Issue 4 | Summer

Page 17

Art | Fiction | Poetry| Plays| Screenplays | Films | Interviews Issue 4| Summer Find works from 29 different creatives from around the world ranging from art, fiction, poetry, nonfiction, film, and plays
© 2022 by Chaotic Merge Magazine. All Rights Reserved. All rights to all original artwork, photography, and written works belongs to the respective owners as stated in the attributions. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and publisher.
TABLE OF CONTENTS FICTION POETRY 11 25 49 57 62 71 SLUMP by Gabriel Sage LITTLE SCARED by Corey Davis HELPFUL DISTRACTIONS by Soramimi Hanarejima THE FORGETTING RITUAL: A HOW-TO GUIDE by Andrew Lesh OPEN MOUTH by Morgan Victoria MORGUE MUSIC by Carl Boon NONFICTION 39 79 FIREWEEDS by Grace Schwenk ON THE FREEDOM OF BUTTERFLIES by Kayla Jessop 2 3 6 7 8 9 SEAHORSES by J.B. Calf PREMATURE ODE by Emily Murman PRETENTIOUS POEM by Emily Murman QUANTUM INCLINATION by James Ph. Kotsybar UNDONE by Renee Keele THE RED NIGHTGOWN by Leila Kulpas 10 23 35 KITTY HAWK by William Doreski CORDELIA, WHEREVER SHE MAY BE by Liz Fisher ON SAVING THAT OLD CALENDAR FROM THAT ONE YEAR by Aaron Sandberg
55 56 60 73 77 78 CROSSING THE BORDER by Paul Bluestein AMERICANA by John Leonard THE INTERN by Lauren Rudolph I’M TIRED OF FAKE RATATOUILLE FANS THINKING THE RAT’S NAME IS RATATOUILLE by Bunny Boisvert RIB by Aaron Sandberg NESSUN DORMA by Charlie Brice 80 81 NEITHER OF THIS WORLD NOR OF THAT ONE by Rob Omura FINAL GIRL by Cara Peterhansel ART 1 4 IF WE TURN INTO A TREE 1 by Taylor Yingshi IF WE TURN INTO A TREE 2 by Taylor Yingshi 5 21 34 37 47 61 KISS IN BEDROOM by Taylor Yingshi IN MY BEDROOM by Taylor Yingshi WHATS IN MY BAG by Taylor Yingshi ON THIS ISLAND by Carlin McCarthy UNTITLED by Ian Hill WHO I USED TO BE by Zoe Stanek 69 70 AFTERHOURS by Fatima Tall MOUNTHOOD by Fatima Tall 75 76 CREATION OF MAN 1 by Brittany Gress CREATION OF MAN 2 by Brittany Gress 82 PLATOS CAVE by Brittany Gress

Dear Readers, Thank you for picking a of It The I read and see the I am reminded how are. are capable of that aren’t like anything else. I she of the Rings at the age of and spent her whole life trying to find something that could evoke the same feeling she felt while read ing the series. She sadly told me she was still searching. But isn’t it amazing how writing and art can do that to us? The characters, voices, and style of the pieces in this issue stood out and captured not just me but our editors, our wonderful editors that embrace these pieces like their own. Please take the time to read and experi ence these works fully. I hope they stick to you just like they stuck with us. Maybe, it will be a piece that will evoke a feeling you never knew was there.

Stay chaotic, Jasmine Ferrufino Editor

COVER ART OUR EDITORS LETTER FROM THE EDITOR CHICKEN HOUSE by Zoe Stanek EDITOR IN CHIEF Jasmine Ferrufino POETRY EDITORS Britt Trachtenberg Julia Watson Kaitlyn Crow Thomas Orr FICTION EDITORS Mason Martinez Lassiter Jamison NONFICTION EDITORS Frederica Danzinger Maggie Conlee Shayla Drzycimski FOLLOW US ON OUR SOCIALS
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Seahorses

“...looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled into the shape of a seahorse...” — (Maggie Nelson)

There is a difference between “like” and “as,” as “as” denotes performance. Norma Jeane Mortensen

as Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe as Marilyn. Like cables, fly into meaning. Angel wings — meaning

let’s exercise: “queerness” as seahorse. As bonded for life. As pregnant and male. As a body made of spikes and plates. As ceramic.

As fragile. As galloping vertebrate. As a hive. As aquarium fodder.

As coral reef necessity. As mysterious and as many me as needed and unwanted.

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premature ode

this morning I hear birds for the first time since they flew south. it’s only february, but their curoo curoo stirs my stomach. my heart pounds like a rabbit’s. I keep thinking spring is tense & jittery (things creeping, ice crackling, hey ding a ding, ding & so on); it was last year, at least.

that was, of course, before everything erupted— before ever I lay naked w/ you in a pane of white sunlight, skin crisping, you stiff as a crocus stem, before that same sun spilt spots across my face & chest & the sexual smell of the mud on our boots meant anything.

this morning I see spring is constant. rely on the reappearance of my breast, root your hands across my softer parts, for I (so fair & full of flesh) am yours.

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pretentious poem by Emily Murman

it’s fortifying to be the sight that keeps you from shutting any wet part of your face, or to think that w/ the exception of shakespeare you’re the most puckish man I know. & that for us, fucking means so much, which must be obvious to every jealous one around. I mean if faeries were real they’d never get the best of us. I mean that we’re wiser than the other lovers.

I love you calling me your leman in this century. I love you biting my ears in front of all the other folksingers each time we make a backyard ring. everything is so pithy & lionizing, the simple heraldry of staring passers-by on the same old strolls we take each sunday & the facebook praise we read aloud & the bees boring into the cedar shingles of the girlish house I’ll inevitably leave to be w/ you always. those bees could spit it up as sawdust & I’d still be queen.

Schrödinger’s kitty still drawn irresistibly to his cardboard box.

QUANTUM INCLINATION
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Undone

by Renee Keele

We mourn the undone things, splintered vows, unsung tunes from rainbows, cockeyed smiles, the unsewn hearts. We process an illusion that -heartfelt words, Hallmark cards, and quick hellos can resuscitate a heart beaten against tragedy. We collect what we can, framed folded flags, tobacco-less pipes, coffee stains, and tiny echoes of a chuckle. We watch tears dry like sand, and erode a cavern across a desert landscape. Late in life, we witness the shuttering of a room, sweeping out the invisible hurts. My wounds wander onward, disfigured and lingering, listening for the roar of belly laughs, the aw fucks, with a steady stream of I love you’s and my Niegh, I’m so proud of you.

Summer | 8

The Red Nightgown by Leila Kulpas

Visiting my parents when I’m fifty, I’m on my way to the bathroom one morning, when, my mother rushes out from the kitchen, where she's concocting things, grabs me in her iron arms, and tells me she loves me for the first time. Then she quickly releases me, steps back through the doorway, and closes the door.

In the cool backwash of air, my red nightgown billows out, erasing every scar.

I love you, too, I say, when my voice returns, but she’s too far away to hear.

A moment of perfect peace, pearl grey ocean poised between tides. Then I wonder whether it’s only now that she loves me, or does she mean that she has through all the years I’ve explored on the couch, struggling to free the pain and anger jammed into the bones of my face.

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Kitty Hawk by William Doreski

At Kitty Hawk the peach-toned dunes retain an impress of flight. Not the Wright Brothers’ flimsy biplane but a kite that dragged its string a mile across the sand before dipping into the chop and drowning.

I spot you kneeling by a starfish, hoping to revive it. Too late. It looks as sad and corrupt as Gary Cooper’s badge tossed on a dusty Hollywood set.

I follow the trail of the kite far beyond you and falter at the rim of the surf where gnashing of shell and rock form a language neither of us want to speak.

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Slump by Gabriel Sage

The forward hunch of his posture spoke of distraction. No one leans like that if they aren’t slouching away from something. Desmond Sharpe-Sandoval at the wooden bar, hovered over innumerable half-circles stained into the oak from condensed pint glasses past. His own drink—Black Barrel Whiskey, which he took neat—did not add to posterity’s dark-ringed pattern. In the corner was a sign that read, The Salty Abalone, and below that, smaller, Cash Only. The bottles against the wall were measured in degrees of emptiness, always. Desmond S.S. tilted his glass back and forth, noticing that if he did it slow enough the amber liquid remained still while the glass moved round it.

He called drinking meditation. As in, “I’m going to The Abalone to meditate”; although he had no one in particular to tell. And yet what most people would simplify as getting drunk did bestow on Dessy a calm and centered state that was certainly impressive. It had a lot to do with getting good at forgetting. A skill he had cultivated with consummate repetition, leaving not much else but the Black Barrel Whiskey, a comforting idleness of mind, and that enduring slump.

He made an art of forgetting, a critical study of the void. Sure time passing and a liberal nipping of the Barrel helped, but that was neither here nor there. Anyway, even the most well-drowned histories have some buoyancy left in them; as S.S., Desmond—head now titled way back to employ gravity’s assistance with the last few Black Barrel drops in his soon to be incontrovertibly empty glass—found out the rough- and hard-way, when The Abalone’s radio strayed unexpectedly off course, content-wise.

Recently back from a national tour… string quartet… listening pleasure… performing in town this Saturday… Beethoven’s Sonata Number 3… and for the first time in I’m not sure how long, we take a break from our commitment to steady news streaming to bring you a musical sample of what we can look forward to…

Quick,” Desmond called out, his voice sounding broken and phlegmy. “Turn that off!”

Of course it was too late; the tipsy Abalone not traditionally a place where

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things happen quickly. Plus, the half-voice of his plea did little to top the ambient overlay of slurred exchanges, drunken harrumphings, and the crystalline touching of glasses. All of which, when the sonata began to play, somehow did nothing to displace the music now creeping through the air thick with smoke and the sour smell of perpetually spilling beer.

Had he the mind to name it, Desmond would have called it an assault.

The first note alone seemed to scream at him, almost savage in its loveliness. Could it be? Of all the bars and songs and errant newscast interruptions… this?

Sharpe-Sandoval—bygone absconder and melody avoider extraordinaire— seemed to be at the blue verge of choking on something invisible right then and there. The song swelled over him, into him, a chilly specter of vibrato rising and falling. His heart beat in his ears. Along with the song’s melody, he could hear his breath, shallow like the inside of a large shell. There was something smooth about the playing, though, something almost liquid. The degree between drowning and choking almost negligible. Until all at once it dropped away, sucked back into the radio like so much smoke pulled through an open window.

All that was left were the terrible memories; a new one each time he blinked.

His first performance. His last performance. The red of velvet curtains.

The audience assuming their seats. The block of bow string wax in his hand. The dimming house lights. The first note. C and G. Then D and E. Sound everywhere.

The scream of a woman. The corpse of a man.

The following day, Desmond was at work loading cargo boxes full of toothpicks onto a ship named Tuesday that docked every Friday. The afternoon sky was high, somewhere between blue and the bleach white color of light itself. He was sweating. Usually, the boxes did a pretty good job keeping him occupied. He could work a calmly hungover shift with his mind full-lotus empty in his head. Zilch in the way of concern. Today there weren’t enough toothpicks in the world to keep old Ludwig’s straining 3rd from rattling through his head like a wayward small-caliber bullet. He stole away behind some crates, took the silver flask from his coat pocket, and nipped the Barrel.

Overhead, white seabirds circled, talons clutched around small fish writhing their last moments of life in the unfriendly air. Across the port, a cruise ship was disgorging passengers. There were two gangplanks spaced alongside of it, the aft of which let people off so that they had to pass

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Desmond poorly hidden behind the crates. The low slapping sound of small waves beating the dock’s cement pillars was soon drowned out by the overlapping rus tling of passengers walking by. Like in some unsettling dream, where impossibly connected events are stitched together without the slightest notion of incredulity, a man stepped from the boat carrying a large black case that Desmond could make out to be a cello.

The man approached. He was short, inordinately so, but with long arms that protruded from a tweed jacket leaving his wrists denuded. His face was round and boyish, save for the thick mustache that could have blended into a lineup of push brooms. He looked tired, a little lost, and possibly sea sick.

He stopped in front of Desmond, tilted his head with canine curiosity, and turned about so that the two men were face to face, as if each were looking into a mirror reflecting back the other. The eye contact that ensued was uniformly uncomfortable, unwinding from a single moment into some abstracted interstice that denied time. Finally, in a kind of awkward climactic burst, the man blurted out: “Bishop.”

Desmond looked down at the man’s thin, bare wrists and thickly cuffed pants, then turned toward the waiting toothpicks. “You’ve got the wrong person. I don’t know a Bishop.”

