The Chapbook, Vol. 2, 2013 The Chapbook, Volume 2 © The Chapbook, Editor: Alan May All rights revert to individual authors and artists upon publication. Submissions for The Chapbook are accepted year-round. Manuscripts should be typed and consist of around 20 pages. Please include bios and acknowledgements. Manuscripts that contain previously published work are welcome but only if the author retains full rights. Previously published small press chapbooks are welcome, if they have been out of print for 5 or more years. Manuscripts will be recycled. Authors should include an email address and telephone number on the title page. All chapbook submissions should be sent to Alan May, The Chapbook, 121 Greenbrier Drive, Knoxville, TN 37919. From time to time, The Chapbook will focus on authors from particular regions of the U.S.A. and, hopefully, other parts of the globe. “Southern Magnolia Tree Drawing” by Mark Catesby and published in 1754. Cover art by Alan May. For more information, please consult our website: http://chapbookjournal.com/ The Chapbook is published in Knoxville, TN. ISBN-13: 978-1492834571 ISBN-10: 1492834572 ISSN: 2164-991X
Editor’s Note: VOLUME 2 is the first in the Regional Series (an irregular series I hope to continue as time and space permit). Full disclosure: I’ve started with my home state; all of Vol. 2’s contributors currently live in or are from sunny Alabama. Vol. 2 is also the first volume of The Chapbook to include facsimiles of chapbooks. Special thanks to Michael Martone, Christopher Chambers, and Jessica Smith for letting me reproduce their previously published work. To order a copy of the print version of Vol. 2, go to http://chapbookjournal.com.
THE CHAPBOOK, Vol. 2
A Is for Aphasia by Patti White / 7 The Fortune-Teller by Jessica Smith / 37 Two Stories by Laura Hendrix Ezell / 57 The Sex Life of the Fantastic Four by Michael Martone / 79 This Is Our Hollywood by Emma Bolden / 117 Tineretului / Jennifer Horne / 149 Consolation of Sophistry by Jim Hilgartner / 179
A is for Aphasia by PATTI WHITE
The Chapbook, Vol. 2
Acknowledgements Several of the poems in this chapbook appeared as segments of a single poem in The Common Review, Winter 2009.
Contents A is for Aphasia / 13 When She Speaks of Roses / 14 The Wrong Word / 15 A is for Anthracite / 16 Adverbs / 17 A is for Appendix / 18 As if the Weather / 19 The Grounds She Emptied / 20 A is for Apocalypse / 21 A Twinkie Salted / 22 A is for Archive / 23 She Tells Her Doctor / 24 As if she had Fallen / 25 Nouns / 26 A is for Avatar / 27 Making Everything Different / 28 A is for Arcade / 29 As if all her Rooms / 30 Oh / 31 A is for Alluvium / 32 Objects / 33 A is for Autopsy / 34 11
A is for Aphasia
She sprawls beside a sea of glass, a mica sky flaking above her. All her words have skittered away and burrowed into the sand. She has a childâ€™s yellow bucket in one hand, a little red shovel in the other. When she is rested, she will begin to dig. Aphasia will dig half-way to China before she finds the word she needs: havoc.
When She Speaks of Roses
It is as if a word garden had bloomed, and when she reached for the carnation her hand brought back a poppy, and carnations had never existed in the world of language. Aphasia wanders a path bordered in lavender, inhaling scents made meaningless, and when she speaks of roses, she sees droplets of blood running down a path, a path bordered in blossoms as red as carnelian and carnation, and she wears a dress embroidered with poppies.
The Wrong Word
On the Pelham line to City Island, Aphasia observes the tall parts of the trees passing like pickets in fences. She remembers tree rings and heartwood, but cannot think what to call that part, what on a flower she would call: stem. She recognizes that stem is the wrong word. Later, she recalls that Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once Lew Alcindor. Perhaps she will call the woody stem: alcindor. If she had trees of her own, she might nail a basketball hoop to one of the alcindors. But she has no trees, and it is just as well.
A is for Anthracite
In the deep recesses of her brain, Aphasia shelters an anvil made of coal. Electrical pulses play across its surface, which is impervious to pain, to knowledge, and to the blood that courses through her cerebral cortex. If it were struck by lightning, it might ignite and smolder forever in the caverns below her thoughts. To Aphasia, this metaphor presents itself as: harboring anthrax. She fears she has a virus burning through her system.
Aphasia stands beneath a willow tree in Central Park, breathing deeply. The air is humid with mosquitoes. When she exhales, a sudden flight of modifiers startles her, a swelter of tiny wings beating. Once, her playmates rolled her in a hammock and set her spinning; when her cocoon unwound, she fell hard, though now she hardly remembers the rock that bruised her shoulder. She wraps a willow branch around her wrist: embrasure isnâ€™t quite the word, but it will do for the occasion.
A is for Appendix
In history class long ago, Aphasia learned how civil wars end with a resigned army, always photographed in black and white, their spurs and sabers gleaming in long ago light. She pictures little Bobby Lee on a pony, sliding sideways to clutch his stomach. His mother gives Bobby turpentine to cure his colic, but his pony dies soon after, the fang of a cottonmouth lodged in his, the fang of a cottonmouth, the fang lodged in the ponyâ€™s cowlick. Which simply cannot be true.
As if the Weather
It is as if the weather had turned bitter and snow had fallen deep around her mind. And there, on her back, scraping snow angels in the dictionary, she tries to separate a single flake from the drift and trace its intricate angles. When she finally finds one intact, its fractals melt on her fingertip. And lick though she might, the flavor of the word never translates, its essence lost in the trace of oil on her skin.
The Grounds She Emptied
Aphasia looks down from a fifth floor window and sees containers for the dead being unloaded from a rental truck. In the funeral home below her apartment, they will be preparing a body for burial. She knows there is a special term meaning container for the dead, a word reserved for the grave, but what comes to mind is coffee-pot. The grounds she emptied into the waste-basket this morning were as rich as the soil in a cemetery. Granular, aromatic, dark as death. She knows the word is wrong, that her thought has been emptied of meaning, but still, when she tells about the delivery later in the day, she says: coffee-pots.
A is for Apocalypse
Aphasia has an end-times lexicon, a laminated fold-out alphabet long enough to occupy the space above a blackboard. She admires the illustrations: the earthquake opening cracks in sidewalks, the cloud of locusts descending, the sun gone black as sackcloth. The question is: is C for crack, cloud, or cloth? For Aphasia, C is for weasel, perhaps because weasel fur shines so brightly under the devilâ€™s club that grows beside the river.
A Twinkie Salted
At dinner, Aphasia correctly places the forks beside her plate but finds herself unable to ask for the salt. She conjures a memory of salt-gatherers in France, of the deep mines where toxic waste will be stored, a Twinkie salted by a Vietnam vet. She slakes her thirst from her water goblet. She knows that a sugar bowl filled with salt is a sophomoric prank. But salt will not come to her, though she taps a relentless rhythm against the side of her Wedgwood plate, a small paddock to indicate her distress.
A is for Archive
In the library, Aphasia builds tall stacks of books: encyclopedias, taxonomies, facsimile editions. Her fingers scuff the pages as she turns them, the ridges on her skin forming tiny folds of meaning. She wants to sniff the sentences but fears that, like the dust of fallen towers, syllables will turn to concrete in her lungs. She believes that Joan of Arc coughed up bits of testimony in the moments before the flames consumed her.
She Tells Her Doctor
Aphasia sees a woman in a pink peignoir on the corner of 42nd and 6th. The woman wears fuzzy pink mules and carries a briefcase. Aphasia thinks: martini rats. On Tuesday next, she tells her doctor, who assumes “pink” and “peignoir” are (a) unrelated to each other, and (b) code for something Aphasia cannot now name. This is how she has been reduced: she cannot express the oddness of reality in the city.
As if she had Fallen
It is as if she had fallen into the sea where jellyfish come to breed, where tiny words grow into translucent phrases afloat on the warm waters of her thought. The tentacles of the breeding jellies drift across her face like hair blown by an iodine breeze. When she speaks, her tongue stings and strains with the effort of controlling words that bob strangely to the surface, trailing their own electric tendrils, their glassy domes flashing pink and violet in the salty air beyond her tears.
Aphasia stands before her bathroom mirror and presses two fingers into the flesh of her forearm. She is so full of nouns. Some have awkward shapes, like models of molecules in science class; others are as sleek as salmon. An MRI would reveal them knotted around her knuckles, nestled between her shoulder blades. She can scrape them from under her fingernails, but the nouns in her pancreas have found a pocket and burrowed in. She moves her fingers to her side and presses down. She can feel them. She knows they are there, but she does not know what to call them.
A is for Avatar
For Aphasia, pigeons are word made flesh. When a flock lifts into the sky to avoid a running child, she reads them as a poem of wing and bone. Lyme-grass. The feathers spell: Lyme-grass gammon/ teaspoon ravel/ bevel furrow furrow/ furrow lyme gammon tea/ tea bevel-grass/ furrow furrow spoon. A poem which makes no sense, even to Aphasia, though she is certain that a falling pigeon would alter the meaning irrevocably.
Making Everything Different
Aphasia did not play word games in her youth. Her family played Hearts, Old Maid, and Crazy Eights. Now she has Scrabble tiles clattering out of her mouth. She stands near a rack of used books outside The Strand and asks a passerby for diamonds. She has no watch, but is thinking of the clockwork regularity of the eights, how they appear against your will, making everything different in a matter of seconds. The man directs her to 47th Street and passes on. Clubs! she shouts after him.
A is for Arcade
Aphasia has a pinball machine in her head: lights and buzzers, bumpers and flippers, a spinning globule of mercury rolling through her intentions. She wishes for Skee-ball, Whack-a-Mole, the Ring Toss, a goldfish to carry home in a clear plastic bag. She recalls the taste of funnel cake, lemon shake-ups, hotdogs with onion and kraut. Aphasia believes she can construct a sentence from a series of Coney Island images, but the mercury breaks into smaller pieces each time it hits a pin, and finally it disappears down the black hole of her illness.
As if All her Rooms
It is as if all her rooms had become clothes dryers filled with the lint of pulverized words. She enters the living room to find it stuffed with clean bath towels as white as blank paper, each one a warm miracle of looped cotton, impossible to unravel. Her steps are hushed and cushioned as she wades toward an object she remembers, something she now calls artichoke, though somehow the spikiness of the word does not convey the softness of the seating she seeks. She pushes aside towel after towel, feeling the lint has worked its way into her mouth, as if she were drowning in a terrifying desert.
Aphasia sees a sign that says “don’t even think about parking here” and can think of nothing else. She understands that parking refers to the golden retriever sitting patiently on the curb while its owner fetches coffee from a nearby deli. She worries that parking has been abandoned, and is neither here nor there. Only half a block away sits the desperate fish shop known as Oh’s, a place she avoids because it is everywhere. She has seen it on other blocks, in other neighborhoods, moving about like a wandering dog. In every location, it is called Oh’s. She cannot think about this treacherous instability, however, because she now realizes that the sign means: this is not an appropriate place for thinking about the dog. But if not here, then where?
A is for Alluvium
The coffee grounds, the lint, the tiny dried wings of the adverbs, all form a sediment in her mind. Washed along by the waters of her intentions, all manner of grammatical objects tumble in the flood until the heavier elements begin to settle, forming rich layers of semantics in the crevices of her intelligence. A core sample of her temporal lobe might yield: octagon hindmost stagecoach leper coiffeur and a sprinkling of semicolons. And in the littoral of the sea formed by her attempts at speech, the letters themselves, sparkling like beach glass.
Aphasia observes the constellation of objects before here. She recognizes them; some she knows intimately. She fingers a flat and shiny object with a terribly sharp edge; her skin parts, and carnations begin to flower. She says: carnelian. She says: poppy. She says:
A is for Autopsy
Aphasiaâ€™s skull is a linen nightcap tied loosely under her chin. When it is removed, the doctors will find strings of synapses draped across the folds of her brain like suspension bridges. Canals filled with oatmeal. Foreign stamps pasted everywhere. Small clusters of meaning will be found in odd places. Calcified nouns in her pancreas; a lone adverb caught in her throat. Coherent thoughts will lie coiled in her stomach like tapeworms. It would take a sharp knife to release them into daylight, but on Aphasiaâ€™s cold body, the Y incision will be misspelled.
Patti White teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama, and is the Director of Slash Pine Press. She is the author of three collections of poems, Tackle Box (2002), Yellow Jackets (2007), and Chain Link Fence (2013), all from Anhinga Press. Her work has appeared in Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, DIAGRAM, Forklift Ohio, River Styx, Gulf Coast, and New Madrid, among others. Patti is currently at work on a prose-poem novel set in Colorado.
The Fortune-Teller by JESSICA SMITH
originally published in 2009 by a+bend press
The Chapbook, Vol. 2
The Fortune-Teller Jessica Smith
Acknowledgements The Fortune-Teller was originally published by a+bend press under the editorship of Jill Stengel as What the Fortune-Teller Said (2009) as part of the Dusie annual chapbook project. The author would like to thank Jill Stengel and Sandra Beasley for their help preparing the manuscript and Stengel for her design work on the print edition.
1. Involuntary Memory tarnished
digging myself out from under boxes moved the third time this gypsy year (it’s in my blood, my grandmother’s amber eyes) I remember out of the small box with thee to go I turn it over
what the fortune-teller said I remember having it made, impressed with the words you’d given me what we said about Milton’s stenographer the woman writing, editing.
