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the

b’k

bitchin’ kitsch

Vol. 11 Issue 4


The Bitchin’ Kitsch (2010-present) or The B’K is a quarterly compzine edited and published by The Talbot-Heindl Experience, LLC in Denver, CO. The B’K is an outlet for people who may not be accepted or considered by more traditional publications. The B’K aims to have a diverse publication from a diverse set of voices and promises inclusivity, diversity, and respectful discourse. Issues are published in January, April, July, and October.

Staff

Editor-in-Chief and Design: Chris Talbot-Heindl Editor: Dana Talbot-Heindl

Submissions

The B’K has strict submission guidelines. Please read them before submitting something for consideration: talbot-heindl.com/bitchin_kitsch/submissions

Contact Us

For inquiries or concerns, write to: chris@talbot-heindl.com

About the Cover

Photograph by Olivier Schopfer titled “Venice, Italy”


Table of Contents Art

Emily Rose Schanowski 9, 25, 50 Mark Myavec 19, 35 Olivier Schopfer cover, 30-31, 43

Fiction

Jonathan B. Ferrini Linda McMullen Mike Hickman Ron-Tyler Budhram Zach Murphy

Non-Fiction Lindsey Heatherly Sarena Tien Shawn Berman Tai Farnsworth Tolu Daniel

32-34 10-11 40-42 44-46 16, 23

17 12-13 36-37 4-5 6-8

Poetry

Alex Andy Phuong Annmarie McQueen Athena Nassar E.G. Rambo Elias Baez donald e. gasperson Olaitan Humble Saul Huggins Sophia Vesely Tamizh Ponni VP Tuur Verheyde Vamika Sinha

24, 48 26 29 18 20-22 27, 47 15 39 38 49 28 14

3


Seven Times I Came Out by:

Tai Farnsworth

1: I’m young. I have a boyfriend, as is the fashion. We like each other alright but there is always something missing. Always something wrong. He says that we’re puzzle pieces. I say that one of us is soggy from being left out in the rain or put in a toddler’s mouth. He laughs but I’m serious. I say we should go to a strip club. He says he’s worried I’ll fall in love with one of the strippers. I laugh but he’s serious. And on it goes. We meet his friends for someone’s birthday party at a bar. The bartender is gorgeous. She’s tall and fiery and wearing a corset that is doing all of us a kindness. I’m ordering a gin and tonic when the birthday bro plants himself next to me at the bar. “She’s hot,” he says. “She is,” I agree. “You should make out with her,” he says, “I think she’d like that.” “Well, I’m pretty sure my boyfriend wouldn’t.” “Nah, he’d like it for sure. Especially if you touched that rack of hers.” “You’re gross,” I say. “Yoooo it’s not gross to watch women make out for you,” he says. “I’m bi. It wouldn’t be for you guys. It would be for me. And I’d like it more than I like this.” 2: I’m at my parents’ house for the night. My mom’s at the gym. Dad’s watching HBO. Full Metal Jacket turned to Bring It On, which I’m fairly sure he has no interest in but my dad’s a very suffer-through kind of TV viewer. Too lazy to change the channel but not lazy enough to keep his mouth shut. Because of this particular viewing style, he’s probably seen this movie a few times. But he’s also a dozer, so he doesn’t really remember. Of course, Bring It On was one of my top ten teen movies. I have much of it memorized. Sure, Kirsten Dunst is a babe but I’m all about Eliza Dushku. When she flips off the observing cheerleaders while wiping the ink-drawn tattoo off her arm, I die a little. “She’s my future wife,” I say. My dad looks over his glasses at me for a second before sighing. “Oh,” he says. “I forgot you’re that way.” 3: It’s National Coming Out Day and I’m writing my Facebook post. My queerness won’t be a surprise to my parents or brother or close friends, but I’ve never told my extended family. I spend thirty minutes constructing a thoughtful update about my sexuality that ultimately reads like – Hey, bitches. It’s National Coming Out Day and I’m queer as hell. Then I spend another hour psyching myself up to actually post it. When I finally do the love pours in and I feel so blessed. I know I’m a lucky one. But the best response by far is from a cousin. A laugh react with the words - yeah. We all know. 4: My date and I want a beer flight. I’m more into darker, heavier stouts. They’re partial to a lighter beverage. We both like sweet potato fries and beet kale salads. Once all of our goods are in front of us, we relax and flirt a little. Touch hands to arms when we gesticulate, lean in at pivotal story moments. It’s only our second date but we’re queer so we almost live together by now, already looking for ways to enmesh our lives as quickly and complexly as possible before we fight and fuck through two years and then break up promptly over the phone. Once we finish eating, box up the leftovers, and start our third beers, we’re sitting quite close on the bench. I lean into their ear, tuck their hair easily into their baseball cap, and kiss the side of their neck. They swoon. I swoon. Some asshole at the table adjacent licks his lips with a wink. And I know with everything I am that if I was sitting next to a cis-man right now, there would be no lure in this asshole’s eyes. No desire on his tongue. No hunger in his bite.


5: My neighborhood is a drag for the unfamiliar as far as navigation goes. My Lyft ETA is always off by ten minutes because the drivers get lost when their GPS drops off. Basically a lane and a half with parked cars on one side and the mountain or houses on another, everyone’s pissed when they show up from the constant switchbacks. Tonight, Darnell is only five minutes late and that’s honestly a blessing. I get in. “Hi. Sorry I’m late. My GPS isn’t working up here. Can I just turn around or is there a better way to the main street?” he asks. “I’ll direct you.” And I do. Once we’re at the bottom, I give a small yawn. “Are you headed out or headed home?” “Out,” I say. “Better stop with that yawning,” he says. “You’re telling me.” We make small talk about how long he’s been driving. His brother’s work as a longshoreman. The different playlists he has for each passenger. It’s pleasant. Definitely worthy of the “Friendly Conversation” check mark when I rate him. “You have a boyfriend?” he asks. I laugh before I can stop myself. “No. I’m super gay.” “Oh,” he says. The rest of our trip is quiet except for a Frank Ocean playlist in the background. 6: The waiting room at the radiologist is mostly empty. All the way on the other side, underneath the TV playing old episodes of Maury, there’s a teenage boy by himself. Next to him is a pair of crutches but he doesn’t seem particularly distressed. They call my name and I stand, slowly. My knees have always been a bit of a shit show. Congenital issues that seem basically unidentifiable have plagued me since childhood. A few weeks ago they completely stopped working. I’m hobbling and in pain and nearly defeated. The radiologist, an older woman who smells vaguely of roses, directs me to the wall, showing me where she’ll have me stand. “Is there any chance you’re pregnant?” she asks. “No,” I say. “You know,” she looks at me like she’s about to confide in me some great secret, “the only true way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence.” She gives me a slight nod. The woman in the booth behind her rolls her eyes almost into her hijab. I don’t know what it is about me that suggests I’m unsure how to prevent pregnancy, but I’ve had this conversation with my dentist and an ER nurse, as well. “Or being very gay,” I say, smiling through my knee pain. 7: I’m older. I’ve given up dating cis men. My closest friend and I are out for dinner at a far too expensive, mediocre restaurant that’s centered in the gay scene. It’s a sappy dinner that fills me with drinks and joy. On our way out, I realize it’s ladies night at the ancillary space. There’s a woman standing at the bar who I’ve seen multiple times on the apps. I’ve always thought she was cute and now here she is, a vision before me. My friend insists I should talk to her while he waits outside. At the bar I order my fourth gin and tonic, which is too many gin and tonics. My game plan is strong continued eye contact until she caves and asks me to move in with her. But then I overhear her telling someone she only dates women who are older than she is and white. I swallow my drink and my dreams in three large gulps and stumble out of the bar. The night devolves from there and it’s not long till I’m making out with a bouncer at a bar up the street. His name is Bartholomew or Cuthbertson. Something regal. He plays the saxophone or the trumpet. Something jazzy. We talk about our locs and Los Angeles and every time we kiss I say I never do this into his mouth. But four gin and tonics are convincing and that woman hurt my spirit. The next day Bartholomew Cuthbertson Thaddeus the Third texts me many nice things. “You’re sweet,” I write, “but I don’t do this.” “You said that last night. But you acted differently.” “I’m gay,” I text. “Well, not too gay to make out with me. I want to get to know you.” “Okay, well, I’m queer,” I say. “What does that mean?” I feel his exasperation through the screen. “It means I’m bisexual but homoromantic.” “The fuck,” he says. “It means we can kiss but I won’t date you because you’re a cis man and that won’t ever make me feel like me. I’ll always be missing something. I’ll always be wanting. We’ll always be soggy puzzle pieces. Because I am only fully myself when I’m gay. I’m only ever really me, my most authentic self, my most full bloom, when I’ve come out.”