The man flustered, cheeks a high-blood-pressure red. He put down his cello, removed his hat, and took to rolling it by the brim in little absentminded circles. He made a noise in his throat that sounded to be the ill-conceived off spring of a laugh and a cough. “No,” he backpaddled. “Of course not. Why would you? What I mean to say is I’m Bishop. Bishop Wallgrass. You, I am certain, are Desmond Sharpe-Sandoval. It is an honor.”

Foot still raised in mid-step, Desmond stopped, teetering slightly. And while a low-grade sway was not wholly uncommon for him, thanks to the Barrel’s wobbly bequest, this was something different. There was in fact a time when Desmond would be recognized—once twice in a day—with handshakes and accolades to follow. But what now halted him into wobble-footedness was more the displacement of the instant; an anachronistic moment that belonged somewhere else and so appearing here, eerily disrupted chronology. Still miraculously holding on one lifted foot, Desmond ran through any plausible explanation that would deny atemporal origins in favor of something simpler (maybe a recent meeting in the memory-fuzzing Abalone?) and not so nostalgically malicious. And yet the black plastic case at the man’s feet held the promise of a more unpleasant and past-dredging likelihood.

Any faint wisp that just such an unrecallable night was possible quickly went the way of the window when Bishop said, “I know your face from old album covers. I have a dozen of them. You may look different now, but I can see past the

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beard, the wild and tired look in your eyes. It is like you are wearing a disguise of yourself, but I can see underneath it. You cannot hide from a true fan like me. I would recognize you even if you were disguised as someone else.”

“A disguise of myself?” Desmond put his foot down.

“So this is where you disappeared. I have heard rumors about what happened to the great Desmond Sharpe-Sandoval. That you stopped playing, threw your cello in the ocean, went mad. But this? I never would have guessed. No one would. I suppose that makes it the perfect place to hide.”

The great Desmond Sharpe-Sandoval grunted wetly.

Bishop, now with a bit more confidence, continued: “If that’s what you’re doing, hiding. Everyone sort of assumed you got tired of it all. I cannot say I blame you.” He looked back at the boat and put a hand on the crest of his round stomach. “Ocean travel does not agree with me. But it was worth it this time, I will tell you. Here I am, standing with Desmond Sharpe-Sandoval. Who would have thought. And here of all places. You know I learned to play by listening to your records. I have even seen you perform once. At The Royce Academy Pavilion. It was years ago, and I was just a boy. But the way you play is unforgettable. A real inspiration. Like your arms are floating in water.”

And so the past Desmond had so expertly forgotten came in, a red tide erasing his escaping footsteps in the sand. All that which he had dodged—con cealed behind who-knows-how-many nips of Black Barrel, tuned out by routine shuffling of shipping cargo in mind-deadening doses of dock work, and all around suppressed into a sea air tinged with the brine of forgetting—everything he had erected in that moment corroded away, and in its place, what remained was indis soluble memory. His voice trailing with the sea breeze, “I try not to think of those years…”

“But surely you still play. All this,” Bishop looked around with an expres sion betraying mild disapproval, “is just to deflect attention. For some kind of peace and quiet. The rumors cannot be true. Someone with your gift, to quit like that. It cannot be. You must still play.”

“Not since… years.”

“But why?”

Desmond was lost somewhere in his recollections, mesmeric, caught between worlds, helplessly reliving what he could not keep from reality. When he finally replied it was in a slow and hovering tone, words spoken from a far off place only to arrive thinned from the intervening time between then and now… “Because it can’t be worth the price.”

“The price of what?”

“Of music. Of death.”

“Death?”

Summer | 14

“Death.”

It would seem that no amount of absentminded hat twirling could placate the strange and directionless trajectory of this conversation, as Bishop present ly gave up his fidgeting. Finally, “I don’t follow. You think the price of music is death?”

“It is for me,” said Desmond, still with a far away quality.

“And that is why you stopped playing? Because you fear dying?”

“No, the death I fear isn’t my own.”

“Then whose?”

Desmond blinked, and as if abruptly brought back from a trance, re turned to the conversation as if nothing happened. “What? Whose?” Then, very stiffly, “There are toothpicks waiting.”

Bishop stiffened as if bracing against a wind made of hot breath. There was a look of keen intemperance in his newly adjusted expression. He picked up his cello, giving it a pat. “I’m here with my quartet. We are here to play this weekend. Maybe you have heard. If you have time to come, it would be a true honor. One cellist to another.” He took a few steps, then stopped and turned. “And if it means anything, given the choice, I would gladly die for music.”

What had up until now seemed to Dessy no more than an uncanny sequence of events, even ones with impossible structure and proximity, suddenly began to grow from mere coincidence into connectedness in one of those rare moments of alignment. The final words from this odd little cello player struck Desmond deeply, in a part of himself he no longer knew existed. As if his skeleton had been instantaneously switched out with another, denser version of itself, and all that remained was a feeling of change, weighing on his absolute center. But what that meant he did not know; a silhouette remaining inert on some distant plane of ambiguity.

Before him the ocean spread out, untamed. It was mid-morning and overhead light from a high sun caught the tips of roaming ripples, sending little white glares rolling out into the wet horizon. A haunting besieged him, and just as so much sound moves directionally through the air, he feared, so too had his furi ous past pushed through time to find him here, to unearth his soul’s boneyard of regrets. The origins of which were decayed but not yet unrecognizable, not yet so far gone that they could not now be indexed with precision and painful vividness, to be witnessed here and now, preterit no more, revealed in a sudden torrent that Desmond could not push out of his mind even as he tried; and of everything that had occurred that night, the image that haunted him the most was the positioning of the corpse.

The man’s lifeless body was not sprawled out flat the way one would

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expect from films and chalk outlines, but sat awkwardly raised, slumped forward and onto the floor without fully collapsing. Hips resting over the knees, head pressed down cheek against carpeting, arms pinned back so that the palms were face up on either side of the feet, as if in some painful state of prostration. It was the totally unnatural angle of hips and arms that stayed and made Desmond’s whole body stiffen and shudder.

That night, when Desmond was finally overtaken by sleep, nightmares came. The dreams themselves were not lurid, not afoul with the usual essentials of being violently chased, or of teeth crumbling into enamel sand, or precipitously falling to a death that is waking. These were the segmented and inbent windings of psychic unrest. A sort of cerebral torture in the form of inescapable loops, a near madness in which repetition becomes a prison.

Even though Dessy woke many times that night, every time he would reclose his eyes, he would doze off into the same anxious coiling dream. Cork screwed back to a theater where this man, this Bishop, was standing in the folds of a deep-red velvet curtain, rotating his hat in hand and repeating the same phrase, I would gladly die for music. Bishop ushered Desmond through a hallway of faded brick with speakers built into the ceiling at measured intervals. Each one piped in the 3rd with increasing loudness until the song grew distorted by the volume and became a gargled and incoherent version of itself that sounded as though it was being played through murky water. The end of the hallway was a blinding light that seemed to move farther as he moved closer to it. Until all at once he reached its end, the light giving way to a stage with a solitary chair and cello.

Desmond knew he had to pick it up, only now noticing how shaky his hands were and that all sound had been muffled into the slow shuffling of an audience hidden behind a curtain of white light. He knew what would happen, and he called out to them, warning them to leave, but all that happened was the stage lights shut off with a solemn echoing click and the house lights flashed, revealing the audience sitting in neat rows that slung back endlessly, smaller and smaller until disappearing into the faint dark edge of eternity. Every face in the crowd Bishop’s, each bearing an inviting grin formed around the words of a phrase repeated in chorus, I would gladly die for music, the overlapping precision of the refrain unbearable, one voice with impossible iterations, all of them exhort ing him to play, Desmond closing his eyes, lifting the bow to the strings, bracing for impact, the Bishops all uniformly leaning forward in their folding seats, eye brows lifted in anticipation, ready to die as Desmond played the first note with his eyes still shut against the deed until he heard the first thud and

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opened them to see each Bishop falling forward to the ground one after another like moribund dominoes landing into a fold on the floor with arms pinned unnaturally back and hips raised.

Desmond woke here many times, sitting up amidst the dark blue shadows roaming about him, only to eventually lie back down and be unwillingly returned to the theater, to the phantasmagoria of red curtains and the stretching hallway and the faces with their grins of alacrity inviting their demise, eager to die for music, die for music, die for music.

The local theater was an angular brick building that sat atop the only hill in town. By the time he arrived, he was out of breath and the concert had begun. He purchased a ticket and made his way inside, executing the deep nasal inhales and open mouth exhales of someone breathing into a paper bag. As he opened the large double doors that led into the hall, he was met with the varying timbres of live music rising and falling dimly through the interior wall of the theater. Un natural angles made pointed edges of his thoughts. But there was something else within him, something vice-like and furtive; something that could not be completely ignored nor identified.

Dessy pushed open the interior doors, and a silence overtook him. Bishop and three other musicians that Desmond obliquely recognized from the dock were peppered across the stage. From all appearances, they were in the midst of playing; bows slid in perpendicular strides across translucent strings invisible in the distance, fingers stretched with practiced agility up and down instrument necks, each musician appeared to have their eyes closed and eyebrows raised, as if sensing or smelling something in the air in the way of true professionals who are but extensions of their music and so rely more on an emotional awareness than anything visual to play. All Desmond could hear was a silent ringing holding in his ears, and the tidal sound of his own breath. He felt claustrophobic, stuck in something viscous and opaque. Vestigial notions of a profoundly bad idea took hold. He backtracked into the lobby and out to the curb where he nipped from his pocket flask and sat in front of the theater with all manner of distressed expressions pressed into his palms.

Then: “Desmond?” He could hear again. It was Bishop, this time in a better tailored suit, wrists still uncomfortably bare. Dessy stood, dug his hands into his pockets, noticed a dryness in his throat. It was late afternoon, a light wind blew, disembodied shrills rose up from unseen gulls below. Somewhere, there were words Desmond wanted to find. He searched for them without success.

Bishop continued, “So, what did you think?”

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“It’s been heavy on my mind.” Not the words he was looking for.

“What has? I am talking about the show. Did you like it?”

“Right,” Desmond said, with that far-away look again. “I missed it.”

“On purpose?”

“Not exactly.”

Reaching for his hat, and with an air of expectant disbelief, Bishop asked, “Does this have something to do with the death from before?”

“The death from before…” Desmond S.S. repeated the words but changed the conclusive inflection. How unnatural the angles residing in his thoughts; how useless all that forgetting. “What’s the worst thing you ever wished for?”

Bishop looked side to side the way people do when they suddenly realize they have better things to do. “You know, I was really excited to meet you.”

“Let me put it another way. Did you mean what you said before?”

“About what?”

“About, you know,” Desmond moved a little closer, spoke a little softer, affected a paranoia, “dying for music.”

Observing the hunched and manic intensity of the whiskey-steeped man before him, Bishop responded cautiously. “I have a feeling I did not mean it in whatever way you are talking about.” He took a step back.

“I have something to tell you.”

“How much more could there be?” Bishop muttered.

As with imminent truth-tellers everywhere, the once great Desmond Sharpe-Sandoval breathed deeply, paused, and pulled his shoulders back. “You wanted to know why I stopped playing; why I came here to hide; why I occupy the docks.” He looked down at the town below, now just the tips of buildings edging above the mist. “The answer is that the last time I played,” leaning in even closer, “I killed a man. I didn’t know it would happen. Although I spent years wondering if it would.”

Bishop stood still, apparently assessing the possible danger he might be in, and making the slightest bend in his knees, perhaps ready for flight.

“It’s that same expression that got me. It was my first recital. I was just a boy. I played well. Afterward, my instructor told me I’d played so beautifully she could’ve died. It was innocent of course. A turn of phrase. But the idea frightened me. I never really forgot it. Somehow the association was made between beauty and death. Twin juxtapositions. The counterpoint. Of course as I got older it was no longer a matter of fear. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a curiosity. At the right pitch, sound can break glass. Could the same not be said of perfection? Could there not be a melody played so intense, with such urgent passion, that it shatters and extinguishes the very essence of life?”

Summer | 18

There was a pause in which Bishop realized the questions were not rhe torical. “I think one can be fairly certain that no, it definitely cannot.”

“Wrong. Until that first glass-breaking note was played, the same would’ve been said. The claim that sound was waves that could destroy some thing would have seemed irrational, foolish. I began to wonder about this. When I practiced and played I imagined this perfection, this pitch, that at its absolute peak would bump up against something living, trembling the thin glass container in which life fragilely exists until it breaks apart. Perhaps it was just a fantasy. A mind game I played that helped me improve, sustain my work.

