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The photographs are of financial institutions and places of business in and near Carbondale and Marion, Illinois.

In this volume:

CO R

CR AB ORCH AR D •

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JD Hegarty Jaimee Hills Alexis Ivy Charles Jensen Leslie Jones Whittney Jones Holly Karapetkova Enid Kassner Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley Daniel Lassell Joanne Mallari Ciera Horton McElroy Claire McQuerry Faith Merino Matthew Moniz Matthew Murrey Anne Visser Ney Ben Nickol Thomas O’Keefe Kelly O’Rourke Fabia Oliveira Willy Palomo Carly Parker-Plank Georgia Pearle

published by the Department of English

Joe Ponepinto Rudy Ravindra Molly Bess Rector José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes Christine Rhein Nicholas Samaras Corinna McClanahan Schroeder Steven D. Schroeder Jake Sheff Jackie Sizemore Crystal Simone Smith LeRoy Sorenson Chloe Stricklin Enzo Silon Surin Wally Swist Vanni Thach Karen J. Weyant Ross White Carolyn WilliamsNoren Julie Zuckerman

in print 1995–2018 online 2017 forward

ISSN 1083-5571

Volume 23,3 Ka-Ching! The Money Issue

Carol Willette Bachofner Jenna Baillargeon Linda Bamber Brian Barker Roy Bentley Bingh Ace Boggess Robert Carr Olivier Castaignède Christopher Cervelloni Amy Clark Rasheed Copeland DéLana R.A. Dameron Darrell Dela Cruz Jaclyn Dwyer Meg Eden Avra Elliott Valerie Fioravanti Car Fontenot Rebecca Morgan Frank Susan Grimm Beth Gylys Stacey Haas Shaneen Harris

Crab Orchard Review

Cover: Seven photographs by Jon Tribble © 2019

Crab Orchard Review Volume 23,3

Ka-Ching! The Money Issue


A B ORCH AR R C D •

REVIEW


CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

A Journal of Creative Works

Vols. 23 No. 3

“Hidden everywhere, a myriad leather seed-cases lie in wait…” —“Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” Thomas Kinsella Editor & Poetry Editor Allison Joseph

Founding Editor Richard Peterson

Prose Editor Carolyn Alessio

Managing Editor Jon Tribble

Editorial Interns Sarah Jilek Mandi Jourdan Nibedita Sen Sarah Schore

Assistant Editors Isiah Fish Ira Kelson Hatfield Dan Hoye Anna Knowles Ian Moeckel Meghann Plunkett Laura Sweeney Troy Varvel

Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo

2019 ISSN 1083-5571

Web Developer Meghann Plunkett

The Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale


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Crab Orchard Review

Department of English Faner Hall 2380 - Mail Code 4503 Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1000 Faner Drive Carbondale, Illinois 62901 Crab Orchard Review (ISSN 1083-5571) is published three times a year by the Department of English, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. We have transitioned from a print subscriptionbased publication to a online-only free publication. Single issues of our last two print editions, both double issues, are $20 (please include an additional $10 for international orders). Crab Orchard Review moved to an online-only publication in the Fall of 2017. Crab Orchard Review accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions and will not enter into correspondence about their loss or delay. Copyright © 2019 Crab Orchard Review Permission to reprint materials from this journal remains the decision of the authors. We request Crab Orchard Review be credited with initial publication. The publication of Crab Orchard Review is made possible with support from the Chancellor, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of English of Southern Illinois University Carbondale; and through generous private and corporate donations. Lines from Thomas Kinsella’s poem “Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” are reprinted from Thomas Kinsella: Poems 1956-1973 (North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1979) and appear by permission of the author. Crab Orchard Review is indexed in Humanities International Complete. Visit Crab Orchard Review’s website:

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CHARTER MEMBERS*/BENEFACTORS Dan Albergotti Carolyn Alessio & Jeremy Manier Anonymous Pinckney & Laura Benedict Edward Brunner & Jane Cogie* Linda L. Casebeer Noel Crook Dwayne Dickerson* Jack Dyer* Joan Ferrell* John Guyon*

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CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

Ka-Ching!: The Money issue

Volume 23, Number 3

Fiction Olivier Castaignède Christopher Cervelloni

The High Life

1

The Last Minute

9

Valerie Fioravanti

Toilet Paper Glove

21

Car Fontenot

Bad Kids

35

Leslie Jones

Sputnik’s Release

47

Ciera Horton McElroy

The Thing with Feathers

71

Faith Merino

∏=TR–TC, Or: How to Maximize Profit

82

Ben Nickol

Sun River

87

Thomas O’Keefe

Flight

116

Joe Ponepinto

A Change of the Odds

123

Rudy Ravindra

Sad Scion

131

Vanni Thach

A Band A Man

153

Julie Zuckerman

Ruin Pub

166


Nonfiction Prose Amy Clark

Return to Oz

183

DéLana R.A. Dameron

What Work Is

189

Enid Kassner

Lessons in a Hope Chest

194

Anne Visser Ney

Poor

217

Fabia Oliveira

Good Money

227

Carly Parker-Plank Jackie Sizemore

Close Quarters

234

Aim High

237

Poetry Carol Willette Bachofner

The Poor Door

24

Jenna Baillargeon

Blue Collar Cycle

25

Linda Bamber

Paul Krugman

26

Brian Barker

Charon’s Pawn Shop

28

Roy Bentley

Gatsby as Factory Worker

29

Bingh

My Days as a Go-Go Dancer

31

Ace Boggess

“What Will You Do If You Hit the Jackpot?”

33

Robert Carr

Ten Dollars

34

Rasheed Copeland Darrell Dela Cruz Jaclyn Dwyer

Pay Day

60

Keep for Tax Purposes

62

I’m in the WIC Office When I Get the Call

63

Meg Eden

Hand-Stitched Rug

66


Avra Elliott Rebecca Morgan Frank

I Won’t Ask if They Destroy the Nest

68

Mickey Mouse Money

69

Susan Grimm

Deep Discount

70

Beth Gylys

What Money Can’t Buy “Mount Washington Kroger Out of Bananas”

105 107

Stacey Haas Shaneen Harris

What We Do to Eat

108

smokestack city casualty

109

JD Hegarty

Barriers to Entry

111

Jaimee Hills Alexis Ivy

On the Persistence of Game Shows

113

Flea Market at the Drive-In Theater

114

Charles Jensen

Recession Songs: Autumn

115

Whittney Jones Holly Karapetkova

Willow Lake Mine

138

Breakfast of Champions

139

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley Daniel Lassell

When My Brother Calls and Tells Me How Little Insurance Will Cover, Yes, Cancer

141

Ordinary Emergencies

142

Joanne Mallari At the Jelly Donut Claire McQuerry The Mortgage Lender Speaks Off the Record Documentary: On the Woman in India Gathering Stones Economies of Affection Matthew Moniz Promise of the Note

144

Matthew Murrey

172

Minimum Wage

146 147 149 151


Kelly O’Rourke Willy Palomo

A Wealth of Information

173

Mama’s hands

175

Georgia Pearle

To an Ex-Husband

176

Molly Bess Rector

Now Say Drink—

178

José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes Christine Rhein

Portrait of Chichikov as a Mortgage Trader Sunday Night, Retail

180

Nicholas Samaras

I Have No Problems the Lottery Would Not Solve

181

Corinna McClanahan Schroeder Steven D. Schroeder Jake Sheff

Letter of Notice to the Country House

182

Supply and Demand at the Happiness Shop

200

Job Interviewing Job

201

Crystal Simone Smith LeRoy Sorenson Chloe Stricklin

Woodland Junior Church Industrial Work

203 204

The Tilting Saddle Bar

205

Poor Little Rich Girl

207

Enzo Silon Surin

Restavek

208

Wally Swist Karen J. Weyant

All the Green Lights Going Home

210

How I Killed the Beetles

211

Ross White

Main Branch

212

Carolyn Williams-Noren

Bargain 216

Contributors’ Notes

179

240


A Note on Our Cover This cover features seven photographs by Jon Tribble of several financial institutions and places of business in and near Carbondale and Marion, Illinois.


Ka-Ching!: The Money I$$ue


Olivier Castaignède The High Life Nobody back home in Finland would believe that robbing a bank

in Singapore could be so easy, thought Mikko Mäkinen as he laid back, grinning, in the rear seat of the Bangkok airport taxi. The twenty-fouryear-old backpacker had just landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport, barely five hours after the heist. Unfortunately, a successful hold-up in Singapore—or anywhere else for that matter—was not something that he could boast about. And much less put on a resume, even though he had not used a weapon. Weaving through the early evening traffic, the slightly foul-smelling car raced, way above the speed limit, on the highest level of the two-story Bang Na Expressway. Deafening Thai pop bouncing on the loudspeakers, they headed toward the Boxpackers Hostel, on Khao San Road, where Mikko planned to hunker down for a while. He sent a message to his usual grass dealer and asked to meet him at the hostel. To celebrate his windfall, he wanted to get sky high with the best skunk ever. He also called Arunee, his Thai girlfriend, but the nineteen-year-old student was not free tonight. The bank robbery had been even easier than conning fellow backpackers in Bangkok. After he almost got scammed himself, a local gem shop had enlisted his help to rip off other Western tourists. He would spot them at the entrance of the glittering Silver Pagoda. Using his youthful innocence and Finnish charm—cropped blond hair, pale skin, sincere blue eyes—he would convince them that only in Bangkok, only today, could they buy gems that they could resell for a ten-fold profit back in Europe. Afterward, the crooked merchant would split the proceeds with Mikko. That was how he had managed to stay on in Thailand for the last three months, even though he had almost wiped out his entire savings after his first few weeks raving it up in the Land of Smiles (and getting fleeced at the Full Moon Party in Ko Pha-ngan). But often also, there were problems: the victim’s credit card didn’t work or he wanted to borrow money from a friend who smelled the rat and a whole day of hard labor was wasted. Then Mikko had to leave the country to renew his tourist visa. He could have done the classic “visa run” to Cambodia, but he decided to visit a friend of his, Andreas, who worked for Ikea in Singapore. The wonder boy of any mother’s dreams, Andreas was a true-blue expat with a fat salary package, who stayed in a Chinatown condominium on Upper Cross Street. On his first day there, around 11:00 a.m., while sipping a cup of strong coffee in

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Olivier Castaignède front of the window in his friend’s gigantic flat, Mikko noticed that the Maybank branch with a bright yellow façade on the opposite side of the street had no security guard. And that’s when a brilliant idea jolted him out of his morning stupor. The penny dropped, literally. Two days later, exactly three hours before his 5:00 p.m. return flight to Bangkok, he entered the branch, dressed in plain clothes with a black baseball cap on his head. Feeling incredibly relaxed, he handed a piece of paper to the cute Chinese clerk with rimmed glasses, white porcelain skin and long shiny hair. Using a black Sharpie pen, he had handwritten: “THIS IS A ROBBERY. PUT ALL YOUR CASH IN THIS BAG. DON’T CALL THE POLICE, I HAVE A WEAPON.” More remorseful than he would care to admit, he still remembered the terrified look on the girl’s face when she read the note. The frightened employee had turned white as a ghost. Would she recover from the shock? Maybe a change of job would be in order. While she put the cash in the blue plastic bag, Mikko spotted what looked like an oily food stain on her yellow shirt’s left shoulder and was about to alert her when it suddenly hit him that he’d better not talk at all. Five minutes later, he was out of the door with the loot in his backpack. He hailed the first cab driving by, a blue Comfort taxi, and maintained a nonchalant demeanor during the journey to the airport. He even tipped the driver, a sixty-year-old Indian man who kept smiling at him, asking every question in the book. Was he going home? Did he like Singapore? Yes, thank you very much! He did not know how much cash he had until, locked in a toilet cubicle at Changi Airport, he counted the booty of fifty thousand Singaporean dollars. For a first attempt, that was a master stroke. There was a moment of panic, though, when the X-ray man at Changi airport searched his backpack with his gloved hands slowly feeling Mikko’s affairs, like a teenager fondling his girlfriend for the first time. Thankfully, he had carefully stashed the cash at the bottom of his backpack in a sealed plastic bag, and he was let go with a grin. The Bangkok taxi driver revved up the engine, and the Buddhist amulet jiggled on the dashboard, almost dancing to the beat of the local hit song “Do Re Mi.” Humming along, Mikko savored the hair-raising ride into town. It was said amongst Thai cabbies that if a taxi had an accident, it was never the driver’s fault. Only the passenger’s bad karma was the culprit, and since there was nothing one could do to improve a foreigner’s bad fate, they might as well speed up and drop the farang at his destination as quickly as possible. Anyway, as Mikko saw his luck right now, he definitely had very good karma. He planned to enjoy a few more weeks with Arunee in Bangkok and then maybe go tubing in Vang Vieng, smoke pot in Kathmandu, or pop pills

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Olivier Castaignède in Goa. Why not ask Arunee to follow him? Maybe she could take some kind of leave from her studies. Suddenly Mikko felt his phone vibrate in his jeans pocket. Since he had taught his mum how to use WhatsApp, every single week without fail, she would call her youngest son on his extended travel break to Asia. The driver lowered the radio but maintained his speed. “Have you eaten?” asked his mum as soon as he picked up. “Yes, Ma.” “I don’t believe you. You look so skinny in your latest Facebook photos. I keep telling you, sweetheart, that country is no good for you. You have to come back to Finland.” “Later, Ma. I want to travel a bit more.” “When are you going to get a job? What is the point of doing all these expensive business studies if you don’t put them to use?” His parents didn’t know that he had flunked his exams. They had even celebrated his “graduation” from the Hanken School of Economics before his departure. Luckily, he had managed to intercept the school’s letter to his parents at the end of the academic year. “Your father and I have talked about it. Your father thinks he can get you a job with Viking Line in Helsinki for a while.” Mikko’s heartbeat increased. “Ma, we discussed this last week. Am not interested at all.” “Promise that you’ll be home for Christmas.” Christmas, three months from now, was the worst time of the year in Finland, smack in the middle of the arctic winter. One hour of sunless daylight per day. He promised anyway, to cut short the discussion. “What time is it over there?” asked his mum. “Seven in the evening.” “Go grab dinner then.” Robbing a bank in Singapore, thought Mikko after he hung up, was a walk in the park compared with any of these torturous discussions with his parents. Future, career, work, were all dirty words for him. He had no business going back to his life in Finland, a life of stress, loud alarm clocks, and grueling exams. The low life, as he called it. He much preferred his time on the road, carefree, with cheap, good-quality grass at will. The all-youcan-smoke lifestyle. The high life. He just had to find money to sustain his traveling and smoking patterns. The taxi turned left from Shakra Avenue into Khao San Road, the infamous backpacker enclave, wedged between the mighty Chao Phraya River and the clunky Democracy Monument. A few minutes later, they stopped in front of the Boxpackers Hostel. While Mikko searched for his wallet, the driver got out. When the young Finnish exited the car with four hundred-baht notes in his right hand, he saw the driver on the pavement

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Olivier Castaignède holding in an upward position his Eagle Creek backpack—a gift from his mum before he left for what was supposed to be a three-month journey. And then he felt it again, for the second time: the pang in his chest, the contraction in his throat, the quickening of his heart. At Changi airport, he had been scared to be found out, but right now, what was wrong with him? Dizzy with anguish, he paid the driver and entered the hostel. “See,” said Arunee in her nasal English, “there was a bank robbery in Singapore yesterday.” She had switched on the TV after they had made love in his room. Mikko looked up from the bedside table, where he was busy mixing tobacco with cannabis resin. He shivered with delight when the haughty presenter from Channel News Asia said the authorities could not ascertain whether the author of the “first successful hold-up in Singapore in ten years” had already left the country. Arunee increased the volume, and the TV emitted a loud, crackling sound. It was one of those old cathodic monitors Mikko had not known still existed. The Box was a true shithole, with colonies of cockroaches, paper thin walls, and battalions of bed bugs. But what can you expect for eight dollars a night from a guesthouse that does not even ask for your passport? With his bank robbery in Singapore, he had bought himself another year of traveling provided he remained thrifty. The open dorm room with ten beds was even cheaper and almost cleaner. Only, he hadn’t slept a wink last night, despite smoking the shit out of his brains, just thinking of all those strangers around him who might want to steal his money. So, he changed to a single room in the morning. “That was daring!” said Arunee when the presenter moved on to the next piece of news. “Weren’t you there when it happened?” “Yeah, I think so.” To fund her psychology studies, Arunee worked part-time at a nearby 7/11, where he had met her. As soon as she finished her job around 8:00 p.m., she would often join him at the hostel. Upon her arrival tonight, she had been delighted to notice that he did not sleep in the dorm anymore. The teenager had cat-like eyes, one dimple on each cheek and, unusually for a Thai girl, full lips hemming on her braces. With her slim figure and shoulder-length purple hair, she was gorgeous. What Mikko liked most in her were the sexy piercings in her nose and the way she wore a bomber jacket on top of her university blouse. “Can we go out for dinner?” asked Arunee. “I did not even have lunch.” Mikko looked at her as if she had said something outrageous. How could he go out with fifty thousand dollars in cash in his room? Since moving in this morning, he had not even gone to the toilets on the floor, peeing in the chipped basin in his room instead.

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Olivier Castaignède “I don’t want to go out,” he replied. “I feel a bit sick.” “So we don’t eat or anything?” “I don’t know. What time do you have to go home anyway?” She smiled. “Tonight, I can sleep with you...” “Oh no, you can’t stay here!” he replied, almost panicky. He wasn’t prepared for this. She always left by 10:00 p.m. Arunee’s face suddenly darkened. “Why not, now that you have your own room?” “I only paid for single occupancy. They won’t allow it.” “I can talk to the reception.” “Arunee, please understand.” He knew that with her in the room, he would not be able to sleep tonight. He would be too scared, too worried for his money. She scowled at him. “So you are done with me and you want me to go home, right? I am not that kind of girl.” He tried to appease her, but she stormed out of the room without a kiss. Even the smile was gone. He had never seen her without a smile. After she had left, Mikko sent her a few messages on WeChat to apologize, but she did not reply. Mikko was up all night, fretting and checking his money. In the morning, he went to the shower with his backpack and the haul stored inside. For lunch and dinner, he ate canned food that the room attendant had brought him for a tip from a grocery store. He smoked grass all day but despite getting higher and higher, he could not relax. He had never felt on edge like this before, even when he ran short of skunk, even when he had crashed his exams. The following day, he could take it no more. To put himself out of his misery, he decided that he would stash all his cash in a bank. Well, after all, banks do serve a purpose—even if they sometimes get robbed. Who knew? They might even pay him interest. With the whole loot on his shoulders, he visited the nearest one, a Krungsri branch, with a façade that was even yellower than Maybank in Singapore. He thought he would deposit fivethousand Singaporean Dollars and then move to a different bank and so on. But who would believe that opening an account in Bangkok could be more difficult than robbing a bank in Singapore? One after the other, all banks asked to see an ID as proof that he was “gainfully employed” in Bangkok. When he came back from his failed expedition, exhausted, helpless, he decided to call Arunee. This time, she picked up, and after he apologized profusely over the phone, she promised to come to the Box at the end of her shift. “What’s wrong?” she asked as soon as she entered the room a few hours later. “You look terrible.”

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Olivier Castaignède Mikko knew she was right. Deep shadows like a widow’s hung under his eyes and with his ashen complexion, he looked like a zombie. He lit up his sixth or seventh joint for the day. Pacing the ten square meters of his tiny room, he stepped on the suspiciously stained bed cover which he had thrown under the rickety leaking aircon unit, in a futile effort to muffle the irritating sound of water dripping intermittently onto the linoleum floor. “I need to open a bank account here,” he told Arunee. “So that my mum can wire me some money. But all banks I visited asked for a local ID to open a bloody simple savings account and I don’t have that!” “Is that why you look so…stressed since you came back from Singapore?” Arunee asked. “Hmm.” “But that’s not difficult!” Arunee’s crystalline laughter filled the room. “There is a place in Bangkok where you can buy fake IDs. All teenagers know that. That’s how we slip into clubs before the age of twenty.” “Where?” he asked. “It’s on Soi Nana in Sukhumvit. We can go there by MRT.” Yeah, sure. That street was always full of ladyboys, brimming with artful pickpockets. He would never dare to walk around with a bag full of cash. “I can’t leave my room,” he replied. “Why, têe rák?” asked Arunee, using the Thai word for darling. She rose to her feet and cuddled up to him. “I… have to call my mum. She wants to talk to me urgently.” Arunee stared at him with a puzzled look. “Okay… I can go there myself if you prefer. Do you have any ID photo?” “Nope.” “Never mind, just give me your passport and five-thousand baht, and in one hour I am back.” “What do you need my passport for?” “For the photo ID, têe rák. The guy’s going to make a digital copy of it. Unless you have a driving license or something?” Talk about exam. He had also failed his driving test in Finland. Should he trust Arunee with his passport? Passports could fetch a few thousands of dollars on the black market in Bangkok, especially European ones… No, she was not that kind of girl. Impossible. Right now, Mikko knew only one thing: he had to get rid of the weight on this chest as soon as possible, and only Arunee could help him with that. It was already 6:00 p.m. and Arunee had not returned. Didn’t she say it was going to be easy? Sometimes, he thought that robbing the bank had been the only easy part. What the heck was she doing? He tried to call her again, pounding

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Olivier Castaignède the call button with increased irritation each time. The line sounded like a heartbeat monitor. Five times, he reached the flat-line. Was she gone with his passport? He had only known her for a few weeks. For once, he had been able to hook up with a Thai girl who did not work in a bar, but maybe he was out of his league here. Maybe he had misjudged her and she was a very gifted crook. He rolled up another cone and took a deep drag. Slowly exhaling the heady smoke into the non-smoking room, he peered through the window. Some street vendors had already set up their barbeque pit on the pavement of Khao San Road. He could almost smell the deliciously greasy food. His empty stomach uttered groans of discontent. He thought about rushing down the stairs to grab one of his favourite sausage skewers. But no, when you have fifty-thousand dollars in your room, you can’t do that. What kind of high life is that? He checked his watch again. 6:15 p.m. The setting sun’s last rays had turned the cracked mirror into a blood panel. Suddenly, he heard the WeChat ringing tone and grabbed his phone. “Be c…”: the message from Arunee had been truncated. He tried to call her, but this time, he was sent straight to the dead tone. Her phone was off. Shit. He pinched the butt of the finishing joint into the urine-reeking sink. The incandescent ashes outlined a red arc in the dimly lit room. What did she mean? “Be careful”? Of what? Mikko plunged his hands inside the sole drawer, below the window, and grabbed the blue plastic bag. Spreading its content on the bed, he counted again 475 crisp new notes of hundred Singapore dollars. He had only spent two-thousand on a shiny blue iMac, at Changi Airport, before flying off to Bangkok. He smelled the thick bundles and relaxed a bit, thinking of the carefree travel in front of him. He had just finished putting everything back into the plastic bag when he heard a strong knock on the door. He froze. The knock was too assertive to be from Arunee. “Who’s that?” he asked. “Police! Open this door.” Fear paralyzed him. What was he going to do? How did they find him? More aggressive knocks followed. Mikko quickly shoved the plastic bag in his backpack which he crammed under the bed. Then he opened the door as calmly as he could. Two severe-looking policemen faced him. One of them, bald, waved in his right hand what looked like a Finnish passport. “We’ve arrested someone trying to buy a fake ID and found this on her. Is that yours?” It suddenly dawned on him that Arunee had been caught in the act. She probably tried to warn him, but the police must have snatched her phone before she could finish her message. Without waiting for Mikko’s answer, the policemen pushed him aside

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Olivier Castaignède and entered into the room, ostensibly sniffing. “You smoking drug here?” said the bald man who behaved like the boss. He grabbed the cannabis soap-bar on the bedside table and then shouted something in Thai toward his colleague who proceeded to search the room. For a fleeting moment, Mikko thought about running down the stairs but where would he go after that? It did not take long before they found his backpack under the bed. Mikko felt eerily calm when they started to empty its content. “Why do you have so many Singapore dollars?” asked the boss while the younger policeman pulled out wads of money. Mikko remained silent. Not so easy to rob a bank in Singapore after all, he thought. Or maybe that was him. Maybe he was the problem and even the high life had become too stressful for him. The boss started to leaf through Mikko’s passport. After a quick exchange in Thai with the other policeman, he whipped out a handphone, checking the Internet for a while. “Ah,” he said, triumphantly, “you were in Singapore during that robbery.” Or maybe life in general was stressful, whatever you do, and he just had to accept it. Oddly, for the first time in many days, Mikko felt his body relaxing. A few minutes later, as he climbed, handcuffed, into the police van parked in front of the Box, he saw Arunee already sitting inside, framed by two policemen. She cast an apologetic smile at him. That was when he realized that the weight on his chest was completely gone. He smiled back at Arunee. “Never mind,” he wanted to tell her, “that’s better this way.”

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Christopher Cervelloni The Last Minute The pay phones always had long lines. Most often, Tony spent more

time waiting for a phone than actually using it. Pennington Correctional put three inmates to a cell these days, and all those guys made their calls, too. The whole place had only three phones, and three waiting lines with guys talking, and the cement walls mixed and echoed it all together. The guy ahead of Tony—Tony met him once and thought maybe his name was Gus—called collect: dialed, said his name, waited, hung up, dialed, said his name, waited, hung up, over and over. Calling collect was free and didn’t need the pre-paid minutes, but it meant Gus couldn’t leave no message, so if his woman was mad, she said no to the charges and Gus couldn’t say nothing. A few more dials and Gus smashed the phone against the wall. “Dumbass bitch!” He walked off. The phone swung on the metal cord. That’s why the phones were wrapped in duct tape. Tony turned off the pocket radio clipped to his waistband. He pulled out the single earbud and let it dangle from his shirt collar. He dialed the ten digits on his phone card and then ten more to call his stockbroker. He tucked his shoulder in the corner of the phone and the wall. He plugged his ear with his pinky. “You heard of BioZoom?” Garrett, the stockbroker, said. “Rumor has it they’re about to rebound.” “I heard. Their accountant’s here. Killing five for fraud.” “Insider.” Garrett held out the R. “Nice! Anyway, I’m telling ya, it’s da bomb.” Tony hated when Garrett talked like that. Garrett probably never said Ya or Da in a real meeting. “You want me to buy you some shares?” “Nah,” Tony said. “You sure? You’re down two hundred this month. You need a win.” “Indigo eSolutions still at twenty-five-fifty a share?” “Oh no, bro. They’re not experiencing the awareness growth they need. They’ve dropped to nineteen-twelve and are on a steady decline.” “Sell my shares then. And what’s my portfolio at?” Tony heard snapping computer keys. “$4,119.17,” Garrett said. “That includes today’s sale.” “Right. Call you.” “Wait wait,” Garrett said. “You should buy some CoreCode. It’s

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Christopher Cervelloni another tech something-or-other. I don’t really know what it does. But the QIBs are all over it.” Tony felt the Bad Feeling in his gut. “Nah.” “Listen, T-dawg,” Garrett said. Tony rolled his eyes. “There’s not a guy in the office who won’t be scrambling for it. Everyone’s expecting CoreCode to have exponential growth. Trust me when I say you want in on it.” “Sounds like you scamming me,” Tony said. Garrett laughed. “What about you put in 3 G’s right now and you call me back if you change your mind or want to add more? This will break that losing streak you got going. Break it in a big way.” Tony never heard of CoreCode. But if all the pros were buying. “I guess,” he said. “Is that a yes?” “Yeah. Sure.” “Great. And, hey, if you change your mind, just call me before opening bell Monday and we’ll—” A click. The robot woman said, “You have used all the minutes on this pre-paid card. If you’d like to make another call, please—” Tony hung up. He still felt the Bad Feeling, like the one that got him in Pennington in the first place. Maybe it was about Garret, maybe it was about stocks, maybe it was about something else. Tony never really knew what stocks he was trading. Maybe his Gut was telling him wrong. No, his Gut never told him wrong. He picked what he picked because he got a Good Feeling about the stock. Something in him said what he heard or read was legit, or the name sounded just right. It was the same way he knew who to sell to when he was on the outside. Guy gave him the Good Feeling, he sold. Guy didn’t, he didn’t sell. Tony switched on his pocket radio, plugged the earbud into his ear, adjusted the dial to the jazz station he liked, and headed to the library. He tried to ignore the Bad Feeling. There wasn’t nothing real about doing stocks anyway. The money wasn’t no different than the Fs his teachers gave in high school. It didn’t mean nothing. All just ink on some paper that other people think is important. It’s not like he could spend the money anyway. When they sentenced him, the judge made him sign some oath saying that he was broke and if he got more money that money had to go and pay his fees and fines first. Worse was knowing the money was there but that he couldn’t use it at commissary because if any COs found out he played stocks, he’d lose the money. All a CO would have to do is listen in on a phone call or look closer at his mail to see his account. He made twenty-three cents an hour at laundry and what he didn’t spend right away in commissary went to his lawyer and the fees that judge made him pay. The hardest part, really, was that he couldn’t tell nobody.

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Christopher Cervelloni The only person he ever talked to about it was Garrett. And every three months Tony got a letter from Garrett’s company that showed out all the trades and costs and his ending money. But Tony had already made trades by the time the letter came, and the numbers were off. It was still nice to get some mail every little while. Tony relied on COs not caring and not looking that close. The envelope looked legal and lots of COs hated lawyers like the inmates did. The whish increased in his ear and Tony turned the radio dial to clear the static. Stocks was just something to keep his brain busy. Really, stocks wasn’t too different from the rest of prison. Tony bought chits for computer time and traded to Davey for cigarettes. Davey always needed chits because COs said he couldn’t buy no more after he downloaded porn and a virus. Tony traded the cigarettes for Swedish Fish with Barry who worked commissary, and if Tony kept Cam in Swedish Fish then he got first shot at all the library magazines. Pennington’s library only had month-old magazines. They showed up in a stack, a bunch of different issues shoved in with crinkled and foldedwrong newspapers with the Sports section first and the Business section after the Comics. They were all donated by people Tony would never know about because all the names and addresses were blacked out with marker. Lots of times there were doubles, maybe even three of the same magazine would come in two weeks. But mainly it was small papers—the Intelligencer from Lancaster, some other town’s Herald and some other place’s Bugle. Small papers that made their money on local ads and glossy coupon pages and still got misspelled words. Tony glanced through the Business section every day to see if there was anything about companies to invest in, but mainly he loved reading magazines like Maxim or People or Us Weekly, even the old ones. Cam ran the library and wasn’t supposed to let no one through the doors till nine. He traded Tony sneaking in early for Swedish Fish and Tony separating and stacking the newspapers and magazines. They did it routine every morning. Everything was routine at Pennington. Tony got up at seven, hustled through the overcrowded chowline, and ate breakfast by seven-thirty—eating fast whenever he needed to call Garrett. At eight, he set out any new magazines and newspapers on the racks and took away the ones not tore up or already stolen. He claimed the ones he wanted, got half an hour or more to read in quiet, and then he was at laundry by nine. Cam let Tony take away any magazines he wanted, but Cam took any Star or Mad Magazine he wanted before Tony. That was a fair trade since it was the only time Tony got to be alone, and the only time and place anything was ever quiet. He liked reading every morning. That was the only thing that had changed about him cause of prison.

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Christopher Cervelloni “These come in late yesterday,” Cam said. He dropped a stack of newspapers on the counter under the checkout sign. Tony picked at the yarn tying the stack together. They weren’t allowed to have scissors to cut it, so he worked at the knot with his fingernails. Tony tossed the magazines into spots on the rack. Some edges frayed up a bit, but no tears. “You want this?” Tony held up the Men’s Health to Cam. “What else you got?” Tony flipped a few newspapers back. “Entertainment,” Tony said. “Take it.” “And hey—” Tony laid an Us Weekly on the counter. “Can you hold on to this for me?” “Hold it,” Cam said, “or like hold it.” “Hold it hold it.” “Right,” Cam said, like it was a secret to be in on. He opened his Entertainment. The library door clicked shut and Tony heard a CO call out, “Inmate!” Cause of instinct, Tony pulled the earbud out his ear and put his hands against the wall like they had to do whenever it sounded like the COs were about to get pissy. “Tony,” CO Simpson said. Tony took his hands off the wall. “You got a meeting.” “No I don’t,” Tony said. “I got laundry at nine.” “I’m not asking, I’m telling. Go to the conference room.” Tony didn’t even know Pennington had a conference room. He held up the few remaining magazines. “I gotta stack these.” “I said now, Inmate.” “I didn’t do nothing.” Tony dropped the magazines on the floor and threw his hands. “This is bullshit.” CO Simpson’s tone softened. “Tony, don’t be like this right now. Your NOA came in and the parole board’s decided.” “Oh.” Tony had forgotten. The six months had gone by so fast. “Let’s hope today’s your lucky day, huh?” CO Simpson pointed down the hallway. “Now move.” Four people sat in the conference room: a man and a woman Tony never saw before, Warden, and that bitchass case manager. Warden said she thought Tony was a model inmate, with his morning reading and good behavior, and never had an issue in the laundry, and the laundry was always done well and on time. The case manager said that Tony exhibited “employability qualities” like reliability and consistency, and talked about his frequent reading, too. The new man shuffled some papers, looking at the papers instead of Tony. He said, “You’re still planning to live with your mother at...?” He flipped a paper over and read the address.

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Christopher Cervelloni “Yes, sir,” Tony said. “Till I get a place of my own.” “And you’ll be working with your sister as...” He lifted another paper. “...in her janitorial work?” “Residential cleaner, sir. But that’s just temporary till I find something else.” “What might that something else be?” the woman asked. “I’m thinking I might get a associate’s in finance.” “Yes. Good,” the man said. The new woman asked a few questions about his selling the fraudulent credit cards and Tony said he’d never do that again. She asked Tony if he wanted to be paroled, and Tony said yes. Really, Tony never much thought about getting out. He applied for parole every six months like he should, but nothing ever came of it besides a letter telling him no in fancy words. He had two years left and that’s where his head stayed. Hope had always got him in trouble before. The parole people asked more questions, and he gave all the answers he knew he was supposed to give. He had got good at that, telling people what they wanted to hear. People always gave the answer away as they asked. All his teachers and bosses nodded while they asked a question he was supposed to say yes to, and so he answered yes. Or they shook their heads when they asked a question he was supposed to say no to, and so he answered no. If he told people what they wanted to hear, they left him alone. And these parole people were all nods and shakes. Like they were looking to get him paroled more than he wanted to be paroled himself. They signed a couple of forms and used a big stamp that made a ratchet sound. Warden came around the table and shook Tony’s hand. “Congratulations and good luck, Tony.” It was the first time Tony had heard her call anyone anything but Guard or Inmate. When Tony returned to his cell after laundry, the Us Weekly was stuffed under his blanket. Saturday morning, Tony stayed in bed. Not from fear or anything, but from vacation. He put off responsibility just because he could. He didn’t even worry about stocks. Stocks was fun sometimes and dangerous other times, and sometimes the danger was the fun. Parole came Monday, and that meant this Saturday was like a regular Saturday on the outside. He felt like he was good at stocks. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe everyone was making loads of money, and he was getting nothing compared to other guys. Tony’s very first stock trade, he saved up fifty bucks and made ten. Took the sixty and made it a hundred. The money kept going up. It wasn’t all wins though. One time he lost five-hundred dollars in a week. Mostly when he saw he was losing, he sold. When he saw he was earning,

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Christopher Cervelloni he didn’t hang on too long neither. He tried keeping track of all the money and transactions, and it was easy at first, but then he got too many stocks and lost track of how many and how much, and anyways Garrett kept all that stuff on his computer. It was probably better that Tony didn’t know. Tony tried never to think too much about how much he had. Thinking too much got him here in the first place. Once he started thinking about how much money he might have, he’d only start wanting more, and then he’d stop trusting his Gut and he’d end up back in a place like Pennington. Tony propped his head on his pillow, crossed his ankles and opened his Us Weekly. He read an article talking about that B-actor from the car chase movies. The article only mentioned CoreCode real fast, like the article was winking at Tony—that B-actor was a big investor in CoreCode—and then went back to talking about the next car chase movie. It said CoreCode tracked and analyzed data in aggregate. Whatever aggregate meant. Tony got that Bad Feeling. Bad this time. The same feeling he felt right after selling a stack of credit cards to that cop. CoreCode was wrong. It was going to steal all his money away. Garrett wouldn’t be in his office on a Saturday, but Tony could leave a message. Long as Garrett got the message Monday morning, Tony’d be good. “Shit,” he said and snapped the magazine shut. He didn’t have any more minutes on his phone card. Tony rolled the Us Weekly and went into the cell next to his. A bunch of guys hung their legs from the top bunk or sat on the john like it was any old seat. They all stared when Tony walked in. “You seen Andre?” he asked the room. “He transferred to C Block,” Juicy said. “How come?” Tony asked. “Like we supposed to know. Too many people coming and going.” Tony turned to Biggy. “Trade you this Us Weekly for a phone card.” Biggy patted his pants like he had pockets. He patted his chest where a shirt pocket might be. “Yeah, I got one somewhere,” Biggy said. Tony eased. “Might be up in my chifferobe or in my hope chest under my quilt.” The guys busted up laughing, hands over their hearts and pointing and leaning like they were about to fall over. “I ain’t got no fuckin’ phone card. Call collect.” “Oh, but you got jokes?” Tony said. “You ain’t heard?” Biggy said. “We’re full up. I’m paroled. Outta here Monday. Ha-ha!” He skinned the other guys’ palms. “Tell you what. How ‘bout I mail you one?” “Won’t do me no good,” Tony said. “I’m out Monday, too.” The men fell silent, nodding, eyes off thinking or jealous. “What you gonna do outside?” Juicy asked. “Gonna make money,” Tony said.

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Christopher Cervelloni The others pointed and laughed like before, and the energy was restored. “Dollars on dollars,” Juicy said as Tony walked out. Desperate, Tony even asked CO Simpson. Simpson pulled out his wallet and handed him a fiver. “Take this, and next time I want to know something, you’re my source.” “Cash’s no good. I need a card.” Tony mimicked dropping a coin in a slot. “Phones.” “Call collect then,” CO Simpson said and stuffed the fiver back in his wallet. At commissary, Barry said, “What you got besides magazines?” Tony had only a picture of his mom and sister, four computer chits, two extra pairs of socks and a sweatshirt. “I don’t need none a that shit,” Barry said. “I sold most that to you myself.” “How much I got in my account.” “Nothing.” Barry didn’t even pretend to check the account sheet. “Your account ran out last week just like it done the month before that and the month before that and before that. You actin’ all surprised and shit.” “Just front me three minutes on this card.” Tony held his expired card out between his index and middle finger, like how he imagined stockbrokers held out a business card. “We a store, not a bank,” Barry said. “I ain’t here to give you product when you need it. But you give me that pocket radio and I’ll put five minutes on that card.” Tony never even considered the radio a thing to trade. It wasn’t anything special, really. It was special only because it was in his ear these past six years. It had been an investment. He wrapped the cord special and hid it in his pillow each night. He’d saved magazines just to trade for batteries for it. He tried to reason with himself: the radio for the call for the money. But the money was just ink on paper and the radio was real. There it was, clipped to his waist. He heard the jazz. “Nah,” Tony said. “Ten-minute card for it?” Barry said. “Radio’s only thing I got.” “Then get me something I want. Cigarettes or something,” Barry said. Tony didn’t get no sleep that night. He kept thinking about the money, repeating what Garrett said. Maybe CoreCode would be exponential. Whatever exponential meant. Maybe he’d make a lot of money. Maybe Garrett was right. But Tony knew Garrett wasn’t. He knew, somehow, that CoreCode was going down. He knew that all that money was just gone unless he did something. Something about losing money made money real. All his life, Tony

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Christopher Cervelloni went out and made money to spend money. Every day was make money. He never thought about losing money because he never had enough that it made a difference if he lost it. For years at Pennington he never actually touched the money in his stocks account, never felt it in his hand, besides the old quarterly reports. Still he felt like the money was slipping away, like he could feel someone taking it right out of his hands. Stocks became real if he lost them. Like he was losing the only thing he really had. Sunday, Tony woke and went straight to the library and waited outside the door for Cam. As Cam walked up, Tony held out his calling card and asked, “You got minutes? I’m desperate, man.” “Naw,” Cam said. “I call collect.” Cam unlocked the library door and Tony followed him in. Cam lifted two stacks of magazines and newspapers from behind the counter. “These are you.” “I need a favor, Cam. I need all the magazines today. Got to trade for minutes.” “I’ll give you my mags for that radio.” “Nah.” “I’ll give you all of them for it.” “Not happening.” “Then no deal.” Cam pushed the piles at Tony, and Tony worked open the knots in the yarn. As he sorted, he pulled out the coupon pages. They were printed on glossy paper, so Tony stuck the newest Mad Magazine and Lowrider and Maxim in between the twenty-five cent discounts on laundry cleaner and battery-powered drills. He put them on the table by the garbage, making it look like he was about to throw it all out. Cam called out, “Anything good today?” “Nah. Just the funnies.” “Hold the Boondocks for me.” Tony waited until Cam went into the stacks and then he grabbed the magazines wrapped in coupons, stuck them up the back of his shirt, and sneaked out without saying nothing. He even held the door so it closed slow and didn’t make the loud click-bang when it shut. At commissary, Tony dropped the magazines on the counter in front of Barry. “Three mags for three minutes.” “These ain’t no good to me,” Barry said. “Two minutes,” Tony said. “Cigarettes. Supply and demand, bitch.” Tony covered the magazines in the coupons again and stuck them back up his shirt—anyone let loose that he stole from Cam, he’d have problems. He picked up his Us Weekly from his bunk, offered a trade to his cellmates, but they all said no. Down the hall, Davey was on his bunk, face to the wall with his covers

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Christopher Cervelloni over his head, trying to grab a few more minutes of sleep even with all the lights on and all the echoes from everyone talking. Davey dismissed Tony’s first offer without even picking his head up off the pillow. “Yeah, but look here.” Tony pulled out the Maxim, flipped to a page with the most naked woman he could find. He folded the page back and showed Davey. Davey rolled over. Tony handed him the Maxim and opened Lowrider. “And this has some, too.” Tony flipped to a page where a big-tittied woman in a too-small bikini laid back in the driver’s seat of a shiny car and extended her legs onto the passenger seat. “And you don’t need no computer time with these.” Davey sat up and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. “What you want for these?” His voice was skeptical. “Both of these are yours for five cigs.” “Two,” Davey said. “Hell no,” Tony said. “These are the newest ones.” “Throw in your radio and I’ll give you six cigs.” Tony waved the Lowrider in Davey’s face. “Titties, Davey. Focus.” Davey pointed to the Mad Magazine and Us Weekly still in Tony’s hands. “Add in those and five chits and I’ll give you three.” “All I got is four chits. Four chits and the magazines for four cigs.” “Three.” Tony pushed down the urge to negotiate, to grab his magazines and walk away. He had less than an hour. “Fine.” Davey lifted his pillow and pulled out three cigarettes from a pile of loosies. Davey hopped off the bunk and snatched the folded-back Lowrider out of Tony’s hands. He flipped the pages and tenderly touched the glossy images like he was being all tender with a lover. Tony slid his hand under Davey’s pillow, grabbed an extra cigarette, and left without saying nothing else. In the chowline, Tony asked everyone with a serving spoon for “a little extra.” When they gave him the eye, he smiled and said, “C’mon, man, it’s my last day here. Let me celebrate a little. C’mon.” Most of the servers skewed their lips or pulled their head back on their neck, but gave him extra anyways. Tony didn’t sit in his usual spot, but went to each inmate at each table—even the inmates he didn’t know—and pointed out how he had extra, and offered a trade for a cigarette. “Boy, you crazy,” some said. More said, “You poison the food or something?” And still others said, “Ain’t no deal that good come without a catch.” At nearly the last table, a man with dreadlocks waved him over. The man glanced to each door, made sure no COs were looking, and reached into his dreads and pulled out a cigarette. The cigarette bent slightly near the filter but was otherwise solid. “Put that tray down first,” he said. Tony laid the tray in front of the dreadlocked man, accepted the cigarette, and headed toward commissary.

