CADENZA Literary & Arts Magazine
Thank you! We sincerely thank all of our members, contributors, and especially the Print Shop staff. Without all of you, this magazine would not be possible.
Contributors include: Anique Ashraf Anna Curtis-Heald Anna Grofik Billy Sheehan Connor Storms Dave Shanfield James O’Connor Jennifer Jackson Julia Burgdorff Julia McGinley Julia Pope Jyoti Arvey Kathleen Radigan Lucie Fleming Nick Salese Norah Hannel Sam Norcross Sarah Treaster Steph Gorman Tim Hartshorn Will Shadbolt Zander Asplundh-Smith
Editor’s Note We love you all. Enjoy the read. WITNESS THE SPLENDOR. Bear hugs, Norah Hannel and Jennifer Jackson P.S. Submissions are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org. P.P.S. We meet every Monday in Coffee Grounds at 9pm.
Cover by Steph Gorman 2
As I walk past him
By Tim Hartshorn
the veins in his eyes; the scattered hairs in his fading white crown; the fingers (three severed at the first knuckle) of his beggarâ€™s hand rubbing the burned-down meadow of his scalp, where bugs land to die; the silver tendrils of a bummed smoke hiding the bend of his nose tremble as wings bearing a clumsy moth to the porch lamp tremble; as goose feathers nearing sky owned by a rifle shudder in sharp wind; as those hollow bones of an angel flail against their human frame after He has let them fall to be torn at by the young poets: the ready scavengers of quills.
By Zander Asplundh-Smith
“You have to shake the jar, they won’t kill each other unless you shake it first,” says Hap. Jake turns and looks at him with narrowed eyes, then shakes the jar so violently that the small creatures inside become a blur. I hear the patter of tiny exoskeletons bouncing off glass. Then he stops and holds the jar very still. The ants Hap found earlier swarming beneath a rock are dead and their petite corpses litter the base of the jar. The spider is laying on its back, motionless, its legs curled in towards its belly. The beetle struggles feebly to right itself at the other end of the jar. Neither seem particularly interested in fighting the other, each preoccupied with its own perplexing misfortune. “Didn’t work,” says Jake as he hands me the joint, smiling. Hap frowns. “Of course it didn’t work. You can’t do it like that. That’s too much, you’re just going to kill them by shaking it like that. You have to do it just enough to frazzle them, you know, to make them mad, but not so much that you disorient them. Here, let me show you.” Hap lights a cigarette with one hand and takes the jar from Jake with his other. He unscrews the lid carefully; the beetle has stopped moving and the spider is still on its back. He inhales deeply from his cigarette and brings the jar up to his mouth, an animal hunger shining from the dark pools of his eyes. When he blows the smoke in, slow and thick, the reactions inside the jar are immediate. The spider is off its back before the smoke has time to clear, scuttling in desperate circles while the frantic beetle staggers about unhappily. Hap screws the lid back onto the jar and, holding it up as if to show us how it’s done, gives it three brisk shakes. Then he tips the jar at an angle so that the spider and beetle slide against one another. 5
“Now watch.” I watch his face instead. When his steady glare splits into a lawless grin I shift my gaze back to the jar to see the two beasties locked in an unnatural embrace. The spider is holding the beetle awkwardly between head and thorax with hulking pale mandibles. The beetle wriggles its legs pathetically. Jake is trying not to seem impressed and Hap, smiling broadly, knows it. After a minute or so the beetle’s flailing gives way to subtle convulsions and it begins to twitch as the spider’s venom takes effect. I breathe in the summer air, look out across my lawn and wonder why I feel nothing. Early July finds me lolling around my backyard, thoroughly jobless, with three months of nothing-planned looming ahead of me. I’ve managed a few obligatory encounters, coffee with an ex-girlfriend, a party at a friend’s lake house, but after a week or so I withdraw into myself like a snail. I rarely leave the house, and if I do it’s usually no more that a trip to Fairview Video for my three-movie-a-week limit, or back to the supermarket for more Tasty Cakes and Ramen. I spend most of the day growing paler in the darkness of the family den, curtains drawn, eyes transfixed to a glowing sixty-inch screen. Candy bar wrappers and empty soda bottles litter the floor, a neglected houseplant withers sadly on the upstairs landing, and unread mail and magazines pile up below the slot behind the front door. My existence is, to the outside world, almost undetectable. The family isn’t home. My stepfather is working in the city: he is in love with working and never forgets to tell me so. My older sister is on an island in the Caribbean, not vacation, Peace Corps, she’s a real go-getter. My mother is probably touring France by now, or maybe Nepal, I can’t always remember the latest trends of her endless vacation. My older brother is the only one spending his summer nearby, buried in a cream-colored fiberglass coffin at the Clitusville Cemetery up the road. He crashed his Honda last May while kissing his girlfriend and making a left turn at the same time. I am the only one home, but not alone. Two of my old friends are over and today we are keeping busy by killing small things. Unfortunately for the small things, killing them makes us feel as though we are in control of everything, makes us feel lasting and significant. If only we were the wholesome types, the kind of people who could be satisfied by gods or girlfriends, but sadly no, we need casualties to satisfy this particular yearning. This tender primeval aching we feel in our hands and at the roots of our teeth. Hastening the conclusion of something’s life every so often also helps me avoid feeling sad the way normal people do. This I think is because it is so distracting, which I think is because it is so fascinating and part of the reason that it is so fascinating must be, I think, because it is so gratifying. But I am getting ahead of myself and I cannot speak for my cohorts. It is quite possible that they are simply evil. This might also be true of me. The trick is to kill things that no one cares about, things that even if you get caught killing them, it still doesn’t look so bad. Kids who get caught torturing cats and things like that get taken out of school and locked in white rooms with soft walls, but kids who get caught mashing worms and pulling the legs off grasshoppers just get looked at funny or ignored. Our evil is acceptable, but 6
no less potent. So naturally we don’t hurt animals that people are fond of. No pets. Nothing cute. Nothing cuddly. Usually just bugs, sometimes crawfish, occasionally a frog from the stream that runs behind my neighbor’s house. We kill a lot of spiders too, but most people kill a spider when they see one anyway, especially if it’s in their house. I guess my point is, why not let yourself enjoy it? Why try to hide the satisfaction that rushes up your spine when you press down on a caterpillar until it bursts. Just like stepping on grapes, instant gratification, the kind of pleasure that numbs compassion and paralyzes empathy. I don’t think we should hide from what we are, and in case you were wondering, we are all monsters. I have a special someone back at school. She is sweet and kind and all I could ask for in a girlfriend. She tells me that she loves me everyday. If we are apart, she will call to make sure I haven’t forgotten. She says that I have a kind heart and gentle hands. She says that’s why she loves me so much, because of my gentle hands. Now it’s my turn, and I drop another spider that Hap found moving through the grass at our feet in with the first. Just for good measure I exhale a cloud of smoke into the jar before putting the lid back on and giving it three unforgiving shakes. Jake and Hap pass the joint between the two of them and watch the ensuing struggle inside the jar as I hold it up, tilted at an angle to prevent any chance of insectan harmony. All this I do with gentle hands. The spiders grapple with one another ferociously amid the churning haze of cigarette smoke within the jar, each struggling to gain a footing on the slick glass surface of this incomprehensible battleground. In a few moments one of the spiders is dead and Hap cheers wildly as Jake