doors closed they made a final suctioning noise. I tried to pop my ears without Anna noticing. I was having a hard time hearing her. Or a hard time listening. Anna dropped her duffel against the wall and held me by the arms. “It’s not gonna last,” she said. And she was right. “Are you going to make a scene?” she said.
I had begun to pace.
“No,” I said.
“You look like you are.”
Another thing she was right about.
“Do you want to try for a little longer?” she said. I think she hoped I would
I nodded and tried to regain my breath and kind of whispered in a panic
like, “Of course. Yeah. A little longer. Yeah.”
Flatten each ball to make a thick disc. I pressed each ball with the bottom side of a fork, across top-to-bottom, across left-to- right. The little nutty rounds were perfect. Symmetrically thick and imprinted with a classic cross-stitch pattern. The doorbell rang. I didn’t know who it would be. The FedEx guy? I had
ordered a pair of earrings for my wife, hand-made, exorbitantly priced. I’d hoped they would ask for a signature on a package like that.
There’s hardly a wound that doesn’t heal in fifteen year’s time. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen her. If something doesn’t heal in fifteen years, I mean, you’re probably dead from it.
My wife and I dated for two years before we got married, not a long time
but not a short time either. Chelsea was born two years later and Joni a year after that, which means that we’ve spent most of our time together raising our children. There’s nothing wrong with that, or nothing to criticize about it. I’ve got the two tenderest kids on the planet. Even when I’m waiting in the mud room for Chelsea to finish triple-knotting the laces on her expensive tennis shoes or when I have to drive to the school to sign a permission slip Joni’s forgotten, I think I’ve got no better way to spend my time. My undergrad self would have hated that sort of filial devotion, but I couldn’t have foreseen, when I was in college, how insignificant any sort of professional or personal striving would become. I’m watching Anna will herself not to shiver. I wonder if I’m about to open a healed wound.
I’m standing there and the smell of ginger and butter is pouring from the kitchen, pressing against the screen door. The girls are humming in high-pitched voices and all around the house are hung garlands and wool ornaments and lights. My wife will be home in an hour and she will make macaroni and cheese for the girls and a salad for herself. I will eat pudding, rice or chocolate or tapioca. She will drink a glass of wine and I will drink a bottle of Ensure and the
girls will watch It’s a Wonderful Life and whatever comes on after that until they fall asleep. My wife will carry them to their beds and I will pull their blankets up around their faces. It isn’t snowing, but the wind is blowing snow from the tree branches and down the slope of the roof. The freezing air blows through the screen and makes my hands feel stiff. I wonder if the glass bowl will slip from my grip. The oven beeps three times, indicating the completion of the preheat phase. “Daddy!” Joni yells. “Oven’s ready!” In the final months of my life, the preheat alarm has sounded. I stare into the face of my first lover. The oven is hot. Chelsea appears at the door. She looks up sharply, surprised to see someone she does not recognize. “Daddy,” she says, standing by my side. “Who is she? Do you know her?” “I do, Chels.” “Is she staying with us?” “I don’t know,” I say. “Well are you gonna let her in?” Chelsea says. “Or close the door. It’s freezing.” Chelsea shuffles her feet toward the kitchen. I hear her shout for cookie dough. Anna raises her eyebrows. I hold up two fingers. She nods slowly. We are separated by the screen. I set the mixing bowl and the drying towel on the foyer table amid the holiday cards and unopened hospital bills. I push the screen door open and, stepping aside, I watch the whole mess of her cross over the threshold and into my home.
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Issue No. 7 - March 2015
Loli Kantor Photographer Beyond the Forest
A Select Reading from “True Trans Soul Rebel” Blogging by Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst A Review of Love Me Back Novel by Merritt Tierce Review by Kelsey Osgood
Ravi Mangla Author Understudies
PAST PERFECT Review: Maggie Cassidy Novel by Jack Kerouac Review by Bridey Heing
Loli Kantor is a documentary and fine art photographer whose work focuses on
community and the human condition.
Born in Paris, France and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel, Kantorâ€™s most recent work
centers on Jewish life and culture in Central and Eastern Europe. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, she brings a deeply personal interest and unique sensibility to this body of work. The images and stories of her most recent explorations comprise a new book entitled Beyond The Forest: Jewish Presence in Eastern Europe, 2004-2012, published in late 2014 by the University of Texas Press.
Kantorâ€™s photographs have been exhibited widely across the United States and
internationally in China, Ukraine, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Her works are in private and museum collections, including, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin; Lishui Museum of Photography in China; Lviv National Museum in Ukraine. She is a lecturer and participates in book signings, panel discussions and gallery talks for audiences large and small. She has garnered noteable awards and recognition and has participated in recent interviews published in the New Yorker and aired on National Public Radio, among others. Kantor photographs both in film and digital. She is a skilled printer in traditional gelatin silver and platinum/palladium. For more information, please go to www. lolikantor.com.