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Christopher Cervelloni “Five!” Tony slammed the cigarettes on the commissary counter. He held out his calling card like a business card. “Load me up with five minutes.” “I’ll give you one minute,” Barry said. “Fuck that! A minute a cigarette or no deal.” “Fine.” Barry turned and continued restocking the peanut M&Ms. “I ain’t the one got to make the phone call so bad.” “This is some bullshit.” Tony slammed his fist on the counter. Barry gave him the look Tony’s mom used to give him whenever he burst out like that. Tony took a deep breath. He thought of his stocks. “Okay, deal. One minute.” Barry took Tony’s card, swiped it into the machine that puts on minutes, typed some things, and handed the card back. Tony pushed the cigarettes through the little opening in the chain-link barrier. “Nice doing business with ya,” Barry said. Tony turned from the counter and heard, “Hey!” and saw the close-up of Cam’s knuckles. The impact dropped him to the floor and his calling card sailed away. It flipped end-over-end like it was trying to fly away on its own power. It fluttered and fell. Cam wound up and kicked Tony. Tony angled his hip, took the blow in his thigh, and then lunged toward his calling card with both hands. He covered the card, but as he tried to pull it close to him Cam stepped on his hands. Tony felt his fingers grind between the floor and shoe. “Why the fuck did I see Davey jerking off to my Lowrider?” Cam stomped. Tony watched his finger go bloodless white, then fill with color, then bleed. “You in a world a shit now,” Cam said. Tony kept the calling card covered. Cam lifted his foot high. “Wait,” Tony muttered. He held up a single defensive palm. “Wait.” Cam slowly lowered his foot, crouched down and plucked the calling card from under Tony’s bloody finger. Tony tried to grab the card, but Cam jerked it away. With his other hand, Cam grabbed Tony’s thumb and twisted it back. Tony kept his eyes on the calling card, the little bit of plastic that meant real money. More real than the pain in his hands, than the numbness of his nose. The card was right there, sitting in Cam’s fingers, not farther than a reach away. Tony grimaced. “You said you’d trade for them. You said so.” Cam eased, released Tony’s thumb, rocked back on his heels. “That so?” Tony nodded emphatically and grimaced when he moved his hands. He pulled the pocket radio’s cord down through his shirt and held out the earbud. “Here.” Cam looked at the calling card, flipped it to look at the back, and then

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Christopher Cervelloni threw it in Tony’s face. It hit his nose and dropped in front of him. Cam unclipped the radio from Tony’s pants and swaggered away. Tony grabbed the card and held it to his chest. He lay on his back a bit longer, just catching his breath and feeling the card in his fingers. Barry called out, “You good?” His hand extended beyond the counter, holding a few tissues. “You bleedin’?” Tony finally stood up, wiped the blood from his nose and knuckles, and tucked his calling card between his underwear and pants. At the phones, there wasn’t no line or echoes this early in the morning. He left a message for Garrett not to buy nothing, to leave his account alone. He hung up and still got a few seconds left on his card. The Bad Feeling disappeared. “$4,119.17,” Tony said. CO Simpson poked his head into Tony’s cell. “Let’s roll,” he said. “Get all your stuff.” Tony took down the photo of his mom and sister from his bunk. He folded his sheets and blanket, stacked his pillow on top. “I said get all your stuff,” CO Simpson said. “I don’t got nothing else.” Tony’s cellmates said congrats and they were happy for Tony, but Kevin jumped into Tony’s bottom bunk before Tony stepped out the cell. The mattress creaked and Kevin crossed his ankles and put his hands behind his head. Carlos kept reading his book, looked up and nodded as Tony passed, but then went right back to reading. A big thick book, too. He had to rest it on his knees. Tony stepped out of his cell for the last time, carrying nothing he owned in his hands and carrying all his money in his mind. Tony ran through the rain and stepped into the van. The van was running, the key dangling in the ignition. He sat on the middle seat next to a skinny inmate he never saw before. Biggy sat in the far back with each arm stretched over the bench seat. Biggy drummed on Tony’s shoulder. “We out!” He drummed another rat-at-tat-tuh-tat on the back of Tony’s seat. The pudgy guard hopped into the driver’s seat. Tony didn’t know his real name. He never addressed him face to face, only called him CO Fatty with the other inmates. CO Fatty breathed heavy through his nose. He put his hand on the passenger’s seat to pull himself around. “Everyone’s called their people?” He looked into each inmate’s eyes, waiting on each to say something. “Called them,” Tony lied. Rain pelted the van as they drove. “First thing I do,” Biggy said, “is eat me a McDonald’s hamburger. And a big ole milkshake. Chocolate. Mmm-

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Christopher Cervelloni mm. Ain’t had good chocolate in can’t remember. And fries.” Biggy licked his lips. “I’m ordering two large and I’m eating each one individual. Extra salt and ketchup and tell ’em to deep fry it all extra hot. What’s the first thing you gonna do?” “Hug my kids,” the skinny inmate said. Biggy looked at Tony and pointed his thumb at the inmate: Who’s This Guy? “But seriously,” Biggy said. “What you gonna do?” “I told you before—I’m gonna make money.”

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Valerie Fioravanti Toilet Paper Glove “We bought this last week!” I wiggled the empty shampoo bottle,

feeling every inch the harridan wife. Dar plastered his palms to his scalp. Conflict made his brain hurt. “I have thick hair!” “It’s three inches long. A dollop the size of a quarter would do.” It could have been body wash or dishwashing liquid. Any product he used. Dar consumed like it was the old days, before the SEC indicted his father. Pension fraud. “Let’s eat out tonight,” he said, deflecting. “We’ve stayed in all week.” Food was my weakness. “It’s only Wednesday. We have leftover—” Dar shot me the hand at the bathroom door and reappeared with that same hand, his right, mummified in Charmin® two-ply, ultra strong. The wrap extended two inches past his wrist, as if he were a boxer taping up for a fight. “We need a night out.” “Is dysentery going around the museum this week?” I asked. “What?” He ducked his hand behind his back, then thrust it forward again, as if proud of his handiwork. “It’s hygienic!” I held up the empty bottle again, hoping he’d make the connection on his own. “Do you want our life to be this small?” He flicked his wrist with enough torque that four squares detached and floated to the floor. Extra strong, my ass. I peeked inside, and the toilet seat was up. I leaned my head against the bathroom door and tufts of hair surrendered. Alopecia, they called it. Stress-related. His father’s trial was the butt of late night TV. “Why can’t you jiggle your dick like every other man in America?” “You love that I’m different from other men.” His voice so thick with betrayal, that toilet paper glove slicing the air. Dar was generous with his time and attention, too. I married a kind, wealthy man. For five years, we lived with possibilities my child-self lacked the capacity to imagine. When it ended with paparazzi at our door, his adult-self couldn’t take it all in, and I understood exactly how shocking the difference between more and less could be. I ignored my own instincts to conserve. I held my tongue for a year. I raised his swaddled hand. “Every woman has her limits.”

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Valerie Fioravanti “I let you move us into this…room,” he said, cotton candy hand gesticulating again. The townhouse was seized, but our loft had large windows and exposed brick. Second-nicest place I ever lived. “A walk-up isn’t tragic.” “We can’t have a baby,” he said. “Babies don’t need bedrooms.” We stopped trying. Daycare would be an issue, and the prospect of public schools made him weep. It was an evil he wouldn’t consider, like eating more carbs. White rice outside of sushi was verboten. “My father planned for contingencies. There has to be a scheme to get it back.” I clenched my hands to break their will. Spousal murder was not an option. “If you’re right about the government listening in, ‘scheme’ is probably not a word you should use.” “I have every right to miss it.” He pressed that makeshift mitten to his chest, as if saluting away our sex life. Perhaps this was a failure of empathy, but germaphobia, waste, and self-pity were a brutal trifecta. I pulled my suitcase from the closet, the purple moiré one I arrived with, the one I never used when we traveled together in the land of beige. Dar wrapped his arms in a tight self-hug, and it looked like a giantsized Q-tip® was invading his ear. “What are you doing?” “Mom would appreciate a visit.” My mother moved to the Poconos after her tenement went co-op. Now she cleaned rooms at a resort for minimum wage and board in the back lot. It seemed like a hard life for a woman her age, but she was happy. The employee trailers had a small-town, family vibe she missed from before her neighborhood changed. “Come with me,” I said, eyes moons of need. “Where would we sleep?” Dar demanded. “It’s an imposition.” “She wouldn’t see it that way.” In Mom’s world, people squeezed in. They made do. I wanted Dar to experience this. “I’ll come if we get a room at the resort.” Dar negotiated well, but our debts were beyond compromise. “We can’t afford that.” “It’s the Poconos. How much can you charge for a heart-shaped bed?” “We have $42 in checking, and you’ve maxed out every card.” “You have cards.” His tone rose to righteousness. “Why can’t you splurge?” I could feel my hair follicles letting go en masse. If money tore us apart, I’d be a thirty-year-old bald divorcée. I stroked his cheek, and he leaned into it. When my arm reached out, I thought it would go the other way—slap the stupid out of him, to quote my mother. This simply felt better. I followed up with a kiss that buckled our knees, and to my great relief he tore away that toilet paper glove to get

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Valerie Fioravanti a better grip. Sex propped up against the sink seemed a necessary reward, and cuddling on the Saltillo tile, the memory foam bath mat as our pillow, had a pleasing hardness that said: Your marriage might be on the rocks, but you can still get down. “Are you going to leave me because I don’t have money?” I squeezed his hand. “Never.” His sigh stretched so long it touched my inner gold digger. “But you can’t spend like we’re still flush.” “Or you’ll leave me.” How to make him understand that his debts raised my blood pressure, curdled my calm? “Because you behave like a petulant child.” It’s hard to look indignant when you’re naked on the bathroom floor. “But—” My hand flew up this time. “Responsible husbands live within their means.” He sat with this a minute. “Then we need more means.” I nodded. “That’s one possible solution.” “I love that museum,” he said, mournful. They paid half the market rate. Fun money, he called it, back when work was just this quaint thing he did. “I like having hair.” “It’s still pretty all wispy. Your head is beautifully shaped.” He stroked my scalp, and I leaned hard into his touch. We were both plants that needed lots of sun. “Do you have to go?” he asked. “Not today.” What could I tell my mother? Love outweighed entitlement on the pros vs. cons list? That was beyond her capacity to understand.

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Carol Willette Bachofner The Poor Door Not low enough yet to steal or roust scraps from bins, a single mother with four mouths to feed. I stand at the back of the Adventist Church, wait during the message, the warning that our Sunday-Keeper ways are cause for the hunger we know that visits our cupboards, our table. I am ashamed, but not of what you think I should be. I am ashamed of the man I married who would starve his children to starve me. I am smart enough to learn how a five-pound block of surplus baloney will feed us for a week, mixed with powdered eggs or macaroni, how SPAM’s jelly adds flavor we just can’t afford. I stand at this poor door, hope for greens or a bag of flour, maybe today oranges. Far away, in warehouses I cannot break open, cheese which melts to its rot, bags of wheat gone to weevils, not bread. What breaks open here are hearts, mothers’ hearts. We shuffle forward, hand over the pieces in payment for cans of soup, jars of mayonnaise, dates expired.

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Jenna Baillargeon Blue Collar Cycle We fooled everyone for years in our Easter clothes purchased from Walmart, nearly identical dresses sold in department stores; with our straight-A report cards and smiles not quite straight. We avoided the term White Trash because we could. We were not trashy, just poor. I sat on my knees every morning while my mother lacquered and wrenched my hair into braids and never once thought of prayer. This life where the front yard was dangerous with boys never seemed less than. A bike was a bike until I no longer wanted to ride. If we were outside the neighborhood, we were pristine. If we were in the neighborhood we were annoyingly pristine, masquerading as children who never raised their voices or knew what money was. We read fast and ran faster. We held hands with girls on the playground and thought nothing of it. We got into college by standing up straight, scholarships ironed to our shirts like merit badges declaring that we had a chance to become what our mother broke herself wanting us to be.

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Linda Bamber Paul Krugman Paul Krugman’s TV face wears glasses, turns a deadpan slightly staring look on his interviewer and the wide, disastrous world. He ranges the continents’ economies, explains, predicts; but there’s none of the usual snarkiness; no speed. The bad news from the bond markets, the idiocy on the airwaves all come out in a normal voice like someone you knew in college telling you how your car works, and why it can’t be fixed. So it’s a surprise when the interviewer stops and P.K. promptly says, Well, that can’t happen because half the country is stark raving mad; or If the economy crashes again we’ll probably have to build the Great Wall of China on our southern border in response; but hold the laughter and applause because he doesn’t pause or even seem aware, particularly, that he’s made a joke. See these glasses? says his face. They show me Reality. I cannot be moved. His aplomb reminds me of the four rock-faces of the presidents carved into what the Indians before them called The Six Grandmothers: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore R.

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Linda Bamber As the clouds before their rock-wide eyes drift, rush, gather, clash, disperse and the country goes to hell the presidents remember what the Indians before them used to say: Everything you need to know you can learn from the sky.

Note: The last line is a quotation from a contemporary Native American remembering her ancestors’ wisdom. It is included in “The Plains Indians: Artists of the Earth and Sky,” an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (March 9-May 10 2015).

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Brian Barker

Charon’s Pawn Shop Yes, that’s the Trojan horse. Feel free to pop the hatch and peek inside. You can still smell the musk of the warriors who crouched in its belly. See the crawl space in the head where two spies contorted, gritting their teeth? In that old icebox in the back corner, you’ll find the last breaths of illustrious killers sealed in jars—Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, Billy the Kid, some others. Hold them up to the light and they’ll curl like blue smoke. Each is authenticated and can be packed in dry ice for your trip. In the glass case up front, you can browse a nice assortment of bric-a-brac—a lock of Sitting Bull’s hair, a vial of Joan of Arc’s ashes, the bullet that finished Hitler. This handkerchief staunched the gushing wound of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Unfold it and you have a Rorschach of blood that makes for a unique parlor game. (I see a snake that swallowed a porcupine. What do you see, young lady?) If you’re hunting a bargain, Cromwell’s head is on sale, still grimacing after all these years, not a hair out of place. A good bar mitzvah present, or paired with Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, a perfect gift for Father’s Day or a groom-to-be.

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Roy Bentley Gatsby as Factory Worker A very different story this time: hourly wage and benefits, no mansions or bond salesmen. Shit work and little thanks. He looks like anyone else just back from a war, walking bent over at the shoulders. Spooked at the signature buzz of the time clock. A survivor because someone couldn’t shoot straight and missed, 6 times, the bootlegger he’s rumored to have been a gossip of glances from averted eyes. The duller girls in Shipping & Handling whisper they’d like to be his Daisy— and make it (meaning: Little Jay) shine like the light at the end of the dock. The job he wanted went to the new hire without a felony conviction, a Green Card with lusts of his own, a razor-wire smile and bilingual. The job he got (Gatsby) lets him sweat out charm and good looks. He can obsess as much as he wants; be suavepassionate and then some—as long as he busts ass like he fucking means it when they tell him to. That foreman with the bad skin, for instance, couldn’t care less about the various deaths

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Roy Bentley and adulteries that shadowed him back then— we’re all guilty as sin of something, she figures, taking her disappointments out on the whole lot. Even now she’s whittling Fate’s poster child down to life-size. Move your ass, she says. Where in hell do you think you are?

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Bingh My Days as a Go-Go Dancer All of us, with the exception of the independently wealthy and the unemployed, take money for the use of our body. —Martha Nussbaum In essence, the poet has one theme: his living body. —George Seferis …Ask, now that body shines no longer, by what light you learn these lines and what the b and d stood for. —James Merrill It was and wasn’t a choice to begin with. I was hungry, broke, and loving the taste of alcohol a bit too much. The luck I needed to land an okay-paying job was not there at all so I decided one night to try out to become a go-go dancer at The Web, the Asian gay bar in mid-town Manhattan. On the day of the try-out, I packed with me three or four nice pairs of H&M underwear and took the Express from Fulton St. to 59 St., then walked the rest of the way to the bar. I met Bobsie, a queeny old Filipino who was the manager. Bobsie asked me to get onto an illuminated box and shake it for a few hours so he could see if I was able to go-go or not. I had the good luck of Bob’s being there that day. Bob was a middle-aged man reputed to be a millionaire. He sat at the bar near my box and literally threw handfuls of crisp dollar bills at me. This pleased Bobsie and he hired me on the spot. I was asked initially to come back for shifts anywhere from 6 pm to 4 am, every day of the week if I could make it work.

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Bingh I liked to dance, and I liked the attention, so naturally I enjoyed the new job. I was one of the most popular go-gos with “clients” like Bob and a few others like him. Why was I popular? One of the reasons, I think, was because I never put out. I knew the other go-go boys let clients touch and stroke but I never did. It wasn’t like I was morally superior or whatever, it was just not my thing. I only allowed the usually older white guys that populated this Asian joint to fondle through my H&Ms —for a few seconds, but no more— no direct skin contact, merely through the briefs. I danced at The Web for about six months then stopped due largely to delusional episodes from schizophrenia: I thought I was a character in an evil conspiracy where everything was part of a bigger plan to hurt and damage my reputation— from my being in NYC to the very name of the club where I was working. “O what a tangled web we weave...” It wasn’t good to be around that much alcohol anyway. It sometimes paid well on weekends but most nights I made very little, so I stopped dancing at the bar altogether. It was a fun gig, while it lasted. Oh those bygone go-going days! Oh the vocations and decisions in our life to feed and clothe our poor bodies!

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Ace Boggess “What Will You Do If You Hit the Jackpot?”

—spam e-mail

I have shackles to break instead of rocks. For an ex-con imprisoned by his past, no more withering under steamy glares of job applications & governmenthealthcare questionnaires; no worrying about the cost of dental extractions, my car’s next part that breaks & needs replaced. Cash on wood, as inmates say when they mean six bags of chips for a cigarette, ten candy bars each for contraband CDs. I want a free man’s money so I can call myself a free man, too—my shoes as shiny as iPhone screens, suits steely sharp as scalpels, pillows soft like plastic sacks of slightly-stale marshmallows. Registers will praise my name when I buy my way out of this jam I’m in, dazzling with glitz & bling like a silver skeleton key on a silver chain: it opens gates—not those which confined me; those I carry with me where I go.

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Robert Carr Ten Dollars Down to Audette’s Hardware, back with bows and guns, the Maine Trappers parade a banner, set up table. The wall of the booth is deep with skins. Big S hooks in particle board punch through snouts. Forty for skunk, grey coyote fifty, sixty for blondes, a buck ten for black otter. The sable, deep but sharp like the pupil of a bowman’s eye. Winter white ermine necklaced on a ring, skins sway like ghosts of rainbow trout, draw and repel as I stroke the fur. Wicker baskets sit on a table. Coyote Faces $4 Fox Faces $6 Fox faces dyed red, white, and blue. The big guy, from Bangor, spots a flatlander when I ask: What do you do with a face? He picks his nails with a hunting knife – Thin strips of face make awesome flies for fishin’. I hold them in my hand. A crust of open crinkle where stalking eyes tracked mice. I give the man a ten for two faces. Back at camp, I look through rawhide holes. My dog is cautious through coyote eyes. I pet a sandy brow, roll blood-warm skin between his ears, tongue the lining of my cheek, feel a little sick.

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Car Fontenot Bad Kids The first thing I did that Saturday was fix my cereal then next

thing I scanned the news channels for any more mention of my cousin, Trev, who’d been the lead story the night before for robbing white folks in the French Quarter out they hard earned money. The police was offering 20,000 for information that led to his identification and capture. The news people named Trev the “Quarter Bandit.” The image they was using of him was so grainy that not even my parents noticed it was Trev, but I knew, because nobody else got a head shaped like a marshmallow peep and run like a robot. My first thought was I could turn Trev in and we could split the reward money once he got out. But I talked myself out of it. I just think that’d be super fake and all to put somebody in jail and hand them money afterwards without even having a convo. Trev always was up to some dumb shit. All you got to do is do what somebody telling you to do some of the times. It don’t even have to be all of the time just some. I wasn’t sure how cool we was, because we hadn’t talked in two months. Not since Mama and Daddy kicked Trev out the house for catching my Daddy in the soft part of his jaw during an argument that turned into a fist fight. I ain’t really stop Mama and Daddy from doing it either. I could of stuck up for him, and I could of not kick him out my life too, but Trev had got kicked out of school, and then he stopped showing up to alternative school. He only lasted one month in 9th grade. He was beefing with damn near everybody ’cept one janitor and me. And with him being my cousin I had to get his back during all his beefs. I wasn’t the best, but I at least did the bare minimum. Half the homework I handed in I did myself. I didn’t come to school high. I had gotten a couple Bs the last quarter and if the school officer told me to shut the fuck up I did. When I saw Trev on TV I was ’bout to let it go clean, blink and say it was too blurry for me to tell who it was, but then Mama said, “They gon’ kill that boy,” from behind me on the couch. Me, I said, “For real?” Mama said, “For real, for real. They got too much money in that Quarter and all them white people know how to do is point at who they want dead.” I ain’t want Trev dead, because I guess I loved the nigga or whatever. And I ain’t tell Mama I recognized Trev, because if she found out there

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Car Fontenot wasn’t no way she was ever gon’ let Trev live back in the house and he’d be on his own forever. I ain’t want that either. I watched the news all day until after the news show “Watching your 6 at 6”, which I mostly watched trying to figure out if the co-host was white or just super bright skin. I waited for Mama and Dad to go somewhere. I kept my pajama pants on and put on a white T-shirt, and some grass-stained gray sneakers I used for yard work. I knew where ever Trev was it was gon’ be dirty. The last house Trev squatted at was two blocks from my own. It was almost summer. There was two hours of daylight where it wasn’t too hot to be outside so the whole neighborhood was kind of jumping. I walked past kids bouncing ball and a whole bunch of people just kinda leaning on cars talking. Fat sunbeams gutted the house’s dusty windows. Fresh paint on abandoned houses kept the city away. So, the house could’ve looked new if you were just passing it by car. It was painted that bright blue that you only see on houses in New Orleans or houses by the water. It had purple trim and purple shutters with paint packed on so thick it was dried dripping on itself. The house was raised a few feet on cinderblock. I climbed the railless wood steps. They were crooked a bit and shaking while I climbed with my arms spread out for balance. The doorknob nasty and rusted over, but I ain’t have to touch it, because the door was already cracked. The inside was all framed up, but there were no walls, and moist bits of wood from the rotten floor were sticking to the soles of my tennis shoes. The house was long and dark. I got more light from the cracks in the house’s roof than from the dirty windows and I saw Trev looking at his phone in some bits of sun near the back-left corner of the house. He blinked at me slow, then smiled back down into a phone. He was twisting his hair into beads with his left hand. I was wanting to wait for him to speak first. Trev was way better when he knew you’d waited for him, but I couldn’t. “Trev, you got to stop!” I said. I closed the door behind me and walked toward the back. “That money quick and easy, Buck,” he said, still looking down at his phone. He picked up the snout of a shotgun at his side, and let it drop. Its parts made a clacking noise as it hit the soft wood. “Trev, you acting dumb,” I said, “This not a game. Them people got guns and batons and traps set up waiting for your ass.” “Money don’t stop, Buck,” he said. “Trev, stop calling me Buck. I’m here trying to stop you from dying.” “Go back to yo home, bitch boy,” he said. “No, Trev. You all over the news. They put 20 on yo head. You seen ‘Watching your 6 at 6’?” “With that bright skin dude?” “I don’t know, look—” I ain’t know what else to do so I jumped down next to Trev, side hugged

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Car Fontenot him and started rubbing his neck soft. He shoved me, sprung up like I knew he would and said, “Bruh, chill with all that suspect shit.” I grabbed his shotgun and clutched it to my chest. It was slick, and flaky, and not near as heavy as it looked. “Off top,” he said, “I know you gon’ give that back, Buck.” “Why?” I said. “You too much ho to wrestle me over no loaded weapon,” he said. He was right. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking. It just Trev don’t listen and sometimes that make you react. I put the gun back where it was and said, “You smell like dick and booty.” “Fuck you. You too, you crossed-toothed bitch,” he said. But I know I ain’t smell, and I had gotten braces since he last saw me. Trev paced like he had to shake off the effects of the hug. I was thinking, I was probably the only one who had gotten close enough to tell him he smelled like dick and booty. Trev’s khaki shorts were pleated and too short because they were uniform shorts from 5th grade. Whatever was written on the two blue rubber bands on his right wrist had worn off. His black T-shirt exposed collar bone, the sleeves hung past his elbow, and his face was greasy enough to scrape with a butter knife. “What you even doing with the money, Trev?” “Stacking,” he said. “Stacking for what?” I said. “Stacking for now, Buck,” he said. “That don’t make no sense,” I said. “If you stack something that mean you put it away,” I said. “No. It mean I’m spending the money on top, bitch boy,” he said. He picked up a cap from a pile of clothes in the dark corner of the room and put it on his head, then he put the shotgun in a green and white folding chair’s carrying bag, drew the string tight, and put the bag on his shoulder before walking toward the door. “Trev, if you go I’m goin’ to follow you, and if you do something you about to get me in trouble too,” I said. “Stay back, you too much ho,” he said and walked out. I did follow him, because I’m dumb. Sometimes, if you get in his ear enough he’ll listen. And sometimes if he knew I was gon’ get in trouble, too, he’d chill or do it anyway and take all the blame on himself. Trev kept his head down while he walked like he was counting steps, and his hat was pulled low. It was like he wanted everyone to know he was a robber man, but nobody was around us. I felt my stomach pull whenever the shotgun bobbled on his back. I was thinking about how dumb that nigga was the whole time and how he was beyond saving, but I was still yelling for him to go back to his house and chill.

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Car Fontenot Cop lights a few streets ahead made me stop my walking, “Trev, those are cop lights up in front of us.”. “Bruh, go home. They not even much close, and here the bus.” Trev bounced to the back and sat sideways, resting his legs on a row of seats, and I had to pay for both of us. I sat up front by the driver. The bus filled the closer we got to the Quarter, but Trev never turned his body forward or moved his feet up for nobody. I watched him and his shotgun in the rearview mirror. His cap was over his head. He was almost horizontal. It looked like he was sleeping. I wanted somebody to notice the gun and call the cops so I wouldn’t have it on my conscience. Trev ain’t nothing, but 14 a possession charge might roll off him if he don’t confess to the robberies. The bus was getting crowded, but nobody asked Trev to sit up. They formed like a cone around him. It might have been the smell, but nobody was looking at him taking up all them seats either. At Bourbon Street, Trev leapt out his seat and off the bus. I waited until everybody had exited the bus and until the driver started pulling the door shut, before I jumped off and chased after him. I was trying not to think. The Quarter looked haunted for real at night. It was a bunch of old buildings in dim light. Trev walked fast. I was jogging to keep eyes on him. I yelled, “Bruh,” at his back every 2 minutes, but I didn’t want to get close enough to where I was sure he had heard me. We walked past plenty people Trev could’ve robbed: silver-teeth kids tap dancing with the bottle caps on their shoes, dirty white ladies selling weed cookies, a gold bum that smelled like gasoline frozen still on a crate with his middle fingers up. He could have petty thefted himself into at least 30 in hat money. Police was standing three deep on corners wearing neon vests. Trev kept his head down and I stopped jogging whenever I saw them and tried to walk real slow and unassuming-like. Trev was looking at two men who were holding plastic cups on a almost empty street. They put weight on each other and watched a painted silverskinned man in a biker’s jacket lean against a silver motorcycle and play guitar. The guitar was plugged into a scratchy amp, but the man voice would have been froggy regardless. The street was empty otherwise. Trev put himself flat against the back of a building and peeked around the corner. I got on the other side of the street and did the same. Whole time I’m giving Trev the “cut it out” hand signs. Soon as the men left Silver Man he leaped out left down the cross street to cut the men off at the corner. I ran straight down the middle of the street till I was standing next to the Silver Man. Trev popped out from round the corner with the shotgun hip high. It was graceful and scary, and quiet. I was too far to hear anything but the Silver Man playing reverb for no one. The one man threw his wallet at Trev. The wallet hit Trev’s upper body, and a flash went into that man’s stomach. It felt like I was running before

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Car Fontenot I heard the gunshot sound. I don’t know. I was running. I ran past all the lights to the edge of the Quarter and after while felt my body. I got my sense back and knew they’d know to chase me if I was running. I jumped, hid where it was darkest at. Into slick, oily trash bags behind a crooked dumpster, and lied there between them. I was breathing too much garbage and I threw up or I was tired from running. Or it was that Trev shot that man. I threw up till acid and nothing came out. When it felt like I was going to choke from heaving, I forced myself calm and burrowed my way to the bottom of the bags until they felt heavy on my back. I ain’t know if I’d be held accomplice so I laid low. Two hours without sirens or flashing lights and I unshook myself. I thought maybe Mama and Dad were looking for me harder than the police. I thought about what they might say about what I’d just done and the first thing I felt past afraid was mad. I was real mad too. I was mad at myself like I had been another person when I was running after Trev. If I could have slept myself I would have. It was too stupid, risking my freedom, and the whole time I knew better. Out the garbage, I walked a mile or so out of the Quarter before I found a stop for the night bus far enough away from the crime scene. The night bus at a red light was lit up all white from the inside and it was the only thing not dim or dark. I was digging in my pockets to get out the bus money and as I was about to pop out my little dollar quarter I heard from behind me, “Hey, how old are you?” The policeman was like a body builder with a tight ass uniform shirt on. I was froze up clenching the insides of my pockets. He asked me how old I was again. I said, “12,” but look really I’m 14. “Ok, I’m Officer Castiano. Go ahead and pull your hands out of your pocket for me. You don’t need to be afraid, just go slow,” he said. “What’s your name, son?” he said. My hands were shaking in my pockets. “Javon Taylor.” The night bus whooshed right behind me. He had his hand by his sidearm. I near ’bout died, but I got my hands out slow enough. “Mr. Taylor. I’m going to put you in handcuffs for your safety and mine, ok? I’m doing this, one, because you’re out past curfew, and two, because there’s been activity near the Quarter.” “Ok,” I said. He put the handcuffs on me, walked me back and sat me on the curb. “I’m assuming you don’t have identification?” he said. “No, sir.” “Do you have any prior arrest?” “No, sir.” He was standing over me. Shining the light down on my face.

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Car Fontenot “That’s all good. Calm down. There’s no danger. I can see you’re in handcuffs and I don’t plan on using my weapon. I need you to tell me where you’ve been and where you’re going. What are you doing out past curfew? You know how strict it is particularly with this asshole out here robbing everybody.” “I was playing at a friend’s house. I was supposed to sleep over, but we got in a fight and so I started trying to catch the bus home. I didn’t even know too much about the curfew. I know there is one,” I said. “You still got your pajama bottoms on. You must of ran out of there?” “All my sleepover stuff still at his house.” The light was in my right eye. I was crying out both of them though. I was trying to look scared, but not bad scared. Scared like something was being done to me, not like I had done something. “You can’t be out here past dark. That’s the rule, ok? If you didn’t know it. Next time you get pick up and your mama has to get you. You don’t want Mama whooping that ass do you?” “No, sir. My mama would beat my ass for real too,” I said. He laughed. “I’m going to give you a ride home. I’ll drop you off a block away from home even, but if I see you out here again after dark, I’m going to assume you’re one of the bad kids, and you don’t want to be on that side of it, do you?” “No, sir,” I said. I was scared in the back of the police car so scared I was almost longing for that warm, soft ass whooping from home me and the officer was laughing about. I got him to drop me off four blocks away from home off instinct of me not wanting him to know where I lived. I was surprised the house was dark. Mama and Dad were still asleep and nobody was trying to kick my ass for walking through the door all late, red-eyed and smelling like warm garbage. I didn’t shower, because I didn’t want to wake nobody up. I slept on top of the covers in my own filth. In bed I wanted to think about that man Trev shot. I tried too. But I couldn’t help but think about how dumb I’d been. I thought about how crazy it was for me to be associating with Trev. I went to bed thankful I wasn’t in jail and said a prayer that I would never fuck up again. I was lying in a crack of daylight on the bed in my room when my phone buzzed with a new app update about the murder. The man was alive, but in critical condition, and they’d upped the award on Trev’s head to 50,000 based on the description the man’s friend gave of Trev matching the ones from the other robberies, and they offered an extra 10,000 for information about his accomplice. I checked my phone again. It was me. You couldn’t see my face, but it was me plain as day if you knew what I was wearing like Officer Castiano did. I was in my room checking my phone until night. I was expecting them to kick my door in any minute. I was gon’ have to roll on Trev like a tire.

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Car Fontenot I pictured myself with the police just crying and blubbering and carrying on and saying his name over and over. All day I kept hoping Mama would come in and check on me. I wanted her to smell me through the door or hear me sniffle and ask me why I was in my room all day, but by the time the sun was almost down, neither she or the police had came. I was almost mad at my Mama for not coming in my room, but I knew why she ain’t came. It was the same reason I couldn’t see Trev no more. I ain’t a kid. Whatever trouble I got into I was gon’ have to hold myself. I started to pack a bag. They couldn’t compel me to testify if I wasn’t home. I went out my room took a shower and went downstairs when I smelt food. I was all prepared to have my last family meal. Mama was at the kitchen table taking photos of my dad standing over the stove top in his apron. “Your daddy chefing up in the kitchen,” Mama said. “It smell good,” I said. I sat at the recliner in the living room and turned the TV on. Our house wasn’t big so the living room, dining room, and kitchen was near ’bout the same. Dad was cooking so I didn’t have to worry about him coming and kicking me off the recliner. I raised the feet up on it, laid back and tried to look like I hadn’t been party to an attempt at murder the day before and I wasn’t wanted by the police. “You gon’ have to learn to cook soon,” Dad yelled from the kitchen. He couldn’t boil water without complaining. “Mama, why you ain’t check on me?” I said. “Thought you was grown,” Mama said. “Ok,” I said. Mama was on the couch next to the recliner. She put her phone down and looked at me. “Well, are you ok, my baby?” she said. “I’m tired. I was wondering where y’all was all day,” I said. “We was out. I didn’t know you was so grown I had to answer to you about where I’m at,” Mama said. “Mama, stop saying I’m grown. Here go the news,” I said pointing the remote in my hand at the TV. I ain’t want to get into it with Mama seeing as it might be a minute before I saw her again. Plus, I was wanting to see if she was gon’ notice I had joined Trev in the news report. “Watching your 6 at 6” was on with a special weekend edition update. It was a news conference. The Chief of Police was standing behind a podium. He had on a white shirt with all the buttons, and his hair was slicked back iron gray. Cameras were flashing in his face as he spoke, “You will be caught,” he said. “You will face justice in the State of Louisiana. We’re dealing with a man’s life. A man with a wife and kids who are on a plane from Ohio now not sure if their dad is going to be alive when they get off.

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Car Fontenot There will be no more crime in the French Quarter as of yesterday. If you come to the Quarter with malintent, the consequences will be swift and severe. We’ve set up temporary structures that allow us to surveil remotely. You will be on camera. I’ve also coordinated with State Police. There will be a cop on every corner, folks.” “The shooting has French Quarter residents up in arms, literally,” the bright-skinned anchorman said once they’d left the news conference. The show cut straight to a shot of an old white man wearing a straw hat standing outside a bar with “Quarter Resident” written in the graphic underneath him. “I’ve given up on the police department. You’ve got to arm yourself. It’s the wild, wild west out here,” the old white man said. They cut to another white man in the middle of the day with sunglasses and a backwards cap. His graphic read “Local Business Owner.” “One business owner,” Bright Skin said in a voice-over, “has bought into a controversial measure. A private group of security.” “The thing is it’s hard on businesses,” the Local Business Owner said, “because less people are coming to the Quarter. I’ve noticed a dip in our business these last few weeks and that hurts our servers who live off the tips they make, so, not only are they making less, but they’ve got to worry about getting the little they’ve made robbed. It’s unacceptable. It’s the Mayor and the City Council that are culpable,” the Local Business Owner said. “A lot of people are wondering what the effects on tourists will be,” the bright skin co-host said. “We found one reveler who didn’t seem too concerned at all about the recent crime spree.” They cut to a man with thin hair and a big gut who was holding a beer in the middle of the day. “I don’t know nothing ’bout any robberies,” he said. “You’re not the first person to tell me to be careful though so I just stay alert.” He took a longish sip of his beer and they put the anchors back on screen mid-gulp. “Ok,” the anchors laughed. “Well, the tourists are still enjoying themselves. We like that,” the bright skin man said. “Yes, we do,” his white lady co-host said. They mentioned me as a potential accomplice at the end of the segment just as an aside. The whole state of Louisiana was gon’ make me to sell out Trev for leniency. My whole face was stinging, but Mama ain’t notice. Dad called us to the table and came out with his hand shaking while gripping the handle of a full pan of noodles with one of his hairy fist. It was something simple in the pot like garlic salt, butter noodles, and baked chicken. I didn’t much follow what Mama and Daddy was talking about at the table, but Mama talking ’bout work was our pre-meal prayer. “You know that little girl they got working alongside me now is evil. She wanted to come at me passive aggressive like I don’t know that language. I told her if she was going to take a leadership position that’s fine, but maybe

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Car Fontenot we needed to invest a little more time in communication, and I’m not sure if it’s not something we’d be better off saving for a meeting with Dave and Randy,” Mama said. “You got her!” Dad said. “I think Trev the robber man from the news reports,” I said, playing with my noodles. “From robbing in the Quarter? What you mean you think?” Dad said. “Yeah,” I said. “You seen Trev?” Mama said. “No,” I said. “Where you seen Trev,” Mama said. “The news,” I said. “That’s his head just as plain.” Dad went to go get his tablet out the living room and when he came back to the kitchen him and Mama huddled and compared Trev’s features. Mama was most calm about it. Dad had his eyes on me though. “We can’t know if that’s him,” she said. “That’s Trev bucket head. He got another idiot with him, look,” Dad said. “The police might come and ask you where you was. Tell them you was in bed where you was supposed to be at and let ’em know you was there all night.” “Ok,” I said. “If you see Trev, walk away,” Mama said. “Ok,” I said. “Y’all calling the police?” I said. “I know you think we hateful toward your cousin, but we wouldn’t do that. If it’s him they gon’ find him sooner or later.” “But you said they gon’ kill him.” Mama faced me in her seat. She pulled my shoulders square to her, and put both her hands on my knees. “It’s complicated. You got to trust us. The only good thing is stay out of it,” Mama said. I didn’t run away that night, because I ain’t have no place to go and since I ain’t have no place to go if that police found me I was gon’ tell them all about Trev and the shotgun, but I ain’t felt good it. You can’t let nobody at school hear tears in your voice. That’s just as bad as crying. I didn’t talk to nobody until lunch with Miss Franklin-Ames. I knew I shouldn’t have stepped in her classroom, but I was still ducking people Trev was beefing with. I had eaten lunch with Miss Franklin-Ames every day since Trev got expelled. She was at her desk popping Tupperware containers. Her swirls were borderline white lady dreads and greasily catching light from the window behind her. Her nose ring was so small you’d have to know to look to see it. That day I let her talk. She was hype, talking about the type of men available in New Orleans

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Car Fontenot who she said seemed to never have real jobs. She only took breaks to nibble on a crustless triangle sandwich and apologized for talking to me like I wasn’t a student. “This guy said he worked as a roadie for a band, but only did the local shows,” she said. “He might be near homeless, Miss Franklin-Ames, like the one before last,” I said. “Maybe. What’s going on with you, J-von? Your eyes are red,” she said. “I’m good. I been smoking,” I said. “No you haven’t. You don’t smoke,” she said. “Just been stressing about the end of the semester,” I said. “Um, red eyes isn’t what end-of-semester stress looks like. Is this about Trev?” she said. “Naw, why you say?” I said. “Trev is a major stressor for you. The first time you walked into my office you said you were hiding from Trev’s enemies,” she said. We sat there for ten minutes not speaking and she just kept looking at me from different head angles until the phone in her classroom rang. She answered it all cheerful. But it didn’t take long for her face to fall and she was saying, “Yeah. Oh my, Ok Ok Ok. Got it,” she said into the phone. She sat a while and it looked like she was kind of thinking. “Javon, I’m not supposed to say anything, but there’s an officer on the way to see you.” “What?” “Yeah, Ok, I know you’re good. I know you haven’t done anything. When they ask you questions, it’s important that you be honest. I know you feel you need to be protecting your cousin right now, but whatever he’s gotten you into isn’t right. I know you love Trev, but what ever he’s gotten involved in you don’t deserve to pay for and once they get young black boys into the system here they don’t let them out even if it’s just for lying to protect someone.” I wanted to wait for Officer Castiano, so I could sink into his chest and feel the cool of his badge against my ear until I was done telling on Trev to my heart’s content. I could wash myself clean of that man blood. My stomach could stop feeling like it was about lift up out my body. I was real grateful to Miss Franklin-Ames for the warning too, but I shot up out her classroom and didn’t stop running till I was home, laid facedown on my mattress and waited for an easy answer to stop feeling how I felt. If I ran away I’d be dirty and living on the streets like Trev. I didn’t know nothing about robbing no way. That night Castiano and another cop knocked on the door. I could hear their radios from the living room. I muted the TV. I was on the couch and they came in front of me. My mama looked at me like I was crazy. She sat on

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Car Fontenot the recliner. They was between me and the TV. Mama sat next to me. Dad was behind the sofa. Castiano knew my first name and Mama looked at me like I was crazy. “How do you know my son’s name officer?” Mama said. “I’m let him explain that to you, Mama,” Castiano said. They all looked at me so I said. Mama said, “Now hold up. That don’t mean he know nothing about no robbery.” “Mama, I’m gonna have to ask you to let your son speak. I saw him with my own two eyes and we spoke and he told me he’d been at a sleepover all night, which is a lie and I can prove that with the surveillance footage. We can track him leaving the crime to the time. That’s not my word, that’s proof. I’m being real nice. I’m letting your son speak and if he can tell us who shot that man and we can get to ’em, there ain’t no reason your boy has got—” Dad put his hand on my shoulder. Mama was looking at me like she did when I was a kid and I was acting up in public. I didn’t know what Mama and Dad wanted me to do, but it didn’t matter. I started telling on Trev. I told them everything about the Saturday about the house, the shotgun, the trash and Castiano was writing it all down. “That’s real noble what you tried to do,” Castiano said when I was all done, “but you see now it was wrong. I’m be checking in on you if Mama’s Ok with it. Making sure you’re on the straight and narrow.” Mama didn’t say nothing. Dad said we would like that, but we wouldn’t. Castiano and his partner left, and Mama and Dad went upstairs without saying anything. They closed the door behind them. I had been bracing for them yelling or maybe even to get a sharp slap from Mama. I kept waiting for her to fly back down the stairs with her belt flailing, but she didn’t. I heard the sink water come on, then bed springs, and then the light switch flicked off. The cop lights pulled away from the blinds. That white man Trev shot was dead that same night. On TV, the chief of police had his arm around the man’s widow, one kid was on her hip, and another kid, a boy, stood a few feet away. He was angry. I could see it in his face. I saw it in Trev’s face all the time. It was like he wanted to show himself holding the anger. The boy sucked his teeth. He rubbed his knuckles. He bit his lip, but I understood that boy on TV was biting his lip to keep it from quivering. I wondered why the white boy was on TV crying and I had to do it alone. I was wondering why the police chief wasn’t hugging me. I hadn’t lost my dad, but I had lost my cousin. Why the police chief had his arm around him? I was gon’ have to carry that man’s death, Trev’s death, all the dirt Castiano might do to me and my family, and I couldn’t be on TV too because nobody really gave a fuck about me crying.