5


The Photograph by:

Tolu Daniel

CW: Armed robbery. There is a photograph of a place lodged somewhere in my head, refusing to yield to time, refusing to become memory, refusing to disappear. It stays fresh as photographs often are, glossy at the surface and colorful from afar. It is of a place I once called home. In the photograph, my father is standing with his face turned to the left on a portrait that sits on the wall while my mother smiles besotted with him. This is the picture of our sitting room in Ijeja, the room where the gun of an armed robber jammed when he tried to blow out my father’s brains. This is the room that follows me everywhere like an annoying toddler. I don’t know why the photographer chose this angle of our house to shoot but I know why I can’t get over it. This was the angle of the sitting room visible to me that night the robbers came. Whenever this photograph emerges from my consciousness, it is often triggered by a sense of danger, a possible loss. A week before the day that brought my third decade on earth into being, I decided to visit Ijeja. I imagined that perhaps, it was time for closure. I wanted to be done with the anxiety that the memory of the photograph always brought with it. That afternoon, I arrived in Ijeja as a stranger. The houses lining the streets remained as they were when I was a child. New ones peeped through from behind the old. When the car arrived at the gates of my destination, I was assaulted by nostalgia similar to the kind arising from my memory of the photograph. The gate was open, so I walked inside the compound. Nothing had changed. Even the large passion fruit tree that witnessed my childhood was still there. The wind blew its leaves from side to side as if it was celebrating my return. I walked towards the door of the apartment that used to be my family’s, the door was different, even the railings had been substituted. I knocked on the door and received only the sound of my knuckles cracking the plywood platform on the door in reply. There was no one but I felt a strange calm just standing there. *** This is where I was born, the home I knew till my parent’s salary swelled enough to move us elsewhere. Whenever my mind takes me back to my childhood, this I remember. The house with the wall-less gate, the big compound, and the four apartment units where we converged Friday nights to listen to the sonorous and chilling voice of Kola Olawuyi croaking from the radio telling scary stories. This is the house where I played daddy and mummy with Funmilola before she died of a disease with no name. This is the house of another boy who answered to my name but whose skin color earned him Tolu Pupa while I, a six-year-old, became black for the first time. Tolu Dudu will be my name for several years because it was easier to differentiate us by the shade of our skin. This is the house I first learned how to be jealous of a person because fair was better than black. This is where I learned to hate myself,


learned to hate my body because dudu doesn’t show well in photographs. This is where scary Mount Zion movies colored our Saturday nights and sent us to church the next morning with our heads bowed and our hands tucked in between our legs. This is where I played table-soccer and suwe and ten-ten. This is where I lost my first tooth and earned myself an abominable nickname. This is where the melody of Ebenezer Obey’s music moaned from the stereo of my father’s Volkswagen beetle. This is where I mistook Kerosene for water and drank my fill before I was discovered. And for several years, after we moved from house to house till we finally settled in a place built from the toil of my parents, this is where my memory remains. *** I was born a dark, clingy and loud baby, my mother says. Growing up, I also learned my birth was the sum of my father’s pessimism and my mother’s insistence on having yet another child. So when I arrived, I did so moody and angry. I had been yanked from the restfulness of the unknown and thrust into a world that was not ready for me. My mother says the sound of running water always chases the tantrums from my lips. She also claims that I was born near running water, somewhere in Ijeja. I don’t believe this, because I only know of one river there, the Sokori, a tributary of the Ogun whose streams snaked through our entire neighborhood. I have never liked this river, not when I attempted to fish its narrows and it held back its goodness from me, or the time I almost drowned in it teaching myself to swim. When my parents talk about me, they often bring up how rebellious I was as a child. From the many examples of disobedience I have heard them cite over the years, only one instance has ever really stuck in my head. During the Abacha military administration when riots were rife and soldiers in their camouflage slacks paraded our streets with guns and fierce faces, Abeokuta was silence sustained too long. My parents and their friends walked around Ijeja with their voices low, their words measured. I had just been enrolled at this nursery school in Oke-sokori, about a fifteen-minute walk from where we lived. I was maybe four or five years old. I remember being so excited about finally going to school that my sleep that night was disturbed several times. Around six in the morning, when I realised that everyone had risen and were getting dressed, I did the same. By half past six, I was in my school uniform and ready to go. So I waited for my mother who still wasn’t ready because she was attending my siblings. I got impatient. I set out on my own, passing through the military checkpoints and waving a blade of green grass I plucked in front of my house to them as I walked by, the way my parents had whenever we walked past an entourage of these soldiers. It took a whole hour before anyone at home thought to seek me out at school. My mother had run herself crazy with agitation thinking something bad had happened to me. Whenever anyone goes to my mother to report some rebellious act I might have committed, this is the story she tells them, that his rebellion, his need to be individualistic has always been with him. *** There is a picture of my name day in some photo album my mother keeps inside her room.

7


The first time I looked at this photograph, I had known fourteen harmattan and the signs of puberty were beginning to burst forth like a new season on my body. We were no longer living in Ijeja, we had moved to Ita Eko, a semi-middle-class neighborhood about five minutes from the old place. That day, I was drawn to the album by the argument my parents were having in the living room. I was preparing for the Senior Certificate examination which I was planning to travel to Ijebu Ode to write. The argument was about the circumstances of my birth. My father was saying to the irritation of my mother how he had only planned to have two kids. This is a story he tells every time I or my younger sister ask him for money. I would confront him about it years later. The photograph was sepia, almost indistinguishable from the one taken on my younger sister’s name day. I am only able to identify myself from the melanin glow wrapped in swaddling white. My mother is seated, while my father stands beside her, sporting an Abacha-style sun shades. His head filled with hair he doesn’t have anymore and a thick moustache fencing his upper lip. I can’t find love or fear or anything in either of their faces. It was as though they had been coerced into taking the picture. I wonder if my father’s sour face means he’s nursed his irritability towards me since my conception, or if he ever forgave my mother for having me, the third child. In the photograph I find a youthfulness about my parents I have no memory of. And it makes me wonder if perhaps like the translation of the name they gave me that day, “to god be the glory” they had given god all the glory and the joy in their marriage without leaving a remainder for themselves. *** In conversation with Paul Beatty in 2018 about his book, The Sellout, I asked what closure meant to him. I was curious what he thought of the concept, having written a novel about a man whose existence was contoured by events he didn’t have any control over. Since the week before my birthday and the trip to my childhood home, despite walking the house where memory held me hostage, I have obsessed over my lack of satisfaction. “I don’t know what closure is, death perhaps?” Paul Beatty replied. Ever since I was a child I have been confused by the concept of death. The finality of it and why we are supposed to be afraid of that end. For me, endings have always been fascinating, I have always thought like those in the Abrahamic religions that death could be a pathway to so much more. I may never get rid of the memory. Even if I sought out the photograph, wherever it is kept, and destroyed it, my mind will always keep a copy. Perhaps I should learn how to be grateful instead of everything else.