“Then, one night, the last night, I was in the middle of a performance. The song was Beethoven’s 3rd, that sonata of misfortune, and it happened. Not more than two notes in, the low C and G, the high D and E, and then a scream. Shrill and terrified. The house lights came on, and a man in the front row was slumped forward. Lifeless. Head cocked. Arms pinned to his side. The coroner explained it as cardiac arrest. I read about it the following week in his obituary. But I knew the truth. I killed him.”

Desmond began to sweat. He didn’t realize it until he felt a slow trickle run from his under-arm down to his rib. He felt suddenly tired; a weight not so much lifted as hollowed.

“Surely you do not really believe it was your playing? People have heart attacks all the time.”

“I don’t doubt the heart attack itself. But the cause, the shattering, is un mistakable. I knew from the moment it happened.”

“I want to say this delicately,” Bishop said slowly, as if talking to a child or someone unfamiliar with his language. “But you have to realize, it is a hard story to believe.”

“And yet you yourself said you would die for music. Was that far from the truth?”

“It is an expression. When would I have to make that choice?”

“It was the angle of the hips. You can’t argue with an angle like that.”

Bishop looked Desmond over, then turned to the theater. “I have an idea.”

Backstage, Desmond sat on a small stool. Bishop held a cello out to him. Dessy looked it over as if examining a corpse that wasn’t dead after all. When he finally took it, he handled it like he was holding the blade of a knife. For a while he sat completely motionless with the slow, focused expression of someone dif fusing a bomb. His senses were aflame, and he could feel the very texture of the air around him. Bishop, standing in the adjacent corner of the confined dressing room, waited patiently, looking down at the little Vs in the wood floor’s grain.

When Desmond did begin to play, the first note was shrill, clumsy. The

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second wasn’t much different. It seemed Desmond’s once graceful and fluid muscle memory had devolved over the years into something granular, the notes coming out as stiff geometric arrangements. Bishop, still looking down, winced slightly. Desmond continued, eyes shut but fluttering, as if he was looking vio lently around under the lids. In his hands the instrument felt cumbersome and foreign, like trying to write with the wrong hand. Absently, he began chewing the inside of his lip. Then, gradually, something began to happen. Desmond’s whole posture fell into alignment. He became oiled, elegant, moving with buoyancy. To be Desmond in that moment was to be no one at all, an essence expanded into space, light holding in the room’s atmosphere without weight or form.

Bishop lifted his head, now making little waist level circles with his fists as he craned his neck and let his mouth hang on a low hinge.

Desmond continued. Not so much with a particular song, but just sound discovering itself. His fingers picked up speed. Long throbbing trills trailed to ward virtuosic. At some point, the instinct and mindlessness became an entity of their own design, falling into the familiar motions of habit. Desmond’s left foot began a syncopated, baton-like swing. Notes conflated and rose, exploring the room and taking its rectangular shape like liquid in a container. A form emerged into the pattern of recollected repetition. A song opened; a melody suggested.

One of Bishop’s hands floated up, gesturing the motion of writing in the air with an invisible pen. The other hovered over his chest. In the timbres an intensity shook loose, building, shifting, like the sound had caught fire. The emptiness of Desmond’s mind was cavernous. The cadence had a flickering quality to it, wave like. It rose higher, bigger, occupying more of the small room.

Desmond played the C and G. Bishop lifted his eyebrows in a hint of recognition as if overcome with some great emotional rapture. He knelt down in his corner, left hand now balled into a fist held by the right at his throat. Desmond played the high D and E. A color seemed to fill the room; some incredible light fil tered through a prism of sound, bouncing and rising into a sustained climax with no location or center, the edges rounded into the medium, worn sides of glass beaten by the sea, everything condensed into that harmonic peak collapsing into a brightness so enormous and loud that had it not been so perfectly boundless, it would have been unbearable and even painful in its intensity and unyielding insis tence. Suddenly it all stopped. There was complete silence—then the dull thud of bodyweight slumping forward onto the floor.

Summer | 20

Cordelia, Wherever She May Be by Liz Fisher

The best part was the disappearance. The plummeting feeling in my chest building to relief when I’d see you again.

Your audience of one night after night, hopeful heart on offer to someone who had perfected gone.

Cordelia, always a day ahead. I’d wake on the other side of the globe, dream-heavy eyes focusing on your name.

We wrote each other stories, sleight of hand love letters about a couple that wasn’t us falling.

Conjured things we couldn’t say, spells scribbled in the margins.

Weeks filled with you. Then months before the rabbit emerged from the hat again. My days became incantations

to reverse your vanishing act. You waited. I held my breath a second longer than comfortable. You jolted us back to life.

In your second act, you played me that Joni Mitchell song you said you only played for the people you wanted

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to let in. I searched, A slip of paper, destination: Perth dangling between us and dreams of lugging your old record player up to the roof of your building, opening the bottle of red from Yarra Valley you were saving for me and our dizzy rooftop dance.

Alone in my one-bedroom, I grasped illusion with both hands, false alarms ringing in my chest.

I imagined, in yours too. I was just so happy to know you. Wouldn’t hear the warning signal layered under the melody.

Gorgeous trick of a woman, Cordelia. You cut me in half for your encore, part of me always swinging back to you.

I remember the blood, the part of the trick the audience can’t see –the assistant goes home alone and bruised.

But, in the middle of the show, you pulled the giddy air from my lungs, taught it the joy of leaving

Summer | 24

Little Scared

I want to rob a bank more than anything, now that I finally got me a gun. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but it’s a goal I’ve been working toward as of late. Tiffy told me that if I had any self-respect or motivational drive at all, I should try setting some goals for myself.

The dumpy man down at the job office said something like that too. I think they were talking about money—and robbing a bank would sort my money trouble, for certain—but I really just want to do it so it’ll be like the movies, the cheap Saturday black-and-whities where they haul the cash out of the vault in marked bags and fill the teller with lead, and then the teller hits the floor and starts jittering around like they got door buzzers in different parts of their body all ringing one after the other, like a thousand collectors want to come up and pay them a visit. Also, I like to think of the next day’s paper, and everybody reading it on the bus and in the job office and in the poolhall and waiting outside the parlor for Tiffy to take their money, and their mouths coming open ‘cause they would’ve never thought I could go through with something like that, ‘cause I got one eye and I might be a little cracked. That’s why I can’t keep no job for an extended period of employment. But it might be a good thing too, ‘cause only having one eye means one less thing you got to straighten out when you aim.

I knew it wasn’t never going to be easy for somebody like me to come by a gun, though. The biggest, prettiest ones get shopped up by the richies, who need them for protection against the mobbies, who use the fancy mean machines, or the government, who use the rifles and leave the easy handies to the federal workers. The postman’s got one, and the city sanitation, and the bus driver who drives my route. Even Tiffy and her girls

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got them, but that’s all under the table, ‘cause the government don’t like to compensate for sexy things outright. They even got them down at the free clinic, where my ma took me once to ask the doctor if my brain was bad or not. If the doctor’s gun had wanted to, it could have fired out of his coat pocket and wasted me on the spot. But it didn’t want to. Maybe its brain was bad too.

I never found out what the doctor said, but I got my suspicions. A couple days after we went to the free clinic, my ma took me to the play ground in the middle of the city, and, when I came out the other end of the tunnel slide, I saw her legging it down a side street between two buildings. When I walked back to our apartment, she wasn’t there, and she ain’t been back since. I had to sell off all the furniture we had, but most of it was card tables and lawn chairs, anyway. I kept a skillet and a washrag and a pile of old coats for a bed. After that, I went to see the dumpy man down at the job office, who started sweating when he saw my one eye and had me fill out a kiddie form even though I’m not no kid. When I came back a week later, he told me there was an opening for me down at the cannery, and, when I told him I had already worked something out with Tiffy, he told me to find some new friends. I figured he had been to the parlor before and just had a bad time of it. Some customers do. Some of them get shy or scared or start blubbering or waste a rubber ‘cause they can’t stick up. They still got to pay, though. Tiffy makes sure of that. Her gun’s name is Themis.

I met Tiffy on the bus ride back from the job office that first time I went. She didn’t have the red hair back then that she does now. She was talking soft to the bus driver, who comes to the parlor at least once a week and who I think is seedy. I’m not fit to be a girl, Tiffy says, ‘cause of my one eye and the fact that I sound like I got a frog in my throat even when I’m not sick. That’s why I mop the bottom floor of the parlor, and also I put out the plates of cookies and mandatory rubbers. One time, when everybody was upstairs or in the back, I tore open a rubber and stuffed a cookie inside to see what would happen. It made me think about the ladies hose that bank robbers sometimes pull over their heads to disguise their faces, and how I might need to do that so I’ll look like the real deal, but also how I might not want to do that, ‘cause then the press cameras couldn’t very well put my face in the paper.

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Some time ago, before I got my gun, I asked the barkeep who runs the poolhall under my apartment about the ladies hose thing, and also about whether the jelly that rubbers are covered in ever expires, and also about whether he had a gun. There was a guy with a fat middle and two ladies who looked like they could be some of Tiffy’s girls sitting at the bar, talking with the barkeep, and they all laughed when he laughed.

“What do you think?” he asked me and pointed to the back wall. “You see that hole in the wallpaper?”

I squinted my eye and nodded. The sound of the pool balls clacking together was distracting me a little, but I still listened good.

“Guy came in here once heckling the whole joint, trying to rope somebody into a wager like he was some kind of hustler. The fellas complained, so I called him up here to the bar, and I took it out so he could see it, and I said, “Look, Gripes don’t take this kind of behavior very lightly. You ain’t careful, you’re gonna make it think. And it does its thinking hard and fast. And once it’s got its read on you, it will shoot you just as hard and just as fast.’ And the guy didn’t care. Or either he’d never been in a spot like that before and didn’t believe me, or maybe he thought I had a dummy piece to scare off scrum like him. But he took a step forward, and bang! Gripes blew his head off—head separated from body. Blood all over the parquet, all over the barstools. Round severed his neck and lodged into the wall there. That’s what told me. Gripes didn’t hit him in the leg, didn’t want to wound him. It wanted to kill.” He pointed his finger at me. “All guns want to kill. But they’re sensible. They got sharp intuition, or at least the good ones do. They know who’s supposed to get it and who ain’t. That guy was supposed to. I trust my gun. My gun trusts me. End of story.”

“End of that guy too,” one of the ladies said and laughed. Then she said, “Honey, stop, you’re going to scare the poor thing!”

“Look, I shouldn’t even be telling you this stuff,” the barkeep said to me. “It may be general knowledge, but crackpots like you are predisposed for violent ideas, okay? You’re more than a little dangerous, probably, is what I’m saying.”

I asked him about being more than a little dangerous.

“I’m telling you the truth—boy, girl, kid, whatever you are. Don’t tell me nobody ain’t ever told you the truth before?”

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Nobody had. At least, not in that way. Dangerous. Like the richies or the mobbies or the government. The big guns. The bank robbers in the black-and-whities. I liked that.

“All guns want to kill,” the barkeep repeated. “You could take your chances without one. But with one, you might just be better off.” He smiled with his top teeth at the lady who had told him to stop scaring me, who was leaning over the bar top with her chest almost out. “Same with women.”

I asked him if he could get me one. He laughed. “A woman?”

I told him no, no, a gun. He laughed again. “Listen, I’m telling you this ‘cause it ain’t likely to ever happen to you. You don’t really need to have the big bucks. You don’t really need to have the federal job. You could just be walking down the street or swinging by the corner store for a quart of milk. Danger and death, they’re pals, and they hang around wherever they feel like. But you got to find yourself an experienced piece. Don’t trust those models fresh out of the factory mold. A gun ain’t worth crackers if it hasn’t blown anybody away yet.”

I remembered the barkeep saying that for a long time afterward. I wonder if that’s why I was in the alleyway that day, like he slipped my brain a hot tip but it didn’t remember it until much later. Really I know I went into the alleyway to go after a stray cat I wanted to use to catch the rats that swim up through the plumbing in my apartment and crawl out of the toilet. Even if you keep the lid shut, they hold their breath and cram their heads underneath and squeeze themselves out. You could tape the lid shut, but then you’d have a toilet full of drowned rats that you couldn’t flush back down. Also you’d have to piss in the sink.

Anyway, I saw a stray cat skitter out in front of the bus when it was pulling up to my stop, so I ran out into the rain and chased it into an alley way between two different father-and-son pawnies. Before I could get my hands around it, it yowled at me and hopped into an open dumpster, and then bang! Just like the barkeep said. A couple matted pieces of fur flew up, and then I guess the force of the shot popped it up out of the

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dumpster and right into my hand—the gun, not the cat. It was warm and a little greasy-feeling, and its metal sides were moving in and out like it was breathing hard. Since it came out of a dumpster, I figured it had to be a murder weapon or some other mobbie asset stashed in the garbage for nefarious purposes. Maybe if I had gone snooping around by the dockyard, I could’ve caught one diving up out of the water—only it hadn’t ever occurred to me to do that.