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Car Fontenot Looking at the boy and the officer hugging him, I decided I didn’t want to feel like that boy or Trev. So, I put a shirt on over my pajama top, and jammed on my tennis shoes. I got on the night bus and watched the city roll by me. Mama and Dad would notice I was gone that night. She would check on me in my bed like I wanted her to, but I wouldn’t be there, and I hoped she would know not to go look for me. That I had made a choice, and if I came back I’d come back when I wanted. I hoped she be Ok with that. I wanted to find Trev and tell him how crazy it was for me to worry about who the police chief was hugging. I wanted to tell Trev that I didn’t think he was stupid or crazy or nothing and I didn’t think I was either. It was the way the shit was set up to make you do crazy shit. If I found Trev again I would tell him what he could do for the dead man’s family or maybe he could live every day like he was ’bout to die or commit himself to service or stopping violent crime or do anything but turn himself into the police, because all they wanted was to not have to look at him. They wanted him to be dead even if he was living. On the bus, I got a text update saying they had captured a man that fit the description of the bandit, but I got off anyway, hoping I could still find Trev. In the Quarter I walked till my feet were burning, but I didn’t find him. There was cop on every block still. I got stopped a few times. But I got away every time. With red eyes, I told them all that my Mama worked in the Quarter sometimes and some nights she didn’t come home, and I was trying to find her. My eyes were red enough, and my face was sad enough, and I still looked young enough, so they all just let me go.

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Leslie Jones Sputnik’s Release Tonight the real trouble starts. Sputnik’s yowls are shrill and

persistent from the moment I walk in. I replenish her water, glop wet food in her saucer, then sit on the couch with a styrofoam bowl of street noodles, the cheapest dinner to be had in Shanghai. I’m a poorly paid junior architect; noodles it is, most weeknights. The cat eats quickly, then resumes her meowmeow picket, threading through the coffee table legs and rubbing my ankles as her jaw stretches to expel the repetitive complaint. I drop a piece of oily pork on the floor, but she ignores it. Her tail twitches. A shudder ripples through her gray striping. If it’d been up to me we’d have called her Ashtray. Or Smokestack. But instead she is Sputnik, after the satellite. On her fourth trip around the coffee table, she flings herself into a bow, paws forward, backend splayed toward the ceiling, showcasing her rear anatomy. I pick up on the longing. Her writhing could be an imitation of my own heart. I think we’re both in for a long night. My phone buzzes. It’s my coworker-roomate, Zheniya. She’s out to dinner with clients. I tap to see a picture of a spiky brown log bathed in clear orange sauce in a white dish. What is it? she texts. Sea cucumber, I think. Looks horrible! I reply with a frowny face and then write, wait til they’re in good mood, not too drunk, to talk abt ground floor—and also—Sputnik is in heat. It’s Zheniya’s last night on a business trip to Kunming, and she’s at a banquet for our firm’s biggest project, the luxury condos we’re building there. Its English name is Richman’s Plaza. Our local colleagues assure that its Chinese name is less gauche. I wish the office had sent me instead – it’s easier not to think about Ben when I’m busy. Also, I’m the better architect, not a visionary or anything, but a really good executor. I excel at plotting next steps and turning my plans into reality. I would’ve liked to make my case in person to the Kunming city officials. I think I could convince them. But I’ve given Zheniya my explicit instructions. A digital rendering of Richman’s Plaza rests on the coffee table. The tower stands several times taller than everything for blocks, like a gigantic steel finger. The city officials waved us off when we told them it would block

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Leslie Jones all direct sunlight to the row of old homes to the west. Building codes don’t apply to those old homes, they said. I’m still holding out for first-floor mixed use. The bureaucrats want to put a massive parking garage on the basement and ground floor. Shops could serve the whole community, plus increase the tower’s livability and hence its long-term value. That’s how I told Zheniya to sell it to them. It’s a value proposition. Sputnik head-butts the couch and meows. It was a mistake not to go out. The city is awash in drink specials. Too much time alone always turns my thoughts to Ben. It’s 3:30 am in Alaska. His day hardly beginning. I’m living seventeen hours into Ben’s future, but he wouldn’t be impressed if I put it like that to him. Ben and I met a year ago. I could hardly believe I was living back home. My plan was clear: Step One—finish architecture master’s at the University of Oregon; Step Two—get a job at an award-winning, or at least award-seeking, boutique firm in a major metropolitan. Instead, I graduated into global recession and spent a year behind the cash register at the campus bookstore. I fixed my lunch breaks so that every Tuesday at 1:30 pm I could keep stopping by office hours of my most acclaimed professor. Everybody said it was important to network, now more than ever, and he’d always liked the work I did in studio. I held out hope he’d give me the inside edge, pass my resume to someone who was hiring, until the day he folded his hands on his desk and said that while it was always a pleasure to see me, office hours were for enrolled students. I called home in tears. The following week my dad said there was a drafting position for me at his engineering firm. I used to believe nepotism was for the incompetent and under-motivated, but that was pre-financial crisis. I said goodbye to Eugene’s pine-shrouded strip mall drizzle and returned to Anchorage. My parents followed the oil boom to Alaska before I was born, and my childhood was undergirded with the assumption I would succeed them somewhere in the Lower 48, anywhere with a more hospitable climate, less brutal winters. I used to get home late from school activities and my dad would be in the living room, a bottle of wine and a tub of shea butter between his feet. He liked to drink and moisturize before the evening news. He’d massage his chapped knuckles and cheerfully muse that his Kendra (me) would go off to college and never come back to this place. When I did move home, I set up headquarters at the dining room table. I had to-do lists, printouts of job leads, loose sketches. I drafted all day at my dad’s work, then came home and drafted for contests. If I could win a design contest, surely someone would hire me. My parents tiptoed apologetically around the mess. Who but the bankers could’ve predicted? Anchorage wasn’t so bad, they suggested, in spite of all their complaints about the dark, the cold, the long flights to Grandma’s house. Want us to

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Leslie Jones buy you a snow bike? New pair of skis? They said I needed a hobby. I didn’t need a hobby. I needed a weekly reprieve from their guilt. I signed up for a music appreciation class at the university. The class met Wednesday evenings. I noticed Ben the first day, seated in front, hunched forward and ready to pay attention. He had a broad, square face that seemed anchored to some deep, imperturbable calm. He kept his mass of blond curls knotted in back. I pondered that hair, like a big tangle of fishing line suspended above the bulk of his shoulders. I was transfixed. Nobody with hair like that could need a job. I looked at the back of his head in every class until the day the instructor played “Ride of the Valkyries.” Spurred by that conquering horn theme, or maybe just the realization that I did need a hobby but I wasn’t that interested in music, I moved up to sit beside him during the break. “Did you like it?” I asked. “Sure.” His lashes slow-blinked, golden-hued and impassive. “Want to get coffee?” “Okay.” I’d meant to say sometime, but we left class in stride and walked toward the coffee cart in the student union. I looked at my phone before we got to the barista. There was a message from an Illinois number. “Hold on, I need to check this,” I said. “Just tell me what you want.” “No, one second, I’ll get it.” “Regular coffee?” “Skinny latte.” I walked toward a table with the phone to my ear. The voice of a nice-sounding HR lady said she liked my portfolio and would keep me on file, but the firm wasn’t hiring and wouldn’t until next year, maybe. He set down our coffees. “Bad news?” I laughed shortly. “Just a job I didn’t get. It’s a firm that only does hospitals, which would be boring, but they’re in Chicago. That would’ve been cool.” “I played a festival there once. Good pizza.” Like me, he wasn’t a full-time student, just there for edification. I learned he played double bass in a bluegrass group, one I’d heard of. He had a pleasant almond smell that reminded me of the natural food store. He listened patiently to my job stuff. “What about you?” I asked. “Ever think about getting out?” He smiled and shook his head. “Couldn’t live anywhere else.” For a moment I pretended I felt the same. I felt very light, removed from the weight of my ambition. “I want to stay,” he said when our cups were empty, “but I have band practice.”

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Leslie Jones We saw each other most days after that. I was nervous the first time I went to see his band. The folk stuff all sounds the same to me, always lots of bygone platitudes—sorrow, country rain, some woman’s problem with a white dress—but Ben’s band was good. He stood in the back with his hair down, delivering the dark string rhythm, low and beckoning. Even though their songs didn’t have the vintage sentiment that usually puts me off, they were a little muddy, and the verses were salted with political irony. In short, not the kind of music a car company would ever use for an ad. And that was great and all, art that rebukes capitalism, but then what? Ben kept himself afloat in a cramped one-bedroom by tutoring high school orchestra students and playing weddings and corporate functions. His place smelled like stale cigarettes from previous tenants. Weekend afternoons we’d stay in his bed, no lights on, until the pale pink sky faded to blue then black. “Ideally though,” I wanted to know, “what would you want to be doing with music?” He stretched and thought a moment. I watched the outline of his ribs push against his chest covered in pale downy curls. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think I’m doing pretty good.” Well, I thought, doing pretty well. I spin the printout of Richman’s Plaza on the coffee table, so the tower is upside down. I slump into the couch for warmth. Shanghai’s humid winter chills our little apartment. Laundry racks crowd the living room. Our clothes keep turning brittle with mildew. The sparkly red character for double fortune, leftover from Chinese New Year, is peeling off the wall. I hunker down, tuck my feet up and away from the wretched cat. I don’t know what to do about her. Bad luck that her hormonal chemistry lit up on a night when Zheniya is gone. What are the odds? Better I suppose than mine and Ben’s ever were. He never fit in my five-year plan. We wouldn’t have even been friends in high school. I hamster-wheeled through four years of volunteer club, sports, talent shows, and pep week committees. My friends were the same. I doubt Ben was ever so invested in things a person could letter in. My friends’ parents were lawyers, engineers, accountants. Alaska was a generational pit-stop. All our parents planned to retire Outside. They wanted us there, too. And everyone had managed to leave. I knew of one girl from our circle who was back in town, but I couldn’t bring myself to call her. She must’ve felt the same. Ben’s upbringing was different. I heard about it those winter afternoons in bed. His mom was a back-to-the-lander, albeit a straggler, the movement was practically over by the time she fled Cleveland suburbs for some deep-forested pocket of California’s Emerald Triangle. Ben was little when the drug war ratcheted up. The DEA sent helicopters full of special agents armed with assault rifles to backwoods pot farms. Ben and his mother lived on one of those farms,

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Leslie Jones and it became too much, so she moved them north. By then his dad was out of the picture, irrelevant after his return to Ohio. Ben’s mom supported them teaching fiddle and guitar. They fished in the summertime and foraged for berries and nettles. In winter he spent the weekends busking with her in the Northway Mall. Sometimes he still did, although less so once we started dating. Zheniya finally texts back. What do you mean in heat? The apartment is cold right? I search for how to tell it simplest: She wants a boy cat and is being super loud and bad. Ten stories down, taxi tires crest and retreat like waves on the rainslicked street, which would be soothing but for the melancholic overlay of Sputnik’s yowls. She circumnavigates the living room, and cries and cries, a mournful, lascivious orbit. I imagine Ben in each part of the room she passes, he’s seated at the dining table, lazing on the couch, standing by the window and looking out on the rain. Sputnik can’t keep it up all night. Something must be done. My phone dings. Zheniya has sent a picture of a startled-looking steamed fish covered in scallions. I don’t know what anyone is saying but they’re starting to take baijiu. Should I? There’s no polite way to retreat once you start drinking at a banquet. Zheniya could use her female status to bypass the competitive shots that government officials seem to love. I’m irritated with her about the cat so I just respond Yes. Sputnik meows especially loud. “It’s hopeless!” I scold. “Nothing here will satisfy you!” But this sends her trotting back toward me. She faints onto her back, keeps her ass flicked up. Any way the feline body contorts, it’s as if she’s spinning on that pinched access point. I get up and go to the kitchen, pull the dusty bottle of Great Wall merlot from the top of the fridge. Back on the couch, I open my laptop to google remedies for cats in heat. First thing a lot of expats do when they arrive is adopt a cat. Not me. I wasn’t falling for it. But I understand how the desire takes hold: Most of us arrive alone. And once you’re here you can’t help but feel sort of rich and helpless, even if, like me, you make the equivalent of twelve hundred dollars a month. It’s still three times the pay of your Chinese coworkers. Everywhere, wealth smashes up against bare survival. Rusty bicycles thread through black BMWs on the thoroughfares. Migrant workers pick plastic bottles and metal scrap from the garbage. Gucci stores have gobbled up the prime real estate, and behind them crumbling brick houses are strung with laundry lines. I can’t read Chinese, but I know what a demolition sign looks

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Leslie Jones like. Not that I see that many posted. Most of the work is already done. And then you happen on a box of mewling kittens in People’s Square, where everyone seems to leave them. I had my kitten-box moment. I spotted the quivering cardboard next to some bushes outside a children’s play area. I looked down at the blinking, breathing, soft fur huddle, and thought about how good it would feel to save one small thing, but only for a minute. Somebody else—someone more vulnerable to lost causes—would come for them. It wasn’t my burden. Zheniya arrived six weeks after me. She walked into the office in a bomber jacket and spike heels that marked her as eastern European even before she parted her thin lips and told us in her throaty accent, breath huffing the consonants, “Hello, yes? I am Zheniya. I think I work here now.” She had a crooked smile and short black curls flung into a ponytail. I’d been staying in a tiny, windowless hostel room. Zheniya and I decided to rent a place together. We found a two-bedroom in a multi-tower complex close to work with decent furniture. Our landlord, Ms. Xia, a bank executive, had decided to leave everything and buy all new for her next place. Zheniya and I set up housekeeping. We were both good about dishes and keeping toilet paper stocked, and she always offered me some of the spicy peanuts she bought at Seven-Eleven. In her second week at work, Zheniya started calling herself Jenny because neither the Chinese, the Italians, the French, nor I could pronounce Zheniya. Half the staff made the switch. The rest of us were too used to it to change. I still probably say it wrong. We got to know each other in the evenings, flopped on Ms. Xia’s leather sofa. We drank weak beer and watched pirated DVDs, after which the talk turned to home. Zheniya’s family is from Moscow, but she was born in Azerbaijan, the daughter of scientists employed by the Soviet Ministries of Oil and Gas. I told her my parents were engineers, that my dad’s firm mainly took government contracts to build military housing and rural schools, and my mom worked for an oil company. “Ah, like my parents,” she said. “What do you mean?” “Going to the far away place for the sake of development,” she said. “Just like us too, actually.” It was true. What geography was next on the carousel of global progress? And who would go to the next booming place, our children, or our Chinese coworkers’? After we’d been living together a month, Zheniya came home with something dark and furry cupped under her neck. “He was alone on the subway platform! I couldn’t leave him.” She raised the kitten above her head. It meowed quietly, paws paddling the air “Wash your hands,” I said. “Your clothes too, and take a shower. Those things—”

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Leslie Jones “Don’t worry, I will take him to the animal doctor tomorrow. I will feed him, whatever, everything, the litter box, everything, I promise.” I sniffed. There was always another mama cat dragging her belly through the puddles near the downstairs trash bins. Why even save one? I didn’t ask, because Zheniya brought the kitten in on a day I was especially missing Ben. It was more important to have our evening couch ritual: Maybe I could tell her more about him, rather than argue about a cat. “SPOOT-nik. That is what I will call her,” Zheniya announced. She told me it meant fellow traveler, appropriate, since we were both a long way from home. The next day at work I took a break from drafting a staircase to look up Sputnik. The only space milestone that had seemed to matter in school was the moon landing. I guess because Russia got the rest of them—first satellite, first dog, first man, first woman, first spacewalk. I pulled up old headlines in fear-mongering black capitals, warning of Sputnik, ‘the baby moon.’ There was cause for concern. Spinning out there, eighteen-thousand miles an hour above the world. From that vantage, able to see everything, what could it know about us? The Internet is slow and the pages, when they do load, provide only vague suggestions. Put a hot water bottle in the cat’s bed. Try an herbal remedy. Which herbs? The listicle doesn’t say. Sputnik jumps onto the couch, extends her jaw and meows at my face. I hop up and move to the armchair. I wonder if Ben would know what to do. His mom is the type—longhaired and witchy. He brought me to her house after we’d been dating awhile. She served chamomile in mugs with wobbly bumps that asserted they were hand-thrown. We sat at the table and she asked how I felt about the newly proposed natural gas pipeline. I said I didn’t have a strong opinion and touched my fingers to my eyebrow: a headache coming on. She went to the kitchen and started rummaging for a tincture. She said chasteberry was good for all the symptoms—cramps, bloating, headaches. My cheeks got red and I looked at Ben. He shrugged. I told her I wasn’t on my period, that I get this weird sinus thing when the weather changes. She returned to the table and watched as I rummaged in my purse for Advil. She noticed the metal logo below the zipper, Coach, and remarked that the bag must’ve been expensive. I said snappishly that it had been a gift. Ben told her to give it a rest, but in a tone that said he was more amused than annoyed. If anyone would know what to do with this cat right now, she would. Maybe she’s passed the wisdom on to Ben. I’ve broken down and called him over Skype before. Never a good idea, but he always listens. I talk and talk until I get scared. Listening is his way of drawing me back, the suggestion carries

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Leslie Jones across dead static. Nothing good ever comes of it, and it’s past four there now. When the music appreciation class ended that spring I was no closer to a job in Seattle, San Francisco, Dubai, anywhere. The world’s construction was mostly still ground to a halt. Ben invited me to tag along on his band’s statewide summer tour. I was bored at work and about to turn twenty-five. “So you’re going to, what, camp all summer?” my dad asked. I’d walked into his office to give two weeks’ notice. I suppose I could’ve done it over dinner at home. “Yeah, pretty much,” I said. He grunted and shook his head, reached for a stack of papers. “It’s been slow since February,” I reasoned. “You pay me for forty, I work ten.” He kept shaking his head. His desk was crowded with three-ring binders. File cabinets lined every wall, even against the windows, blocking most of the view, but for a sliver of glass showing the blue and white Chugach peaks. “It’s just uncharacteristic, Kendra,” he finally said. And so what if it was? I thought but did not say. The more time I spent with Ben, the more I felt like I’d missed out on some part of growing up Alaskan. But what exactly? I had to find out. Most of the band piled into a Volkswagen bus. Ben and I followed in the wood-paneled minivan, the same one his mom had driven up to Alaska two decades ago. Our caravan left Anchorage and I pressed my face to the window on the stretch of Old Seward Highway that follows Turnagain Arm. Sea and sky mirrored blue. The channel was perfectly flat. The mountains across the water were snowy halfway down, and their reflection in the still surface beckoned like an upside down world. “It’s great you’re coming,” he said. Sometimes there were motels or loaned cabins, but mostly we camped. The band would go set up for whatever gig, and I’d drive to the store. I was good with the dutch oven, could approximate jambalaya. We slept in Ben’s two-man tent, unless it rained, then we’d squeeze into the van with the instruments. My hair always smelled like campfire. So did his. I woke each morning to his curls spilling over the edges of our pushed-together air mattresses. In July I ruined my clothes in a coin-op washing machine. My nice jeans, pullover, button-downs—everything came out spotted white from someone’s leftover bleach. Lea, who played guitar and mouth harp, gifted me a pair of drawstring Batik pants, two tunics, and a paisley tube dress. I startled myself in the smudged mirror of a state park bathroom wearing the tube dress, braless, hair loosely braided, four days from my last shower.

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Leslie Jones So far from what I’d envisioned in architecture school: Blazers and nice sneakers, a desk in an open-plan office with big windows, a wide-angle view of the cityscape. What city? The vision was fuzzy. I still checked my email wherever I could. Later that same day I Skype-interviewed with a firm in China from a bar on the Homer Spit, my laptop perched on a knotted wood table. Out the window, light rain dappled the gray water of Kachemak Bay. We passed the long driving hours counting bald eagles, moose, the occasional bear. We stayed up late around the orange embers, steeping in smoke and pulling pieces of grilled fish from its foil wrapper. The grease on our fingers transferred to the brown necks of beer bottles. The sun sat low on the horizon. Since it never got dark and we lived outside, the weeks passed like one single, valiant day. We arrived in Valdez for a festival in August. The beach bonfires blazed after midnight. I leaned into Ben and watched the flames. “We should do this again next summer,” he said. “Oh really? What kind of job could I get where I could pick up for three months?” “See if your dad will rehire you,” We both laughed. I hadn’t spoken to my parents since we’d left, only emailed. “Let’s see, Lea’s a bartender, Jake’s a server, or, you could be a teacher” “A teacher?” “I think you’d be a good teacher.” We were quiet, musing. Then Ben stood up and pulled me with him. We walked down the beach, away from the crowd, and toward a hulking piece of driftwood, which by the power of inebriation looked like suitable privacy. Our footsteps clattered on rocks as we picked our way around ribbons of bull kelp. I was happy. I had been all summer, but I had a little reception and I also had my habits. I used my free hand to pull my phone from the pocket of the batik pants. “Seriously?” “Just need to check a minute…” I mumbled, reaching my arm up like extra height might do the trick. The tide stopped shy of our shoes. I could feel the mood pulling away over the dark water. “You can look tomorrow.” I had a feeling though. I waited for the bright blue light of global connectivity to travel from left to right on the screen. My emails downloaded. “EEEEEE! Yesyesyesyes!” I had the job in Shanghai, but I needed to be there in two weeks. Ben turned and walked back to the strumming silhouettes. I splash more wine in my glass. Sputnik rubs aggressively against my legs, so I tuck them up again, flick my fingers and hiss at her. She coils up, preparing to jump into my lap. Her need is unrelenting and repulsive.

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Leslie Jones Did you ask about the ground level? I text Zheniya again, a minute later adding, Say they can still have garage, just part of G/F for shops. I open a new browser tab and turn on the proxy network I use to get around China’s block on Facebook. I do this to look at Ben. Stray cat hairs drift over the keyboard. I click through photos of him playing at a wedding in the Talkeetna lodge. He’s wearing a suede vest and a string tie. Wenwen, who sits next to me at work, caught me looking at the same photo earlier this week. Before I could close the window she said, “Wa! Looks like Bao-luo Niu-man.” “Who?” I asked. It took a few minutes, but with a little description and guessing I understood her: Paul Newman. Wenwen loves westerns. I can’t stand them. Sputnik has abandoned the base of my chair and pushes against the entertainment center. Her moaning carries. I touch my fingers to my neck and flinch for their lack of heat. I pick up my phone again and type to Zheniya that I’m thinking about calling Ben. This time she responds right away. DON’T. On my last day in Anchorage we drove to Whittier to fish off the rocky breakwater. Turnagain Arm was just as calm and blue as when we’d begun our trip in the early days of summer. The tide was out, mudflats silvered in August sunlight. “Pull over at the wayside, I want to take a picture,” I said. “The tunnel opens in ten minutes, I don’t want to wait for the next pass.” We drove on, but still missed the cutoff for Whittier-bound traffic on the single-lane tunnel through Maynard Mountain. Ben exhaled and cut the engine. It was quiet but for cars whizzing by in the opposite direction. “Radio?” I asked. “I’d rather not.” I reached over and touched his shoulder. “You could come visit,” I suggested sweetly. I knew, on a rational level, that I’d miss him, but triumph and anticipation for the great new adventure suppressed sadness I might’ve otherwise felt. Life would be much smaller if we could foretaste our regrets. “I’m not going to China.” I rolled my eyes, “Well then!” What could I say? I’d been trying to leave since we met. We sat silently until the tunnel opened. It was overcast and raining on the other side of the mountain. We pulled into the harbor parking lot. The windshield blurred with cold splatter. “We could get halibut and chips at Varly’s,” I suggested. He shrugged. “Are you mad I’m leaving?” Sadness would make sense, but it was unfair for Ben to sour our last day together like this. He scratched his chin. “Yeah.”

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Leslie Jones “So I should just, what, keep working for my dad forever and be your girlfriend?” “You could.” “Very forward-thinking of you, Ben.” “Jesus, that’s why I didn’t say anything. Go to China. You’ll probably build something really nice.” I’d made the mistake of telling him my offer, so he knew it was half what my dad paid. He didn’t understand. That was the way of architecture. Better, more interesting projects meant less money. All my most talented friends were practically starving. And besides, I could never do something so regressive as table my career for a guy in a folk band. My mother’s generation marched for workplace rights. Women my age had an obligation not to cede that ground. I attempted to explain again, “Christiana, who got this internship in New York, makes less than minimum wage based on her hours, but that’s just what you have to do if—” “People can get you to do anything if you’ve convinced yourself it’s art.” “Excuse me? People use what I make. How many shows did you play for free this summer?” He sighed. “Sounds like you know what you’re doing. But I don’t want to have lunch.” We hugged goodbye in my driveway. He wouldn’t look at me. He slipped a folded square of frayed notebook paper into my hand. I read it once he’d pulled away. He’d written his well wishes, said he hoped that the job was everything I wanted and that I’d find fulfillment on my path. Also, that he was grateful for our time together. I keep the note in my cosmetic bag. Sometimes it seems heartfelt, and other times it just reads like flaccid hippy bullshit. But what did I really want? A grand gesture? I still would’ve left. That final night in Anchorage my parents took me downtown for dinner. They told the hostess, the busser, and the waiter that tomorrow I was flying to China. They clinked wine glasses and tried to say “thank you” per the instructions of the Mandarin learning CD they’d picked up at the bookstore. The phrase whistled through their teeth like “She-she.” I cut into my osso buco and, to my great dismay, thought of Ben’s mother. We’d stopped by her house that morning before Whittier to pick up a cooler. When we got back in the car she stood waving goodbye, her face half masked by the glass chimes dangling in her front window. I raised my hand to wave back. She looked so pleased, it was unnerving. “Don’t think your mom is going to miss me.” I said. “She thinks you’re fine.” I snorted. “She’s just skeptical.” “Of what?”

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Leslie Jones “Um, everything I guess—corporate hegemony, unchecked growth, the whole ‘global project.’” He was quoting her. “Yeah? You should ask her about the millions of people who climb out of poverty every year in China.” “I could turn the car around and you could ask her?” “Forget it, let’s just go fishing.” Sputnik jumps on the coffee table and walks over Richman’s Plaza, flops on top of it, twisting left and right. Zheniya never responded when I asked if she’d said anything about ground-floor shops. I pick up my phone and call her. “What did he say?” she answers. “Who?” “Your ex.” “Oh, don’t worry, I didn’t call.” “Good girl. How’s our baby? Poor thing.” “Clearly she’s not a baby. So don’t feel bad for her. She’s an asshole.” “Yeah, but I think this condition is really uncomfortable. It’s like hurting her.” “It’s hurting me. Listen: Did you tell them about the, about the south side, the stores, I mean refiguring the ground floor.” The Great Wall talks for me. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve had. “Even these wealthy guys living there, they’re gonna want a fruit stand or some sort—” “My god, all dinner, Mr. Li? I think this is his name. He makes so much noise when he eats, and then when his mouth is full he’s saying the garage will be full of BMWs. Black BMWs” “So what did you say?” “I didn’t say anything. He thinks more cars equals more modern.” “You didn’t even say anything? Then what the hell are you doing there?” “Hey come on now, these plans were finalized.” “Nothing is ever finalized!” I shout at her. Sputnik backs me up with a yowl. “Did you hear that? Do you hear how awful she is?” “I’m sorry about the cat and the garage,” Zheniya says. “We all think it’s a bad choice.” “It’s a horrible choice!” “We can’t fix everything, we can only try our best” “You have to make them understand” “Yes, but they have already made up their minds. I will take Sputnik to the doctor when I am back. Try to be nice to her since she’s hurting. Mr. Shen is waving to me. I think to do another shot of baijiu. Sorry Kendra, bye.” Shanghai means above the sea, but I haven’t seen the ocean since I arrived, not since that last day driving beside the inlet with Ben. I can’t

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Leslie Jones take it anymore. It might not be ethical, but I’ve read all the internet has to say and there’s one thing I can do. It’s time for decisive action. I push off the couch, head sloshy, but steadfast and pure of intent. Sputnik yowls. It’s time to put an end to this insatiable wanting. I stride to the bathroom. The vanity bulbs flicker. The counter is tacky with toothpaste residue and mossy gray film, what smog turns into when it descends to Earth. I push around makeup tubes and Zheniya’s Cyrillic-printed toothpaste. Hunting for Q-tips, I squat and duck my head and shoulders into the sink cabinets, finding cleaning products and cotton balls, a dehydrated cockroach that died on its back. The musty enclosure smells like cheap soap tinged with shit. No Q-tips. I close my eyes, feel my own pulse behind the blackness, beating toward some means to an end, anything that will quiet the night. Then a vision. The pencils on my drafting desk. Like a monk emerging from the meditative cave, I push back from the cabinets and rise. In the bedroom the tips of my thumb and fingers pinch the perfect pink nub, attached to the yellow shaft, flat on the opposite end, a dot of graphite tucked into a wood circumference. An eraser is no bigger than a Q-tip. The cat forums instructed against daintiness with reminders that a real cat penis is covered in prickly barbs. Now all I have to do is grab her. “Here kitty, kitty.” She yowls. The dire wail carries down the hall. I follow it to the living room, but she’s no longer on the coffee table. I look behind the chairs, under the laundry racks, also the kitchen. She sounds from all directions. Just as I’ve made up my mind, she’s disappeared. I can feel her circling, as if she’s slipped within the walls. The whole apartment keens with the siren of a thousand cats. Where is this howling coming from? I hear her, but she’s nowhere to be found.

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Rasheed Copeland Pay Day I made it to payday had to fold my last dollar into a paper plane and sail it clear across two weeks would’ve died but the rent was due so I kept patting my pockets checking for a pulse surrendering each greenback for an untrusting cashier to hold heavenward—the pallid mesh of cotton and paper— for which I bartered hours of my living. I surrendered my living and they held it to the light my life flashed before their eyes they’d squint and I’d surmise they saw the time  my wife mentioned a rich guy she dated way back when I’ve never seen his face but some days  my daughter looks like him I’ve never seen my face free and unshaped by legal tender I stand before a mirror and can’t gaze into my eyes  without thinking they were once owned  by someone delivered from the womb of a ship  and priced before they were named I am heir to this tradition  of being called by what I am and am not worth my first bill  was a christening my father laughed a proud and knowing laugh  when my check was scavenged by mouths not mine   told me to love this hollowing of wallet and stomach   said, you aint a man if the money aint talkin’ and it be whispering to me in a drawl of echoes  telling me unkind things about how my bank account 

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Rasheed Copeland is a pitiful biography of numbers—an unfortunate string of scarlet digits digging themselves into a hellhole said,  you aint  grown, until each bit of cash placed firmly in your hand  grows you more confused about who was doing the holding  until you’ve known it to be a sort of air said the man who died from breathing complications who in his will by myself—

left me

an embarrassment of riches merely an embarrassment after taxes.

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Darrell Dela Cruz Keep for Tax Purposes The first step is the most important: packing what’s left behind: the first book you stole from me and other yellowing pages from your library, your rusted silver spoons, your driftwood name, your dissolving negatives—the valuable items I scrounge for in the garbage bin when your landlord threw them out since no one claimed to be close enough to you to keep anything. You would’ve wanted it this way; me full with the rearview mirror blocked lost on the way to Goodwill. Belongings chucked inside for sale. When they ask me if I want a tax receipt, I’ll say no—I can’t deduct anything more.

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Jaclyn Dwyer I’m in the WIC Office When I Get the Call about the job. “Is this a good time?” I say that it’s not, but I want to stay on the line until help arrives, as if this is an emergency, and maybe it is. My daughter, three rows down is sandwiched between twin boys, almost five, seated in blue plastic chairs. Their mother, a woman I have seen before, tells her sons not to touch my daughter’s head. Almost two, still bald. Their mother tells them she is a baby, that babies have a mushy spot on their heads like a delicate sponge. She doesn’t want my daughter to get hurt. I tell her it’s okay. One of the boys tries to pick her up, while the other clacks colored beads along a wire track. The Lion King plays on a TV high in the corner. The kids must ache little necks to see, so most don’t watch. The other mother tells her boys not to touch the new baby in my lap. Tells them to ask me before giving my daughter cookies from their take-along cups, Oreos and Nutter Butters clumped in dollar bins by the checkout I don’t judge her for buying, but you might. One son peels back the yellow plastic lid, comes close then backs up, careful not to touch the baby swaddled against my chest. He dances, swaying from one foot

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Jaclyn Dwyer to the other to ask, “Can she have a cookie?” “Sure,” I say. Last time, I said no. I lied, “She doesn’t have enough teeth.” Last time, I told her, “I’ve always wanted twins.” She shook her head at me. This was before. Now that I have two, I understand a little more what she means. Now, I know enough to know that I will never know her life. The boys take turns feeding my daughter their cookies. My daughter takes turns hugging one boy and then the other, her mouth stuffed with strangers’ crumbs and I wonder what lesson I am failing to teach here. Their mother smiles at me and I nod and smile back. I tell my daughter to say thank you, but she is too little, her mouth too full to understand what it means to wait in this room where every paperback picture book is stripped of its cover, pages dog-eared and torn, this room which she will not remember, but which these boys probably will. Her sons are aging out, and no one is calling her phone. And then, the cookies are gone. Their number is called. One of her sons holds the door for my daughter, but it’s not our time to go. Years from now, what mother will be there to keep brute force

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Jaclyn Dwyer from touching her sons who shared all that they had, who given the chance would have given so much more?

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Meg Eden Hand-Stitched Rug Beijing Flea Market The saleswoman insists on showing us a rug. My parents smile like mannequins— Thank you, but we’re not interested. How long do you think it took to make, she asks. My parents smile like mannequins. Four girls live in this hanging rug, she says. How long do you think it took to make? A sample the size of her hands: five years. Four girls’ lives in this hanging rug! She tells us the stitch work makes them go blind. A sample the size of her hands is five years for a tourist souvenir. The price is staggering— she tells us the stitch work makes them go blind. That they live off these rugs. All of this, for a tourist souvenir. The price is staggering— imagine how much more, if made by Americans. They live off these rugs. All of this is beyond my experience. Imagine a rug made by Americans— my mother, a rug-maker in a room beyond my experience. Back home, we have extra rugs in the attic: my mother, a rug-hoarder with room for faded, ivory, grape and rooster rugs. Back home, our extra attic rugs will never be used again: faded ivory, grape and rooster changed out with color schemes.

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Meg Eden Never seen again. The saleswoman asks what we think. Could this match our color scheme? You know, as my friends, I can give you good price, the saleswoman says, and what do we think of that flower, thin like a fingernail clipping! You know, as my friends, I can give you good price. Our collective American silence. Thin like a fingernail clipping, a saleswoman insists on the rug. Our collective American silence. Thank you, but we’re not interested.

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Avra Elliott I Won’t Ask if They Destroy the Nest I’ve been looking for signs, in the broken hot water faucet, fallen into my palm, the coos of a dove trapped in the chimney, punctuating your sighs. I’m reading bank accounts like runes, because their meaning is lost on me. I do not know which predict your pleasure, and which induce silence. For me, we never checked, it was dangerous, like playing near an empty well. We knew we had enough to go out, stay in, or scavenge cupboards. To pay for light or water, as though God billed for each day of creation. We knew to hide in our house of sunflowers, chewing seeds, while our mother, Rumpelstiltskin, her sewing machine a loom, wove late night hours into groceries, bitterness into gratitude. I’ve written you this poem before, but can you see we were not the ones who had it the worst? In a town with a daycare for the beaten and nearly homeless, a boy invited me to share his breakfast. Repulsed by syrup, and cold fingers of toast, I told him I’d eaten at home. Home? a word I took for granted, became foreign in his sticky mouth, You have a home? Your mommy got a job! And he did not envy me. I’ve never had such selfless joy, and if there’s a formula, it still eludes me, math was never my strong point, but I’ll throw my pennies onto the ground, tell me are they enough? You’re inconvenienced, the bird still calling. We can afford to hire the pest removers.

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Rebecca Morgan Frank Mickey Mouse Money Occupiers always take what they want of new currencies including scrap metal, stripped and found fences, doors, pipes put on captured trucks, taken to the piers shipped back– everyone takes what they need, my grandfather says, in war a soldier is a soldier. He should know: the soldiers took him, held him captive for years. He saw them take lives. His own money never left Mindanao but he bets there are still buried American pesos. Two to one the dollar outweighed the peso, both backed by the U.S. Treasury til December 8. Then, no more transfers: pesos were buried to wait out the new army who replaced American pesos with Japanese pesos. When released from the camps four years later, my grandfather started over in the States, not a peso or a dollar to his name.

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Susan Grimm Deep Discount Old women and their even older mothers buy Miracle Whip for 3.99, lean their forearms on the carts as they push up the aisle. Customer Service. Free Coffee. They juggle plastic bags of dog chews, ripe strawberries, and Beefsteak Soft Rye. There’s room for toilet paper jumbos and big cheap wine with a chicken on the label. Men go with the basket. Generic Prescription Drugs. Generic. Huge cereal boxes and 6-packs of Gatorade. In the low-end candy aisle, they droop like embattled dragons. Closeouts. No Rainchecks. A tattooed woman barely covers her parts while her long-sleeved daughter slings inflatable rafts and pints of Pierre’s Ice Cream. Their six rolls of duct tape can fix any thing. The butterfly on her neck longs to tremble while the coupons, fat-gathered, shiver like birds.

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Ciera Horton McElroy The Thing with Feathers The day Daddy claimed the chair, he came home early—around

four. The maid Betty let him in the door, took his hat, coat, and briefcase. Nellie and Ron sat around the parlor table. Ron toyed with the radio, trying to find the station for Amos ‘n’ Andy, and Nellie brushed out the curls on the china doll she received for her tenth birthday. Mother had told her not to brush out the hair, that the curls were nice as they were, but Nellie liked brushing, so the hair had long lost its spring. Nellie looked up when Daddy walked past. He didn’t say a word. He simply marched up the stairs in slow, measured steps. That night at dinner, they ate pot roast and Betty brought out a lemon meringue pie for dessert. Mother was uncharacteristically quiet, pursing her lips in between bites, watching her fork. “They fired me, kids,” said Daddy after dessert. He dropped his napkin on the table, propped up his elbows, and stroked his mustache for a moment. “They fired your father. And about twenty other people today. Even John Adler.” Nellie and Ron stared at him. “They didn’t fire you, Silas, you were laid off,” said Mother. She forced a smile and clasped her hands neatly in front of her. “Same damn thing.” Daddy looked scared and tired and distant somehow. This job paid for everything, Nellie knew, and his father had worked at Knox Bros. & Co. before him, too. “Will we lose the house?” Ron asked, looking from one parent to the other. Mother shook her head. “Not like the Smiths. We’ll be fine, dear. We have money set aside, of course. We have this house, the help, we’ll be fine.” “I missed the worst of it, you know,” said Daddy. He looked down at his hands as he spoke. “The men were all going crazy at first. Will, fired right before Sally had her baby. Arnold, right before he was about to retire—just weeks before. But I stayed on somehow. Will cried in his office—I watched a grown man cry. That was two years ago.” Mother raised up her shoulders (she was almost as tall as Daddy) and took a deep breath. “It will be fine, darling. We’ll manage. You’ll go to the unemployment

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Ciera Horton McElroy agency in the morning and file some paperwork. We’ll collect the compensation from Knox, surely there’s something. Did they mention anything?” “I believe so.” “Well,” she smiled. “You’ll go to the agency. It’s just across from the deli.” “I know where it is.” Nellie knew about the agency. Her friend Susan Smith had lived down the street until her father lost his job at the bank and took to standing outside the agency every day with the other fathers. When he couldn’t find work, they had to move away. Last Nellie heard, they went south to Florida where Susan’s great-aunt lived. Mother smiled and helped herself to another piece of pie, offering some to Ron and Nellie. Ron accepted. “You don’t get it,” said Daddy after a moment. “There are no more jobs right now, nothing at the agency. The men who go there wait for days and hear nothing—they just stand there outside, lining the block, and everyone knows they just had their feet kicked out from under them. The whole goddamn world has lost its mind.” “Darling, the children.” He stood from the table and walked around the dining room looking at nothing in particular. Nellie sat very still. It’ll be okay, she thought. Things had been bad before—back when everyone lost work and Daddy often came home late, pale and muttering and not walking straight, and Mother would bound up the stairs after him shrieking. But Daddy had never lost his job, not then, not when the bank took the homes from other families, not when people waited for hours just to get a cup of soup or loaf of bread from the community kitchen. Mother and her friends once handed out food from the community garden to those people. No, they had made it through then and they would make it through now. They had always managed to keep both Betty and Rita the cook and this nice white house which Mother loved. Hope is the thing with feathers, Mother often said. Hope would lift them to a new day. “We’re going to be fine,” said Mother. Ron smiled and chimed in that it would be alright, Father would find a job, something would come of it. Nellie nodded in agreement. After all, Daddy was a great businessman— surely someone would hire him. “I need to think,” said Daddy, running his hands through his hair. He went into the parlor. Without a word, he took a seat in the weathered green chair by the radio and fidgeted with the tuning dials.

