ANNEMARIE MCQUEEN I airlift sugar into my cappuccino, watch those Sweet, saccharine icebergs Sink into its foamy depths And lie in wait for titanic to come along. Toronto, Singapore My mind plays paper planes And I see myself, five years into the future Waiting on a different port A different life A different Ritazza coffee. Someone could’ve played musical chairs Danced between these glossy Islands And I would’ve waltzed with them But the hum of the heater is Too melancholy for jazz And my feet have grown apathetic to these Hard floors. ‘I know’ man in suit says from table 3 because We all know We all know things have changed and ‘it’s a Different time,’ that much is clear. His Nigerian accent bobs and lilts Trapped on a Sea of ripples, tipping this way and that and I’m there, peering out over The edge into Slow-moving Marylebone station, where The ever-present moment is waiting, scrupulous To urge its passengers
From place to platform, platform to train Train to Tunbridge wells, time is impatient And time is in a hurry to Make predictions come true, prove Potential right And I wait because time will never Stall But I can, these caramel walls will testify.
For more of Annemarie McQueen , take a look here: http://annemarie mcqueen 1.blog spot.co.uk
BEATING A TURIN HORSE
Marc Regan High up the steep sandy bank a sandaled foot jutted into the sea air. A fat ankle. This hunk of pale hairless skin belonged, as did the sandal, to my exceedingly rotund Auntie Gail. I was lying some twenty feet below, my back to the sand. The day was lovely, sunny but not too hot—mid-seventies. A breeze threw my light brown hair into craziness, even as I lay, calm, on the beach. I was comfortable here with the ocean’s roar and lap in my ears and its saline scent in my nose. But I had no intention of staying put long—a shower of sand fell on me—for now, both of my stout auntie’s bald and beefy legs hung from the cliff’s peak. She was coming down. Really, she was my great aunt, my mother’s aunt, my grandmother’s sister. She was not, however, to be called old—my mother told me this quite often. But, as I had just turned twelve, she was old. Her bluish hair and porky-pink face framed the very picture of old. Despite her age and berth, I had a certain fondness for her. I looked forward to our visits to her old three-storied house in Pennsylvania. The aromas of freshly baked goods and roasting ham or lamb or beef would hit me as soon as I erupted from our dented Chevy wagon and during our stays, usually a week or two in the winter months, I ate like a hog scheduled for springtime slaughter. I also enjoyed her visits to our house—Auntie Gail squeezing through the back door, huffing and puffing, my mom or dad at her back, toting her recently prepared goods. Cakes, pies, jellies, pickles, hams: it was Thanksgiving whenever we saw Auntie Gail. Except this time. My family’s week at the seaside cottage had arrived, our special time, and the cottage barely held the five of us. There would have been the six of us, but this year, this summer, Dad stayed behind, working. Not that I minded: He and Mom would have brought along their favorite pastime—fighting. They had perfected it, made it their own. Never too noisy nor physical, but their words
were so barbed and toxic that I reeled under the sting. Thus, being the eldest of four and probably more aware than the others were, I secretly celebrated Dad’s decision to stay home. That, plus the increased space at the cottage, had me feeling fine about our visit. Until the relatives started arriving. Perhaps in previous years the swarming bloodline was staid by my dad’s ability to put people off. One comment, delivered over his shoulder and in a flat tone, rendered the recipient speechless. Exceptions, of course, existed. Mom, for instance. My parents were a match made in heaven, or perhaps hell, but wherever their original mating was conceived, my mom could hold her own. When Dad shot a dullsounding but potent bullet, she would fire one back. Evening at home meant a front-row seat for the faceoff of spiteful standup comedians. Which was oddly entertaining. And educational: I learned a lot about keeping the world away from me. But that’s another story. So, there I was, enjoying my age, which meant I could secure the space a twelve year old deserved. I claimed the best daybed in the most private corner of the main room, a nook where I might be less bothered by the brats (my siblings). Contentment was mine. Until raps rattled the sliding glass door. The cottage belonged to my maternal grandparents and sat on a windblown cliff of sand and beach grass, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Years before my granddad had purchased the parcel and build the structure for a price so low, by today’s standards, that hearing it would leave you short of breath. Envious. Apparently, those were the days. Yes and there we were, moved in for our week, me the king of the cabin. Then my Auntie Gail arrived. Shortly thereafter came my irritating cousins, all five of them, and their mother. We had all decided to spend the same week at the cottage. I especially disliked my cousin Henry who loved to proclaim that he was five months my senior. All my life, until that day, my cousin had made it his purpose to keep me aware
of his chronological superiority. In fact, I may have hated him—dark hair falling unevenly across his pimply brow; absurd scientist words squawking from his chapped fish lips; fat nose forever whistling as he hurried to catch up, even when he led the way—although these years later it’s difficult to say this with any degree of certainty. And so, a few hours later, we were down on the beach because Mom thought it would be fun, and it was a lovely day. I accepted this change of locale without friction as it would afford me a few feet from Cousin Henry, who had attached himself to me like a barnacle and blabbed at length on matters about which no one cared. This was when I spied the bulk of Auntie Gail’s lower parts silhouetted against the cobalt sky. I heard her grunts, as she nudged her bulk out over the edge. The rest of us had butt-skied or somersaulted down the steep vertical distance from cliff-top to cliffbottom, which was where I now lay beside my blathering cousin, but such maneuvers were impossible for Auntie. It was a surprise that she had chosen this route to the beach; we expected her to take the long but safer route, trudging from the nearby parking lot to where we all lounged. Mom yelled about the sandy hill’s height and difficult pitch. Plus Auntie Gail was a fat old woman, though no one spoke this last fact. Auntie Gail scoffed at Mom’s warnings. “I’m not as old as you think,” she called back. “I’ll be down before you know it.” And with that, her fat old hands, hands so good in the kitchen, pushed her heft over the top. A peep escaped as she entered the open air. Everything sped up. I rolled to my right. Mom and Aunt Elisabeth sprang to their feet and tugged my siblings and young cousins out of danger’s way. And my fat old auntie dropped. She flipped head over heels through sea air. A gull screamed, and Auntie hit bottom. We were all stunned, it had happened so fast, and for a time no one moved. As if we were all suspended in an invisible gel, thick and dulling. Auntie lay motionless, sunk face-down in the beach. Then the scene came alive. Feet slapped sun-warmed sand, vocal cords quavering wildly. “Oh my god! Poor Auntie!” But what we failed to noticed, in our distress over Auntie’s mishap was that Henry had vanished. Minutes passed before anyone realized that she had
touched-down smack-dab on my senior cousin. A beautiful day turned into a sad week for the family. A morbid clot coursed the family tributaries, until every being with a drop of our blood had arrived at the tiny cottage. The loss of both Cousin Henry and Auntie Gail left a canyon the family seemed determined to fill with tears. My dad showed up, late the night after the accident. For a time he held his tongue, even appeared to fit in with the clan. But by the close of the fourth night after Auntieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fall Dad had cleared the place, and then, in the wee hours, he and my mom put on an unusually entertaining performance.