An Interview With...
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Susan Sontag once pinpointed her viewing the
first published photographs of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau as the key moment in the development of her understanding of pain in photography. Holocaust photography as a whole appears indelibly etched in public memory. What role did these traumatic photographs play in the development of “Beyond the Forest?”
LOLI KANTOR: Growing up in Israel and being surrounded by survivors
– family, friends’ parents and many of my teachers – we were shown these photographs at a very young age “to never forget.” These traumatic images indirectly informed my work in many instances, such as during my work in Babi Yar, the location of the infamous shooting massacre during the Holocaust, or Bronitzia forest in Western Ukraine where Drohobych Jews were murdered, including some relatives of people I have come to know. When I stood silently within these places, I could visualize the actual events from those traumatic photographs, which remain in my consciousness even now, fifty years after I first saw them. I believe that my subconscious is what shaped “ Beyond The Forest.”
Those same images also informed my choices in using black and white and
color photography. About three years into my travels I began using color in my photographs. Consciously and unconsciously I wanted to not repeat those black and white images I remembered seeing. By photographing in color, I was going beyond those black and white images, ‘beyond the forest’ to celebrate the presence, rebirth and life in color.
BA: What distinctions have you noticed in the ways various postHolocaust generations come to understand their trauma? Do you think your
identity as a second-generation survivor specifically informed your project in a manner by which a third-generation survivor might not come to identify? LK: Yes, of course. The second-generation is different than the thirdgeneration in several ways. We, as second-generation Holocaust survivors are directly engaged. I inherited some of the ambivalence of talking about my experiences, around my own personal loss. When I was young, I didn’t think about it much. But as I grew older, I realized that I wanted to spend a part of my life dealing with this direct loss and finding out more details about what had happened to my grandparents and their families who vanished. I believe that in general people my age are now thinking more about what it means to be a second-generation Holocaust survivor and the impact it has on our lives.
I decided to ask my children Danna Heller, Tammy Kantor and Yoni Ben-
Meshulam this question about the third-generation identity and to gather their thoughts. You will see three quite different, yet also similar narratives from their perspective on the subject. They are certainly affected but less directly so.
Yoni ( b. 1980 ) wrote that he generally feels detached from the Holocaust
but realizes that there is a significant void in the family tree. He wrote that, “In contrast with my Yemenite family’s teeming and tight network – not without its own traumas, but most definitely thriving – my Polish side has few relations, mostly composed of third and fourth-degree family members who found one another in the aftermath. To me, these relationships are somewhat foggy, lacking context, and further weakened by large distances. Family members are spread between Europe, Israel and the United States, making it difficult to maintain close relations.”
Tammy (b. 1979) says that her sense of loss was greater after visiting Poland
and Russia, where there are still survivors and there is still very much a sense
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of mourning for not only the Jews who died during the war, but also the many Romas and Russians who were murdered. There is a constant awareness of what was and what could have been. “In my own family, my mother’s constant search for, curiosity about and revelations of who her parents were and their families who perished brings in me an awareness and gratitude of being born into privilege and freedom. I am left only to wonder how second and first generations found inner resources and strength to survive the aftermath and do the best they can to survive again in the present amidst the gruesome past.”
Yoni Danna and Tammy grew up in both Israel and the United States. Yoni
wrote about the stark differences in the way the two countries teach children about the Holocaust. In Israel, the education is ongoing and about a shared trauma. He says that in the US the Holocaust is a short lesson plan in history class. It is treated as something from the distant past, which happened to other people. He writes that, “Overall, I think I learned more about the global context for the war from my US education, and more about the Holocaust from my Israeli education.”
Similarly, Danna who (b. 1975) said that she always had less of sentimental/
dramatic post-trauma from the Holocaust and a more distant way of looking at it. “I can’t quite explain it, maybe because I’m also half Yemenite and am a fusion of Eastern European & Middle Eastern narrative. Yes, it is dramatic, and yes, it is traumatic, and I have a major personal connection. But something in me always looked also at the bigger picture of it all, not only a Jewish-centeredfocused approach”.
BA: You have said that you “could ‘feel’ the places” you photographed. Can you articulate what you mean by that?
LK: By â€œfeeling the placeâ€? I mean relating to the place, the people, the food and some of the customs, feeling a connection, a cultural connection if you will. I also mean experiencing a deep emotional reaction to many of the places that had been destroyed by the Nazis and the subsequent Soviet regime. Being the granddaughter and niece and cousin of at least three-dozen Holocaust victims makes the impact more visceral.