Published first by Five2One Magazine.


Geometric Snail by:

Emily Rose Schanowski

9


Lionfish by:

Linda McMullen

Bonnie existed in a one-bedroom apartment containing an arm-span kitchen, a bath, a futon, and a medium-sized aquarium for a lionfish called Zelda. The pet store alleged that Zelda had descended directly from the Noah-and-his-wife lionfish pair putatively released into the Atlantic wilds by Hurricane Andrew. “You’re doing Mother Nature a favor; there’re just too many of them in the ecosystem,” the pet store woman had said, her lip curling with the satisfaction of her own good deed. “Lovely creatures – very few natural predators – but…” Bonnie had said, “I’ll take her.” And she had brought Zelda home to her $550-a-month cocoon/cell. Now, she sank into her futon’s wheezing mattress, gripping a pre-printed form letter, unable to coax the words into a coherent message. *** Bonnie’s mother had been a patient and experienced aquarist, but the Lord had taken her home far earlier than Bonnie had anticipated. Her father had inducted her into his mechanic shop’s secret order at the age of eleven. Billy and Jim and Tommy, in their grease-tinted coveralls, tolerated her smoking and cussing with them because she could change a tire as fast as any of them, and handed them her tips when she finished an oil change. When her father had hollered that he would never need a girl in his shop, and the limp strands of her graduation tassel on her rearview mirror crusted together, Bonnie chose the restless Billy and his Fender, and followed him west. His band, Cloud Failure, billed itself as an indie-rock-folk mélange. The boys carved out gigs in Milwaukee’s and Madison’s plentiful bars before moving up to small “venues” across the upper Midwest. (And ascending into the ether of free drinks, a ponytail-and-crop-top retinue, and Ziploc bags passed furtively from hand to hand.) In exchange for a permanent backstage pass and a bed, Bonnie managed the band’s outside-the-ledger affairs. She did consider, at that time, researching more remunerative employment, but went cold at the thought of translating her responsibilities into a resumé. She tried, once, to put her duties into words: she (accidentally) ran her scattered thoughts through a satirical corporate language translator online:

∙ moderated the amorphous and fluctuating Venn diagram of collaboration, rivalry, and resentment among five individually aggrieved


members of a collectively successful band.

But the bullet made her shudder. And then Pete and Billy got into a furnitureshattering disagreement over the bass line of their proto-song. And Joe stood shrinking from a young woman wielding a Clearblue test like a rapier. The upscale venue’s assistant stage manager interrupted: “One hour.” Cloud Failure witnessed a slow descent toward fifteen-person concerts in the park in a steady drizzle, with only seeds and stems for consolation. By then Billy and Pete had abandoned everything but the slimmest veneer of civility, Ian drank fifths for breakfast, Zeke had cast off all conversation in favor of meditation, and, finally, Joe announced he wanted to leave to “step up and be a dad.” And a few days later she discovered Billy had exchanged her for a redhead with a belly-button ring. She had not smashed any of his guitars. Or shouted. Her mind had flown to the time she’d happily discovered that “The Jerk” was about to start on Channel 4 – she’d grabbed a bag of chips and a soda and hustled back to the sofa – only to discover that they’d bleeped all the funny parts. She had turned off the TV, sat in silence for a moment, contemplated her disappointment. Then she ran the vacuum. So: a deposit, a cashiering job at a big-box office supply store, and a maroon-and-white striped companion. Bonnie turned on the TV. QVC, more bad news, reruns of Seinfeld. She poured herself a glass of wine – out of a $6 bottle from Aldi. She picked up the paper again. The blandly reassuring, sanitized, lawyer-approved, life-razing letter. Apparently, the big box store anticipated completing its transition to self-checkout within three months. As a goodwill gesture, the store planned to offer one week of salary for each year of service with the company... Bonnie, at the nine-month mark, doubted this applied to her. …and noted that employees attempting to transition to floor sales would be given priority in hiring. She shook her head. No quotas, no pressure… no dice. She drifted downstairs to Mrs. Murphy’s apartment, and asked if she could have the want ads when Mrs. Murphy had finished. Back in her apartment, the G section of the Post securely under her arm, Bonnie retrieved her highlighter from the junk drawer, and fed Zelda. Bonnie looked up, watched the lionfish paddle unperturbedly around her tank. With a small smile, she circled a promising advertisement in bright yellow.

11


People of Color are Not Curiosities by:

Sarena Tien

CW: racism and non-consensual kiss I know that arguing with entitled white men on Facebook never ends well, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been angrier in my life. He’s mansplaining to multiple women of color, defending the right to ask us the “Where are you from?” micro-aggression. He says it isn’t a harmful question because white people are simply curious. He asks if the question has ever traumatized me. I see red. I’m transported back to a clear, sunny afternoon in France. I’m 22, a recent French major graduate, flushed with the excitement of working abroad for seven months. A white male friend and I, wanting to hang out somewhere, still unfamiliar with the town, walk into the first bar we see. It’s dimly lit, reeking of cigarette smoke, and not an establishment I’d typically frequent. The bartender’s a burly, half-balding man with yellow teeth and a long, unflattering saltand-pepper goatee that juts out from his chin like a small broom. He’s perfectly civil to my white male friend, shaking his hand and then chatting with him in amiable French. I start to unclench my hand from my derelict blue moped keychain from Rome. But then the bartender’s gaze falls on me. I tense, because as a woman of color who has experienced racial harassment in college, in grocery stores, in job interviews, I’ve seen that look a thousand times. He does not see me as a human being, but as an exotic accessory from another country. Sure enough, instead of holding out his hand, he insists that I exchange la bise with him. Although I understand perfectly well what a cheek kiss is, he’s not an acquaintance, much less a friend. I refuse his request by playing stupid, a task made easier by his belief that I don’t understand France’s language or culture. But he won’t leave my friend or me alone, stubbornly talking to us in half-broken English. And then he demands to know where I’m from. I reply truthfully, but “America” isn’t enough. He wants to know where I, my parents, and my grandparents were born. I’m a first-generation child, and proud of it, but for the first time in my life, I lie. My friend keeps trying to deflect the conversation. The bartender ignores the obvious hints. He calls me a yellow girl.


I surrender the remainder of my pint of beer to my friend, who wordlessly chugs it. Then the two of us attempt to bolt out of the bar, but the bartender makes my friend sign a ten-dollar bill so that he can remember “the American boy.” I think I’ll escape unscathed because the bartender already has his souvenir. I’m wrong. He places himself between the door and me, between my freedom and my friend. He refuses to let me leave until I give him la bise. I’m 5’5” and will never weigh more than a hundred pounds, even soaking wet, and I’ve never regretted my decision to ignore the entire week of self-defense class in ninth grade more than I did right then and there in that shadowy bar. But when I was fourteen, I couldn’t have anticipated that I’d one day feel utterly helpless in a foreign country. I didn’t yet know that women have been murdered for saying no. When I finally step outside, my friend apologizes profusely. Meanwhile, I repeatedly scrub my flannel sleeves across my cheeks. I can’t get rid of the scratchy feeling of unkempt beard brushing against my skin, robbing me of my agency. When my friend and I part ways, I get the urge to rub my cheeks against the nearest stone wall. I don’t because they’ll bleed, but I do scratch my fingernails across my cheeks so many times, they turn red. After, no matter how many friends I’m with, I tense whenever I enter a bar. I’m angry at myself for thinking it, but I can’t help but wonder if one day, a question about my race will result in something worse than a forced cheek kiss. I can’t help but wonder if one day I will become a statistic. Today, I’m 26, and I haven’t forgotten the feeling of phantom beard rasping across my cheeks. I didn’t think I could hate a question more than I already did. It was hard, but I slowly picked my shattered trust off the ground and pieced it back together because the men I trust have done so much for me. Back on Facebook, I copy and paste my story into the comment thread. The entitled white man agrees that my experience is traumatic. And then he carries on arguing that white people have a right to satisfy their curiosity when it comes to race. It takes two days, five women, and 215 comments to explain to him that a person of color’s background does not exist for a white person’s curiosity.