2. The Approach December: Thai food in the East Village. We can’t decide what to make of it. PSYCHIC you
in red letters
tempt me: maybe She’ll know. I say if she’s alone when we come back. And she is. She offers me the only other chair in the room besides hers. Across the table from her. Jim and Claudia talk outside, looking in at us, we are mute to each other. They are cold in the darkness and I am warm in a small lit box. She offers me a deck of tarot cards and I cut them. On each half I make a silent wish. I have not yet spoken. I am to make a wish regarding my career and one regarding my heart. She asks me to choose half the deck and I do. I choose the half on which I made a wish for love.
3. What the Cards Said You possess a ring. one ring.
a childâ€™s pearl one there is a ring. I index my brain for it:
a metal band
two long relationships, then:
whose name begins with M
in three years, a third relationship a tarnished silver one pence de moy a door-knocker diamond one
get rid of the ring.
4. The Stars Saturn with her rings returns every, roughly, twenty-nine years.
5. A Second Story Thirty years ago, just for fun, another young woman consulted a fortune-teller. She told her: You will marry a man in a wheelchair. The two of you will have three children, two sons and a daughter. One of your children will die in a fire. She married a healthy young man, the same as had accompanied her to the psychic. A few months later, a car accident left him partially paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, the happy couple gave birth to three children: two sons and a daughter, in that order. When Emily was born, smoke alarms were installed in every room of the house.
6. The Ring in the summer morning light at K채xed faded
looking out beyond the boathouse I first imagine getting you a ring. through the curtains
mournfully all that pale blue light beckons eternity
my dear one
with or without a ring it is the same.
7. The Ring to make up for some mistake, instead of flowers good better best bested the diamond borrowed from my great-grandmother and set in a giant white gold band.
We pass on this knowledge: ownership and love are different. to have and to hold, to chasten and chastise as long as you both shall live.
8. The Ring Ruby at seventeen: the first time, on the pier in New Jersey he was drunk and she refused. Later, sober, he proved he was serious
We can do it
she led him around the World’s Fair on a leash. pass it down
In WWII he served as a printer for the Navy; she served at home, raising their daughter. A year before I was born, he, beset by cancer, shot himself in the bathtub, minimizing the mess she’d have to clean up. He died slowly, not immediately, and officially the report said from pneumonia. For over fifty years the carbon that would last soaked up the love of the carbon that wouldn’t: Placed on my finger it seemed to burn at the lie.
9. To Ring—Out— I imagine it like this: a careful inspection of a weapon one has known for awhile. The one that will kill you is one you’ve handled carefully, perhaps lovingly— is the one closest to you. American basements are all alike, whether the family is happy or not. Shag rugs or updated Berber flush against faux wood paneling. For months you dream that someone else might do it—fantasize about walking down the street and being the innocent bystander, grateful that someone else took the initiative. You dream of throwing yourself from the catwalk in the school auditorium, but there is always someone there. You, sixteen, fingered the fiery mouth that would devour you. The pounding in your head reverberated, the leaden circles dissolved in the air.
10. To Be Found Afterwards Emily found him there on the ground this brotherhood
Ruby found him unconscious, blood spattered, trickling down the sides of the tub and she was furious.
collections of male desire: basements store porn, beer cans, stuffed heads of hunted animals, firearms.
11. The Ring I imagine it does not go back
arriving, unannounced, she who comes.
drawing near our anniversary
do you imagine the beginning, the end, the beginning
It is a world that is for us the whole world, the only world,
imagine beginning again, ringing at your door, the sound of your voice, beckoned
12. The Ring Living by the church, I learn to differentiate the chimes: each hour on the hour, a chime for each. At midday, the melody all clocks know. Sometimes, long tolls beyond all countable hours call those at work to commiserate with those in mourning. And then on weekends in summer, blasts and chirps reckless and happy, uncoordinated, fledgling, burst out with the steps of the newly wed.
Jessica Smith grew up in Birmingham, AL and received her B.A., M.A. and M.L.S. from SUNY Buffalo. The founding editor of Foursquare and name magazines and libraries editor for Boog City, Smith is now the librarian for Indian Springs School. She has authored numerous chapbooks including, most recently, mnemotechnics (above/ground press), and one book, Organic Furniture Cellar (Outside Voices). Her second book is forthcoming from Chax Press.
Two Stories by LAURA HENDRIX EZELL
The Chapbook, Vol. 2
Contents Leftovers / 61 No Such Thing as Deserve / 67
Laura Hendrix Ezell
Abigail stops at the grocery store on her way home, to pick up a few things for dinner. She lingers there as she always does, intrigued by the expensive cheeses, the more difficult fruits—the mangoes, star fruit and papaya that she always considers buying, and always realizes, as soon as she picks one up, that she doesn't know how to consume. She might peel and cube them, spear each glossy bit into her mouth with a fork. Or take a huge, raw bite of the flesh and find herself stopped, teeth sunk into a spiny pit. She does not allow herself to look for too long. It is easy to be thought strange by appeasing one's every curiosity. Abigail hurries herself along. She ends up at the counter with some broccoli, a potato to mash, a salmon fillet and a bottle of wine. She wonders, looking down at her shoes, her comfortable heels, if she looks like the type of person who would buy a bottle of wine all for herself. When it’s her turn at the register, there is something shameful in the way that she swipes her card, something of guilt in the dropped angle of her head. As if the cashier could see all of the preparation, all of the spicing and mixing, that will go into this dinner for one. She walks to her car through odd patches of rain. Abigail has lately begun to notice the roadsides as she drives. Opaque plastic bags gnarled around the bases of thin trees, like knotty sinew clinging to old bone. The banks of mud rising and falling into the tree line, mud so deep and red it seems the earth has split, heaved forth the glut of rust at its core. The scattering of bodies along the shoulders—raccoon, possum and dog—that come at regular intervals, swollen balloons of organs, leaking oil and rain. At home, Abigail turns on the television while she cooks. But the sounds of the prerecorded laughter are like sticks clacking against her ribs, and the quick pace of the dialogue—single lines, back and forth, not a second to spare, no breath or hesitation, never a moment where someone looks back, openmouthed, finds herself utterly unable to respond—all of this leaves Abigail feeling taxed, intruded upon, as if the television had emptied into her living room a live box of rowdy strangers, and so she turns it off. Music, then. She picks a Duke Ellington LP that Frank had bought her shortly before they were married, at a garage sale they'd been to one Saturday morning after a breakfast of pancakes and mimosas. Jazz is something that Abigail doesn't really understand or care for, that doesn't pique any strong emotion in her, but she likes the idea of herself listening to jazz, especially if she is drinking wine, because she feels that in some way the 61
music justifies the drinking of the wine, and that if anyone were able to look in on her, she would not be ashamed of this; ashamed to be this woman, sautﾃｩing broccoli in butter and garlic, sipping from a large, bowl-shaped glass of wine, and listening to jazz. Later in the evening, the phone rings. Abigail reads her sister's number on the caller ID and holds the handset to her chest until it stops ringing. In the three months since Frank died, Sherry has called at least every other day. Abigail is grateful for this, truly, and on many nights she has held the phone hot against her face with closed eyes, clenched hand, and she has tried almost hysterically to prolong the conversation. But tonight, she cannot bear to be checked on. Sherry's voice will be boisterous, straining to make itself heard against the stew of background noise: husband, dog, and television, her two fighting boys. No, Abigail thinks. Not now. In her old life, Abigail came home to a house where the lights were already on. When she opened the door, the air inside was not stale and stagnant. It was air that moved, that someone else had been breathing. There would be bright sitcoms on the television; there would be some sort of kiss. Back then when Abigail cooked, she cooked for two, without the dread of leftovers, the filling and stacking of Tupperware with excess that now, in her new life, she will watch turn to waste. That night, a wing of cold sweeps over Sayree, turning the day's rain into ice. Abigail wakes up. It is Saturday. She stretches a leg clear across the bed into the unwarmed white sheets of the other side. It took her two months to change them. For a while, it would happen that she might turn her head and happen upon the scent of her husband trapped in some fold or pocket窶認rank's night-sweat, his scalp. And then it did not happen anymore. Those sheets are in the closet now, in a bag. Abigail tries to enjoy the clean feeling of these new ones, the lingering bloom of fabric softener. She has slept alone for three months. She knows that she must stop thinking of this bed in terms of its halves. Outside there are naked trees, their frozen black branches clicking against each other in the wind. In the gray light that spills into the room, Abigail feels that she is underwater, tanked. The air weighs heavy on her. She is twenty-eight years old. She is too young to feel this heavy. She pushes herself out of bed and dresses for a walk. As she begins to walk, Abigail feels blood moving through her, prickly, into her arms and feet, into her head. She passes her neighbor, that strange boy, outside again on his front lawn, sitting on a towel, staring at the sky. He waves, but Abigail does not nod to acknowledge him. This is why she walks in sunglasses. She feels more invisible than she ever has. She weaves out of her neighborhood like a spy. Abigail moves along the highway in the direction of traffic. The occasional car rushes past, but mostly, she is alone. Someone honks at her and 62
Laura Hendrix Ezell she lowers her head, walking faster. When she begins to wear out, noticing that her ankles are tired, that there is a sting to the air and that maybe it is too cold for walking, after all, she has cleared the suburbs and reached the road that curves around the mountain and down into the city. There is a cafĂŠ, and Abigail thinks of coffee for the first time that day. It's a nice feeling, this tiny thrill, the promise of caffeine. Inside, everyone is alone and hunched over somethingâ€”book, magazine, laptop, muffin. She buys the largest coffee and finds an overstuffed chair in the corner of the room, beside a wall-sized window looking onto the street. She pulls her knees up into the chair and drinks the coffee slowly, watching the cars pass by, their tires wheeling up sprays of slushy gray ice. She is still wearing the sunglasses, and she feels that this is justified, perhaps even dictated by propriety. She is a widow, after all. She is a widow in a coffee shop and she is wearing huge black sunglasses. It could be glamorous, too, that misery. On the way home, rain begins again, this time turned sharp by the frozen sky. It comes down on Abigail, tiny arrows planting themselves in her hair, face and bare neck. She considers running but decides against it, because she is tired, and because she is learning that some things are unpleasant but do not hurt her in any lasting way, and that it is best not to trouble herself much over these things. It is a long walk home, and Abigail does not have the lightness that carried her when she first set out. There is the ice, still falling from overhead, and her shoes which are soaked and heavy now. She is still nearly half a mile from home when she sees a house under construction and considers going in. What a foolish thing to do, she thinks. It's the kind of thing she and her friends did in high school, at the age when there was nowhere they could sit and talk without buying anything or breaking the law. Abigail is seized by a fierce nostalgia. She not only wants to enter the building; she wants to go into it with a small radio and a jug of screw-top wine, and she wants to sit there and drink and carve her initials into the sheetrock with a bent, discarded nail. She wishes Frank were with her. She needs to sit down. She walks inside and smells the sweetness of the wood. She is in a dangerous place. It is a mesh of bare beams. There are gaps in the floor and upturned roofing tacks. If one were to walk around blindfolded, one would probably be hurt or killed. The stairs are not finished, either, but Abigail decides she would like to climb them. The top floor will be an attic, she sees. She is in an open space bordered by four triangular rooms. An attic; a child's dream room. Drastically sloped ceilings, corners where grownups cannot stand up straight. She is thinking this about children, and looking around, and then she sees them. In the furthest room from her, there are two children hiding. Dirty children, crouched down, quiet as animals.