The first thing I asked was if it wanted to rob a bank with me.

Some kind of gear inside of it started to click real fast. It reminded me of the sound the balls make at the poolhall when they clack together.

I asked if it knew that it was more than a little dangerous, ‘cause I thought it might appreciate how that sounded, like the way I had when the barkeep said it. Then, ‘cause it was my first time ever holding a gun, I told it that I might be more than a little scared of it too.

When I said that last part, it cocked itself, and I knew that’s what it did ‘cause I saw the long piece on top of it slide back and then go into place again, and then my eye went squinty ‘cause I was smiling so big.

I asked if its name was more than a little scared, then than a little scared, then a little scared.

It started to get steaming hot in my hand, so I stuck it down the front of my pants and ran down the street and bolted my apartment door behind me when I got inside.

For the first week after that, I slept with Little Scared pointed at my head, to see if it would turn on me in the night. It was a trust exercise. I think it liked that I did that too, ‘cause then it got a lot of danger to eat up. I never knew where bullets came from, but I thought that maybe they rubbed up inside like blister skin in boots or like pearls in clams, except the right ingredients had to be there first. So I made sure to feed Little Scared lots of danger, and, every time I slept with it pointed at me like that, I woke up okay the next morning. As a kind of nice gesture, I wetted down the washrag that I never sold and rubbed that all over its metal outside. I think I heard from the barkeep that you’re supposed to keep a gun oiled, but I didn’t have no oil. Maybe I was giving it a bath too—real soft over the sink, like it was my very own baby.

Once, I even took it to Tiffy’s with me—down the front of my pants again—to keep with me while I mopped the bottom floor of the parlor.

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One of the regular customers, who has a foxy face and who sometimes stares at my chest when he takes a rubber and who I think is with the government, came in and started up the stairs. When I turned to sneak a cookie, Little Scared fired sideways out of my pants. A bullet went into the wall across the room and knocked a wax plant off a telephone table on its way there. Tiffy came bursting through the bead curtain in the back, and the regular customer came stomping back down the stairs, and I ran at the wall so hard and so fast that I hit it with my hands out, like I was tagging base ‘cause I was being chased.

“What the hell was that?” Tiffy yelled. I said I kicked the wall ‘cause I saw two roaches making babies on it.

“You kicked a hole in the wall?” she yelled. “You got spikes on your boots or something?”

“Wasn’t nothing there,” the regular customer said. He leaned over the bannister to snatch up a rubber and the cookie that I’d wanted to eat. “Get your eye checked, sweetheart.” Then he started back up the stairs.

“You got a hole in your crotch, I see,” Tiffy said after she picked the plant up off the floor and put it back on the telephone table and moved it so it would cover up the hole in the wall. Then she looked at me and poked her lips out. “If I didn’t cover that, some hard-up idiot would try sticking something in it, mark my words.”

After that, I started to get more interested in Little Scared’s thoughts, and who it thinks is supposed to get it, and who it thinks isn’t supposed to get anything. For the purposes of bank-robbing, I didn’t know if it would like tellers too much to want to fill them with lead, but it didn’t like some of Tiffy’s customers, and it didn’t like the stray cat that jumped into the dumpster, and it for certain didn’t like the rats that swam up through the plumbing. It shot a couple of them, ‘cause I waited out in the bathroom with it aimed at the toilet. I cooked them up in the skillet that I never sold and ate them off the bone. It only happened once, though.

I figured out that I can see a blink of Little Scared’s brain when the long piece on top slides back, whenever I cock it. It’s small and pink and wrinkly, like chewing gum with all the spit sucked out of it. I can’t spot nothing unusual, but I’m no doctor like the one at the free clinic—and, be sides, he didn’t pop my top open and peek inside, he just poked my temples

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and shined a light in my ear. I wish I could do that to myself, pop my top open and peek inside with the hand mirror I use to look at different parts of my body with no clothes on. Then maybe I could see for certain what’s in there.

After a couple weeks with Little Scared, I decided to pick my date for the bank robbery. I don’t got no calendar, so I just carve tallies into the wall with a nail to count the days. I give Little Scared regular updates, ‘cause I don’t know if the hole at the end of its barrel where the bullets shoot out is an eye or a mouth. Also I found a coffee sack for the teller to put the cash in after they haul it out of the vault for me. I slept in it like a sleeping bag to see if it would be big enough, but, if it’s not, I can stuff some cash down the front of my pants, as long as it don’t fall through the hole Little Scared shot out. I never found any ladies hose to pull over my head and disguise my face with, but I don’t think I could see good through the netting to aim anyway.

In the meantime, me and Little Scared prepare. I whisper things to it at night, like about how the robbery will happen and how it’ll sound and how it’ll feel, like I’m narrating a black-and-whitie that’s playing in my head. I kind of wish it could talk back to me and agree. I kind of wish it could hug me, but instead I hug it, and it warms up a lot whenever I do that, so I take that as a good sign.

The day before the robbery, I ride the bus to the bank with Little Scared in my pants so I can map out how long the route takes. On the ride back, the bus driver pulls up to my stop, but he sticks his arm across the aisle when I try to dart out into the rain.

“I know you,” he says. “I’ve seen you at Tiffy’s. You man the rubbers.”

I say the cookies too.

He squints his eyes. “The cookies too.”

I don’t know why, but I tell him real quiet—real soft, like the way Tiffy was talking to him the day I met her—that I’m going to rob a bank the next day. That way he’ll know for sure it’s me when he sees me in the

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paper and probably on TV too.

He raises his eyebrows, which look like wet black drain hairs. “Did you know I drive the prison transport bus on the weekends?”

I say no, but that I suspected he was seedy.

“I am seedy,” he says. He stares at me and doesn’t say anything for a while. Then he says, “Wire me some funds after you rob your bank so we can both have ourselves a nice little holiday.”

He pulls the lever that folds the doors in, and the rain starts to come through and wet the back of my pants, but I stare back at him for a while, and then I ask him if he thinks my brain is bad or not.

His eyes look like he’s laughing, but his mouth doesn’t smile. “Kid, if it wasn’t, this gun here on my hip would’ve put a bullet in it by now.”

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On Saving That Old Calendar from That One Year

In whatever form it took— flipped desktop, pocket-sized, or pulled o the pin in the wall, full of remember this-and-thats— it found its way to a box in back of your closet: the calendar from the year when X did this then Y did that.

Too much to throw away, as if you could if you tried.

Impossible to forget forget-me-nots written in white squares slashed out.

Too much to throw away, that year, though fleeting— too heavy to forget like your life’s first kiss.

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That year kissed back— slipped you its tongue, slid a hand up your thigh and told you what you believed back then was a lie when it leaned into your ear, growled, whispered, Forever.

Fireweeds

Potomac, Montana 1984

Would you believe me if I told you I didn’t earn a single cent that summer? The “Year of the Fireweed” hit our three acre backyard without remorse.

Looking out the window, my eyes fall upon the long rose-purple wands reaching towards the confident sky.

“They are trying to touch heaven,” dad says, as he passes me at the window. It’s the first week of June, and they’re already pushing nine feet tall. I have the urge to escape from the house and adventure into the jungle of fireweeds before me. I turn ten this August, but I still haven’t hit five feet tall. I imagine walking amongst the fireweeds would feel like walking beneath the ancient giants in the Amazon.

My sisters join me at the window. Holly to my left and Poppy to my right. Holly has a year on me. Poppy is a year younger and needs to stand on her tippy-toes to see out. I’m sandwiched between the two blondes in the family who refuse to comb their hair or pull it into a ponytail.

“What do you think is out there?” Poppy asks, as our eyes search for answers in the Jungle of Fireweeds. Our search is interrupted by a loud ACHOO cracking through the trailer. Startled, I turn around to see Lila, who is two years younger than me, wiping the treasure from her sneeze onto her blue jeans. Holly rolls her eyes in my peripheral vision.

“Three cents for every fireweed you girls pluck,” dad says, as he collapses into his brown armchair. He begins to unlace his double-knotted work boots.

“What’s this?” mom asks from the kitchen, slapping rhubarb jam onto a piece of toast with baby Alyssa attached to her hip. He repeats him self, not any louder than the first time, but this round rings through the trailer like the pop from a shotgun.

“There’s thousands of fireweeds out there!” Holly says, “it will take us all summer!” Dad rubs his eyes and heaves a sigh. His usual bright blue

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eyes are blood-shot with purple bags camping beneath them, revealing another long night shift at the lumber mill in Bonner. I jab Holly in the ribcage with my elbow. We all know better than to talk back.

“Then think of how rich you’ll be by the end of the summer,” dad responds, letting Holly off the hook.

“Do it for your sister,” mom chimes in from the kitchen, “you know she’s allergic.” I turn my gaze over to Lila who doesn’t utter a word. She stands in the hallway, staring back at us, twirling her one curl around and around on her finger.

“It’s nice outside,” dad says, standing up from his chair, “it will be good for you girls to get out of the house.” He goes into the master bed room and gently closes the door behind him to catch up on sleep. At the click of the lock, Poppy turns to mom, her big blue eyes ready to beg. Puppy-dog eyes no longer have an effect on mom after five girls.

“Go outside and get some fresh air,” mom says, as she comes across the floor with the broom and sweeps us outside.

I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to argue. I want to yank the soil up from the ground and shake the flowers off one by one until there isn’t a single fireweed left on this earth. Being banned from the house all day means we’re going to miss storytime with Laura Simms on the radio. It’s not fair that Lila gets to stay inside and listen to it while we’re outside picking the flowers that she’s allergic to. I turn around to see Lila peering at us from the window. I shoot her an icy glare before turning my focus to the Jungle of Fireweeds before me. Holly says there’s thousands, but I know there’s millions. I’ll be eighty years old by the time I listen to another story with Laura Simms.

“Where do we start?” I ask. Holly timidly peels an opening between the outermost layer of fireweeds. She enters her opening like it’s a portal to another dimension. Poppy and I follow close behind her for protection. The fireweeds put up a fight as we venture to the middle of the yard. Stems claw my face, rose-purple petals catch my curls, and roots take hold of my feet.

by Grace Schwenk

“Rose…Holly…help!” I turn around to see Poppy lying flat on her face. She’s tripped over a thick bunch of low-lying fireweeds, her right foot caught in the roots. We go back, free her foot, and help her up. I can see the tears welling up in her eyes.

After a lifetime of fighting the ferocious fireweeds, Holly finally turns back to us and smiles.

“This is it,” she says, beginning to walk in a large circle, “help me trample down these fireweeds.” I step on a tall fireweed, one of the many desperate to escape this earth. It bounces straight back up like an accordion, hardly a dent in it. Ushering more force, I stomp and stomp on the fireweed until it’s a pancake on the ground. Holly continues to walk in circles, trampling them down as she goes. Poppy plucks the flowers from the soil, rips the petals off, and then drops the stem onto the ground. Before long, we have a ten foot by ten foot space where we are free from the grasp of the fireweeds.

“What do we do now?” Poppy asks, stomping her foot down on a stubborn fireweed in our circle.

“Fox and Hound!” Holly says with a slippery smile. Suddenly it all made sense. Not only does the circle provide refuge from the fireweeds, but it’s going to be a base for the foxes. We each pick a random fireweed, pop the heads off, and bring the stems to the circle. With the shortest stem in my hand, I’m the Hound to start us off.

The gentle warmth of the June sun beats down upon us as I hunt my sisters through the fireweeds. My first tactic was to run them down. That didn’t work so well. Two hours ago they were afraid to enter the fireweeds, now they move through the jungle as if they are the masters of it. I try to chase them, but it’s impossible to catch the swift forest spirits with their long blonde hair trailing behind them.

“Can’t puppy-guard the base!” Holly yells at me, after one of my many attempts of chasing her back to the circle. I leave her there, knowing she can only stay for a minute and set off in search of Poppy. After search ing for over an acre, I hear a squished sneeze to my left. My first instinct is Lila, but then I remember she never holds her sneezes in. I turn my head to see Poppy camouflaged in a mass of fireweeds. She had pulled them from the ground and covered herself with them. She even has fireweeds tied into her hair. I walk her way, giving the impression that her disguise is working,

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and walk up right next to her. I can hear her breathing slow, deep breaths.

“Nice try!” I yell as I tag her and run like a fox back to the base. I reach the base and manage to make it the rest of the afternoon without be coming the hound again. By the end of the day, our running back and forth from the base has created a series of tunnels through the fireweeds. Now we have a place to walk without them reaching out to grasp us.