First published on Role Reboot, http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/ details/2018-04-people-of-color-are-not-curiosities/

13


cartography by:

Vamika Sinha

take care – i mishear – of the light. it is supposed to guide me home, it chides me go, play cosmic jazz in the afternoon sunlight weak-kneed from a punch in its warm gut doubled over: it’s cold outside, solange sings brown sugar, brown face and i have it all in my cupboard: mama’s hair oil & extra chilli flakes & chopped ‘n’ stewed chicken in a flora tub & aamir khan films off the head of my tongue, my muddy beautiful english tongue & fish curry every thursday (for the protein!) & aloe vera juice for saharan sweat & brandy’s ‘piano man’ in the car

on the way home from school, i have dropped geography class to write maps: letters making symbols making image; craggy hikes into memory laid flat, my oiled scalp under mama’s hot palm smoothing my head, my runny yolky scrambled brain. beautiful someday afternoon, solange sings almeda & i return to girlhood’s mall: ice-creams at riverwalk, copying recipes from the bookshop & swallowing the bitter of adult cappuccinos, pretending to contain myself.


What We Mean When We Say [Our Thoughts And Prayers Are With You] by:

Olaitan Humble I.

I stood by the bank of a freshet calling for the spirit of my grandfather. I folded the fluxive breeze in both of my palms & compacted the prayers he taught me to fit in between them. Then in torrents the freshet began to flow—just as was promised. I watched breaking each of my ten knucklebones with a sledgehammer of awe. I slapped myself in the face & called it solitude. I ran away from home & tattooed [bold] on my belly.

II.

A lone wolf set sail with his worries on board hoping that they didn’t capsize the boat. Before he espied paradise, anxiety—one of the oarsmen on board settled on his nose, turning it cold. Then he placed his right leg in the water. He was a boat & more. This is what we mean when we say [our thoughts & prayers are with you] Sincerely, gramps

15


Foxes and Coyotes by:

Zach Murphy

The tulips grew apart from each other that Spring. The ground cracked and crumbled in ways that I’d never seen before. I watched the foxes and the coyotes battle all Summer on Cesar Chavez Boulevard, where the blood would leave permanent stains on the concrete. The reckless packs would flash their teeth, mark their territories, and steal more than just scraps. Me, I was a squirrel. I was small. But I was agile. I hustled from sun up until sundown at a frenetic pace. I always minded my own business and stuck to my own path. I didn’t want to get involved with the vicious nature of pack mentality. My best friend was a squirrel, too. We grew up around the same nest. We used to climb trees, chase tails, and break soggy bread together. We’d walk the wires between safety and danger. And when we got too deep into the mess, we’d get out just in time. Growing up, I always wondered if we would live long enough to die from old age, or if the environment and its elements would get to us first. That Fall, my best friend got caught up with the foxes and the coyotes. Now he’s gone. The foxes and the coyotes lied low in the Winter. Me, I trotted across the frozen ground and desperately hoped I’d see my best friend’s footprints once again.


Stardust by:

Lindsey Heatherly

CW: Suicidal Ideation The night he called and said he didn’t know what to do, that he couldn’t do it anymore, you said hold on and drove that tiny silver Ford Escort, with the Gizmo sticker on the back bumper, as fast as it would go. He was on the floor sobbing, tears and snot christening his face. Puke splattered on his red sweater like homemade tie-dye. You handed him a black trash bag and he blew chunks into the void that could not be outrun. He didn’t want to live. Didn’t want to die. You rubbed his back and hugged his neck and tried to find words, but when you’re 18 and sheltered, all you say is it will be okay because it always is. You hadn’t yet tried to drink yourself to death or flirt with your own existence. You hadn’t yet awoken with vomit dried onto your chin, unable to focus your dilated eyes onto the person in the mirror or the snake swirling around your iris, constricting around the black of your eye, the one thing you could gain focus of. You hadn’t yet clutched the cold bedsheets, mistaking cloth for skin, or pumped your father’s chest again and again on the concrete sidewalk, in the middle of the night, while he was safe in bed at home. You hadn’t yet laid in bed/on the floor/in the grass and begged God to take your life, but beg you did, until the words on your tongue fell flat against the roof of your mouth and pushed back down into your gut as bile. Now your friend, the one who once had vomit on his red sweater, is happily married and has a baby boy of his own. He really was okay, and your words spoken out of naivety ended up being true. Lucky for you, naivety doesn’t hold grudges. Now your daughter says her hair is a galaxy of purple and blue, and she says I love you, with specks of stardust circling the blacks of her eyes. And you know it really will be okay.

17


Day 121 by:

E.G. Rambo

CW: Death and War marching in a battlefield, in a war that never ends, I notice another shell hole filled with black bodies although they are no kin to me, seeing the glow of their beautiful skin ashened by death always moves me to tears but there is no time to grieve to mourn to avenge those who have fallen after all, I will come across another mass grave in a few days’ time as we pass, some of the soldiers talk like the war is done & artillery smoke isn’t thick in the air ‘all that’s left,’ they say, ‘is to pick up the pieces so we can start again.’ but all I see is rubble slowly crumble to ashes & mingle with the blood of the oppressed and the sacrificial if these are our materials, I fear rebuilding for we will disintegrate before we’ve barely taken shape maybe then our best hope is to lay these bones to rest and sculpt something entirely new


Missed connection by:

Mark Myavec

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I wanna tutor Katy Perry by:

Elias Baez

I wanna tutor Katy Perry pro bono, purely in service to the fact that she’s a poet who calls herself a songwriter, and she is, but I’ve never heard her say she’s also a poet, and I’m becoming worried no poets who know they’re poets have told her.

Every popstar is a poet, but most don’t know it. Pop lyrics, tilted against a certain slant of light, read literally like Emily Dickinson’s letters to whatever ex-flame made her come to God and be the patron saint of celestial flies, third-floor altitudes and four-four time.

Maybe this is presumptuous, but I’m a teacher who doesn’t like school so I’ve gotta be creative if I’m gonna stay a teacher for the people that school got fucked up.

Once on the bus in 4th grade, this girl called me the Walking Encyclopedia, because I’m so annoying and love to babble about history like it’s a river in the living room or it’s a belt buckled by the sun, and I go on and on cause I get caught up in the songs that snag like ribbons on hedgerows, though this ribbon isn’t pink or blue, it’s both, androgynous and melancholy like hydrangeas.

I’ve been feeling like cafeteria leftovers lately. Last night, I dreamt an apple peel and a smushed carton of chocolate milk sunk a Hail Mary in the fourth quarter. Or inning, whatever. The point is, the dream told me I need to be real (which, I find being real disgusting) because footballs are made of pigskin, and pigs are super real, and smart. I’ve got a soothing speaking voice, and I like reading till my voice gets tired, and then a little more. I don’t know what I’ve been training for, so I’m vulnerable to the thought of this being it. I’m most awake at 3:36 AM, the time when Margarita, en route to being Queen of the Devil’s full moon ball, is free to feel her wrath and pity balanced on a flying broom. I may not be Oxford, but animal and baby both tend to like me. This must mean something.