BA: We are continually fascinated by the opposition structured between rural and urban photographic settings. How would you describe the photographic differences in your images of rural Jewish communities and urban Jewish communities? LK: Most of the rural images seem as though time stood still. I believe that they would look similar had they been taken in mid 20th century. These communities have very limited resources and most of them are aided by humanitarian organizations. The furniture is simple, the synagogue and its benches are worn, and most people have a weary expression. On the other hand, some of the urban community centers, besides some stylistic differences, could resemble a place in Western Europe or the United States. There is more color and, although modest, homes have more substantial dĂŠcor, and the overall lifestyle is more progressive. The rural communities interested me greatly because of the unique timeless feel, the evidence of survival in harsh conditions with very few material things and the fact that some of these communities will disappear in the near future as the last of the survivors pass on and the younger generation moves to larger cities or abroad.
BA: Predictable question: Who were the photographers you thought about
An Interview With...
the most through the creation of “Beyond the Forest?” LK: The first person who comes to mind is my mentor Peter Feresten, a documentary photographer who among other subjects photographed significant historical places and events in the African American community of Fort Worth. Peter showed great interest in my work and specifically this work in Ukraine. He died in 2006 during the early stages of the project.
Another (predictable) influence is Roman Vishniac, who documented
the Jews of Eastern Europe before the Holocaust in many of the same places that I traveled to as well. There are too many... but I will mention here Joseph Kudelka, André Kertész and documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, whose work I love and have been inspired by since my early years as a photographer.
BA: What is the relationship between “Beyond the Forest” and your past projects, especially concerning your series of theater and dancers? LK: My affinity for performance and visual arts led me to artists and revivalists who are largely shaping Jewish cultural renaissance in Eastern Europe today. For example: The Polish Writer and fine artist Bruno Shultz who was shot and killed in 1942. Schulz has been celebrated in Lublin and in his hometown of Drohobych with the Bruno Schulz festival which I participated in several times; The singer and musician Alfred Schreyer, also from Drohobych, and one of the very last living students of Bruno Schulz. Mr. Schreyer has been especially gracious with me, sharing his music, his stories and allowing me to photograph him extensively.
The NN Theatre Center in Lublin was founded by an actor and is a unique
Jewish living museum and cultural research center. The Hesed Arie Jewish
Home in Lviv, and the Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow were also venues that I found, and was inspired by. Performers, actors, artists, and history lovers run these places (many are not Jewish). They are people interested in community and trying to preserve and nurture a Jewish cultural renaissance. Naturally I was drawn to these places and people.
Compositionally, there is generally a theatrical element to my work.
BA: What similarities and differences have you observed between
European Jewish communities and the lifestyles of the American Jewry? Have you noticed any particular connections or disconnects in your home state of Texas? LK: Both European and American Jewish communities are trying to preserve their traditions. In Eastern Europe the obstacles are poverty and anti-Semitism, coupled with the fact than many have not practiced Judaism and have had to learn basic holiday rituals etc. The small Jewish population tries to maintain their cultural identity even if they do not or are not able to follow the Jewish rules, such as kashrut. For example, those are salami and cheese sandwiches in my photograph â€œKiddush Food, Sukkoth in Bershadâ€? (2007). Those sandwiches were served in the synagogue on a Friday night. In the Jewish religion, there is no mixing of the two, and especially not during a service in a synagogue. I found this heart-warming and admirable.
American Jews struggle to maintain their faith in face of materialism and
secularism. Preserving Jewish identity is not about poverty, lack of knowledge and anti-Semitism, but overcoming apathy and the lure of a popular culture that often cynically disdains religious traditions in favor of atheism or a personal spirituality.
An Interview With...
BA: What piece of advice would you like to share with emerging photographers? LK: It is a wonderful feeling to start having your work recognized. There will be ups and downs, thrills and disappointments. So here is what I want to share with you:
Make sure that you are passionate about your subject, and stay open-
minded to possibilities. If you work on a subject that you strongly care about, you can persevere having to look at your work, even when you are tired and discouraged.
If it is a documentary project, try not to plan too much and keep your eyes
open for the stories and images, which will present themselves and unfold in unpredictable and captivating ways. Work hard. Work hard.
For me, editing is the most challenging and the hardest part of the process
of developing a strong portfolio/story/body of work. My own work has evolved through multiple edits for shows and presentations which helped me develop my current project. I also consulted in colleagues and mentors and in the process.
I believe that having a good edit of your work is where you will actually find
the story you want to tell.
Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel Understudies (Outpost19). His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, the Collagist, American Short Fiction, Barrelhouse, and Tin House Online. He keeps a blog at ravimangla.com.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Many writers dabble in flash, but you live there.
How did you come to find your strengths in ultra-short fiction? Was it a deliberate structural decision or more of a process of discovery?
RAVI MANGLA: For several years I was writing in a vacuum. I didnâ€™t
belong to a community of writers or an academic institution of any kind, so I wasnâ€™t sure how to go about sharing my work. I remember searching for online literary magazines and coming across the writings of Kathy Fish and Claudia Smith. That was my introduction to the narrative possibilities of the short form. The stories they were creating were so elegantly crafted yet emotionally forceful. From that point on I knew I wanted to focus my attention on very short fiction.
An Interview With...
BA: It feels like flash fiction has been witnessing sort of a golden age
since the advent of online lit mags, with whole journals devoted entirely to the form (wigleaf and Smokelong Quarterly come first to mind) and more publishers willing to consider sub-1,000 word stories than ever before. What’s it been like watching the style grow and advance? Where do you see it going from here? RM: Wigleaf winning a Pushcart was certainly a boon to the form. I think awards like that help to legitimize flash fiction (and online lit mags) in the eyes of the old guard. But there’s still a long way to go before flash fiction stands on equal footing with the short story. Brand name journals have a habit of relegating flash to their blogs. I think that sort of ghettoization needs to be overcome if the short form is really going to take off.
Getting on Chipotle cups was a watershed moment for the form. Now if only
we can crack the KFC bucket...
BA: On the subject of interneting, you’ve got a pretty active, pretty
wonderful Twitter feed. Most of your tweets are one-off humor pieces (“I LOVE my Garrison Keillor body pillow”) or comments on the writing community, especially during big events like AWP. But some of the sillier ones feel less like non-sequitors and more like 140-or-less stories in their own right. What’s your take on TwitLit? RM: There’s a recent interview with Jonathan Franzen in Booth where he rejects (in characteristically glib Franzen fashion) the idea of social media as an artistic platform. I suspect there are plenty of writers who would challenge that notion. I wouldn’t be on the platform if I didn’t find it creatively nourishing.
My goal was to build a comedic alter ego (in the style of Andy Kaufman or Neil Hamburger). If you put all the tweets together, I’d like to think they form a portrait of an insecure narcissist on the verge of mental collapse. Now that I’m saying it out loud, maybe the character isn’t so different from me after all.
BA: So now that we’ve spent 35 minutes non-creepily skimming through like two years of your old tweets... Did you really assign a university course syllabus containing John Updike, Ayn Rand, Aleister Crowley and R.L. Stein all in a single reading list? Because, if so, we would like to begin discussing transfer credits. RM: Sadly that is not a real course syllabus. I’m still waiting for approval on my Aleister Crowley and the Literature of the Dark Arts seminar.
BA: Your writing appears to draw a good deal on pre-existing cultural or historical characters. You were a participant in Melville House’s series on U.S. presidents, contributing a piece about Herbert Hoover, and in
An Interview With...
Titular’s likeminded homage to Seinfeld, where you took on a real largerthan-life figure in the form of Kramer. Then there are the many stories about and sometimes even addressed to famous authors: Jack Kerouac, Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nabokov, Cormac McCarthy and others. How do you envision your storytelling intersecting the lives and legacies of these figures? Is there something cathartic about sending a rejection letter to DFW (“Are you kidding me with this thing, Dave? It’s larger than my goddamn phone book.”) or do you maybe see celebrity as a kind of common language shared between you and your readers?
RM: We tend to mythologize cultural figures, elevate them to the status of demigods. There’s something satisfying about placing famous artists in seemingly mundane situations. I like imagining J.D. Salinger in the supermarket or Harper Lee at a bowling alley. It has a humanizing effect. The simple act of depositing them in unlikely contexts creates an interesting tension. I don’t know if I plan to keep drawing from that well, but it’s certainly been fun to tinker with history.
BA: What do you most often start a story with: A first sentence, a title, a nifty idea or a clear, cool mind full of zen? RM: I usually work off a sentence or image. Sometimes a larger idea (like with the Visiting Writers series). Never a title.
BA: Okay, let’s talk about your debut novel Understudies. It too is written
like a long string of flash pieces, 200 little snippets of wit, sorrow and color that often stand as well together as they do on their own. How’d you settle on that design? What did the writing process look like? RM: Mary Robison apparently wrote Why Did I Ever entirely on index cards. My approach was similar to that, just replace the index cards with loose receipts and pocket-sized notebooks from the Dollar Tree. Even with a general story arc in mind, there was still a lot of shuffling and rearranging.