Marc Regan can be found at https://www.facebook.com/ MarcDReganWrites, http:// marc-d-regan. branded.me/, https:// marcdregan. wordpress.com, and http:// marcdregan.wix.com/ marcdregan
Ron Clinton Smith We all live here between light and shadows sleeping the walking dream of breath on the window glass. We move about in mindless thought, some of us like the draft that gently moves the open door, a thump in the wall or behind my thoughts that aren’t my own. We inhabit life in between the forms and fissures. We move as fluidly as light and water and tell each other our stories, or remind each other that there’s no end to our undoing. We find help in a moment, or a butterfly in the yard, an angel moth battering against the sink light, a cardinal fluttering hard against the glass. I hear your voice, not as a voice at all, but telling. You crowd with me in the silent spaces and the others who’ve crossed here forever. We stand and move and breathe in the breeze-light of being like sound speaking in another’s world, our own, all of us in the kingdom of the living, in our own guise and restless forms beating like lost febrile hearts disembodied on a breeze, waving hello.
Find more from Ron Clinton Smith at www.ronclintonsmith.com and follow on Twitter @ ronclintonsmith
Elliot Russo Him, I know I love, but canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t say so out loud. He belongs to me, and all of this brick town belongs to me He eats his apple pie. Maybe he is my age, and he has nearly drank all from his glass of tĂŠ ghiacciato with honey. His mustache drips onto his lips. He licks them. His hands have churned confusion into impatience, Many times but his eyes are modest and wrinkled with kindness. I imagine he loves one sister, but cannot express his gratitude. His father will pass via the gondolaâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; too expensive this year. He sits alone. Perhaps, we are the same person, he and I. Perhaps, his shaking will subside if he can collect himself from his pieces or collect himself long enough to notice me and leave embarrassed. Then, I will go back to this poem as if nothing happened.
Published by Upper Rubber Boots ISBN 978-1-937794-41-5
Reviewed by A.J. Huffman The Sky Needs More Work, by Corey Mesler, is an articulate and poignant portrait of a man – a man degrading, a man struggling, a man re-evolving, and, most importantly, a man surviving. Nowhere is this more eloquently summed up, than in “A Man Walking,” where the speaker clearly states, “I am a man walking/ into a mirror.” As these lines show, this collection as whole is an introspective look into one man’s life. This idea shows up again in “Old Hob,” when the speaker sees himself as an old man he does not recognize, and again in “Bardo,” where he states: “I am air, fire/and loss of balance.” Furthering the nearly suffocating fog the speaker is drowning in, Mesler reveals an underlying psychosis, later revealed as agoraphobia. The speaker seeks tangible treatment for this issue, but, in poems like “The New Medicine,” we see the real antidote is communication, writing: “See, you’re already listening/ and that’s medicine, too.” The writer is acutely aware of his own vacillation throughout these poems, an evident connectivity that pulls reader in with speaker to a place where Mesler weaves a vision of torturous phantoms of all guises, the two most prevalent being words and women. Mesler peppers his shadowy cloud with disparaging popculture and historical references like 9/11 and John Lennon’s death. Tangible hits to the reader’s heart, these communal references pull us deeper into the darkness by playing on universal knowledge and memories. The ghosts of everyone’s past stand as tyrannical, juxtapositional threads, tying us to the speaker, resonating his pain.