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Ciera Horton McElroy Daddy never looked for a job and, according to Mother, was unwilling to try. Within two months, they had to release Betty, though they kept Rita because Mother didn’t know how to cook and wasn’t eager to learn. “It’s absolutely necessary to have her,” she pointed out one morning after church—he still went to church with them, that much she ensured. “If we don’t have help, we are the help. And everyone will know we’re struggling. Doing the cleaning is enough, but absolutely not the cooking.” Without Betty there, Daddy took to sending Nellie and Ron around the house to fetch the newspaper when it arrived, or to bring food from the kitchen. Mother refused to oblige him, saying he could pick up his own paper, but Nellie would. He looked so sad next to the radio, so lonely, so tired of sitting though that was all he had to do. Sometimes he talked about working again. About how he missed his desk with the nameplate “Mr. Silas Garrett Jr.” just like his father, who had worked at Knox since its early days. At the office, he said, there was still a picture of Grandfather—who had died years ago of a stroke—standing beside his old business partners, the six men in their suits and hats, with their cigars. Once when Nellie got home from school, Daddy asked if she would like to read the paper aloud to him. She did and then kept doing it and over time, found she enjoyed it—sitting next to him on the ground, reading the paper while he smoked. She would read straight from the news section to transportation to sports and she even read the obituaries. Sometimes, Mother took the paper first and circled the job advertisements and help wanted ads (when there were any), but Nellie skipped over those. Sometimes, Daddy would tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and she’d curl up closer to the chair, take on voices and impressions, imagine she was on the silver screen as a news broadcaster. “Mayor Howard told the Lamming Gazette Thursday that the new community garden will be fully functional by the end of May,” she read. “Lamming local, Miss Camille Braithwaite, a senior at the public high school, landed the title of Miss Cherokee on Saturday at the Magnolia Hotel.” She rather enjoyed reading the paper and hearing about the world. As she read, she wondered what it must be like to actually write the stories or be interviewed for them. Her favorite article she read was about the pilot, Amelia Earhart, breaking the transcontinental record. Nellie cut out and saved the story about Amelia. She hid it in her desk so Mother wouldn’t see—she didn’t approve of women pilots. Other times, Daddy grunted his disapproval of the new president and his outlandish plans. Daddy made a fuss one day in March to turn on the radio and call everyone in to listen to the new president talk about how he would fix the whole “stricken nation in a stricken world.” Mother didn’t

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Ciera Horton McElroy care, so she didn’t come, but Ron and Nellie knelt beside the green chair in the parlor room while Daddy lay still listening, his eyes closed, his breathing heavy, his legs propped up on the ottoman, lines of worry creasing his face more deeply with every line. “He acts like he knows, he doesn’t know!” he exclaimed halfway in. Nellie thought the president sounded like a nice man. “Is he better than the last one?” asked Ron. He was only eight and couldn’t much remember. “Hardly,” said Daddy, lighting his cigar and turning off the radio. “But Hoover got us into this mess in the first place.” When Mother walked by the parlor on her way out to a Garden Club meeting or luncheon across town, she would call out to Nellie to go to her room or practice her piano or drawing lessons instead of wasting her time. “Yes, Mother,” Nellie always said without hesitation. After Mother left, she would remain there reading until Daddy fell asleep in the chair listening to the sound of her voice. It was their secret. Nellie and Ron also helped out more with household chores. Rita taught them to do laundry one day, though it meant more work for her. She showed them how to heat water on the stove top and carry it to large tin tubs, one for cleaning and one for soaking. Rita demonstrated how to take a piece of clothing and grate it into the scrubbing board. Nellie watched as Rita wrung the clothes, then rinsed off the sudsy water. Ron liked hanging the articles to dry, so he picked up clothespins and began hanging all of Daddy’s shirts, a few of Mother’s dresses. He refused to touch Nellie’s clothes, so she had to stand and fix them herself. After one such laundry day, Nellie came back inside with the basket of clean clothes and saw Mother in the tea room with Mrs. Hatfield, a member of the Garden Club. Mother froze when she saw her and quickly motioned with her hand for Nellie to pass by so Mrs. Hatfield wouldn’t see. The next week, Mother came down the stairs around five o’clock dressed in a silk periwinkle gown with flowing sleeves and pearls crowning her neck. Her hair was curled as usual, but there was a butterfly pin on the right side. They had finished the chores and Daddy was asleep, his head limp to one side of the chair. Nellie sat beside him on the floor reading a book for school, and Ron was outside playing. “Where are you going?” Nellie asked. “The spring charity ball,” said Mother. “The Garden Club ladies helped plan it this year. We donated the flowers.” Mother disappeared into the kitchen. The doorbell rang a few minutes later and she bustled back out, a fresh magnolia pinned to her breast, and she opened the door.

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Ciera Horton McElroy “Eugenia, darling! Yes, I’m ready. Thank you ever so much for the ride. No, Silas, isn’t feeling well, he’s sick with something godawful. I know, thank you for your prayers.” She then hurried out the door with Miss Eugenia Patterson and the two women drove away. “He hogs the radio,” grumbled Ron one day as they walked home from school. “Amos ’n’ Andy will be on soon.” “You could still listen,” said Nellie. “Just ask him.” They passed by the Potter’s house. Mrs. Potter sat outside on a lawn chair with her small dog, reading a magazine. Nellie waved at her. “I could hide it,” suggested Ron. “Don’t you dare.” When they got home, they slipped off shoes by the door and dropped their books. But Daddy wasn’t in the parlor. Nellie heard voices from the kitchen. She and Ron went through the dining room, which was already set for dinner with the nice china and silver candle holders. “There’s always the laundry,” Nellie heard Mother’s voice from inside the kitchen. She and Ron listened for a moment, ears cocked to the door. “They’ve learned how to do it, but there’s always more.” “Laundry?” “Don’t use that tone—or there’s the garden. I’m out in that garden every day it seems, cutting flowers for the table and for club events.” Ron began to fidget, looking to the grandfather clock in the corner. “The show’s about to begin,” he hissed. He opened the kitchen door and Nellie followed. They found Mother sitting on a kitchen chair, stirring sugar into a cup of tea. Daddy stood across from her, arms crossed, leaning back against the cabinetry. “Hello children,” said Mother, looking up from her tea. “Daddy, can I use the radio?” Ron burst out. Daddy said nothing, but his face was shadowy. Nellie thought it was from the stubble, since he had not shaved in a few days and his mustache was now cloaked in shade. “You don’t know what you’re asking me to do, Carol,” he said after a moment. He and Mother stared at each other. “What that would make me.” “It’d make you useful,” she said, sipping her tea. Daddy bound out of the room and Ron scampered after him. Nellie looked at her mother for a moment, hesitating. Mother looked stately and beautiful, stirring a small spoon in her cup, making little streams. Her dress was an azalea pattern like she was covered in garden, from her broad shoulders down to her slender waist and long legs—ivy crawling around her, budding into blooms in late spring, awry vines needing to be snipped so they they could grow back again, roots bedding out beneath the house, under the

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Ciera Horton McElroy earth, unmovable. Pearl white heels stuck out from under the chair. “Don’t just stand there, sit down, Nellie,” said Mother after a moment. Nellie sat down and Mother poured her a cup of tea. “This was my grandmother’s china,” she said, adding sugar into Nellie’s cup and tapping the spoon lightly on the side. “Hand-tipped. She used to have the most lovely parties. Anything could happen at her balls. Courting, proposals, business deals, investments even.” Nellie glanced toward the door, wondering if Daddy would call for her to come and read. He didn’t. “Did your grandmother live near here?” she asked, sipping the tea. “Nearer Columbia,” she said. Mother stared away at nothing. “That’s where your father and I met—Columbia. I was coming out there and he was making an investment in a railroad company. That was before he worked at Knox.” “So how did you meet?” asked Nellie. She’d heard the story before when Mother pulled out a box of old photographs one Christmas and showed off dreamy images of Columbia. Nellie remembered a picture of Mother dressed in white with a mink around her neck, towering over the other debutante ladies, just as robust and regal as ever. Then, of course, there was the wedding picture, Mother with her headdress, lined with teardrop pearls, and the skirt, long and feathery like a white peacock. Father stood beside her, looking down with the most beautiful expression of wonder. Nellie often paused by this picture which hung in the front hall and wished for someone to look at her that way. “We met at my reception party,” said Mother. “Grandmother was so upset at the time because she was missing the old house. She’d always dreamed of a coming out party there. But we had a nice old time at the arboretum instead.” Nellie had seen pictures of the old house before, with its white columns and green-tinted roof and topiaries around the front. It was palatial, with a long entranceway arced by tree boughs, seemingly untouched by war. Mother had cross-stitched a scene of the house and turned it into a pillow for the parlor. That house survived the destruction of the war, but not the taxes. They sold it to a family from New York well before Mother was born. “Anyways,” said Mother, pulling herself up straight. “At the party, she and my mama had their eye on someone else for me, who was high up in the railroad business, and he brought along your father who was in town. We met and he had all these plans to start a counseling firm and he already had this nice place in Lamming. I liked the town when I came to see it. Small but respectable. And so we married.” Mother traced her finger around the rim of the hand-tipped cup. Nellie tried to taste her tea again, but the flavor had not improved. “Sometimes I forget you’re only ten,” said Mother, putting down her cup. “Go along and do your schoolwork.”

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Ciera Horton McElroy In the parlor, Nellie found Ron who had moved the radio to the far side of the room. He listened with the volume down low, punctuating the room only with his laughter. Daddy rested in the chair. He looked small, shrunk into the folds of the fabric, his head always turned toward the window and the sliver of light that came through Mother’s curtains. It had begun to seem like the chair was eating him, like it was getting bigger and he was getting smaller. Three months into the chair-occupation and the newspaper reading, Mother brought a stack of papers to dinner. “You’re going to apply for jobs, Silas,” she said when they had all sat down. He wasn’t even dressed nicely for dinner this evening. “I’ve been looking out for anything that seems to be available.” Daddy glanced at the papers. “That first one’s for an assistant. You want me to apply for that? I can’t do that.” “And why on earth not?” His brow furrowed. “Because I was a partner. A partner, Carol, and they forced me out! As if I hadn’t given my whole life to them.” Mother took a long sip of tea. Nellie looked down, refusing to meet Daddy’s eyes. “Well, you need to, Silas. We need the money. And I also want you to apply for relief.” “From the government?” “Don’t you remember Will Rogers on the radio a while back? You made us listen. Said he was important. He said we all need to keep going, keep working. Darling, we have this house to keep, Rita to pay. There are fences to be mended, lawns to be kept. Do whatever it is you want, but don’t lay there like you’ve got no responsibilities.” His eyes went dark. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that in front of my children.” He left the dinner table without eating. A few minutes later, he left the house, taking nothing but his hat and coat with him. Mother sat at the table sulking the rest of the way through dinner. “It’s as if he wants me to work,” she grumbled during dessert. “The very thought.” When Nellie and Ron went to bed that night, Daddy was still not home. Mother pretended not to notice. She came to tell Nellie to turn off the lights around nine and when she did, Nellie noticed that the skin around her eyes was swollen. That night, Nellie couldn’t sleep. She dreamed the house burned around them and she tried to decide what to take—her books, her china doll, a few

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Ciera Horton McElroy pictures. Ron lugged the radio out of the parlor. Daddy pulled the chair, but it wouldn’t fit out the door. Mother screamed, and that’s when Nellie woke up, grateful to see no flames or smoke engulfing the walls. After lying in bed for a moment, she left her room and went downstairs to get a glass of water. The house was swathed in darkness—still, quiet. At the bottom of the staircase, she passed the parlor, through the dining room and into the kitchen where she filled a cup with cool water. On her way back to her room, she noticed a movement in the parlor. Daddy had moved from the chair and now lay on the chaise under a quilt, a darker shadow in the dimness. Upon seeing him, she slid across the floor in her stocking feet, silent as a moth. “Nellie?” he said. His voice was thick and groggy, hardly his. She walked toward him. “Why aren’t you with Mother?” she asked. “I’m sleeping here tonight,” Daddy said. Groaning softly, he propped himself onto his elbows. His hair was matted from lying down, his face wrinkled, and he smelled of something faintly familiar, like shoe polish. He reached out his hand and stroked her face, running his fingers through her hair. “Will you go back to Mother?” Nellie asked, glancing to the hall. He breathed in heavily before answering. His eyes did not quite focus on hers, perhaps because of the dimness. “Not sure. Your mother and I, we have arguments sometimes. You understand that, don’t you?” She nodded. Her mouth was dry, but she had forgotten about the glass of water. “You and Ron fight sometimes but you love each other.” “Yes,” she said. “And you know I love you, don’t you?” Daddy’s voice cracked as he spoke. She smiled and nodded again, for he loved her, he loved her, he loved her. Daddy’s face looked ashen. He had lost weight since claiming the chair several weeks ago, months now, she forgot how long. “You look like your mother,” he said after a moment. Nellie flushed with pride. She was beautiful like Mother, beautiful, beautiful, and she brought a smile to her Daddy’s face. Sitting up all the way now, he brought her closer to him and she went like a doll; he said it made him happy to touch her, that she was growing up into a nice girl. She stayed there as he hugged her closer than he had ever hugged her before. It couldn’t be strange, for she had seen him hug Mother this way before, and she was like Mother, so it was okay, it was okay. It was okay. He pulled her near, lay her down, turned her this way and that way, and it was okay. He kissed her cheek and she could feel his stubble and streaked tears and sweaty hands.

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Ciera Horton McElroy She made a small sound, very small, her lips folded to a round “Oh,” and with a sudden movement, he pushed her away from him, rubbing his face with the palms of his hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, so sorry, Nel.” His face showed bewilderment. She slipped away from him in silence and padded back to her room, clutching her stomach as she walked. That next day, he left. The family went to church without him for the first time on Sunday. The ride there was bumpy. Mother did not know how to drive very well—she never had needed to. On the way, she stopped too long at stop signs and the car sputtered when she changed gears. “We couldn’t stay home, you know,” said Mother as they passed the community garden, which was overflowing with tomatoes this time of year. Nellie and Ron sat in the back seat. Ron fiddled with a toy airplane, Nellie stared out the window looking at the town, blurring like watercolors. “But children, don’t talk about your father today, alright? Just don’t.” “Why not?” Nellie asked. Mother was silent for a moment. “We’re the first this has happened to,” she said at last. “No one separates. You can’t even get a divorce here.” “In town?” “In South Carolina.” At church, Father Jones gave a sermon about trees. Nellie and Ron sat in a pew to the left, near the stained glass window of the leper reaching out his hands to Christ. The man’s face was distorted in agony, and the morning sun, always around ten o’clock or so, would strike through his eyes for just a minute, before roving over to the blue of his tunic, then the white of Jesus’ hands. His hair shown like a halo in the sun. Church was the only place where Nellie saw the entire town congregated together for one purpose. There was the grocer from Lenox Street, the old people who always wore ornamented hats and smelled like mints, the kids from school and their neatly-dressed parents, and Mayor Howard and his wife and the school teachers—they all sat still, hands crossed, and they focused straight ahead on the cross hanging behind the pastor. Nellie’s favorite part of church was when they were given grape juice. After the morning hymns (standing, sitting, rising, sitting) Nellie was bored and Ron was drawing on the bulletin with a pencil from his back pocket. The couple in front of them had looked over their shoulders a few times already, the woman fingering the pearl strand around her delicate neck. Mother was still and silent. “All rise for the reading of the Scriptures, 1 Kings 19,” said Father Jones in his tedious voice. Nellie and Ron stood again. Mother stayed sitting. “We return again to the prophet of Elijah fleeing from the wiles of Queen Jezebel.

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Ciera Horton McElroy ‘But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.’ The word of the Lord.” “Thanks be to God.” They sat again. The sermon continued, but Nellie just stared out the window at the leper reaching out and crying. She sat there feeling stiff and hot as the sun climbed higher. Mother had been especially particular about how they dressed today, and Nellie was in her finest Mary Janes, and a dress that was pink with a white bow in the middle, and a matching satin ribbon in her short hair. Mother wore a blue and white dress with lace around the neck and a gold cross necklace. She had also donned her hat with the rolledbrim which tipped delicately to the left side of her face. Ron was getting too tall for his nice slacks, so Mother had asked Rita to take out the hem of the pant legs. Mother said it would be good for God to know that they were happy to be in church for Him. It would be good to look nice and respectable, to smile. Nellie wasn’t happy. But if sitting in a pink dress with a smile on her face would make Mother glad, then she would do it. When the service was over, the little organ lady began to play music and the congregation stood to mill around on cue. Janice and Judy, Nellie’s closest friends from school, came over to Nellie and chattered for a moment, their mothers trailing in measured steps. “I’m so terribly sorry to hear about what happened, Carol,” said Janice’s mother Ruth Hatfield, fanning herself with the church bulletin. “You must be in such a dreadful state.” “It’s been difficult but we’re managing, thank you.” Mother’s voice took on a defensive edge, but remained cool. Nellie tried to listen to what her friends were saying, but she could not help overhearing. “What a shame,” agreed Daisy Owen. She pulled on her white gloves. “At least you have children. Except I’m sure you’ll always look at them and see him.” “I love my children,” Mother’s voice raised. “They’re all I have now and they will always be precious to me.” “Well, let us know if we can do anything, really,” the woman smiled. “Come along now, Janice.” Janice bounced away. Judy stayed, playing with the ruffles on her skirt. “I saw the nicest thing the other day in a magazine, not sure which one, but it was a blue dress with a collar and the woman had dark hair like you, short like you, and she had your cheeks. Nellie, it looked just like you in ten

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Ciera Horton McElroy years, believe me. So I cut it out and pasted it in my scrapbook so you can see.” “Gee thanks, Judy.” Glancing over at the women, she saw that Judy’s mother had one gloved hand on the pew seatback, and the other on Mother’s shoulder. Their voices had dropped to whisperings. Mother’s head was bowed ever so slightly. Judy looked over, too. “I’m sorry about all that,” she said, sighing. “I hope none of it’s true.” Nellie felt her face get red. “None of what?” she asked. Judy’s eyes gleamed with curiosity and she leaned forward, her mouth curled into an aggravating smile. “You know? About your pop. I heard he doesn’t love your Mother anymore. That she turned him out of the house.” Nellie looked down and felt her face warm. “Have I said too much?” Judy placed her tiny hand over her open mouth. “Let’s just not talk about it, okay?” Nellie began scanning the sanctuary for Ron, who had scampered off with a friend. A few of the church staff offered coffee and honeyed biscuits and the boys hovered around the food table. Nellie excused herself from Judy and turned to catch her brother. She wanted to be far from here, back when things were safe and with the nice dinners and family trips together and when she would jump at the sound of him coming home from the day—when hope still perched in the soul—when she would sit beside him and read for hours about Mr. Roosevelt and the woman pilot, before the fighting and the crying and the chair. Nellie slumped into the very back pew, wanting to be invisible, and wondering if Mother would look at her every day and be reminded of Daddy, and think that it was such a shame she had ever been born.

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Faith Merino ∏=TR–TC, Or: How to Maximize Profit The Tuesday before her nineteenth birthday, in Sunday’s mascara,

Gina Beaufort pulls into the narrow parking strip of the Sierraville Polka Dot ice cream shop, where the man who called himself Jerry on the phone is waiting, huddling together with his pregnant wife. The woman is slight, with a middle that’s too big for her frame. Her coat isn’t a maternity coat so it’s not closing over her belly, and the shirt underneath isn’t maternity either, so Gina can see the blue-white lower quadrant of her belly hanging over her waistband. Jerry is tall and thin, rangy as a rosebush, wearing beige camo hunting pants and a matching hat, and the face beneath the bill is as thin as grief. Gina gets out of the car and shouts, “Sorry!” over the wind as she pops the trunk. Jerry and the pregnant woman watch as she goes around to the back and lifts out the heavy car seat and sets it right-side up so they can see it. They look at the car seat quietly. On the phone, Jerry’s voice was rough, thready from years of smoking and drinking, like the voice of the woman in the trailer next door—Barbara—who comes out to smoke every night at two a.m., and whose raspy moaning turns into a goaty bleating when she has sex with the windows open. Barbara once blew smoke over her shoulder and asked if the baby was a mongoloid. When Gina asked what the fuck a mongoloid was, Barbara said, “You know. Those retards with the little eyes.” Jerry is working his mouth, chewing the corners, and gently, absently rubbing his black-stained hands together, as if to rub grime off of them. The black has worked its way into the tracks of his large, callused knuckles. His is the only call she’s gotten on the car seat since she posted the ad two weeks ago. She’s already reposted it once. “It’s really big,” the woman finally says, squinting against the wind as it flattens her short hair against her forehead. She’s grimacing, cheeks red and wind-chapped, but it looks like she’s trying to smile. The gap between her front teeth is wide enough to fit a pencil through. Gina brings up both hands and hovers them over the car seat. “It’s a PediaPose car seat. It has panels and wedges to position your baby so he won’t slump over—or she,” she corrects herself. “And it has these adjustable head wings.” She grabs the two stiff foam wedges and detaches them from

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Faith Merino their Velcro holds, waving them for some reason. “You can reposition them as the baby grows, if he has trouble holding up his head…” Little Nanny—she makes everyone in the trailer park call her that— once stood on the bottom step of her front porch with her twitching little dog in one hand, and dropped it on the ground, saying, “It’s a good thing he can’t move. There was a retard lived next to me when I was little. Stuck his hands down my panties at my seventh birthday party.” She wrapped her thin robe tighter around herself and said, “They got tests for that now.” Jerry works his mouth, and finally says, “I’ll give you twenty for it.” The three of them stand in silence as the wind shakes rainwater out of the firs hemming the parking lot. Everything is still wet from the morning rain, and the asphalt shimmers with a green bottle fly sheen from decades of leaky pickups. Gina can’t remember when she showered last. She can smell her own yeasty animal odor. “It’s—this is a PediaPose,” she repeats. Jerry’s face is impassive. The woman pulls her coat tighter around her middle and looks down at the ground, not with embarrassment, but with cold. She’s hunching her shoulders up to protect her exposed neck from the wind. “It’s worth sixteen hundred dollars,” Gina says, almost putting a hand on the dark blue upholstery. “It’s brand new.” She won’t get sixteen hundred. She knows this. But two or three hundred will go a long way. Jerry looks up at the sky. No sun today—the liminal hang between winter and spring. “Be that as it may,” he says, looking at her. “We’ve got twenty dollars. That’s how much we can give you for it.” Underneath his green canvas jacket, he’s wearing an orange paint-stained shirt that says Buckley Construction. There was a nurse with severely arched, drawn-in red eyebrows who said, “We wouldn’t have let him go home with you. Not without a car seat.” And Gina. Gina in her smeared makeup and hospital gown, oozing life. She didn’t say anything because she couldn’t be sure she was standing there or if she was still folded up on herself in the hospital bed, knees to collarbone. The baby came out and his face was a bracing, cold-water shock. Those little eyes. No way Tyler would come back now. The baby was born sick and gasping, had to be transported to the other side of the mountain pass to spend three weeks on a respirator in the NICU of a Reno hospital. They wouldn’t let her sleep at the hospital, and she didn’t have her license then, so she could only visit him on Saturdays, when her mother could drive her. Tyler had a car but he was ignoring her calls. She’d felt emptied out, an overturned bowl, but when she saw the baby on those Saturdays, she filled out again. “This—it’s a top-of-the-line car seat. It’s medical grade,” she says, palms hovering over the car seat but not touching it.

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Faith Merino Jerry raises his eyebrows and bobs his head—not quite a nod, more of a bird-dip—as he says, “It’s nice. It’s a nice car seat. But we don’t have sixteen hundred dollars. We spent all our money trying to get a baby in there to begin with.” He gestures at the woman’s belly. “Seven years of trying. We did Clomid, Femara…” “Menotropin,” the woman adds. “We pulled out all the stops—went through probably half a dozen different types of pills we got from a website before it occurred to us that the problem might not be her plumbing but mine,” the man says with a crooked half-smile. “We had to get creative.” A damp pine wind blasts them and Gina pulls her thin sweater tighter around her as she looks up and down the street. Sierraville is a loosescattered town with one main street that’s crowded with rotting Victorian houses that were built during the Gold Rush, when the miners and the merchants that followed them thought that this place was going to be a boomtown. Beyond the main street, wild sweeps of pastureland spin out for miles, stopping only at the foot of the blue mountains. It’s a ghost town. Not that it’s much better in Quincy, which someone on the news once called the opioid-overdose capital of California. That was how she and Tyler started hooking up. She found his cousin unconscious on the floor of the girls’ bathroom at school. Later, she walked down to the hospital to visit her and Tyler’s family was there. He smiled at her, motioned for her to follow him, and they hooked up in a utility closet. Everyone knew that Tyler was the one who sold the pills to his cousin—because in Quincy, you either sell Fentanyl or clean toilets at the Wynochee Hot Springs Resort. The Wynochee dining room manager, Jimmy, once said to her after she had the baby, “I heard they don’t usually live long.” Jerry is watching her. He knows what she’s wondering and he won’t tell her how they finally conceived or where they got the money for it, just as she won’t tell them that the car seat is actually on loan from the hospital as part of a car seat loan program for special needs children, because by the baby’s first birthday, he didn’t have the muscle tone to sit upright—spent all day lying on the floor or lying in the bed they shared, arching thickly from side to side to look for her, tongue protruding from his sweet little cupid’s-bow lips. She rubs her eye and feels the grit of old mascara. “I drove an hour to get here.” There’s a duffel bag full of dirty clothes in the backseat of her car. She waited until her mother left for work at the resort before stuffing the clothes into the duffel bag and driving away. Neither Jerry nor the pregnant woman respond. “I’ll give it to you for sixty,” she says. Jerry and the pregnant woman look at one another. He’s a full head and shoulders taller than her, and she has to tip her head back so that her white

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Faith Merino throat takes on the tender U-bend of a heron’s neck. They confer through their eyes, without speaking. Jerry looks back at Gina and says, “I’ll give you thirty.” She hears her breath, her ribs buckling. A deep-water bone-crack between her lungs. The same crushing panic she felt when the baby put his fat hand in her mouth to grab her teeth and she pretended to bite down and his eyes thrilled as he bellowed with laughter—because she could only protect him as she would an exposed nerve. That was when she called the hospital in Reno to ask for the car seat. Before that, she had him in a booster seat she got at a garage sale. It was meant for older kids and he slumped over in it like a heavy-headed sunflower, so she stuffed towels into the gaps to try to prop him up. That was a Tuesday. A week later—three weeks after his first birthday— she found him beside her in bed, lips blue, unable to wake up. He was dead by dinnertime and the car seat was on the doorstep the next afternoon. She grabs the car seat and turns it over to tuck it back into the trunk, saying, “Forget it.” She slams the trunk shut and goes around to the driver’s seat. She gets in and Jerry catches the door with one hand before she can shut it. “Now hang on a minute. Did you get any other calls on that thing?” he asks. “It looks like that car seat is for special kids—kids with problems. You think you’re gonna find a lot of people in Quincy who need something like that?” He’s right. Quincy is more old people than families. She’s watched old ladies get squeaky with infants in the refrigerated section at Safeway, and yell at young mothers in the parking lot to put hats on their babies. They’d reach in to tickle her baby and their hands would falter. They’d say, “poor thing,” like he’d been in a tragic accident that took something from him. “He’s a good baby,” she’d tell them. “He hardly cries at all.” But they didn’t say anything, because who cared if he didn’t cry much? Who cared if he laughed hardest when she tickled his neck? That when he was happiest, he’d belt out a low, windy bellow? When she went home without his body, the trailer smelled like dirty diapers. His toys were on the floor. The formula that she made in a big pitcher every morning was in the fridge. It’s all gradually disappearing now. Sometimes she finds a baby sock under the couch, a pacifier wedged between the mattress and the wall, but those finds are becoming less frequent, and soon it’ll be like he was never there. She left so she won’t be there when the day comes. She shuts the door and starts up the car. The man is yelling something to her as she backs out, but she pretends not to hear as she drives away, past the old Victorians and the General Store and the trailers surrounded by old camper shells and rusting trucks and wadded up tarps pooled with brown

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Faith Merino rainwater. She passes the gas station without stopping, even though the Empty light has come on. She drives through the yawning stretches of cow pastures, away from the blue mountains, and she remembers Jimmy—his kind eyes, his sad smile for her when she came back to work a week after the funeral that Tyler didn’t even come to. She’s always liked Jimmy, and even now, she knows he meant well when he said, “You must be at least a little relieved.” Because who would believe that the baby could be happy with himself? That he could be his own reason for living? At some point on the way, she’ll pull over and take the car seat out of the trunk. She’ll put it in the backseat, and maybe the car will start back up.

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Ben Nickol Sun River On the morning of March 2, which was Kate’s eighth day of work

at The Electric City Motel, she awoke early, and awoke her daughter, Elena, and walked the girl by her hand down the third-floor hallway of Savior’s Mercy Shelter. Other women and children passed in the hall, most of them barefoot and yawning, hair erratic. Kate was freshly showered. She wore the polyester blouse that Sherman, her boss at The Electric City, had provided her first day of work. It was too big for Kate. Below her collar, which she’d buttoned to the throat, the shirt was practically a poncho. She’d stuffed its tails into her trousers, though the trousers also were large; the shirt kept coming untucked. In the bathroom, Kate stood Elena on a stool, helping the little thing brush her teeth. Behind them, in the mirror, women carried shower caddies toward the stalls, their robes ratty, some robes hanging open. “Get your molars,” Kate said. Elena mumbled something. Taking the girl’s wrist, Kate withdrew the brush from her mouth. “What’d you say?” “I said I was getting them.” Foam dribbled down her chin. “Well.” Kate wiped at the foam. “Keep getting them. Get in there with it.” Elena inserted the brush, scrubbing emphatically. In the mirror, her red hair reached tendrils everywhere. “Them teeth are your little pearls. We’re not losing our dang pearls today.” It was a gray morning in Great Falls, dawn leaching through a wet fog. Kate walked Elena down 2nd Avenue South, commuter traffic streaming past. It was dark enough still that city buses, passing in the street, were floating chambers of butterscotch light. None of the faces in the buses looked out. The Bachmans turned onto 11th Street, toward Elena’s daycare. At the end of the block stood Super Donuts, a whitewashed shack selling maple bars and fritters from a sliding window. They passed it every morning. Elena yanked her mother’s arm, like a miniature friar hauling the rope of church bells. “You can go ahead and knock that off,” Kate said. “But you promised.” That much was true. The previous morning, on what was to be Kate’s first payday at The Electric City, she’d promised her daughter the following

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Ben Nickol day they’d eat maple bars at the red picnic tables at Super Donuts. That, however, had been yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, toward the end of Kate’s shift, Sherman had walked into the lobby, passing Kate at the front desk, and kept on into his office, not saying a word. Kate’d kept working, thumbing through the notecards the motel used to register guests. But her shift nearly was finished. Covering the cards with her hands, she worried a cuticle fervently. Finally, she walked into Sherman’s office. “Excuse me?” She tapped the door. “Sir?” At his cluttered desk, wearing his burgundy polo, Sherman gripped the Sonic burger he’d purchased yesterday, which’d spent the night in his pup refrigerator. He wore a gold watch with an expanding band. Sherman Dodd: wet noodle of a man with high forehead and moustache. At the edge of his desk stood the yellow Tupperware bin that, earlier, ought to’ve contained Kate’s paycheck. Twenty other checks had appeared, crisp corners lined in a row. But not hers. Now, Sherman’s bin was empty. “Sir?” Kate said again. Dodd observed his new employee. He observed his burger, then with great tolerance placed it on its packaging. “What can I do for you?” “Well. I just thought with today being payday. I guess, I’m not sure how to get my check.” A napkin tumbled from Sherman’s lap, landing under his desk. Rolling his chair back, he swiped at it fruitlessly. From where Kate stood, in the doorway, no more could be seen of her boss than his hunched, burgundy shoulders. “You,” Sherman said toward the carpet, “do not receive a check today. I believe I made that clear.” Kate remained where she stood. Sherman surfaced with his napkin, pedaling back toward his food. “Why’s that?” “Why? Arrears is why. We discussed this.” He resumed eating, cheeks bulging with bread and meat. “What’s that mean? That word.” He swallowed. “Arrears? It means those checks...” He nodded at the bin. “...were for services rendered prior. Up till a week ago.” Kate gazed at the bin. It was from an old set, the kind with wheat bushels stamped on the sides. The bushel on Sherman’s Tupperware had faded, though. What remained of it resembled a middle finger, floating in a yellow sky. “I been working here,” she said. “Yes, you have. Absolutely you have.” “I thought I got a check for that.” Sherman fitted his mouth onto the burger. Chewing, he said, “And you will. Relax.”

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Ben Nickol She remained in the doorway. Behind her, in the lobby, the throng of bells on the door jangled harshly. “You’ll be fine. Just keep your nose down and keep working.” “Ma’am?” the man in the lobby said. When Kate didn’t reply, the man said, “Ma’am, I’m needing a room…” The light changed at 11th and Central. Kate led Elena through the crosswalk. “Mommy, you promised,” the girl repeated. “That’s right, sweetheart. Mommy promised.” Super Donuts receded behind them. Elena became deadweight, Kate dragging her along. “You…” the girl whimpered, dangling from her mother’s hand, “…promised.” Kate stopped. Kneeling before her daughter, she said, “Hey.” Wiping the girl’s tears, she said, “Hey, listen. Listen to me.” Elena’s mouth sagged to her chin. “What am I always telling you about promises?” “I don’t know,” the girl said. “Yes, you do know. You do. You know because I’m always telling you.” “They get broke.” “Promises are like juice boxes,” Kate said. “They’re just made to poke holes in.” Elena sniffled. “Even promises your momma makes.” Kate stood, patting her daughter’s shoulder. “Now let’s go.” They continued up the street. At the next intersection, Kate said, “Except for that one promise.” “I know,” Elena groaned. “Which promise am I talking about? I want to hear you say it.” “Mommy always loves me. Mommy’s always there.” “Good girl,” Kate said. “And that’s the one that counts. Couple of donuts don’t mean a thing.” Savior’s Mercy Shelter was giving the Bachmans sixty days. That included food, underwear, towels and toiletries. It included sheets and facilities for laundering sheets. One of the women, a volunteer, had given Elena a stuffed elephant and a Toy Story 3 backpack. Daycare also was included. The Healthy Futures Center, on 11th South, had awarded Elena a “scholarship,” renewable as long as the Bachmans were Savior’s Mercy residents. As of April 3, the Bachmans had used forty-seven of their sixty days. April 3, on which dawn now broke, was day forty-eight. Depositing Elena at Healthy Futures, Kate walked down 2nd Avenue toward East Great Falls, and The Electric City. Like most mornings since they’d arrived in town, this one was foggy. But the days were lengthening, growing warmer. Somewhere behind the fog burned a white sun.

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Ben Nickol The motel stood in a vast parking area, its pavement upheaved, potholed, seamed with thistles. Eighteen-wheelers lined the edge of it. Nearer the building, under its eaves, were the sedans and pickups of individuals whose luck and dignity, running out, delivered them here. On the trunk of one sedan perched an emaciated gargoyle. Heels on the bumper, elbows on knees, the man rubbed his forehead with the same two fingers that held his lit cigarette. Kate passed into his vision and out again, unnoticed. Inside, the desk was deserted. Meredith, who worked the night shift, frequently abandoned her post like this, hours before the day clerk arrived. She got away with it. Sherman was her brother, or half-brother. Before unslinging her purse, before unzipping her jacket, Kate strode immediately into Sherman’s office. He wasn’t there. The only alive thing in the room was a screensaver floating in the dark—a succession of Pontiac Firebird photographs, and Chevelles, AMC Javelins. The Tupperware was empty. “Fuck,” Kate said. Of Meredith and Dodd, she said: “One leaves early, fucking other comes late.” In the lobby, she stowed her purse under the desk, removed her jacket. For thirty minutes, she stood silently at the register, staring at nothing. Now and again, she peered in the office at Sherman’s Tupperware. “Come on, Katherine,” she muttered. “Calm down.” Emerging from the desk, she passed through the lobby straightening this and that object—a tourism pamphlet on the rack by the door, an armchair someone’d dragged sideways. Turning the TV to local news, she placed the remote, with geometric correctness, on an end table. Her last task was brewing coffee. She poured grounds, water, hit the switch, arranged cups. Having extra time, she prepped the notecards. When he arrived in the morning, Sherman liked finding the cards of delinquent guests stacked on his keyboard—he reviewed them with his Ovaltine. If there were partial payments, or if someone skipped on a bill, he wanted those in separate stacks. In the end, though, every card went in one stack, which he handed back to her. “Hunt these down,” he’d say. Meredith was supposed to do the cards, and hadn’t. She never did. But Sherman never arrived punctually, so there was time to work through them. Opening the drawer, she lifted the stack onto the counter. Aligned as they were, corner after corner, the cards resembled the envelopes that’d appear later that morning, in Sherman’s Tupperware. Kate inhaled, exhaled, started reading balances. “Just do your job. Do your job,” she said. The third card down was illegible. Meredith’s hurried script had inscribed the guest’s name right over the balance, making nonsense of both. “Fuck me,” Kate muttered. Holding the card to her nose, then to the ceiling’s weak light, she finally flung the thing, like a ninja star, across the room. On the TV, floodwaters dragged at a bridge. Kate smoothed her eyebrow.

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Ben Nickol Crossing the room, she retrieved the card, carried it back to the desk. She studied it under the lamp. A blade of sunlight danced off the door, bells jangling. A round man wearing a stained ball cap limped toward the desk, hitching his jeans. Kate manufactured a smile. “Good morning, Mr. Palmer.” The man’s forearm and paw plunked onto the desk. Under his cap, Mr. Palmer had meaty cheeks, gray-and-black stubble. He’d checked in yesterday, during Kate’s afternoon shift. Nodding, he said, “They got you back there all by yourself?” Tobacco odors wafted out on his breath, a toothpick riding his lip. “Just for a while. Mr. Dodd’s running an errand.” “That’s your shepherd, is it? Mr. Dodd? Mr. Doodad?” “He’ll be back any minute. Can I pass along a message?” Palmer smiled, cheeks crowding his eyes. Pockmarks appeared on his cheeks, high up. “Well, honey.” He pushed upright, patting the desk. “I guess the message I’d like you to deliver is I’m sorry you had to leave this little Waldorf Astoria unwatched for a minute. But I have a problem in my room, and I need front desk Kate assisting me with it.” Kate opened a drawer, producing a booklet of carbon paper tickets. “Well, Mr. Palmer.” She clicked a pen. “If you can describe the problem, I’ll make sure Lloyd takes care of it when he gets here.” Palmer chuckled. “No,” he said softly. “I don’t think that’s how we’re doing this. I think you’re coming with me, so we can handle this together.” “What’s the problem, Mr. Palmer?” “The problem?” His toothpick danced about. “Let’s call it my mattress.” “Your mattress?” “It ain’t sleeping right, Kate. It needs rotating.” Kate wrote a ticket for the mattress. “Now why’re you doing that? Put that away.” Palmer covered, with his own hand, the hand Kate wrote with. “Shoot, at least come let me show you. That way you can write it nice.” Kate didn’t resume writing. With Palmer’s hand covering hers, she couldn’t have written if she’d wished to. The man said, “Think about it, Kate. I don’t imagine old Doodad’d like hearing about you giving me the cold shoulder. Shoot, a paying customer? Ignoring my needs?” Kate studied Palmer. His thick eyebrows arched toward his cap. With an affectionate pat, he released Kate’s hand. “Now let’s go.” The morning fog had lifted, revealing a vaulted sky. The air was still. The Electric City’s thistles stirring just faintly. Kate followed Palmer across the lot toward his room, the man limping some, his good leg hauling forward while his bad one dragged. In the street, a teenager on a bike swerved here and there. Audible underneath everything was the thrum of the air base’s jets.

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Ben Nickol Palmer entered his room, Kate stopping at the door. Inside, she saw a catastrophe. He’d strewn his sheets, and spilled shirts, towels and beer cans on the floor. His ashtray, on the nightstand, overflowed with smoldering butts. The curtains were closed; aside from one dim lamp, the room was lighted only by the daylight falling in around Kate, and by the muted TV. Palmer faced her across the bed. Smiling, he prodded the mattress with his hands. “Well. I don’t mind telling you I had company here last night. My guest, she didn’t like this bed, not at all. The feel of things is important, and she didn’t like the feel. So we used this nice floor.” It was evident where they’d lain, the sheets twisted there. Palmer removed his cap, clawing his scalp. “What’re you doing by the door, Kate? You’re letting the cold in.” “We’ll get Lloyd in here to turn your mattress.” Palmer’s chin dropped to his chest. He looked up grinning. “Isn’t that just how it goes? How it always goes? Simplest solution right there in front of us, we go and make it complicated. Come in here, let’s turn this mattress. Isn’t that better? We’ll handle this together.” Behind Kate, an old Lumina turned off 2nd, gliding toward the lobby. She glanced at it. The car parked, Sherman climbing out with his vinyl bank bag. “Are you listening to me?” Palmer came around the bed. “Lloyd usually gets here around eleven.” He smiled again, cheeks bearing their odd pocks. “Honey. Is it that you’re jealous what I did last night? Listen. I didn’t know we’d be in this room today. You and I, right behind this door. Tell me that, I’d save myself for you.” “That’s enough.” “I’d be your blushing husband. Just imagine that. Take you right down on this floor…” She left, crossing toward the lobby. “Kate!” Palmer shouted. He laughed, shutting his door. Inside, one of the maids, Celestina, passed carrying her check. “Buenos días, Katia,” she said. The morning news’d finished, giving way to The Price is Right. The camera panned frantic faces, bright colors flashing, music banging the speakers. Light fell from Sherman’s office. She found him sprawled in his chair, hands folded on his head. NASCAR highlights played on his screen. “Mr. Dodd?” The Tupperware contained orderly rows of envelopes. Eyes fixed on the screen, Sherman said, “I don’t like seeing an empty desk out there.” “I’m sorry about that.” Sherman nodded absently. “Mr. Palmer, in one-seventeen. He had a problem with his bed.” “Well. I don’t like excuses, either.” “I’m sorry.”