Abigail does not want to move. It isn't that she's afraid of frightening them, but that she's afraid they will disappear, that they are a trick of light and sawdust, perfect little accidents grown into the grain of the wood. She takes in a sharp breath, she is so terribly excited by them, these stray babies. Slowly, the first lifts its head, and the second follows. Their heads are blond and nearly round, and as they stand up and begin to toddle over toward Abigail on sea legs, their heads dip and nod. They are wearing nightshirts and diapers; they are still at that sexless age, big eyes, bare feet. She swoops in toward them when she sees those feet, like soft little fruits, padding between the nails and the tacks. "Babies, hi, babies," she says, and begins to pet them, their heads and faces, fragile shoulders. She puts her arms around them and draws them near, and they rest against her, soundless except for their soft, sniffling breaths. At this point, there is no choice to be made. If a woman finds small children alone in a dangerous house, the law is that that she will take them home with her. Surely, it must be. She will take them home, and she will feed them and maybe wash them, and then she will take them to the police. Abigail pauses, considering how to approach the problem of leaving the house. Stepping in closer to get another look at the stairs, she sees the children moving behind her, slowly and with great caution, as if they were stalking her, as if she might object. She extends her hands and a baby takes each. They walk down the stairs like that, all in a line. Outside, it is no longer sleeting. Abigail squats down and lets one child climb onto each of her hips. She carries them all the way home. Once inside, the babies are hungry. They draw up near Abigail's couch and wrap their glistening mouths around corners of cushions. They suck on their own hands. Abigail does not know what sorts of food might hurt a baby, but she knows enough to fear bones, and seeds. The soft things, then. In the refrigerator, she has so many leftovers. She takes out the mashed potatoes and the peas, and warms them a little in the microwave. Then she forks through them, looking for hidden pockets of steam that might hurt the babies. She tries to feed them from spoons, one in each hand. But the children do not have the patience. They dig their little hands into the Tupperware and shovel up mouthsfull. This is funny to Abigail at first, in a way that she understands it would not be funny if these babies were her own children. Soon, the peas and potatoes are gone, and the babies sit still at the table, waiting, palms open, looking at Abigail. She warms some squash and some steamed carrots, and when those are gone, some rice. The babies eat so greedily that Abigail fears something will happenâ€”that they will choke, or their stomachs will split. But she doesn't know when they last ate, or even how much babies are supposed to eat; she assumes they will know and stop when they should, and so when all of the leftovers are gone and they are still hungry, she breaks a slice of bread into 64
Laura Hendrix Ezell pieces in a bowl, and then pours some milk in with the pieces. She tries to give them spoons, but the babies pass the bowl back and forth, each raising the bowl to the lips to take a small swallow, eyes closed, and then lowering the bowl, sliding it across the table to the other. Abigail knows that they are finished when their heads begin to droop. And before she can lift them from their chairs, they are asleep, cheeks to the table. Because she does not know if they will roll in their sleep, she thinks it best that they stay on the floor. But she takes all of the bedding from her mattress and moves it onto the carpet. She moves them, their limp bodies, bellies like sandbags, onto the pallet. And she watches them. Even when the phone rings, they do not stir. Still, Abigail does not answer her sister's call, for fear that her voice will wake them. For that same reason, she tells herself, she will not turn on the television, or the radio, or walk outside to get the newspaper that waits at the end of the driveway. She decides that she cannot take the babies yet to see the police. If she delivers them as they are, smudgy-faced, clump-haired, the police might think they are bad babies, might develop a bias against them. She wants for them to be presented at their very best; she wants for them to have a fair shot at whatever will happen to them next. After she has filled the tub a quarter full with lukewarm water, she brings them into the bathroom. The screaming begins. The babies look at the tub and they shriek: tight vowels, vibrato. The sounds cut through the air in the bathroom like bullets; ricochet off the tile, come at her again from different directions. Abigail has to cover her ears and herd the children out with her legs. Once out of the bathroom, they are quiet again. But they look at Abigail every so often as they sit on the couch, opposite her chair, and she believes that she sees spite in their faces. Their faces. They are dirty still. Abigail tries another approach, warm water on a washrag. The babies do not mind this at all; in fact, they rub their faces against the rag in her hand. They rub like cats. So then they are clean faced, at least. And after a while, after stroking their heads and letting them hold the comb, and demonstrating its use on her own hair, Abigail is able to fix the hair of the children, too. Then the diapers. She doesn't have any diapers, but she has an old tshirt to cut into rags, and she has some safety pins. She does what she can. At last she steps back and looks at them. They are nearly clean, with pink scrubbed faces and smoothed blonde hair, and they look up at her, and do not look at all unhappy. They look beautiful. They look a little bit like Frank looked in baby pictures Abigail has seen of him. For a moment, she considers that now is the time to take the babies to see the police. But, she thinks.
Maybe they are hungry again. All of the leftovers are gone. Abigail kisses each baby on the head, and walks into the kitchen, to start something from scratch.
Laura Hendrix Ezell
No Such Thing as Deserve
When spring begins to dry into a harder season—trees wasting down to their thin, black skeletons, and all the green in the world turning over, drawing back into ground—I begin to look at my Abel with different eyes, begging eyes. We sit in the shade, out of the heat’s sting, and with my eyes I tell him, You are a husband to me. Please don’t leave this house, with me in it. Abel looks back at me and I know that it doesn’t matter what I ask, because he is what he is, and he has no choice of staying. All around us, there is nothing but what is dying. Huge black birds swoop in, try to suck moisture from old bones. The dogs in the woods weave and howl, and their dangerous eyes gleam at us from the shadows. They will take what they need. Abel holds onto my hand, but loosely. The ground bakes and splits, and calls him. I was born in Brighton and expected to finish my life there. We were a small town that made what we needed, and what little we had was enough. Some of us tended orchards, reached up toward trees full of peaches and pears in turn; and others spent the days stooping closer to the ground, pulling up sweet potatoes, greens. This was how life happened, I believed, all of us being born on a certain soil which would feed us, all of us going back into it one day, feeding the lives of the ones who came next. There was always enough to share. When strangers came to our market in season, we traded them out of kindness for the things that they wanted. We took their metal coins, their strange powders and creams, and stored them in canisters on our shelves. Nobody remembered how our town began, or remembered anyone new coming there to settle, or anyone ever leaving. I would have assumed that this was how things happened for others, elsewhere, if such a thought had occurred to me at all. My father was a carpenter, a whittler and shaper of small, needful objects. He was a good craftsman, and proud of the things he made—wooden bowls, beautiful and polished; sturdy step ladders for reaching the firm, yellow fruit near the tops of trees; and buckets, many of them, strong and deep. In the storeroom of our house the shelves were lined with his buckets, the warped or odd ones that he refused to sell, all of them full of fruits and vegetables, fresh and dried, that we had been given in exchange for Father's goods. The same was true of other houses with their own crafts or sustenance, and we were all taken care of, as well as we needed to be. And then the drought came. It came without warning, without our even knowing that it had come. When we noticed at last that the wells were 67
low, that the leaves on every tree and bush had begun to wilt, we paused and wondered, but did not worry. After all, what was there to do but pray, and wait? We ate less, drank less, tried not to appear foolhardy before God, who would see, and tend to us. We left offerings at the leaving place, the mound at the edge of the wood. Beads and carved bone trinketsâ€”the things we'd gotten in trade at the market. But perhaps they did not please him. We were, after all, new to the art of begging. The days went on. The heat swelled, and still there was no food. The people grew weak. We sat on the porches, watching the air rising from the ground in iridescent waves. Children passed the days sitting under trees, heads lolled back. They rolled stones back and forth to one another, raised armies of twigs in cracks of the red earth. Inside and outside, people sat very still and did not speak. The air was hard to breathe. We took it in small gasps that blazed across our lips and turned to dust, settled in the lungs. In every pocket of shade a dog moaned and tried to die. In our house, the buckets were going empty. Father walked from door to door as he had in past times, asking whether anyone needed a new bowl, or bucket. As he asked he averted his eyes, knowing full well that no one needed a reminder, an empty bowl, a dry bucket. But what could he do? Our family could not eat wood. Finally the time came when there was nothing left. Nothing to share, nothing to ask for. But it did not occur to us to go elsewhere. If it had, it is likely we still would have stayed, our faith was that strong. We waited. We watched the skies. By the time we came to understand that help might not come to us, we did not have the strength to get up and leave. The craftsmen suffered before the farmers. Our family was one of the first to take to bed to save strength, watching and waiting all through the days, the nights as well. We took off our clothes, though we were ashamed; it relieved a little of the heat, and we set between us what little we had, some dried berries, a bucket of roots that we'd pulled out of the ground to suck on when the need became too great. We moved and spoke less and less, until one day I realized that Mother and Father no longer spoke at all. I sobbed, trying to shed tears to wet my tongue, but none came. Because my bed faced the window, I could see what was happening outside. I was watching out my window on the day when Abel came up the road into town. A stranger walking with a stick. I believed him to be a vision come to take me away. I did not regret it, or struggle. But when some of the neighbors opened their doors and took to the porches, I wondered, and thought, for some reason, that perhaps I might not die. The old people knew what he was right away. Hope welled up in them like strength, one last wave of it. They rose from their beds and hobbled outside. From my bed by the window I heard them, their whispers dry as smoke.
Laura Hendrix Ezell Hasn't been none like that in years. Might'n be a fake. Diviner. Humph. We'll see what he finds. Won't find nothing. He's a fake. But please, god. Let him find something. I wrapped up in a quilt and pushed myself as best I could to the doorway to watch as it happened. How everyone gathered in one spot to see what he would do. Around the well seemed the most natural place, so that was where they gathered. But Abel didn't go near the well. Probably he knew that water doesn't hide in wells. Instead, he started over by the church. But it wasn't there, either. I still remember how he looked that day, feeling for water. He walked terribly slow, using his stick like a cane, pushing all his weight onto it with each deliberate step. He opened his eyes wide as buckets and watched the ground, his heavy steps, his big brown boots lifting and dropping. Sometimes he'd go straight on, walking a line that crossed over road and garden and sleeping dog, and other times he turned on himself, little circles at first, then widening out like a coin spinning, readying to fall. He went on like this, all afternoon, over every bit of ground that we'd tended or built on or given a name to. School. Grave. Store. Home. And then finally he looked up the road where he'd come from, and down the road to where he'd not yet been, and for a while he didn't speak. Just stood like that, looking back, looking forth, just trying to think of a way to tell these strangers that their patch of ground, which was all they'd ever had or would have, was the most accursed place he'd ever stood. He told me later that he could not figure a way to say to them, Well here is a choice. You can abandon this land and the homes you put on it. At least there is that. As he spoke he dreaded to look at them. Kept his gaze flush with the ground. Which is why he saw me. I lay on the porch where I had fallen, unable to move. I have asked him since then why he did what he did. He said that he looked at me and thought that in that whole town, I was one thing he might could save, and he needed to save something. So he walked over to me and without saying a word to the strangers, lifted me in his arms and began to walk. I was only vaguely aware. His windy voice in my ear, the motion of being carried. And though in truth I knew that I was hardly anything, a dry husk of a girl who would probably not live long, who was being taken to be buried in some strange soil, and something small in me fought against it, for it was surely the greatest sin, the only sin, to leave; still, I felt then that I was being stolen; that I was a thing worth stealing. There had not been such a delicious moment in all my life. And then it was dark. When I woke, we were still, and Abel was holding up my head, his hat to my mouth and the water trickling in a little at a time, still tasting of leather and of his skin, but mostly I tasted this new water. Water from a 69
different spring, water that my body was not made of. And the funny thing about it was that the more he poured, the thirstier I got. Abel tried to hold me off, tried to say that it wouldn't do to have too much at once, but I bit at his hands and kept drinking. As soon as it was all in me, I couldn't keep it down. My gut wrenched it all back out, just like he said would happen. I heaved and gagged and was still thirsty, and I knew quite surely that I no longer had any home at all, and that I would never be satisfied again. I learned later that they chased us to the edge of town, and stopped there. How could they go one step farther down that road? After his silence, after the rage had washed up over them. How could they leave this place now? It had always fed them. They were made of its soil and its shoots. It would rain again. They stood fast on that ground that was nothing now but squalling dust around their ankles. They stood there and they took the rage in their cupped hands and they drank it, instead. The place where Abel brought me does not have a name. It is a clearing in a wood somewhere, two days' journey south of Brighton. Abel believes that it is bad luck to give a name to a place, bad luck to say home. I believe that the bad luck comes not from the having, but from the leaving. Still, I’ve done what I’ve done, and here we are, at this cabin where he has lived between journeys since he can remember. His father built it, a place for Abel and his mother to stay while his father went off and left them for weeks at a time. He was a diviner, too, and his father before him. It's a job that gets passed down; same as land, same as houses. And we are living here, same as a husband and wife, same as Abel's mother and father. I am not perfect at it, I fear. Not as good as mother. I didn't know how soon this job would come to me in life. I left so many questions unasked. Still, I do what any girl knows how. I sleep in Abel's bed and mend his clothes, and put food on the table. I stay as near to him as I can, all of the time, to ease my loneliness. And he waits and watches the skies, this strange man who is now my husband. He says the droughts call to him, that he can feel the pull like an ache in his bones. And it is getting worse, the summers drier and hotter. Like hell reaching up. I think of the stories that he's told me about his father, his mother, all of that leaving, and I wonder how long it will be before he leaves me, too. He speaks to me of it sometimes, Brighton, the place he could not save. My place. He says to me that in all his years, it was the only one. There is always something there. Always some water if you dig deep enough. But not in Brighton. And he can't understand how it could be that God would leave a place alone like that. He cannot help but decide it was something that they— or we, for I lived among them—had done. Whatever sin could have done this?
Laura Hendrix Ezell he asks. And I cannot imagine it either, such a terrible thing that it would turn the earth against us; that it would make the plants and trees say that they would rather die too, than to help us live. No, I cannot believe that. Maybe there is a different answer. Forgive me for thinking it, but maybe there is no such thing as any God. No such thing as deserve. Abel and I suffered our first winter together, and it pushed us close into one another. Maybe this is what it means to be married—to huddle together against the elements, tighter and tighter. It was a bitter, fierce season, turning everything cracked and frozen, and its breath found a way between our clothes and skin and settled there like a pest, bedeviling us. Sometimes we retired early, spent the afternoon and all of the night locked together beneath the cover of our bed, simply because the stove wasn't warm enough to do the job. We are each other's only company. There are no neighbors here to speak of—no church, or shuckings, or bees, no sitting on the porches picking and singing, even in these warmer times, now that it has turned again to spring. Instead, we are surrounded by an awful wood in which nothing lives but those awful dogs, which Abel says have joined with wolves. “You must learn to use the gun,” he says. He says it often, and unsolicited; sometimes when there is a moment of silence, sometimes when I am right in the middle of telling a thing. I just stare back at him. I do not want to learn to use the gun. For now, I just try never to be alone. Abel is kind, and he lets me cling to him. I do it as I would a sister or a playmate, or my own lost Mama. Sometimes I follow him around while he does his chores, to the neglect of my own. He allows this, me tripping behind him, chattering away like a mouthy pup, anything I can think of to say or to ask. He does not say much in return, but sometimes I see him smiling. And Abel has put this baby in my belly, though he does not know it yet. She waits inside me, curled as quiet and tight as a root. I've been waiting for this, because at night, when he sleeps, I replay my mother's words in my head, everything she ever told me. She said that this would happen one day, and gave me the signs. That my monthlies would stop, that my stomach would not hold on to food. She said that I would smell nearly everything, and truly, I can. I can smell the yellow grease of yesterday's cornbread in the ashes when I go to light a new fire. The metallic edge, bloodlike, of Abel's sweat at night in bed. I send Mama messages too—pick a few short words at a time, and try to think them so hard that her spirit will hear them, if it is out there wandering somewhere. Even though it makes her seem that much farther away, I cannot seem to make myself stop doing it. There are some things you cannot say to your husband, some things he should not know. Maybe this baby will help me. When she comes, I will have someone new to talk to, and I can tell her all of those things that Mama told me. It will be good to say them out loud.