places a hand on my shoulder like a proud grandparent, grinning into the sky. I smile, but then sense something and my eyes travel past the whitewashed fence at the edge of our property to meet with those of the middle-aged woman living across the street. She is staring at us from her porch, her hands on her hips. A small child is standing behind her. I tell my friends that we should go inside. I don’t have much in common with Jake or Hap anymore. I befriended them back in elementary school, but when you’re making friends at that age you don’t think about what kids will be like when they’ve grown into themselves. Back then you only care about who can run the fastest or whose favorite popsicle flavor is the same as yours and things like that. Hap’s favorite flavor used to be grape and Jake was the fastest boy in our school before he shattered his ankle on a black marble tombstone while running through a graveyard at night. Now the bones of his right leg are held together with metal: an assortment of pins and rods. Grape is still my favorite flavor. These days Jake is selling pot and failing out of community college, and Hap is the kind of guy who will keep putting quarters into a broken vending machine until someone comes up to him to say that it’s out of order. He used to have the early morning shift at the Texaco on Exit 7B off highway 31, but he got fired for taking too many restroom breaks. Before he sold weed, Jake was a counselor at a summer camp called Rambling Pines, but he was asked to leave in the second week 7
of June after telling a camper to “stop fucking crying,” while escorting him to the nurse’s office. The 8-year-old had been stung 6 times after brushing his knee against a wasp nest under a picnic table. These are my friends. After I take my wayward companions inside, we sip cool water from my mother’s crystal glasses and try to taper the dullness that our company often assumes when we don’t have drugs or death to distract us. Even through high school our friendship was bound in bloodthirsty inclinations and a mutual aversion to sobriety rather than those mysterious things like love and respect you find holding together normal relationships. As Jake begins to roll another joint, Hap regales me with their most recent antics. “So the other day we were driving down Montague Road, right, and… Jake was driving I mean, and I found these fireworks in the back seat under some magazines, why did you have those again, J?” “Left over from my sister’s New Years party I think. We got drunk and then forgot to set them off.” “Oh yeah, so like I said, I found these fireworks in the backseat and we were driving down Montague, and these were serious fireworks, Hen, serious fireworks, none of that snap-crackle-pop shit, I mean KA-BOOM!” Haps gestures wildly with his hands to signify a big explosion. “So I rolled down the window and started lighting them off and throwing them out the window,” he suppresses a laugh. “Chris was with us too, you remember Chris, J? He nearly pissed himself.” “He tried to get me to let him out of the car,” Jake adds wickedly, never taking his eyes off of his work. His hands move smooth and fast, like clockwork, never pausing: muscle memory. “So just as we were about to turn onto Delaware I light this big one, the kind that blows up more than once before it’s through, you know? But before I have time to throw it out the window, it goes off. It just blows the fuck up right in my hands, fucking sparks and explosions everywhere,” he shows me his hands, “burned the skin right off of the tips of my fingers. I got no finger prints on any of these anymore,” he says proudly as he touches his thumbs to the ring, middle and index fingers of both hands simultaneously. “And Jake was swerving all over the road and screaming-” “I wasn’t screaming.” “Yes, you were.” “No, that was Chris.” “Chris was screaming, but you were screaming louder,” Hap says, chuckling into one of his burned hands, “and meanwhile I’m trying to get the thing off my lap because it’s burning its way straight to my balls. That’s when another car comes around the bend and we’re in the wrong lane, would of been a head on collision if we hit them, could of killed us for sure now that I think about it.” “Jesus, what happened,” I ask. “They ran off the road, went right into the woods.” 8
“Were they ok?” “How the fuck should we know,” interrupts Jake suddenly, anger blossoming across his face. “We didn’t stick around to find out, did we? I wasn’t about to let my license get taken away, was I? Whoever they are, wherever they are, they’re ok. Believe me, they’re fine.” Hap and I are quiet. “Do you want to smoke here or go for a drive,” Jake asks, his voice calmed but still bristly. “Let’s smoke on the porch,” I say. “I don’t feel like leaving the house.” “Ok, give me a second. I’m almost done.” Jake finishes his handiwork and we step out onto the porch. Hap and I collapse into lawn chairs while Jake leans against the porch railing and lights the joint. I glance over the fence to make sure my neighbor isn’t still outside. All clear. “What are you doing next weekend,” Hap asks me absentmindedly as he picks at a yellowish scab just below his knee. “I’m going to Connecticut, to my uncle’s in Milford. My grandfather passed away last year but the family couldn’t all get together to hold the ceremony until the summer, so we’re holding it next weekend.” “Ah man, so you’re busy?” “Yeah Hap, I’m busy. But it’ll only be for a few days, then I’ll be back for the rest of the summer.” “ Sorry about your granddad,” says Jake. “Thanks, but it’s really not a sore subject anymore. He was 92 when it happened and like I said before, he died months ago.” “Well if you change your mind about-” “I’m not going to change my mind, Hap. It’s my grandfather’s memorial service, not a fucking trip to the beach.” “I’m just saying, there’s going to be a big party at Willy’s. Might be worth giving your granddaddy the slip. He has been dead almost a whole year.” Jake nods at this as though it makes perfect sense. I sigh and ask if they want anything else to drink. They do, so I go inside to fetch it. By the time I come back out, evening has arrived. My friends have left the porch, so I follow the sounds of their voices around the corner of my house. Hap is stretched out on a lawn chair laughing with one hand covering his eyes and Jake is crouching very still by the edge of my mother’s lavender. Before I have time to speak, Jake asks me, “Henry, could you get me a Tupperware container from your kitchen?” “Sure,” I say, as I hand one of the glasses to Hap and put the other down in the grass near to where Jake is kneeling. “And Hen…” “Yeah?” “Poke holes in the lid ok, not too many, just like three or four.” 9
“Ok,” I say. When I come back outside, the perforated plastic lid in one hand and the Tupperware container in the other, Jake is crouching down in front of Hap, who is looking intently at something Jake is holding between his forefinger and thumb. When I get closer I see it’s a bumblebee he’s somehow gotten a hold of by the wings. It’s legs move uselessly and its stinger searches wildly for the pink flesh of Jake’s fingers in which to bury itself. Wordlessly I hand Jake the Tupperware and watch as he flicks the bee into the container and attaches the lid. A muffled drone radiates from the Tupperware as the bee buzzes angrily against the walls of its plastic prison. Jake walks back to the edge of the garden, and I sit down next to Hap to watch. Crouched motionless on hands and knees amid the purple flowers swaying gently in a lazy summer breeze, Jake waits for a bee to land within his reach. An unlit cigarette dangles loosely from his moistened red lips and sweat gathers in glistening beads along the wiry black hairs growing along the back of his neck. When a bee lands on a lavender bush within reach he traps it in one swift movement, pinching its wings together. After plucking it from the flower he opens the Tupperware, flicks it in and closes the lid. He never gets stung. Not once. After about a half hour’s work, squatting amid the lavender, Jake’s caught six or seven. He gets up and carries the bumblebees back over to the lawn chair where Hap and I have been watching bemusedly. He hands me the Tupperware and I can feel the vibrations of the manic insects within. I wonder to myself what Jake has planned for them. “What am I supposed to do with these,” I ask. “Freeze them.” “What?”