“How did the first day of pulling fireweeds go?” mom asks, as she feeds baby Alyssa with a spoonful of cut-up spaghetti noodles. Poppy goes on and on about our game of Fox and Hound. Holly and I try to cut in, but Poppy continues chatting like a chickadee and doesn’t stop to take a breath. I gulp down my spaghetti, praying mom doesn’t say anything about how we spent the whole day playing instead of working.

“Sounds like fun,” mom replies, “what was the story about today, Lila?”

“Today they played ‘Raspberries’ by Jay O’Callahan” Lila replies, setting down her fork and beginning to spin her one curl around and around on her finger. Holly, Poppy, and I all simultaneously offer her a cold glare with furrowed brows. That’s the best story. The radio only plays it every so often. Who knows if we will ever listen to it again.

“Raaaaaasssssberrrries” Lila sings, picking up her fork again, blind to how three of her sisters have the urge to snip off her beloved curl. I don’t know why, but the gentle June sun was angry the next day. It went from a nice, cool sixty degrees to a scorching eighty degrees our second day in the fireweeds. Maybe the sun is mad that the fireweeds were reaching up to touch heaven and not her. With the brunt of the jealous sun, it was far too hot and humid out for three girls who had not seen eighty degree weather in six months to be running back and forth for a game of Fox and Hound. We lay crouched beneath the protection of the Fireweeds. Beneath the shade of their petals, we found sanctuary from the heat with the damp earth. Sprawled out on my back, I feel my body tempting me to doze off. My eyelids open, shut, and open again. I fall asleep for maybe five minutes, but awaken to the sound of fireweeds rustling near my ear. I open my eyes to find two black, beady eyes staring directly into mine.

My eyes go wider than a full moon and I jolt up. I see a chaotic mix of yellow and black scurrying for the safety of a fireweed leaf.

“A salamander!” I yell, reaching out to snatch the tail, as that is the

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only part sticking out from the leaf.

“I got it!” I yell to my sisters, now sitting up eagerly watching. I bring the salamander up to my face for a closer look. It’s surprisingly light. I push my glasses up my nose and peer at my prize.

“What the?” I scream, dropping the wiggling black and and yellow tail of the salamander, “What happened?” I turn over the leaf to see the tailless salamander peering up at me.

“It must be a defense mechanism,” Holly says, looking down at the frightened creature with a mix of horror and awe. None of us had ever seen a salamander lose its tail before.

“Do you think it will be okay?” I ask, feeling tears burning in the corner of my eyes. Holly reassures me that salamanders are tough. I place the fireweed lead back over the tailless salamander, hoping he’ll be okay.

The Phoenix girls never let something rest for long. If something piques our interest, we won’t settle until we have answers. We lurk through the fireweeds, hunting for more salamanders.

“I found one!” Poppy yells across the Jungle of Fireweeds after two hours of searching for another salamander. I cautiously make my way through the tunnel towards Poppy. My heart urges me to sprint to the newfound salamander, but I want to be careful with this one. By the time I reach Poppy, Holly is already there. I slowly crouch down next to my sisters.

“There it is,” Poppy whispers, pointing to another black and yellow salamander, tail and all. I look at him and feel a pang of guilt. Its webbed feet are gripping the stem, its yellow splotches remind me of sunshine sneezes, and he has a little smile across his face.

“I think you should try again,” Holly tells me, poking me in the side with her elbow. I shake my head no. I don’t want to hurt another one. I look up to see Poppy nodding her head in agreement with Holly.

My heart goes wild in my chest. I can feel the pressure leaking into my body from the universe. Cupping my hands together, I move them slowly towards the stem of the fireweed. I see my hands getting closer and closer. My eyes stay locked on its tail, half expecting to see it fall off at any moment. I scoop it up gently, tail and all. We sit in silence for I don’t know how long. The fireweeds blow in the breeze behind us. Back and forth. Back and forth. It’s the first time I’ve noticed the breeze all day. Watching

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the fireweeds sway from side to side gives the illusion that they are dancing in celebration of my victory.

“Let’s call him Bob,” says Poppy, breaking the loud silence. Poppy names everything we catch Bob. Last week she named a butterfly Bob. This week she named a grasshopper Bob. Now she wants to name the salaman der Bob.

“Bob is a cool name. I like it,” I say, gently placing Bob back onto his stem. We spend the rest of the day searching for more salamanders to bother. We find four more salamanders amongst the Jungle of Fireweeds. All of which were given the name Bob. We now consider ourselves to be learned experts in the science of catching salamanders. All it takes is a pinch of patience and a gentle hand.

As our day of salamander hunting of fireweeds drew to a close, we found ourselves covered in dirt.

“It feels like my teeth are fuzzy,” Holly says, wiping the edge of her once light blue t-shirt onto her teeth. I can feel the dirt under my finger nails, on my arms and legs, and even in my ears. When we open the door to the house, mom takes one look at us and holds up her hand.

“Not one step further,” she says, scurrying off to the bathroom. She tosses a bar of soap out the front door and tells us to go clean up down at the pond.

“Can I go with them?” Lila asks mom, watching us with eager brown eyes. Mom reassures Lila that she can go swimming in the pond with us all summer once the fireweeds are done blooming. She closes the door and we begin the walk down the dirt driveway to the pond. Halfway down the driveway, I turn around to see Lila watching us from the window. I see her wipe a tear from the corner of her eyes. I tell myself it must be the fireweeds bothering her again.

“Do you think Lila is missing out?” I ask my sisters, as we lay on the bank of the pond, soaking up the relaxed evening sun.

“No way,” Holly replies, “she gets to sit inside where it’s nice and cool and listen to Laura Simms.” I don’t answer her. Instead, a chorus of croaking frogs fill the silence as I think about Lila. One of the singing frogs takes a leap into the water, making a large splash. Poppy takes off after it— or after Bob I should say. I wonder if Lila is happy sitting inside the cool trailer listening to the radio all day or if she would rather be out here

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with us.

Our fourth day in the Jungle of Fireweeds was like no other. We spend the morning playing Fox and Hound, having chicken fights with grasshoppers, and catching butterflies. At lunchtime, we sit in our base eating PB&J with homemade runny rhubarb. I watch Poppy as she licks a glob of rhubarb jelly off her shirt. We’ve had the same lunch all summer because mom is trying to use up all the jam. However, today calls for celebration because mom let us have grape Kool-Aid with our sandwiches as a reward for all our hard work this week.

“How many butterflies have you found today?” Poppy asks me. I smirk at the grape Kool-Aid mustache above her lip. Peeking into my pocket, I have a mini-heart attack when I find it empty. Then I remember I hid them beneath a pile of plucked fireweeds. I walk over to my hiding spot, lift the fireweeds, and count three butterflies. Two silvery-blue but terflies that look like flying fairies and one orange and black butterfly that reminds me of a tiger.

“I have three,” I say, as I sit back down in the base. Holly asks me what kind they are to see if I will be adding any new specimens to our butterfly collection.

“I think the orange and black one is a monarch,” I tell my sisters, “but I’m not sure about the silvery-blue ones.” My sisters peep into my secret hiding spot to see if they know what kind it is. They both shake their heads and look at me with quizzical blue eyes.

“You should show them to Lila,” Holly says to me. “She has the butterfly identification book stashed somewhere in her room.” I roll my eyes. I don’t feel like talking to the sneezy girl who banished us to the Jungle of Fireweeds. However, I know she is the only one who can tell me the name of these two flying fairies. These butterflies are going to make our collection extraordinary.

“Fine,” I say, chugging my Kool-Aid and slamming the empty cup on the ground. I carefully extract my butterflies from their hiding place and take our path to the exit. Walking up to the trailer, I see Lila staring out the window, smiling and waving at my approach.

“What kind of butterflies are these?” I ask her, holding them up to the window. Her mouth moves rapidly and an excited expression flashes across her face. I yell at her to slow down because I can’t understand her.

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She opens the window.

“Bring them closer,” she calls through the screen. Taking a good look at the butterflies in my hands, she tells me to stay still and disappears from view. She returns a few minutes later with a butterfly encyclopedia in her hands.

“The orange one is a Monarch Butterfly,” she says, licking her finger as she flips to a new page, “and it looks like the two blue ones are called a Silver Lady.” I nod at her, mumble a thanks, and take off for the entrance to the Jungle of Fireweeds. Before entering, I look back to see Lila still watch ing me with the window open.

“Look who we found!” Holly yells at me as I come back to the base. She holds up the tailless salamander, cupped in her hands. A smile wider than the Blackfoot River flashes across my face.

“He lived!” I yell, loud enough for all the fireweeds to hear. “Let’s go show him to Lila.” I wave my sisters on and they follow me like duck lings out of the fireweeds. We walk over to Lila, who still has the window propped open. I can hear the steady voice of Laura Simms reading “The King of TogoTogo” whirling and twirling like feathers in the background. Lila lets out three loud sneezes in a row.

“That is so cool!” she says, “What’s his name?” I hush Poppy before she can name this one Bob.

“We thought you could name him,” I call up to her. Lila pauses for a long moment, as if she is going to let out her fourth sneeze.

“How about Raspberry?” she suggests. I nod my head, offer her a smile, and tell her I like it.

“Can its middle name be Bob?” Poppy asks, with a concerned look on her face. We all agree that Bob can be the second name.

“Hi Raspberry Bob,” Poppy says, bringing the tailless salamander close to her face. Lila comes outside and collects all the butterflies we found throughout the day. She goes back inside, opens the window all the way, and turns the radio up. It’s loud enough for all of us to hear, but not loud enough to wake up dad. She works on identifying the butterflies and tacking them into our collection while we lay in the grass, listening to Laura Simms and playing with Raspberry Bob. The rest of the blooming season for the fireweeds continues this way, making it so that not a single one gets picked.

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Helpful Distractions

In a particularly leafy corner of the greenhouse café, we’re quietly drinking our mugs of tea when she says, “I know you got an air pocket.”

Sounding almost accusatory, her words surprise me because although I wasn’t hiding it, I didn’t think the pocket was particularly noticeable. I’ve kept everything in it tucked deep inside so nothing would draw attention to my float ing, invisible pocket.

But clearly she somehow found out about it, and now I have no choice but to answer, “Yeah, I got it a couple weeks ago.”

Back then, I thought about offering to get her one too. There had been a discount on purchases of two or more, but I was tired of buying things for her, tired of making up for how she never buys things for herself—even things she needs.

“So it works well?” she asks.

“It’s really convenient.”

To show her just how convenient, I reach down into the pocket and take out a novel, as though pulling it out of thin air, a variation on the coin-behindthe-ear magic trick—a book beside my hip. Her eyes narrow.

“Nice. How much can it hold?”

“Only a few things. This book, a notepad and pen, my wallet, sometimes a snack. That’s about it. I just got a small one to try out,” I tell her, hoping the pocket’s modest utility might make her less jealous or reduce any negativity she’s feeling.

She nods, appearing to think this over, then says, “And you aren’t afraid you’ll lose it?”

“The pocket is anchored to me.”

“Oh right, of course,” she murmurs, voice tinged with something—disap pointment?

I worry for a moment that she’ll try to surreptitiously cut the tether, but she’s too considerate to ever do something like that.

She takes a gulp of tea from her mug, then says, “Could you keep something in there for me?”

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And now I wish I had bought one for her.

“It’s small,” she adds to assuage my reluctance, but this detail makes me skeptical.

“If it’s small, why can’t you keep it?”

“Because if I keep it, I’ll keep checking it. It’s a correspondence timer.”

“Then why can’t you leave it at home?”

“Because sometimes I want to check it when I’m out.”

I throw my hands up at what seems like an absurd case of wanting to eat and have cake.

“But if you keep it, I can only check the timer when I’m around you,” she quickly explains.

We stare at each other and let our eyes draw us into soulful connection.

“OK, I guess I can keep it in the pocket for you,” I relent, acquiescing to her idiosyncratic logic.

She reaches into her purse and takes out the timepiece in question. She holds it out to me, over the wooden tabletop between us. When I take it from her open hand, the density of this specialized chronometer stuns me—so much so that my attention lingers on this disc of bronze and crystal, its shiny hands suspended over the deep-green dial counting down with something like two hundred hours to go.

“What happens in two hundred odd hours?” I ask, expecting only a vague answer.

“An argument with my sister will no longer be associ ated with frustration.”

I put the novel and the timer into the air pocket, then ask, “So you’re just going to be upset with her for roughly ten days?”

“It’s more like eight and a half. And no. I’m not upset. She’s the one who’s upset. In her mind, the argument is linked to her belief that I’m too self-conscious and her exasperation with my supposed social anxiety. I won’t get anywhere talking to her until that connection changes.”