I am in the kitchen making rabbit stew when Abel comes up behind me and says, “I'll need to be going soon.” For just a moment, I'd stopped expecting it, let myself forget. I wonder where he will be going. There is nowhere around here at all, and he's never left before. Then it makes sense. I close my eyes. You've got a baby coming. You're needed here, I could say. But I don't. He still doesn't know about the child I hide under my clothes, the one I suspect will always be small. I wear my apron strings loose these days, and keep my back to him when I can. Perhaps I keep quiet out of love. Because I admire him and his important work, and want for him what he wants. Let me pretend that if I told him about his child, my Abel would never leave, and in every season there would be water and meat, though his eyes would be fixed on the road. These are the things that I tell myself during the daylight, when my mind is strong and full of story. But they are not the truth. At night, when I walk that edge of the deep pond of sleep, where thoughts arise to me unbidden before I can sink them, I know what is. I do not tell Abel about his child because it would not make any difference. He would leave me anyway. And then I would be alone, and go to sleep at night with the knowledge that my husband needs to go out looking for water more than he needs to see after the safety of his own child, his own wife. I would have to know, beyond any doubt, that he was willing to chance us both. To leave us to the dogs. That night at dinner, I fork at the beans on my plate, knowing I should eat them. But I have trouble. There is only so much time left, and only so many words to be put into that time. So I do what is most important. I take in every word Abel says. Every sound is a warm swallow. I am willing them down into the deepest parts of me, and at the same time urging, breathing to that other life, that scrap of my husband that sleeps in my pit, Now you pay attention to this. I like to believe that she can hear him, that his words are imprinting themselves somewhere deep on her. That she will be able to replay them some day, should she ever need to. “I want to build you a shed around the spring,” he tells me. It will be somewhere cool to go, somewhere to keep meat.” This is how he begins. “Alright,” I say. It's hard to feel anything. I have never in my life been alone. I don't care about any damn shed or meat, but I think it means something to him to give it to me, and this I understand, so I will be kind. He takes my hand in his and looks at me across the table. “You don't understand,” he says, and I ask him about what. “These woods. They are very dangerous. It's the dogs. You don't understand.” “I'm afraid of the dogs. I understand.” He shakes his head. “You aren't afraid enough. If you were, you'd have wanted to learn to shoot by now. I've been able to look after you so far, but soon you'll be alone. You'll need to look after yourself. You've not seen them in the summer, and this summer will be a hard one.” 72
Laura Hendrix Ezell
I want to be sick. I am so mad I want to throw up on the table. I want to beat my fist on the board or maybe against Abel's hand or face. I've never wanted to be alone, to take care of myself by myself, and I don't think that's what husbands or wives or people do. They take care of each other, or at least we always did. Maybe I will scream it. My face feels red and something bubbles at the top of my stomach, some kind of rage. I get up and run for the outside. Abel is on my heels and before I get out the door, his heavy arm swinging across my chest, penning me back inside and into him. I lay my head against him and cry and don't say anything. He already knows what I want, and I already know that he is not going to give it to me. My first lesson is the next day. I aim at pine cones and stones that Abel puts up on a stump. Never at the woods where the dogs are, though I don't see why not. “Why can't you just go on and kill all those dogs? Then I'd be safe while you're gone.” “I couldn't kill them all. And besides, that ain't the way,” he says. “We don't bother each other unless we have to.” “Then why are we afraid of them?” “Because sometimes they have to. The heat stirs them up. Especially if it’s too dry. Less for them to eat.” “Will they come this summer? While you are gone?” He doesn't answer, just walks over to the stump and sets up another pine cone. I am not a good shot. Maybe if I stay poor at it, Abel will have to give me many, many more lessons. In the afternoons, he works on the shed, and I work on preparing his things so that he can go. I've re-hemmed the pant cuff that drags on the ground beneath his heel, and tightened the buttons on his shirt. The garden is putting on its last show, and I don't waste a thing. I prepare more than we need at every meal, to try and fatten him for the lean days ahead. I can and pickle and dry, and plan to send with him as much food as he can carry. To be kind, he will take some, pretend that my efforts help him. But Abel got along for many years before me, many years before he even knew I'd been born at all. Abel will be just fine, with me or without. When he nails the last nail, takes off his gloves and rubs his hands together, I'm watching from the door. He waves me out to see his work, smiling like a boy. It's before dawn on the morning after the shed is done. Of course I have not slept. I feel Abel move into waking like a hundred times before. He wakes from his elbows first. Then arms, spine, legs. Then face. It is good that I know these things, because I will not open my eyes. If I did, I believe I would 73
falter. I'd cry and beg and tell, and then he'd leave anyway. That won't do. So when he hunches over me, I kiss deep into him, but don't open them. And he does not ask me to. â€œBe careful. If the dogs start to howl, keep the gun near you.â€? This is the last thing he says to me. When the door has shut behind him, I turn over and move to the window. I crouch down and watch him go. After Abel leaves, there is a long string of days, all of them hot and slow. Each morning opens like a bright hot tent spreading out, trapping everything underneath it. It's too hot to move around, too hot to care about much anything. Every morning I make myself go out to the shed and bring my water and meat inside for the day, but I'm doing it to keep my baby alive inside me, not because I want to eat or drink anything. I want so littleâ€”only to lie here on this bed, willing myself into unconsciousness for longer and longer each day. My sleep is expanding to fill all of these empty hours surrounding me. It comes when I call it, and I call it often. He's been gone just a week when I fall ill. Me, and her inside of me. It starts so fast. I hurl myself out of bed one morning, run towards the outhouse in the back, but I don't make it there in time. Sick on my bare feet, in my hair. I clean myself up at the spring, but I've forgotten my bucket, so I drink what I can, make plans to come back later. But back inside, I shiver in the heat, too tired to go, too tired to turn back over. I know I must eat, but I look at the food around me and shudder. There are the jars full of everything pickled. Cucumber and onion and peppers, all flaccid and pale. I try a plate full of cold beans, soaking overnight. My body rejects it, forces it out again like poison. I bring a pan in next to the bed and stop even trying for the outhouse. In a few short hours, all of the water is squeezed out of me. My lips are parched, and I know I have to make it to the shed. I don't want to go there near dark. I have begun to feel, lately, that there are eyes fixed upon it. But I have to go. I am so weak. I crawl to the spring on my hands and knees, dragging the bucket behind me. In the scorched air, there are low howls, sounds that I wish were wind, but when I look at the trees, their still, silent branches, I know the sounds are something else. I am almost to the shed. Maybe those dogs will think that I am one of them, if they are watching. I laugh at this, first time in weeks. When I get to the pump, I lean over and drink like something wild, my face right in the spring and both hands working, too. So much water coming in I can't even breathe over it and so I have to stop and take a rest. Then, behind me, there is something else breathing. I think, for the first time in days, of the gun. Turn around. So slow that it doesn't seem like moving at all. But then I'm turned, still down on the ground. And there is a dog, his face right in mine. I have no weapon in reach. No pole to push that matted, stringy body away from my own. Nothing to stick in that soft spot where its life hides. Its face is there twitching. I haul myself up, grab a package of bacon wrapped in 74
Laura Hendrix Ezell paper and wave it around. Can you smell this, dog? There, dog. I throw the package farther than I knew I could throw. And the dog runs after it. I toss myself against the door, which I'm truly seeing for the first time. It has a bar to lock it from the inside. As if this were always going to happen. I bar the door and laugh again, somehow. Louder and louder. They howl back at me, as if they are laughing too. There's more than just that one dog out there. Packs of them. Stalking rings around us and each other. Smelling the air. Finding nothing good. Two days later. Iâ€™m in here with my baby in my belly and puddles of my own sick and shit all around. I have opened the door four hundred times. Just a crack, just to see. A crack big enough to stick my eyeball out. The dogs do not relent, not in the night or the day. When I cannot hear them anymore, it doesn't mean they have gone. They are there. I open the door and they are still there, looking at me. Where would they go? This shed is the center of everything. I am in here and my baby and the meat and the water. The dogs want all that. They want it inside them. Outside there is nothing but heat and death. In here there is this meat and water but it won't stay inside me. The meat is inside of the shed but not inside of me and I am inside of the shed. The dogs are outside and they wish they were inside the shed and the meat was inside them and I was inside them. The dogs are outside. Today they were delivered. I had two of them in me. Maybe a girl and maybe a boy. Too small to say for sure. Two tiny, still bodies. Each one the size of my palm. Two hands, I have, and a baby in each. Please, God, deliver me, too. Days and they are still outside. Dogs, dogs. I am in here with those babies. Tiny shut faces. And the blood that fell out which was an accident. The blood is old now. It is two days old. That is old blood, two days. It might have been young instead, very young blood. But it isn't. Now those dogs are wanting very much to get in. They make the sounds of something who is starving. Their sounds are terrible and sometimes human. But I don't know any more who such sounds belonged to first. It is worthless to try and say. Suffer. Beast. They are louder and louder. And they are coming for the water or maybe for the old blood but I don't know which. They are coming for whatever will keep them alive and stuck here, feet to the earth, and they will stay in this place sucking and biting the life out of whatever it is that will keep them, or they will bite on even the cold bones of this place if that is what they have to do. It is time now to stop holding these babies against me. So I have my hands for digging. Dig for days and nights with my hands. Way down deep. Dig dig. 75
I will dig a hole big enough and we will all get inside it. Those dogs will not have us. We will go under the ground, this ground. Me and those babies. Something buried there, something for Abel to find. We will live here now. When he comes back here he will find us. Because we will always be here. We will never leave any place again.
Laura Hendrix Ezell received her MFA from The University of Alabama, where she also served as Editor of Black Warrior Review. Her work has appeared in McSweeney's, Kenyon Review, and Mid-American Review. She currently lives in Tennessee.
The Sex Life of the Fantastic Four by MICHAEL MARTONE
originally published by Strode Cabin Press, 1998
The Chapbook, Vol. 2
The Sex Life of the Fantastic Four (Strode Cabin Press, 1998) measures 5 ¼” x 7 ½”. The cover: paper. Interior: orange flyleaf with off-white textblock.
Michael Martone is a professor at the University of Alabama where he has been teaching since 1996. His most recent books are Four for a Quarter, Not Normal, Illinois: Peculiar Fiction from the Flyover, Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins, a collection of essays, and Doublewide, his collected early stories. Michael Martone, a memoir in contributor's notes, Unconventions, Writing on Writing, and Rules of Thumb, edited with Susan Neville, were all published recently. He is also the author of The Blue Guide to Indiana, published by FC2. The University of Georgia Press published his book of essays, The Flatness and Other Landscapes, winner of the AWP Award for Nonfiction, in 2000.
This Is Our Hollywood
by EMMA BOLDEN
The Chapbook, Vol. 2
Acknowledgements "Dateline (Deadly Desire)," "48 Hours (Everything to Lose)," and "48 Hours Mystery (The Boy Next Door)â€? are forthcoming in Cedars, an online literary journal.
Contents DATELINE Obsession: The Jodi Arias Story / 125 48 HOURS MYSTERY Death Wish / 126 DATELINE Deadly Trust / 127 DATELINE Deadly Desire / 128 48 HOURS Everything to Lose / 129 48 HOURS Presumed Guilty / 130 48 HOURS Ransom / 131 48 HOURS Honor and Dishonor / 132 48 HOURS MYSTERY The Boy Next Door / 133 48 HOURS The Usual Suspect / 134 48 HOURS Over the Edge / 135 48 HOURS Presumed Guilty / 136 48 HOURS The Usual Suspect / 137
DATELINE The Night Hannah Hill Disappeared / 138 48 HOURS Muscle and Mayhem / 139 48 HOURS Over the Edge / 140 48 HOURS Crazy Love / 141 48 HOURS MYSTERY Showdown in the Bedroom / 142 DATELINE Obsession: The Jodi Arias Story / 143
On the witness stand I am a kitten terribly cute but I can’t say a thing about stupid, or fish, or last night. -- Brandon Brown, "104" [I have so little want of activity...] from The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus.
I couldn’t keep my stories straight. It’s all the same thing, just different versions – I couldn’t keep my lies straight. -- Jodi Arias to Juan Martinez
DATELINE Obsession: The Jodi Arias Story
From the beginning, her sex made her a house of evidence. She tried to cry. I suspected seduction, a woman good at confession. She’s the kind of woman who actually boils. Whatever you wanted to hear, whatever you wanted her to be – intimacy was her grand strategy. He told her he was horny. She performed sex. This all became dangerous. The answers neared a spectacle of streets, an ornate conviction. In the jury’s assessment, a murder deliberate as fall, as hope, as television. The defendant erupted in silence. Her tears were real as liars. At daybreak, the talking regulars sold tickets. The witnesses stood afflicted, once-anonymous co-stars in the tragedy show.
48 HOURS MYSTERY Death Wish The people who live there are the happy, the perfect. And I said I can get everything I want, exactly what. The initial idea was hands tied, a simple victim reported missing. It didn’t appear to me: a nice home in Long Island filled with images of family. The double life story is a better story. A gala of sex or drugs. His business closer to Wall Street, timing, industry, condoms in a local store. It’s never easy but it’s part of judgment. He said I want you to shoot me. Just like that. He was ready. It was quiet. It was eerie. It was a good light for getting done. Killing wasn’t easy. There was a knife. There was an impossible story. I couldn’t believe I absolutely didn’t believe it. He said goodbyes, as in he crossed all his Ts, one way or another. He got his carefully orchestrated death. Picked poison, picked a person to be the building he jumped off of. I will pay for all the wounds, a cluster downward, inside. It’s not so simple to have some sympathy, to believe in your heart in the end.