In this emotional revolution of poems, Mesler takes us through a lifetime’s expedition of a man searching for a tangible escape through “the door,” an image that is prevalent in key poems like “Dream of the Folktale” “Agoraphobe’s Litany” and “Black Dog on the Porch.” The speaker regards this door as an unattainable solid that he cannot find because he lives in a liquid world, a consuming fog-filled miasma of uncertainty he cannot work his way through. It takes the speaker the entire collection, which represents a whole lifetime, to realize the door was something else, something intangible, something inside that had to be unlocked, opened. The speaker lands that realization in “Black Dog on the Porch,” where he states: “My hand felt/like a fresh weapon. My/hand felt like another opening.” This enlightenment, this new “escape,” came through writing, the very task that plagues the speaker at the beginning of the collection. Mesler is a master of the metaphor of writing as cathartic exorcism. In the opening poem, we see that words are his life, his struggle. “Dear Editor” is a self-effacing, satirical dialogue with some universal editor where the speaker claims “The poem you accepted/is no longer mine.” He continues to claim “it lost its way, wandered” and “became something other,” as if the poem was an entity completely unto itself, disassociated from its maker. This speaker is lost, consumed by lack of control, and does not have the “heart or wherewithal/to even try to make sense” of his own words. Words, however, are just one set of ghosts that haunt this collection. Like words, women also claw at him from the shadows. In “A History of Lovers,” the speaker regales a list of past lovers and their subsequent lessons. He ends with the longing, desperate lines: “I am standing there still/waiting for another lover,/one who will startle me,/reject me, kill in me/what wants another and another lover.” These lines cast an uncontrollable desperation over the initial poems of this collection. Later in the collection, despite a change in tone indicative of personal evolution, the examination of both major themes persists. In fact, in “Cock-a-Hoop” the speaker seamlessly melds his two phantom tormentors, words and women, into one. “Cock-a-Hoop” is a bluntly sensual metaphor of woman as poem, and the result is that these images linger, creating a transference of ghosts as the reader also becomes haunted by this recurring idea. Just when the collection begins to weigh on the reader,
threatens to consume us with its hopelessness, Mesler turns on a light in “The Remainder at Gettysburg,” the transitional poem in this collection. Here, the speaker notes, “What saves us is always unexpected,” and he is right. From this poem on, the same ghosts, the same memories rise like phoenixes. Painful scars of the past now take on a scabbed-over quality that is even therapeutic as the speaker picks at them. This undercurrent of not-quite-optimistic desire to change is immediately noticeable. Even the speaker’s view of himself changes. In “Megrims,” he refers to himself as “an experiment of a man.” “A Life Colored” continues this dialogue of desire for change. Make no mistake, the speaker is still haunted by ghosts – ghosts of memories, ghosts of people (both living and dead) – even his family takes on a ghostly quality. His references to his wife and children are as almost ephemeral figures floating around him, attempting to cling to him. Nothing is solid, but instead of drowning in their darkness, he looks to these ghosts, as if they can hold the answers, the key to that door. Rehabilitating realizations begin to turn up all through the second half of this collection. In “The Cancer of Believing You are in Control,” the light bulb goes on: “it is a cancer to/believe you are in control.” This new mantra brightens the speaker’s outlook. He is coming to terms with his present. In “The Body Opens Like a Flame,” he can now see that “There is a stillness in/ vulnerability, a stillness that/is almost consoling.” The speaker now has a new mission as described in “Way Fairer”: “I set out with the intention/of sewing that/shadow to a soul.” Finally, Mesler brings the collection full-circle in “The Last Poem.” Our speaker has written and remembered his way through the darkness and is ready to re-emerge in the light. In “The Last Poem,” we are once again in dialogue with the same universal editor as in “Dear Editor,” and while the self-effacing tone still lingers, there is an element of hope in the newfound desire of the speaker to get his words, those turbulent ghosts, published. “The End of the Year of Darkness” sums it up best: “What is/lost is lost” and “What I create is good,” and what Mesler managed to create in these 88 pages is beyond good.
Discover more of A. J. Huffman at www.kindofahurricanepress.com
Sophia Pandeya Every morning like Sisyphus she would return to the sea. To walk was to plant a totem, only to watch the waves turn it back to blank. Scroll beneath her feet. Each calf a cliff. Each nail a migrant in the suck and swallow. To walk was to weigh anchor. Feet to fire. Open her mouth. Enter this room. Occupy each porthole and periscope. Oculus elbowed to a gash. The sea does not return the bodies of the dead, only their voices. Chiaroscuro. Everything knot and naught. The sky thumbtacked by stars. Shipped out. Chance is a bomb. Like all children she had built castles in the sand. Now she carries the grains of their ruin in her purse. History gets into everything. The sea was an assassin. Each morning she would return, crossing the littered median and the graveyards of glass and plastic. An absurdist seeking the solace of moss. The sea was milk-green, the color of absinthe, the color of blind eyes. The sea was Sisyphus whispering, a wolf in the skin of a wave. What did she doubt more, herself, the dice, or the throw? By then it was too late. There are no windows left that open to the moon. To remember how you came in was to remember how a pearl was weaned. To polish the luster of its wound. The sea is sage, ageless. She is Japanese. Oyster Catcher. A pearl diving mermaid. She has tasked herself to trawl.To be the maker of mirrors. But what is the nature of looking?To stick a lip to labyrinthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s whorl? To siphon, scavenge, scrawl? The sea is Sisyphus. A giant moth with two black wings. Each morning she returns. Sifts the skeleton of his whistling between her baleen. Morsing to mouth a poem shaped like a seashell. Tide & ampersand a cupped loop on tap. Back to blank and back the sea churning, the sea, surrender, the sea boomerang, endless return.
Sophia Pandeya She was born on a landlocked ship. Cordless umbilicus.The last inhabitant of her motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s uterus. Caesura. A welted minefield. The bomb was time itself.
She was born on a landlocked ship on the banks of naphtha and polished concrete.Belled by tall palms sleeping in their cummerbunds of red ochre and limestone. Marital and martial are anagrams. She was born visibly invisible, an ode to opposites. She was born on a close shave. In a room full of iodine ghosts. On a stream of betel juice and spit. Sanguis Draconis. Gums red as brick. Her eyes would change color before she crawled. Both cat and woman. A feral oxide.
She was born on a landlocked ship on Lily Bridge Rd next to the Old Race Course ringed by torsos of trees wearing the eternal cursive of red ochre and white lime plastered like a caste on their waists. It was a quarter to three in the morning.The color of a broken silence.
Sophia Pandeya For years she has been dreaming of the perfect suicide, as if death was just another fetish, like dark chocolate laced with cacao nibs and smoked pasilla peppers the color of a burnt sunset at the Golden Gate in late January, cold but fog-less the better to take in each ripple and glimmer. She'd braid her hair with a thousand cowrie shells when it was time, she'd weight her pockets with rocks just like Virginia Woolf, as befits a literary farewell. When it was time, she'd wear her sleekest leather outfit (no need to be frumpy just because you are kicking the bucket) and since she loves death but not pain when it was time, she'd pop open the vial of morphine she stole at fourteen from her father's medical chest (his loyal batman was blamed for the theft and fired) she still carries that guilt. Just as well. Heaviness is what she needs now to inscribe her final poem on the sea's parchment.