The structural design fits my way of thinking, which is more observational
in nature. Then there’s the added benefit of being able to modulate the tone and tempo without the text descending into outright bathos.
BA: Could Understudies have worked in a traditional novel format? How
big is too big? Like, would you have trusted the idea to Jonathan Franzen? RM: I’m sure the concept could work as a more conventional novel, though the effect would be completely different. It’d be like asking a tapas restaurant to cook family style. Sure, the squid tentacle tastes the same, but the vehicle is all wrong. Traditional novels, with their rigorous plotting, rarely allow for one-offs and stray observations. I have more narrative freedom working in fragments. (Franzen, freedom, get it?)
An Interview With...
BA: If you weren’t yourself, what writer would you want to be?
RM: I wish I was able to work non-linearly, pulling odd tendrils of language
from the ether. I envy poets. There’s far more art in what they do. I’d gladly give my right kidney to be a poet in the style of John Ashbery or Mary Ruefle or Dean Young—that infectious blend of brains and irreverence.
BA: If you weren’t a writer, would you still be yourself? And what would that person be up to these days? RM: Once I can get this time machine working right, I plan to go back and become a theoretical physicist. (Also, invest all my money in Apple.) My identity isn’t tied up in my work. I don’t buy it when writers say they can’t do anything else. Of course they can. Writing is—like most of the fine arts—a luxury afforded to those with access to higher education and time to “figure things out.” For a person to say they can’t do anything else is an unknowing admission of privilege.
A Selected Reading from True Trans Soul Rebel
What follows is a post from Fiction Editor Maxine Vande Vaarst’s new gender transition blog, “True Trans Soul Rebel: A Transgender Girl’s Diary of a Very Scary, Fun Time.”
Max would like to encourage the whole wonderful Buffalo Almanack family to follow her big, crazy, exciting adventure toward womanhood online at www.truetranssoulrebel.com!
Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst
HRT DAY 13 | FEBRUARY 19, 2015
That’s a tragically strained play on words, you guys. But think it about for a minute. Can it really be a coincidence that “Estragon” is only two letters removed from everybody’s favorite gonadotropic chemical substance? What exactly were you getting at there, Sam Beckett?
There’s this thing they don’t tell you about transgender self-acceptance.
Well, scratch that. They actually don’t tell you anything about transgender selfacceptance, because everybody in this culture is assumed comfortable with their birth-assigned sex until stated otherwise, and everybody who states otherwise is assumed a head case or fruit loop. But if they did tell you anything about transgender self-acceptance, they’d probably still skip this part: Loving yourself makes things harder.
It really shouldn’t be that way. One would imagine that, after years of self-
A Selected Reading from True Trans Soul Rebel
doubt and confusion, of private fantasy and public shame, of misgendered expression and gender repression, that a-ha! moment must feel like a holy intervention. It must feel as though the iron bars of forced masculinity have been stripped bare, as though you were, for all of your life before this moment, a prisoner both ignorant of your own imprisonment, and worse, unaware that you had been locked away with a shovel, a pick-axe, a Rita Hayworth poster, one of those big welding machines and the warden’s keychain for good measure. And in some ways it does. I remember the night I first developed the courage to apply the transgender label to my own situation. I stayed up reading other girls’ stories online and sobbing through my happiness until the battery on my MacBook died. The gate had been lifted. All of my questions, my odd history, my discomfort with my body and my hatred of self had been explained.
But then I realized: I still wasn’t free. And where once I faced fuzzy,
ambiguous questions, I was now suddenly pressed into answering some seriously real, seriously urgent problems.
Did I want to transition? I knew almost on instinct that I did. But was I
strong and certain enough to go through with it? No clue. Would my thenfiancée continue to love and support me, even as a woman? Would my parents? My friends? My professors and graduate school cohort? Would I face social discrimination? Would I even be able to pass as female, or was I setting myself up for five decades floundering through life as a stereotypical “tranny,” looking like a drag queen who showed up at the wrong party? How would I start and when would I start and was I starting too late and what oh what does it even mean to ‘start?’
Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst
Maybe I did have the key to open my own prison cell, but the lock before me very quickly morphed from thisâ€Ś
Please donâ€™t misunderstand me. I encourage every person currently
questioning their gender identity to pursue their own vision of fulfillment. If you feel your ideal form of identification is transgender, or genderqueer, or non-binary, or two-spirit or whatever it might be, embrace that. There is no happiness in lying to yourself, but please recognize what I am saying. We
A Selected Reading from True Trans Soul Rebel
pursue our truths not because they are easy but because, like Rice playing Texas, putting a man on the moon and JFK at a birthday party, they are hard.