DATELINE Deadly Trust Call it ambition, America by the sea. Two shots. Two shots. A millionaire on his own kitchen floor. A true believer, self-made. Love was hard to know, neat as a glass on the table, a lawsuit, a soccer game. He had hopes for the house on the bay. He labored to make his way, gunshot residue on his hands. He had to look at everything. In the days that followed, his children wandered. They clung. They cried. They didnâ€™t know why. Nothing was taken. There was a key. He thought he was helping himself by lying. This is the air where he was free. Then he landed and drove home to die.
DATELINE Deadly Desire A heat gathered, sweet and terrifying. I couldn’t go. We never stopped landing. He loved minutes and signs. I had a late flight. I had a typical response. My husband was a world, a quiet cul-de-sac. I loved him like he loved laws. In a motherly way, I believed. I put my God in the foothills. I felt, I guess. A side-effect of desire taken personally. I said no to moments in life and late nights. Time was a devil sped to confession. I said enough. I said enough. I had stopped. I had no idea. I gave him time, my God. Frantically I found my God between two men. I did not sleep. I don’t have a marriage. There’s been an accident and he’s not on earth. It did happen. It was no sudden passion, just an angry man. He said, you’re a whore. He said, why are you. My God. A sequence of shots. A pause. I think he waited until there were no eyes. Despite the theory of a fired gun, I did not hear. I did not see. I can’t remember the story I changed. I never stopped once I’d spoken. I didn’t bring a gun. In the parking lot, I made steps and thoughts. We struggled. It’s possible that I’ve never been guilty or innocent. I remember a hospital of extremes. My God is the architect of intent. He decided on killing and tragedy.
48 HOURS Everything to Lose Hours before midnight. No dogs. Pitch inside minutes, a pool of blood. A covered face. How long was I there? Dark and grainy as a camera â€“ do you remember? The ultimate American girl, as fast as no sound. I kneeled. She worked near her childhood. She began writing: notes for months, never the same. There were questions, hours, strangulation. How long were you planning? I never answered. The footage is lost. We needed a liar. We built doubt. The grieving mother on the floor was true but irrelevant. I prayed for grace. I prayed for justice. Yes, I did that. A game for children. Everything is fine.
48 HOURS Presumed Guilty All I can say is it appears. A sunny day, a wall splattered with blood. Except for the pick-up truck, I donâ€™t remember. A yellow station wagon. A blonde. She had taken over this crime, its impossible motive. A young jail cell asks one question: am I? I believed they believed. They had done their jobs. A neighbor canâ€™t be coincidental, let alone a station wagon. Time raised doubt. Nobody wore their glasses. She moved to Oregon and April to watch crime shows, build advice and ministries, to gather intentional evidence, blind breath and belief.
48 HOURS Ransom A loving family’s a puzzle. I couldn’t be the mother he would hate. I had nothing to do, remote as a television. He had the guts of impossible engines. He had to part with possibility. The time had come to make an appropriate offer. The scene of the crime ticked by. A camera watched. Nothing happened past a word. He was scared to admit he was scared. He performed past blood and forensics. He was as capable as rage. I still don’t believe. My position is smoke, sometimes fire. The best way to hunt is as a motive or mechanism, unfounded. A mystery. To borrow is to steal. A door is a compromise. I’d dream of him and a boat and smiling. I felt deep inside dead. I wanted to touch the man accused, his body a memorial for one yearning. He’s happy. Wherever he will be, he won’t grow old.
48 HOURS Honor and Dishonor In the home, he was a difficult case. He didnâ€™t know days or woodlands, his brother, his father the killer. Miles away, he did what he did. He had a decorated heart. He wanted to know what sleeping was, to take an army to conclusion. He was the son of his father and footsteps. Down on the concrete, the wind filed months and missions. Once they could not agree. Justice was an obvious disguise. He didnâ€™t, God willing, walk as a man. Revenge felt like release, a reasonable right to surface.
48 HOURS MYSTERY The Boy Next Door She trusted what she wanted, all young Hollywood, thousands of bright miles from the scene. At the center was beauty. She was no exception. She spent her days at night. When he asked, she thought much. She never answered. It wasnâ€™t the wine. She was everybodyâ€™s daughter. She lost direction. All the stories were amateur. At Easter time a lily, then a shirt. She knew him as whatever she had to hide. A knife. An ankle. That scream.
48 HOURS The Usual Suspect She was a regular affair with cruises and casinos, Corvettes and wives. He would buy her every week. She was married to an avalanche, driven as a phone. Itâ€™s not like anything, looking for the morning. Nobody found a home. A feast. A blanket. A body. The mystery of our hands. We were a picture of the gone. Our hopes are suspect. Everybody loves a trial. She made you feel vice. It was a peculiar appointment with chemistry and change. She made beautiful refusals. A glass bowl, a candle. The theory of being found.
48 HOURS Over the Edge The day held swan and song. It was a divorce of turned backs. I didn’t want to talk about here. She was where she was and she wanted. I loved her firsthand. She insisted on forgetting, which isn’t flying. We weren’t a beginning. She told a story in which she was a storm and I was a wholesale smuggler. She said she loved and hoped in the present tense. I couldn’t believe. When she disappeared, she carried her life. I felt obligated to wrong my own name with innocence or intention. It was the art of amazing. I told what I had done, a mean accident. I told her to obey me on page one.
48 HOURS Presumed Guilty He had been a hero, a pride. He was very good and wide. His mother kept him generous. He thought heâ€™d be willing. Ultimately it was not fireworks but backfire. He managed. He now exists only in photocopy. He always said no, sitting and watching. Something had to be done. That battle is a man unwavering and the gun. Hope was officially recanted. A man remained, willing to murder the dying. He crouched under the sight of legitimate doubt.
48 HOURS The Usual Suspect We arranged for dinner and questions. As we were driving, distance began. Every logical motive was as true as love. I just kept thinking, maybe. I felt honey. I would do anything. In a suburb, you would expect suspicion, an alibi. We had grown increasingly. We actually went to bed. We actually couldnâ€™t sleep. The morgue was quite the act. I became bleach and Pine Sol. He liked warm places. Flight is an indicator. We learned a home is a closing bank. It was easier to take than the car he drove away from me at the very moment she said.
DATELINE The Night Hannah Hill Disappeared I was abusive. I abused, yes. Fairly and accurately. Yes. But say for you she’d never have eyes. Do you blame? Do you kill? I stood in October, in submission, in theory. In that bedroom, you can behave like a jury. Resolution wasn’t a concern. The courts tried a shadow, robbed the story. I was a cooperative puzzle. She was the figure of an angel who appeared alive. She simply heard. She couldn’t talk. She passed into questions that swirled and spun. No blood. No trace of her. A violent exchange of hands on her neck. I was innocent as a house on fire. Killers are no different than blame.
48 HOURS Muscle and Mayhem He loved the fast and the beautiful. She was an American success story, made for homicide. They had a house, a gold Mercedes, a business deal. He had a way of convincing, of drifters and petty muscles. They had so many cars. It wasnâ€™t funny. They were perfect as victims. They were going to be abandoned and wooded by the boss. Hope wouldnâ€™t pick up the phone. Hope became a notorious crime. Nowhere to be found, they continued to be missing. She continued to believe in secrecy, in missions, simple as hiding under the yard, the surprise of cars. Hollywood drove by like cops gone bad, like the muscles of a good heart that just made a mistake.
48 HOURS Over the Edge Over the railing he went. He told me he had lost his words. He told me he killed his wife. He was just a businessman, the last youâ€™d think. Everyone who ever met him settled in California. The local paper slept with its secrets. No one went driving. It was not conviction. He returned in time and in sentences. He confessed. Then I wrote another story: blood spatter, customers, investigators. It ended at an edge that did not kill. He landed on his feet.
48 HOURS Crazy Love He lay on the ground, hog-tied in the hotel room. It was magnificent. The world lives to be seen. From the beginning to the end, he claimed he was what he was. He managed conventions. His wife was who she was, a stairway of clouds, a little prince not at ease. She looked like a surprise. Neither looked at history. She didnâ€™t want a coffee. She had always loved emphatically. He privileged the past. In the beginning, he believed in collecting bondage. He liked to be tied, a closed door concerned with games, bound and chained. Their home had proved a point. They reconciled. There was an electrical dance. The days after the murder cast and expand. It was money, an ugly convenience, where evidence leads. A litter of paper and wired receipts. When he left, he only had one eye, his mug shot in hand, captured by security and by cameras.
48 HOURS MYSTERY Showdown in the Bedroom A chair. Gasoline. The lighter. He was angry. He loved how his rage centered him. I didnâ€™t know how to keep him or to run. I was there. I lived it, a dog in the corner. I felt sick as murder. Who is in his right mind? I had an answer, convincing as a door. In my own defense, he laughed. It was unrelenting. I believed in danger. My husband was a lethal weapon. He was a bear attack. Canâ€™t you see? I am the brink. I declared shock, devastation. I felt but not for long. In the end, the bullets mattered. Life is a necessary danger. His history was pointed at the door. I remember thinking, everyone will be surprised. I took out my gun.
DATELINE Obsession: The Jodi Arias Story I knew that my life was a story of girl-kills-boy, live and raw. I was a walking felony. I used and sold, a regular spectator caught on cable as a confession. This is our Hollywood. This is life. This is death. This is murder. Like reality, light entertainment and daily drama. Before the killing, I wasn’t living. I was very ashamed. I don’t acknowledge. I don’t know how he could possibly be split from ear to ear.
NOTES The poems in this chapbook are constructed from found language. The source texts are prime-time television newsmagazines – either NBC’s Dateline or CBS’48 Hours. The episode titles and airdates of each source text follow. DATELINE Obsession: The Jodi Arias Story: 10 May 2013 48 HOURS MYSTERY Death Wish: 28 April 2012 DATELINE Deadly Trust: 13 April 2012 DATELINE Deadly Desire: 5 May 2013 48 HOURS Everything to Lose: 8 December 2012 48 HOURS Presumed Guilty: 24 November 2012 48 HOURS Ransom: 5 January 2013 48 HOURS Honor and Dishonor: 16 February 2013 48 HOURS MYSTERY The Boy Next Door: 18 August 2012 48 HOURS The Usual Suspect: 2 March 2013 48 HOURS Over the Edge: 4 May 2013 48 HOURS Presumed Guilty: 24 November 2012 48 HOURS The Usual Suspect: 2 March 2013 DATELINE The Night Hannah Hill Disappeared: 1 February 2013 48 HOURS Muscle and Mayhem: 27 April 2013 48 HOURS Over the Edge: 4 May 2013 48 HOURS Crazy Love: 26 January 2013 48 HOURS MYSTERY Showdown in the Bedroom: 30 June 2012 DATELINE Obsession: The Jodi Arias Story: 10 May 2013
Emma Bolden’s first full-length collection of poems, Malificae, was published by GenPop Books. She is also the author of three chapbooks of poetry: How to Recognize a Lady, published as part of Edge by Edge, the third in Toadlily Press’ Quartet Series; The Mariner’s Wife, published by Finishing Line Press; and The Sad Epistles, published by Dancing Girl Press. Her work has appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, the Indiana Review, the Greensboro Review, Redivider, Copper Nickel, Feminist Studies, The Journal, Guernica, and on Linebreak.org. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University and blogs at A Century of Nerve (www.emmabolden.com).
by JENNIFER HORNE
The Chapbook, Vol. 2
Contents Border Crossing: Giurgiu-Ruse, 1992 / 153 Train to Bucharest / 155 Dinner with MaliČ›a / 156 Bucharest: Persistence of Memory, 1990s / 158 Himalayas / 160 Night Watch: Bucharest, Revisited / 162 The Beggar Lady at the Intercon / 169 Bad Connection / 170 Bucharest Koans / 172
Border Crossing: Giurgiu-Ruse, 1992
The border guards bully the two Iraqi med-students, expecting baksheesh but enjoying the game, pushing the boys roughly into the corridor, taking them alone to a compartment. Curtains are drawn; I hear them bluster in Romanian, fragments: "out of date," â€œa fine." They force the entire train to sit for hours at the border. All of us will miss our connections. In the morning, the Iraqis invite us for breakfast: eggs, bread, cheeseâ€” they share all they have. I feel guilty, protected by my passport, night-blue and gold like the robe of a magician, but the boys shrug their shoulders, give us their addresses. I know I'll never go there, but I give mine too. It's what you do. Two years later, our planes bomb Baghdad. I think for the first time of those young men: fighting? dead? back in Romania? Stuck once again at a border crossing? I'd like to know
theyâ€™re bent safely over books, whispering mnemonics, drinking strong coffee. Whatever, whatever they do, let them share their cold breakfasts, exchange their addresses with strangers.
Train to Bucharest
“It’s hard to speak in the dark,” he said, our train passing through a tunnel, silence coming on like sleep. Life is a fine provider of metaphors. We had to laugh at this one— I an American innocent, he a Romanian exiled to the small mountain town where he taught high-school English. (He had as a young man marched in demonstrations. A local official showed him the pictures they kept on file.) Unlit tunnel, rattle of tracks, a heaviness words failed to pierce, the sense of someone listening, although it wasn’t supposed to matter anymore. The old man dead, his giant slobbering dog still guarded the door. But this was something to forget, and everywhere we went, people rushed forward tumbling their words against the future, the long silence never to be spoken of again, who went along, who didn’t, left behind.