Beets Anna Curtis-Heald
“Go put them in the freezer for about ten minutes and… haven’t you ever done this before?” I shake my head. Hap gives me a look of comic concern and Jake sighs impatiently. “Well, you got to put them in the freezer for a couple of minutes and that’ll make them go to sleep… kind of like a stasis. Then when you take them out we tie each to a string and when they wake up we can watch them buzz around on the strings. Come on, I’ve done it before. Just go put them in the freezer for five minutes.” I walk back into the house with the humming Tupperware and as I open the freezer door an icy vapor spills out over the shelves like deathly fog. I place the bees on the top shelf between coffee ice cream and frozen peas. Then I close the freezer door and walk over to the microwave to set the alarm to ring in six minutes. The timer tells me its 6:43 pm. When I get back outside Jake is lying in the grass with his arm over his face, and Hap is staring into the trees behind my house, where thousands of fireflies have begun blinking at each other in their secret language of light. I lie down in the grass and close my eyes, not intending to sleep, never wanting to doze off, but I do. I dream of the weekend after my grandfather died. No one has been in his back screen porch for a long time now and I gaze into the blackness, leaning against the doorframe and waiting for my eyes to adjust so that shadows take meaning. When they do I make out the ancient gas grill leaning against the wall and I move towards it slowly. In the darkness below the rusted burners I search for a valve, but instead I feel cobwebs and recoil. It’s early fall and the night chirps and buzzes and clicks with the unseen. Once the grill is lit and the porch illuminat11
ed by a modest flicker, I turn to listen to the nightspeak of the wood behind my dead grandfather’s house. I try to remember what he looked like but I find to my dismay that his image has already begun to fade from memory. As I struggle to evoke his semblance, I find myself incapable of conjuring vividness except in portions. The stalwart moustache I can see, bristling and obtrusive, and the sunken eyes as well. His severe mouth and drooping earlobes are as clear-as-day, as is the papery paleness of his skin and the defiant electric-blue of his irises. But these features exist only as solitary parts in my recollection, and my inability to piece together the fragments of my grandfather’s face unsettles me. As I struggle to place cascades of wiry grey hair that I know fit in somewhere, a dimpled spider descending from the ceiling on a thin line of web interrupts my thoughts. My cousin Teddy is standing behind me carrying a plate heavy with dark bleeding slabs of meat. He makes a revolted sound and I think that he sees it too, but when I turn and follow his gaze I see that he’s watching another spider do the same. Suddenly I feel something moving through my hair and Teddy laughs as I shake my head violently, but then we look up and neither of us is laughing. Spiders. Thousands of them, descending in deathly silence on glossy strands of fresh web towards us; flushed from their ceiling nests by the heat of the grille fire filling the screen porch. We crouch low and stare up in horrified fascination as a myriad of arachnids descend upon us. No one has been in here for a long time. This used to be our grandfather’s porch, but it belongs to spiders now. It’s just like anything else, I guess, if you leave it alone for long enough the universe reclaims it one way or another. He used to be in and out of here all the time, my grandfather. Reading library textbooks and tying flies, writing poems and smoking. But one day he tried to carry too many things up the basement stairs at once and he fell. “Why can’t you use the stair-chair that we had installed,” aunt Marie had demanded last Thanksgiving, shaking her bracelets angrily at my bemused grandfather. “You two should just sleep on the first floor. It’s too dangerous for mom to be going up and down those stairs with her knees the way they are anyway,” my uncle Riley had added. But as it turned out, it wasn’t my grandmother they should’ve been worrying about. She wasn’t the one who tumbled down nine steps onto a dark cement floor and split their head open on a sump pump valve. A bucket, a hammer, his wife’s knitting needles and a scarf she had left outside, hedge trimmers, the newspaper, two broken fishing rods. These are the things he was carrying when he fell. When my father told me how he had found him twisted and still among the things he had been carrying, I tried to guess which had done him in. Had the broken fishing rods caught in the doorframe at the top of the stairs and pulled him backwards, or perhaps the scarf had wrapped around his ankles and caused him to slip. He lived another eleven months after the fall, breathing out of tubes and eating out of tubes, pissing into bags and staring out of windows. Those last days were his most miserable, I think, when he couldn’t even muster the energy to scratch his dog in that place right behind her ears where 12
she had always loved to be scratched. She died a month or two after my grandfather and when my grandmother tried to have the dog buried next to him, they said sorry, no pets allowed. This porch belongs to spiders now. Teddy and I abandon the back screen porch and move back into the house, nature’s agents of repossession having robbed us of our appetite. My father is sitting at the kitchen table with his third glass of the night nestled neatly in between his dirty hands. He is very drunk tonight. I know this because he gets very drunk every night, but tonight is special because instead of muttering bitterly about the democrats while watching the news, he grieves to us about his father, while watching the news. “Did I ever tell you two about his dreams? On the night he died? Well, he was having them, and Jesus Christ did they sound awful,” says my father, massaging his jaw with the knuckles of his left hand and staring into the wood grain of the kitchen table. When he looks up at us he has the steady wide-eyed stare drunk men give police when they are trying to appear sober. “He was thrashing about in his sleep and shouting out for your grandmother and your aunt Marie, uncle Riley too. The bed sheets were wrapped around him like a straitjacket and he was sweating into them like you two wouldn’t believe.” He pauses, his mouth open and eyes on the muted television set in the corner of the room. I wonder briefly if my grandfather called out for my father as well, but I don’t ask. “And then he woke up,” announces my father suddenly, gesturing wildly and almost striking a saltshaker from the table with his arm. “He woke up and he had gone mad. He said to me, ‘Chip! Chip, they’re in the house. Get downstairs and make sure Stell is ok. They’re in the house, Chip!’ And I said to him, ‘who dad? Who’s in the house?’ And he said, ‘The nurses, the nurses are trying to take the house for themselves.’ I tried to calm him down but he wouldn’t listen so I walked him downstairs and turned on all the lights, and when he saw the house was empty you know what he did?” We say nothing. “He wept. Wept as I turned off all the lights. Wept as I helped him back up to his bed. And when I found him cold the next morning, there were tear streaks running down his cheeks. He must have been weeping when he died.” A sigh escapes my father and all of a sudden he looks much older than I can ever remember him looking before. “He was back on Guadalcanal that night,” he says finally, slurring the island’s name and making my cousin snigger beside me. My father doesn’t seem to notice and his eyes become focused, but above us, on something far off, beyond the cramped dimly-lit kitchen. “I know in a way he never got off that island. He was-” But I never find out what else my grandfather was because suddenly something comes down hard on my head and wrenches me back to consciousness. My face is forced into the earth and I purse my lips, and struggle to get my hands in between the shoe and the delicate cartilage of my ear being twisted and mashed against my head. Clods of dirt sprinkle down into my eyes from the sole of the black sneaker being pressed against my temple. “Get the fuck off me,” I scream. “Henry, do you know what time it is?” I recognize a playful malevolence in Jake’s voice, but I 13
do not know what it means. “Get off Jake, Get off now. Fuck. Please get off!” “I said do you know what fucking time it is,” he says more forcefully, suddenly shifting all of his weight onto the foot holding my head down. I feel my skull sinking into the soft ground and grass gets in my mouth when I try to scream. My head throbs with pain and what I initially thought to be a nasty joke begins to feels like something much more sinister. I am flooded with panic and I start to lash out wildly, but then, quite abruptly, he steps off of me and I jolt upright, wide-eyed, with grass and leaves and bits of earth still pressed into the side of my face. “What the fuck was that,” I say as I struggle to my feet, the world spinning. When I’m steady I put my face close to his and, still breathing heavily, stare into the shadows behind his eyes. A smile spreads across his face like poison. “It’s almost 11:00,” he says. “So what you stupid fucking asshole? What the fuck did you do that for?” Jake laughs and I feel a powerful urge to hit him, but of course I do not. I am a beetle, he a spider. “You were only supposed to leave them in there for a few minutes.” “What are you-” But then it hits me and suddenly I notice a sound that I had not noticed before amid the deafening roar of the summer night. It’s the kitchen-timer. I do not run. I walk briskly towards my house, Jake’s laughter following me. I stumble up the steps of the porch and yank aside the screen door. In the still, air-conditioned darkness of my house I navigate swiftly from room to room until I reach the kitchen and then I turn off the alarm. My heart is still pounding from Jake’s attack. It’s 10:47 pm when I open the freezer door and take out the Tupperware container from between the coffee ice cream and frozen peas. After spending four hours in the below freezing darkness that should only have been a few minutes, the bumblebees do not look as though they are going to wake up. I stare down into the container at the pile of dead insects and I feel something unfamiliar and terrible churning in the depths of my gut, but why now? In one last attempt at survival, the bees had clustered together in the corner of their prison before it became their tomb. Their bodies fused together into a solid black and yellow mound, glazed in a sparkling layer of frost not unlike that which you might see coating your lawn on an early morning in late fall. As I extend my hand to touch the dead bees, my finger brushes a wing and, delicate as an ice-crystal, it breaks off soundlessly and then seems to disappear all together. Hap comes up behind me and puts something into my hands. “Worth a try,” he says before disappearing into the family room. When I look down I see that he has given me my sister’s hairdryer. I plug it into an outlet on the wall and turn it on at the lowest setting. All this I do with gentle hands. Holding it about six inches away from the frozen insects, I wait and watch. The frost gradually disappears leaving the bees glistening with moisture. As the solid mound slowly disintegrates into 14
individual bodies, I hear Jake come into the kitchen behind me. Dirt and leaves still cling to the side of my face where he held me to the ground. Neither of us says a word. Then suddenly I see something like movement among the dead bees and I pull the hairdryer away so violently that it yanks the plug from the countertop outlet. Jake says something scathing from behind me but I ignore him, my eyes captivated by the disconcerting resurrection transpiring before me. Slowly, gradually, the bees begin to flicker back to life, a small miracle, but something isn’t right. Their movements are unnatural and disturbing, and they lurch to and fro, as if animated by the strings of a manic puppeteer rather than that of their own graceful will. What at first seemed a miraculous reawakening reveals itself as agonized writhing. I realize now that if they could, these bumblebees would be screaming. It is over in a matter of seconds, so fleeting that by the time Jake crosses the kitchen to look over my shoulder, the bees are already still again, and for good this time. I am secretly glad that he missed their tortured last moments. I’m afraid he would have enjoyed it. “I knew it wouldn’t work, you can’t leave them in there for too long.” He flicks one of the dead bees off the countertop and sighs. “Don’t forget next time, it took me forever to catch all those bees.” I turn to look at him. Jake stares right back at me. Hap laughs at something on the television in the next room. Outside the night chirps and buzzes and clicks with the unseen.