I’m trying to tell you why I wanna tutor Katy Perry, but I get so distracted I lose track of why I got talking at all. I shouldn’t have mentioned the belt and hydrangeas before, that was weird of me; I promise I’m professional, sweet yet tart like cherry pie, and like really good with computers.


I’m fully a child of the digital moment, and finally old enough to follow my father and try to become the being online they tried to trap inside my mind. They plastered my face, then made a mask and fingerpainted a smile on it. I’m grateful they made me a mask. I painted its inner wall with constellations, and named them into stories for my nephew. If he’s a sapling, I must be a tree by now. A candlebark tree molts its bark, that four-letter chunk at the end of its name (like my mother did my father’s Baez to restore her own Chaparro) and stands, remaining like a burning candle whose center never melts, but grows. My dad was one of the first people in the city of Yonkers to beta test a cable modem, killing the bull that was dial-up. There’s a picture of him in an old newspaper clipping. He’s at the computer with all of us around him, my Mom and siblings and me with pride of place by his right hand. I’m his final boy. I’m staring at his monitor, its light blanching my face entirely, except for my dumb eyes. I look to me like I’m the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, like one of the creatures who witnessed the landing of alien technology, reached out, touched it, and so was changed, doubled alive by an alien mind. My mother’s standing furthest back, and I can tell she’s skeptical.

The conditioning school gave me makes me so angry at myself when I write unclearly, or think or act unclearly. I start seeing stainless steel rulers swinging like piano hammers. That’s part of why I wanna tutor Katy Perry – professors are crazy, and no one realizes until it’s too late. What if someone makes her mind divide and double-divide, then hate itself for its divided state? If you want a reference, on Reddit, a student recommended me as ‘the chillest guy ever.’ I’d hyperlink that, but this is a poem. Let’s not be crazy. I can’t afford the Hoffman Process®, but I like the word Quadrinity™. It’s on a free page of the website. It made me think of how God is divided into the three-part trinity, and how that’s not the full picture. A triangle’s more than the three angles that are its corners. Those are important in a boring way, but I’d bet a ton of money most people care more about the inside of a triangle than its corners. Imagine the Rugrats never spelunked the basement, or Paris, or found the worlds inside the world hemmed in by the Pickles’ playpen. I’m trying to live in four dimensions here, and I say the trinity becomes a quadrinity™ if you count the parts and then the whole, like how letters are and aren’t words, consonants, and some vowels for air.

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You gotta think like Archimedes to shrug off the planet and put it away like a raggedy coat, a pair of fake wings, or your need for people to be who you want and not who they are. Then you can fly, like Brewster McCloud spiraling the Astrodome, like a Hail Mary before it graces the wide receiver, like the love, simple as sugar and full as the ocean that carries my mother’s voice on the phone. I couldn’t write about my Mom for years. I was trying to protect her from the hexes ciphered in chalkboard numbers, smuggled in a breath, hooded by a cough, or spelled in illegible marginalia. In Crybaby by John Waters, the guy cries every time he has to fight somebody. He still fights. When I told my Dad someone had been mean to me on the bus (the boy who sat behind me) he told me to punch the kid square in the face. Next day, the bully spit on the crown of my head, so I punched him and he dropped. At school, I cried until they called my mother because no one wiped his spit out my hair. Shame makes you slip out the shape of yourself like a Reese’s forgot in your back pocket. I know my mind is ripe for the reaping. It’s a little bruised, but ugly fruit is perfectly good, I’ve been told. Even a bad apple is right twice a day, right? Most poets would piss on your floor and call it apple juice. Not me, I’d go to Home Depot and rent a vacuum and happily clean the mess I make to your satisfaction. All I want is to stay myself, and that means I have to ask you to let me stay inside me. Sometimes, I feel like people want the blow-up doll I (sometimes) do like pretending to be.

Okay. Usually, I’m too busy hating myself to answer the phone, but know that I’m by it 24/7. My number’s 845.313.2247. The future Mrs. Bloom gets me pro bono; for the rest of you rats I’m rate negotiable. I gotta skedaddle. Sorry to love you and leave ya. Bye bye, birdies!


The Garden by:

Zach Murphy

The wildflowers wilt over their own feet as I trudge through the dusty, jaded soil. One of my legs is broken. My mouth is parched. And my stripes burn. I wonder if the workers before me dealt with this kind of heat. I wonder if the workers after me will suffer even more. I wonder if there will even be workers after me. The honey isn’t so sweet here anymore. The dream has melted away. This planet is no longer my garden. As I use my last shred of will to drive my stinger into the wrinkled ground, I pray that my final moments will be graced with a cool breeze.

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Serving Service by:

Alex Andy Phuong Help heal the helpless Do more than what one deserves Serve the undeserved


Floral Roller Skate by:

Emily Rose Schanowski 25


Dragon’s blood by:

Annmarie McQueen

We found it in a charity shop: The perfect frame, mahogany wood Dusty in the back Scars tracing the glass surface Congealing at the edges. We tried her on for size Her, our dragon queen Our fiery goddess Trimmed down to four square walls And four square sides Frozen in her birthing flames A phoenix girl mid-flight. Hanging her was a solemn ritual: You brought hammers and screws I brought masking tape Body bandages Dressing her in a second skin The color of the earth. There was relief afterwards Appraising stares and photos A homecoming of sorts when she Came to rest above my headboard And I knew her steady eyes would See me through the night.

*** I took her down alone A year after we hung her together. I eased her gently into my arms and Stared into her volcanic eyes Admired the way her snowy hair Flared around her like a blizzard Tangled into brush strokes Ice caught between hard bristles. The day I moved out I tripped carrying her to the car. A jagged gash, long as a dragon’s claw, Cut her face in half. It was accidental symmetry, I decided One last grand, symbolic gesture As I watched a year’s worth of silent seeing Splatter the ground like blood.


comfortable clothes by:

donald e. gasperson

there’s a watchfulness and a reasonable empathy behind any equanimity

sturdy black plastic glasses I would never have worn en vogue now

aware that all of the world’s aspirations are too often just petty and mean

a nice suit and neat tie my church clothes absolutely full of presumption

and without responding to every vague bit of business or sly projection

escorting my elderly mother to sunday service knowing her friends

knowing the difference between simple reflection and tired reiteration

how would we get by without a bit of temerity

I know myself a good man careful of the facts not ordinarily tired I keep my balance carefully walking with a stick measuring my steps wearing comfortable clothes as if I might expect a sudden metamorphosis

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Dies Irae by:

Tuur Verheyde

In a brightly padded Bedlam Tethered to late September Heimdall leads me To Autumn’s opening dance. Kim and Donald are playing Cold War 2, but I’ve got trenches on the brain. A dieselpunk daydream wakes me humming War Poetry while lining Jazz with Trip hop, cutting it with retro rumble and ghastly futurism; Rusty robots walking to the Somne. Airships shoving clouds aside. A grim pastoral paints itself; Beneath crumbling gothic arches a green fog slouches across the bed of mire and maroon. Wasteland 2.0 dotted with rotting iron, cemented graves and spires as caves and shelters for shellfire and mustard storms of hail. “Never Again” Satan must have shat himself laughing when he heard that one.


athena as Cardi B’s baby by:

Athena Nassar

A boy who resembles a man asks me do you know how much a jello shot costs? He slurs his t’s, and I try to solve his words like a crossword puzzle, and it’s only 6 p.m. I row my way through a sea of red solo cups and fake IDs from South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida. Faces don’t match the pictures, but the bartender doesn’t know 17 from 21 when he puts bass in his voice. When girls wear their mother’s shoes, they are still girls. When I click my heels against the grass, they don’t make a sound. Young Thug spits into his microphone. His lyrics have gone stale like an old dinosaur fossil, and I taste dust on my lips when I inhale. I learn not to inhale when I walk through thick smoke. It tastes like cucumber and mango and skunk on my tongue. Is this what freedom tastes like? Exemption from external control. I can’t reach my arms out without feeling the weight of sweat drip from his back. He asks me to dance, but I can only read his lips through the bass, and I don’t want to dance through a cemetery for crushed solo cups and spoiled spirits. I take off my heels and sink my toes into the wet grass stained with strawberry jello. I bounce like jello through a crowd of strangers that I’ve known since kindergarten. Their faces blend in to the moon when they are all stomping on crumpled tickets. Toilet paper. Broken heels. Water bottles. Pennies. Pumping their fists to the dust that hits the wind. Even my own name sounds stale when I say it over and over. Cardi B made a surprise appearance. Cardi B Cardi B Cardi B. She’s 8 months pregnant with a baby who shouldn’t be inhaling cucumber smoke from kids who told their parents they were sleeping over at a friend’s house. My parents know where I am, but my face doesn’t look 21, and I can’t breathe with the weight of his sweat on my chest.