Dinner with Malița
The torturer told stories, smiled, laughed at his own jokes. His rosy jowls jiggling, he devoured the succulent pork, collar sharp as a knife, the lines of his suit crisp and clean as a cardboard cutout. Her role that night was the beleaguered, unrewarded, hard-working professor, victim of vicious rumors. “Don’t be ridiculous!” he interposed. “We own this building!” She shushed him and he smiled, enjoying her discomfort. She stuffed us: cauliflower casserole with cheese, pork loin pungent with garlic, salad in mid-winter, hunks of fresh bread, tangerines from Turkey, and finally, a sweet cake, made with real sugar, good white flour. After dinner the light wine made near the mountains made him misty-eyed for his boyhood home. Its subtle taste of pine, the scent of clover in the wind— “the best wine,” he said, “the most beautiful place on earth. Someday, perhaps, I’ll return there.” It was later we learned about the room where dissidents sat for hours,
summoned to a meeting with MaliĹŁa, who never came. All of them died much later of rare cancers, fruit of hours in a radiated room. Evil wears a nice suit. Evil likes to travel. Evil knows better than to pick his teeth in public. He owns a building in the nice part of Bucharest. Heâ€™s never short of things to do.
Bucharest: Persistence of Memory, 1990
The gypsy woman crouched next to the garden wall waits for luck, her flowered skirt the only flash of color in gray Bucharest. She’s either here to wish you long life or steal your soul: you decide. Will you open the gate? She’ll be gone when she’s done munching that handful of sunflower seeds, leaving behind a careful pile of shells— will you read them? Something rustles beneath the house: the mangy, limping cat your housekeeper feeds against your wishes. You fear cats, whose quick, stealthy movements and supreme attentiveness remind you someone’s always listening. You have come to believe the bug is in the chandelier. You are not a bird or a mouse, but you have come to sympathize with birds and mice. Each night, you dream a vacant lot sprouting bones and yarmulkes, the cemetaire abandoned during World War II. Dreams within dreams, time out of order—
the rabbi who died in the slaughterhouse invites you into the temple for Hanukkah less than a year since “the events of December ’89.” The basement of your villa was a Gestapo torture cell. You sometimes hear sobbing. A strange coldness passes through. They say disorder brings the bones up: long-ago midnights poke their jagged edges through the skin of our days. Time is a series of scrims, and you were born for this, but you can’t help dwelling on the sudden chill, dreams inside of dreams, footsteps where no one’s been for years.
Himalayas —for Taina Duțescu-Coliban Translating Shakespeare from Barbu's Romanian back into a different English, you showed us, at the symposium, what translations can do. No surprise your name means mystery, Taina. Now you too have been translated. The BBC World Service announced two Romanian climbers missing in the mountains the day of our going-away party. Your colleagues hid it well. We didn't learn until later more important departures than ours disturbed the air. They were angry at you for leaving, for taking yourself away— your spirit, your intelligent, excitable sense of play. You were the one who always made it through, alive. The Cold War was over; why crave snow? Bucharest was a city of pale survivors when we arrived, city of minds freshly cut
with memories of want. I learned slowly the cruelties of CeauĹ&#x;escu: nights without heat, walls that listened, light curbed to a 40 watt-bulb, the gradual crumbling of "the Paris of the East." All so he could build his grand People's Palace, a crazy man's version of Versailles. In the end, no grim Securitate agent came for you. A Sherpa guide? I'd like to think so: a mountain village, a new tongue. Better think of that instead of bitter air, a night without stars, the hours long. I see you on a white mountainside, light, heat, and food running out. You are laughing at this absurdity, speaking in the dark.
Night Watch: Bucharest, Revisited
I. Failed State Last night, wakeful, I heard, a muffled sound, far from Pilgrim hymns and liberty bells: a pounding door, hush of blindfold night. The flag on the plane? Obscured by fog. What face do we show? Do we hide, in shame? Conceal the names stamped over our hearts? Jet fumes, sky plumes, a cloud over the moon. Return of the repressed. The dispossessed. What are they keeping secret to protect us? The joke: “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” “Answer yes or no, one through ten: Would it be morally acceptable to Assassinate / torture / kidnap / lie / blackmail Deceive / seduce / inform on / cheat / procure in defense of our homeland? If you found two or fewer acceptable, you probably do not fully understand the magnitude of the threat and the means that must be employed to defeat it.” I don’t fully understand. I don’t understand at all.
II. Body Politic The ugliness of it. The twisted reasoning, the tortured language to justify the act, the schoolboy ethics: If your child were endangered, wouldn’t you? If your wife were threatened, couldn’t you? The bones and flesh and muscle we walk around in, the bones and flesh we are the delicate sensory apparatus of fingertips, soles, a tiny vibrating drum, cells that can smell, a tongue alive to taste, and these liquid, lively eyes that take it all in, seeing even what we most don’t want to see. I am asking myself tonight, I, who let soldiers do my fighting, what else am I allowing, what other forms of pain, at what black sites? They were doing it for me, all this time, they say, necessary acts. Somebody Anybody Everybody Anti-body?
I wake up gasping for air, as though drowning. The tongue goes black and the bowels slacken the eyes roll back and the pump of the heart falls silent. In that moment, hanging between before and after, what do they do? Too late, is the echo in the dank room. III. Passion Play He sits on the edge of my bed, his voice seductive: “It’s no place for emotions. Justice must be cold. Before you judge, consider: If someone had your child— if someone had your child and was going to hurt him. If someone had your child and was going to hurt him and you could stop it— look, it’s a matter of knowing where pain happens. Like golf, a game of inches. OK, bad comparison. It’s not like anything else, what I do. But if someone had your child and was going to hurt him and you could stop it by hurting that someone enough to make him tell you where your child was? I don’t do this for fun. I don’t get off on it. Afterwards, I look at what I’ve done, like replaying a movie, and then I shelve it. 164
It’s unselfish, the way I see it. It’s the hardest watch you can pull. You don’t always like yourself in the morning. You pray you’re not destroying your soul. They have to trust you— trust that you’ll stop if they give you what you want, that if they don’t the hurt goes on until the world narrows to its single point, world without end. It’s phenomenology— the world is what we experience, or, to put it another way, the world is all that is the case. Early Wittgenstein. You have to break down their defenses, one by one. You have to let them in, let them see what you’re capable of doing. You lock eyes and move them from bearable discomfort to the surprised O of pain, and beyond. A look of agony is true, to paraphrase the poetess. Look into your own childish heart and remember: children live closer to the bone.”
IV. If a Pilgrim I journeyed far over tall mountains crossed wide rivers and vast fields. I came to the seat of power and spoke the truths I knew and the words spat back at me were: naïve, out of touch, living in a dream world. They said, If you knew what we knew you’d know how we know we need you not to know for your own good. It was a bitter taste, like turnip greens before frost, but I swallowed the truth and turned toward home. A cat may look at a king but have its head cut off for its trouble. Or, as the Munster proverb has it: These things can bring bad luck: a white cock among hens, a woman poet in a village. Who’ll listen to a minor poet from the provinces? From somewhere, a whisper: Soft Americans. Meat-eaters shuddering at the slaughter, mourners who fear the touch of death. Here are your abattoirs, here your mortuaries. Enough! The room is filled with voices.
V. Habeas Corpus Our sins are tattooed upon our bodies. Drummed out of the corpus of the world, how will we show our faces again in daylight? Body of evidence. Bodily remains. The body dies. The body of work remains. At the intersection of 1960 and Little Rock, Arkansas, I bodied forth, sprung from blood and love into existence. Three years after the Little Rock Nine, three years before the Birmingham Four, dropped into an assassinsâ€™ decade, Kennedy King Kennedy. Paper covers rock, rock smashes scissors, scissors cut paper covered with words. Sticks and stones can break your bones. Words break down. VI. Full Circle A grieving dance: First, place the burlap bag over your head. (Pinpoints of early light will filter through.) Dangle your arms loosely, and jump, and jump. Run in a circle around the room, all together, jumbled, twisting. Now, fall to the floor and moan.
Stand, and cover your head with your arms like the stylized women in Greek statuary. Gather up the broken bodies and march in slow parade at mournerâ€™s gait. This is the part where we weep. At the time, it will not seem strange.
The Beggar Lady at the Intercon
There’s a hole in her throat and it’s clicking. There’s a hole in her throat she wants me to see and she plucks at my coat, leans into my face, and her other hand, just a claw of bone, points at the hole, clicking. Her eyes are dark holes of despair but I’d rather look there. Her eyes are dark holes forty years deep, too hungry to fill but still she exposes the hole in her throat, pulls at my coat, and I offer her lei so she’ll let go her grip, slip away, let me pass, every day. I’m a long way from home.
The phone rings with a foreign sound. You free your legs of the big wool blanket, set down your mug of tea and your book, pick up the heavy black receiver: “Hello?” “Allo!” “Hello?” “Allo!” “Hello?” His voice breaks into mocking laughter: “Ah, hahahahaha. Ah, hahahahaha.” You hang up, knowing a week, seventeen days, a month and a half later, you’ll hear from him again: the hello game, the laughing man is calling. Is he someone you see in the metro? At the market? The one who lectures you on the difference between “bottle” and “jar” when you ask, in broken Romanian, for a something of pickles? Does he live in your building? Across the shabby alley? Perhaps he’s the man who picks up your hat for you in Tineretului Park when you are out walking alone and a gust of wind like an invisible hand lifts it from your head.
But don’t—don’t—be flattered by his velvety, irregular attentions. He calls all the Americans. “Laughing Man,” you’ve come to call him, amongst yourselves. Sometimes, now, you even laugh back, which makes him laugh all the more.
The embassy officials told us: if Viorica, the visa section head clerk, had admitted she’d been a spy, they’d know she wasn’t. But she wouldn’t admit it, and so she was, and so she was fired. I admired her fur hat and so one slushy lunch, she took me shopping. There were no hats in the shops, none at all— and so we were shopping for the favor, not the hat. In one hour at the embassy I made as much as one month’s work teaching in the local school. My last payday at the school I spent the entire month’s check on a bag of oranges. I hated the slick microfiche work at the embassy but liked the warm office. Once Viorica was gone I missed her, the way you miss extra salt at first. Ah, Viorica, with your favors, your baksheesh, your “put-this-one-first she’s-the-daughter-of-the-minister-of-culture,” you guessed wrong and paid for it, the sullen young man who tried to engage me in personal talk in the break room gone too.
I saw you once in the metro with your husband, both of you looking slightly damp. Iâ€™m sorry you wasted your time on me, a minor American.
A note on the title: “Tineretului” means “youths’ park” in Romanian and refers to both the park and a section of town in the south of Bucharest. It’s almost impossible for a non-native speaker to pronounce correctly.
Jennifer Horne is the author of a collection of poems, Bottle Tree (2010), and a short story collection, Tell the World You’re a Wildflower (forthcoming from UA Press in 2014), the editor of Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern Poets (2003), and co-editor, with Wendy Reed, of All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (2006) and Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (2012). She has received an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literature Fellowship and has been a Seaside Institute “Escape to Create” artist in residence. She currently teaches in the University of Alabama Honors College.
The Consolation of Sophistry
by JIM HILGARTNER
The Chapbook, Vol. 2
Acknowledgements: “Das Vorlaufen-zu at Mike’s”: New Orleans Review “Beowulf in Hell”: Mid-American Review “Self-Defense”: First Draft “Choice”: The American Muse “Still Life with Dead Guy” and “Big Deal”: Writing on the Edge “Exploded View: A Forest in Winter”: Red Mountain Review “Whisper”: as a broadside from Stillwater Press The author is grateful to these publishers for their kind support.
Contents Prologue / 185 Afterlives / 186 Impediments / 189 The Consolation of Sophistry / 192 Imitations / 195 Displaced Creatures / 199 Epilogue / 203
Das Vorlaufen-zu at Mike’s1 I walk in the door and they look at me like I don’t belong; a dozen beery old farts swivel their barstools to stare. I remember the chunk-chunking sound of old-time cash registers. The brains of these drunks make an identical noise. Whom do they see now; what did they expect? For one confused wishful instant was I a dear fallen comrade, home from that Great Taproom in the sky? Did they take me, even briefly, for a celebrity, a gunman, a Connecticut skier with his Beamer in a ditch? Whatever they want, it’ll never be me. And as they comprehend this, slowly, they resent it. I look back at them. And from those milky eyes, that silver stubble, those shaking hands all veins and tendons, comes the realization that somewhere, sometime, this will become of me. Such a pastiche of decay and desperation is what my future holds. And now, at the bar, I can’t forget. I’ve been there, swiveling on my stool, hand trembling on my glass. My own filmy gaze has turned on me, demanding, Who the hell are you and why are you not what I wanted?
From A Practical Guide to the Teutonic Philosophers.