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Ben Nickol Eventually, bored of NASCAR, Sherman rocked forward, folding his arms on the desk. He noticed Kate as if for the first time. “Well, did you help him?” “I…well, he wanted…I said Lloyd’d be here soon.” Sherman nodded. “So you didn’t do that, either.” She was silent. “Either?” Sherman gestured at his keyboard. “I don’t see any slips! I don’t see any cards! I mean, what else do you do here? You’ve been here, what, an hour?” “I’m sorry.” “Everyone’s always sorry.” He consulted his screen, guiding the cursor around. Kate retreated, but then stopped. Biting her cheek, she advanced quickly, thumbed through the checks. Sherman reclined, watching her. The envelopes were alphabetical. “Bachman” ought to’ve appeared near the front, but Kate made it to “Wagoner” without finding her name. She started through again, but Sherman said, “It’s not there, Kate. I don’t know what you’re looking for.” The checks froze in her fingers. Eyes lifting—they were the only part of Kate that moved—she met Sherman’s gaze. Releasing the envelopes, she stepped back from his desk. “What do you mean?” “I said it’s not there. You’re not getting paid today.” She nodded vaguely. “I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that was the case.” “Kate.” He leaned forward. “First off, you’ve got a lot of nerve sniffing around for checks, when I come in here and the desk’s empty.” “The desk.” “Yeah, the desk. Where one hopes to find a desk clerk now and then. Then there’s no guest slips here? Kate, Jesus, you’ve got to consider this from my perspective. A guy in my shoes might wonder what in the hell he’s paying you for.” “You’re not,” she said. “What’d you say to me?” “I said you’re not paying me. You haven’t paid me a dime, Sherman.” A long silence passed between them. Finally, Sherman twirled a hand. “Taxes,” he said. “What?” “Oh, it’s one of these federal rules. You don’t get a paycheck right away.” “I already didn’t get a paycheck right away.” “I know that. Listen, and I know it’s frustrating. They just need to…I think it’s your social security number they need to process. Anyways, you’ll get paid next month. You’ll get all of it, too.” He wagged a finger. “Though I should hold some back. I think you know that’d be fair, with your errors and such.”

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Ben Nickol She stepped forward. Hesitating just a moment, fingers brushing her thumbs, she grabbed Sherman’s bin, flinging it sidelong into the wall. Envelopes fluttered everywhere. Sherman skidded back, nearly capsizing his chair. “What in the hell was that!?” The drywall bore a notch where the Tupperware’d struck. “You owe me two thousand dollars,” she said. “Twenty-one hundred and sixty, actually. I’ve worked here six weeks.” “Were you not listening to a word I said?” Standing, he stabbed a finger at Kate. “It’s federal fucking law! Grow up!” She pointed back. “You’re fucking paying me. Now.” “You think so? Because I think you’re getting the fuck out of my hotel. That’s what I think.” “Fuck you.” “You think I owe you something, hire a lawyer. Otherwise, get the fuck out.” “You wouldn’t have paid me.” “Yeah. Well, suck my dick.” An hour later, Kate knelt in the Bachmans’ room at Savior’s Mercy, stuffing clothes into sacks. Into a smaller sack, she’d stuffed their toothbrushes, some bars of soap. A naked bulb hummed overhead. A small mirror hung over the dresser. In the doorway, as Kate packed, appeared a tall woman in a denim skirt. Besides her skirt, the woman wore a brown sweater, modest earrings. Her hair was a bulb. “Where’re you going?” the woman said. Kate kept packing. “We’re leaving.” “I guess I mean…where’re you leaving to?” When Kate didn’t reply, the woman stepped into the room. “You don’t have to go, Kate.” “Can Elena keep that backpack?” “What?” “The backpack you gave her. I’m asking you outright, can she have that?” “Of course,” the woman said. “Yes, that’s hers.” Kate nodded. “We appreciate it.” There was nothing left to stuff in sacks. Tying the handles, Kate placed the sacks at the door. She began making the bed. “Listen, Kate.” The woman placed herself across the bed. “This isn’t a place where we ask people to leave. Do you understand? I know there’s that sixty-day rule. That’s just…think of that as your initial stay. Yours and Elena’s. We don’t want anyone leaving till they’re ready.” “I don’t know how you like these sheets creased,” Kate said. The woman shook her head. “The sheets aren’t important now.” Kate nodded. “I’ll just fold them back.” Finishing the bed, she crossed the room to her sacks.

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Ben Nickol “Let’s go downstairs and talk,” the woman said. “We’ll work something out.” “Not everything gets worked out,” Kate told her. Hitchhiking had brought the Bachmans to Great Falls—one February morning, they’d made their way from Bozeman to Three Forks, then from Three Forks had progressed north along the Missouri River, through Townsend and Helena, until, like the river, they’d spilled from the mountains into a city on the plains. Now, hitchhiking carried them away again. From The Healthy Futures Center, where Kate collected Elena, they set out on foot down 1st Avenue North, crossing the 1st Avenue Bridge, from which they saw rafts of geese huddled in the willow brakes along the shore. Their first ride was with a man hauling retread tires to Shelby, who saw them sitting on the I-15 on-ramp, and stopped, beckoning them into his truck. They left his truck at Vaughn. Getting from Vaughn to Sun River proved problematic, however. It was an empty afternoon, with long curtains of rain drawing north over the grasslands. Vehicles passed only every five or ten minutes, carrying drivers who seemed irritated at the prairie highway’s interminable length, and who couldn’t be moved to compassion by the sight of begging strangers, even if one was a child. “Where are we going?” Elena demanded to know, sneakers scuffing the gravelly shoulder. Her Toy Story 3 backpack drooped from her arms. “We’re walking,” Kate said. And indeed they were. They’d climbed a long rise of highway; Vaughn lay behind them, in the distance, past which could be seen interstate traffic, snaking up the prairie like a train of insects. A truck whooshed past, ripping at the plastic sacks Kate carried. She chased her thumb after it, then dropped her arm, kept walking. “I’m thirsty,” Elena said. “I know, honey. There’s snacks if you want them.” “I don’t want snacks. Where are we going?” “I told you. We’re going to see your granddaddy.” “I don’t want to see my granddaddy,” the girl said. “I don’t have a granddaddy.” “Baby, we’ve got to hope that’s not true.” Ahead of them, across the highway, appeared a sprawling structure with green athletic fields surrounding it. In one field, a baseball team practiced its fielding, the white dots of struck balls vaulting high into the blue sky, after which faint bat pings carried to Kate and Elena on the breeze. The players scrambled this way and that. “What’s that place?” Elena said. “It’s just another place, honey.” Kate peered behind them for approaching cars. “But what place?”

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Ben Nickol Kate considered the building, the uniformed boys scrambling across the grass. “That,” she said, “is a school. Long Gulch High School.” Elena squinted at the building. Eventually, they came even with a Long Gulch Ropers sign. “Was it your school?” the girl said. “Oh,” Kate said, “I guess so.” “You don’t know if it was?” “Your momma doesn’t think about that place much.” “Were there other girls you knew?” Kate stopped on the shoulder, gazing at the building. Then she kept on, leading Elena by the hand. “Yeah.” “Were they your friends?” “They should’ve been my friends. I should’ve made them my friends,” Kate said. By the time someone stopped for the Bachmans, the afternoon sky had drained of light. They’d covered half the nine miles from Vaughn to Sun River, and Elena every few steps emitted short, chirping sobs. The truck sailed past them in the dark, headlights glaring, then flared its brakes, easing onto the shoulder. It was a black Nissan Pathfinder. Coming alongside the passenger window, Kate peered in at a middle-aged gentleman—a groomed individual in pressed, expensive clothes, the instrument panel lighting his face. “Well,” the man said, “why don’t you hop in? How’s that sound?” Leaning, he popped open the door for Kate, then reached back, popping open Elena’s door. “I don’t have a car seat. You’ll have to hang on tight,” he said. The Bachmans climbed in, shutting their doors. The man eased onto the highway. “Well,” he said, “where’re you two going?” He glanced at Kate, then at Elena in his mirror. Laughing, he said, “Is that what I’m supposed to ask? ‘Where’re you going?’ I’ve never picked anyone up before.” “Sun River,” Kate said, nodding at the asphalt stretched out ahead of them. “Is that up this way? I haven’t spent much time out here.” “It’s a few miles.” “Mommy…?” Kate told Elena to be quiet. After a while, gazing out at the ocean of darkness they sailed through, the man said, “Truth be told, this is my first time in Montana. It’s my first trip west.” “Well.” Kate nodded. She didn’t continue. “It’s exciting,” he said. “I flew into Billings Saturday. I’ve just been driving around. God, what country out here.” They approached a Y in the highway. “It’s left,” Kate said. “If that’s all right.” “I can go left.”

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Ben Nickol They sped through the junction, headlights illuminating a sign for Glacier National Park, 130 miles. Though that was a right turn. “Whoa!” the man said, glancing back. “Did you see that? Glacier! It’s on my list to do Glacier, I promise you that. I want to get up there, then do Yellowstone.” “Promises,” Elena said from the backseat, “are like juice boxes.” “What’s that?” “Quiet down, baby,” Kate said. They coasted into Sun River, passing the Ramble Inn Bar, in its stand of dark cottonwoods, passing the Sun River Public Scale, with its glowing sign and arrow, as if the scale were a Riviera casino, and not an abandoned cinderblock shack alongside Montana Route 200. They thumped over a bridge, under which, in the moonlight, swirled inky water from the Lewis Mountains. “I hail from Blacksburg, Virginia,” the man offered. “We can get out here,” Kate said. “Oh. All right.” He eased to a stop at the town’s one café, its lighted sign advertising Daily Specials and Pay Phone. Kate collected her bags. “Thank you,” she said. The man shifted on his seat, glancing from Kate to Elena and back. A queer smile bent his features, and when he spoke next it was softly, just to Kate. “Well, I don’t really know how to say this. But a guy like me, out here traveling…” “Get out of the car,” Kate told Elena. The girl unbuckled, opened her door. “Now hold on,” the man said. “Hang on a minute. I’m not saying it has to be much. But I really helped you tonight. You were all alone. Just show it to me, at least. I want to—” Kate left the car, herding her daughter past the café, into the trees. Dawn leveled across the prairie, seething in the cottonwoods rimming Wally Bachman’s property. Lighted so, the leaves revealed their inner veinwork, webs of it encased in mottled, chalky skin. Dew hung in the grass— long grass, that’d dampen a trouser leg—and glistened on the patio furniture forgotten in that grass, Wally’s old set. Up the street, a neighbor’s sprinkler snipped jets into the gathering day. Through the trees, one saw over grassy lots to the riverbed, and past the river saw wide pastures, dotted with cattle. Kate and Elena’d slept in the garage, bundled together on the backseat of Wally’s Plymouth. It wasn’t the first night they’d passed in such circumstances. Indeed, over the preceding year, accommodations had often come meaner than this one, far meaner. They’d have knocked at the house, but arrived late, and Wally Bachman didn’t stir late into the evening. Nor did he stir early mornings. Generally, Wally didn’t stir much anymore. Exiting the car, stretching, they inhaled the garage’s stink of motor

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Ben Nickol oil and cat waste. Sunlight streamed through the smudged window, illuminating jars of screws arranged on the sill. Under the screws hung neglected tools. Leaving the garage, they drank with cupped palms from a hand jack in the yard. They knocked at the house. Kate knocked again. While they waited, an orange pickup passed in the street, its weather-beaten driver observing the prodigal Bachmans, come home for forgiveness or favors. Giving up, Kate opened the door, leading Elena inside, the house being no more locked than the Plymouth had been. The front room was in immaculate order: carpets vacuumed, cork coasters stacked, afghan folded on the plaid sofa. On the walls hung dinner plates featuring biblical tableaux, New Testament and Old. “Mommy, I’m scared.” “No, you’re not. You’re young and pretty.” They moved up the hall. “Hello?” Kate called. “Dad?” They passed a pendulum clock. They passed a crucifix. Wally Bachman waited in the rear bedroom, in a wool armchair beside the room’s twin bed. The room was plain—actually, it resembled the room Kate and Elena’d vacated in Great Falls, at the shelter. There was the bed with its one pillow. There was a nightstand and lamp. The carpet and drapes were yolk-colored, giving the air a yolkish hue as well. Kate stood in the doorway, holding her daughter’s hand. Wally said nothing. He looked at, or past his visitors, expression serene. He wasn’t so old, nor even in poor health. He was fifty-five and clean-shaven. He wore a shortsleeved oxford, buttoned to his throat, and creased trousers terminating at his shins. There just was nothing in his face, was all. Kate wasn’t surprised. “Dad, hey, it’s me,” she said. Wally did nod slightly, mumbling something. Anyways, his lips wagged. Kate ushered Elena forward. “This here’s Elena Ann. Dad, she’s your granddaughter.” From his chair, and from his infirmity, the man glared at Elena, then at Kate. “Oh, daddy. We don’t need your righteousness today. Not today.” Wally studied the girl. Kate squeezed her shoulder. “Go on, hon. Say something.” “He scares me.” “Well, he’s a scary old wildcatter. That’s why.” Stepping forward, Kate pecked Wally’s cheek. “Good to see you, Dad,” she said. Elena sat in the bathtub, in suds to her armpits. Lacking toys for a bath, Kate’d fetched from the kitchen a plastic spatula and mixing bowl. The bowl was upturned on Elena’s head. The spatula she used as an aspergillum, sprinkling the faucet while pronouncing some preschooler’s benediction.

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Ben Nickol Meanwhile, Kate led her father into the front room, placing him on the sofa. She knelt beside him, covering his wrist with her hand. As if in ignorance of his daughter’s touch, Wally gazed at the sunlight pouring through the window. “Dad? Dad, are you listening?” When he didn’t reply, Kate drew and released breath. She said, “I guess you didn’t expect to see me today, huh? You thought you’d never see me again.” Wally closed and opened his eyes. He wasn’t ignoring his daughter. Ignoring was too willful an act, too deliberate. He just was gone. Kate said, “Dad, I won’t draw this out, okay? I’ll tell you straight up: Elena and I need help. We’re on our asses something bad, that’s the long and short of it. You might think there’s somewhere else we can go…” She shook her head. “There ain’t.” Wally gazed at her then. It seemed he might smile, might even speak. He didn’t. His attention floated away. Kate allowed her own gaze to wander, patting his wrist. Outside, the screen hinges creaked. The door opened, admitting a squat woman wearing thick spectacles, a gray braid resting on her shoulder. “My Lord,” she gasped, seeing Kate. Closing the door, she indicated Kate with her finger. “I told them it wasn’t true. I said that vamp wouldn’t have the gall…” Kate withdrew her hand from Wally’s wrist, pushing upright. “Hello, Barbara.” “They told me in town. They said you’d turned up here. I said that’d never happen, not in this life or the next. Even a wasteling like Katherine Renee has shame enough…” The woman trailed off. Stepping from the door, she pointed back at it. “Get out.” Kate didn’t move. “You will leave this house.” “There ain’t a place for me to go, Barbara.” The woman’s nostrils fumed. She seemed ready to speak when, up the hall, Elena squealed in the tub. Barbara glanced that direction, then looked at Kate, features remade. Wally, meanwhile, gazed at the window. “I don’t know what you want me to tell you,” Kate said. “There ain’t nothing you can tell me, young woman. Young bitch. A child?” “We ain’t here just for pissing you off, if that’s what you’re thinking. We wouldn’t have made the trip for that.” Barbara stormed up the hall. Kate followed. The old woman, in her floral blouse, stood in the light falling out from the bathroom, gazing at the giggles therein. Not looking at Kate, she said, “Is it his?” “Whose?”

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Ben Nickol “You know who I mean. That addict you shacked up with. Lonnie.” “That’s not his name.” “Is this thing his?” Reaching past Barbara, Kate shut the bathroom door. Their faces inches apart, Kate said, “Barbara, that girl isn’t a ‘thing.’ You won’t call her that again.” “That’s an illegitimate child.” “Her name’s Elena Ann.” They watched each other. Barbara walked off. Kate found her in the kitchen, opening and slamming cabinets. “Will you leave, Kate, or must I phone the authorities?” “Barbara…” “Answer the question, Katherine. Are you leaving this house, or must I telephone the police?” “We don’t have,” Kate said, “anywhere to go.” “That’s no concern of mine.” “Barbara…” The woman folded her arms, leaning against the counter. Eventually, she said: “Go to your mother’s.” Kate was silent. Then she said, “You know goddamn well I can’t do that.” “That’s correct,” Barbara said. “You can’t, can you? Don’t you think there’s a lesson there?” “This has nothing to do with her.” Barbara laughed. “That,” she said, “is where you’re wrong, sweetheart.” Kate didn’t speak. “This has everything to do with her. One beast begets another.” Barbara nodded down the hall. “Who begets a third, it seems. All of you bear the mark of it.” “You listen to me.” “I will not.” “We don’t have anywhere to go.” “That’s no concern of mine, Katherine Renee. And it’s no concern,” Barbara pointed through the wall, “of your father’s. I don’t suppose you considered his welfare, coming here? He’s an unwell man, Katherine. He’s made his peace with what you are. And now you—” “Barbara.” Kate’s voice stiffened. “You aren’t listening to me. We don’t have. Anywhere. To go. We don’t have. A home.” Barbara laughed. She seemed gloriously amused. “I’m afraid you, Katherine, aren’t listening to me. You won’t get a dime from this household, do you understand? Not a rusted penny. You aren’t family to us. You weren’t never family. I’ve always known what you are.” “You need to help us.” “I do not.”

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Ben Nickol “Barbara, you don’t understand what you’re doing. I don’t have anything I’m holding back here.” “No?” “You’ve got to think about this. You’re making this bad.” “Bad?! Kate, it’s already bad. It’s already you, can’t you see that? It’s you! You might could scratch out some money. Find a blind fool who’d pay for it. What’s left of it. Wouldn’t matter at all. Any leastways you slice it, Katherine, it’s you in that soul. You, and the degraded bitch who made you. You won’t escape that blackness.” Barbara pointed down the hall. “That little girl won’t, either.” “We need to stay here.” Barbara shook her head. “You do not.” “We need to be here till I find something. There’s nowhere else.” “There’s not an obligation in this world I owe you. And not a finger I’d lift willingly. I owe you prayers, I’ll admit that. But I don’t take joy in them.” “Barbara…” “Go,” the woman said. “You’re not listening.” Barbara pointed up the hall. “Leave this house.” “Do you,” Kate shrieked, “have a heart?” “And take,” Barbara said, “that smear of filth in my bathtub.” It was, then, whatever object was nearest at hand: a glass pitcher upturned on the drain board. With a sickening thwock, Kate swept it across Barbara’s face. Then again, again with the pitcher, till the handle broke in her fist. Then once with the handle, into the woman’s neck. Barbara lay on her back, Kate straddling her, the older woman rasping as the younger panted. Through Barbara’s fingers, covering her neck, oozed a red slickness, pattering onto the floor. In the doorway stood little Elena. She was naked, her red hair coiffured with bubbles. Kate glanced at her daughter, then considered the woman underneath her. Bringing her face close to Barbara’s, she said, “Where is it? Where’s your fucking money?” Leaving Sun River, the Bachmans followed crumbling highways, forgotten highways, toward the mountains west of Augusta. Entering the foothills, one gravel road split into others. Then that road into others. At such junctions, the Plymouth idled uncertainly before swiveling its tires up this route or that. It wasn’t later than midafternoon, but passing into the mountains, the sun vanished behind them. Clouds streamed over the peaks. The last home they’d spotted was miles ago, an abandoned farmstead in the reeds near a slough. Winding through the canyons, snow appeared everywhere. It was April, but snow’d persist there till May, even June, the floors of those canyons

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Ben Nickol receiving perhaps an hour of sunlight daily, no more. The Plymouth’s bald tires skidded and wallowed, its engine racing. They kept on, then floundered badly in a drift. After several lunges, a burning scent wafting through the registers, Kate levered the car into reverse, backing carefully down the grade to a turnout. They nearly floundered there, in the mud, but Kate pivoted the car till it pointed downslope. She levered into park, killed the engine. Elena, in the passenger seat, squinted at Kate as if squinting at naked sunlight. “Mommy, is that woman dead?” “I don’t know, honey.” Elena thought that over. “Do we want her to be?” “Put your coat on, okay? Let’s walk around.” Outside, the windy canyon filled their nostrils with piney, earthen smells. The Bachmans followed a streambed, watching river stones quiver under the current. Overhead, a hawk sailed thermals, rising and falling. They walked till the ascending canyon shadows engulfed the peaks, then they drove back onto the plains. Before Augusta, they turned north onto ranch roads and kept to them till Choteau, where Kate gassed up the Plymouth and bought snacks. Leaving town, they passed a museum with a triceratops in its lawn. “Dinosaur!” Elena shouted. Kate eyed the cars in her rearview. Scrambling to the back window, Elena cried, “Mommy, stop! I want to see it!” “Sit down,” Kate snapped. “Buckle your seatbelt.” North of Choteau, the long sun pinned itself across rolling fields. They camped that night at Bynum Reservoir, near the boat launch. An RV appeared, its driver stepping out to admire the sunset. But he left, leaving the shore to the Bachmans. Sitting that night on the hood of the Plymouth, under wild prairie stars, Elena said, “Mommy, what’s chasing us?” “Ain’t nothing chasing you, sweetie.” Bats darted overhead, reeling and swooping. Elena said, “What if it finds us?” A wind gusted, tumbling their pretzel bag into the weeds. “Go and fetch that,” Kate said. When Elena returned, Kate wrapped her in a coat. “Now. Which of those stars is the brightest?” The Nielsen farm stood in empty country east of Conrad, east even of the grain elevators at Ledger—country from which nothing could be seen but more country like it. No town. Nothing but a few widely spaced farmhouses with stiches of powerline connecting them. Grassy hills appeared to the north, but no mountains could be seen; there was no water, no trees. Becky Nielsen came onto the stoop in her jeans and sweatshirt, filling saucers for the cats living under the house, cats that ate the mice. They slunk out from the crawlspace, three or four of them, lapping the bowls. Wiping

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Ben Nickol her hands, Becky saw the car turn off the road, raising dust as it came up her driveway. It parked, a woman and young girl stepping out, the girl wearing a backpack. Becky shielded her eyes. “Who is that?” “Becky?” Kate said. “What I’m not getting,” Becky said. “And I’m not opposed to this, but what I’m not understanding…” “I know,” Kate said. “I mean, why us, Kate?” “I know.” They sat at the Nielsens’ table, holding mugs of steeping coffee. Sunlight streamed through the threadbare curtains, lighting the dust floating in Becky’s kitchen. In the living room, Elena sat with the Nielsen children, playing a game involving painted blocks. “I mean,” Becky said, “and forgive me for saying this. But high school was years ago. And Kate, we wasn’t friends.” Kate bobbed her coffee string, then released it. “I guess…you came to mind, Becky. You were always such a whole person. I don’t know.” Becky clicked her tongue. “You were.” “You mean wholesome, I suspect.” Becky flicked Kate’s arm with a rag. “You mean boring.” “That’s not what I mean.” Becky gazed at Kate, smiling faintly. “You never were boring, were you?” “I guess not.” “Boy,” Becky said. “I envied you. I sure did. You had spirit, Kate.” “‘Had’ is right.” “Oh,” Becky said, “I’m sure it’s still there. You always have your spirit.” Kate gazed through the doorway at the playing children. “I think all that,” she said, “went into her.” Becky nodded. “Well, that happens, too. I’ll attest to that.” “It’d just be for a while,” Kate said. Becky watched her. “It can be for a while,” she said, “or for longer. Peter won’t mind.” The women were silent. “Is everything all right, Kate?” “I think I’ll talk to my daughter.” Kate went into the living room. Watching the kids, she tried to understand their game. One rolled a block, then another rolled, then a third and fourth. The colors that turned up determined who’d won. The kids howled, diving into the middle for their blocks, or for different ones.

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Ben Nickol The previous evening, before climbing into the Plymouth to sleep, Kate, under the stars, had said, “You know what I’m always telling you, honey? About juice boxes and all?” Elena’d nodded. “And you know that one promise? The one that’s different?” The girl’d sat there, huddled in her coat. She’d said, “Is that one getting a hole poked in it?” “No. No, that’s not it, baby.” Kate pivoted on the hood, facing her daughter. “And you can’t think that, okay? Don’t ever think that. It wouldn’t be true.” “Okay.” “I just haven’t…I haven’t been saying it right, is all.” Elena was silent. “What that promise really is,” Kate said, “is your mom always loves you. Do you understand me? And I’m always thinking about you, okay? You’re my whole heart and mind.” “Okay.” “Do you understand? I need you to say you understand.” “I understand,” Elena’d said. And now, in the Nielsen’s living room, Kate didn’t speak at all. She backed away. In the kitchen, forcing money into Becky’s hands, she said, “That should cover her for a time.” “No. You keep this.” “It’s yours,” Kate said. Leaving the house, she walked into open air, into sunlight. Into miles of spring wheat.

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Beth Gylys What Money Can’t Buy Picture lunchtime recess, 1967, a kidnapped boy stands at home plate. He is nine. For six months, he’s flown D.C. to Boston, father to uncle. He cocks his bat in Cambridge. In the capital, he hasn’t even been going to school. Instead, each morning en route to a government job, his father drops him at the National Gallery where he wanders between rooms studies the paintings, the sculptures, buys a sandwich at the cafeteria with money from his father. He knows all of the guards by name. They smile, keep an eye out. He is not unhappy, doesn’t really even miss his mother, who has hired a private detective and a lawyer to get him back. He swings at bad pitches at the school near his uncle’s

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Beth Gylys when he sees her walking toward him, his two sisters just behind her. He doesn’t run to meet her, throw himself into her arms. He sees her and thinks, “The jig is up.” Those are the words that stay with him during her fight with the principal, the trip to court, the long dull drive back to Ohio.

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Beth Gylys

“Mount Washington Kroger Out of Bananas” Yes, we have no bananas today, but Cheetos and nacho chips— seven different brands—and instant mashed potatoes complete with sodium acid pyrophosphate, and sodium bisulfite. We have Gummi Bears and red cinnamon candy hearts. Ranch dressing, a whole row of plastic-wrapped, sliced meat. Line up for your diacetyl, your free glutamic acid, your butylated hydroxyanisole. We have everything but bananas, those bright phallic bunches, those wrapped wands of fruit-meat, potassium hunger bombs, soft, sweet monkey crack.

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Stacey Haas What We Do to Eat After you’ve rolled all the coins, even the pennies, raided the couch cushions, returned all the empties and decided if bread or vegetables are more necessary, you start to feel the cavity in your back molar throb and you squint at the street signs more often than not and should you get sick you’ll just tough it out because you can’t afford to miss a day from your job. There’s always plasma to sell or your eggs, or your hair. You could live with one kidney it wouldn’t be rare, but if you sell your body for a meal how well did you fare?

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Shaneen Harris smokestack city casualty what is it about hunger makes a woman forget civility? carla glared out over summit lake, curled her nose. from the scorched rubber that loitered the air, she could hear the firestone rubber factory’s machines clang, hiss as the lake water cooled, relieved the pressure. it’d do the same sunup to sundown. for days mixed with days, she’d craved to release the foreman’s spit sweat mingled words, you’re fired that flew from his mouth, dotted her lips, notices that decorated the door of her thin-walled studio, tow trucks cloaked by dumpsters behind trailer homes, how her fingers were arthritic & bent, how she couldn’t conceal her limp, her acute body stench, her next meal. she cradled her cratered face with stained hands, inhaled their crud scent, considered prayer. she’d prayed once, bowed, hands clasped, waited hours to forget— poppa called her worthless

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Shaneen Harris wished her dead, momma left for milk, snacks never came back. hunger cramps clutched her, hastened the heave of grass & dirt clumps from her hands to her mouth. soda acid burned her throat, couldn’t cleanse the dirt, her bitterness. maybe she’d pawn her bomber jacket, sell plasma, what was left of her body. hmmph who’d pay her for sex? she wanted breasts filled with something a man, a child could drink, her lips bitten by male teeth. carla clawed, tugged at her tits knowing a whiptail had a better chance

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JD Hegarty Barriers to Entry There’s a fee to take the test, and there’s books to read before it, classes to ensure you get the best score in the district. There’s a cost to applications; reaching takes more from you. Be selective. Keep your ambitions low. You’ll have to live inside a fifteen foot by fifteen box, with a privileged stranger. There’s a credit if you triple bunk. They buy their food for pennies, dole it out for points and blocks. Rates fixed on the intersection of starvation and convenience. If your parents have no money, lenders will hold this against you. Or, they will whittle out funding for you to pay back sevenfold. If you don’t account for the origination fee, you’ll find yourself with a financial hold, and a decade of harassing phone calls. Summer classes might move you faster toward a close, but come at extortion rates. They do not serve you well.

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JD Hegarty In exit counseling, they remind you of the fifteen year repayment period, but urge you to make a million quick with your expertise in humanities.

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Jaimee Hills On the Persistence of Game Shows

after Dali Past time, the buzzer will alert us soon with the most imperialist fury of precision to the soft changes and shifts of mood, new lighting and a new purpose foretold to us by the TV announcer—his soothing voice like a hand-painted pixelated dream, the claps of an audience like ocean waves, and the sound of sinking tribulation, jeopardy. Bad luck is pecking at the ground haphazardly like a hapless chicken that darts in all directions. Here is a serene landscape painted as a backdrop to fortune, each piece of a prize trip to the Caribbean monetized to tabulate the glory and the consolation. Here is mother in her armchair, father in his. Pick your category, take a spin and chant the magic words; you could turn everything to gold.

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Alexis Ivy Flea Market at the Drive-In Theater The crooked-toothed man sells every kind of coin, every kind of token. The winged dimes, the kind of silver not in circulation. I know Gold. I know where that wartime German coin came from. I don’t want to buy that story. I collect coins for the stories, all the ones I don’t know, and tokens. Whose hands have they been in? What whorehouse, which carnival ride. Pay phone token. Laundry token. The admission fee to America before my time. My favorite railroad token is from Rhode Island is the Good for one fare. The copper punched out if the ride’s been taken. Makes the shape of a star. 1920 it says. I buy it for $2 just so I’ll have a piece of a wonder that’s not there anymore. I can’t even tell you what’s there now. I’m not sure I want to know. Just a token. That’s the past I hold onto. One with disassociation. One I can enjoy.

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Charles Jensen Recession Songs: Autumn The trees have up-ended their wallets. Their leaves flutter down, still green, in small denominations. The trees give up their summer clothes, drop acorns for the squirrels smart enough to save a little for the holidays. Outside, a leaf blower spits wind at the broken lives strewn around the block. We need no mementos of this debris. We need no reminders of the past, of summer, of a simpler time when we never considered we’d give back sun, give back the swimming pool, return to rightful owners daylight’s extra hours, the speedier commute. The trees rise up, fragments of their former selves. Just bones. They seesaw in the wind. Every sway conducts the choir of their broken moans.

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Thomas O’Keefe Flight My father saved my life, without meaning to. I was much too

young to remember, and my mother never spoke of it or of him. Especially not of what for a time came to matter most to me—how he earned the extraordinary wealth that we lived on—the estate on the water, the expensive cars, the private schools she sent me to out East, countless vacations, her weekend shopping trips to Paris and Milan. It was perhaps a third of the fortune he had amassed before the government took the rest away. I live on part of that even now. If she had helped me to understand, if she had revealed it gradually in small increments and carefully chosen words, I might not have chosen the life I have, though her doing so was not very likely. It would have been too much to ask of her. I had to find out as much as I could on my own. I was around thirteen at the time, and what awoke my curiosity was the self-consciousness that comes at that age, the emergence of those ultrasensitive social antennae that attune young people to how they differ from other kids. I became aware of how much more I had than others, how much more I had done, even compared to kids in my neighborhood and at school. That awakening might have turned me into a snob, arrogant and self-absorbed. Instead, for reasons I neither understand nor take credit for, it awoke a nearly compulsive curiosity about how he had made his money and where most of it had gone. The first few times I asked my mother, she ignored me or deftly changed the subject. Over time I grew more persistent, and she responded with a face that looked as if it would crumble into tears but at the same time with a voice that hissed with a viperous anger I had never heard before. Still I persisted, and then one day she whirled around and pointed at me, a perfectly manicured nail a few inches from my eyes. I could almost taste the scent of her expensive French perfume, which for as long as I could remember competed with the cognac on her breath. This time her face showed nothing; her voice was flat and empty of emotion. “Don’t corner me, Charles. Don’t.” I felt certain of what her earliest refusals had made me suspect, that she was hiding something as much from herself as from me. I let up for a few months, but when my will to continue returned, she denied me every opportunity to ask her again. She kept my stays at home short and her visits to my school shorter still. Whenever we were together,

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Thomas O’Keefe she made sure there were other people around—classmates, friends, neighbors. The few times when I was home for more than a day or two or when she couldn’t gather a crowd, she went on yet another of her trips to Europe. My awakening had an even more important effect on me. It gave me a new set of eyes. As I became conscious of how much more I had than others, I began to see the world as I imagined those who had much, much less must have seen it. I saw what it was like not to have, to want and to need and to do so desperately, and still not be able to get. I started to see the world as Brent Giglioni must have seen it, well before I even knew who he was. My curiosity sent me on line and then to the library, to the newspapers, and business magazines. I began with the year my father graduated from college and moved forward, trying not to miss a thing. He had started in residential real estate, and then added commercial, and then land. The first I found of his name in print was a quarter page spot for his real estate group, advertising high end homes. These continued, the ads growing larger as he branched out. Then articles were written about him in both the real estate and the business sections of the papers and then in magazines. He made at least two covers. By that time he must have had more than enough money to live on, much more than comfortably—much, much more. But from what I read, he wanted even more, and so he started a mortgage company, and things went bad—I should say he went bad, or got worse—from there. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of the tax laws, labyrinthine and inscrutable as they seem to be, but from the articles that began to appear in Section A and eventually on the front page, my father knew, or thought he knew, enough to try to get his business around them. But the IRS knew them better and worked from a curiosity and energy much greater than even mine in my search. They went after him as only they can. It was near the end of his legal battles with the government that his trouble with Brent Giglioni began. At first he must have seemed to my father like no more than a pesky fly compared to the tigers and sharks of the IRS. If he had not come into the story of my father’s life, I still would have felt ashamed of my father’s greed. Even though a lot of people have their snouts in the trough as deep as he did, once in a while most of them come up for air. My mother must have seen me heading up the walkway with an armful of pages of notes I had taken and copies of articles I had made. Ever since she had begun her escape trips to Europe, she kept a packed suitcase at the ready in the hall closet. When I shut the front door, I heard her Rolls—the big boy, she called it—screeching out to the street. What role my father

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Thomas O’Keefe played in her self-destruction I will never know, though I feel reasonably sure that it was a substantial one. A few days later in a room overlooking the Côte d’Azur they found her dead of sleeping pills and a bottle of Rémy Martin Louis XIII cognac. She left a note with money for her cremation and instructions for having her ashes spread over the Mediterranean “as ancient Greek and Roman goddesses had done.” In the weeks after, I was surprised at how little grief I felt over losing her, until I realized that I had begun losing her a long time before. I had to have some people come in to empty her dressers and closets while I was out. Giving money away as I have has eased a little of the shame and guilt I know I should not feel but still do, but it does not keep at bay my anger at my father. I do not believe it will ever prevent me from seeing the world through the eyes of people like Brent Giglioni, and I am glad for that. People probably described Giglioni as a man of average height and build somewhere between his late twenties and mid-thirties with dark hair and eyes, who dressed like a lot of other men they passed on the street. Talking with him briefly, they would not remember him. Sitting next to him in a bar in the evening, they would not have recognized him the next day any more than they would have recognized his shadow. Most likely, none of that would have mattered to him. He worked the way his father had, as a maintenance man in a large apartment complex. When the economy went belly-up, the owner of the complex, who had a history of bad business decisions, went under, and Brent Giglioni lost his job. Three years earlier his wife had been diagnosed with a rare cancer of the blood, a fear-drenched nightmare for both of them. The disease was manageable but only with a dauntingly expensive drug regimen. They had been able to get by—just get by—as long as he had his job and could do work on the side. But when he was let go, he could no longer pay his mortgage and the pharmacy bill. Brent Giglioni and his wife did not walk away from their house as many people do, and I think it was more a matter of the last remnants of pride than bullish stubbornness. He tried to negotiate with the mortgage company, but they played hard ball and the Giglionis lost their home. Brent Giglioni began to see a future in which he would lose his wife, one that was as impossible to look away from as it was unbearable to feel. My father owned that mortgage company. Desperate, Brent Giglioni tried to find a way to send some hope, some light, however dull and flickering, into the darkness that lay ahead. He decided to sue my father. After dozens of lawyers told him he had no case, he found one who took it on and decided to try it like a David and Goliath story and sell it to the press that way. My father had his lawyers do everything they could to delay the start of the proceedings, which he undoubtedly knew would make Brent Giglioni’s money problems worse. Meanwhile my father’s PR department got the newspapers to paint Brent

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Thomas O’Keefe Giglioni as a pathetically desperate victim of an inarguably bad economy. His wife died at home a few weeks before the trial. The judge urged my father’s lawyers to settle out of court. When my father refused, the judge asked Brent Giglioni if he would like some time to get over some of his grief. He said that he wanted “to fight on” as soon as the judge would let him. The trial lasted less than two days. The weight of the law rested heavily and immovably on my father’s side. The jury was out less than an hour; they found my father innocent. As they filed back in, Brent Giglioni turned to see my father seated in the row behind his legal team. It was the first time he had appeared at any of the proceedings. He did not meet Brent Giglioni’s eye. He sat looking straight ahead—expensive suit, immaculate grooming, nonplussed—as if the other person were not really there. For Brent Giglioni that look foretold what the verdict would be, and it apparently prompted him to start heading for the door just as the foreman finished. What I read about the trial and its immediate aftermath moved me to start giving away much of what remained of the wealth I inherited. I have not set up a foundation or trusts of any kind. I drop gold coins into Salvation Army buckets. I slip envelopes of cash into the coat pockets of terrified parents as they doze fitfully in the surgical waiting rooms of children’s hospitals. I leave it in an assortment of boxes at places that feed the poor, care for the elderly, and shelter the homeless—soup kitchens, orphanages, storefront churches, social work agencies, drug rehab centers, and the like. I hand twenties to men and women with the cardboard signs at stoplights and on expressway ramps. I rent a studio apartment in a working class neighborhood tucked in among factories and warehouses. I drive a used gray pickup to cities and towns around the Midwest, following a schedule as random as I can make it. I am away days at a time to make my drop-offs. The only time I break from my routine for a few weeks is when an item in the news stirs interest about an anonymous donor. One of the many questions I had wanted to ask my mother was why my father had fought it out with Brent Giglioni, especially as publicly as he had. By that time it was certain that the government was going to win their suit against his company and that the damages would be substantial. I had wanted to ask how a win against Brent Giglioni could make up for the losses in money and reputation. In the bluntest terms I wanted to ask my mother if my suspicions about his motives based on all I had read about him were correct. Was he, I wanted to know, just another heartless bastard? There is a picture of him in one of the newspapers taken just after Brent Giglioni ran out of the court room. He is shaking hands with his legal team and beaming as if his company had just won its fight with the IRS. But he

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Thomas O’Keefe is not simply beaming; he is gloating. About what? I had wanted to ask my mother. About exactly what? In the photos taken outside the courthouse, standing next to his lead attorney in front of the television cameras and reporters his PR people had made certain were there, he looks more reprehensible to me. Posing and posturing, making sure they were all catching him at just the right angle. Shoulders back, chin out, jaw clenched as he smiles. If it were not for what happened next, it would have been laughable, pathetically so. I imagine Brent Giglioni heading up the stairs, but I cannot see it through his eyes or even guess at his thoughts. Perhaps he himself did not know what he was thinking as he made his way up to the courthouse roof. In another news photo taken when the press conference was wrapping up, my mother is standing next to my father. She wears a tailored navy blue business suit shown the week before on the Sunday fashion pages. The price would have startled most readers. Her right shoulder is cropped at the edge of the picture, the shoulder against which she was holding me. All that is visible is my right hand pressed lightly below her neckline. I was a little over two at the time. I have gone up to that roof to look down onto the street below the way that Brent Giglioni must have. I wonder if his thoughts became clearer when he saw that he had been granted a boon, an unforeseen bit of marvelous good luck. He could turn his own destruction, whatever that might have meant to him at the time—desperation, escape, vengeance against an unbearably cruel fate—into an act of fairness. He could do what the law and his lawyer and the jury and the judge could not or would not do for reasons that at the time his heart and mind could not have possibly fathomed. I can picture him as he inches closer to the edge and closer still once he sees the cameras are about to be shut down and the reporters are starting to turn away. He hones in on my father below, an easy target. He gets his toes over the edge a little and begins ever so slowly to lean forward, his eyes intent on the top of my father’s head and shoulders. Those movements and that focus were probably all that occupied his mind. Then, exactly when gravity has him, Brent Giglioni sees something happen below which he immediately knows will make him damnably and irrevocably despicable and at the same time take all villainy from my father and award him with only sympathy. Totally unaware of what is going on above them, my mother hands me to my father. Brent Giglioni is falling much faster than he might have imagined he would. He tries to scream but can’t. He flails wildly to swim himself offtarget, but he can’t. He closes his eyes and grinds his teeth so hard that he can hear it through the sound of the air rushing past his face. To this day I would not be surprised if what my father did the moment he touched me had been thought up by some guy in his PR department,

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Thomas O’Keefe choreographed just in case a few people were still looking. Why wouldn’t they be? my father no doubt thought. Just as Brent Giglioni was about to hit, my father tossed me in the air in that playful, fatherly way that has become one of the icons of parenthood. And as he smiled to catch me, while I hung at the split-second apex of that toss, Brent Giglioni landed with the full force of his fall and killed my father, exactly as his madness had convinced him some god of justice had wanted him to. I think that if I had asked her, my mother would have told me that acting on pure maternal instinct, she had caught me and snatched me out of harm’s way. Her lying like that would not have surprised me. Lying had grown to be as much a part of who she was as cognac and leaving for Europe. On the other hand, in all I had read I could find no evidence of my having hit the ground, of my having been hurt. But I have an idea of what happened to me. Brent Giglioni saved my life, without meaning to. That is anyway what I have had to believe. I must have fallen from eight or nine feet, like tumbling out of a first floor window. Even for a two year old, softer bones or not, hitting the concrete could easily have killed me. I must have landed on his back, onto the heavy gray winter coat he wore and never took off during the trial. Then my mother probably picked me up from off of Brent Giglioni, no more rational from the trauma she had witnessed than he had been when he went over the edge. As she held me tight to her, she probably squeezed her eyes shut and no doubt began the long, exhausting, and ultimately unsuccessful process of hiding it all away and fleeing from it when she could not. As I drive around making drop-offs, I look for where I might have a chance of fitting in. I cannot go back to the world from which I come but not because I assume everyone in that world is like my father and mother. How simple that would be. The terrible things like the ones that befell Brent Giglioni scatter themselves everywhere and among everyone. My parents themselves could have been victims of something terrible. It is my own particular experience in the world where I was raised that has made me need to shed myself of it. But I am not sure I would fit in among other kinds of people. It is not a matter of my having to take a step down, not at all. But not having grown up in their towns and neighborhoods, I do not have the instinct, the second nature to know how to live in places and among people who seem so different. And I do not know if I could learn to. I have found that it is one thing to see the difficulties of others and to sympathize with them, but quite another to be one of them and feel a part of them. Heading back to my apartment, I worry that there are things about myself that it might be too late to change. I cannot help but wonder whether my father and mother had come to their own kind of realization about themselves. Feared that something they saw, or maybe even grew to abhor

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Thomas O’Keefe it, but found it too deeply and too inextricably rooted in the marrow of who they had become to be able to untangle themselves from it and let it fall away. Or perhaps they just did not care.