By Connor Storms We made it to Ocean Beach. You have stayed in my arms And you are continuing to babble. I help you remove your shoes, As you have not yet acquired this skill. Setting you down, I introduce your feet To sand. I heard that sand does not exist; rather Sand is divisible, each component singular, A neighborhood of pebbles and shells That have been broken, crushed, ground, And forced by expression into a vague mass, Slipping through your fingers and toes. Unfamiliarity troubles you. Your tears dry in the breeze. You dig, you walk, and even smile As waves crash and boats glide along the horizon. You try to tell me something, pointing at nothing. I listen. I look away and then you run, But you stop short at the sea. Someday tides will pull you. Waves will overwhelm you And you will not remember me. But I will remember you As a pebble.
By Julia Burgdorff
We searched for animal bones in the Northern woods where deer are buried in once-flushed leaves and snow, where even in the snow you found a pair of antlers still bound to their skull, teeth loose in the jaw, and later, in the evening, when the storm prevailed over the weak-jointed power lines, you stuck candles in the cavities of its eyes, illuminating the room, the impious arrangement of orphaned bones. As we sleep, it drifts through the house crying wax and searching for its kind.
Eat My Love Notes Please, eat my love notes. This feeling of adoration must be heightened on both ends. Taste the ink carved purposefully into these crisp white corners. Teeth must grind and hide the messy exchanges for only four eyes to see, and two tongues to swallow. Dissolve the dear my loves and the salty sincerelys. Devour my crooked handwriting and ignore the bitter taste of the frantic excuses.
I thought you’d notice if I sprayed the paper with perfume, but it ruined the taste of my crossed t’s and looped e’s. The smudges and stains are from coffee and teardrops. I was up all night thinking of a synonym for “cinnamon” If you lick your lips after your eyes stop drinking, I’ll take it as a hint that my words left you thirsty So please, eat my love notes.
By Sarah Treaster
Careful, do not slice open your cheek and stain the written sentiments. Hands cramped and pens ran out. Our hearts hunched over blank sheets, pouring out o’s and i’s to make sense of two scattered brains. 21
Infinite Anatomy By Sam Norcross
The mouth is the prototype of every prison. Jonah knows this. As does the knight who finds himself left to rest on the dragonâ€™s tongue. More broadly: every door. Separation of In and Ex, jaw-hinged open shut. Cups have mouths and lips, as do bells: loud owners of clanging tongues. And all cogs have teeth, and so do keys and pearls are so loved only because they resemble our own mouth-gems: stone white sentries which guard that fleshy cave which swallows. A volcano mouth swallows fire and a river mouth spits currents and a canyon mouth breaths erosion and a swallow can fly and make song with its swallow mouth. And an echoing cave can consume the swallow song like an ear.
Practitioner By Nick Salese
Gabe Turner didn’t so much have bad luck with women as much as no luck with women. He blamed it on his appearance, which was most notable for being entirely unobjectionable. He looked the same at 17 as he had at 12: pale, with thin brown hair, a boyish sort of half-grin, and the sort of skinny athleticism than often denotes a member of a cross-country team. It was, in fact, his personality that caused the eyes of his peers, regardless of gender, to sweep past him without a second glance. He had very few interests (outside of his fruitless five year pursuit of the opposite sex). He was a perfectly average student, reasonably nice but not especially so, and held no strong opinions outside of a general distaste for politicians learned from his father’s grumbling analysis of the morning paper. Gabe ate Lucky Charms for breakfast and a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch every day. He owned a pet hermit crab. His one hobby and only passion was the pursuit of women; mostly not in real life, mind you, but hypothetically. He did meticulous research on the subject, mostly online. He purchased both seasons of VH1’s “The Pick-Up Artist” and watched them regularly, taking notes in a worn composition notebook. He bookmarked websites devoted to his hobby and was a frequent commenter on many of them. He had once attempted to use several of the techniques learned from his dedicated research on Maddie Kirsch, who played soccer for the high school team and prided herself on her extensive knowledge of the Harry Potter universe. His attempt to peacock was somewhat undercut by his new furry hat’s ability to make anyone slightly resemble a hairy prophylactic. His attempt to “neg” her, commenting to her in homeroom that her new sweater really hid her hips well, went completely ignored (he had chosen to tell her from across the room while she was locked in conversation with her close friends, considering the success of the attempt of secondary importance to the primary goal of avoiding direct rejection.) Eventually he directly asked her out to a movie, in a desperate attempt to find success through improvisation. Maddie responded that she was flattered and that he was very sweet to ask, but she wasn’t interested. She neglected to include that she literally could not recall his first name. It was that evening that Gabe, forlorn, happened upon a website devoted to his cause and the cause of others like him, albeit with a slightly alternative bent. The site had the unfortunate look of being designed in the early days of the Internet; it was a mess of animations and bad color schemes. There was a lot of blue writing on a slightly paler blue background. Gabe’s gaze was drawn to one item claiming to be a “Romantic Ritual of Power and Great Potency”. It was self-described as “New Age Ceremonies” and “Holistic Rituals”, (although “Old Age Ceremonies” and “Specific Rituals” would have been more accurate) with concise descriptions and an ingredients list 24
with handy links to an online shopping site, which redirected to an error screen written in Arabic. Amazon would do fine though. He only had trouble locating the goat horns. It was 2 weeks of sneakily retrieving brown packages from his front porch and hiding fragrant items in his cramped bedroom before he could perform the ritual. He had memorized the language of the power manta (written in what Gabe assumed was Greek), repeating the words to himself in class and scrawling them out in the margins of his history notes alongside the doodles of unrealistically proportioned women. It was another 4 days before his mother left the house for an adequate stretch of the evening (every third Wednesday was Susan Turner’s book group night). Gabe rolled the carpet of his living room back and drew on the hardwood with a dry-erase marker, keeping his laptop on the couch for reference. The symbol looked a bit like a Jesus fish with a dog’s face in the center. He lit three candles around the symbol (one of them was a scented Christmas candle but Gabe figured that probably wouldn’t matter). He piled the ingredients into the center of the symbol. The cricket legs scattered all over the floor and Gabe spent a few minutes trying to pull them out from under the couch. He wished he had a robe. It didn’t seem appropriate without a hooded robe, ideally a black one. He settled for a blue hoodie with the words “Old Navy” stitched in white. He took a deep breath before repeating the words. He didn’t know what they meant, of course, and Gabe would’ve been surprised to learn that less than a thousand people on Earth would have, and those that did certainly would be offended by his pronunciation. But he felt good saying them. They had a rhythmic quality and felt good to say, like “cellar door” or a long series of polysyllabic expletives. When he finished the last guttural sputter Gabe sat lightly on his father’s favorite armchair, his heels lifted off the ground, hands folding, thumbs twiddling. He didn’t feel particularly empowered, more apprehensive and excited. It reminded him of the first time he had seen pornography. He was overcome with the feeling of definitely doing something wrong and not feeling particularly bad about it. He stared at the symbol for a long time, not really thinking, just staring. His eyes had the feeling of looking at a computer screen too long: dully strained. He didn’t notice the thick green mist until it had nearly filled the room. Gabe thought about the smoke detector upstairs, his neighbors across the street, the cost of fire damage on his meager lawn mowing savings, but the thoughts drifted easily through and out his mind without latching onto anything. The mist grew thicker and fuller, obscuring the room. It was as if an old bunny- eared television had suddenly been caught between two channels and was splitting between both. Appendag25
es started to appear about four feet above the symbol on the floor; appendages that could respectively belong to several different species of deep sea life, but could not possibly coexist on any single one. A voice echoed in the room that sounded like the crinkling of an empty potato chip bag amplified a thousand fold. Gabe didn’t understand what it said, but he understood what it meant. It was a greeting. Gabe found himself on his knees with his eyes clamped tight together. There are some things the human brain is not prepared to immediately process and Gabe was in a room with the psychological equivalent of walking into an orgy involving his entire extended family and the staff of his high school, administrative to custodial. He found himself regretting his decision to forego halfheartedly playing Halo online, as well as every decision he had made in his pubescent life, beginning with quitting the recreational soccer team. The voice spoke again. This time it was a demand. A remarkably self-assured demand. Gabe’s hands covered his ears and he began to scream, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” The voice cracked across the walls again and it was made very apparent that apologies would not quite cut it. There was a pressure bearing down upon Gabe’s head. You’re familiar with the sensation of arguing with someone who ascribes to a very particular set of cultural beliefs and has no interest in having them challenged. Often the older the person, the more dead set they are in their position. Gabe’s houseguest was very old. Gabe felt a pull high on his chest. The fear was fading now. Everything was fading. There was black in the corners of his vision. He felt somehow drained, like the feeling after a long cry. The fog was thickening but it couldn’t hide the mass in the center any more. It had grown too large, too distinct. Gabe realized to his horror that its skin had a soft pinkish hue. The fog was intoxicating, thick as water. Gabe was slipping away. Disappearing into the fog. His front door opened with a soft creak. The night breeze swept in, following a short, thickset man in a crumpled brown suit. He carried an overstuffed briefcase in one hand. There was a McDonalds bag in the other. “Sorry, I figured I’d let myself in. Good, you’ve started without me.” The man positioned himself directly between the abomination and Gabe, who was sprawled out on the carpet gasping, and suddenly overcome by an acute feeling of embarrassment. “Nice to met you, Roland Richards, I’m representing Gabriel Turner.” The man dropped the fast food bag to the floor and stuck a hairy hand into the writhing mass. He shook it thrice in the mist. “You must be…” Richards started rifling through his briefcase, pulling out a crumpled yellow legal pad and flipping through it “…here we go. That-Which-Dwells-At-The-Bottom-And-DevoursAll-Things?” The room shook as a piercing wail emanated from the atrocity, screaming of horrors from 26