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Cuban


31

by:

Olivier Schopfer


Tea with Old Friends by:

Jonathan B. Ferrini

It was a weekly treat for me to attend an elegant, afternoon High Tea at the beautiful Mark Hopkins Hotel after church services across the street. The Mark held a commanding view of San Francisco from its location atop Nob Hill, and provided a beautiful view of the iconic bridge, bay, and city below. I was always welcomed by my waiter, Franco, a fifty year employee, who reserved my favorite, green, silk-covered, chaise lounge. With charm and grace, Franco would gently roll up a brass serving table with a glass top, displaying my assortment of English teas, finger sandwiches, and exquisite pastries. Franco always included a glass of sherry which oftentimes induced an afternoon nap, and dreams of my exotic travels with my family. Across from my chaise lounge, was its sister; a beautiful, vintage, velvet, bright red sofa with gold leaf accents. It looked as if it previously held a prominent place within the palace of Czar Alexander. The red sofa was so elegant, it appeared to be a museum piece, and only on occasion, would people sit upon it with reverence. Both furniture pieces were handcrafted at least one hundred years earlier. I always admired people with an appreciation for fine furniture who would photograph, and admire the beautiful red sofa. I was situated in a quiet corner of the magnificent hotel lounge where I could sit alone with my memories, nap, or watch the hotel guests come and go. My heart was always warmed by watching a young mother introduce her daughter to High Tea, reminding me of my precious moments with my daughter, now grown with a lovely daughter of her own, attending Stanford. Franco wore his spotless, white waiter’s jacket, white shirt, black bow tie, pressed black trousers, and shoes shining like mirrors. Franco put two children through college working at The Mark, and was the last of a dying breed of professional waiters. He felt like family and treated me like royalty, greeting me as Madame, and always nearby at my beckon call. He remembered the many private dinners my husband and I shared, our anniversary celebrations, birthdays, and lavish New Year’s parties


we hosted. He was careful to remind me of these precious memories because it always brought me tears of joy, albeit, bittersweet, now that I’m elderly and alone. The chaise lounge and I became friends because I believed it had a soul. Its arm rests were like the embracing arms of a loved one, comforting me as I reflected upon my long life; a depression era teenager, soldier’s wife, mother to a beautiful grown daughter with an equally beautiful granddaughter, and a handsome son killed in Vietnam, whose untimely ,and unnecessary death, left an open wound within my heart. We had a comfortable life in San Francisco, and managed quite a bit of international travel as my husband was transferred around the world in the course of his business. We fell in love with San Francisco and decided to make it our home when we retired. I often fell into a deep sleep on my chaise lounge, and awoke to find a blanket carefully placed over me by Franco, and a plush pillow beneath my head. I had a dream that my departed husband was calling for me from the opposite side of our home, as was his custom. I hadn’t dreamed of my husband for decades, and surmised, I was being called to join him shortly. I welcomed the day when we might be reunited in the afterlife. I missed him, dearly. I was ninety years old and watched my friends die over the years. Except for church, periodic visits from my daughter and granddaughter, I lived a reclusive life, but was content. I returned one Sunday afternoon for High Tea to find the entire hotel lounge had been remodeled. I walked about, hurriedly looking for my chaise lounge and its sister, the red sofa. I believed that I might have entered the wrong hotel until I was met by Franco. “Franco, what happened to the lounge? Where are my chaise lounge and the red sofa?” “The hotel management remodeled the lounge last week to attract younger guests. I miss the old décor, as well, Madame.” “Where did the chaise lounge and red sofa go? Perhaps, they’re in storage? I would like to purchase both immediately!” “The work was completed during the overnight hours so as to minimize our guest’s inconvenience, but I will inquire on your behalf, Madame.” The General Manager, a young Swiss hotelier, soon thereafter, approached me, apologizing, “I’m sorry Madame but the previous furnishings were taken away by

33


a moving company to an undisclosed location at the behest of our interior designers who don’t have any further information on their whereabouts.� The General Manager and Franco knew I was heartbroken by the loss of my favorite chaise lounge and its sister sofa. They provided me with a beautiful Queen Anne chair adjacent to the fireplace, and graciously provided my High Tea at no charge. I considered my favorite furniture as friends, and was thankful for the privilege of knowing them. I prayed both the chaise lounge and red sofa met a beautiful fate, perhaps displayed with honor in a vintage furniture shop, soon to be purchased, hopefully together, and appreciated by new owners for decades to come. If I knew which store, I’d immediately purchase them both and move them into my Pacific Heights home. At ninety, I had grown accustomed to losing friends and loved ones, but the loss of two inanimate, beautiful, vintage, furniture pieces, providing only comfort, never the pain and sorrow humans mete out, devastated me. I dreaded the thought they may be sitting in a landfill, slowly decaying, like an elderly woman. I prayed they did in fact, have souls, and would fondly remember the many guests they comforted, including me.


Hostas by:

Mark Myavec

35


The Ancient Art of DVD Clearance Bin Diving by:

Shawn Berman

I’m elbow deep in a $5 DVD clearance bin at Walmart, fishing for a random gem to bring home to watch with you. Since we’ve been together, this little game that we play, this weekly ritual—Clearance Bin Roulette—has been crucial for our Friday Movie Nights. Over time, we have developed an extensive set of rules for this game:

∙ Every week we alternate who gets the honor of picking a movie from the bins. ∙ Absolutely ZERO looking, whatsoever. ∙ Any movie pulled out from the $5 bins will be anointed the official pick of movie night. ∙ No redos!!!

Despite what many may think, there’s an actual science to the ancient art of DVD clearance bin diving. In my opinion, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about finding a diamond in the rough. Some (not naming names) prefer to be lazy and to just grab whatever movie they touch first. But that’s piss-poor technique in my book. Personally? I like to rummage around for at least 5-10 seconds, gently caressing the movies--teasing them that they’re coming home with us. Then, when I can hear the DVDs crying to be chosen (read: you telling me to hurry up), I make my move, going in for the kill. Not gonna lie, my last few picks have been kinda rough, though I did end up with that one Disney movie--Chicken Little. Despite it’s abysmal 37% Rotten Tomatoes Score, I kinda admired how realistic it was, how the animators went out of their way to accurately portray the chickens in the film, giving Chicken Little over 250,000 feathers. They simply don’t make cinematic experiences like that anymore. I grab hold of a movie and it feels heavy. I can sense the plastic cellophane wrapper slipping away as my palms start to sweat. I then go in with both hands, ensuring that I don’t lose this one to the metaphorical physical media tide. When I pull it out, we stifle a laugh: The Complete Sharknado 1-6 Collection: $20. In the history of this tradition, pulling an overpriced complete collection from the bins has never happened. I don’t know much about Sharknado. Only that an actual real-life Sharknado—from a scientific perspective—is entirely possible. (As the phenomenon of raining fish—and other animals, by the way—is an unusual type of precipitation that happens as a result of filtering dust particles combined with


excessive levels of saline throughout the air). I look over and can see the moral conundrum you’re having and how you don’t wanna break the rules that nobody knows about. But at $20, the Sharknado collection is way over the allotted movie night budget. Clearly someone else had to make the tough choice between buying this boxset or choosing a 30-rack of Bud Light. I think the right decision was made. Finally, you tell me to put it back and to go again—saying you’ll allow it—just this once. I pray for the DVD clearance bin gods to give me a miracle. Then...Avatar: The Last Airbender. No such luck. Maybe next week.