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Joe Ponepinto A Change of the Odds She would tap in his number to track him down, to figure out

where he’d gone off to sulk this time, and wouldn’t she be surprised when it rang in the drawer in the bedroom, in his nightstand, as if he’d crawled in there to hide. He could pick up a cheap cell at the store around the corner from the motel if he felt he really needed one. But he wouldn’t just yet. Not until he had something worth telling her. She would only try to talk him back, home to the inertia that had paralyzed him. She would tell him none of it mattered, that their love would see them through. But he couldn’t stay and do nothing, couldn’t live with himself not pulling his weight. He chose a place off the strip, a small casino downtown where the tourists shied away, where the servers took no shit, where people smoked. A place of business, because this was business. A throwback joint: no upgrades since the nineties. He could ensconce there, in the vinyl chairs among the men in horn-rimmed glasses and patterned shirts who still read the Racing Form on newsprint and made notes in the margins; men who had moved there long before him, maybe for the same reason, and had decided to stay, the pull of the odds becoming like the tides. Fuck the big books, with their shimmer and their HD widescreens, their chicks in micro skirts and their hundred dollar “winners circle” seats just to have the privilege of watching. He wanted someplace sleazy, the way he felt. He could squint through the haze and watch the games after he’d made his bets, leaning this way and that in the chair to urge his team down the field; or leave before halftime for the dining room, especially if his wager went south in the second quarter. He’d write those bum calls off as penance for his insanity. Desperate insanity that he’d given himself to. But there’s a point where you have to go all in, to take the chance you were always afraid to take, because there’s no other way to save what you love, which is her, which is the life she deserves and which you haven’t delivered, the hell with what she says about being okay with just getting by. The surreal of the dark, of the smoke, bolstered his courage. The money in his hands no longer sacred—just a tool now to serve a goal. Having crossed into Vegas it had turned back into pulp and ink, and worthless in comparison to what the pros waged, the players who made their calls through private servers from their war rooms. Not an eyebrow raised here at a wad of cash that would attract thugs like flies back home. She never looked

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Joe Ponepinto at the little savings account. Her pay from the school went into checking, and from there they made the rent, bought the food, never enough to cover for both of them, never enough for a trip, or a night out, because he couldn’t work and hold up his end, because no one would hire a man his age and in his condition when they could find some kid to do the job for half the wage and no benefits. No barista, no ticket taker; the fast food joints all hired teens. Who wanted their burger handed to them by an old, broken down man? Two thousand in their little restricted fund, her emergency money that she stashed in the bank, the downpayment on her dream of security, and he took it. He would grow his stake, his stolen stake. Bet by bet, a hundred here, two on a gimme, more on a lock. He’d won the pool his friends put together—couple hundred bucks for beating the spread, or at least for besting the others’ inept play, and by the end of last season it got so easy he knew he could do it full time, big time, for real money, money that would pay off the credit cards and fix the car, and keep the lights on, and give them enough to buy a little business, a coffee shop like he’d dreamed, with books, and newspapers, and chessboards on the tables, where people could come and sit, read or think or gather themselves for the next crisis in their lives. Where she could run the front space, charm the folks into coming back, and he could handle the details, the ledgers and the inventory from the office. They wouldn’t get rich, but that wasn’t the plan. Still it would be nice to be the boss, and maybe make enough to buy her a necklace or a new purse once in a while. The first week he’d come out ahead. Five up, two down he went on the games he’d played, a plus but not a huge score, but once he had the nerves under control he knew he’d do better. A hundred each on six spreads, and a trey on the Bucs, and when it paid off it put him five to the good, enough to cover room and board, and make a plan for the next week, maybe a little more aggressive because now he played with some house money. He thought to put a piece of the profit aside, and if he could do that every time he won he’d have something in a month, something substantial that he could send to her, a little care package, and it would be a way to tell her where he was, and that he was doing it for her, and was successful at last. But missing her made him want to go faster, and for that he would need every dollar to play. Just his being gone would save her a ton in food and booze anyway. No matter what he did she’d benefit. He bet the underdog most times, because he was one, because the oddsmakers knew that the saps, the amateurs, almost always played the favorite because they couldn’t imagine the good teams going down. They played what the talking heads told them to on the Sunday morning shows, and drove the odds in his favor. They played into the hands of the book, which raked in their stupidity to pay for the lights and the skirts and the

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Joe Ponepinto free drinks. At this downtown cave he might even catch a break; the house might shave another half point to boost traffic, and he’d jump on it. No stats or gurus for him, though. He’d come to an understanding. The games are need and emotion. They’re about pride. They’re about something else entirely from what the average bettor thinks, and that was his edge. Mark a dog down by ten and they’ll want to prove something by playing harder. Make the favorite have to cover eight on the road and it won’t happen, because all the players’ and coaches’ focus is on winning the game. By how much doesn’t matter to them. It’s psychology as much as skill, so much more than luck. Who needs to win to stay alive? Whose back is against the wall? It’s what he knew from instinct, from having to play the same game in life. It made him prescient, an empath. It let him see into the souls of the players, the way those other men knew what sparked the minds of the horses and their riders. Each time he laid the money down he thought of her, thought of how it might put him one bet closer to going home again; thought of her back in the apartment, trying to get on without him, trying to figure it out, why he needed to go, and why for so long this time. A few days to get his head together had always been enough before. A few days to let the ache of his uselessness subside, until he felt ready to go back and bear it again. You matter to me, she would say, and he would nod and thank her, try to make something nice for dinner so she wouldn’t have to cook. This time, though, he’d already spent a week. It might take months, and he thought about her calling the police, freaking that he’d crossed the line from depression to suicide. She’d pray and wait. Wait through the night to hear if they’d turned up any leads. The cops were supposed to be good at whereabouts, but how would they find him? He’d never mentioned an urge to go to back to their honeymoon town, or to go anywhere in particular. He had no record, no pictures on file. No one here looked at faces anyway, so no one would report him. They only studied the boards, the screens, checked out the ass that paraded by so often even that became boring. Maybe she had stopped trying to imagine the reasons. Just a little more time, baby. When he got back he would wave a stack of bills in her face like a fan. He would take her hand and drag her out to the car and drive her to the best place in town for a dinner that she would never forget. He would order the best wine, and when it came he would toast her. This is what love can do, he would say. It can change the odds. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to call. Not until he was a winner, for once. Yes, love. But some of it was pride, the fading, manly pride that said he had to make the money, make his share at least, the dumb urge that made him cringe inside each time she showed him her paycheck, made him rail at the places that wouldn’t take a chance on him. At this point in his

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Joe Ponepinto life everything had been reduced to chance. No career to fall back on, no cronies to help him pick up the slack. So here he was. How quickly it had come to this: an asshole for a supervisor, and he couldn’t take it any longer, and what the hell, he could go out and find another job in a couple of days. Except he didn’t. Everyone had an excuse. You have too much experience; the job is beneath you. He knew what they really meant to say but couldn’t. The language of rejection is vague for a reason. He took a breath. He had to up the ante. Make or break, cut the time he’d need to spend, cut the frustration of not knowing. A grand on the ’Niners; no way they’ll lose by thirteen. His lock. His badge of courage. Five more underdogs at a hundred each. Take three of five, plus the big bet, and he’d be eleven up for the week, sixteen since he arrived. He might call her then, and tell her they were moving to Vegas, permanent-like. He’d promise her shows, excitement, a life built on numbers. A professional gambler, he’d have to start accounting for taxes. The week’s bets placed, he roamed the casino to take his mind off the risk, and watched some suckers play the slots. It was all digital now, so different from when the two of them had come all those years ago. Just feed the tokens and press a button. Hypnotic. Worse than TV. Sterile. Pathetic. He’d need the pull of the handle to remind him of the competition. Him against the machine. Against chance. With games every Sunday, now Mondays and Thursdays too, and college on Saturday, and a few minor conference tilts sprinkled throughout the week, he could spend time in the book every day. Maybe dabble in hoop if there wasn’t much football on the board. The more he played the sooner he’d know whether he could go back to her a winner, her prince once more, or succumb to the fates—that his time had passed years ago; if only he’d known then, maybe he would have tried harder to make something of himself. But he’d always imagined his future at the expense of the present. It will come, it will come, he told her, he told himself while he drifted. Somewhere along the line things will break for me; I’ll have my shot. And I won’t blow it. Maybe he was doing that now as well, rationalizing his way through another disaster. But he felt this time held promise. This was him, for once, making something happen. But as he looked around the casino he saw himself in the chairs, each of the hardcore players morphed into a version of his future, melted into shapes of spent hope, playing out of habit, out of addiction instead of excitement. He would let the bets ride without him then. He had to get out of there, get some of that Vegas sun, get away from the dark and the stale air, and its grip on his mind. In another moment he felt he would lash out at this artificial world, and he ran past the craps tables, the twenty-one games, and roulette wheels to hit the street before he did. That he saw the ball clack into green double zero as he went by only fit the nightmare. What had he done? Thrown it all away, every last shred of

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Joe Ponepinto normalcy. He walked the eight blocks back to the motel instead of taking the car, just to calm himself. In the room he spent his time writing letters to her, each one begging forgiveness, sometimes going on about the games he chose to bet this week and the rationale behind them, and what he would do for her if—when he won. Always that he missed her. You must know why I’m doing it, he wrote, and why I’m doing it this way. He signed his name. He folded the letters with care and slid them into envelopes. He addressed them in block letters, so the postman couldn’t err. He had no stamps. And then he placed each one in an ashtray and burned it, the heat from the fire no less than that of the air in this hell. The ’Niners did not deliver. A freak play cost him, the last play of the game, and they fumbled the ball, and it turned into a score for the opponent. They lost by fourteen. He lost by a thousand. How would he have handled it if he had watched? And of the five more he played, four teams tanked, and that meant his stake had evaporated into the arid Vegas air. Minus expenses, he had maybe five bills left. Sitting on the corner of the bed he realized that if he left right then he would have enough to get back home, and he could put the remainder back into the bank, and she would not know what he had done, not for a long time. He could say he’d heard from a friend, who had a cabin he could use—just the perfect thing right now—and that he’d trekked into the woods, to that place above the valley, where the chopping and the hunting and the cooking reminded him that he was still a human being. He’d say it refreshed him, put him back on the right track, ready to try again to find work. But he knew he would slip, would drop a clue that he’d gone the opposite way, to a place where people were anything but human, where they were only specters of desire. Then it would come out that he’d lost their money, her money, that he had added one more chapter to his book of failure, his record of missed opportunity and of stupidity. So he had to stay here, stay at least to try once more, one more slate of games to start rebuilding his stake. It would just take longer than he’d planned. Play again. To lose almost all or all of it really made no difference. And if he did lose it all—better for her if he never went back. He could change her luck at least, let the cloud of his life move away from her sun. He would be fine on the streets knowing he had done something right. Two games remained, the Sunday and Monday nighters. Sure, the Panthers had covered the last three weeks, so they were bound to come up short against the Cowboys. And the ’Skins were on the edge—a win and they’d lead the division—and who could ask for more motivation than that? The walk back to the casino had him sweating through his shirt by the time he arrived. It was a good sweat, a cleansing sweat, purging the anxiety from his body and letting it evaporate. But inside the casino, the severe,

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Joe Ponepinto conditioned air froze him again. He went up to the window and put two bills on each game. He thought of the worst that could happen. He could lose both and have the small change left, only enough for gas and some food for a while, and then he’d be here without a home of any kind. Instead of a place for the night he would have to sleep in the car, uncomfortable for a man his age and condition, but—it would be another dose of penance. Maybe he could ask the management here for a job. He would sweep floors, clean bathrooms. He would be a good employee who never talked back. Don’t think those thoughts. That’s what had cost him in the daytime games—the negativity, not the luck. The doubt that he would win. The refusal to stay and watch the outcome, to sit through the ebb and flow of the game and watch the show, and know that through it all he would come out ahead. He should be like the other men: stoic in their devotion, willing to sit and watch the most devastating loss, the most exhilarating victory, equally without reaction, the mark of the professional. Vegas wouldn’t tolerate him any other way. Its gods would contrive to keep him on the losing end until he understood that to play the game, to win it, required a self-control so complete that nothing could break his focus. A self-control so complete that a waitress approaching with a gin and tonic might have to ask if he were still alive and still wanted it. So complete that she could strip herself naked and press her body into his, and he would not react, so absorbed would he be on willing his bets to succeed. It dawned on him that in the time he had spent in the casino book, not one of the men in the chairs had cheered, not one had cried out over a bad break or a loss. They simply made their bets, and then sat and watched. How different from the tourist traps, where the amateurs went wild over a ten-yard gain or a three-point basket, wasting their emotional capital on inconsequence, treating the experience like a party. They would never know that for the professional the thrill lived inside, where he could be its master. And so he found an empty chair with a view of the screens and sat in it with no more passion than a man relaxing in his living room, a man who did the same thing day after day until it appeared to become mindless rote—but hardly that because his mind processed every play, every score, a tickertape of information used like telemetry to anticipate his moves for the next day. At a break in the play he signaled a server and ordered a scotch, up, and as he turned back to pick up the action he thought he saw a nod from his neighbor, a welcome to a new comrade. Pleased he was when the drink arrived, that it came full bodied, and not the watered down blend the house used to scam the tourists. The house knew as well that he belonged. He was not surprised that both bets won. This was it—the positive thinking, the certainty that in the long run he would come out ahead. Troughs and pinnacles for sure, because no one could win every time, but he would stay composed, would never let the feelings show. He would come back each day to play a game or two, would take a seat among the regulars,

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Joe Ponepinto join the silent chorus that made their livings like this, and judged the fools whose bad bets paid their way. He had nearly a grand again, just in time to save him, just enough again to make it work. Forget a timeline. In all the jobs and all the attempts at career that had spent his life, he had never felt secure, never felt the urge to stay at any job. Never saw what he did as a means, or a path to her happiness, which was all he had ever wanted. If this was the life he was meant to live, then he would live it. Although he had no games left to play this day, he made his way to the center of the book, and from a distance watched two men watch a basketball game on one screen, a hockey game on another, admiring them like fellows in battle. He decided to take some of his money and walk around the corner to a mobile dealer he’d seen, where he would purchase a plan—a cheap one—and get a number. And then he would go back to his room at the motel, where he would call her. The drawback to this ancient parlor was its self-containment, no airy mall connected to the world. To get anywhere he had to go outside, into the Vegas furnace. There, not halfway to the store, the heat quickly melted his resolve. He knew she would react emotionally when she heard his voice, lose the control she’d practiced since he left and release the pent-up tears, appeal to the ties of their marriage and infect him with the fever she felt, a fever he couldn’t allow to infiltrate the wall he’d built to protect his bettor’s conscience. Steps from the door he stopped. He could buy the phone and put it away until he felt more ready, until he had a real stake to share with her. But, no, the temptation during the lonely days would be too great. In his room before the games began, in the casino diner as he waited for his eggs he would break down and dial. The need to hear her voice would override the commands he’d programmed into himself. Her words would defeat the psychic work he’d done to create his current state of mind, and have him race back to the room to pack, jump into the car and floor it, try to cut hours off the trip so he could see her sooner. How strange that to serve her he had to ignore her, and hurt her, and could not even explain himself to her. He could never ask her to move here as he’d dreamed. She would distract him too much, and keep him from achieving the winner’s utter focus, so detached from the rest of the world. He would have to find a way: a few weeks here to stay in touch with the games and himself, and then spend a few back home, making it up to her. But he saw flaws even in that strategy— he had to be here to connect, to feel the currents and eddies that flowed in the casino’s ether, to know, like instinct, which teams would win and which would lose. He had to breathe the air the other men breathed, swallow it like booze to become part of the games, greater than the games, one with the games. He had to be to win, and if being meant being apart, he would make the sacrifice, for both of them. A flash on the big board caught his eye. Being Tuesday now, the only

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Joe Ponepinto action was hoop, ice, and a lone Division 1 set in the Mountain West. The odds on the college game had just dropped a point. So close to kickoff, someone with a major stake knew something, and had lain down enough to tilt the board. The amateurs would fall all over each other trying to play the short end, thinking they had a gimme. He didn’t know college that well, didn’t have the feel of the teams, but he knew a pro’s move when he saw it; when he sensed it. He waited a minute to eavesdrop; maybe one of his casino mates would share some scuttlebutt. But the window would close soon, and he pulled the wad from his jeans to play the long side. Thank you, whoever you are. Maybe I’ll get to your level someday and then I will buy you a drink. He shuffled up to the window, recounting the bills to have them correct before he got there. It’s what a pro does. Then back to his seat to watch the monitor as the house changed the satellite feed to bring in the game. He looked for a server to order a drink. Maybe he’d have a tray brought to him too. He hadn’t eaten all day. At last he caught the server’s attention, and she pointed his way to signal she’d come over. He closed his eyes then, and eased further into the softening chair. The cushion rose to embrace his hips, to tell him it would remember his shape from now on, that it was his place.

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Rudy Ravindra Sad Scion When he did not receive his mother’s emails for a few days, Rahul

thought, Is she not well? She emailed him almost daily, sometimes two or even three times in a single day, about happenings in the neighborhood in general and family intrigues in particular. He called the landline in Bangalore. A recording said that the line was disconnected. Very strange, how could a number in service for more than sixty years be disconnected? His mother paid all bills long before their due date. Then he called her cell phone. He got her voice mail; no reply to his text. Same pattern repeated itself when he tried to contact his siblings. Kavita, the technophobic house-keeper, had no cell phone. He sipped his beer and thought, How long does it take to type in a few words? Are they so busy that they can’t even respond to a text? He could not think of anybody else but his manager. “Hello, this is Rahul. I’m still in Delhi, yeah, yeah, the meetings are going well, I’m hoping, ah, we should get the order. Yeah, yeah, um, can you please send somebody to my mom’s house? Something funny is going on. Mom doesn’t answer her phone, and I can’t get through to my sister or brother, ah, yes, yes, thank you.” His phone buzzed in the middle of the night with the news that his mother had had a stroke. Arriving bleary-eyed at Bangalore Airport, Rahul took a taxi to his mother’s house. When Kavita opened the door, Rahul said, “It’s very quiet in here, is everybody at the hospital?” “Only Veena at hospital, Santosh and Anu in Mysore, at her folks. It’s a disgrace, total disgrace, the way that Anu behaved, she should be ashamed of herself. Anu, she yanks that thing, um, madam types in it, you know what I mean?” “You mean iPad?” She nodded. “She grabs it out of madam’s hands and hurls it across the room. I pick up that pad thing and next thing I know, Anu grabs it from me and throws it out into the backyard, and then she starts saying foul things, very filthy, oh my god, that language, um, only those slum people talk like that, very, very low class. It’s disgusting, ah, talking like that to her own mother-in-law. All that time, madam, she’s very quiet. But she’s angry, she’s

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Rudy Ravindra shaking, and shaking, and then she simply fell out of her chair, hit her head on the marble floor. When madam looked at me, her eyes wide open, she couldn’t speak, I know something very, very wrong. I ran to her and held her and called the driver. The maid, me and the driver carried madam and drove to hospital. He drove very fast, he honked and honked, I thought he’ll definitely dash into other cars or scooters or those big, big lorries. I prayed and prayed. And, in the end, we reached the hospital safely.” She dabbed her eyes. “I never thought I live to see the day, madam hearing all those horrible words. Madam very good, buys gold, diamonds, silk saris to Anu, every festival, spend lot of money.” When Rahul walked in, Veena was sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. “How’s mom?” he whispered. “Doctors say she’ll recover. Right now she’s asleep.” She pointed to the adjacent room. Rahul peeped in to see his mother with an IV drip on her left arm. Looking at a bruise where the needle was stuck, he thought, some careless nurse, probably did not use a butterfly needle. He gently brushed her hair back and kissed her forehead. He closed the door softly behind him. “Veena, why is it none of you return my calls or texts? It’s a pity I have to learn about mom’s stroke from my manager.” “It was very chaotic, yaar. In all the confusion I lost my cell phone.” Rahul sighed. “Why was Anu so ugly?” “Just a day or two, ah, I mean, before the stroke, Anu and Santosh asked for thirty lakhs, um, I suppose, for some harebrained scheme. Mom refused. They went on pestering her and each time Mom said no. Santosh got very mad and cut off the landline so none of Mom’s friends can call. He also confiscated Mom’s cell phone. He won’t listen to me.” Veena continued. “And then, on the day she had the stroke, I, ah, um, as usual I came home for lunch, and what do I find? Pandemonium. Maids wailing, and the gardener wringing his hands. I took a maid aside and got the scoop. I got so angry, you won’t believe it, Rahul, how dare this Anu, how dare this low-class woman assault Mom, how dare she use such horrible language. I pulled Anu by her hair and thrashed her black and blue. But for the gardener and the maids, I might have throttled her with my bare hands. They dragged her away from me.” Veena shook her head. Rahul got a few silver bells for his mother to summon help with a tinkle; a bell tied to her wheelchair, another by the bedside, and yet another in the bathroom. When no one appeared with a gentle tinkle or two, she increased the frequency as well as the amplitude, so much so, everyone in the house rushed to her. A nurse, although no Florence Nightingale, did an adequate job. She

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Rudy Ravindra changed madam’s diapers, brought her water or tea, adjusted the shawl on her legs, cooed to her, and wheeled her out to the colorful backyard garden. To prevent any further abuse of his mother by his greedy brother and his wife, Rahul locked up his apartment and moved to the big house. Leela typed on her iPad: That my brain remains razor sharp is but a poor consolation and at times I wish to recede into a foggy oblivion. Rahul smiled. “You’ll get better, mom.” Leela nodded and typed: Rahul, you are a sensitive soul, I know you are not oblivious to Santosh’s jealousy. He’s unhappy that after your father passed away, you returned from America to take charge of the family business. Now that I have given you the power of attorney to act on my behalf, he’ll be more jealous. “I know, I know, mom.” Leela typed rapidly: I did my best to keep this family afloat. Now it’s your turn. Make sure Santosh does not starve, make sure he’s not on the street. God only knows how I struggled to make him see some sense. All he wants is to spend, spend, spend. He doesn’t know the value of money. That’s because he never did earn a single rupee. He wants all the luxuries without having to work for it. Too bad your father indulged him. Rahul said, “Mom, take rest. Don’t worry. You gotta get strong and, and…” When Anu and Santosh returned, Veena taunted them. “Oh, back already, didn’t get five-star treatment in that hovel at Mysore, huh?” When Santosh was about to slither away, like a slippery eel, to his room, Rahul called him. “I need to talk to you. Don’t just stand there like a dummy. Sit down, look at me. What do you have say for your behavior, huh?” “I needed my money, that’s all. Mom is stingy.” Rahul roared. “Your money? Your money? Where the hell did you get that dumb idea? All the money in this family is Dad’s and Mom’s, ah, they both worked very, very hard to earn every rupee. From now on, no more luxuries for you guys. You wanna continue to live in this house, you better behave. You can’t drive around anymore, the cars are in my control, the driver will not give you the keys. No more money for you or Anu. You are disgusting, now get out of my sight, both of you.” Santosh wagged his finger. “You can’t order me around. All those years you were enjoying in America. Now you come back and butter up Mom, you are not deceiving anybody, um, we know your game. You have no authority in this house. I’ll inherit the factory and this house. You are just a guest, so pipe down, bro. Don’t act like a big shot.” Veena screamed. “You idiot, shut up, or else you will be on the street. Rahul has Mom’s power of attorney, complete authority to do whatever he wants with everything, this house, factory. So, you better behave, okay?”

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Rudy Ravindra It was a long day at the factory. Rahul and the manager chalked out detailed plans to execute the big order from Delhi—a bank loan to purchase raw materials, assign technicians to work exclusively on the project, and other important matters. He came home late, peeped in to see his mother asleep. After a quick bite, he retired to his room. He turned off his bedside lamp and tried to sleep. He was not lucky like his father, who had had his mother to share the burden. While his father tackled the technical and sales side of the business, his mother kept track of accounts, personnel, and payroll. Now his mother was hardly in a position to help. Unfortunately, his business-savvy girlfriend, reluctant to move to a populous and raucous country, had chosen to remain in America. He felt, love does not conquer all. Just when he was about to drift off to sleep, there was a loud knock. He quickly pulled a robe around and opened his door. Kavita said, “Somebody on the phone, he says Santosh is beaten up badly, he’s in the hospital.” On the way to the hospital, Rahul picked up Veena from her apartment. A nurse said, “Surgeons are operating on the patient, it may be a while before you can see him.” Veena rubbed her eyes. “I’m sleepy, yaar, get me coffee.” When Rahul retuned with a cup of coffee, Veena, snoring softly, was asleep on the sofa. He sighed and tried to read a dog-eared magazine. When his eyes refused to focus, he closed his eyes. He woke up with a start when a nurse tapped on his shoulder. “Good morning, sir, you can go in now, the patient is brought to the recovery room.” He roused Veena and they followed the nurse. Santosh was sedated, his face heavily bandaged, his legs in casts, the end of a splint under his legs attached to a Balkan frame and also his arms were in casts. Wires from various machines were glued to his chest, and an IV drip was on his right arm. A young doctor in a white coat breezed in. “Ah, you are the relatives.” He suppressed a yawn. “Sorry, was up all night assisting the senior surgeons. Well, it appears that the patient was beaten with metal rods. The deep gashes on his face, hm, might require plastic surgery. Once the arms and legs heal, he’ll require physical therapy. I’m afraid recovery will be slow and painful.” A few days after Santosh’s ordeal, two men, one tall and slim, the other big and burly, came to visit. The tall guy smiled urbanely at Rahul. “Mr. Santosh borrowed a lot of money from our firm. My boss is lenient, up to a point, sir. But, when Mr. Santosh did not pay back even a small part of the loan, he was reminded to pay up. Repeated reminders proved futile.” He sighed deeply. The burly guy growled. “Sir, what happened to Mr. Santosh is nothing

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Rudy Ravindra compared what’s in store for him, now it’s only a warning. If you don’t realize the fucking mess he’s in, and the money is not returned in full, it will get worse, a lot worse, believe you me.” He wagged his finger. The tall guy glared at his colleague. “Show some respect to this gentleman. He’s America-returned, don’t you know that? No foul language. Sir, I apologize.” Rahul asked, “How much money?” The tall fellow took out a notebook from his briefcase. “Sir, all the accounts are here, dates, amount borrowed, everything, all clear-cut. The total is twenty two lakhs principal and fifteen percent interest, that will be approximately three lakhs, so the grand total is twenty five lakhs.” He took out a sheaf of papers and laid them on the coffee table. “Here are the IOUs signed by Mr. Santosh, dated and witnessed, all aboveboard, sir.” Rahul asked gently, “In the first place, why did your boss loan such a big amount to my brother?” The tall guy looked surprised. “Not all at one time, sir, one or two lakhs every now and then, over a period of few years. Since Mr. Santosh is from a rich family, boss was sure the money will be paid back with interest.” Rahul said, “It’s a lot of money. Obviously, I can’t raise so much in a short time.” “No issues, sir. Take all the time you need. Boss is a very patient man. Here’s my card. Please call me when you are ready, we can negotiate the terms of a payment schedule. Thank you for your time, sir.” “Ah, one more thing, once we settle this account, what if Santosh approaches you for another loan?” The tall guy laughed. “He’s not credit worthy, the word has spread, nobody will loan him, not even one rupee.” Leela typed: Use my jewelry as collateral, get a bank loan and pay off the loan shark. Rahul said, “Mom, I can sell my apartment.” Leela typed: The apartment is a good investment, in a prime location, it’ll appreciate in value. My jewelry is stored away in the bank vault. I’m not going to wear it anytime soon, ha, ha. When Leela complained of severe chest pains, a bunch of tests and scans revealed an aggressive type of lung cancer, stage four, with very poor prognosis. She had to endure radiation and chemotherapy. The constant nausea and heartburn, prevented her from eating even simple items like rice and vegetables. As a result, she got more emaciated. The best doctors and the best therapy were of no avail, and Leela didn’t get any better, in fact only worse. With severe shortness of breath, she

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Rudy Ravindra was rushed to the ICU and attached to numerous tubes—tube in her mouth, tube up her nose, probes and tubes stuck in her arms. Most of the time she was heavily sedated and even when she was awake, nobody was sure if she recognized people around her. But for all those machines, she’d have faded away like a withered hibiscus at the end of the day. In the end, the machines could only do so much, and it was like installing a new transmission in a badly battered vehicle. Leela had fought and came out winner in a few battles before, but this last battle was entirely different and unwinnable. Returning from the crematorium, Rahul looked at the eerily empty reclining chair. That was his mother’s spot, where she sat and sometimes dozed. She was on that chair most of the day, holding court, and dispensing advice to all and sundry. She had a great understanding of the world around her, and at another time, in another place, with access to higher education, she would have been a CEO of a large corporation. She had all the facts and figures of the family enterprise at her fingertips—pending orders, items delivered, and payments due. Her wise counsel would be sorely missed. All the family members, except Anu, went to immerse Leela’s ashes in Cauvery. Santosh, hobbling around on crutches, stood at the dock to watch the ceremony. Accompanied by a purohit chanting slokas, Rahul and Veena descended to the river bank. Rahul, the eldest son, had the honor of carrying the urn. He handled it reverently, and gently placed it on the water surface. It floated and bobbed, turned every which way before being drawn in by an eddy of current. From a loving mother’s womb to an ancient river’s womb. They stood with folded hands and teary eyes. After all the relatives left, Rahul convened a family meeting. “According to Mom’s will, I’ll get the factory, this house, and everything in it, Veena will inherit Mom’s jewelry.” Ignoring their shocked gasps, he gave copies of the will to his siblings. After perusing the document, Anu stood like a matador ready for a face-off with the fiercest bull in the entire Karnataka state, except that Rahul was anything but threatening with a cup of tea in his hand. She yelled at the top of her voice. “I took care of your mother and father. I waited on them hand and foot. I even cleaned your mother’s bottom. It was Santosh who took your parents to the doctors. Rahul, what did you do to deserve all this property? What did you do? What did you do?” She banged on the dining table. Veena screamed, “That’s a lie, you both are such liars and losers. Anu, you didn’t even lift a little finger to help Mom. And, you, Santosh, you are an idiot, strumming that dumb guitar and squandering Dad’s hard-earned money. When did you take Mom to the doctor, huh? Tell me when! I’m the

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Rudy Ravindra one who took care of Mom and Dad, whatever was needed, doctor’s office, meds, bank work, I did it all.” Rahul put his palm up. “Quiet, quiet, please calm down. Now, this is the plan. Santosh, it’s time you shape up. I want you to come to the factory, ah, to learn about the equipment we manufacture. Eventually, I hope you might be useful.” Anu shouted, “He’s an artist, he should be left alone to write and sing his songs!” Veena teased her brother, “Did you even make one rupee singing all those dumb songs about love and loins on fire, huh? You had it made, um, dad gave you whatever you asked and, Anu, you fat slob, there’s nothing wrong with you, you have a college degree, you can speak English. There are plenty of jobs at call centers, good-paying jobs. And when Santosh gets better he can at least do some chores, run errands for the factory.” Once Anu and Santosh retreated sullenly to their quarters, Veena asked, “Rahul, my apartment, what about it? You know Mom owned it.” “Didn’t she tell you? I guess she was worried sick about Santosh, it must have slipped her mind. She told our lawyer to transfer the deed to your name. Lemme check on it, okay?” “Mom’s jewelry, um, when do you think we can get them back from the bank?” “Veena, the thing is, we need to make some profit to pay off that big loan we took to save Santosh’s neck. As you know, the economy is in a funk and big orders are not coming in. The one from Delhi is the first big one in many months. Dad made good money all those years, um, now, I don’t know. We need to meet the payroll, modernize the machinery, hmm…” “So, can you make ends meet, huh?” Rahul had a wan smile. “I don’t know, I really don’t know. These past few months, we had to spend a lot of money, um, Mom’s medical bills, Santosh’s loan, his rehab, um, he’ll need more surgeries, and maintain this big house. With a lot of luck, the factory might, once again make money. The scientific equipment that Dad designed don’t exactly sell like hot cakes.” “So, what’s plan B?” “I might have to sell my apartment to keep the factory going, ah, hopefully for a couple of years. In the meanwhile, I’ll travel to all parts of the country, meet professors and scientists at the universities and research institutes, um, beg for orders, ah, some of these people are Dad’s friends, they respect him a lot. If everything fails, then, ah, I’m sure I can find a job.”

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Whittney Jones Willow Lake Mine Located in Equality, IL, the mine closed after the accidental death of a miner in 2012. I know the EMT who attended him, pressed an empty chest and counted after they found him pinned by the continuous miner’s hooked teeth. His foot in the red zone. His fingers not quite working on the controls still in his grip. Waiting long minutes for someone to realize he was an insect caught in a shadowbox. I know the EMT who came home and showered and showered and slept poorly. Who started folding overalls into boxes. Halved and halved. Lunch box left on the linoleum, a silhouette of coal dust outlining where it dropped— a chalk dust tracing of a body for MSHA to examine and declare: death, closure, tragedy, regulations. I know the EMT who held the tattoo canary on his bicep, who willed breath into his burdened lungs, who cried for him, who knew the caged bird on the boy’s arm opened to an illustrated coal mine on the other side, and the creature, pinned, suffocates.

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Holly Karapetkova Breakfast of Champions I am awakened each morning by a million pixels: the light of my own face, selfie smiling on my smartphone. I breathe in the air of 14.5 planets, breathe out 20 metric tons of carbon before I even brush my teeth. My gold medal is bigger than yours and it’s got nothing to do with luck; it’s all pluck and hard work and tax breaks targeted to stimulate the economy, this stamina I acquired by pushing my checkbook from one bank to the next in search of lower interest rates. They fall like stars into my hat and thanks to my elite education I’ve learned to stuff them in my pockets, thousands of points of light,

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Holly Karapetkova to touch them until they respond with the image I want to see. They shine every morning, only for me.

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BenjamĂ­n Naka-Hasebe Kingsley When My Brother Calls and Tells Me How Little Insurance Will Cover, Yes, Cancer after the red republic comes taking all each copper button every gold thread of what is threadbare what coinage i have stored in chain mall wishing wells i wonder is wealth the sum of what is left after $0.

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Daniel Lassell Ordinary Emergencies Though some call flesh a persistence of hope—how we cup it closely, call it knowledge—the body is a circumstance. And still, some would have those lingering beneath prayers and mildew at the food stamps office constructed without sound or heat.   Some would have them dissipate like smoke from cigarettes at the entrance, dismissed of cosmos, their personal and ordinary emergencies.  Somewhere there is an ambulance passing into mountains, a trio of huskies howling, their hymns like the whispers of blood beneath skin. What of those never witness to anything  beyond the comfort of Republican eyes? What of those never witness to the desks, clipboards, and poorly-stacked magazines? They would have themselves be everything. And yet, the sun and the moon shepherd the earth with a fishing pole’s patience, 

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Daniel Lassell as the beautiful among us go on, slouched without tongues, into liquor stores and laundromats, into the wide loneliness of gas station aisles. In Estes Park, Colorado, there are elk plucking flowers out of pots at the library.

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Joanne Mallari At the Jelly Donut What a dollar buys: sugar twist or chocolate bar. Sprinkled or jelly-filled. I come here still, fixated on things a dollar can’t repair: broken dryers next door, letter missing from Mega L undry, worn brake pads, last break-up. I write you off from a round metal seat chiseled with hearts, initials. On what I think a dollar can fix: I leave a trace of myself in the plastic donation box— four quarters for the March of Dimes. Checkout charity feeds my insta-hero complex. What is love but a series of deposits, pennies piling on top of nickels on top of dimes until we die or forget? In the beginning we exchanged words to flatter, paid compliments in kind. You taught me hermosa. I gave you matapang. I replay this version of us beneath the sign flashing Open 24 Hours. Later you became

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Joanne Mallari the Post-It, the voicemail, the text, and I the candle covering the scent of “Love you. See you later.” Your leaving smells richer than it tastes. You leave a small digital trace. The last I heard from you via Messenger: No for now. You show me dolor. I’d tell you this is lungkot, a quiet lament like folding a napkin carefully before throwing it away.

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Claire McQuerry The Mortgage Lender Speaks Off the Record That first week, I almost quit. I’d wake from dreams of lead, sweating, the sky still gray pearl at the curtain. But excess sets her hooks. See we’re in this bar, a rotating globe, gin martinis, top-shelf, on refill like water, penthouse views that glitter for us alone. Every woman wears diamonds on her hands, or wrists, or earlobes, and all the best sales reps are knockouts, hazed in Hermès: ex-strippers, former porn stars. God, who wouldn’t want a cut? From the rail of the corporate balcony, strangers below have no faces— they drift like decorative fish. Soon, I’d forget each file I approved was anyone’s real life. My mother’s, “It’s kinder to be honest,” stopped dogging me. I realized everything has two sides, that “fraud” is just a trick of spinning gold from ash, a magic act, in which crowds pay for a vault of wind, red ink vanishes with a flourish, and you draw the door to another life then sidestep through. Inside, you take girls home from cafés with a tilt of your head. You live by sleight of hand: liar loans, balloon loans, X-Actos and glue you use to re-form anyone’s history. Outside’s the American Dream, flimsy, a lessthan-pathetic prize. Inside, you buy yachts. The maid nods and brings what you want. You keep trading up: wheels, wives, houses. Am I sorry for my part? I’ve learned to love a good binge and wake up feeling fresh—like any of those top dog execs, who knows when a loss is some other sucker’s raw deal.

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Claire McQuerry

Documentary: On the Woman in India Gathering Stones She worked from a squat, her only cotton sari, stones she freed from the soil, red— color staining her hands, the dry field’s hue. She bent to her task until the light had worn to threads, then rose for dinner, her one meal: warm, though scarcely enough (it showed in bony limbs). I’d had enough wine but refilled the glass, replaced my cotton napkin, TV washing colors over my dinner. The woman spoke, and a voice-over read in crisp syllables said, “Hers is the plight many suffer, as the global value of cotton fields plummets.” Her husband hanged himself in the field after the rainy season, when there wasn’t enough yield to pay his debts. She’d found him at first light. Now, some days, she balanced seed bags or cotton bales on the day-long road to town. The dust’s red inked the rupee as well (money lost) and the din of passing traffic was enormous, so silent were dinners on her floor of smoothed dirt. Limitless fields— how many crowded her province in cloud-tufted, red furrows? (“Glut” means more than enough of any one commodity, whether wine or cotton, linens, or silk, wrote Mill: as hopeless as blight, glut renders crops worthless). And yet, she’d light the lamp for her small altar’s god after dinner. Incense, the husband’s photograph, a cotton purse made the altar’s spare tableau. Those fields, that woman—I’ve thought of them little enough since my watching, years ago. A display of red

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Claire McQuerry rugs in a storefront window, that exact shade of red, unearths the memory now from nowhere. Spotlights illuminate the wares, though it’s bright enough to see without. Everything looks wrong: the diners glowing in cafes, the laden shoppers, the ball field of well-watered grass, and my reflection, cottonclad and thoughtless. Cotton pillows rest atop the red rugs, as if lightly flung—and I turn home for dinner, across the field, where I’ll eat until I’ve had enough.

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Claire McQuerry

Economies of Affection Why won’t she get herself a big diamond ring and hang a life on it?—A stone immutable as the photograph’s bluff that slips into the newsfeeds of everyone she’s linked to: the couple’s selfied faces radiant in the glow of some beach. The gem a conversion from currency to love’s glittery seal— and the bodies in parallel tight, sun-licked, will make us want to know if what they’re advertising is for sale. That could have been me. Once, I said yes to a bling-in-the-velvet-box kind of romance too. Still, a small valve inside wouldn’t quite shut. At night I’d hear its quiet knocking and wonder if this deal I’d struck was all. I couldn’t blame the ring, though I’d scarcely wear it. It had a fine clarity and karat; it caught the light with a pinkish twinkle. I stashed it in a drawer so no one would have to admire and ask, and when the mothers weighed in on caterers and bouquets, I had a knack for hiding the disparity between what I’d think and answer. The rest happened as it happened. Life

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Claire McQuerry overturned, thank God, that careful plotting. I slipped off the ring for good. You could wind up an old maid, people flapped, as if I were a depreciated good, a commodity to box up. Why not, if love is unfixed and grows, rest the galaxy on a platinum band (understanding it expands), or distill the blues of a glacial lake into a jewel? Even that couldn’t token the real thing. Oh, De Beers, you imagined otherwise for us, and we believed. See all the flashing hands announcing their incorporate bliss. Please. You can shove those rocks back in their five-alarm showcase and set the lock. Look how they catch the shopping mall’s colors like hundreds of tiny disco balls— contained, as we shoppers also are contained. The woman behind the case hears a song that’s looped back to her all day. Sometimes, she guesses, she’s down and discontented for some reason she can’t quite name.

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Matthew Moniz Promise of the Note “Six months after the ratification of a treaty of peace between the Confederate States and the United States, the Confederate States of America will pay $50 to bearer” —Text of the Confederate $50 “Greyback” I Greybacks stripped from whipped black backs—Dingy bills built to buoy worthless values—No Fiat, no purse, not backed but aspirational II Muted tones and shallow ink claim for Richmond’s riches Washington and personified Justice: a relief of Justice, cold and frozen, smashed aphorism, a promise of success, power, financial fealty. Later printings show Hope. Hope! Even the damned can dream. III Treasury Secretary Memminger kissed the image of his own visage onto one bill willingly. He prayed for profit in his labors and stamped flat a portrait of merry singing slaves onto another. Rising in variety of design, endless shape and image, faster than flame and cheaper than fuel, cash was spun out, rushed out, hand-cut, hand-signed. Clerks worked to the bone only to be paid in their wares. IV Flattening then inflated, pumped hollow into Grey papier-mâché, enclosing emptiness— slimy sheets slapped together, Glued by desire and desire of ownership

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Matthew Moniz binding the eleven good apostates— A dull sculpture with nothing inside V little clipped wings, squared feathers flapping groundbound, dirtbound, hurt and birthing weather, grey succeeding storms swirling in the contiguous dirt as other cotton cloth ripples free and green

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Vanni Thach A Band A Man The boy sleeps on his wrist so when he wakes he can hear his

heartbeat and know he’s alive. It’s the only thing that lets him know he’s still in the world. His father’s voice used to do the same, but after his father left on a business trip, never to return home, the boy had to learn to live for himself at a pace that matched the thumps from his chest—sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Once, not at all. Now, in limbo, he relives the moments leading to where he is, as if it’s happening to him right now, as though he’s eleven over and over again. It’s not easy for the boy to make friends. Standing outside of a basketball court, he watches the older boys pick teams. He’s thinking if he waits long enough someone will get injured and he can be a substitute when he sees a girl walk onto the court. She asks if she can play. “We don’t play with girls,” an older boy says. The girl grabs the ball, dribbles down the court, fakes a left, and shoots. All net. Eva Herrera plays basketball for the middle school team. The boy is wondering how many kids’ lunch money she has taken when he hears an older boy say, “We’ll take her.” The boy is no Eva Herrera, but he runs onto the court and asks if he can play too. “We don’t play with girls,” an older boy says, laughing. The boy pulls an Eva; he grabs the ball, dribbles down the court, and, using the backboard, sinks the ball into the net. By luck. “See,” the boy says, fixing his glasses and catching his breath. “I can play.” Shaking their heads, the older boys chuckle. “Go home,” one of the older boys says, putting out his hand for the basketball. “But, Michael, I just—,” the boy says. “Give me the ball and go home,” Michael says. The boy’s hands tremble as he moves his eyes from the older boys’ sneakers to their faces to the street behind the basketball court where cars are speeding by. He hands the ball as if to give it back and instead throws it over their heads and into oncoming traffic.