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Jaimie Eubanks I could have gone to a hotel, but when the driver asks where to, I give Johnny’s address. It’s the first place I think of. Maybe I miss him. I’m only in Minneapolis for the night, because the airline bumped my flight because of the snow. And Johnny’s place is only a fifteen minute cab ride from the airport, mostly on highways. I haven’t been in town in ages, and the city looks different now, both bigger and smaller than I remember it. The snow is falling in heavy clumps onto awnings of new restaurants. I call ahead, but Johnny’s phone goes straight to voicemail. It’s okay; I’ve still got a key. I know he won’t mind. I’ve done this plenty of times before. The only difference is, it’s been awhile. That happens, I guess. I don’t think about him much, but Johnny and I never really ended things, so it isn’t really like starting something back up. I pay the driver, carry my suitcase — the smallest one on the market, something I’m proud of— up the three floor walk-up. I still know from muscle memory to pull the door towards me as I turn the key. Inside, I slip my heels off. I’m here. It’s too late to take it back, and I don’t know if I’d want to. Maybe he didn’t hear me come in, and I can surprise him. He liked surprises, I remember that. He liked waking up when I’d already started on him. After, he used to say, “Terry, waking up to you is better than waking up to a sunrise on the beach.” I swatted him on the shoulder for talking like that. Big talk always rings false to me. The foyer looks smaller than it used to, and darker, but it’s been over a year. The lights are on. I regret not calling, because he doesn’t come to see who it is. It’s possible too much time has passed, and now there’s somebody else with a key. It doesn’t really hit me until I see this hideous coat rack, which Johnny would never buy, that this might be a bad idea. I mean, I knew it. I just didn’t know it. The same old mirror hangs by the door, and my hair looks good. Considering I’ve been stuck on a plane, I look damn good, really. People these days underestimate what hairspray can do. I
pose a little bit. I’d be embarrassed if someone caught me running my fingertips along my collar bone, arching my back. I pout, dab some red lipstick on my lips, and undo the top button of my blouse. If I’m showing back up for Johnny, I ought to give him the parts of me that are worth remembering. I undo a second button, then another, then another. No, it’s too much. I button my blouse back up, just the top undone, just a hint of cleavage. Blouse open might as well be full nude, and while full nude might be a crowd pleaser, it’s a risk I’m not quite ready for. I vamp in the mirror for just a second while longer. I try to look sexy, relaxed, and not at all exhausted. Like Marilyn Monroe on a beach. Not a lot of women bother with platinum blonde these days, but it works for me. This is the kind of thing I used to be good at, but now it takes work. From the living room, I hear sound. A woman’s voice, which I didn’t expect. Her voice is low at first, but then it isn’t. “Hello?” I call. “Is Johnny here?” “Shit,” she says. “Shit, shit, shit.” “Hello?” I don’t think she heard me come in. That seems like an intimate moment, sitting alone, cursing to yourself. And I feel sure that she is alone. No two people go so long in complete silence, only to break the silence by muttering shit, especially, not if Johnny was one of the two. He could have moved. I knew it was a possibility when I gave the address to the cab driver, and when I walked up the front steps, put my key in the door and walked in. It’s been months since I talked to Johnny, but he’s not a guy who likes change. If he moved, I doubt it was his idea. That’s the thing about Johnny and me: even if we never got together in a serious way, I know who he is. Right down to his core, I understand him. Understood him. I round the corner, since she hasn’t heard me. “Is Johnny here?” I ask. She’s just a baby, maybe twenty-four or twenty-five. I’ve got a decade on her, easily. She’s on her hands and knees next to an old night stand, frantic, mopping up something a tipped over bucket. There’s drop cloth laid over a tarp in the middle of the living room, and the liquid is spreading quickly, moving towards the cement
floors. Whatever it is smells chemical. She looks up at me. If I was in her shoes, and a stranger just walked into my apartment, I think I’d look more afraid. She looks relieved. “There’s no Johnny here,” she says, in a rush. “Can you hand me those paper towels? Quick.” I grab them off the counter and kneel down next to her. If she’s not worried about my being here, neither am I. I roll with it. Whether Johnny’s here or not, I need a place to stay, and the snow is really coming down. “Oh God. Paper towels won’t cut it, I guess. There are some extra rags by the washer,” she says. Whatever it is she’s spilled is moving across the floor like The Blob. “Got it,” I say. I know where it is. The furniture looks antique, and she’s got throw pillows everywhere. The building used to be a school, and has too many modern edges and industrial windows to be anything other than a bachelor pad. I find a bucket filled with rags and rush back to the living room, which is also the kitchen and dining room. I set the bucket down, but I have to pause and hike up my skirt in order to kneel next to her and help clean up. “No, no, no. It’s everywhere. This is awful.” “It’s not so bad,” I say. “It could be hardwood.” “Oh God, it’s all over you.” She’s right. The stuff was all over the tarp by the time I got back in the rags, and when I knelt to help mop up, I got right into the stuff. I can feel my pantyhose fusing to my skin. “Is this the kind of stuff that’s going to burn my skin off?” “Paint stripper. Take those off, before it starts to dry.” I slip the hose off in the bathroom. “There are towels in the hutch,” she calls to me from the living room. “If you can, try to use one of the junky ones.” By the time I get back, she’s got the drop cloth out from underneath the nightstand and is shoving the drop cloth into a trash bag. “Do you want something to drink?” she asks. “I’ve got some wine.” “Wine would be great.” “Glasses are in the cabinet; riesling is in the fridge.” I pour myself a glass. Reisling is too sweet for me, but I