Beowulf in Hell He misses a foe like Grendel, the unequivocal devotion of an enemy who will eat you if he wins. Here, everything is different. He has colleagues, not war-friends; they seem startled and bemused, upon offering some craven insult, to see his fingers twitch, missing the sword. The sword, of course, is elsewhere: locked away with his armor, as required by law and OSHA guidelines, in the trunk of his Cavalier. At the junior college people are soft. Students and teachers, custodians, secretaries: all are weak and defenseless like fat-bodied grubs. Even the president, their war-king, triumphant in word-fights, has pudgy little hands and wears perfume. All through this glass and metal world, through acres of yellow-ruled asphalt and buildings of mold-poured stone, the life-dream of civilized peace has thinned the blood and blood-thirst. Men are boys, women girls. People steal, and cheat, and strive to kill, with words--but they forget that word-death is not real. He proceeds down the hall, through echoes of toothless backbiting, toward the classroom where he will again battle ineptitude and apathy and perennial adolescence, and again do no physical harm. He misses the tall ships on the sea-road, the blood-feuds and speardin and men who say nothing they can’t afford to mean. His hand closes on the doorknob and for an instant he yearns forward in memory to that ultimate fight with the dragon, the pyre on the headland, the rule of the new king, Wiglaf, his worthy successor. Shane Rides Again It’s only a flesh wound, Bobby. The old lie. Then he’s back on his horse, blood welling through the hole in his patched, well-tended shirt. He hears the boy behind him, crying in the gloom, and he thinks, Well, there’s a first. He attempts that old wan smile--a dying killer savors the ironic--but he’s too tired; his pan stays dead. 186
Jim Hilgartner Later, opening his eyes, he discovers moonlight, his peripheral vision all gravel and horseflesh. He’s slumped forward across the pommel with his ear in the horse’s mane. Papa warned me there’d be days like this. With his hands on the blood-sticky saddle he pushes himself upright. No one’s watching but God, yet he still wants to ride like a man. How, he wonders, has he not already died? Why does he not feel more pain? He knows the damage a slug that size can do. He’s certainly shot people who seemed to think it hurt. That boy, now. Bobby. His pain was real. We love you, Shane? Lord have mercy, how d’you reckon that happened? But perhaps he already knows. He feels his shattered organs recomposing themselves, the bullet inching backwards towards the hole, the layers of guilt too thick to wash away with one clean death. This will happen again and again and again. He sags just slightly in the saddle, riding slow across the purgatorial sagebrush plains. Roland at The Paradise He’s on good terms with the bouncer, Pete, tells him he covets his neighbor’s job. You’ve got it made, mon frère: music every night and the hope, at least, of getting in a scrap. Pete shrugs. You say that now. But stand my shift one night, study that damn guest list till they fit you for trifocals. They laugh, and Roland, trumpet case in hand, slides over to his table by the stage. When the band takes a breather, some beatnik across the room calls out, Hey, Frenchy. You gonna play tonight? Roland shrugs. Maybe later. The beatnik shrugs back. You always say that. You still remember how? Roland remembers. But, really. You can sit in here and see Beiderbeck jam with Satchmo, catch Diz and Bird, hear Miles. Sure, he’s a horn player, but there’s rough edges yet, the sort that practice smooths away. At the door he hears raised voices. He turns. Little Boy Blue, Oliver shouts, and Turpin adds, You gonna blow that freaking horn? Behind them Charlie Maine, imperious, growls, Don’t hold your breath.
They take the table next to Roland’s. Through tobacco smoke, spilt beer, and funk, they reek of perfume from some Chartres Street whorehouse. You’re gonna play tonight. Oliver is adamant. I got fifty bucks on it. And you can’t wait till last call. Charlie Maine folds his arms across his chest. Eh, bien, Roland tells them. We’ll see.
Self Defense Mike was walking along the roof peak in sunlight when his foot went out from under him. Then he was down, sliding faster, scrabbling at the slate tiles with his fingers. He couldn't stop. He grabbed an iron pipe at the edge of the roof as he slid over. It sagged a bit, taking his weight, then stopped him with a jolt that slapped his hammer against his thigh and snapped his teeth together. A tile exploded against the pavement of the alley below him, but he knew better than to look down. He looked up instead, at the rust-flecked pipe with its flaking black paint and his two hands locked so tight to the metal they seemed to be welded on. Soon he heard voices. Bobby, the crew boss, in the air above him, shouted, "Call an ambulance. Mike fell off the roof." Eric, down below, yelled, "He's still up there. Do something. Hurry." Mike put the voices out of his mind. They couldn't help him. He relaxed his neck and stared straight into the brickwork. He breathed in through his nose, out through his mouth. He was back at the kung fu school and he could hear Sifu's voice talking a class through the horse stance exercise: "Relax. Breathe. Focus your will." In the punching exercise, Sifu always told them, "Keep your fists so tight your forearms burn," and during meditation he said, "The only thing between you and your goal is the noise in your mind." Mike stared at the brick wall and thought of nothing. He became aware of a fire-siren rolling nearer, the sound of an air horn and then a diesel rumbling in the alley below. A voice he didn't recognize told him, "Hold on, Mike. You're going to be okay. We're going to get you down." Mike tasted salt on his lips. He wanted to reassure the firemen, to let them know he was all right, but he didn't want to interrupt the flow of his breathing. He heard the whir of an electric motor, but he didn't look down. A moment later, he heard a new voice, a woman's. She seemed to be standing next to him. "It's okay, Mike. I'm a firefighter. I'm in the snorkel, right under you. You can let go now." "No." Mike was careful not to look. "I can hang on." 189
The woman spoke again, but not to Mike. "Give me a couple more feet." Mike heard the electric whir again, and the woman firefighter said, "I've got you." He felt her arms go around his waist. "Don't do that," Mike whispered. "Please. I don't think this pipe will hold both of us." Choice Tricia bought beautiful things at thrift stores and never put them to use. When I let myself into her apartment and saw the table all linen and china, when I saw the silver ice bucket and champagne and crystal flutes, I called out, "Tricia, Hon, what's the matter?" She came from the kitchen with a dishcloth in her hand and told me we were going to have a baby. For a moment I didn't speak. Tricia waited, rigid and fragile beside the table. "Honey," I said. "You've got to be realistic." She stared at me, her eyes hard as the china eyes of dolls. "You can't," I said. "We can't." Tricia bit her lip. "Tricia. Honey. Don't be stupid." "Stupid," she screamed. She flung a pewter salt-cellar. It caught me on the cheekbone and my eye teared up. She missed with a salad plate. Crouching behind the table, I said, "Goddamn. Come on, Tricia." She stormed into the kitchen. Things crashed, then rattled, then rustled. When Tricia pushed past me down the hall, she carried a shopping bag with handles. I followed her. I stood in the bathroom doorway and watched. She grabbed my shaving kit and threw it in the bag. She pulled my robe from behind the door and shoved it in the bag. She dropped in the aftershave she'd given me and I'd never opened. The bottle rang and broke; the room filled with a smell like deodorant. "Tricia, I'm sorry. Can we talk about this?" My face hurt. "Go," she said. The door slammed behind me. When I heard her throw the bolt, I realized I had a key in my pocket. Maybe in a day or two it would be safe to call her, and we could talk. Down the hall Tricia's Chinese neighbor peered at me, a security chain stretched tight between her door and the frame. She was like my grandmother, who couldn't speak much English until something went wrong in her apartment.
Jim Hilgartner I rubbed at the swelling below my eye. "I'm taking the trash out," I told the neighbor. I showed her the shopping bag. The neighbor ran her eyes up and down me once. She dropped her chin a bit, but didn't smile. "Big day," I said. "I'm going to be a daddy." Whisper Adrift--with no wind, and engine trouble that reeked of gasoline--they passed the time by fighting. When Marcus, in one sentence, invoked both Nietzsche and divorce, Shelly decided to take her chances with the deep water and the sharks. She dove into the Gulf in a whisper of phosphorescence and swam underwater, away from the yacht. She'd done aquatics at Vanderbilt and swam daily even now--one of her perks as a faculty wife. She drifted to the surface, gulped some air. Marcus stood at the rail and shouted, "Come back here, Shelly. I mean now." Shelly hung silent in the water, then began to backstroke farther from the boat. Marcus hauled up the ladder and went below. Shelly told herself, "He's going to try and start the engine. He wants to make me beg." There was a flash, and Shelly dove. She heard a dull explosion, felt a shock pass through her as of a thousand firework shells. Dazed, she treaded water, watched myriad bits of flotsam slowly burning themselves out. For a while, Shelly paddled around looking for something to cling to until the Coast Guard rescued her. She found nothing she could use. She looked around at the dark water, the quarter moon, the stars. She was ten or twenty miles out. She doubted she'd make it, but she had no better plan. She found the Dipper and the Pole Star, started north at a pace she could sustain. She saw a dark object drifting and made for it. It was an old wooden rowboat, its painter trailing. Shelly hung in the water and shouted, "Hello?" No answer. She swam to the bow, hauled herself aboard, and took the scene in slowly, not sure she understood. The thwarts had been pulled up; the boatman, stretched out lengthwise, grinned at Shelly from a makeshift pillow of coiled rope. He was more or less intact, though his jaw hung lopsided and some smaller bones lay scattered about. He had no oars, jugs, nets, or fish hooks; no gear of any kind except a rust-eaten machete tucked half under the coiled rope. Shelly thought a moment about the Coast Guard and this rowboat and the vastness of the Gulf, about her new friend's hopes of rescue and her own. She thought of Marcus, of Nietzsche, and she went back over the side in a whisper of phosphorescence to take her chances with the deep water and the sharks. 191
The Consolation of Sophistry
What You Wish For In my grandfathers’ time, we planted and reaped. Men worked hard and slept sound; women chose among them, married, and bore strong children. God smiled on the land; its people smiled back. But content, we became complacent. Ogres came from the east, raiding our flocks, and once those were depleted, they preyed on shepherds and milkmaids. Men armed themselves with pitchforks; they fought back and were slaughtered, their families devoured. So we prayed for a warrior to deliver us. And on winds from the south came a tall ship bearing twenty men. Our deliverers were a ragtag bunch, in mismatched armor, with nicked swords and dented shields, but we butchered a milk cow in their honor, and served them the last of our mead. Soon they proved themselves worthy. They rode out into the forests; we heard the spear-din, the death-shrieks of demons and the cries of stricken men. Returning, they hung clawed arms from rafters, set beastly heads on pikes. Then we had peace for a time, and prospered. We fed our saviors the best of the harvest, but kept much for ourselves. Our wives again became pregnant; infant voices graced the calm air. The heroes remained, making regular sorties, but now they rode unchallenged. With time their swords grew heavy, their armor tight, and as if the fell blood they’d spilled had tainted their own, their hearts grew dark. For sport, they staged matched combats, betting among themselves on who would lose. They pressed a widow into service tending their wounds. One night an injured warrior, delirious with fever, took her against her will. From then our wives were made concubines, our daughters enslaved. Our youngest sons, knowing no better, emulated their heroes, fighting with sticks in our dooryards and calling their sisters uncouth names. The elders gathered. “We must pray,” said the wisest, “to be delivered of our deliverers.” And so we did, for many long nights on end. Now our prayers have been answered. Flying down from the north, wrapped in smoke and its own fiery breath, a new savior brings solace for one and all.
In Glass Houses The biggest problem at first was the birds, forever flying into the windows, the doors, the solid, transparent walls. We had a hawk once, even, that tried to dive through the Pyrex rooftop after a mouse cowering in the shadowless cellar. For a time, we heard a steady, repetitive ringing as birds brained themselves on the glass, an almost continuous flutter of feathery death throes on the lawn; we saw an occasional crimson rivulet rolling down from a point of impact. The silhouettes solved all that: shadowy kestrels and shrikes now adorn the walls and dormers, and the songbirds stay clear, for fear of being eaten. Showering is dicey still, and if we weren’t on a forestland hilltop with distance and foliage between us and our nearest neighbors, modesty would require a significant investment in drapes. But today our urgent problem is the stones, great mounds of them piled up (after their dirt was reclaimed for use in flower beds) by the builders who dug our foundation in the flinty soil. Left unmolested, these stones would pose no problem. They have no volition, no innate capacity for flight. And if they did, why would they use it against us? We bear them no ill will; we’re certain the feeling is mutual. We could leave them as they lie, or, as my wife would prefer, use them in creating a backyard mosaic, a scale reproduction of the Compass Rose at Sagres. But today our grandchildren are arriving for an unexpected visit, and given their lack of maturity and wisdom, given the instinctual propensity of boys to lend flight to objects more appropriately left flightless, we have fear for our property, fear for our very lives. The Pen and the Sword An aging statesman, feeling the pressure of time against him as he worked out an historic treaty between two warring fiefdoms, sought to hire a poet as his amanuensis. The poet, feeling himself the pressure of hunger against the meager income he was able to glean selling broadsides in the square, readily accepted the offer. At their first meeting, the statesman gave the poet a hawk’s feather. “Fashion a pen from this,” he told the youth, “and your words will have spirit and strength.” The poet did as he was told, and after many hours briefing, he set down the rough outlines of the treaty his employer hoped to achieve. His employer, much pleased with the results, arranged a parley. 193
The hawk featherâ€™s influence was more profound than expected, however, and when the elder statesman read out his proposed treaty at the parley, the bellicose potentates took offense at some rather-too-warlike phrases. Men of action both, they drew swords and, by way of making an example, ran the elder statesman through the heart. Then, feeling much the better for a bit of bloodletting, they called in amanuenses of their own and set about making adjustments to the treaty. In short order, both being satisfied with the terms proposed, they signed before witnesses. The type of feather they used in signing their historic treaty is not reported in the annals.