In recognizing the misalignment present between my body and my mind, I
opened the door for the sort of near-constant dysphoria and brutalizing triggers that had previously plagued me as a teenager, but had lain mostly dormant during my years of adult delusion. The time between acceptance and HRT was the most difficult by far. I often felt trapped in my body in a way I hadn’t even a month prior. I became hyper-sensitive to the gendered order of our world. The way men and women sit, the way they speak, the way they carry their weight and comport themselves became of overwhelming significance to me. Cute girls no longer became passing strangers, or even sexual subjects to satisfy my gaze (hey, come on now, we all do it), but an ineluctable reminder of my own gross deformity. Check it out, Maxine! Look at this thing you want more than anything else. 50% of the population got it for free! At birth! And they don’t even realize how lucky they are! They don’t even think it makes them special.
I came to feel as though possession of a male body were a universally
recognized symbol of failure. I came to feel as though everyone were judging me, as though everybody knew how sick I was. That I was born sick and still months removed from my cure.
It was all irrational and totally crazypants, and I know that, but all the same.
In accepting my personal truth, I had unwittingly brought an enormous, allconsuming frustration to bear. And even now, even as the hormones perform their slogging miracle, their slow blood magic, I still suffer from the waiting
Maxine Allison Vande Vaarst
bug. I still worry for my future. I still battle those same darn questions. I even panic every now and then when I look down and still witness that same nasty old male body, flat and white as printer paper, and think, Are these pills working? Am I not taking them right? Could it be that my pharmacist is a secret transphobe and prescribed me sugar pills (gasp!).
I donâ€™t know. I am not a patient woman. For as much hand-wringing as
there is within the trans community about gatekeepers and bad clinics, I remain incredibly appreciative that the first step of transition so often involves seeing a therapist. Most of them are good and helpful people. I spoke with mine yesterday afternoon and she is so, so amazing. This is a long, lonely process. Sometimes you move an inch forward and feel like youâ€™ve stumbled five feet back. The waiting is all and the waiting is everything. Nothing is to be done.
Review – Love Me Back
Being asked to review contemporary fiction occasionally drives me to em-
ploy the corny opener of a stand-up comedian. So, on that note: Is it just me or are we seeing a wave of novels narrated by near-unbearably nihilistic young female protagonists? Perhaps because I was assigned Irish novelist Eimar McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing just before I read Love Me Back, Merritt Tierce’s saga of an aimless Dallas steakhouse waitress, I ended 2014 feeling very concerned that the young women of fiction are definitely not all right. And make no mistake: When they aren’t all right in fiction, they aren’t in real life, either.
McBride’s Girl was widely praised last year for its jarring, telegraphic prose.
The author’s command and subsequent decimation of the English language was compared to her garrulous countrymen Beckett and Joyce. The ingenious word play (no doubt entire dissertations will be written on the linguistic similarities between Gaelic and the protagonist’s post-rape sputterings) saved what is, underneath, a sadly typical tale: A repressive Catholic girlhood, a father fleeing family stress, a handsy uncle, a descent into self-destruction. Merritt Tierce exhibits no such lexical dexterity, but then again, her heroine, a twenty-something Texan waitress named Marie Young, does not come from such a literary bloodline. No, Young’s lot in life, it’s clear from page one, is to be the object of service to those around her, particularly the men. Endless breadsticks, thick cuts of Wagyu beef, blowjobs, bottles of Caymus or baggies of cocaine: Everything she has, she turns around and presents to the customer. This list includes, a reader might argue, her child, the being who acts as a beacon of unconditional love shining in the distance, to a boat that just cannot seem to steady itself in the choppy sea.
The book, structured with little apparent logic and nearly without plot,
paints a portrait of Marie Young mostly during her shifts at the various restaurants she works in over the years, from low end (Chili’s) to high end (a swanky steakhouse simply called “The Restaurant.”) Polishing tables and plastering a smile to your face is not glamorous work, to be sure, but Marie has problems far bigger than the usual occupational hazards. Just out of high school, she has a baby with a good guy she meets on a Youth Fellowship trip, her devotional childhood perhaps the only clue to why she feels so comfortable in the “service” industry. She cheats on her baby’s father not long after they get married, then proceeds to do massive amounts of blow, holds hot pokers to her collarbone,
Review – Love Me Back
cuts herself, spreads her legs and lets herself be fucked by almost every male character in the book.