pour more into the glass than is polite. It tastes like the sort of thing I drank when I was a teenager. I’m more of a scotch drinker. Drinking brown liquors is part of an image I created for myself so long ago that now it feels like I came by it naturally. It takes a tough girl to wear red lipstick and drink brown liquor. She should have called the police. That’s the logical thing to do, but now that I’m barefoot it feels as if she invited me here. I can serve myself. There’s some tacit agreement between us for the night. It’s as if we need each other. “What are you doing here, anyway?” she asks. “I’m in town for the night. My flight got cancelled,” I say. “You could have called,” she says. She continues inspecting the floor for traces of the spill, avoiding my gaze. I could have called her? No, she means I could have called here, this apartment, which still has a land line. Do phone numbers change when one person moves out and another moves in? I can’t remember, but the locks weren’t changed. There’s no reason to think the phone number would be different. “I called his cell,” I say. “I’d have picked you up.” She’s only a few years younger than me, but she looks like a little girl. Her hair is up in a bandana like Rosie the Riveter, and she’s wearing overalls. I know Minnesota Nice, but picking up a stranger is taking things too far. I’ve been gone awhile, but that’s crazy. Her offering seems sweet, naive. I take my glass and go sit on a bar stool with frilly wrought iron details. “Where did you get these stools?” I ask, to change the subject.“Crate and barrel?” She seems like a Crate and Barrel girl. “Flea market,” she said. I’m impressed. “They’re nice,” I said. Instead of saying thank you, she makes a small mmmhmmm noise, and keeps focused on the night stand she’s peeling paint from. Her lips are tightened into a thin line across her face. I walk over to the window and open it. “To clear out the chemical smell,” I say. “Makes sense,” she says. I want to lean down and kiss her on the forehead for how appreciative she looks, like a lost little lamb. I feel towards her the way I used to feel about the kids I babysat. After college, I would
sometimes see them out at bars, and they would shout to me and we’d hug and do shots. I’d feel so embarrassed drinking with them. Some of them, I tried to send home. I took care of them, put them into cabs at the end of the night. I’m not maternal, but I cared about those kids. I think once you’ve spent some time responsible for another person’s well being, that doesn’t go away. She looks up at me like a child. “Do you think I have enough paint stripper left to get the paint off? There’s about half the bottle left.” “I don’t know. Are you going to repaint it?” “Not ideally.” “You could probably sand the rest of this off.” I don’t know much about that stuff. I’ve never been a tomboy. I kneel on the ground next to her again, and I roll up my sleeves. You don’t need to be a handyman to know how to use sand paper. She’s wearing work gloves, and she doesn’t have a second pair, so she takes them off and hands them to me. This isn’t one of Johnny’s girls. He has a type, and that’s girls like me. I would never do something that sweet. I take one side, and she takes another. We begin to sand. “Is your hotel nearby?” I pause. “I haven’t booked a room.” “Oh.” She doesn’t offer to let me stay. That was probably too much to hope for, but I gave her the opening. She’s a generous girl. She would have been willing to pick me up from the airport. “Is this what you had planned for the whole night?” I ask. This is the sort of question I was supposed to avoid, I can tell. But she’d paused for too long, and I needed to fill the silence. Tonight is a delicate balancing act. “Not quite,” she says, finally. “We should get online and book you someplace to stay.” She looks up and meets my eye. She smiles bright, and it feels so real. She’s like a kindergarten teacher. This is my spoonful of sugar. Take the medicine, book the room. The way she suggests it, it’s like she wants me to think it’s going to be fun. It’s a transition I never could have managed so quickly, but she’s a cute girl. Those girls know how to look happy, even if they’re not. She says this isn’t what she had planned for the night. Not quite. She means she wasn’t
planning on me. Her phone rings, and she says, “I’ll be right down.” “You’re expecting someone?” I ask, flopping onto the couch. This apartment still feels comfortable. I stare at the ceiling, and it looks the same as it looked the thousand times I stared at it before. “What, you think I don’t have anything better to do on a Friday night than stay home by myself?” She’s trying to sound like she’s joking, but there’s an edge to her voice. “Oh, I didn’t mean…” I say. There’s no taking it back. “Relax. It’s Chinese,” she says. “I’ll be right back.” As she looks through her purse for cash, I reach into my bra and pull out a twenty dollar bill. I don’t always keep money there, but I’ve been traveling. “I couldn’t,” she says. “I don’t think I even ordered enough.” “Please. It’s the least I could do.” She knows I’m right about that much. I want her to be glad I’m here. Glad enough that she lets me stay the night. Without saying thank you, she walks out the front door of the apartment, leaving me behind. This girl might be crazy, leaving me here. Maybe she’s from a small town. This is too much trust. I could be a murderer or a thief for all she knows. She had ordered from Tibet Kitchen, which was a staple of my life with Johnny, and there’s more than enough for both of us. We have lo mien and egg rolls, which is what Johnny used to get. I always liked the pad thai. It’s a familiar taste. We eat out of bowls and use plastic chopsticks instead of the ones that came with the food. We sit at opposite ends of the sofa, facing each other. “I fixed the buzzer while you were out,” I say. Mostly I just tell her to make conversation, but part of me wants her to be glad I’m here. That’s why I paid for dinner, too. “There’s a little switch on the bottom that turns the sound off, for if you want privacy.” She’s just taken a big bite of egg roll and has fish sauce dripping down her chin. She looks at me and chews like she’s miming chewing, pointing at her mouth and nodding. “Johnny always used to turn the sound off. He said nobody would just ring the doorbell unless they had no business showing
“Who’s Johnny?” Her mouth is still full. She hides her face with both hands as she speaks; her words come out muffled. “A hibachi chef,” I say. “He used to live here.” “That explains the chef’s jackets in the guest closet.” I laugh at that. He was always so scattered. Of course he’d forget to clear out the closets. “I love hibachi,” she says. She’s excited and leans forward on the sofa nearly spilling the fish sauce. “Shrimp in the pocket is the best trick.” “I always liked the onion volcano,” I say. “I used to help him practice.” “Really?” “Right over there on that griddle,” I tell her. “It’s half of why he lived here.” “So you know how?” “Sure,” I say. Her eyes are lit up, and I can see how she’s a person somebody might fall in love with. She really is the girl next door. “I could show you. Do you have an onion?” She has everything we need: a spatula, a fork, an onion, vegetable oil, vodka, and a lighter. I set everything next to the griddle on the counter island, preheat built-in the griddle to four-hundred and fifty degrees, and get a knife to slice the onion. Her knives are dull. Before Johnny, my knives were dull, too, but he taught me how to keep them sharp. Never put a knife in the dishwasher, and get them professionally sharpened once a year. I never thought sharpened knives could be safer than dull ones, but they are. You’re less likely to cut yourself, because it takes less work. I press hard on the top of the knife, leaning into it, keeping my fingers above the blade. I don’t need to get stitches tonight. The griddle heats quickly, and is ready by the time I’ve broken up the onion’s rings with my hands. Before setting the rings onto the griddle, I do a test run by stacking the rings on the cutting board with the largest ring on the bottom, the smallest ring on top. I unstack the rings, and put the slice of onion back the way it was. Then I set the slice onto the griddle and watch it sizzle for a moment before separating the rings using a fork and spatula. The smell of the onion covers the smell of the chemicals she spilled earlier. I let the rings sear and turn brown at the edges, before I re-stack the