Artist and Model The artist dreams, his pencils scattered on the table. He's fallen asleep sketching the pet chameleon he packed in salt when it died. Now he drives empty back roads in twilight, stubble poking through snow. He drives without daydreams. Just the road shining salty in headlights, shadows pooling blue around dry stalks. He's alone with the sound of his engine and the sense that he must never stop running. Bones show through the skin of the dead, dried lizard, its empty eyes half covered by parchment lids. What might it say, with that parched, half open mouth? Born in a cage, dead in a window. Where were the hedges of Austin, the gardens of Baton Rouge? The artist rubs a spot on his face. Graphite smudges his forehead. The dead lizard sees Ash Wednesday. And the artist drives through a landscape life has fled. Migrate or hibernate or die with the first hard frost. Frozen soil guards the brainless sleep of roots. With wrinkled retinas molded to their sockets, the chameleon watches the artist: vacant, drifting on the tabletop, dreaming. Still Life with Dead Guy Jenkins was in the darkroom when the phone rang, so he got to the scene later than he might have hoped. He offered no apology, however. The subject was going nowhere, the alleged perpetrator was in custody, and the detectives had kept working while they waited. One of them, Dirksen, fat and florid, in a too-nice suit and a fussy moustache, met him in front and led him around to the side gate, then across the patio to the pool. Jenkins, almost seven years into this kind of piecework, was well past being shocked or depressed by dead bodies. In ways he even preferred them to the living: they never squirmed or cried for mama; never fought, like drunken, divorced parents, for prominence in the pageantry of a wedding-day disaster. They never resisted his efforts or seemed to regret their lives, although they rarely appeared peaceful. Todayâ€™s dead guy was sprawled out sideways, a deep, semi-round dent behind his ear. A small black revolver lay near his right hand. Jenkins set 195
down his camera bag. He got out his Nikon, locked the flash in place, and went to work. They wanted high-contrast photographs, flooded with light and stripped of feeling: just-the-facts,-ma’am snapshots that would defeat the camera’s natural tendency to lie. They wanted small straw-stark glimpses of the truth that might be spun into evidentiary gold. Jenkins took the pictures, making mental notes and attending to them. Blood pooled on the concrete, its source in a close up of the head. A pitcher of tea on a table, a glass half full beside a towel-draped recliner. The body behind the chair. Jenkins wished the shot might capture what he saw—the man upright, pistol in hand, behind the terrified sunbather, caught off guard in her sanctum sanctorum. He worked his system, shot the pictures, changed the film. The flash effaced natural shadows, and with them nuance. Here he was not an artist, but a scribe. He was almost finished when he started to hear the voice. The dead often talked at this point, their voices rising out of the hiss of rain-wet traffic, the clatter of a bar room ice-maker, the gurgle of pool water cycling through the filter. They always wanted the same thing: not justice, but a portrait for Jenkins’ private files, a photo that would do them right. This guy today had an attitude. Jenkins understood: he was a punk, a long-suffering, pain-in-the-ass petty criminal demanding fair treatment after a brief lifetime of shit ends of the stick. “The world owes me,” the dead guy insisted. “Come on, man. Put me with all the others.” “I’ll get to it on my time,” Jenkins told him, in his head. “I always do. Now shut up and let me work.” And the dead guy shut up. At least he dropped his voice a peg, so his grousing blended back in with the water in the drain. Jenkins made one last forensic snapshot. He paused, took a deep breath, and considered the scene, assessing the ambient light, its shadows, its thousand gradient shades. Then he disabled the flash and looked through the lens, once more the artist he knew himself to be. Exploded View: A Forest in Winter 1.
Chickadees pick seeds from the cones of balsam firs.
In a tangled thicket a snowshoe hare huddles against the cold.
Jim Hilgartner 3.
A beech tree with smooth gray bark holds a nestlike jumble of twigs and branches where, some months ago, a black bear sat gorging itself on beechnuts.
Pale diffuse light that casts no shadows filters down through low, solid, massing clouds.
Through the forest runs a trail.
The trail is blazed with round blue metal markers nailed to trees.
Along the trail run the serpentine tracks of a snowmobile.
Beyond the crest of a small rise the snowmobile tracks veer off the trail. The snowmobile lies upended in the undergrowth.
Beside the wrecked machine lies a body in black nylon insulated coveralls.
10. In the snow along the trail, just before the wreck, is a series of deep redrimmed holes. 11. Spanning the trail where it crests the rise, a bit of braided wire stretches taut between two trees. Near its center, for about six inches, the wire is stained rusty red-brown and hung with stringy bits of gristle. 12. In among the bloody melt holes is a larger hole where something fell into the snow. Peering up from within at the overcast sky are two snow-dusted, ice-blue eyes in a gray-stubbled face. 13. The head in the hole wears a black knit watchcap. Its lips are set in a laughless rictus. Blood shows between yellowed teeth. 14. From the pockets of the dead man's coveralls protrude various items of interest: a pack of tiparillos and a cheap yellow lighter; a three-by-five spiral notebook; a pair of needlenose pliers with red plastic sleeves on the handles; a coil of braided wire. 15. The spiral notebook is folded open to its first, blank, page. 16. A skier, approaching, toils up the rise in a duck-footed herringbone step. He carries a heavy backpack, frowning.
17. The skier stands taller than a man on a snowmobile. The wire he's about to walk into will hit him across the chest. He will be startled. He'll pause, slowly take in the scene. 18. The skier approaches, toiling up the rise. Chickadees pick seeds from the cones of balsam firs. Deep in the thicket, the snowshoe hare presses tighter to the ground.
For the Record Mark got his orbital bone broken by a guy who mistook him for someone else. He went down like a tree, toppling slowly, the sound of timber bending and tearing loud in his jangled brain. The asphalt went soft to receive him, and gravity grew stronger. Mark wanted rest; he would rest soon. But now he saw the guy draw back a booted foot to start kicking. He tried to curl into a protective fetal ball and discovered the air had turned viscous around him. It was so hard to move, and so slow. Yet the blow never landed. More boots appeared—on the pavement—and the feet they were tied to scuffled, and gradually, with much cursing and some substantive communication—It’s not him, asshole! Dude! We got to go!—the crowd of soles and laces and pants-cuffs moved away. Then Mark rested, snuggling down into the gutter beside a shiny, engine-smelling smear. He might have slept, but for a distant voice—a woman’s—calling, “Tony? Jesus, Tony! Are you all right?” “I’m not Tony,” Mark whispered. He shifted to look up from the black sneakers to the woman herself, but he couldn’t see her. She was wreathed in refracted light that wavered and throbbed with his every movement. Shards of scattered light obscured things wherever he looked; bright needles impaled his brain. He closed his eyes. He heard the woman crouch down beside him, felt her gentle hands shaking his shoulder. “Don’t do this, Tony!” she shouted. “Stay with me!” He opened his undamaged eye, hoping she would see it and be reassured. There was less light-noise this way; he could make out her youthful features, an etched and faded scar above one eyebrow. “Tony.” She patted his shoulder. “Hang in there. I’m going to call nine-one-one.” “Yeah. Do that.” He felt the ground softening all around him, himself sinking into it. “But tell them,” he said before the asphalt closed over his mouth. “My name is Mark.”
Monkeys When You Needed Them Waking, Mark looked out through the frost-feathered window and saw monkeys in the treetops, and bright-colored tropical birds. He watched, astonished, as one of the monkeys grabbed a branch and shook snow down on himself and his companions. A macaw flew up, all raucous indignation, and lighted on a higher branch. An older monkey, gray hairs sketching a goatee around his muzzle, loaded up and flung a pine cone at the glass. The window rang with a percussive musicality, and Mark recognized the sound that had wakened him. He stared through the glass, bewildered by such incongruity and concerned for these poor displaced creatures, their prolonged exposure to unaccustomed cold. At length he decided to go to the window for a better look. And thus he discovered that his arms were restrained; he was strapped to the bed. Mark looked around the room and recognized the faded fleur-de-lis wallpaper, the steam radiator in the corner, the guillotine windows’ gauzy curtains. “Grandma?” he tried to shout. “Grandpa?” But now there was a problem with his voice; even he could not hear himself. As he lay wondering what to do next, another pine cone struck the window. It rang a brief, brittle note this time, and a tiny spiderweb of shivered light appeared in the upper right-hand corner of the glass. The next time Mark woke he was in a cinderblock room with doubleglazed windows designed never to open and a heavy blue privacy curtain. A nurse—Bridgette, according to her ID badge—stood reading a clipboard at the end of his bed. She was perhaps his mother’s age, thin and leathery, and she jumped when he asked, “So, Nurse Bridgette, how bad am I hurt?” Nurse Bridgette got her composure back, then said, “We think you’re going to live, though it was touch and go there for a while. The doctor will fill you in.” “But this is real,” Mark asked. “I’m in a hospital in, like, Boston?” Nurse Bridgette re-hung the clipboard on its hook. “It’s real, as far as any of us can say. Do you know the date?” Mark gave her his best guess. He was off by a couple of days, but she seemed to find this acceptable. “You just woke up, after all.” “I woke up once before, actually.” In his mind, Mark saw pine trees against a cold blue sky, bright sunlight on fresh snow. And, of course, he saw monkeys and birds. “But it wasn’t here.” “I’m not sure that counts.” Nurse Bridgette moved toward the door. “Sit tight. I’m going to call the doctor.” She went out.
Jim Hilgartner So, what does count, Mark wondered. He lay back on his sketchy hospital pillow and looked out the window, which was streaky and filmed with grit. Beyond it, across a narrow airshaft, stood another gray wing of the hospital, as austere and unrevealing around its dark-tinted windows as the bone around sockets that once held eyes. Nothing to watch out there—not even a pigeon or a rat. Where were monkeys when you needed them? Cat in the Wind When Bridgette left the hospital, she’d been working for twenty-two hours, scrabbling through the rough spots on caffeine pills and coffee. Still, what struck her as the doors hissed closed behind her and she gazed out across the still-dark city was not her immense fatigue but the monumental loneliness of the empty predawn streets. It was, she remembered, Sunday. She’d caught the shift change: the bar-and-brawling crowd gone from the stage, the coffeeand-croissant set still in the wings. She crossed the avenue. Wind eddied between buildings; in one alley, an empty snack bag sketched faint circles among the dumpsters. Bridgette thought of tumbleweeds, parched and gritty, and her heart misgave her. The sky had lightened to charcoal, revealing in darker wisps the smoke rising from burning dreams. Such profligacy, to set one’s dreams on fire. Bridgette slept hard and dreamless; she called it death on the installment plan. Rushing up toward the horizon, the sun pressed the wind forward. Wind bellied down the avenue bringing hints of low tide and mud. Bridgette mused. If she didn’t have to go sleep all day, get rested up and start again tomorrow, she might drive out along the shore and look at where the water met the sky. She had not gone deliberately to the ocean for years. That was something one did with friends. At the next corner, a three-legged cat came sliding through a broken basement window and stood staring as she drew near. It was gray, like the air around them, and Bridgette knew it would run off before she got there, but the poor creature was bone-thin, and she wished she could help it in some way. No nearby stores were open, and she had nothing consumable in her purse except for cigarettes and NoDoz. The cat stood its ground, regarding her, not unkindly, with calm black-and-emerald eyes. Bridgette felt her inability to help as a catch in her pulse, a fleeting pain down her arm. “I’m sorry, baby,” she told it. “I’ve got nothing to give you.”
“You have a lifetime of unshared love,” the cat told her, its slow voice resonant as a cello. “You might spare me a bit of that.” Bridgette stared, touched to wonder. “You know,” she said, as the sidewalk rearranged itself to receive her, “I might have, at that.”
Epilogue Big Deal Her mother, predictably, was ripshit about it. She was waiting in the kitchen when Donna, back in her bicycle clothes, got home from work and locked her bike in the garage. She started before Donna even got into the house, standing at the screen door, her hands on her hips. “What the hell were you thinking, little miss? Do you want everyone in town believing you’re a slut?” “Gimme a break, Mom.” Donna opened the screen door and came into the kitchen as her mother sidled out of the way. “It was no big deal.” “No big deal? Martha Ann wouldn’t have called me if it was no big deal.” “Martha Ann exaggerates.” Donna got a bottle of water from the fridge and twisted off the top. “She said she could see your nipples from clean across the room.” “Well, did she get off on it?” Donna drank some water. “You know, it is kind of creepy how she’s always checking me out.” Donna’s mother stood for a moment, speechless. Finally, she said, “Don’t be disgusting.” “It’s not disgusting, Mom. It’s just different. I’m not judging her; I’m just saying.” With that, she walked out of the kitchen. Her mother called after her, “We’re not done talking about this.” They were done, though. Tomorrow Donna would again wear her white shirt over her cycling jersey, and this time her manager, her mother’s cousin Martha Ann, would keep silent on the issue. In her bedroom, Donna took her waitress clothes out of her backpack. She unfolded the shirt. It was white, Indian cotton; holding it out before her she could see through it shadowy outlines of the furniture in her room. She took off her jersey and, as she’d done in the ladies’ room that morning, put on the white shirt over her naked chest. Buttoned up, the shirt draped softly, almost clinging to her skin, and in her full-length mirror, Donna saw that Martha Ann had exaggerated nothing. Her nipples showed distinctly darker through the fabric, and anyone who bothered to look could have seen them from clear across the room.
Donna knew she had amazing breasts. She had been told as much by several boys sheâ€™d known, and by a number of envious girls. She wet her lips, decadent and sensual, and saw her sleek, toned body unattainable in the glass. Men would ache for her and die of desire. She would bring the whole world to its knees. She took her robe off the hook and started down the hall to fill the tub.
Jim Hilgartner has published in The American Muse, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Apocryphal Text, First Draft, Greensboro Review, Mid-American Review, New Orleans Review, Red Mountain Review, Writing on the Edge, at Stillwater Press, and elsewhere; he has twice been awarded the Fellowship in Literature from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. He earned the MFA in creative writing at the University of Alabama, and serves as an associate professor of English at Huntingdon College