“What will the argument correspond to in her mind after eight and a half days?”

“I don’t know. That’s what I’ll find out. Probably mild irritation. Then I should be able to reason with her.”

“Well, I hope keeping the timer for you helps.”

“Oh, it definitely will. A watched pot and whatnot. I feel a little better already.”

by Soramimi Hanarejima
Summer | 50

Her tone is noticeably more easygoing now, which makes me think she’s experiencing some kind of placebo effect. Feeling better because she expects to feel better. Nothing has really changed. It will still be over a week before she talks with her sister. Whatever the case, it’s back to silently sipping tea.

In the middle of the week, she calls me at work to ask if we can meet for dinner. That turns out to be a bad idea. Not long after we sit down at the counter of our usual ramen place, what cheer she has exhausts itself on banter about her workday—which include the usual sarcastic remarks about being mismanaged. Then her sagging posture, heavy eyelids and sedate silence make it clear that she’s so tired she should have just gone home. I know she wants company more than sleep, but her current self-care priorities aren’t going to do her much good. Maybe a bowl of hot ramen will revive her.

While we eat, I keep expecting her to ask for the correspondence timer, but she doesn’t bring up anything about the argument with her sister, only lackadasically reminiscing about our college days, when it felt like the city was fully ours—not like how we’re confined to pockets of it now.

“So long as they’re nice pockets, I don’t mind,” I tell her.

“Oh, but even the nicest of pockets are still limited,” she says languidly.

After we’ve finished our noodles and broth she can barely keep her eyes open, let alone keep up any semblance of conversation, and the dim lighting isn’t helping. I wonder if she didn’t sleep well last night or if work was especially drain ing today. There’s no point in asking though. Whatever happened, nothing can be done about that now.

I wish I could put her in the air pocket and effortlessly carry her through the cold evening back to her place. Because with rush-hour traffic still going strong, it’s going to take an hour by taxi to get from the heart of downtown to the suburbs, and though the trek is shorter by train, she isn’t going to fare well in a crowded train car given the state she’s in.

At a nearby business hotel, I get her a room and take her up to it. In the elevator, I imagine that she sees the metal doors and rows of buttons as though part of a dream in which the two of us are about to step out into the labyrinthine stacks of a sprawling subterranean library.

Once we’re inside the room that’s barely larger than the queen bed in the middle of it, I ask her to give me the keys to her place.

“So I can bring you a change of clothes tomorrow morning,” I explain

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as we stand in the entryway—this little pocket of space just wide enough for the bathroom door to open the only place here two people can stand.

“No, don’t go,” she whines, shoulder pressed to the wall.

“I’ll wait until you’re asleep,” I offer as a compromise. She takes a set of keys from her purse and hands them to me then re moves her blazer and gets into bed. I turn off the light and sit in the little chair by the window. How did she become this fragile?

When I stop by her apartment in the morning, she’s in the kitchen, making breakfast.

“When did you get back?” I ask.

“I didn’t. I’m still at the hotel,” she answers.

“Then how are you here?”

“Oh, I’m not really. This is a projection of my subconscious. Here, have some eggs,” she says, plating an omelette. “Don’t worry about the clothes. They’re in a bag by the door.”

“You didn’t trust me to pick out a nice outfit for you?” I quip. She says, “I thought you’d prefer to have some breakfast instead of going through my wardrobe.”

How thoughtful of her subconscious mind.

The week ends with the two of us in the desert, in search of—or rather, open to an epiphany. Because she needs some moment of clarity before the correspondence timer hits zero. Here, I may not be of much help in getting her any closer to an epiphany. By driving her to this expansive landscape of sand and stone, I’ve gotten her as close as I can to an epiphany that may await her in undisturbed wilderness. And now I’ve gone from chauffeur to sidekick. Which she seems to need, my proximity serving as a kind of counterbalance to the distance that now lies between her and her sister.

We follow a boardwalk over the sand, heading in the direction of distant mountains, those jagged layers of slanted rock jutting out of the ground.

“I can’t believe it’s been like this for millennia,” she says.

I know what she means. She’s no doubt seeing the landscape as something apart from herself, as having an existence well beyond human experience, and her mind is balking at this. If a tree falls and all that. The world without human appreciation of its beauty is analogous to a person lacking self-awareness—incom prehensible. The person wouldn’t be who they are without self-awareness, so how

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can the landscape be what it is without the beauty we see in it? To her, the desert so thoroughly exists as this enchanting expanse of sand and mountain, yet it seems inconceivable that it exists on its own, wholly independent of our per ceptions of it, apart from the colors and other qualities we see it so wondrously possessing.

We lumber up a sand dune for a better view and sit atop its crest. When I glance over at her, I get the sense that she wants to check the correspondence timer but is holding back on asking me for it. I say nothing, hoping insight will come her way soon.

During the drive back, she says, “I wish you could hypnotize me and get me to be my teenage self.”

“Because she was more upbeat?” I ask. I do miss how ebullient she was back then.

She swats my arm and says, “Oh, come on. I’m not that morose right now. Mostly I just want a break from being who I am right now—someone waiting for their sister’s mind to change, waiting for the weather to warm up, wanting some new clarity.”

“Waiting and wanting can be hard,” I sympathize.

Even here that’s true. I want everything outside the windshield, want to bring home the entire sun-baked landscape of dunes and stratified rock stretching out of the sand at a tilt, take it all with us so we can wander in it later at our leisure or have a dune in my living room to recline on. It’s hard to leave all this behind to return to a city with none of these geologic features. If only I could put a swath of this desert in the air pocket to carry around with me everywhere.

“Maybe I just need to build up my patience,” she says.

“Or find some good distractions.”

“That’s the easy way out.”

Her tone makes this remark the verbal equivalent of rolling her eyes.

“Yeah, but what’s wrong with easy?” I ask, my verbal equivalent of a casual shrug. “Sometimes the easy way is the best way.”

“Sometimes. I’m not sure this is one of those times.”

I wonder what kind of time this is, how difficult it has to be and what it will look like years from now—to her future self.

“Hey, can hypnosis really do that?” I ask. “Rewind your state of mind to an earlier self?”

“I saw a hypnotist do it once, when I was a kid. At my uncle’s birthday party, I think. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. After all, I could pretend to

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be any age I wanted. But later, that hypnosis trick became oddly appealing to me. I like the idea of being temporarily transformed by the belief that you’re a different age.”

I think about what age I’d like to temporarily be. Nothing in the teens, that’s for sure.

Back in the greenhouse café for sandwiches, we watch the sunset turn the clouds orange. The glass roof makes them seem close, as though they could settle on us and immerse us in luminous mist. I’m about to mention this, but she speaks first, asking for the correspondence timer.

“Check it later,” I tell her. “Isn’t this rich skyscape enough of a distraction?”

“No, it’s the opposite. Yes, it is beautiful and enthralling but also reminds me of my sister. This is the kind of thing I want to share with her.”

I nod with pursed lips as a show of sympathy, but she seems to interpret the reaction as something else because she quickly says, “Not that I don’t want to share it with you. You know I like spending time with you, but I like spending time with her, and this—”

She sweeps a hand at the glowing sky and says, “This makes me aware of what the argument is costing us.”

“Then you should tell her that. Feelings like that can’t wait for better timing.”

“But the timer has always worked.”

“That doesn’t mean something else can’t.”

“She might not take it well—think I’m sentimental or needy.”

`

“It’s worth the risk. It’s important for her to hear what you’re telling me. Even if she does think you’re needy, that reaction will change with time. It’ll probably become appreciation at some point.”

“Right, right… Oh, this is so cliché,” she declares, rolling her eyes. “Get ting all emotional at sunset.”

“Well, sometimes we should let nature evoke in us what we need it to.”

For a moment, I think she’ll interpret this as encouragement to ask me for the timer again, but she just nods then looks up at the sky.

I want to tell her that when the world nudges you to take one of many paths to get to a better place, what’s important isn’t which path you take but sim ply that you take one—just move on from where you are. But I can mention this later. Right now, I’d better let the sky above us do its work.

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Crossing the Border

by Paul Bluestein

It was a silent drive south out of Galveston, each of us afraid to say anything that would start a useless argument. Besides, there wasn’t much to say. I’d borrowed a bundle of hard cash from some unsmiling hard cases. How was I supposed to know that a goddamn hurricane would blow away my business, their bankroll and our future?

We made it to Tampico, stopped for breakfast and stayed to take a breath. We’ve been passing the days aimlessly on a grainy, gray beach, avoiding the realities rising up from the depths of our denial, like sharks coming to the surface to feed.

With no money and no prospects, until just this moment, I had no idea what to do. But walking backward into the warm water of the Gulf, I can see Shelby heading for the bar bordering the sand. She’ll order a Corona and sip it straight from the bottle, letting the icy alcohol numb her.

I turn toward the horizon and swim out past the waders, past the waves, past all caring.

In the time it takes Shel to finish her beer, I believe I might be able to keep her safe from the coming storm.

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Breadcrumbs, dead ducks, twenty thousand flags wilting in the song-less air. Fourth of July adjacent, all the legal ways we kill things. I didn’t ask to be impressed, the Christ and cause of all this convenience, eyes lowered to white hand reaching behind back—Wallet or revolver? You won’t know until your hot dog buns are paid for, or your blood starts licking the plastic wrap on the menthols. THE OIL! THE OIL! Essential or Exxxon Mobil?

Proud times fifty, plenty of oranges, parking lot jugglers, Zippo flints and sparks flying (don’t ask about the water). We paid good money to sit on this hill and blow up the sky, to drown a few June bugs in the seven-layer dip. It’s the same show year after year and brother, it’s just begun.

Summer | 56

The Forgetting Ritual: A How-To Guide

One must constantly forget. Overburdening the mind with trivialities and events drenched in monotony and—even worse—sadness, that needling depression each and every one of us feels; it’s all too much for one mind to handle. Each moment and every second of our lives, we are inundated with countless shocks, synapses, and the firing of innumerable neurons. Too much connectivity. To ebb that flow, build up those walls to help cancel the noise, I would urge you to start this ritual as soon as possible. I believe my self-taught practice of forgetting is the only way to find true happiness.

To begin, find a quiet place. Somewhere to blot out the endless noise, that static underlying every movement within existence. Sit down. Though I wish simply sitting in silence could allow you to forget, you know things could never be so easy. There’s too much up in the noggin. Your brother’s birthday party out in Seattle last year at his ex-wife’s favorite restaurant, all the details of their bitter divorce, the yelling and shouting, and then how wonderfully they both still treat their three kids; it’s irrelevant to you, but it muddles the brain. A quiet place is a great start, but there is so much more to do. You need to actively forget. And doing this takes true effort. An everyday approach. Getting the quiet area is merely a locale for the practice, the best suited spot to reduce the extra memories from getting in. Once you have your temple, now comes the real issue, that test of endurance—the making of a true ritual.

As soon as you come to the sanctum of your choosing, each and every time, start with tea. Any kind will do, but a warm soothing drink

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allows the brain to feel a sense of freedom.

When the tea has been consumed, begin stretching. The body and mind can be so connected that by loosening one, you loosen the other. Every bit of fibrous muscle, every ounce of stringent tendon—if you can, make sure each is stretched as thin as it can go. When that is accomplished, you can start working on the mind. Sit in the quiet, eyes open, and allow those muscles and tendons to slowly gather back into thick masses of uncooperative innerworkings while you stare. Stare at the wall while this is happening. Focus on a single point, somewhere along a bland and boring wall will do. Don’t stray to anything else. Forget seeing the opaque lines of sunlight peeking through the leaves of the sapling you planted outside just last year. Forget seeing the shootings on television and the racism infesting every screen, community, and generation. Pinpoint that space of nothing. Let the mind go absent save for that make-believe bullseye, the mark leading to blissful forgetfulness.

While you stare absentmindedly, you will begin to feel a little weightless. That is common and necessary. If you don’t get that buoyant feeling of ease, then I urge you to stare harder until you do. Weightlessness. It is the key to forgetting. In these moments of subconscious anti-gravity, memory will make an attempt to take hold. Fight against them. Forget seeing those poor animals from the puppy mill on the outskirts of town and forget the dog you rescued, sleeping soundlessly in the next room. The memories are nothing. Your body is nothing. Your mind, everything. It is in that space, that moment, when your mind becomes everything, where you need to repeat the process. Physically, you’re ready. Now, the silence and weightlessness now come from within.

Allow yourself to imagine the quiet within. Envision taking the tea. Create a stretching regimen for your mind. Spread the memories and thoughts so thin you barely notice they’re there. And then, again, let it go wholly absent.