rings. A real hibachi chef doesn’t need to do a test run with the onion slice, but she doesn’t seem bothered. She’s watching me like I’m putting on a real show. I pour a thin layer of vegetable oil into the stacked rings, and then add the vodka. It only takes a the tiniest bit. I used to always add too much, but this time I do it right. I light the flame, and stand back. It burns bright and starts to smoke. When the doorbell rings, we both jump. The flame burns brighter and extinguishes itself. “You’re expecting someone?” I ask, for the second time tonight. When she doesn’t answer, whoever it is knocks at the apartment door. “Open up. It’s the police.” “Oh God,” she says to herself. “Oh God.” The police. She looks as if she forgot that she called them, maybe like she regrets it, but she’s not moving an inch. She’s just looking at the onion like it’s still on fire. I pick the stack up with a spatula and set it back on the cutting board to break her focus. “Ma’am,” the voice calls again. “Ma’am are you all right?” “You have to answer it,” I tell her. “If you don’t, they might think something’s wrong. They might break down the door.” “Right,” she says. She walks to the foyer, and opens the door. I can hear her trying to call them off. Sound carries, and I hear her say, “I’m so sorry. It was a mistake.” They don’t believe her. “Ma’am, you seem agitated. Let me come in and take a look around.” “No, no. It’s okay, everything’s fine.” “All the same,” a man says, and I can hear his footsteps as he pushes past her. He’s tall and about my age, but I don’t know him. He’s kept his boots on and tracked in snow. “Like I said,” she says to him. “It was a mistake. I didn’t realize Terry was coming over tonight, and when I heard the door open, I panicked.” To tell the truth, I’m glad to know she called the police on me. It’s good to know she’s got some sense. I feel safer with her knowing she felt threatened when she heard me come in. Like if she hadn’t called, maybe it was me who should be worried about her
instead of the other way around. “It’s true,” I tell him. “I surprised her.” “And you didn’t call back to tell anybody that you were in no danger?” “I hung up right away. I didn’t think the call went through.” “Do you realize how many people might have needed my help, and I didn’t get to them, because I was trying to get to you?” “I’m sorry,” she says. “What difference does that make?” he asks. He’s a big man, not fit looking, but he’s puffed up with anger so the layer of baby fat he hasn’t outgrown seems to swell up. If I saw him out of his uniform, I’d probably think he was harmless, but he’s intimidating. “She didn’t think the call went through. It was a mistake.” This gets him thinking, and I can tell. We wait for what feels like a year, but is probably only a few seconds. “Don’t let it happen again,” the officer says. “I understand,” she says. “Thank you.” “Thank you,” I say. “We really appreciate your understanding.” “Yeah, well,” he says. “I guess it’s lucky there wasn’t an actual intruder. With these roads, it took nearly an hour for me to get here.” “You’re totally right,” she says. “I’m so sorry. Please, I’m so sorry.” “You need to get a chain on your front door,” he says. “That’s just good sense.” “Yes sir,” she says. After he’s gone, she locks the door behind him, comes back into the kitchen and leans against the fridge, sliding her body down to the floor. She exhales. “How do you know my name?” “What?” “My name,” I say. “I never told it to you.” “You mean you don’t recognize me?” I don’t. She looks like a lot of girls in Minneapolis. She’s wholesome and hip and looks like she’s got a Pinterest account. She could be anybody. “I haven’t been back here for a long time.” “We used drink together at 331 Club. You were always with that guy,” she said. “You were always really nice to me.”
“Johnny,” I say. “That was Johnny.” “Johnny’s white?” “Yeah,” I say. “Only in Minnesota.” “I’m sorry I don’t remember you.” “It’s fine,” she says. “It happens.” All I remember from those nights at 331 club is me and Johnny and mediocre rock bands playing too loud. I remember feeling like I was at the center of something. Like I was special, and everyone and everything was drawn to me. I don’t remember Maya. I take cutting board from the counter sit down next to her, setting the onion volcano between us. The onion is cold now, and we eat it with our fingers. It slides down my throat like a worm moving through dirt. I’m glad to have found someone in this town who knows me. When the onion is gone, I put my arm around her shoulders and bring her to me. Everything seems changed. Maybe she’d convinced herself I recognized her, and that’s why I stayed after I walked in. I wish that was the case. As it is, I don’t know why I didn’t turn around and leave. Sometimes it feels like there’s no good way to turn back. “Hey sweetie,” I say. “What’s your name?” “Maya,” she says. “Maya, do you want to try shrimp in the pocket?” This perks her up, and I tell her to wait while I go look for one of Johnny’s old chef jackets. He had one for every day of the week, and the ones he left behind are old ones that would be too stained to wear to the restaurant. She doesn’t have any shrimp, but I tell her we can practice with cut up chicken. I really do like Maya. Spending time with her makes me feel a way I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m not even trying, and she looks at me like she’s glad I’m here. Now, when people look at me that way, I know it’s my doing. People are easy. You flick your eyes, and you lean forward. On a night out, I can have anybody I want. Or I could. It still mostly works, but I so much of what drew people in to me was my looks, my age. I never used to look worn out. In a few years, I know worn out will start to seem washed up. I don’t know how to stop a thing like that. Johnny is maybe the only guy I’ve ever known who I didn’t