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Vanni Thach The boy runs home. After looking over his shoulder, he slows to a walk and kicks a glass bottle down the street, smashing it against the curb by his house. “It’s stupid anyway,” he says to himself as he heads through the front door and down to the basement, which still smells like mildew from last week’s heavy rain. The smell clings to the brick and mortar, the wooden structure, and the memories of his father collected in plastic bags placed at the far end of the room. At the bottom of the stairs, he turns on the light, rubs his nose, and drops himself on a couch in front of a television. It’s an old television—one with the rabbit ears and side knobs. It’s the same one his mother had wanted to throw out, along with his father’s work clothes. He had begged her to keep it, promising to keep it out of sight. He touches the knob, liking that the television looks nothing like other televisions. He also likes that it used to be in his parents’ room. On the couch, he stares at the dark screen. There, he sees a thin eleven-year-old boy with glasses and buck teeth staring back at him. He relives the moment on the basketball court from earlier and . Though no one is around, his smile still feels forced because he does it so little. Then he turns on the television and starts a video game. He plays until he hears the front door open and close and his mother yell his name. When he doesn’t respond, she calls him by his full name in their native tongue. “Just a minute,” the boy says. “What did I say about video games?” his mother says. “Okay. Okay.” He climbs the stairs and sees his mother on the landing. She hands him leftovers from the restaurants where she works. The boy knows from the smell it’s his favorite dish: fried rice and salted fish. He rushes to help set the table. He waits for her to finish dumping the food from the cartons on their plates before pulling out her chair and filling her cup with water. She sits beside him and presses her head against his. “What’s going on?” “It’s the chair, right?” he says, grinning. “I’m sorry.” “For what?” He shrugs. “How many times do I have to tell you?” “I know,” he says, playing with chopsticks. “I know. I still feel bad.” The boy’s mother tells him he’s not his father. The boy knows this, but when his mother says his name—his full name—it reminds him that his father had left them. It also reminds him of the time he saw her kneeling on the bedroom floor with the telephone pressed to her ear, straining to hear news from far away. “Hong Kong?” she choked. “A new family?” That night, he thought about his father’s second family. He wondered if the business trips were his father’s way of making time for them—his other children, his other wife. Then ten, he would kneel by his bed and pray every

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Vanni Thach night, for half a year, that his mother would never leave him and his brother orphaned. The boy bites his lip. “How was work?” “Work was good. Not too many orders today,” his mother says, wringing her hands. “How was school? Did you make any new friends? You talked to your father?” The boy hates lying, especially to his mother. But, when his father called last month, he was confused. Stunned, he stood in the kitchen and played with the phone cord. After hanging up, he had wished his father was too busy with his new life to call. His mother is still waiting for an answer when the front door opens. “Michael?” she says. “Dinner.” Michael is the boy’s older brother. He’s five years older and much taller. After tossing the basketball in the front closet, he washes his hands in the sink and wipes them on his pants, adding to the sweat stains already on his shirt. “We have towels,” she says. “We’re not that poor.” Michael sits down at the table and eats without looking up. “How was basketball?” the boy asks, smirking. Michael finishes dinner and cleans his plate. Leaving the kitchen, he stops to pick up the basketball and dribbles it up the stairs. “Not in the house,” his mother yells. The ball stops bouncing. A door slams closed. Rock music blares from the second floor. “Why is he like that?” the boy asks, scowling. “Did something happen?” The boy shakes his head and takes their dishes to the sink. While cleaning them, he thinks about his name. He wonders why he was named after his father. He also wonders if sharing his father’s name affects how his mother and brother treat him. The following week, with little hopes of playing basketball, the boy goes straight home. Through the door, he yells, “Michael? Mom?” and checks the bathroom, kitchen, and basement. He runs upstairs into his brother’s bedroom. The room smells like sweat and dirty socks. Wading through the clothes scattered on the floor, he looks over his shoulder and walks toward the closet. On tiptoes, he reaches for a box at the far end of a shelf. He pulls on a corner until the box tips over and spills everything. An EpiPen rolls down the wooden shelf and drops on the carpet. The boy picks up the pen. Its plastic surface feels cool against his palm. He stares at the latch, spring, and plunger and shudders at the memory of seeing his father use it for the first time at a restaurant on his birthday—

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Vanni Thach the last birthday when his family was all together. Unlike the pen from the box, the EpiPen that fell out of his mother’s purse that day was green. In his father’s hand, it looked as menacing and as dangerous as a dagger. The boy doesn’t remember much about that evening, only that Michael had said something funny before falling backward in his chair. His mother rushed to his brother’s side while he continued to laugh at the joke. It must have been really funny because he remembered he was gasping for air as tears streamed down his face. Then he heard his mother scream his father’s name; she shrieked, “Are there peanuts? He’s allergic.” What happened next, the boy isn’t sure. He shakes his head, trying to find the missing pieces of that evening rattling around in his skull. He wonders why he remembers seeing his father holding the EpiPen even though he doesn’t have the details to connect the series of events. When no new memory comes to him, he drops the EpiPen back into the box, along with a roll of bills and a deck of basketball cards. He pushes the box back in place. The boy turns and beelines for the bed and shoves his arm in between the mattress and the box spring. His fingers feel the familiar smooth surface of a magazine. As he pulls at a loose leaf, he hears it tear. He sits still, straining his ear toward the door. He drags out the magazine with his father’s name printed on the front page along with the home address. He takes the magazine to the bathroom. There, while looking at Miss December, he touches himself. After dinner, the boy joins his mother on the couch, where she flips through the channels because she doesn’t have the vocabulary to understand their content. “Rough day?” he asks. “No,” she says, wiping at an oil stain on her shirt. “Just long.” “A lot of orders, I bet.” She nods and asks, “Why aren’t you playing outside?” “I don’t feel like it.” “I want you to have friends. And did your father call?” “Yes,” he says, looking away. “Mom? Why didn’t you make it work?” The boy’s mother flips through more channels before settling on a cartoon series. She focuses on the television. During a commercial break, the boy peeks at her and sees her staring off as though she were somewhere else. He presses his head against her shoulder to try and bring her back to him and jumps when he hears the bounce of a basketball on the porch. Michael pushes open the door, goes to the kitchen to eat, and climbs the stairs to his room. Moments later, he breaks from his routine and stomps down the stairs. “Glad you can join us,” his mother says, as the couch sinks under the added weight. “Michael, stop staring like that. You’re scaring him.”

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Vanni Thach The boy stops counting the grease stains on his mother’s shirt. He nudges closer to her and looks up at her small, pale face. She tousles his hair with a hand that smells of salty fish. It makes him sick to his stomach. The boy walks home from school. He thinks about a phone conversation he had had with his father a month earlier. It was their usual exchange, where his father called to talk about himself and bashed everyone in the family. “Hey Dad,” he said, opening and closing the refrigerator. “How are you? How’s your mom?” his father said. He tried to think of something safe to say. “Ummm, good.” “Of course she’s good. She’s probably using my money for purses and jewelry. Never. Never a day goes by did she understand how hard I work— for the family, her and her ridiculous job at the restaurant. I worked ten to twelve hours to give her everything she needed. God, I feel so stupid now that I’m thinking about it….” His father said more, but this was the third call and he had learned that no matter how he answered the initial question, his father was going to repeat the same thoughts in the same angry voice: his wife was overbearing, his brothers and sisters were greedy, everyone close to him treated him unfairly, and life had dealt him a hand of all faceless clubs. The boy listened, wondering if his father thought about how people had wronged him as much as how he had wronged them, like the time he came home drunk and threw the remote control at the boy’s mother, calling her, “Stupid,” one minute and holding her, sobbing, and kissing her the next. The boy climbs a hill. On hearing scuttling from behind, he looks over his shoulder. Kathy Yang, a girl from his class, pulls her younger brother along by the strap of his backpack. She looks up and waves at him. He waves back and walks into a girl and her friends. “Sorry,” he says, fixing his glasses. “Sorry?” the girl says, shoving him. “You should be.” The boy stumbles backward, tripping on the sidewalk. He puts out his hands to break the fall. As he adjusts his glasses, he thinks he sees the girl’s face change, for a split second, from pity to anger, like his father’s before items in the house grew wings and sailed across the room. “I’m—,” he starts to apologize, but stops and covers his head with his arms as a foot lands on his hip. He curls into a ball as more kicks strike his face and arms. “Stop,” Kathy yells. “You’re going to kill him.” The kicking stops only to start back up again. “Stop or I’ll call the police. Don’t believe me? Watch!” The boy cowers. With hands covering his head like a helmet, he waits for more blows. Instead, he hears feet running downhill and away from

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Vanni Thach him. He tries to pick himself up, but everything hurts. He lies still and stares up at the sky, trying to focus his eyes. “Kathy, no. Don’t touch him,” a boy says. “He might be dead.” “Peter, don’t be stupid,” Kathy says. “He’s still moaning. Can’t you see him moving?” Hands, large and small, yank at the boy’s collar. He whimpers from the pain. “Peter, stand here. Don’t move. I’m going to help him up.” “Let me help.” “You’re too small.” “No, I’m not. Let me help.” “Okay. Hold on, Peter. Stop pulling his hair. Help me with his arm. Okay. Now, pull.” The boy moans, “No. No. No. It hurts. It hurts.” “Broken?” Peter asks. “Let’s call mom. I’m hungry.” The boy’s mother picks him up and takes him to the doctor’s office. On the way there and home, she asks him what happened. Instead of answering her, he looks out the window both times, chewing his bottom lip. “It’s a good thing it’s only a sprain,” she says, trying to get him to talk. He looks at his sling. “It would be good if it hadn’t happened at all.” At home, the boy goes straight to his room and struggles to pull the cover over his head. He replays the fight, wishing he hadn’t tripped and fallen; to him, it would’ve been a fair fight then. He would’ve at least landed a couple punches. Even in thought, he feels bad about wanting to hit a girl, but he tells himself it’s okay because she was much bigger and taller. His mother knocks on his door and pushes it open. “Do you need anything?” “No,” he mumbles. “I have to get back to work. Leftovers are in the fridge. Get some rest.” She walks over and leans in to kiss him on the forehead. He turns away. “It’s your fault,” he whispers. “If you didn’t work, I wouldn’t have to walk home.” “If I don’t work,” she says, “we don’t eat.” The boy waits until the front door closes before pushing off the covers. He staggers down to the basement, wincing as his sling brushes against the side of the wall. He sits on the sofa beside the game console, clinging to a picture of his father as though it were the most important thing in his life. Yet, when he thinks back to when his father left, when his mother cried herself to sleep, and when his brother stopped talking to him and everyone in the family, he puts the picture face-down beside the television. Then he picks up the game controller, which, throughout the years, has always been there for him.

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Vanni Thach The boy goes to school with one arm in a sling. He tells everyone he fell off a tree. He retells the story again and again until even he begins to believe it. After school, he climbs a hill, at the bottom of which is a corner store and a playground which is usually empty because it’s a litter box for stray cats. He continues down the hill and hears someone calling him. “Hey, it’s us,” Peter says, waving. “We saved you.” “We called your mom,” Kathy says. “Well, we knocked on a man’s door. He called her.” “Thanks,” the boy says, grateful. “How do you know where she works?” “I saw you with her once at the restaurant,” Kathy says while pulling her brother along. “Hey,” Peter says. “Are you sad? Angry?” “Peter,” Kathy says. “Stop being so nosy.” “Okay. Okay,” Peter says and waits until his sister looks away. “So you’re angry?” Kathy shakes her head and slaps a palm to her forehead. “A little,” the boy says. “But the sling isn’t too bad.” Peter touches his stomach. “All this talk makes my stomach hurt. I’m hungry.” “You’re always hungry,” Kathy says. The boy smiles and shoves his good hand in his pocket. He pulls out a quarter covered in crumbs and lint. He rubs it clean on his pants, stretches out his hand, and opens it under the sun. They huddle together and watch the quarter shine like a treasure. They look up all at once and blurt out, “Corner store.” In the store, the boy buys five pieces of candy. Peter pouts at his sister, who took two pieces, forcing him to only take one from the last three. “Hey,” Peter says. “Why do I only get one?” “Because you’re the smallest,” Kathy says. “Not fair.” “You’re lucky we’re even giving you any.” “Lucky?” Peter says, frowning. “It’s not your money.” The boy looks at them and gives away his piece of candy. Peter takes it, pops it in his mouth, and sticks out his tongue at his sister. That evening, the boy takes out a notebook and flips through drawings he’s done over the years. He had done the drawings with the colored pencils his mother had given him for his seventh birthday. When the boy was younger, he drew variations of his family—all four of them holding hands under a blue sky. After his father left, the drawing had his mother in her room, his brother in his, and him standing outside in the rain. He frowns at the drawing of himself as though he could feel the coldness of the rain. He turns the page and draws a new picture—three children, one in a sling, playing on the swing.

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Vanni Thach The three friends keep their heads down and their eyes out for shiny objects on the sidewalks. By the end of the week, they collect enough pennies for only two pieces of candy. At the beginning of the following week, Peter grins at the boy while pretending to look for coins. He pulls out a five-dollar bill and drops it on the ground. “I found something,” Peter says, grabbing the bill from where he dropped it. “Peter Yang, where did you get that?” Kathy asks, trying to snatch the bill away. “I said, ‘I found it.’” “Where?” Kathy asks, staring at her brother until he looks away. “Okay. Okay. I found it in Dad’s wallet.” “You stole it?” Kathy asks, hands on her hips. “You’re in big trouble.” “Do you want candy or not?” Peter asks, shoving the bill back in his pocket. Kathy looks at the boy and rolls her eyes. “What are you smiling about?” At the corner store, Peter spends a quarter on candy and saves the rest of the money for later. He gives himself two pieces of candy, the boy two pieces of candy, and his sister one piece of candy. “But I’m your sister,” Kathy says, frowning at the candy in her palm. “Remember?” Peter says. “I’m the smallest.” “I hate you,” Kathy says, stomping out of the store. In a hurry, she runs into a girl and an older lady. “Hey, watch it.” Kathy pushes the door open and stops, as she looks over her shoulder at her brother. “It’s you.” She points at the girl. “Why did you kick him? What did he do to you?” Peter and the boy turn around and step away from the counter. To the boy, the middle school girl looks like most girls— thick bangs, red cheeks, and big feet. After the fight, he had tried to remember her face, but it was all a blur. Now, standing face-to-face, he thinks he may have seen her before, and the realization makes his body tremble. Peter tugs on his arm. “It’s the girl who kicked you. It’s her. Run and hide.” “Eva?” the lady asks, looking at the boy’s sling. “What are these kids talking about?” “Why did you kick our friend?” Kathy asks, pushing past her brother. “Sweetie,” the lady says, “you must have gotten the wrong person. My Eva—” “Is crazy,” Kathy yells. “She kicked him. Didn’t stop until we called the police.” “Yup,” Peter says from behind the boy. “Eva,” the lady says, “tell me now, did you kick him?” “No,” Eva says, shaking her head. “Liar!” Peter yells; the vein on his neck bulges. “Liar. Liar. Pants on fire.”

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Vanni Thach “You’re a liar, and you’re mean,” Kathy says. “I hope you don’t have any friends.” Kathy shakes her head and pulls her brother out the door. Outside, she continues to rattle on about how she can’t believe the girl lied to an adult. Usually, the boy enjoys listening to them banter, but today, he wonders why he stayed quiet when confronted by the girl in the store. It was unexpected to see her, almost like picking up the phone and hearing his father’s voice on the line; and, like with his father, his throat tightened, closed, cutting off the words he wanted to say, as if saying them would’ve created more problems. Thinking this, the boy unwraps his candy and eats it. The sweet taste coats his tongue and turns bitter when he realizes he knows the girl; he had seen her play basketball with his brother and his brother’s friends. The school lets out midday. Peter wears a black paper hat with a wide brim and a buckle glued to the front of it. In his hand is a fan in the shape of a turkey, colored by him. He fans himself as he walks up the hill, trying to catch up to his sister and the boy. “Why are you wearing that hat?” Kathy asks. “Christopher Columbus,” Peter says. “He wasn’t a pilgrim.” “He discovered America.” “You can’t discover—people were already here. The Indians. Did you learn about them?” “Yes, but I still don’t get it.” “It’s like the five-dollar bill you found in your dad’s wallet,” the boy says. “You didn’t find it,” Kathy says. “You stole it.” “Oh, like people were here already. Like that was already Dad’s money?” “Aren’t you smart,” Kathy says. “You’re not either, because you forgot it’s half a day today.” “Come wait at my house,” the boy says. At the house, the boy and his friends grab a drink from the kitchen and go to the basement to play video games. After a while, Kathy sniffles, then sneezes. “I’m okay,” she says, though her eyes are red. “I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe it’s the couch.” She gets off the couch and looks around the room. She muffles three sneezes in her arm. “Okay, Peter. We have to go. I’m not feeling good.” She puts out a hand to take the controller but brings it back to wipe tears from her eyes. Peter and the boy mope as they hand their controllers over. Kathy puts down the controllers at the base of the television and picks up a card. “What’s this?” Before the boy can snatch the envelope away from her, she opens the letter and reads it out loud. “Dear Bao, Happy Birthday! From Mom and Dad. We love you, always!” She holds up a picture. “Is this your dad?”

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Vanni Thach “Let me see,” Peter says, running to his sister’s side. He looks at the boy, then back at the picture. “He looks like you, but…but why does he look so sad?” The boy shrugs as though he hasn’t seen the picture before. In the fiveby-seven, his father is looking straight at the camera. His mouth is set in a deep frown—the one that he has been trying to avoid putting on his father’s face when on the phone with him. Even then, when he looks at the picture, he doesn’t see someone who is sad. He sees only his father. “Put it back,” he says, watching to make sure the photograph goes back in the card. “Why is he the only one in the picture?” Peter asks. “Is he dead?” “Peter,” Kathy says. “No,” the boy says. “Where is he?” Peter asks. “He left.” “Where did he go?” The boy shrugs, wishing he knew the answer. “But he says he loves you. Why would he leave?” The boy shrugs again and lies, “He sends us money.” Kathy sneezes. “I can’t take this anymore.” She barges upstairs. “Peter, stop being nosy.” Peter follows his sister up the stairs. He stops and turns to look at the boy. “It’s just…. It’s just…if my mom and dad leave me, I’ll be really sad. Sometimes when I hear them fighting, I get scared. Kathy lets me sleep with her, and I cry because…because I’m afraid they’ll leave us. That’s why I try to be good.” After Thanksgiving Break, Kathy, Peter, and the boy, now without his sling, suffer the smell and chase the cats off the playground. They sit on the swings and joke about the glaring of cats, staring at them from under the monkey bars as though waiting for treats. “I’m sorry,” Peter says, and he shares that his father caught him trying to return the loose bills and grounded him for a week. “I told you so,” Kathy says. Peter glares at his sister. He jumps off the swing and chases the cats off the playground, running in circles as they race back to their makeshift home. Exhausted, he throws himself back on the swing, kicking himself higher and yelling. “Did your dad give up?” “What?” the boy asks. “Me and Peter told Mom over break about your dad. She says he gave up,” Kathy says, getting off the swing and walking the wooden border around the playground as though on a pirate’s plank. “She says it’s a band a man,” Peter says.

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Vanni Thach “It’s pronounced abanda men,” Kathy says over her shoulder. “Whatever.” “Don’t whatever me.” “Whatever, whatever, whatever,” Peter says. “It makes more sense if it’s a band a man anyway. Like, one man in a band. It’s sad.” The boy’s chest tightens. For him, it’s all the same. Whatever it’s called, his father isn’t around and won’t be around. And if he were, he would look and sound like he hated every second of being there. Maybe it’s better that he’s gone, he thinks as he kicks sand in the air. Peter hums a tune. He breaks into laughter. He’s laughing so hard, tears are streaming down his face. He wipes his eyes, catching his breath. “Knock knock?” He looks around, but neither the boy nor Kathy wants to encourage him. “Knock knock? Fine. Who’s there? Eva. Eva who? Eva big and tall, hair so short, she’s going bald.” He chuckles, face red. Kathy laughs, shaking her head. She looks down the street. “Hey, hush it. Look.” Eva comes down the hill and crosses the street. She stops by the playground, shuffling in place as though contemplating what to say. “I want to talk to you,” she says to the boy. “Alone.” “No,” Peter says, then turns to his sister. “Right, Kathy?” “We’re not leaving him alone with you,” Kathy says. Eva shrugs. “Thanks for not ratting me out. My aunt can be a bitch.” Peter gasps. “She said—” “Don’t, Peter,” Kathy says. The boy watches her turn to go, wishing she would never come back. Peter stops the swing and runs after her. He grabs her arm. “Why did you kick him?” “I didn’t want to,” Eva says, pulling herself from him. “But you did. You hurt him. You really hurt him,” Peter says, grabbing her shirt. “Peter,” Kathy says. “If you don’t—” “Tell me,” Peter says, eyes brimming with tears. “He’s my friend. Just tell me, please?” “Just tell him already,” Kathy says. Eva shrugs. “Because his brother gave me five dollars.” “What?” Peter says, letting go of her shirt. “You lie. You’re a liar. You’re a liar….” Eva shrugs and walks away. Peter looks at Kathy. The boy keeps his eyes on the ground. The three friends walk home in silence. The boy focuses on the sound of footfalls, the scuffling of soles, and thinks about his family. He wonders why he always felt left out, like he has no choice but to be with his mother and brother though neither one of them seems to care about him. He wonders

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Vanni Thach why bad things continue to happen to him and to him only when he feels a small hand on his shoulder. “She’s a liar,” Peter says. “Right, Kathy?” Kathy bites her lip and nods. “Right.” “Kathy?” Peter asks. “Would you... Would you give someone five dollars to—” “Don’t be stupid, Peter,” Kathy says. “I’d do it myself.” At home, the boy sits with an old drawing of his family with an “x” over his brother. Next to it is a bag of peanuts he bought with money he found in his mother’s drawer. He drops the controller and presses his palms to his eyes, thinking about his conversation with his father just an hour earlier. At the thought, a sinking feeling in his chest mimics a drop tower free falling without brakes. He grips the arm of the couch, wishing, more than anything, he could’ve told his father how him leaving had changed all of them—his mother, his brother, and him. Instead, when his father asked him how he was doing, he told him he was okay and everything was good. And his father did the same before overtaking the conversation with his liturgy of self-pity and angry diatribe. The boy stares at the television screen to calm the pounding in his chest. His mind races to his brother’s room where he wants to scatter the bag of peanuts—on the bed, by the desk, and under the window sills. He wants his brother to hurt—to know what it was like to be kicked and stomped on, to feel like no one cares. He moves to grab the bag of peanuts and his hand hovers over it as though he had always been disgusted by how shelled and split peanuts look like rotten teeth. He shakes the thought, pockets the bag, and stumbles up the basement stairs. The drumming from the boy’s chest makes its way to his ears. As he steps onto the landing, he sees his mother, standing by the kitchen counter as though waiting for him to appear. She walks across the kitchen and hugs him. He freezes. “What are you doing here?” “I know you’re upset with me,” she says. “I wanted to check up on you.” He pulls away. “Why are you home?” He eyes the stairs to the second floor. “You’ve already asked me. Something told me to—” “Really, I’m okay.” “Okay. Your father said you were in a hurry to get off the phone.” His mouth is dry. He leans against the counter. “Did he give up on us?” His mother sighs and says, “He loves you.” “Like how you love me? I almost broke my arm and you left to go back to work. I go into his room and he has someone beat me up,” he says, looking toward the front door. “That type of love?” “He did what?” She turns her head to the second floor. “Michael.”

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Vanni Thach Michael comes down the stairs in his basketball shorts. “What’s going on?” She turns to her older son. “You got someone to beat him up?” Michael gives his mother a faraway stare. “You picked me up from school for this?” He pops his gum, looks at his brother, and shrugs his shoulders. Michael’s shrug is the last thing the boy remembers. He scowls, hating the feeling of helplessness building behind his eyes. He pulls out the bag of peanuts and rips it open. Peanuts scatter all over the kitchen counter and floor. As shock rises to his mother’s face, his brother’s blurry shadow runs up the stairs. The boy’s heart is racing too fast for him to hear what his mother is screaming. He loses grip on the counter and slides to the floor. His breath is short; his eyes focus on the ceiling fan. He feels his arms shaking and shadows move in and out of view. He realizes then when his father left, he took with him bits and pieces of memories and forced those left behind to live in fragments, without the means to move on. As if a breakthrough, he gasps. He sees his father—face set in a deep frown—coming toward him with a green dagger. But this time, it’s too late.

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Julie Zuckerman Ruin Pub Karina stepped through the cavernous space, squinting into dark

side rooms decorated with Kádár-era posters, every sound giving her a start. Knowing that Andras was somewhere in the shadows didn’t assuage her jumpiness. Thin shafts of sunlight emitted from the back courtyard, where the dilapidated husk of a baby blue Trabant sat, devoid of tires and steering wheel. Outside, the skies of Budapest were clear and sunny, a mild chill signaling the onset of autumn, but inside the air was stale. She wore black platform boots, loving the seven centimeters they gave her. In the third room to the right, Karina spotted the ragged figure of the proprietor curled up on a frayed, mustard-colored sofa, its cushions flat and depleted. A sour smell of decay came from the clammy, ink-stained walls, or possibly from Andras himself. It seemed laughable that she’d been frightened by him in her youth. He was alone now, his wife long passed and his children fled to points west. For weeks, she’d been savoring the irony: the former Party functionary who needed her capital. Karina’s foot brushed up against an empty Palinka bottle and sent it skittering across the cement floor. “Andras, hey! Are you up? Remember, we talked about a rental agreement?” He gave no response. She rummaged in her bag for her lighter and flicked it on a few inches from his face. He was sleeping. She tapped a Kent out of its pack and took a luxurious drag, her lungs welcoming the warm smoke. Prodding his shoulder elicited no reaction. Back when Andras was an apparatchik with strong associations to the Education Ministry, there’d been no choice but to hold in her rage if she wanted to attend university. But now, one pillow over his face and he’d be no more. She gave him another jab. “Andras, you old drunk! Wake up, we have an appointment!” Andras swung his body into sitting position and flipped a light switch. A bare bulb illuminated the room, revealing his bloodshot eyes, shriveled face, and a matted, ginger beard. “I’m getting up, you don’t have to shove me,” he said. In addition to the sofa, the room contained a chest of drawers with books and papers scattered across the top, a single chair, and a small card table holding a hot plate, a pot, some cans of goulash and beans, a few spoons, and a sardine-tin-turned-ashtray. He gestured for her to sit. He was a willowy man, and shrewd, very shrewd. Somehow, shortly after ’89, Andras had engineered getting the deed

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Julie Zuckerman to the building, long before it had ever occurred to her that someday she’d want to set up a pub here. In the fifteen years or so since, as she’d studied and waitressed and bartended her way through university and graduate school, he’d let the interior fall into ruin. A shame because the exterior was in fine condition, its facade chronicling a familiar Budapest tale: the second-story windows depicted ornate stonework, but in the ’50s, when displays of decoration were dismantled in favor of industrial design, the ground floor had been resurfaced with plain, ugly cement. The double irony was that the building had once housed a state-run educational printing press, and history textbooks were the source of her family’s troubles. The textbooks she read as a girl inevitably cast Hungary as the victim in World War II and said nothing about its four-year alliance with Hitler. They made no mention of the fact that Kádár himself had invited in the Soviet tanks in ’56 and was responsible for thousands of deaths, including those of her paternal grandparents and her mother’s only brother. And though the rest of the country seemed to suffer from collective amnesia, grateful to Kádár for easing restrictions and turning Hungary into the “happiest barrack” of the Eastern Bloc, Karina’s family had not forgotten or forgiven. Her father’s crime was urging the country to own up to its past. Andras and his cronies kept the family on extra-long wait lists for every material desire, and were behind the smear campaign that ruined her father’s mathematics career. Now, a defining moment in Karina’s own professional life: at 32, a soon-to-be small business owner. She turned the phrase over in her mind like a delicious confection. Perhaps not as lofty as some of her grad school friends, who’d taken government jobs intent on righting the country’s monetary and fiscal policies, but small businesses were the engine of the private sector, pivotal to Hungary’s transformation. “I drew up a contract,” she said, extracting the papers from her purse. “Very fair for both sides.” He took the agreement, flipped through the pages without reading, and handed it back to her. “First of all,” Andras said, “the Trabbi in the back stays.” Karina laughed; he was delusional if he thought she’d agree to keep a decrepit old auto in the courtyard where she planned outside seating for the new pub. The Trabbi—if one could call that cramped, pollution machine a car—was the symbol of everything that had been wrong with the country for four decades. Her own family had to wait nine years for theirs, and when they finally got one her mother complained that they were endangering their lives every time they drove in it. With its smoke-belching two-stroke engine and a body constructed of cotton waste from Russia, the Trabbi had been dubbed the world’s worst car. “Plus twenty percent of the profits for the first year.” “Twenty percent? You’re insane!”

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Julie Zuckerman A sly smile came over his craggy face. “Fifteen, then. Plus the Trabbi. Do you think you’re the only one who’s approached me with grand ideas?” “Something tells me you don’t have too many other offers.” She would not allow him to defeat her, not after all the plans she’d made for this place: who her first hires would be, where she’d get supplies, and how soon she’d be able to repay the small business loan under the new “Dawn in Hungary” credit program. She’d lain awake concocting recipes for new cocktails and wondering if 550K forint was enough as an initial marketing investment. “You said it yourself in our last meeting,” Andras said, countering. “This is a prime location.” She cringed for having seemed too eager. But he was right about the location, which meant he was not as severed from current developments as she’d thought. Just off Dohany utca, a five-minute walk from the metro at Astoria, in the heart of the trendy Jewish Quarter, where locals and vacationers mixed in the open-air markets and admired the street art. And Jozef’s office was not too far; she could meet her boyfriend for lunch, and he’d promised to bring his colleagues around after work. She ran through the numbers in her mind, feeling chastened that Andras had picked up the basic principles of free markets without a fancy degree in economics and a certificate in entrepreneurship. The fifteen percent was negotiable. She took several more drags on her cigarette, studying his steely countenance. “Ten percent.” She was unsure what he saw when he appraised her: frightened little girl or independent, savvy businesswoman of the new generation. A lock of hair had come undone from her loose bun and now she tucked it behind her ear. “And you can forget the Trabbi.” “Please.” His voice cracked. “It’s all I have left of my mother.” She shook her head. “No Trabbi.” They stared at each other, at a standstill for several moments. “I’ll go down to six percent,” Andras said, almost a whisper. “But the Trabbi stays.” “Six?” Karina repeated, her ears disbelieving. “Give me a minute to think.” She retreated into the main space, the light from his room making it easier to see, to recalculate. She’d imagined turning the decaying walls into something colorful—hot pinks, fluorescent greens and blues, sunshine yellows—a bright pub for a bright future for Budapest’s young people. She ran her hand over the peeling columns and walked the length of the main room, glanced out to the back courtyard. The central space was massive, five times the size of the entire twobedroom flat in which she’d spent her childhood. Andras and his family had lived two floors above in a four-bedroom apartment with windows on the north, south and west sides—his reward for informing on Mr. and Mrs. Szalai of 4C for writing subversive poems. Karina and the other children

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Julie Zuckerman in the apartment block often waited for him to leave the building before rushing out to school. Karina wanted the pub to symbolize their freedom, an atmosphere of openness and abandon, though it might be a hard sell—fifteen years after the fall of Communism, the hope for a better society was dead. Many in her parents’ generation moaned of missing the mandated “family nights” each Monday, when the state-run television was taken off the air to encourage families to spend time together. One of Jozef’s mother’s frequent complaints was that working-class people could no longer afford to go to cultural events, which had been practically free under the former regime. Not to mention unemployment and inflation. The recent austerity measures made sense to institutions like the World Bank and business majors like Karina, but not to average Hungarians. But what was his angle with the Trabbi? To Karina, it embodied economic disparity, the shortcomings of the Eastern Bloc. She’d assumed Andras no longer posed a threat to her family, or to anyone, but now she was unsure. Was he still connected to some underground Party movement? She didn’t know if one existed—she’d never heard whispers—but that was the consequence of growing up in a communist regime: conditioned to distrust. She returned to the side room. “Why is it so important to you, the Trabbi?” He took a few seconds before responding. “I don’t know if you can understand.” “I’m trying to.” “My mother was so proud when I was able to get her one. I’d never seen her happier.” He seemed to regain some self-worth from the reminiscence. His eyes shone and there was a hint of fulfilment on his sunken face. The generation gap was acute. For Andras’ and her parents’ peers, as well as their parents, owning a Trabbi had been a status symbol. Perhaps their own way of rebelling. Karina longed for her own mother, eight years gone. Sometimes the grief surfaced and struck Karina with the force of a mortar shell. Was it possible Andras was felled by similar feelings? A sudden brainwave, maybe a brilliant one. Her entrepreneurship award wasn’t for nothing. Perhaps she’d had it wrong: the luminous colors in her dreams weren’t right for the pub. She could place the Trabbi in the middle of the space and turn the ancient auto into a centerpiece, with plenty of room left for the main bar and some seating. She could keep the Kádár-era posters on the wall and decorate the side rooms with other relics. Her mother’s tin milk heater, her father’s antiquated Remtor typewriter, photographs of her pre-teen self in the choir of the Little Pioneers youth movement, everyone dressed in identical white shirts, blue skirts, and red ties. The pub would not only offer drinks but also a sense of nostalgia, warm

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Julie Zuckerman memories of childhood. A screen somewhere with Süsü the Dragon and the adventures of Pom Pom playing on repeat. If some called it kitschy, she’d counter that it was all authentic: the ruined building, the remnants of a past period. Beyond the décor, another inspiration began to form. Darker but more satisfying. She stubbed the butt of her Kent in the makeshift ashtray and extracted a new cigarette. Budapest was becoming something of a tourist hub for Westerners; she had a line in her marketing budget giving licensed tour guides discounts for the first six months. Attractions displaying the country’s communist past were not-to-be-missed: walking tours of Communist Budapest, the underground memorial at Kossuth Ter, the House of Terror museum. And what better way to capitalize on the trend than by having her pub feature a living, breathing relic of the era? “Alright.” He looked up at her, his eyes hopeful. “Alright?” She gave a curt nod. “Six percent, and the Trabbi can stay. On the condition that you let me decorate it.” He reached for her hand and grasped it with both of his. “Thank you.” His skin was papery and wrinkled, but Karina didn’t recoil. His eyes closed and he mumbled something that sounded like a blessing. Her thinking was clear, and she was almost grateful for his insistence on the Trabbi. He had nowhere to go besides this husk of a building. Better, also, to keep him close, under her persuasive, watchful eye. She took a deep breath. “The Trabbi can stay,” she repeated. “And you can stay with it. I’ll give you one of the side rooms, in exchange for your help behind the bar.” An authentic, old Party official telling stories at the bar would be a draw, an asset upon which to generate publicity and build the brand. She wasn’t sure what her mother would have said but her father would appreciate the irony, the way she’d engineered events. The perfect “fuck you” to Communism: taking the artifacts of the era—and manipulating those who were cogs in its machine—to make a profit. Any lingering doubts about her endeavor washed away—there was nobility in her mission, not only because small businesses were the backbone of the nascent economy. This was bigger than herself. She’d dedicate one of the many side rooms to those who’d fallen in ’56: pictures of her grandparents, her uncle, the people rising. In doing so, she’d be helping the remaining members of her family move forward. Find compassion for their oppressors. Andras blinked several times in rapid succession. He opened his mouth to say something but no words came out. At last, he shook his head in assent, his bloodshot eyes watery. His body seemed to quiver and he flicked off the light. She could tell he was weeping by his raspy breaths. The arrangement would be mutually beneficial, but was this exploitation, using him as a growth engine? How long would it take for him to work off her

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Julie Zuckerman father’s 75-page file in the state security archives? They hadn’t taught such calculations in her business classes. The new age belonged to her generation. If her intuition proved correct—and she had a giddy hunch it would—more ruin pubs would sprout across the city. And competition was good for business and the burgeoning economy. Karina reached in her bag for the bottle of apricot-flavored Palinka she’d bought to celebrate later with Jozef and their friends. Her lawyer had prepared the documents; once the rental agreement was signed she could officially register the company with the Hungarian Court of Registration. It would take at least a month to clean the place up, to air out the smells of mildew and stale potatoes and God knew what else, and then another month or two to construct the bar, decorate the space, and train her staff. She flipped the light switch back on, feeling emboldened by her choices. “Come, let’s have a drink, and I’ll show you the plans.” She gave Andras a warm, sincere smile, and tapped out another Kent from her packet, handing it to him. See, she wanted to say, capitalists can be generous.

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Matthew Murrey Minimum Wage I’ve heard boxcars rolling rust and blinked at the blink of far towers pinning down night’s horizon, putting red periods on dark sentences. I’ve tried to remember, questioned my shadow hurrying home, held my hair up to the light, studied my blue veins and broken nails. I’ve tried to remember how I ended up muttering to myself, shelving books at 4 pm— though it’s better than washing dishes all afternoon. I’ve tried to remember when this all started and why my sister has to sit for eight hours a day typing insurance codes into a computer. And was it you or I who spent the evening shift salting fries and wrapping burgers, only to come home late smelling like the meat the customers ate?

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Kelly O’Rourke A Wealth of Information Zoltar wants to know what I am waiting for and for a small fee he will give me a wealth of information Or as my father would say, “What are you waiting for, an invitation?” Zoltar, I want to know how much I must pay to hear everybody’s done dying that my black funeral clothes can be folded away, bagged up and donated to charity And that those I have lost are only temporally suspended in the fifth dimension laughing each time I spill or trip, snickering “good job” under their hidden, continued breaths I want to know the cost to hear my heart will stop being trounced like a trampoline, a swing pumped so high before the rider leaps off, leaving it to slow softly, solemnly, on its own

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Kelly O’Rourke Zoltar, when will those jumpers stop choosing smashers of wine glasses, chain smokers of grandmothers’ cigarettes who crash into trees in the front yard? Zoltar, you seer, you oracle in your upright box, how soon can I pay you and at what cost for you to predict all that I hunger to hear?

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Willy Palomo Mama’s hands scrub toilets until you can see your face as you piss, until her hugs smell only of rubber & bleach. Her knuckles are rougher than my father’s, tougher than anything behind a dumpster with Timberlands and a metal bat. At nine years old, the sound of her car leaving the garage would wake me up in the morning. Her shift ended at midnight, so at bedtime, I would take out all of my toys to wait for her and play with dinosaurs on the couch. But the morning would come with the crank of her engine, again. I’m sorry, Mama, I’d blink, knotting myself deeper into my sheets, but I couldn’t breathe & keep my eyes open at the same time. I’m sorry, I’d stomp, crushing snails after school, I didn’t love you enough to stay awake. When night came again, I’d yawn, pull out my triceratops, and vow to see her before bed. I thought I would never make it. Then, one night the door broke open like a promise, the light behind her head darkening her face as she lifted me numb from the sofa. I twitched, maybe managed a smile, as her hand stroked the left side of my face—rough.

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Georgia Pearle To an Ex-Husband Years ago we signed our severance but still I feel you in your cell. I help our son with his homework. He’s making sentences with words like famish, panic, innocent. I hope the concrete cools you. The sky turns and pine straw flickers from the trees. I have to tell him this time. You, jail, again. Another night with a fistful of pills, a dash of smoke, something powdered, capsuled, bottled. I don’t know what it was. I always know what it was. How to tell your son that you can’t hold him clear? Why did I think you beautiful when hollow? Your eyes such blue caverns, gone red at the margins. You made full meals from cabinets I found empty. Didn’t think to take such hardscrabble skills

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Georgia Pearle as warning. Thief. Your hand, my back: check my pockets. Your hand, my cheek: check my resolve.

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Molly Bess Rector Now Say Drink— When I say take it all, I mean literally: take everything and go. It’s yours. Take the milk, the forty-five-dollar bottle of whiskey I was saving for a big win. Take the honey, the bees. Take the water bill. Pay what you can. Really. & take the jars, too— jars full up on sidewalk coins I found on bodega jaunts— tins upon tins of cheap beer I bought, tabbing holes in cadmium blue to pour me out a river for everything now gone. No—not just the money. Not just you. Remember the limp as the horse left the track? His tendon strain? The stone in the frog of his hoof? You told me you’d have bet on him & they’d have taken you for all the money you didn’t have & I thought it was a pointless exercise—imagining near misses with imaginary riches. But you’ve always been a gambler. & because I’ve broken all the cups, because I know that I will cut my lips on harsh aluminum rims, I’ll tell you again: Take. Drink. Anyway, you can’t make a meal out of whiskey and milk alone.

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José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes Portrait of Chichikov as a Mortgage Trader Acquisition is to blame for everything; because of it things have been done which the world dubs not quite clean. —Nikolai Gogol (trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky) He buys up all the mortgages he can, cramming their cash flows into CDOs investors crave, though they don’t understand the risk of loss. Not even Moody’s knows. He buys up billions’ worth but doesn’t care whose loans these are; what matters is his spread. As they continue living, unaware, to him these souls may just as well be dead. Today a single name catches his eye: Tatiana, waitress, sole support of four… But the next trade cuts short his reverie, denying him a glimpse into her war— the home, the bonds she fights in vain to save while she becomes her labor, like a slave.