beyond the scope of human imagination. “Sorry, The-Great-Devourer-Of-All-Things-From-Deep-Beneath-The-Waves. I’d like to confer with my client?” Ten thousand flies buzzed at once. “Thank you.” The man helped Gabe to his feet and ushered him into the kitchen. *** Roland Richards pulled an offensive number of small soft burgers out of his paper bag. Gabe was staring at him. He was experiencing the emotional equivalent of a paper shredder trying to digest a credit card. He wasn’t built for this. He found himself blankly observing man in front of him. He had thick brown hair and mustache, with a few days of salty growth on his cheeks. There was a mustard stain on his shirt collar. He had a red paisley tie. “McDouble?” Gabe shook his head. “Come on, eat, eat. You’ll feel better.” Gabe shook his head again. Meaty fingers unwrapped a soft, bready burger. There was a thin, yellowish pickle falling out of the side. “Suit yourself! So, Gabriel, do you go by Gabriel? “Gabe” “Gabe, good. I’m Roland Richards, I’ve been appointed to your case. So,” he took a large bite of the little cheeseburger, “why’d you summon up our friend over there?” It occurred to Gabe that there was an otherworldly entity waiting in his living room. He felt like vomiting. “Come on Gabe, stay with me, I don’t have a lot to go on here.” Gabe gulped. There was that embarrassment again. “So, why?” “Well the website said-” “One second” Richards rummaged around he lining of his suit and pulled out a cheap plastic click pen, along with a number of receipts crumpled into a ball and a small oblong piece of shiny black plastic. He leaned over the yellow legal pad and finished off his burger with another bite. He nodded for Gabe to go ahead. *** 27
Gabe tried not to make eye contact with the thing in his living room as they walked back into the room. The pyrotechnics were in full effect, green mists swirling around the center like a dust devil. Gabe noticed that the inside of his windows seemed to have a thin drippy film coating the inside, with a consistency very similar to Gak. Little did he know, the situation in his room bared a strong resemblance to the actual factory method of the production of Gak. Richards walked back into the room in front of him with the air of a politician and dropped his briefcase on the ottoman. “Ah, Budi Y Alba, Iku-Turso, The-Great-Devourer-Of-All-Things-From-Deep-Beneath-TheWaves, thank you for waiting for us, I know your time is precious.” The room cracked with the sound of a refrigerator full of power tools falling down the stairs. Richards laughed politely. “You and me both. Do you mind if I sit? I’m gonna sit.” Richards leaned down into the corner of couch and gestured for Gabe to sit. The thing in the room didn’t quite sit, but it did seem to fold onto itself. Richards made a big show of pulling a manila folder from his case and unfolding it over his crossed legs. He cleared his throat loudly. “Well, Iku-Turso, I’m afraid your claim on young Gabriel’s soul is dubious at best.” No thunder has ever been so loud or so close to an ear. “Well I’m sorry you feel that way but your services have be misrepresented from the beginning. Let me read this excerpt to you from www.newagerituals.com.” There was a creak like a massive old ship being T-boned by another larger and older ship. Gabe noticed that the fog in the room had faded substantially and now just hovered around the monster’s body. He could get a better sense of its shape now; it looked like a massive cow constructed out of seafood by someone who had never seen a cow but was familiar with the basic concept. “You are aware that anything your worshippers do on your behalf is your responsibility, Iku. You shouldn’t have let them stray so far off the reservation.” The air crackled with the high whine of static. “In fact,” Richards flipped over a page on the crumpled legal pad by his side and looked sidelong at it, “you are in violation of a number of treaties simply by virtue of your presence here, including the 1943 Concordant of the Loa, the Minor Deity Control Act of the 1890s and, most egregiously, the Last Act of Honorius II. You’ve made yourself vulnerable to judicial action here, I’m sorry to say.” Iku bellowed like a beached whale, with what Gabe was just starting to realize was indignation. The great monster looked uncomfortable. Gabe knew how it felt to not know what to do with your hands. Seeing it another person was strange. But seeing it in something without hands was downright unsettling. 28
“I realize that times are tough in your line of work, but that’s no excuse for being this sloppy. I’ve been talking to young Gabriel here, and it appears you failed to honor even the basic terms of his request. Is that so?” Iku-Turso was silent now, although the room still had a slight static-y feeling. Gabe shifted in his seat; the leather couch was sticking to his back where his hoodie was riding up. Miami was always sticky. “Gabe called for extra-natural intervention to improve his romantic life. Did you grant him this request?” Iku looked remorseful. Gabe didn’t know how he could identify remorse on a face that looked like a collection of organs haphazardly piled together. His giblets were drooping. Gabe decided that that was the giveaway. “Are you even competent in this area? I’ve got it here that your realm of expertise falls more in the…” Richards made a humming sound as he leafed through the his legal pad, rhythmically clicking his tongue, “… yeah, right here, the sinking of fishing vessels and contamination of saltwater sources. I see. Not a lot of call for that kind of thing these days.” Iku wailed a deep bass, tubers flapping limply. Something wet fell to the floor and Gabe found himself drawing his knees up onto the couch. He, for the first time, doubted the abilities of his family’s Swiffer in the face of adversity. “I agree, diversifying is a good thing, but you’re really stretching the limits of ‘buyers beware’ here.” Richards placed his papers in the ottoman and drew himself to his full height (which was 5’9”, incidentally). “The-Great-Devourer-Of-All-Things-From-Deep-Beneath-The-Waves, I’m afraid you’ve wasted all of our time here. Your presence in this private dwelling will no be tolerated. Leave immediately or I will be forced to call the Pantheon and place an injunction against you. And you are lucky that Gabriel has chosen not to sue you for attempted damnation of a minor. Good evening.” Richards pointedly stooped, and starting shuffling his scattered papers together. The great beast released a final puff of green smoke and seemed to turn away. Then over. Then inside. Then it was gone. Gabe let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding in. There was a small pile of seaweed in the center of the symbol, which Gabe realized to his horror was nearly a half inch into the floor, as if termites had gotten to it. Roland Richards started to haphazardly stuff yellow pages into his case and flashed a wide grin at Gabe, big teeth like tombstones glinting under the thick hairs of his mustache. “Thought he’d never leave,” he chuckled. Gabe defaulted to apologizing to adults as a matter of habit. In this instance it seemed the only response, especially since at this moment he wanted nothing more than to get this man out of 29
his house so he could have his mental breakdown in the appropriate privacy. He stared hopefully up at Richards, “Mr. Richards I’m sorry about all this, I’ll never do anything like it ever again, I swear.” Roland Richards looked at him with glinting eyes. There wasn’t much warmth there, Gabe decided. “Well, if you ever find another occasion to, contact my office first. We’ll put you in touch with the right people.” A parchment-colored business card flicked into his front two fingers. Gabe took it like you’d take a scorpion and immediately pocketed it. Richards made a few pleasantries before leaving, commenting on the curtains, tips on getting ectoplasm stains out of hardwood floors, that sort of thing. Gabe wasn’t really listening. He was mentally composing the comment he would leave on the New Age rituals website. Gabe shook Richards hand before he left. It felt like a catchers mitt. “You’ll be getting my bill in a week or so.” Gabe panicked. Richards smiled at him like a knife. “Don’t worry Gabriel, we have a variety of payment plans. I’ll be in touch.” Gabe watched him briskly hop down his front porch, manually unlock a battered old luxury car and climb into the drivers seat. Richards gave a quick wave as he started the engine. Gabe did not wave back. By the time the beat up brown Lincoln Versailles had rounded the first turn out of this particular part of Floridian suburbia, Gabe was already in the process of convincing himself this entire experience was caused by the leftover steak sandwich he had consumed an hour ago. The human brain has an incredible capacity to heal itself. 9 days later Susan Turner found a yellowed business card in her son’s pants pocket as she dumped clothes in the washing machine. It read: Attorney For The Preter, Super, Extra, or Para Law
Roland Richards Attorney at Law
619 Wolfram Avenue P.O Box 442 Tel. 305-895-6328 Miami, Florida 305 Ritual: Gold coin tossed thrice then dropped into freshwater
Lucie Fleming 32
To Be a God
By Julia Burgdorff I bare my teeth like a god. Hunt the ground, stay quiet. What do you know of death? To be mortal is not to know it. The infant plant must push through dirt into lesser darkness, poke out of the ground like a needle threading its own eye, or perish. I will not know the moment when it comes. Like a god, a falcon without a falconer. I move and dwell in days like a god. I see a curse written on every page. I find the trouble. Toothpick bones picked out of a pellet speak of the bird and the gizzardwomb from which it came as thrown-out love letters speak. If youâ€™re lucky, a rat skull. Shrew bones. Arrange them into a new order. The skull as moon in a fertile cosmos. Once forgotten, prayer is not relearned.