have to do anything to get him to like me. Years ago, we met at Benihana while I was entertaining clients from the firm. It wasn’t my official job title, but it was why they’d hired me. Nobody ever told me to sleep with clients, but I knew they hoped I would and it made me feel cheap. My shoes hurt, and I wasn’t being nice. Johnny was awful. He dropped his barbecue fork on the floor, and missed my plate when he was serving the zucchini. The only trick he pulled off convincingly was getting his phone number onto the receipt without anybody seeing. I loved him for wanting me when I was in a bad mood, and for awhile we were practically living together. But that’s not me, settling down. I could have gone on forever with him, if things could have stayed the same between us, but relationships don’t work like that. It was all too much. He didn’t want me to travel, but without the clarity of hindsight, I didn’t see him as more than a stop over between trips. That was probably cruel of me, but it didn’t feel cruel at the time. It’s now, being in what used to be his home that makes me feel the weight of my actions. Did he leave because this place felt too much like ours? If he moved without telling me, I’ll probably never know. Maya is small and has to roll up the sleeves of the chef’s jacket to practice. I cook the chicken without any seasoning and cut it into small pieces, trying to get as close as possible to the size of a jumbo shrimp’s tail. I tell her this is going to be tricky, because she doesn’t quite have the right sort of spatula. Hers are small and plastic, like the kind you find in a college student’s apartment. That might not make a difference, but I don’t want her to feel bad if she doesn’t do it. “Okay,” I tell her. “Now, take one piece of chicken, and set it on the spatula. Then, it’s not a full throw, just a little flick of the wrist. Flick, and then right away you’ve got to pull the pocket away from the jacket. Lean in, and….” I get chicken in the pocket on my first try. It’s no different from trying to catch a grape in your mouth, any of that stuff. It’s a party trick. “Okay,” she says. She’s serious. She gets the chicken on the spatula, and barely moves. The chicken falls off the spatula, barely even flying through the air.
“Damn it,” she says. “Try again. Don’t try to throw it, but really let your wrist flick. You can do it,” I say. For a few minutes, bits of chicken fly through the air, landing behind Maya in the sink, on top of the fridge, on the floor. Arcing high above her head, nearly reaching the ceiling. And then, she does it. I thought we would run out of chicken before she go the hang of it, but just once it’s a little flick, controlled, she pulls out her pocket, leans in, and that’s it. “Yes,” she cries out. She drops the spatula on the griddle and grease spatters and sizzles in the background as she throws her tiny fists in the air, victorious. She throws her arms around my shoulders. I don’t know that I’ve ever hugged somebody so petite. There’s no good place to put my hands. I aim for the middle of her back and get the back of her head, holding her to me like a baby with indigestion. She pulls back, and gives me one hard kiss on the cheek. “God, I needed a win tonight. I mean, I needed it.” It’s the sort of frenzy only girls can create. It’s a loud conspiratorial scuffle and there’s static electricity in the air around us. I lean into her as we giggle, and we linger there, pleased with ourselves. When we’ve finished the last of the wine, I turn off the griddle and start scraping with a clean spatula. Maya makes the up the sofa with her guest bedding. It’s real bedding, a down comforter that she’s folded into thirds so it fits along the length of the sofa, and the pillows aren’t throw pillows with old pillowcases place over them like they would be at my house. When she’s done it looks so nice I don’t want to tuck myself in and mess everything up. Then she leaves the room and comes back with a pair of flannel pajamas that she sets at the foot of the bed. She pours herself a glass of water for herself, and another one for me. She sets my glass next to me on the counter, and lingers. “Good night,” she says. She leaves to brush her teeth. I put on her pajamas and get into the bed she’s made for me. I want her to see that she’s done well, so I slide myself into the comforter without unfolding it. When
she comes out of the bathroom, she turns off the light for me, like I’m a little girl, and until the room is dark, I hold perfectly still. “Hey Terry,” she says from the hall “When you didn’t remember me… did you think we were just two strangers hanging out in my apartment?” “Pretty much,” I say. “Doesn’t that seem messed up to you?” “Pretty much.” “Do you want to stay here the next time you’re in town?” “Sure I do,” I say, as if it was assumed already. “I’d like that.” “Me too.” I can tell Maya doesn’t know enough of the world to see the difference between wanting and doing, but I hope I come back. I hope I don’t leave her waiting like I did Johnny. I want to have learned my lesson, to stop living like I’ll be worth chasing forever. She comes to me from the doorway and sits on the floor next to the sofa, rests her head on the edge of the seat, and stares out the window as I fall asleep. It’s still snowing.
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Raul montclair We all need a little courage sometimes when we think the lights have gone out. If you need it tonight or tomorrow or whenever know this: It’s all bullshit anyway. Do what you have to. Punch a wall if you have to. Punch through God’s face if you have to. Break a mirror. He sleeps in my clothes. It’s a habit he fell into after a long heartbreak. Now, when I get home, it’s too late to change anyway. His feet are propped up on a suitcase. Shoes still on. I sleep on top of the blankets. What if I lived here? He thinks, There’s no point in getting undressed when there is no one to share my bed. No reason to be still. Let the world spin itself out. The morning is a kick in the teeth, he thinks, but I can get up and move at any moment. I’m ready. Keep moving. I’ve forgotten how this goes. He’s forgotten how to live like he belongs somewhere, to some place, to some time. He’s out of sorts. When the morning comes, I wonder if it isn’t the punchline of a joke. I wonder if the sun is meant to wake him up or remind him that he’s been sleeping. I thought about it all last night. I couldn’t sleep, and felt somehow amazed by him sleeping in my clothes. Maybe if I write it down, I thought. Maybe because I think he’s a little like a dream and that terrifies me because the morning always ruins our chances. I tell him, “It’s okay to sleep in someone else’s clothes, and if you think of me sometime, I’ll get up and meet you even in the middle of the night because I’m ready, too.” I wonder if my life is enough for the world. Everyone asks, what I’ve been up to, what I’ve been doing. They want to know what I’ve seen, where I’ve been. I don’t have answers for them, or I don’t have the answers they want to hear. “I can’t believe you haven’t been to…” “How long have you been there?” “A month” I say.