It is by allowing an absent mind to drift further into a ritual of nothing, like a post-lunch glaze-over at the office, only then can one begin to truly forget. Forget the stress. Forget the cubicles and paperwork. Forget the soreness that you only so recently stretched away. Forget the park your paperwork allowed to be put up, children and dogs playing there everyday. Forget your mother in the hospital bed and your father who sits by her side

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day and night. Forget knowing that you, and you alone have mastered the art of forgetting and forget knowing that you alone have the ability to help others lose their trauma. Forget your own trauma. Forget that you’re watching the very world fall away outside and forget that you might be able to save it, but you can’t recall how. Your ritual saw to that. It also saw to you forgetting that everyone learned the ritual of forgetting and they are also forgetting that the world is falling apart outside. It’s okay though. You all need to forget. Forget everything. If you can’t remember anything, you don’t need to connect and you don’t need to recall why you were sad in the first place. It’s better this way.

Forget it all and then, tomorrow, remember to do it again.

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THE INTERN by Lauren Rudolph

Sometimes I feel that having been born American meant a lifelong appointment as junior publicist of a world-renowned internet celebrity. Not just any junior publicist, however, but the kind that’s compensated in miscalculated high-fives and lunch stipends.

“This isn’t your typical internship,” they will say.

Thousands, if not millions have applied and you, dear child have been rightly selected.”

Skipped the interview and orientation, saved a forest on the new employee manual, but I can’t recall ever submitting my resume, I will think.

Spend years, scouring, searching the virtual crevices of every electronic outbox whose password I’ve forgotten, reset, and forgotten again. Peruse all social media correspondence under the various monikers one could only bestow upon oneself. And as for my non-industry friends, they cannot begin to understand the pressures that come with this job. How they regularly prod and probe, their inquests of my only client, of headlines a hue or two darker than disgraceful.

“I don’t know, I haven’t been briefed yet,” I’ll retort with the ambivalence of sundial at dusk, offer up an emphatic shrug and a taut-lipped smile.

At half past three decades in this role, my tongue has become little more than a doorstop for suppressed thought and all the anecdotes of a life yearning to live outside of its company’s uniform.

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Open Mouth by Morgan Victoria

It was too expensive to be hungry right now. I conjured an image of the empty refrigerator a few feet from me without having to move a muscle. The pristine blue light showing outlines of where condiments sloughed out of their greasy confinements and a lone, desiccated basil leaf encrusted underneath the crisper drawer. I picked at the inside of my lip with my bottom teeth and an ulcer protruded against my tongue. I had more of a chance at eating that, than anything in what could be considered a kitchen.

Or a living room, or a bedroom. What was a studio, if not a venn diagram condensed into one circle.

Avalon stirred beside me. I still felt so tired that she seemed to be a jumble of sensations against my body instead of a person. It was the blunt line of her left cheekbone pressed into my chest and her knees squashed against my ribs. I skimmed my fingers along my arms and legs, checking for damages from the night before, but I felt fine. No new bruises or open cuts. Feeling fine never seemed to be an accomplishment, even though it kind of was. When everything in the world was out to bleed you dry, feeling okay should’ve meant something. Avalon snuffled some snot up her nose before sitting up. She rested her elbow on the notch between my ribs, digging in near my heart. What time is it? she asked.

I shrugged, still not used to her being the only one with a grid locked schedule starting before the sun rose. I used to be a lobster delivery

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service customer representative in a different timezone than the actual company. That meant I had to chatter about lusterless lobster shells and expired saffron crudités from four in the morning until noon. After that, I usually ended up agitated and twitching on the bed wherever I was staying, pretending I was trying to take a nap. I laid fully-clothed on top of the duvet with my eyes squeezed shut until it hurt, trying not to think about everything else I had to do. I always ended up feeling the spindly little legs of the lobsters I’d hawked scuttle their way across my skin as punishment for being poor and needing to atone for the sin of working one of the world’s dumbest job titles. If I tried hard enough I could tell myself it was all doable. All able to be consumed. I just had to use the tips of my fingers to gather the crumbs and the heel of my palm to sweep them into my mouth.

Avalon shoved herself up from my arms and pulled on her boots. Her jeans hung loose on her hips and a scabbed over knee peeked through a curtain of fraying denim. Are you coming with me today? she asked, tying up her hair so I could see the hickeys texturing her skin. Before I could answer, she shook her head. Never mind, Avalon said, Oyl texted me like a million times last night. Which means she’s freaking the fuck out about something. You shouldn’t come over with me. Just uh, she paused, gesturing at the flea bitten and dog eared stack of crime novels I liberated from a bookstore the other day. Enjoy your books, I guess.

I chewed on the ulcer on the inside of my cheek before letting go with a clicking sound, Well, now I want to go. Food?

She glanced over at my dented laptop, avoided after a six hour Craigslist job search last week. A few faded anti-work stickers on its surface caught the light. Yeah, she shrugged, let’s stop on the way.

Our subway line was out of commission so we had to reroute twice and run down four blocks to catch its replacement. I watched Mrs. Oyl dab a greasy napkin to the corner of her mouth with an inert glaze over her eyes. Five picked apart oyster shells, on a china plate worth more than I had ever made in a month, sat before her. She had a few tiny cakes, each around the size of a coaster, laid out behind them. Each little cake was a different pastel and intricately iced. They gleamed like pearls and my stom ach twisted in protest at the sight.

Avalon stayed in the guestroom of Mrs. Oyl sometimes. Only in

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truly inclement weather, or if Mrs. Oyl got drunk enough to forget that she was going through a divorce. This was a two years long, knock and drag out affair that they both fought to get as many people involved in as possible. It was fine, according to Avalon. But in that same breath, every day, she endured some new weird request to better spite Mrs. Oyl’s soon to be ex-husband. Taking photos of him off the walls, only to be asked by him where they went. Throwing out the paper before he got a chance to read it and then having to explain why it was in the trash. She spat at me when I joked that next she’d be asked to fuck him to prove he was an adulterer. When she showed up to whatever slum I was living in, with stories of their barbed interactions, I had to beg her to stop or I would break something important to me. The last I heard was that Mr. Oyl wanted to hack and claw his legal way through all of Mrs. Oyl’s jewelry. He cited the fact that he bought it all for her. She cited that she needed it for her emotional health.

Mrs. Oyl assessed me while I fidgeted behind Avalon. Well, turns out I don’t need either of you two to clean today, Ava. But tomorrow, I would appreciate you getting here a little earlier than usual, if you don’t mind.

Avalon did mind, I could tell by the set of her shoulders. I thought about the running we did to get here, the fares for each transfer and change over. But Avalon nodded, opening her mouth before closing it again. And I’d appreciate a private audience for a bit, Mrs. Oyl added with a smile as she stared me down with her milky and cataract smeared eyes, please.

Before Avalon and I started hooking up, I used to see this girl from a really rich part of the city. It was fun for awhile, and I really liked being around her, but I could tell she was getting sick of hearing me complain about my money problems. She herself thought it annoying when the plac es she went on vacation were too touristy or when someone younger than her accomplished something she thought she should have done by now. I explained that it was impressive to have done it all, that age didn’t matter, but she kept telling me I was invalidating her feelings. So I shut up and let her stick her fingers in my mouth when we had sex so she’d feel in control. The curbside outside Mrs. Oyl’s place reminded me of hers. It elicited the same tightness in my chest and around my shoulders. That feeling of trying to make my way through a crowd when no one would move around me.

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Avalon and I made it work by cramming ourselves into sublets crackling with termites and hiding our heels from my cousin’s cat who liked to bite our exposed ankles when we slept on his floor. Sometimes, I thought about that other rich girl and what she might be doing at that moment. How she smelled and the stories she told me about karaoke nights and trips to Spain in order to practice her Spanish. I knew that I could catch up to her if I just tried hard enough, put in a little more effort. So it was good that Avalon had a job. And I was on my way there. Mostly. Right now, I slept in the shoebox studio of a friend who visited family out of state every June. At night, the abandoned train station 4 across the street frothed with drug deals and seizure inducing EDM. I couldn’t participate because I was broke, but grace could be granted to me on the off occasion and I would stumble across someone who was willing to spare a joint or a tab. In my current unemployed state, I found it harder and harder to find a difference in my current early twenties and my teens. I still felt like a kid begging sleazy guys outside 7/11 to buy me beer and lifting half spit up cigarettes from the smashed concrete to my mouth.

When Avalon exited the building, she clutched a little cardboard box in one of her hands. Before I could ask about it, she flashed a few twenty dollar bills from her pocket at me. Let’s just get the fuck out of here, she sighed.

I had entered that annoying state of hunger where I’d gone so long without eating, the thought of it made me nauseous. Avalon pressed a twenty into my hand and nodded at the empty fridge when we got back to the studio. Is it so hard to take care of yourself for two seconds, she asked, pressing her nose into the crook of my neck. She kissed the skin there, sucking it into her mouth for a moment so I could feel the wet pull of her teeth.

Folding it twice, I stuffed the money into my front pocket with an unapologetic shrug. I could get a bite after getting high. Sometimes, if I was really lucky, that rich girl used to insist on treating me to lunch after we’d both done criminal amounts of ketamine. We always ended up too fucked up to leave her place, so we ordered takeout. Us forgetting we bought the takeout was a part of the ritual, and we always kept going until her dinner

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table was filled with an array of pizzas and the origami beauty of those white Chinese to-go boxes, all steaming and untouched. I never took any of it home with me. The gulf that existed between where she lived and where I did couldn’t be trespassed. I wanted to take some of her home with me too, steal one of her sweaters or earrings so I could prove that she was real and something that existed in my life. But I couldn’t. And I still don’t really know why.

I have to go, Avalon said, her mouth so close to my neck I could feel the movement of her lips against my skin. I’ll come back with some food.

When we started making more money and things were easier, I knew we would get along a lot better. We just needed some wiggle room to breathe. Then we could coexist without rubbing into each other at every attempt at movement. After my first new paycheck at a new job I would treat Avalon to a decent breakfast before work. Somewhere usually avoided due to its distance away or lack of prices on the menu. Just the thought of breakfast reawakened the sharpness in my gut, strengthened and multiplied the response. Knives puncturing knives.

I opened the fridge doors just for the action of it, knowing it would be empty. Except that the little cardboard box Avalon got from Mrs. Oyl sat there, sealed and untouched as if waiting for me. I fingered the tab to open it, pressing in and sliding it slowly across so it lifted and showed its contents. A single tiny cake from Mrs. Oyl’s sat coiled on top of a sheet of parchment paper. It glittered in my eyes, too bright for the dullness of this apartment. This one was decorated with little apples in the icing, complete with actual sugared slices in a wreath atop its domed surface. My mind emptied, rinsed and dried upside down so no thoughts could remain. I sucked in a breath and stuck a finger into the cake’s frosting, devirginizing it. It tasted of flowers, of a richness that almost brought tears to my eyes. I held it on my tongue for longer than necessary, letting every stage of the flavors unfold. Sweetness begetting sweetness until it was just an afterimage of beauty on my tongue, saliva collecting beneath. I swiped another finger through the frosting, and let myself repeat that process again, this time letting myself cry a bit more openly. I lowered myself onto the floor, sitting

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cross legged before the open refrigerator which puttered out a faint chill onto my dripping face. I picked up the parchment paper, delicate in my grasp so as not to upset the cake onto the floor. I raised it above my mouth, opening my jaw wide so I could swallow the little confection in one gulp.

I wasn’t sure why I didn’t try to savor it more. Maybe I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to experience this for longer than I already was.

I didn’t feel hungry anymore. The rote pain of it was replaced with a self satisfied weight. Maybe I’d ask Mrs. Oyl where she bought this one and buy Avalon six more so we could experience this together. An encom passing drowsiness laid over me in a blanketing, comforting wave at that thought, ridding myself of any guilt before it had the chance to manifest. Sleep after a long week of work just meant me tensing my way through reruns of everything I’d had to do, no actual rest gained. But this felt akin to the sleepiness that I experienced as a child. The kind that meant being picked up from the couch and held in a parent’s arms to be taken off to bed. I leaned my head back against the counter and eased myself into a more comfortable position. My eyes shuttered closed.

Avalon slammed open the door and let it hit against the wall with a thud that shook dust loose from the ceiling. I was still splayed out with my back against the counters, on the floor with spit gleaming on my fingers from licking them clean. The cardboard box laid beside me. She trudged in, an aura of cigarettes and subway grime trailing her every movement. She set a bag of McDonald’s on the counter. Its grease rendered the bag almost translucent.

She glanced over at me with a little wave before she took in the scene with a low cry, Go throw up. Go throw up, right now.