By Billy Sheehan Convinced of my composition I took off running And the sweat beads raced I fell into the mud And came up a different color Left my clothing in a pile Branch and thorn broke my skin And the bugs were most dutiful I pressed on toward nearest moon Emerging with a shorter breath Into the cold dark No longer convinced
Anna Grofik 35
By Kathleen Radigan Peter Pan’s walking me to chem in a green V-neck and too- low jeans plaid boxers bunched up like parachutes. “Look at the tits on that one,” he says, dark and low, like a robot. There’s something different about Peter Pan today. I just can’t put my finger on it. I heard somebody say he loves to wrap his thighs around his shadow, stick a hand inside and listen to the sound it makes, its little moon mouth uncoiling light like smoke rings. Peter Pan is walking with a little cloud in his pants. He likes the way light hits windows of high-up buildings. I’m not gonna ask about the shadow thing-today he’s in a silent mood. Lost boys get high as bats in caves, shoulders swinging, fist bump and chuckle stamping out shames with congratulations. Fairies drop these days like Nagasaki soldiers, their bodices limp as plaintain leaves, and Peter is the gravedigger -- no one else wanted the job. I’m reaching for Peter’s hand, even though I know he hates to look tied to anything, and I’m giving it a squeeze. He feels like the crocodile who swallowed the clock that time forgot. He wishes he was Peter Parker hoisting a woman from a burning building. He wishes he did anything but fly. Lost boys get laid in backseats, they’re not tired yet and there’s so many games left to play before the slender sun goes down under the square-shouldered shadows of skyscrapers.
O tempora, O mores, O lux By Sam Norcross
I resolved to carbonate darkness. Sealed in a windowless room: Eight feet by eight I orated, under moderate pressure, Cicero Oratio in Catilinam Prima in Senatu Habitu, and after some time My little room became an all-consuming everywhere and the black Met me at the mouth to swallow my historic dioxide so fast that I forgot It was every spoken by anyone and gasping for all the words back I drank The black deep and found myself in equilibriumâ€”emptied and filled With soluble edges. My ears rang in solid harmony And one myself in one windowless room became a monolithic II In eight by eight infinity: an onlywhere so dense it bloomed Into collapse, an endless cavern with a floor that curved up to find itself a sphere Of time when I and I knew the sum of things. All until some fool opened the door and the world So blundering bright it blinded me with too much And then I only knew some.
Sandcastles By Will Shadbolt
This story begins in the age of myth. It was a time when demons haunted nights, mushrooms housed gnomes, and knights fought dragons. A cloud in the sky might be a spaceship, a tiny sparrow a sphinx. I had just begun the fourth grade at a new elementary school. My dad drove me over in the morning and after school I walked home, most times alone. I didn’t talk to many kids that year; I preferred to walk around with my head in the clouds and imagine myself in some great forest on some great adventure to their company. One friend was all I had. Her name was Alison Macy. In order to understand Alison, you need to understand her older brother. He was the sporty type: he played baseball and took swim lessons. Alison made sure she was signed up for neither. Where he liked to roughhouse, she preferred to draw; where he was loquacious, she was quiet. Rather than spending her time on physical activity or socializing, Alison whiled her time away daydreaming, honing her quirks and pretending to be a princess or some other golden fantasy. I first saw her one day a few weeks into the year. She was sitting by herself on a picnic table on the perimeter of the playground and in the wind her shiny black hair, dark and calming like the night sky, fluttered like butterfly wings. I sat down next to her and she looked at me and smiled. After a moment she asked, “Want to go on an adventure?” She looked up at the sky. “Let’s go to the sun!” And that was how our saga began. Alison and I don’t talk anymore. Last I heard, her family moved to the west coast by the beach and she stayed in the area for college. Our only connection now is in our professions. We’re both doctors, pediatricians; I’ve seen her name come up at a few conferences. I’ve wanted to be one since before I can remember. Way back when, we played games pretending to be adventurers. She was always a princess of some sort, because her brother had once told her only little girls wanted to be princesses. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stand the thought of being a warrior or some other strong man and decided to take the role of a healer or mage, mostly because of my dreams, and at the time, it seemed like if I became a healer in our fantasy, I’d be fated to become one in real life. I wanted to heal people then but couldn’t, so why not heal them in my fantasies? Alison chose to be a doctor around the time we stopped talking. Her family moved not too long after that. When we played, she usually dragged me around the playground, saying, “A princess’s underling does not decide where a princess goes.” A look of smugness would be painted on her face, soon replaced by laughter at her own austere, angelic tone of voice, and she’d run as fast as she could, pretending to go faster than the fastest man, with me struggling to keep up. We might pretend the monkey bars were a prison cell one day, the next an alien spaceship that had crash-landed 42
hundreds of years ago. After that, the bars could become the princess’s castle, although most times Alison was content to make a small pile of woodchips and dream it up into a massive golden palace. The first time she did it I gave her a weird look. She replied with a shrug. “There are two sides to every coin,” she said, “Why can’t there be two sides to everything? One side of this can be a pile of woodchips and the other will be the greatest castle ever built.” She smiled. A frugal princess, Alison. In one particularly memorable episode, we recovered the book of the elves after the goblin king had stolen it. Alison and I wound up in the principal’s office for that—we had taken someone’s trading cards and pretended they were enchanted parchments—but that didn’t stop our adventures; we were, after all, destined to one day make it to the sun. Occasionally we had play dates where we did more of the same. Alison liked to have them at her house, which suited me just fine, because I didn’t want her to see my father. My dad was an alcoholic, no matter how many times I whacked him with my healing staff. He worked from home (while my mother commuted to the city), and over the course of the day he liked to sip on a few bottles so that by the time three o’clock rolled around he was more than a little tipsy. Despite this, he always seemed to be at least somewhat in shape, although a beer gut was never entirely absent from his figure. On days when not even alcohol could make him happy, he locked himself in his study, drinking more and murmuring memories of his own father and the old man’s ultimate fate—Grandpa had died when my father was still young; it was something to do with his liver; dad never went into detail about it. When I got home from school, mom would still be driving her two-hour commute. Dad would grunt at me and I’d grunt back at him. We’d keep grunting back and forth until he went and made me dinner—usually sloppily—and we’d grunt some more over dinner. There were no shouts or punches in my family, just lots of small inconveniences that piled into mountains. They were tiny things, micro-sized, at first glance of so little importance magic is the only possible explanation I remember them. Not to say there weren’t arguments—there were—they were just quiet, civil affairs. They were all of them over stupid things, like a dropped glass or something like that. And always afterwards my father’s face looked like a balloon, red and inflated; my mother’s was a deflated one. One time Alison did come over to my house. I tried to convince her to go to her house instead but her brother had a friend over, meaning she never stopped repeating her adage—“A princess’s underling does not decide where a princess goes”—and we walked to my house. It was a small white structure, and though other than the attic and basement which were used exclusively for storage there was only one floor my family had more than enough room. A few bushes that occasionally flowered were all we had for a garden, but I could see Alison’s face light up in thought as we drew near. We dropped off our backpacks inside right near the door, and I wandered off to tell my dad I was home with a guest. He was in his study and already reeked of alcohol. “Dad,” I said. He turned, staring. “Dad, I have a friend over. Alison.” He nodded. 43