She says things like, “But my mind was an open sore. It was black… I would
imagine being fatally cleaved all day long. By a gallows axe, the T-shaped kind.” I get the impression that the reader is supposed to both pity and admire Marie, that she is the perfect heroine for fourth-wave feminism because she is both passive object and active subject, at the mercy of a meat-eating patriarchy and yet also defiant of it. I could get on board with this if she wasn’t so dangerously unhappy, or if basically anything in her story suggested her difficulties were the result of anything other than the slackening of her own will.
Reading Love Me Back feels a little bit like being in a literary version of high school, like if you somehow don’t admire or condone or ascribe profound meaning to the actions of a neglectful, drug-addled parent, you’re opening yourself up to ridicule, to being labeled “uncool.” It feels as if the cadre of jaded creative types (Carrie Brownstein, par example, or Roxane Gay, who says Young opts for “the life and motherhood that is best for her, without apology”) whose praise covers the back of the book are secretly mocking you for not understanding despair so deep that it hardens into non-feeling, and then eventually, callousness. And perhaps I don’t, not to the extent that Marie Young does. I just wish, if this were in fact the point, that Tierce had done her part to help me comprehend it.
Another curious similarity between this book and Eimear McBride’s: Nei-
ther distinguishes dialogue with quotation marks. The existential critic would ask, “What does this mean?” Reading both, I remembered periods of my youth
when I felt so disconnected with the world outside myself people around me began to lose their distinctive tones, when voices were basically whispers by the time they managed to get through the thick layer of melancholy surrounding. Even direct addresses failed to get my attention. Maybe that is what this means, the dialogue blending seamlessly together with the prose, for these young girls: They can’t hear anyone, because everyone sounds the same, and no one is saying anything at all. It’s enough to make you want to rewrite the stories, but this time, insert a caring psychologist in there, or an intuitive friend, even a bus driver who takes an innocent interest. “Wake up,” the savior would say, “This is your life, and it is an emergency.” Love Me Back Merritt Tierce Doubleday 224 pages, $18.42
Past Perfect Review – Maggie Cassidy
Among literature’s great sprawling autobiographies, perhaps Jack Kerouac’s body of work stands as one of the most mythic. Although the bulk of his published work was conceived as a long-form biographical epic, Kerouac passed away before he was able to compile his novels into one cohesive narrative. Beginning with Kerouac’s childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, and creating a steady picture of his journey from star athlete to college student to Merchant Marine to Beat Generation icon, Kerouac’s work creates a panoramic view of pre- and post-war American culture.
Tucked within the folds of Kerouac’s life story is the retelling of his
relationship with Mary Carney, immortalized as the titular character in 1959’s Maggie Cassidy. Set in 1938 and 1939, the story follows Kerouac’s alter ego Jack Duluoz as he navigates the perils of high school romance. Torn between the enigmatic Maggie and his main girl Pauline, Jack experiences the highs and lows of young, feverish, and temporary adoration.
The story of Jack Duluoz’s first love is wrapped up in a larger narrative
about the main character’s hometown. Lowell is portrayed as an idyllic and nostalgic place, a small town cut from a Frank Capra film. Kerouac’s prose is laced with an unending fondness for the pre-war Americana that defined the period and his own adolescence, which creates a sense of longing from the very first pages. Lowell is, to Kerouac, a joyful and authentic place to which he can never return.
The love story of Maggie and Jack is a story of their whole town, exploring
the sort of communal sense of self that permeates all milestones in small towns. Jack and Maggie are in no way isolated from their peers and families, but rather moving through the gestures of courtship with those people. Notes passed over fences and kisses stolen while friends sit outside on the porch make up the backbone of their relationship, and they are always aware of the scrutiny of others. Just as neither Jack nor Maggie can separate their identities from their community, their love is inextricably linked with Lowell.
Kerouac’s signature spontaneous style pairs with the ecstatic nature of
childhood memory, both crisp and magical. Written with the clarity of distance,
Past Perfect Review – Maggie Cassidy
Kerouac emphasizes the meaning of moments that could be described as mundane. His admiration for his childhood puts the minor victories and hurts of adolescence in a sentimental yet prophetic light.
Maggie Cassidy is laced through with a rich nostalgia, both for the town and
the time in which Kerouac grew up. With World War II and the birth of post-war counterculture creating a chasm between Kerouac and his memories, the warm way in which he looks back at the innocence and supposed crises that consumed him as a child rings sentimental, without being overdone. The period of which he was writing – the late 1930s – is widely regarded by our culture as one of the great periods of true Americana. Standing on the precipice of a world war that would forever change what “The United States” means for the international community, those final years of calm are easy to romanticize. Kerouac does not shy away from the small tragedies that rocked his young life, but rather examines them through the lens of a great societal shift that forever changed the fabric of teenage life in the U.S.