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Obsession by:

Sophia Vesely

Those ducklings we saw that afternoon in the park, small and orderly as they scuttled along behind the quacking leader? Remember their racket? They are grown now, and waddle in a cluster. The sunburned man with the crinkled forehead and paint-splattered hat who claimed his stake on our bench? He’s quite bitter now. Twelve times, he’s scoffed at me. Content only once. Dinner plates shattered: two, nails clipped: five, eyebrows plucked: six, ashes scattered: one, pimples popped: eight, books started: ten, shoe laces tied: twenty-seven. Hearts broken, just the one. Lines concocted, eighteen. I’ve detected so many ways to reckon the time, and yet I await you still.


Botch Job by:

Saul Huggins

Exposing our leaders for what they really are Comes oh so easy for this inventive little bug. Unable to show Itself, yet able to shine a light Onto human nature which the Bard could not Manage with a million skilled words: Compare The organic method in which fools, liars, and Charlatans are revealed in the natural glare of Covid 19 - to the stagy artifice of Shakespeare. (Humans have rarely been worthy of the grand Emotions he awarded them nor capable of the Exquisite verse he installed on their tongues.) No, this inaudible bug is not in need of a voice To reveal human defects in their purest forms. Moreover, it grants us knowledge by proxy in The teaching of a new word – Furlough. And As well as bringing the meaning of this word To light, the versatile bug also blasts a glaring Beam onto those with cold heart who go on to Abuse the ethics and practice of this new word. Both Education AND Edification from Covid 19 Cruel yet gifted bug, finding ways to enlighten.

Perchance, after Its everlasting Demise, Its greatest bequest Can be a subtle worldwide Release from servitude To the hideous speed Of life so rooted in Love of money As to render Humanity(!) A Botch Job. (but don’t bank on it)

Previously published in Straw Dogs.

Upgrading the air for wildlife by Cutting planes, cars. Curbing the airs of the Famous by Keeping them caged. Purifying the air in the hoods by Making Rap Its bitch.

Purging the streets of crime, It is the Only Show In Town, Owning every single person In a planet becoming ever Cleaner and purer with the Presence of Its invisible self.

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Valet by:

Mike Hickman

£14. A quick spruce and a brush up. Check everything’s ready for winter. “I’ll take one in red, if you have it.” They have it. The one line email had gone to the wrong account. “Just passing it on,” Linda had said. More words than usual. There’d also been the reminder about letting the electric company know about the joint account. £14. A special offer for the season. But you hadn’t even been that bothered with it – you’d been more annoyed that she’d send you something so unnecessary. Except – Sally had said something about the car. Her dad’s is a five door. And it beeps when reversing. And had DVD and wasn’t scuffed and scratched and otherwise falling apart. Sally had said that. And she’s five. So £14 didn’t seem like such a bad deal. A quick spruce and a brush up. For the winter. It was about time you did something about it. You’d seen no need to reply to Linda’s email. She just wanted it gone. It’s like that now. Neither would she say anything about being peeved with the bills, or that you’d neglected the timescale you’d agreed to that last meeting for getting everything transferred. For taking responsibility. It had only been three weeks then. Sally hadn’t yet seen the house, of course. Neither had you been allowed to meet her. It was still early days with Courtney, and you’d been told that her daughter would be staying out with her grandparents for a night until things were settled. So she knew nothing of the boxes and the damp and the spreading stain on the bedroom carpet from that first night you’d been alone. The one where you’d ended up in Accident and Emergency. You’ve had a clear-out since, so Sally wouldn’t call you “silly” when she did come round. When things had “moved on” enough for her to see where you live. “Oh, well, yeah, if you’ve got terms, then I’m interested in terms.” The besuited salesman opposite will no doubt be talking about you later. This’ll make his week, you think. It’ll certainly do something for his sales targets.


You wonder how he’ll describe you. If they ask. Later. Will they? Will you give them reason? The old car sits outside, in the forecourt. They’ve changed the air filters, run the vacuum round, or whatever it is they do. It’ll at least smell of something other than menthol cigarettes and desperation/anticipation when you drive it over to Courtney’s later. Sally will be there. Now Courtney is more certain of how things stand. And there will be dinner. And you’ll be buying. If this is what you want, Linda had said, then you’ll have to take it all on. You’ll have to tell the landlord, too. And the bills will be your responsibility, too. Although you’d wondered if it was a test. Seeing how much you wanted this. Forms are not your thing. Linda had always signed. Rental agreements, credit card applications, the mortgage you’d got between you and then so royally screwed up because of what happened with the job. When you’d taken on too much there. Not a problem for you anymore, of course. “Everything is settled, isn’t it?” Courtney had asked, and you’d said yes, even though you’d only been three weeks in by then, but it had made your mind up for you. Made Linda’s up for her, too. “Sign here and here,” the suit says, pushing the form over to you. He’s drawn crosses next to the requisite boxes. Big crosses in black felt tip. You almost expect a smiley face. Maybe you’ll get that later. Tonight. This is going to cost. More than £14. And you’ve not even checked to see if the smell has gone. You’re thinking of going into the bank. Maybe on the way back. The garage can’t give you the car today. The suit has explained that. He’s told you that it’ll be mid-way through next week before it’s ready. More paperwork. He’d been surprised you didn’t want a test drive. You sign. In both boxes. You’re surprised at the steadiness of your hand. You’ll go into the bank. You’ll get the payments moved from the joint account to your account. Least you can do. And you’ll see what they can do about the car situation, now you have a car situation. You’ve a daughter now. Maybe that’ll mean something.

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The suit stands up and leans across the table for the handshake. You try to make it look like you’ve done this before. He doesn’t care. He’s primed for the shrug he’s going to give to your retreating back as you exit past the other customers with their coffee and their magazines and their £14 winter valet offers that they’re most certainly not going to turn into an entirely new car. Not a one of them look at you like Linda would, if she knew. She’d sent you the email. Perhaps that was a test, too. See what kind of a responsible man you’re planning on being. You’ll have to be careful what you put up on Facebook when you come back to pick up the new car. You climb into the driving seat. They’ve hung a new freshener on the rear-view mirror you’d left in the glove compartment. You’d shoved it in there after your little accident the other week on the trip back from Courtney’s. 40 minutes, you’d made it in – Google maps said an hour and a half. You check the CD player. “Mamma Mia.” You can’t stand Abba. Linda would laugh. Perhaps. You set it playing, crank it up loud, and reverse out of the parking space as if you’d ever been good at reversing out of anything. Come Wednesday next, you’ll be rid of your old life. Courtney and Sally will see how settled you are. Linda will see how responsible. You’ll have had your quick spruce and brush up. Summer, you know, is well behind you, but at least you’ll be ready for winter.