“Have fun and stay safe. Tell me if you need anything.” He was already looking back to his work by the time he reached “stay.” I ran back out to Alison and we started playing. I tried to forget myself in our games, forget about the worry I had, and eventually I did. We ran outside through the yard, between and inside bushes, crawling through the grass, purposely rubbing our knees up against the sod so they’d be stained with green. The backyard with its few large oak trees and a small pine tree I had planted a few years ago with my dad became a gigantic forest, filled with elves. Out front I could hear the car start: my father sometimes liked to go for drives when he was feeling especially stressed, no matter how much alcohol he had in his system. I ignored it and continued playing. Alison and I talked to a few of the elves we met before we realized where we had to go to solve our quest: the mines. We ran inside, tearing off our shoes, and went downstairs into the basement. It was dark and drab and food my family wasn’t yet ready to eat lined the shelves. To us, it was gold. We carefully crept through the mines, on the look out for whatever it was that was guarding these treasures. We were also careful not to touch any of the riches; who knows if jealous dwarves or other monsters had had them booby-trapped? Eventually Alison put out her arm to stop me. “Don’t you see, there isn’t any boss down here. And you know why? Because this isn’t where the real treasure is!” We both screamed and left the basement. Upstairs we wandered for a little bit aimlessly before I looked up and realized the treasure we were after wasn’t in the mines, it was in the heavens. I ran under where the attic was and jumped up to grab the hanging string. Noisily the cover for the attic came down and a ladder slid out of it. “Quick,” I said, “up there! That’s where the treasure is!” Alison looked delighted and started to climb. She made it to the top and I followed. I was half way up when a voice boomed from in back of me. “What the hell are you kids doing?” my father shouted, his voice slurring like he was trying to drink and speak at the same time. “Get the hell out of there—Jesus—stay out of there. ” He roughly pulled Alison off the ladder and put it back up. “That’s it. Get out of the house. Go play in the yard or something. Christ almighty, you dumbass,” he said to me. We slowly walked outside. Clouds dotted the sky, resembling the pattern of a Dalmatian’s hide. Through the bushes we could hear the wind performing a melancholy dance. Alison looked at me and after a while I looked back at her. She smiled. “There’s an ogre attacking the elves,” she said. “…an ogre?” “Yeah! A big, tall, mean ogre. He breathes fire and won’t let the elves leave their houses.” Looking at her, I knew she wouldn’t say anything about my dad; she understood. “Come on!” she yipped. We were off. * 44
I can remember: it was towards the end of the school year when Alison told me why we were trying to get to the sun: “It’s so yellow. We’d be able to build the perfect sandcastle there for us to live in. We have to build it; it must be our destiny!” I nodded and went along with it, and once she said that, it felt like every game we had played was building up to this. Fate is like that—after the fact everything seems as if it had to happen the way it happened, like there were no other options. Looking back at medical school, twenty years ago, it feels like I could have never studied a single second and still passed every test: doctoring was my destiny. Around the time Alison told me, the town pool opened. Despite the wealth of my area, the “pool” was less a pool and more a lake. And the pool bottom and sides were sand, not cement. There was a minimal amount of chlorine in it, but it didn’t have the blue-tinted transparency most pools do, and after heavy rains when the nearby rivers swelled, fish frequently made their way into the new and strange waters and lived there for days until life guards fished them out or after weeks the chlorine finally wormed its way through to their gills. Not all people liked it, but I did, it gave me ideas for adventures we could have over the summer. Before the school year even ended, we started going there. Alison’s brother was on the swim team that met there after school. She made sure we never swam, no matter the exploit we were engaged in. According to her, sand made for better makeshift sea than the pool. So while he swirled and twisted through the grayish murk of the pool, we sat on the side, crafting sandcastles, the water kissing our feet and, when we kneeled down, our behinds. Once every so often we’d take a break and look up to see how her brother was doing. He wasn’t the fastest swimmer there (in fact he was one of the slower ones) but he could hold his own in the longer events. After swim practice, Alison had to go back home. Her parents offered me a ride home every time, but I never said yes. My dad was under stress at his job, meaning he was frequently locked in his study, and he didn’t care if I took my time getting home. So, I remained in my world. School ended about two or three weeks after swim team started, at which point practice was moved to noon. The first day we played at the pool at this new time, Alison and I pretended to drink potions that turned us into massive giants, big enough to cross the globe in a single strut. We built sandcastles, mixing the dry sand with wet sand (the most efficient way to build, we believed back then) and then stepped back to take in our creations. I took a step forward, paused, and then continued and lifted my left foot high up in the air and brought it down on one of the castles. “What are you doing?!” she asked. “Those potions we took, they made us crazy! We’re evil now, and we have to figure out how to be good again before it’s too late!” She nodded enthusiastically, and then we were off, running this way and that, through the ocean, through the desert, laughing and spinning and kicking up the glittering sand as we went. The next day we resumed where we left off. We were still evil, working for the ogre. He was 45
living in an oasis nearby now, right by the snack stand. We ran over there, destroying imagined cities as we went because after all we were still evil, and raised our fists to him. He breathed his fire down on us and we both ran away to regroup. “What do we do now?” I said. “We fight harder and regroup whenever it gets too tough,” she said panting. We ran back over and fought and fought. We had to run away once more, but the third time we faced him, we got the best of him. “We won!” Alison shouted. We were back to normal. Alison’s brother whenever we played would only stare at us from a distance. When he saw us shrieking and running around with leafs in our hands, he’d shake his head and point it out and laugh with other boys from his grade. We must have looked ridiculous to him, but to us his incredulity only heightened our enjoyment. Alison’s parents would usually take us all to the pool around ten in the morning and we’d stay there until the mid to late afternoon. Her brother frequently brought friends along, but I can’t remember any of their names. After swim practice, they wandered around the pool, swimming in the deep end, going off diving boards and every once in a while they would leave the pool and go to an ice cream shop two blocks down. After swim meets that’s where they’d go. I never went to any of the meets, but Alison occasionally filled me in. Her brother swam the backstroke events for his age group. He never won and actually came in last place a few times, but for the most part he finished in the middle of the pack, which was good enough for him. “As long as I keep going, I’ll be sure to get faster,” he said once. This was after a practice where he decided not to go and get ice cream, preferring instead to beg his mom to buy him snack stand fries. “How can you be so sure?” I asked. “I just know. It’s something I can feel.” I nodded, not quite understanding but accepting the answer out of awkwardness. I still remember his name, Alison’s brother. I don’t like remembering it, though; I hear it enough at night, in the rifts of my dreams, echoing from some distant stream of consciousness like the call of a beast. He was short for his age. Alison once told me that as a little kid he was the tallest in the class, but when puberty came around, he got shafted. He never stopped persisting in trying to reclaim the athletic prowess he once possessed when his height gave him a natural advantage. Of his physical appearance, the only thing I’ve managed to hold on to these years is his tooth. All of his teeth were textbook perfect—white like clouds, straight as the needle of a syringe—except for one, one of the front bottom two, the left one I believe, which, for some reason that to me was never explained, was a jagged diagonal. Perhaps a baseball or rock or something thrown to him when he wasn’t looking knocked it out of place. 46
I had another conversation with him still in my recollection, this one happening over the school year at their house. It was one of the few times Alison and I werenâ€™t going on imaginary adventures. Weâ€”us and her brotherâ€”were all playing one of his videogames, something set in a jungle, when she slipped away to ask her mom something, leaving the two of us free to beat up her character and rack up as many points as we wanted. He suddenly turned to me, making sure to keep the corner of his eyes on the screen, and asked me about the games her and I played together. My eyes remained on the screen though I put down the controller, and staring at the wild emerald electronic forest I began to describe to him our world and our adventures. I told him about the monsters, about the treasures; I told him about our goal: the sun and the sandcastle. As I spoke, the tales began to seem light and childish, and I think my cheeks took on a slight rosiness of embarrassment, but he looked enthralled. His eyes were wide and prodded me into the confidence to keep spinning my stories. He was about to say something when from behind me there came quiet footsteps. His expression 47