Both light hearted and touching, Maggie Cassidy is a well-preserved glimpse
of youth, love, and the uncertainty of each. Jack Kerouac’s eye for the ecstatic in the everyday captures the depth of small town relationships and the tight bonds of community. Although a far cry from the counterculture narratives that made him an icon, Maggie Cassidy illustrates the joy and keen observation of humanity that makes Jack Kerouac such an indispensable chronicler of American life. Maggie Cassidy Jack Kerouac Penguin 208 pages, $10.95
ia Avramut is a Romanian-American writer and artist who worked in laboratories and autopsy rooms from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. Her artwork has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, saltfront, Knicknackery, Bookends Review and Up the Staircase Quarterly. She lives in Essen, Germany.
akenzie Barron lives in Buena Vista, Colorado. She holds a BA in linguistics from Reed College. She is a current MFA candidate in fiction at Queens University and an editorial assistant at Qu Literary Magazine. “The Rendezvous” is her first publication.
leanor Leonne Bennett is an 18-year-old internationally award-winning photographer and artist who has been honored by National Geographic, the World Photography Organisation, Nature’s Best Photography, the Papworth Trust, Mencap, the Woodland Trust and Postal Heritage. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph, the Guardian, the BBC News online and on the cover of books and magazines in the United States and Canada.
rank Hallam Day’s work is in numerous museums and private collections, including the State Museum of Berlin, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts and others. He was the winner of the prestigious Leica Oskar Barnack Prize in 2012 and a winner of the Bader Prize in 2006. His interests include humanity’s footprint on the world and themes of social and cultural memory.
Issue No. 7 - March 2015
ichael Deagler lives in Philadelphia. His fiction is featured or forthcoming in Glimmer Train, B O D Y, Eleven Eleven, the Yalobusha Review and elsewhere.
ustin Hamm is the author of a full length collection of poems, Lessons in Ruin, and two poetry chapbooks. He is the founding editor of the Museum of Americana and his work has appeared in Nimrod, the Midwest Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Hobart, the Weekly Rumpus and elsewhere. Justin has also received the Stanley Hanks Memorial Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center. Follow him on Instagram @justindhamm.
ridey Heing is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Her interests include literature, history, feminism, and politics. You can find more of her writing at brideyheing.com.
Loli Kantor was born in Paris and raised in Tel Aviv.
Her work centers on Jewish life and culture in Central and Eastern Europe. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, she brings a deeply personal interest and unique sensibility to this body of work. Her book Beyond The Forest: Jewish Presence in Eastern Europe was published in 2014 by the University of Texas Press.
acob Michael King lives in Southern California. His work is forthcoming in Permafrost Magazine and Shroud Quarterly. His novelette, “Postmortem,” will be available as an ebook from Onyx Neon Press. His fiction has recently appeared in Cactus Heart.
ric Boehling Lewis, a native Southerner, has lived in Brooklyn for a few years now, teaching high school English and coaching wrestling. He is currently an MFA candidate at Brooklyn College, and this is his first publication. Photo by Jonathan Nesteruk.
avi Mangla is the author of the novel Understudies (Outpost19). His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, the Collagist, American Short Fiction, Barrelhouse, and Tin House Online. He keeps a blog at ravimangla.com.
evon McFarland is currently a young man, not quite yet a man but also currently not quite yet young. He studies art at a university and also works as a remodeler. I’m not sure why about either of those, he left the room and now I’m just dictating this on my own without him.
Issue No. 7 - March 2015
elsey Osgood has contributed pieces to numerous publications including New York, the New Yorkerâ€™s Culture Desk blog, Time, Harperâ€™s and Salon. Her first book, How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia, was chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program.
eter Witte is a visual artist and writer. A native of Illinois, he now lives in College Park, Maryland with his family. His work has been exhibited at the Washington D.C. Convention Center and featured in numerous literary journals.
M axine Allison 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. She received her B.A. in English and History from Purdue University. She currently lives in Laramie, Wyoming and is pursuing an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Wyoming. Max recently came out as transgender and began male-to-female gender transition in February 2015, so apologies for the confusing photo. Sheâ€™ll be sure to provide a better one as soon as she manages to fit herself into a really cute dress.
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.
Your lovely editors, at home in the library, at home in the mountains.
Issue No. 7 - March 2015
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 March 2015 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. 7 - March 2015
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.
Interviews with Ravi Mangla and Loli Kantor. Short fictions by Michael Deagler, Jacob Michael King, Eric Boehling Lewis and Makenzie Barron....
Published on Mar 15, 2015
Interviews with Ravi Mangla and Loli Kantor. Short fictions by Michael Deagler, Jacob Michael King, Eric Boehling Lewis and Makenzie Barron....