“Really? And you haven’t seen blah blah blah?” “No, actually, but I want to. I just haven’t yet.” I lie. It seems so easy to tell a lie, to lead a double life. “No, I don’t think I want to do that anymore,” I say and then realize I’ve said it out loud. We all lie somehow, don’t we? Maybe with the lives we choose? Every truth here exists somewhere else as a lie. “Oh, well, you’ve got time ,” they all say. Do I? Do I really? I think. “I write a lot,” I say. “What do you do all day? Lock yourself in your hotel room? I’ve always wondered about what writers do,” she asks the first night we meet. “Well, no. I mean, I spend a lot of time writing, but I need to get out ya know? Live my life. Get experiences. I’m here with you, aren’t I?” I’m supposed to be doing something better. I feel guilty. Isn’t this good enough? I felt some deep and miserable obligation to DO SOMETHING WITH MY LIFE. “What are you writing about?” “My experiences in this city.” “Oh, I’d love to see it.” “Sure.” I leave it at that and take a drink. I think most people just want to see if they’re in a book. They pick a book off the shelf, maybe flip through a few pages, find a line or two they like, maybe read the blurbs on the back, the whole time scanning to see if they somehow made it in, to see if they can find themselves. They can say, “Yeah, that’s totally me right there. It’s like the writer was thinking about me the whole time, ya know? I really connect.” Jesus Christ. Fuck, look, the truth is I know I’m in every goddamn book. I know, eventually, I’m going to see myself lurking around the pages like The Shadow, and I won’t be able to tell if I’m reading about me or rwriting the book entirely to include myself. Maybe we should read to see how long we can resist disappearing into the pages. No, it always ends the same, like a dream. You were there, and you were there, and you were there, and everyone in this goddamn world was there. And that’s good enough. It’s fucking brilliant. “Why are you writing this?” she asks. “I don’t really know,” I smile. I can tell she’s hanging on my words. “It feels right.” Bullshit. The truth is I’m lonely and just miss everyone, but too afraid to say it out loud.
Maybe he imagined everything. The nights are endless blurs, but I swear they played our song, he kept thinking. The truth is he missed her like an absolute madman. Why? I knew that she missed him, too, in her weird way. I hoped anyway that he meant as much to her as she did to him, but he didn’t feel it as much as I tried to tell him. He felt a little lost, and he was alright with being lost. Yeah, maybe her heart broke a little when I left and for a bit after, but she let me go. He paused for a while lighting a cigarette. “Goddamn it,” he said before going back to his thoughts. I let my whole life go. I fucking left. Everything and everyone, so you really can’t blame her. She did what you would have done. “I know.” This was his choice. She had her life to live and he had his. Still, he hadn’t let go of her. He never let go easily. Why? Because sometimes I think I’m a miserable fucking cunt that holds on to people for no good reason, but to feel less alone. He pours himself another drink. I know how this goes. It’s early and something is happening somewhere in this fucked up I won’t ever understand, but somehow in my own fucked up way I do city. It’s early, and he’s lonely, and I don’t care. We have devils to fight tonight, so I buy booze and head back to my hotel. I hope someone somewhere misses me, and I hope it’s her, I think, but this is just wishful thinking. All of it is. A life can’t be transposed, but here I am sipping on rum and thinking about a girl a million miles away who doesn’t even know I exist. She might not even exist. What the fuck am I doing with my life? I’m terrified of this room and these walls. I light a cigarette when she doesn’t answer. He knocks on the door. I crack open a beer. I wait. Still no reply. Another knock on the door. Smoke fills the room and silence. My days in this city are endless on every street, and people rush about me without stopping, like water rushing around an island. I see their faces, each one crashing against me and because now they will never die, they somehow see my face, too. I put them all in here with little effort. Their whole lives cast before me, scattered on the page. I think, this is my way of loving them. It’s true, but I don’t know how. I now live among them. I am them, and you, I wish you could see us, but there are so many to tell you about. Perhaps, just knowing that we exist is enough for you, maybe not. Maybe you need to see us, every detail, every bit of our lives. Maybe you need more than the bus window snapshot of a mother holding her
crying child against her breast, more than an image of a man hidden behind large, dark sunglasses, his thin mustache revealing his age as he thinks about what his wife will say when she realizes he’s been unfaithful, too. Maybe you need more than a glimpse of the teenagers slumped on the park bench, acting real cool in their designer jeans and hip t-shirts and slicked-back hair, each one confused and lonely. Maybe you need more than the twenty or so people standing on the curb, watching with eager, dark eyes through the dust and exhaust for the next bus to lurch up to the curb, each one with a face you’ve never seen before, each one with a face that will break your heart because you know them all, like I do. What do you need to love them? Maybe, like me you just want to feel loved. Yes, the truth is, you say, I just want to be loved, ya know? I need them to love me, maybe I’m just lonely, sitting here, watching through the window, watching these short films, these clips of their lives as they walk past, and I invent for them their lives because mine isn’t enough, or maybe I want to know. Maybe because they are here, and you and I are here, we somehow don’t need anything more than to exist, and to feel like we belong somewhere together. Maybe that’s enough. All the time I spend with the lights on in my mind is another day or night my fingers have lost the feel of words. I don’t know where I am, but if the key opens the door, then I know I’m in the right place. The truth is I miss you. Is that all I can ever say? Fucking goddamn right it is. Because now I’m lonely and drunk and thinking of you, and I don’t know if you still think of me in this way, and it’s okay if you don’t but if you don’t, to hell with you. To hell with me, too. And, fuck this place. I’m ready to leave.
I slide the window open again, like I always do on clear nights. The sky deep and dark, with sea crashing back at me, fills the room. The sea and the sea only protests against this silence. I can hear it as if it surrounds me. I lite a cigarette and smoke out the window. It’s late. No one notices tonight he’s sound asleep and naked.
w w w. b u r i e d l e t t e r. c o m