changed—eyes narrow and dull, mouth shut, enthusiasm gone—in less than a second, as though he had put on a mask, and looking past me he said, “Your game sounds stupid,” before attacking Alison’s character. With a yelp and a threat she rushed over to her controller. She immediately became engrossed in the videogame. She didn’t see his calculated smirk falter, nor his eyes go glassy and distant, as if in thought. One day towards the end of July, not long after the videogame episode, Alison and I decided to fight the dragon. “This is the biggest adventure we’ve been on yet,” she explained. We walked for a bit around the pool and the she piqued up. “There he is,” she whispered into my ear; we were staring at a large, low branch on one of the trees near the fence. He breathed a green fire, spurting into little flames like leaves. “We’ve got to get his treasure! It’ll help us get to the sun.” “How do we kill him? Can we kill him?” “We have to! Let’s use our magic.” I began waving my arms around and jumping up and down. After a moment she began to do the same. We were so absorbed in our game we didn’t notice Alison’s brother or his friends walk past us to go to the ice cream shop. “That’s it, that’s it! We’re killing him,” I screamed. A few people sitting down nearby gave us weird looks, but we didn’t stop. We wagged our fingers, casted spells. Alison began yelling out random words. “Apopty calamitus! Graw maw caw! Ryharia rising!” “He’s almost dead!” I shouted. “Oh no, he just healed himself,” she shouted back. We kept our guard up. Alison stole a branch from the tree and pretended it was a sword, being careful to ensure no lifeguard saw her swinging it. Eventually, we both agreed the dragon was about to be bested. Bracing ourselves, deciding how we would react when we defeated him, there came a sudden screech and yell and thump. We both jumped and stared at each other. Was the dragon real? Then people ran to us, past us, to the fence. On the road beyond was a boy crying into his hands, one of Alison’s brother’s friends. Alison’s brother wasn’t killed on impact, though his eyes had long been lifeless by the time the paramedics arrived. He lay on the black pavement, joints twisted into angles crooked as his tooth and his arms and legs covered in small cuts. Alison jumped over the fence and ran over to her brother. He looked over at her, not saying a thing and she stood where the sidewalk met the road, mimicking his silence. He gasped for breath as if lungs full with air would keep him afloat in life like it did in the pool. There was no difference in how he looked before and after death. Perhaps after he wore a slightly less pained look— mouth neutral, eyes calm and wide—but that was of little importance. He never did get better at backstroke. During all this the door to the driver’s seat slowly opened and a hand, then arm, then body appeared from within. It was an ogre. It was my dad. He moved with familiar, over exaggerated gestures, the kind I had seen many a night after I came home and he had had a rough day. Then the paramedics arrived. Alison cried and cried. And me, where was I? I had run away from the fence to a small grove of trees on the other side of the pool—its murkiness no longer pool wa48
ter but the familiar dark whiskey of my father’s study—where I thought no one would see me and slumped down into a ball. The ogre had won. This time there would be no regrouping. I could smell the liquor as if it was coming from my own pores. * My father was convicted later that summer and sentenced to quite a bit of jail time. He got out a few years back and promptly drank himself to death. Later that summer I saw Alison for the last time. I didn’t want to see her and had stopped going to the pool with her family after the incident and rarely ever went on my own. When I did, it was to play by myself, imagine myself in a desert bigger than the planet itself, far away from any and all signs of civilization. On this day, a cloudy, tepid day complete strong gusts of wind, I had decided to play God and create my own world. I built a sandcastle, a fairly large one, and, with a little stick, I drew impressions on the wall of sand to make windows. Wet sand dribbled down on top of the castle to make towers. As I put a small bridge of a stick out over the moat, I heard a familiar voice behind me: “What are you doing?” I turned. “Making a sandcastle.” She looked down at it, her eyes widening as though she was seeing a gravestone. “Do you want to help?” She stood there, breathing. I looked up at her. The sun was right behind her and outlined her face with angelic and golden glamour. “It’s the final step,” I said. “Once we do this, we can reach the sun. Just like we always talked about.” She sat down next to me, just as silent as she had been before. She stared at my architectural creation, taking in all the details, every edge and corner and wall with such concentration it was as though she wanted to memorize the position of all the grains of sand eaten up by the castle. I know instead of looking at my castle I stared at her, but I barely remember now what she looked like, it’s been so long. Her hair color, her face, her voice: all purged from my memory at unnamable points in time. The only thing I can recall aside from her dark hair is the color of her eyes, a light blue, the color of the sky just over the horizon. I still sometimes see them at night: two disembodied eyes cloaked in robes of hair, following me like some poor lost ghost. I remember I learned from the gossip I overheard from other kids at the pool that Alison wanted to be a doctor. At first I felt guilty that I too wanted to work as one, but, slowly, I realized that a job in medicine is the only profession she would have approved of me taking. It was what I had wanted since before I met her, and more importantly, despite everything what everyone may think of them, hospitals are the one place where people can continue believing in their fantasies. I’ve seen plenty of people die and plenty lose all hope, but I’ve also seen people sicker than the dead get better. There are two sides to every coin. After a time she spoke. “I’m not going to the sun. It’s your destiny, but it’s no longer mine. I don’t want to do it anymore. I can’t do it anymore.” She paused. Her eyes looked up at me. A mix of fright and anger and confusion pushed them down to little slits. “I won’t do it anymore.” She 49
then stood back up after that and looked down on me for a few seconds longer, and then began to cry and ran away. I didn’t run after her. I simply watched her run, out of the pool area, out of my life, out of my memory. When she was out of sight, I faced the castle. And there before me to this day stood the grandest structure I’ve ever looked upon: spires erupted from its stone sides and rose as high into the sky as airplanes; a tremendous river of blue water filled the crocodile-infested moat; it was all great, all gold, all shining, like dappled sunlight flowing through Elven tree branches. I will never forget her words, deciding the hospital and not the sun was her destiny. Some people might’ve found them hurtful, but not me. Everyone needs little somethings to keep them going, to cheer them up when they’re feeling down. Her words are my somethings. I repeat them to myself throughout the day, like before I’m about to meet with a patient or before I leave for the day. It’s my own little mantra. They’re the reason I haven’t yet given up hope for myself, hope that I’m a good doctor and will continue to be one, hope that I’m not a failure in my other endeavors. And hope that one day I’ll get home after work and won’t need my bottle.
Stationary By Annie Rusk
We hover above our beds in disappearing dreams of yesterday When we’re up there we can’t help tearing through to meet days whose parents tried to keep us Train keeps a-rollin’ on down to San Antoine for jailbirds but we jump train mid-trip We’ve never really been in prison, Johnny and me We know prison though We know Sunday Mornings like drunken birds and broken mirrors It’s in the blues after coming down We know place
Love Poem for a Scarecrow By Kathleen Radigan
Kissing you feels like leaves. Fall is near. Iâ€™m not sure what gust sent you here, your mouth like something buttoned and unbuttoned with care. You hang over the field rolled flat as dough, straw soft, hungry for hay. Round noon the crows fly away. See them tunneling over the grass- bent belly dance in the sun glow. (You canâ€™t coax back a crow.) Kissing you feels like a street-dance. Remember the day I carried you off your post and down a steep hill yawning green? I went swimming in the river while you dipped your hay feet, thinking all the thoughts that keep you up nights in the corn rows, black eyes bolted open. My favorite nights were the ones I kissed your hands where they swung in the starched air. You were a maestro conducting the orchestra of everything. In the distance clouds and bullfrogs learned to spell their names. People clapped their hands in farmhouses and the crows flew home.
Julia McGinley 53
Pogue Mahone By James Oâ€™Connor
You cross the Sagamore as a child lost in a department store searches for its parent. Maybe Winslow does not have an address anymore. You wonder whether you really have been there but you recall broth smells and leather. A horn blares from behind as if asking your name so you roll down your window and demand a kiss. 55