Mews - London, UK by:

Olivier Schopfer

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Training Isabel by:

Ron-Tyler Budhram

CW: Animal abuse. Isabel’s parents are concerned with teaching their child about responsibility and how to keep something alive—rather than simply to teach the four-year-old about death. They figure life is dreary enough, and teaching Isabel about death by getting her a fish would be cruel, a little too macabre, a senseless waste of money. They are not that lazy. Her father takes the reins on this endeavor and makes it his own. He has embraced the hobby of fishkeeping and now he wants to do something fun with his daughter, even though their personalities seem to demonstrate the beginning of a fundamental clash. Isabel doesn’t appreciate his insistent, forceful approach. She doesn’t like him. Generally, she rebels against him. But specifically, she decides to experiment with the fish. Instead of dechlorinator, she puts bubble soap into the tank. Her father’s shimmering school of neon tetras die. The child is at once shocked that the fish die so immediately, that she really did kill his fish, but she is also pleased when she sees her father’s crestfallen face. The neighbor comes over that afternoon, the babysitter, twelve-yearold Quinn, whom Isabel idolizes. From her time-out on the stairs, Isabel tells Quinn what she did. But the older girl has already taught the younger one all about death while playing in the woods. In fact, she’s made Isabel kill a number of bugs and frogs in the most gruesome way they could: rock bashing. Both got so carried away with the glee of the activity that they thought nothing of it. When Isabel tells Quinn about the bubble soap, her face draws down into a gloom; she feels guilty as Quinn stifles laughter with hands clamped over her face, with gaps between her fingers like the bars of a cage. Don’t worry, Quinn says. They’re just fish, and fish die. They were gonna die anyway. Isabel’s mom stomps down the stairs in her black boots and says, No, they were not going to die. Isabel killed them on purpose, and now she’s being punished. So, go home Quinn honey, it’s late. Isabel’s mom, an animal-rights activist on Facebook, has just gotten off


the phone with a dog breeder in Iowa. She has been on a waiting list for a Newfoundland puppy, priced at $3,800, for over a year, and has a 25 percent deposit down. The puppies have finally become available. It’s something she’s always wanted, and she thinks it will be the best opportunity to teach her daughter responsibility—but with a gentler hand than that of her husband. Puppies are little babies, she tells Isabel on the way to the farm in the country that weekend. And they need you to be very gentle and kind, she says. Isabel is overexcited and bangs on the insides of her father’s Range Rover. She tries to unbuckle the belt on her car seat to bounce better, but cannot. Stop that! her father shouts, and Isabel’s mom rests a hand on his knee. When they arrive on the rolling green acres, Isabel’s mom names the puppy Archie, a designation that bears no connection to its appearance: floppy ears attached to a charcoal-gray fluff ball. It bounds around the barn with its overlarge mother one last time, and Isabel’s mom hands the breeder a fat envelope full of cash. Archie is deposited into a small kennel beside Isabel’s car seat. It cries most of the drive home. The little girl slaps her hands over her ears. She shouts at Archie to be quiet, but the puppy howls over her. Isabel’s father stops the Rover to join in the shouting. At home, Archie chews on everything when he isn’t sleeping. Only a few days into owning the puppy, Isabel screams as the baby canines drag heavily down her arm and rend bloody an inch-long portion of her skin. His teeth are like tiny daggers! says her father, and the family must leave Archie in his crate to cry while they get their tetanus boosters. Pain pulses in their shoulders at the site of the shot for days. Now Quinn wants to come over to help Isabel’s mom train Archie against biting and nipping and chewing off-limits items like shoes and power cords. Isabel is in charge of Archie’s training treats. She rewards the puppy when it releases the tennis ball on command, and she bends down to hug it in imitation of her mom. Good boy, she says. The dog licks inside her ear, and she is breathless with laughter. Archie’s tongue is tiny, pink, and pristine like it’s made for a toy—for Isabel’s toy. When the puppy is napping and Isabel’s mom gone to tend laundry, Quinn grips the younger girl’s arm to inspect the bite. She unsticks and lifts the bandage, and she moves her jaw as she’d done all afternoon, wincing so that Isabel can hear it clicking and cracking. The older girl’s thumb and fingers bear down into Isabel’s arm. She picks at Isabel’s scab so it bleeds out. Ouch! says Isabel, attempting to pull her arm free, but Quinn’s grip is too tight. Archie’s ears perk up. He bounces over from his chosen spot at the

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side of the couch, where the vent spews cold air and the lamp stands five feet tall. Quinn shoves him away, and he yelps and doesn’t try to approach again. Quinn smiles into Isabel’s eyes. Wouldn’t it be funny, she says, if you put your blood on the lamp cord? The lamp cord? The power cord. Quinn points to the lamp in Archie’s spot. Isabel can’t think of why this would be funny, nor can she grasp Quinn’s meaning. Yeah, she says and imitates Quinn’s smile. The girls are in Archie’s spot when Isabel’s father enters from the kitchen. Girls? he says, and Isabel raises her head over the arm of the coach to look him in the eyes. She ducks and avidly smears her blood all over the cord, which trails behind the furniture to the power outlet. What are you doing? he says in his rush to them, skipping over Archie. What are you doing? He grabs Isabel’s injured arm and shakes it. Why did you take off this bandage? You leave it on! Isabel tries to pull her arm from him and begins to cry. Her father releases his grip and falls back onto the couch, breathing deeply several times. Quinn, he says, I think you should go home. It’s getting dark. He turns the lamp on, and white light floods the place. Quinn crosses the room with the loudest pop of her jaw yet. She says, Bye, and then she is gone. Isabel continues to smear blood on the power cord, unnoticed until Archie notices.


the escape artist by:

donald e. gasperson

reading quietly and quite content but behind my back the deplorable decide to snicker and bait me

I left school before they knew I was gone unable to conform to what maintaining but a tenuous presence

at last count

stand excused

where’d they learn this such potent young men it must be compulsory in every public school library

as a child I could read well after the lamps were lit and find encyclopedia brown under the blanket with a flashlight

pick up nihilism

square enough

all these point the finger and laugh and that’s that they won’t give it up

and the small local library was orderly and quiet I was there every few days borrowing books

why

owe somebody something

it’s not that they could read but couldn’t find anything interesting it was a waste of time they couldn’t

catch 22 slaughterhouse 5 fahrenheit 451 of mice and men the catcher in the rye I know why the caged bird sings

morally stupid I still cringe at the sight of someone breaking the spine of a book having no more interest in it than to kill time canned school was an unnatural place walking around with my head down growing withdrawn and introspective guided by dead reckoning

economics marxist theory political science statistics human sexuality clinical psychology poetry soon enough reading quietly and quite content following a simple thread through the library stacks lost in thought reason to be inferred language making of man and poetry a sacred pact

finding a lost thought the best used bookstores were mysterious and dusty a fine place to haunt sifting through the contents a poor man’s fate

be plain

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Technicality by:

Alex Andy Phuong Technically Life can be technical Yet people are not machines Human beings have brains With the gift of intelligence But only the ones willing to think Can change the world for the better Especially since the mind Is more powerful than any computer


A Stunning Visual by:

Tamizh Ponni VP In the wake of the rain, I glimpsed a magic That lit up the world with flare and frolic Rubbing my eyes, I gaped in awe Across the skies as murky clouds moved Violet brought in the vivacity Through tons of tints, smooth and slinky Indigo glitzed it all up with radiance While lucid lights dyed the vapory lenses Blue’s brilliance shined so bold Azure and Sapphire; cyan in fold Green was glossy with lustrous shine Gleaming and glowing; fair and fine Yellow’s golden flash, envied the rich Holding them colors by an invisible stitch Orange’s beams were soft and slight Painting the space with a gaudy patch Thanks to Red and its jazzy hues The sky blushed like a deep red rose Trimming the clouds with vivid bows Their origin and end, nobody knows.

49


Geometric Bee by:

Emily Rose Schanowski

Profile for Chris Talbot-Heindl

The B'K Volume 11, Issue 4  

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