I raised my head and rolled my eyes. I could buy her a new cake tomorrow. It didn’t matter. I turned to her, Will you relax?

Avalon rushed into the kitchen, her feet coming out to kick me. Go throw up, she cried, you’re such a fucking idiot.

I avoided her shoe clipping my nose with a narrow duck, my hand coming out to grab her ankle so she had to balance herself on the counter. What, I asked, is your problem?

You fucking idiot, she said, Mrs. Oyl’s wedding ring was in that

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cake. You have to go throw up right now. Go throw up, get– Avalon shook her leg free and shoved me backwards towards the bathroom. Get the fuck in there and throw up.

I stood up, scraping myself from the floor with a wounded backward glance. H– How, was I supposed to know that crazy–Avalon wouldn’t let me finish. She rummaged beneath the sink before pulling out a bucket covered in peelings of dust and ancient soap scum. Go throw up!

I took it from her and padded into the bathroom.

The last night I spent with that rich girl we were laying naked on her bed and she asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I explained the issue of college and the lack of jobs and how my car got stolen with my laptop and phone in it last winter so I had to take out a loan from a shitty friend and that wasn’t working out because– I remember her cutting me off, sliding her hands up and down my exposed skin until I got turned on enough to fuck her. How the sex was hard and mean and I didn’t want her to be too nice to me, except that she wasn’t even trying to be kind or gentle and then I wanted her to pretend like she cared about me, but I couldn’t tell her that in the moment. She made me leave soon after that, citing an early morning yoga class and how tired she was from her flight home from her friend’s house in Santa Barbara. She shrugged when I asked when she wanted to see me again. You don’t have anywhere to be, do you? she said in response, knowing the answer. I’ll be around. I said the same and we both knew that I wouldn’t be. Not there with her at least.

I kneeled on the bathroom floor, cold and tired while I stuck my fingers in my mouth, reaching for the back of my throat. My fingernails scratched at the fragile wet there and I started crying again, trying to induce something I didn’t even want to happen. I kept going on and on for what felt like hours until I produced the ring, sharp and somehow still shining. I laid on the floor then, holding the slick ring in my hand, light and empty in a way that hurt.

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MORGUE MUSIC

The morgue has its music, too. The hum, the buzz, the occasional gasp, the white space. And when I tell them at holidays and get-togethers of its centrality and beauty, they turn away, for there are deviled eggs to eat and ham and good, sweet watermelon. There are Uncle Andre’s new bride and the casserole she’s kindly brought, wrapped in blankets like an infant. They admire what can be eaten and who laughs with them. The cocker spaniel hopping atop the picnic bench, its muzzle in the potato salad, distracts them. They listen politely to my world, but have forgotten by the time the fireworks begin or when Aunt Eileen fishes out the cards from the kitchen drawer. Euchre’s better, they believe, than nothing.

But usually there’s one inquisitive—and that one pities me. “How do you do it day after day? How do you stay [that one searches for a word] normal, surrounded by death? How do you [that one searches again] manage?” Then it’s my turn to turn away, my turn to wonder what’s wrong with nothing, for there behind the heavy doors I read or play my flute aside its different music. It’s neither despair nor sorrow, just the end of things that were, the start of maybe, and the doctor, a beautiful man who smells the way I wish I could. I do not tell that one, for how would they understand? We take our plates and go our separate ways. By tacit agreement, the morgue will not be spoken of with strangers, cousins, nor well-in tentioned in-laws. Most music must be experienced in solitude.

My cat understands. Her name is Melba, and she follows me room to room through my apartment, eager to lick the music from my calves. She’s eager for the whole experience, and purrs persistently the evenings I fail to retrieve for her a slice of liver from my purse or a sliver of kidney that used to belong to a man. She

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likes the meat; the back-story doesn’t matter, be it auto accident or cancer, suicide or a tumble from the stairs. We have an understanding. Our way of loving each other revolves around organs and the occasional square of triceps I scissor out when the doctor’s busy with his charts. The muscle’s sweeter down there than the bicep, and Melba agrees. I don’t think it’s wrong—the dead feel nothing and the cat doesn’t care. But bone she leaves alone.

One of these long afternoons in June when dying doesn’t happen much, I’m going to ask the doctor out for coffee. He’s married, but why does that matter to me? I want to ask him where he buys his cologne, and I want to know how he is among the living. Will he shrug when he orders a latte? Will he sneer when the barista misspells his name on the paper cup? Will he gaze at the smokers knowingly? Would he enjoy a bite of carrot cake? These are fantasies, of course, and I’m sure his wife’s a lovely woman who makes excellent lasagna and laughs easily when he tells her of strange anal things, faux-gold teeth, and the woman with a hundred sewing needles almost sewn into her throat. We shall never forget her. The doctor insisted on a U-shaped magnet from hospital maintenance, but he was careful.

Recently I’ve avoided most holidays and get-togethers. I try to make it to the funerals, but their joy leaves me depressed—the meat and cheese trays afterward, the cakes, and good wishes. The wine. I tell them funerals should be sterile and staid, but they disagree. I suppose that people must take pleasure where they can, even though Great Aunt Myrtle was almost 100 and saw demise as a blessing and Grandfather—at the end—called everyone together to announce that soon he’d be lunching with Babe Ruth and Franklin Roosevelt. Or it could just be that I prefer the dead, their skin rigid but forgiving, their eyes no witness to me arranging and rearranging them, plodding, pushing, plucking.

If it’s late at night, the boys in the laundry room down the hall play radio jazz as they wring the soiled sheets and smack the vinyl pillows. I like jazz, but it doesn’t move me. I prefer the music in my mind, which most can’t hear, which most refuse to hear because it’s hard and unforgiving. It tells of lives lived hard and some that haven’t lived at all. It tells and I listen until Melba once again licks it away from me.

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I’m Tired of Fake Ratatouille Fans

Thinking the Rat’s Name is Ratatouille by Bunny Boisvert

The rat’s name is Regret. The rat’s name is Mistake. He is washing his little hands and making soup but the whole time his brain won’t stop working itself over.

The rat’s name is my name and we are one being. His fears are my fears and we live in a Paris apartment with crumbling wallpaper but a fabulous view. Me and the rat, moving as one but we are not making a cassoulet; We tie our wrists to our ankles and wait to be cooked.

The rat’s name is unknowable.

The rat is an old god. He braids my hair and gossips and eats ice cream but he has a rage carefully hidden behind his beady eyes. He pries my eyelids open in the middle of the night, he won’t let me sleep, and the madness is bright and sharp in his black gaze—a rat’s eyes see all.

The rat is Time and he runs on a wheel. I stand on the table and scream but he won’t stop running.

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The rat, the rat is under my skin, skiing down the ridges of my brain like a slalom. He grabs me by my nerve endings and plays me like a puppet, but one who knows how to make a soufflé. He won’t let me pick my skin or throw up or weigh myself after a meal and I guess he cares about me in his way. The rat makes me wash my hair and brush my teeth and put down the phone when I think of you.

The rat’s name is Jesus and I buried him in linen. A little shoebox in the neighbor’s flower garden, I must leave an offering of ratatouille by the grave for three days until he emerges, famished, and we begin to prepare the bœuf bourguignon.

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Eve slept and he picked at his sutures and scabs trying to name the nameless thoughts that snaked around their bed.

Each night, I’ll forgive you all over again, some new voice hummed inside his head. She woke and they both heard the sounds of all sins doubling in the dark.

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Nessun Dorma

Only Puccini will do while soaking the tomatoes in boiling water so to peel the skin away and throw them into the fry pan with garlic and olive oil.

God, you wish you had a soul.

It would be about the size of the sausage chunks you use for the sauce, and the weight of the bubbles that caress the pasta during its roiling frolic in the big green pot. The miracle of spaghetti—so stiff to begin with, then limber and lithe as it stretches and somersaults in the tasty turbulence like an old teacher acquires new theories that upend everything he’s taught for fifty years.

Oregano and flexibility are essential to this dish.

Nessun Dorma: no one sleeps when you serve this repast to your sweet wife, hungry and healthy thirty years ago, and your young son, happy to share this meal before homework and bed, and with yourself fifty pounds ago,

your dress shirt tapered to your toned body. This dinner, like the years, as substantial now as the aroma that swept from the kitchen, into the dining room, the living room, and upstairs to our bedrooms on those nights of pasta, Pavarotti, and love.

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On The Freedom of Butterflies by Kayla Jessop

I focus on the butterfly as it flies through the tight-knit crowd of family and unfamiliar faces. Its wings–delicate and gleaming– flap hard, moving quickly and unsteady against the strong wind. Unprecedented wind speeds, the weatherman said this morning. Prepare to stay indoors today. The butterfly is the last of the dozen released two speeches ago, the others long gone, fleeing from their encapture immediately. The first and only time I spoke so far today was during their release. You should be the one to release them, She would want it to be you, my aunt said earlier, handing me a small, gray box that hummed a wistful song of wings fluttering with anticipation. I’ve watched this butterfly intensely since I walked to this space, soft hands patting my shoul der, guiding me here, away from prying eyes. My worn flats soak in the soft grass, and my new blouse threatens to expose my white, pale skin to the breeze. The butterfly– with its shiny and metallic navy wings– is stubborn to stay, not understanding that I crave to leave this space– to venture away, to leave this hurt in the freshly disturbed dirt. It lands on the top of a ballcap of the person standing in front of me– someone I’ve never seen before, someone who earlier cried over shared memories and discount jokes at my mother’s expense. Its wings tighten and release as it rests on the seam. They almost glow in the gloom of cloudy skies, thick with heavy rain, expected to pour down any moment. The person is oblivious to the beauty that lays on them, their ballcap unphased and unaware of the creature. The butterfly, small in stature, moves its feet gracefully as it crawls over and around the structure of the cap. I wonder if it can feel my tear-soaked gaze eyeing its peaceful nature. She’ll always be missed, the speech concludes. The wind howls then, loud and unruly, forcing the butterfly to take flight. It flies away then, flimsy against the wind, chasing its freedom. I stand there, watching it travel across the cemetery, briefly stopping at the stones of lost loved ones to catch a break from the wind. Then, the butterfly flies beyond my view, becoming lost in the sea of chipped stones and flower arrangements. Here lies Shanna Jessop, a mother, a sister, a friend, the funeral director says.

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Minikui Ahiru no Ko.

The speckled egg never fit so well in the nest.

How the twigs, cardboard scraps, bits of blue denim, bristled against feathers, leaving a scar the shape of Pangea along the ridge of my spine. How the scar tremored, hot magma sputtered and flowed, igneous layers thickened, great seas rushed between the gradual flowering of basalt towers. How the salt of the earth hissed in the open wound and the wound bloomed with stubbornness like crocus, wild dandelion, adolescent elm. How kind words from well-meaning teachers inflicted more injury than the racial epithets and meanness of children, because they could not protect the only non-white child in the playground from the jackals circling outside the school doors. How the quiet mouse under the chair sang hickory-dickory dock waiting to run out the clock. How the wind and the willows were best friends, promising adventure alone in the yellow folds of prairie grass, the grit of tilled fields, the long dusty road. How I peeled back white sheets of linen, welded to skin from sweat, surrendered my cloak of invisibility that could not blunt the piercing eyes of strangers. How a paperback and the light of the full moon succored the longest hours as I devoured words, ate whole libraries, but could not fill the hunger.

How the howl of a freight train and the clickety-clack steel-wheeled lullaby promised an escape by open boxcar to anywhere else. How the odd duck was not of this world nor of that one –always in the between-life like a ghost who cannot pass on. How living amongst ducks was no education in becoming a swan. How neither duck nor swan, I measured the world with a bent stick.

How the weight of my parents’ shame grew vanishing and loss like dwarf pines in the meadow clamber sideways to hold the light, birthed a generation of light-haired, blue-eyed babies with Japanese names. Years later, bobbing on a kayak in six-foot swells, I looked across the sea where my ancestors came by slow boat, hiding optimism under their clothes. How they unwrapped it and planted it with prayer and ceremony under a fir tree. How rough the black ocean was as deep and empty as the moonless night.

How unwelcoming the low cloud and the slanting rain, the unfathomable distance between the past and the present.

Crossing over was never possible.

Neither of this world nor of that one by Rob Omura
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Sell me the deed to the house of my limbs, the small and tender flap of my heart.

Sell me the blueprint of my hand, wrist slicked with heal, stripped with ruin.

Sell me the funeral rites to my own body, the casketed blood and bone, the sinew thick as grits.

I will pay in platelets to be alone in the rooms of myself,

scars silvering to thin lines as I map my own flesh and fat and muscle.

I am the first and final girl in the haunting of this house.

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