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Christine Rhein Sunday Night, Retail —Lisa, Impact Team Member They tell me to be creative in this job. And detail-oriented too. Even way past closing, doors locked, lights low. I’m stuck with cotton T’s and folding time, refolding time—fluff, stretch, crease—rectangles matched and stacked into invitations: “Dear Shopper, Please touch and dig through all the colors. Lavender. Daffodil. Sweetest Lime.” Spring launch is a dream. Or a great big joke. It’s February. Doesn’t Corporate know anything about Chicago, the slush I mop away? Fluff. Stretch. Crease, crease, crease. They tell me there’s an art to meeting quota, sales coming down to eye contact, smiles. It’s work. And more than work. And just me here, alone, smoothing out a hem, spreading out a chest, hiding the sleeves—one, two—empty arms.

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Nicholas Samaras I Have No Problems the Lottery Would Not Solve I was told God doesn’t let me win the lottery because He loves me— and my poverty is God’s way to bless me. I pray for God to please not bless me so much, but just enough to prove that money won’t ruin me. One single time, I was finally given a sum of money, and I wouldn’t spend it. It took months to pry my hands open and write a single check. Now working three jobs for one salary, I buy my small, numbered ticket once a week, praying to pay off the bills, enough left over to take the family out for a meal. No cars or extravagance. No posture. But only money to generate income and charity for artists. I swear to God money will not ruin me. Just give me the chance to prove it.

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Corinna McClanahan Schroeder Letter of Notice to the Country House You will not last. Can’t you see the swans circling in the pond as if it were a drain? I know, I know, you’re centuries in the making—Tudor courtyard, Georgian façades, Gothic vaulting, a long-established heronry. But one day the final carriage will drive away, and already the servants are closing up a wing, stillness creeping like a vine through the hallway. So consider this your warning: your lawn parties of claret cup punch, your fish knives and oyster forks, your cream soup spoons— all of it’s doomed. That after-dinner hour when your drawing room rustles with gossip? It will go up in cigar smoke. Your foxhunts through autumn woods will be scratched from the books, your yew trees felled, the maids’ beds tucked like eggs among your attic eaves ruined. After years of disuse, rain growing holes in your roof, even your ghost will give up the ghost, only sparrows to haunt your widow’s walk. Listen carefully. You will be devastated, like every solid thing. Can you hear the croquet mallet’s smack in the grass? That’s the wrecking ball knocking on your door.

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Amy Clark Return to Oz 1975

It seems like a good place to start, the year I turn five. I am a

knobby-kneed tomboy with blond hair and Pixie-stick arms and legs. We live in a blue and white trailer with cinder-block steps in the heart of central Appalachia, on a few acres my young parents own themselves. She is sixteen and he is nineteen when I am born. Five years later, I know that they work hard. But I don’t know that a year or two before, they had just enough money between them to buy me some french fries one night when we were out with family. I don’t know that my dad has left a job he loved at the power company to go into the coal mines, where the money is better, though he will hate working in low coal where he cannot stand up all day. He will eventually go on strike because those are the terms he has agreed to with the union. When we are standing in line for groceries, I will not know that my mother is paying with food stamps, or that it will fill her with shame. And because I don’t know all these things, as children shouldn’t, I’m just overjoyed to be in a world where there are cats, plums, tire swings, grandparents, great-grandparents, and yes, great-great grandparents, which is what happens when you are born to teenagers. When I turn six, we will move into my parents’ dream home, built by my dad and his friends: a two-story log house with lantern sconces and wagon-wheel chandeliers. Mom will clean every Saturday, sounds of ABBA and John Denver crooning from the stereo. The centerpiece of the living room will be a fireplace my dad builds himself with rock he hauled up from the river. He will chop wood every fall and stack it up to the eaves of the front porch; he’ll keep the fires going throughout the night and shovel cold ashes every afternoon, his hands chapped, cracked and bleeding. I will be reading the Little House on the Prairie series around this time, and watching Dad cut, stack, burn, and repeat will remind me of Laura’s Pa, how he stays one step ahead of the blizzards out West. It will be too cold in our house in the winter, too hot in the summer. Wasps will make their way into my windows during warm weather; I’ll develop a hatred of them because I will constantly worry about getting stung, though for the most part they keep to themselves. At night, they fold their bodies together on the log walls, assuming, I’m sure, that they belong there. I will always associate the sound of a chainsaw and the smell of freshly cut wood with the onset of fall.

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Amy Clark Jaws is the number one movie, and because my dad did not have to fight in a war in Vietnam, he takes me to see it; movies were not as expensive, then. We stand on the street outside the Lee Theatre in Pennington Gap, where his dad took him to the movies before he died of a massive heart attack in his forties. My dad was sixteen. He holds my dimpled, little-girl hand while we wait for our tickets. Each year thereafter, we will have a ritual: watch Jaws the night before we leave for the beach. We’ll watch the movie on a videodisc player, trading movies with someone Dad works with who also has one. Once VHS tapes replace videodiscs, we will make the switch when players are abundant and more affordable. We will memorize the script because we have seen it so many times and throughout the year we will recall lines: “Here’s to swimmin’ with bowlegged women”; “I can do anything; I’m the Chief of Police”; “They’re in the yaaad, not too faaahh from the cahhh”; and, of course, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” That theatre will close in the late 1970s. The Powell River will swallow nearby businesses in the flood of 1977, leaving them to rats and other scavengers after the water recedes. The region will not recover from this flood for decades; trash will hang from the branches of river trees for years to come, and the water lines will stay visible on boarded-up buildings. For years, the theatre will be another boarded-up space on Main Street until someone comes along and gets a grant to renovate it. Later, my dad will donate money for a commemorative plate etched with his dad’s name on one of the new, plush theatre seats, in the row where they watched movies together. We will fill that row when we’ve expanded as a family, complete with spouses and grandchildren. The marquee will be bordered in flashing lights, a shiny ornament in the middle of a ghost town crippled by the waning coal industry and an opioid epidemic. This is the year that Margaret Thatcher has been elected as the first female British Conservative Party leader. Later, I will stand beside girls on a beauty pageant stage and hear them say that she is their inspiration, but they don’t know who she is. Bill Gates and Paul Allen will launch Microsoft and the first personal computer, black screens with green letters, like giant calculators that can make sentences. Mr. Potato Head, Frosty the Sno-Cone Maker, and portable cassette players were popular toys. I did not have Frosty the Sno-Cone Maker, but I didn’t miss it. In 1975, I am standing at the entrance to the Land of Oz on Beech Mountain in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I’m wearing a denim jumper, red shirt, and my hair is in pigtails. I squint into the sun, my cheeks still full of baby fat, baby teeth aligned in perfect rows. My mom is just 19, her hair cut in a Jane Fonda (the style you find in images of her arrest in 1970 as she protested Vietnam) and frosted. She is slender and stylish in flared, formfitting slacks and a white blouse with puffed sleeves. Her dad, whom I call “Poppy,” is there, too. He is a Roy Rogers doppelganger, down to the coiffed

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Amy Clark hair, which is slicked back on the sides and swooped in front. He is silverscreen-handsome, slim and fit, wearing his print polo and polyester slacks. He likes dressing well. Oz opened in 1970, the year I was born, and enjoyed success as a theme park until it closed in 1980. Though the amphitheatre and some gift shops burned in December 1975 and the park’s museum was subsequently looted, in its heyday, it even drew the attention of celebrities like Debbie Reynolds (who collected movie memorabilia). She visited with her daughter, Carrie Fisher, in 1970. A lift takes us to the very top of Beech Mountain, where the fog is so thick in the mornings you have to wait for it to burn away to see three feet ahead. Just through the talking trees, no matter where you walk, you can see North Carolina’s horizon. This is the state where my mom’s people are from, where my great-great grandfather Rainwater Ramsey came from, where my mother was born, and where her family lived until her parents’ divorce when she was 12. Poppy still lived there in 1975 and we visited him occasionally, which is why we were at Oz together. Like the border state of Kentucky, we will live on its rim in the heart of central Appalachia, an easy daytrip to Oz and Tweetsie Railroad. What I know about Oz at five years old is that it is Over the Rainbow, which is easy to believe on the top of Emerald Mountain. It is a glittering, color-drenched world where things sparkle. I still have not gotten over Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers. We walk past the fountain to Professor Marvel’s wagon where he tells us a storm is brewing, then on to Uncle Henry and Auntie Em’s house. We walk into the house, past the front room with its duvet, rockers, doilies, and black-and-white portraits. Past bedrooms with treadle sewing machine and quilts that remind me of my great-grandmother’s house where she makes butter to sell at the West Town Market in town, past the kitchen with plates neatly stacked, utensils laid out on the chopping block. Then, we descend into the basement as the tornado howls around us. I have to recreate this memory, because it terrified me. I was a worrying child, and after my first trip to Oz I worried about tornadoes, though I was assured one would never be able to make its way through the mountains. (It did.) I am sure I am carried by Poppy or my mother, my hands covering my ears against sounds of screeching winds, a laughing witch, flashing lights. We come out, and the house is just like the one in the movie version: the same rooms torn to bits but now at an angle, so slanted we have to hold to the wall to keep our footing. Years later, when I am nine months pregnant with our first child, I will drive into our neighborhood where trees are snapped into jagged toothpicks and electric lines snake over the roads. I will find our house in a similar state, dark and full of broken glass, things on walls left askew, drenched and dirty

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Amy Clark bedspreads. I will find our gutters corkscrewed around the giant oak, our dog missing. When we reach the door, blinking at daylight, we see the yellow brick road. This is the part I remember most vividly, that road stretching out in front of us for what seemed like miles, a brick ribbon winding its way through talking trees, through mushrooms the color of jewels. A promise. We stop at four houses along the way to listen to characters singing and dancing to canned music: the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, and Witch. The yellow brick road traverses the very top of this mountain; through the trees there is only sky. The horizon of mountaintops is farther down. In 1975, we had a map where everything seemed so much bigger, before the park burned, before the looting, when the Dorothys’ (there were several) hemlines were mid-thigh and their socks stretched to just below their knees. The roads and fonts were bubbly, dotted with mushrooms, and cast in psychedelic colors. Hot air balloons hummed above the trees. I think about my mom, so very young as a wife and mother. Her own childhood ended at 15, but this book and the movie keeps her linked to a more innocent time, before she realized her first home would be fractured, that her life would feel like a house caught up in a twister. How determined she felt to not let that happen to us, how determined she would be to guide me like she did along that brick road, to keep me from falling prey to what was out there. How she would know that I would try to do the same thing with my own daughter, but realize that we can only do so much. How she would work so hard she would collapse, but get right back up again. I have returned to Oz several times since the ’70s, and though I’m all grown up, I’m never far-removed from that little girl who walked on the yellow brick road, hand in hand with her mother and grandfather. I looked for her in 2008 when I came back, my baby son in his stroller. I thought I caught her peeking around one of the talking trees when I returned in 2010, curious as I met the man who played the coroner in the movie, Mienhardt Raabe, shrunken with age inside his big blue cape and hat. I passed her on the chairlift when we went back in 2017, this time with our little girl dressed as Dorothy, down to the ruby-red slippers. My daughter is about the same age as that little girl who waved her dimpled hand at us, smiled with dimpled cheeks. The wind lifted her hair as we passed, and I shifted as much as I dared in my seat to get another look behind me, but she was gone. “Mom,” my little girl said, “you’re holding my hand too tight.” I take our children to my childhood haunts and try to recreate the good parts for them. My great-grandmother’s farm is not the place I once knew, but I try to explain how the family grew tobacco and sugar cane, where they made and canned molasses, selling out every year. I tell them about our own tobacco crop, working in the hot sun for hours to bring in some extra money for the holidays. They will know that their grandparents, great-grandparents

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Amy Clark and so on were farmers, sharecroppers, laborers. They may have been one dollar away from the poorest of poor, but they worked. Their black-andwhite portraits still hang on the walls, one of them a death portrait. A child, propped up in her casket, dead at 10 in 1922 from something that could have been cured today with a quick stop at an Urgent Care clinic. My children will not grow up with anxiety about money, or worried about how their parents will afford college. But as long as they live in central Appalachia, they will be aware of a class binary: the haves and have-nots. They’ll hear the phrase “trailer trash,” and see the trailers across the river but be mindful that my life began in a trailer, and that my Friday nights were spent at my Granny’s trailer. Granny’s first trailer sat in a park in Bristol, VA near the hospital where she worked. Granny was just 36 when I was born, so her nickname was batted around as a joke, but it stuck. Domestic disputes were common in the trailer park; I would watch couples when their fights spilled outside, peeking through slits in the curtains, eating slices of buttered white bread. Later, Granny bought a double-wide and moved it back to the holler near my great-grandparents’ house, perched high on a hill, tucked between tall, swaying trees. Deer threaded their families through them, looking for nuts and berries. She fenced the property and got a couple of goats. I loved the double-wide because it had amenities I’d never seen: a stereo embedded in the wall with speakers in the walls of every room. Ambient lighting in the living room. A bar with barstools, and a place to hang wine glasses upside down. A bay window in the kitchen where Granny hung her rhinestone cat clock, its eyes and tail marking the minutes, back and forth. Granny’s double-wide was like city living in the woods. It was the best of both worlds, like Friday night television. The Dukes of Hazzard (Georgia, not Kentucky), the mountain South followed by a different kind of South, a flat South, one that I’d never seen—the wealthy, urban south— in Dallas. I decided that one day I’d drive a Jeep like Daisy, meet a beautiful blond man like Bo Duke, be rich and blonde like Lucy Ewing. I already sounded like the Dukes, I knew their vernacular. I recognized the dirt roads, the farm houses. But sometimes, I longed for the Ewings’ lives, something a little more urban chic. I could almost imagine I was in Dallas, Texas when I stayed with Granny on Friday nights, the ambient lighting dial on “1” as I watched a TV show with the same name. I could imagine myself drinking like Sue Ella at that bar, or entertaining guests in the living room, or pressing a button on the intercom and calling for a servant to freshen my drink. But once a year, on those Fridays, before the days of Netflix, even before we could record on VHS tape, there would be Oz and those other dual worlds. I could relate to Dorothy’s world in black and white. I knew the farm, the farmhands, the barn and farm animals; that was the place I played on Saturday mornings when I walked to my great-grandparents’ house.

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Amy Clark A commercial divided Dorothy’s rural life and the glittering Emerald City. And no matter how many times I saw the movie, I played along in the belief that there was something better out there for Dorothy, that Oz held the promise of beauty and treasures in the shape of giant lollipops, in sparkling shoes, and a city named for a precious gem. Central Appalachia feels that way much of the time; our economic and addictive twisters have so many spiraling out of control. There is the tension, always that tension, between the need to leave, the need to stay, between making a difference and getting out so our kids can have more opportunities. Growing up here, one cannot help but be forever shaped by this place, where people have yard sales to pay the light bill and take as much pleasure in the county fair as someone who had gone to Disney World, where Friday night football is the most affordable thing to do until you get paid again, and so many still cling to the hope of our coal mines— our own Emerald Cities—coughing back to life. Coming home is like going back to Oz, or what’s left of it, on top of Emerald Mountain. Dorothy’s house is still there, along with the grotesque tree faces and giant mushrooms. They repaint the yellow brick road every year but it no longer leads to Emerald City; that part of the park burned down a long time ago. Instead, it leads to the grown-up world again, near a house with a for sale sign in the front yard and a gravel parking lot full of cars. I know once we reach the last incline that it’s the end of the yellow brick road, and every year after, there will be a little less of this place to remember. I stay as long as I can, to imagine myself back in 1975, on top of a mountain near my people’s home place way above the clouds, my little hand holding my mom’s, searching for a city named for jewels.

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DéLana R.A. Dameron What Work Is My father is a self-taught communications satellite engineer

and computer technician. “Objective work,” he calls it. His measurement of self-worth is a direct correlation to his ability to troubleshoot an electrical problem. I was a daddy’s girl. A tomboy. At five, he gave me a toolbox and a Barbie Dream House. I wrote my name in all caps on the red toolbox and learned early the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a Flathead. On weekends or school holidays, when my mother was working or getting her hair done, I would ride with my father to work. He operated two large satellite huts in Columbia, South Carolina so that children my age could watch Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and all of the shows that came on South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV). One of the satellite huts was in the middle of nowhere. When you drove up, you walked through sand piled like desert dunes lined to the barbed wire fence. Daddy touched the fence first before moving with his metal key to open the lock. I watched him jump back, move to grab his keys. Daddy was diffusing electricity that might be conducted through the metal key by using his body as an interceptor. Usually, he’d asked me to stay in the car at this point, grounded by the rubber tires and the dry sand. When he opened the lock, he’d turn around and motion for me to come inside. I would run quickly through the gate, careful not to touch the metal, and we’d go into the white concrete building. The satellite huts were large mazes of wires and connection boxes and servers. I sat on a high stool and doodled or wrote poems while Daddy went around connecting and disconnecting, turning this knob, that knob. It was cold, so he kept a hoodie that went down to my calves like a robe. Daddy rolled up the sleeves so my small hands could hold whatever pencil was laying around. He gave me a ream of the connected printer paper with perforated holes on the side, and I spent hours turning the edges into little accordions. My mother didn’t like me going to the satellite hut with my father. I loved it. There I learned independent work and how to occupy silence with my own machinations. In the satellite hut, with the loud servers and fans to keep the wires from overheating, there was no room for music. Just whirring. Just my thoughts. My father unseen and unheard—somewhere behind floor-to-ceiling metal shelves and power stations.

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DéLana R.A. Dameron Because television programming was a 24-hour venture, Daddy was always on call, and out of the house in the middle of the night. His beeper would go off, and I’d hear him grunt as he put on his work clothes and told my mom he was going in. One night, not long after he left, the phone rang. My mama and sister never heard the phone ring. I answered the phone. It was my daddy. “I’m alright,” he said. That was all he said. I waited for him to continue. “Tell your mother I’m driving to the emergency room. I’ve been electrocuted.” At that point my mother heard me ask if he was okay and snatched the phone out of my hand. She asked what hospital and then hung up. My sister and I put on our clothes, and she drove us to our grandparents’ house before she headed to Richland Palmetto Hospital. Daddy picked my sister and me up in the middle of that same night in order to go to school the next morning. His being electrocuted and then driving himself to the emergency room was no reason for us not to go to school. When he picked us up, both of his hands were covered in white bandages. His eyes red. His voice raspy. We drove home in silence; I watched white bandages move around the steering wheel like clock hands. For years the story would go something like this: “Thomas drove himself to the emergency room, y’all!” Mama said. “Once I realized I was alive, and got up off the floor, I figured I should get checked out; there wasn’t any need to call an ambulance,” Daddy said. “You got electrocuted?” the listener asked. “Four thousand watts went from my right hand, up my right arm, across my chest, down my left arm and out of my knuckles on my left hand,” Daddy said. “You saw it?” the listener asked. Later when he was ready to tell the story, Daddy would show the four scarred knuckles on his left hand. “Four thousand watts across my chest and I was alive. I only went to the hospital because I wanted to make sure my heart was okay,” Daddy said. “If I had my wedding band on, it would have blown off my hand, maybe.” After he dropped my sister and me off to school, he went to work. Years and years later, this story Daddy likes to tell is, to him, a story about strength in the workplace. Overcoming adversity. “Being electrocuted, feeling the white-hot voltage course my body, was nothing like the heatstroke,” he’d say. “That was different. It was harder to drive myself to the emergency room after that.” I am older than my father was when he was electrocuted. I have become—in almost all matters—a different daughter than he raised me to be. I did not choose hard labor, an objective career, a job that relied on me and me alone to keep the 2.4 million South Carolina residents connected to their Gamecock football or their Elmo sing-alongs. By my mid-twenties, I had managed to out-earn my father’s twenty-

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DéLana R.A. Dameron five-plus years of working those solitary hours in the satellite huts across the state. I had, through my New York City hard-knock schooling, learned to understand what was healthy for me. I had adopted the 21st century— née millennial—ideology of “self-care.” I believed that I could be home sick with tickle in my throat, and because I had sick days, and because my work was subjective (as Daddy would call it), I could languish in the comforts of “working from home,” and my work world had not ended. I have come to believe that, perhaps, my reason for work is to create a life that allows leisure and travel and time to pursue passions in a way I never saw my father able. Perhaps, in the ways the workforce has changed, and in the way I have changed the region in which I live, I understand that my worth is not only directly correlated to my being in front of a desk, or behind a wall of servers and cables. After the 2016 election, in the middle of the workday, my friend M sent out a text message: Dear beautiful people! I got up and came to work because I couldn’t sleep. I’m leaving soon and headed home. I’ve invited some folks over, just to be together, hug, be cute, eat good, watch black movies...you all are welcome if you’d like to drop by at any time this afternoon. I’ll kiss ya, I’ll make you laugh maybe. I looked at the clock, it was 2:30 pm. I finished up the project that had to be completed on that day, dismissed my own team, and went to the secondfloor Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn apartment that was warmed with black and brown bodies who all chose to come together. Who had the luxury of leaving their work at work. Who, when they were ready—when I was ready—could slowly return to the working world. When I called Daddy later that week, he told me a story that felt like 4000 watts of electricity darting across my chest. Two days after the election, he had been referred to a couple in Lexington County to do computer repair work. He had to drive across town, in the rain, to pick up the computer in order to repair it and bring it back. He had made arrangements for the work and payment and pick-up and drop-off schedule over the phone. He had said the exact time for the couple to expect him at their door to pick up their desktop. Daddy said he knocked on the door, and rang the doorbell. Daddy heard voices behind the door, but no one opened the door. Daddy saw, from the window over the porch, someone peeking through the curtains. Daddy turned around—that is, he turned his back to the house—went into his car and drove up the block. “I called them from the corner when they couldn’t see me in my car and they answered the phone. I told them that I had just been there to pick up the computer,” Daddy said. “Oh, that was you?” they said. I interrupted the story to demand that Daddy must have, at that point, driven home and forgot about the computer repair, right?

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DéLana R.A. Dameron “No, I drove back to the house, picked up the computer, fixed it, they paid me what they said they would pay me, and I never heard from them again,” Daddy said. Only from the comfort of trying to practice self-care, could I ask him why he decided to continue to do business with those racists. “I guess I didn’t sound Black over the phone to them. I needed the money so I could buy your mama’s medicine. And I wanted them to know that I knew what I was talking about, and could do the work and do it well,” Daddy said. I thought about all of the encounters of unknown Black bodies showing up to a front porch of a white person, and theirs being the last threshold with which to request entry. I thought about all of the ways my daddy put his own singular life on the line through his work to continue to...to survive. Only a month later my sister called me saying she had an episode. “What do you mean?” I asked. Last night, she was smoking a cigarette during her double-shift as only one of two general managers of a restaurant chain in Columbia. That math alone—that the restaurant is open to the public 95 hours a week—and there are approximately 140 hours a week that need to be supervised by some manager. During her smoke break, Sissy said she felt her face grow numb, and she had a sharp pain behind her eyes. Immediately I recognize that as symptoms that could lead to a stroke—the same debilitating episode my mother had had ten months before that left her partially paralyzed and without speech. Of course, I stopped her story to ask at what point in the night did she go to the hospital? “I’m at work right now,” she said. “I’m fine. My manager told me to go to the ER but I don’t want to pay that money so I told her the doctor’s office doesn’t open until 8 AM anyways, so it didn’t make any sense for me to go yet.” Reader, you might know that it was 8:30 am, and I was still on my couch, coffee in hand, preparing to set about my work day, which didn’t start until 10 am, and ends most days promptly at 6 pm. Maybe if it’s one thing that I understand—having worked my whole professional life outside of the South, the region of my birth and the place that raised me—is that my contemporaries in NYC must die from other things, not from work stress or overworking, or from four thousand watts driving through your body. We practice self-care and use personal and sick days. Again, we work remotely. We send e-mails from our smartphones while on couches under a fleece blanket, and without irony expect our checks to be directly deposited into our bank account every other week. It’s hard to understand a world in which I might be expected to give up my life for the promise of a salary. But that is a privilege I have which I understand could very well be taken away. It is not, however, a threat that pushes me to ignore and work past my limits.

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DéLana R.A. Dameron When I got hit by a car on my bike on the way to work, I was conscious and could move my legs, and arms. I called the ambulance anyway. When I left the hospital and the work day was not done, I retreated to my couch. My husband, too, stayed home with me and cooked me soup. My sister, who might have suffered a stroke, or a heart attack, or any of the genetically predisposed diseases we have inherited from our parents who inherited from their parents and so on and so on; who might have suffered a stroke or a heart attack from the stresses of managing a restaurant that required 140 hours of coverage with too few general managers cannot enjoy the comforts I enjoy of a 40-hour work week, and moments to reflect, to write, to drink coffee and read the New York Times... Sissy went to work. “Because who else was going to be there to open the restaurant if I went to the hospital right now?” she asked.

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Enid Kassner Lessons in a Hope Chest I follow my grandmother up the stairs, our feet soft on carpet

covering dark oak. She leads me to the cedar chest, a tall mahogany cabinet on long, spindly legs. As she lifts the top, I inhale the tangy, tingly scent. I have to get up on my tiptoes to see inside. This is the “hope chest” she’s already started for my cousin Miriam, age eight, and me, a year younger. Grandma takes out two sets of pillowcases and lays them down before me. Both are crisp white cotton, bright like the sunlight in which they were line-dried, and fragrant with cedar. My grandmother’s large hands with their ragged, ridged nails smooth the cases flat. One set has a three-inch border of hand-crocheted lace: deep fuchsia-colored. The other has just a narrow row of lace, white and edged with sky blue. But this set is embroidered with delicate green leaves, bluebirds, and clusters of red cherries—like the ones on the trees in the backyard that Grandma uses to make pie. Where is everyone else? Grandma’s house always overflows with cousins, aunts, and uncles. But today it’s quiet. It’s a secret. I’ve swept the wooden kitchen floor after lunch and pushed the crumbs out the back door for the birds. The heavy dishes used for dairy meals have been washed and dried and put away. Trash burns in the rusty old barrel out back, billowing acrid smoke. Its distinct odor repulses me, yet I’m compelled to sniff it. “Which ones do you want?” Grandma asks me in her Yiddish-accented voice, looking right at me with a twinkle in her eyes. I choose the ones with the bluebirds and cherries. “Are you sure?” she asks. I know she thinks the other set is better, but I am certain: I want the bluebirds. I want the cherries. “Yes,” I say, “I’m sure.” Several more times she probes before accepting my decision. I feel like I’ve disappointed her, but I know what I want. Not until my twenties did I comprehend the work required to craft the long inches of lace. Only then did I recognize their value and understand why Grandma thought they were better. I attached great significance to that secret moment with my grandmother. Part of me was thrilled to get preferential treatment. I had an older brother and often complained that things weren’t fair. He got to stay up later. I sometimes had to wear boy’s hand-me-downs: a traumatic injustice. But I also felt pricked by guilt, and burdened by the secret. I never told my mom. I didn’t tell Miriam for more than fifty years.

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Enid Kassner Maybe Grandma liked me better than Miriam. But I thought she let me choose because my family had less money than Miriam’s. They lived in a big modern house that resembled a Frank Lloyd Wright design. It was the only home I knew that had central air conditioning—a luxury of almost unbelievable proportion. My family was not poor. My dad worked for state government and my mom stayed home, as was typical of middle-class families in the 1950s. We lived like our neighbors in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom, single-family home on Milwaukee’s west side. There was no dining room; we ate our meals in the kitchen. But there was a den where we kept the TV. It was low class to have your TV in the living room. My father mowed the neat lawn on weekends and my mother tended the flowerbeds. My parents didn’t talk openly about money, but the phrase “it’s too expensive” was not alien to me. When I compared my family to all my relatives, I concluded that we were second to the bottom. Miriam’s family was on top. She was my favorite cousin and the one with whom I spent the most time, so I was most aware of the differences between her family and mine. Our mothers were sisters, children of immigrants who’d come to this country with nothing. But Miriam’s father had a law degree and ran a prosperous business, started by his father. He bought a new Lincoln Continental every two years, and said it was superior to the Cadillac (the prestige car of that era). They also owned a boat. My family rode in the same musty-smelling 1956 Chevy my entire childhood. Miriam’s parents traveled all over the world while a housekeeper stayed with the kids. Once their whole family went to Europe. Our summer vacation was usually a four-hour drive to a rustic cabin in northern Wisconsin. How rustic? My father chased out the bats with a broom and we had to brave a stinking, spider-infested, wooden outhouse. One year we drove to Maine; another time we drove to California. Those were the big vacations of my childhood. A treat was staying in a motel that had “Magic Fingers” on the bed. My brother and I got to insert a quarter and lie on the vibrating bed for a blissful, giggle-filled fifteen minutes. We never stayed in a hotel, which I knew from the game of Monopoly was higher class than the family-owned motels we generally frequented. For us, fancy was a Holiday Inn. We never flew on an airplane. Miriam’s family had a cleaning lady, while my mom cleaned the house herself, paying me a nickel or dime to wash the kitchen floor or scrub the sink. Miriam possessed the entire series of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse books, an extravagance I coveted. We borrowed books from the library. Miriam’s mom took her to Chicago at the end of summer to buy her back-to-school wardrobe. Chicago had swanky stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Carson Pirie Scott. We shopped at local department stores with one name: Gimbels or Schuster’s, buying only what I needed, one garment

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Enid Kassner at a time. But at least we didn’t go to the “cheap” stores, such as Lerner’s or J.C. Penney. When I was nine, my mom and I took the bus downtown to buy a dress for me to wear at my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. I tried on dozens before my mom agreed to a white frock with tiny flowers and a lime-green sash. The saleslady made sure we knew it was a “Ruth of Carolina,” which sounded to me like one word chugging along like a freight train—ruthacaralina—when she said it. The brand meant nothing to me, but lodged in my memory as something important. What did we know about designer clothes? My mom and I laughed about it on the bus ride home: ruthacaralina. Next in my hierarchy was Aunt Ruthie’s family. She was my mom’s youngest sister and, like Miriam’s mom, her husband was a lawyer. Although they started out in a house similar to ours, after some years they moved to the suburbs on Milwaukee’s East Side—closer to the lake. They eventually owned two vacation homes—one in the woods and another north of Milwaukee, right on Lake Michigan. Somehow in my child’s logic, my mom’s two brothers didn’t really count because neither of them married. But Uncle Paul was a tax attorney and lived in an apartment downtown near Lake Shore Drive. I knew that being near the lake was desirable, and expensive. Also, his law degree was from Harvard, which everyone knew was the best school in America. The other aunts and uncles had gone to the University of Wisconsin. Uncle Sam had a Ph.D—which ranked as high as a law degree. My dad had only a Master’s degree. This was inferior to a law or medical degree, but it was better than our next-door neighbors. Mr. Crier next door managed an A&P grocery store. They had four kids, which I knew was too many, “because they were Catholic.” I didn’t understand how those things went together, but I knew the four children shared a bathroom and they were instructed to avoid flushing the toilet to save water. I can still picture the deep yellow liquid with great clods of toilet paper like sinking islands. My dad’s brother was a dentist. His wife, my aunt Jeri, gave me beautiful clothes as birthday gifts. I was overjoyed when I got a magenta velour sweater and matching stretch pants with stirrups. I loved even the sound of this new word—magenta—which sounded like magic and the purple mountains majesty of “America the Beautiful.” Another year she gave me a royal blue jumper piped with Kelly green trim. I’d always been told that blue and green didn’t “go” together. But this dress, which had rows of gold buttons and jangly chains down the front, proved that, if you were classy enough, you could get away with breaking the rules. My dad’s sister lived in San Francisco—which was exotic to this Midwestern girl. Before marriage, she had been an airline stewardess (as had my aunt Jeri), a glamorous occupation available only to slender, attractive,

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Enid Kassner single women in those days. She married a real estate developer. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew they were rich. The summer we traveled to California, my family visited them at their home near the ocean and my uncle played the xylophone, an instrument I’d never seen before. They took us out to dinner in Chinatown where we all sat around a huge circular table. We could help ourselves from more than a dozen exotic dishes arrayed on a giant Lazy Susan. Until then, I’d only ever had chop suey from a can. Only Aunt Ethel’s family ranked below mine. The oldest girl in my mom’s family, she hadn’t gone to college. Instead, she had helped my grandpa run his junkyard, keeping the books for him. Ethel married later in life—unlike my mom and her other two sisters, who found husbands at college, marrying within weeks of graduation. Ethel’s husband worked at a factory, which I knew was low-class. Her house was smaller than ours. It had just two bedrooms. They went to an Orthodox synagogue and were the only relatives (besides my grandparents) who kept kosher at home—something that felt oldfashioned, tinged with traces of the Eastern European shtetls from which my grandparents had fled. Nearly all Americans consider themselves “middle class.” From a statistical viewpoint, this can’t be accurate. To have a middle, there must also be an upper and a lower. But being middle class is about more than income. It reflects values and aspirations such as taking vacations, owning a home, and going to college. Social scientists study such things. What mystifies me is how, by the age of seven, I had developed an elaborate system for determining wealth and status. No one had to teach me. For example, I understood that it was good to be cultured. My parents listened to opera on the radio and read poetry to me. On weekends we often visited the Milwaukee Art Museum. I knew a Gaugin from a Picasso, and chose Gaugin prints for my bedroom walls. My brother and I had piano lessons. People in our families didn’t smoke cigarettes and almost never consumed alcohol. No one got drunk, which I thought only poor people did. (Oh, how wrong a child can be.) Our homes were all exceptionally neat and clean. Some of my friends’ houses were messy, or worse, had bad, boiled-cabbage smells. I noted these differences in rank and status the way I lined up my dolls from most to least favorite. I suppose it depends on where you are on the economic ladder and how far you can see from your perch. I was not surrounded by poverty, so my focus was on looking up at those who had more. I felt shortchanged because of what we didn’t have and aspired to one day enjoy the luxuries of my more affluent relatives. Even so, I knew things could have been worse. My best friend, Vicky,

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Enid Kassner had parents who smoked cigarettes, and she had to empty and clean the ashtrays. She also got the task of changing her baby brother’s diapers. Worst of all, Vicky’s mother made her walk to the store and buy Kotex for her—an embarrassment I could not even fathom. Yet I envied Vicky’s sparkly cat-eye glasses, pretty dresses with crinolines, shiny patent leather shoes, and the colorful barrettes she wore in her long, honey-blond hair. I was puzzled that Vicky’s clothes were better than mine, because her family lived on the second floor of a duplex—which didn’t even feel like a real house to me. I will never know why my grandmother let me choose a set of pillowcases. I do know that Miriam was never given a similar choice, because we finally discussed it a few years ago. The story I told myself—that it had to do with money—could be entirely in my head. Unlike Miriam, I learned to embroider and bake bread from our grandmother. Miriam and I were her only female grandchildren, so perhaps I was rewarded for being more domestic. I recall Aunt Ethel showering me with the highest praise: “One day you’ll make some man a wonderful wife,” she said. I saw that a woman’s husband had a profound impact on her economic status. My aunts who had “married up” enjoyed every advantage. My mother had not done so well. Not only did my father earn less than most of my uncles, he also left her in middle age for another woman. By then I was a teenager, and we had moved to Madison. We lived in a neighborhood that was much nicer than our old one in Milwaukee. It had large trees, and I loved our red brick house that had a dining room and built-in bookcases. There was a second floor sun porch and a rec room in the basement. After my parents’ divorce, my mom and I moved to a two-bedroom apartment. She had to get a job. None of my aunts worked; no one else in the family was divorced. Although we were all right, I understood that a woman and her children could be financially ruined by divorce. My grandmother died after my freshman year of college, and I took possession of the items she’d saved in my hope chest: an embroidered tablecloth, the promised set of pillowcases, some striped linen tea towels, a set of bath towels (the type that used to come free in boxes of laundry detergent), and a few other things. Throughout my single twenties and thirties, I kept these items in a cardboard box and toted them around with each of my many moves. At one point I lived in an apartment with yellow and black bathroom tiles that matched the towel set and decided it was okay to use them. But, out of loyalty to my grandmother’s intent, I waited until I got married—at the ripe old age of 37—to use the other treasures from my hope chest.

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Enid Kassner When my husband and I hunted for our first house, we had a difficult time agreeing on one. I liked smaller spaces with charming nooks and crannies. He wanted expansive space and didn’t care about aesthetics. We eventually settled on an older home with a cheesy addition. The original parts of the house spoke to my preference for charm yet the addition made it just barely large enough for my husband’s taste. At first I thought our differences were a male-female thing. I loved our house and being a homeowner was high on my list of life goals. He never seemed satisfied because of the house’s lack of grandeur. And then one day we figured it out. This house was larger than the home I’d grown up in. I felt like I’d come up on the ladder of social status. But it was much smaller than his childhood home had been. For him it was a step down. Like my mother, I divorced in middle age. But I had learned a lesson. Instead of pinning all my hopes on becoming a “wonderful wife,” I also built a career and earned enough to sustain middle-class comforts after divorce. I have made my adult life in Arlington County, Virginia—one of the nation’s most affluent areas. Typical household income exceeds $100,000 per year—about twice the national norm. I suppose I achieved much of what I longed for as a child. I can travel internationally. I own a home, eat out in restaurants, and go to the theater. I have fancy cooking pots and prepare gourmet meals. My mother once accused me of being a snob when I referred to green onions as “scallions.” Although I’m very comfortable, like most Americans, I consider myself middle-class, not rich. My entire life, I have lived frugally, watching prices and saving for the proverbial rainy day. I haul around an insecurity about money that I don’t observe in my friends who grew up in wealthier families. Getting the things I wanted as a child hasn’t changed who I am. I can still smell the stale odor of that ’56 Chevy clinging to me. Part of me will always be back in Milwaukee on the second-to-the-bottom step, looking up.

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Steven D. Schroeder Supply and Demand at the Happiness Shop Without sign or sound, the store announces this product more popular hidden under counters, this deluxe edition more profitable issued at random. Aficionados will buy grand opening tickets, then pay for behind-the-glass access to spend their lives on the effervescent and boundless, one per person. Discussing the club is grounds to give up this limited item past must-have, this special release a touch beyond reach. Across the parking lot, abandoned folding chairs hold line order while collectors barter vintage whiskey and baseball cards for prospects of tenderness and friendship they intend to keep sealed in the cellar. This belonging not yet owned, this moment gone the moment it goes on sale.

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Jake Sheff Job Interviewing Job Tell me a little about yourself. Importance comes to those who die; until my dying’s done, I’ll march through April’s afterlife, dismay jejune debates that seek to comfort. Ironclad, unrankled: I. What are your biggest weaknesses? I trust in G-d too much. Rely on whirlwinds with too little research. Not breast or knee; I curse the day for its disposable income: for my birth. But quit? I’d reapply. What are your biggest strengths? I doubt my sadness first and buy the madness. If the water’s monarch takes the medicine away, I call it good! Grit. And some sort of workman’s comp; integrity. Where do you see yourself in five years? The stoutest outfit. Vividly congested years. Merciful architecture’s finest nest. A play of afternoon, the news and camphor; deeply in. Time will swoon in reply. Why do you want this job?

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Jake Sheff My three petallic portals, shyer than vengeance in a church. The merchant and mark of approbation’s payer. My seven alphabets, so mum’s the word I spell in perpetuity. What questions do you have for me? It’s not for me to ask G-d why dead poets leave a living smirk. My hands have listened to me pray and built my peace. Can time convert forthcoming to calamity?

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Crystal Simone Smith Woodland Junior Church No one ever spoke of need, like God, it was a silent presence— the smear of potted meat to bread, the trace of mother’s toilette that lingered when she left for work. What met it was random, a young white pastor with a blue church bus. For six summer weeks he rounded the congregation of us up, smart-aleck girls in our armor of plastic glitter shoes and faded Marvel T-shirts, pubescent boys with enough natural anger to strike him dead in the world if they chose, all of us singing the road song—forever let us hold our Bibles high, high, high, high. In the sanctuary of a high school auditorium, his fellow brethren flung batches of candy airborne for us to catch as tangible blessings. On longer communion days the bonus of drumstick cones, our expired mothers waiting as they were on their white savior, his fading portrait hung over the silence of the kitchen table.

—for Bob

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Crystal Simone Smith

Industrial Work I had an uncle who dreamt of being an entrepreneurial but settled into industrial work, like a factory conveyer belt he became nothing more than an instrument of the process. He drove rigs filled with some entrepreneur’s products, hours upon hours, a dull drone abiding. He never had wealth. But unlike the CEO he had time to bring a rig over Colorado highlands pull it onto the shoulder, quell its black exhaust in a scape of gemstone blues, crystal lakes mirroring glacier snowcaps—time to step down not into a stalled life but one delivered here in God’s cupped hands.

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—for Ray Foddrell

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LeRoy Sorenson The Tilting Saddle Bar after James Wright Down the splintered steps, I turn toward the James and its steep banks strangled with hobo weeds and cattails. Upstream, at the Third Street Bridge, looms the Hormel plant, its whistle wailing and its doors opening to the early evening crickets. The men pour down the long hill, pour down to the river and over the bridge into a pale sun, past abandoned railcars into silo shadows and beckoning downtown lights. With abandon, I run through the river park to catch them—then straggle behind as some head to shanty houses, others to neon. And I trail them. Downtown, one old man, face purple stands near a bar door that swings on tight hinges and glares at the men, then at me. And I plunge in and find scrawny women, faces uplifted, legs crossed. In the back sit laid-off railmen— my father one—three drinks into the night, his eyes blurry, his voice loud over the jukebox. I cringe. Patrons sloppy drunk, pinching women’s asses as they head to the can. The air sweat filled, smoke tinged. More whiskey shots and beer chasers. The men’s faces drunk red, their eyes shining with coming madness. Then the shadow boxing, the boasts, some guy puking in the corner, two guys picking him up, putting him on a bar stool, ordering two whiskeys, laughing when his hands shake too much to hold a shot glass. My stomach roils and my father shouts: Son.

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LeRoy Sorenson And the stale beer and the cigarettes sink into my pores for all the coming years of my life.

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Chloe Stricklin Poor Little Rich Girl is what he called her, though she was neither the day she stepped off of Greers Ferry down in the deepest South, crown of thimbleweed atop her strawberry blonde bob, shoulders draped in the red blood of men, poor little rich girl, he says because she got him again in the small of his back, keeps a revolver in her white leather purse, he says poor little rich girl can’t please a man, but he doesn’t see for women like me she’ll always be queen, women like me whose blue lips turn up when he says poor little rich girl burned all her letters, is smoking her husband’s cigars.

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Enzo Silon Surin Restavek The courtyard clattered with hail pummeling the ridged, tin rooftops. Impervious to this & gusts of wind, we tossed our shorts in naked frenzy, wielding our arms like fighter jets coursing through the yard, under the weight of a murderous rain— drops so thick they blotch the skin from limb to limb for hours. Some, with parents elsewhere ratifying what is hoped to be a better life without them, yielded their faces. In between the seasons of tanpèt, a different sum: Baby Doc Duvalier launched dollar bills from his bulletproof limo, bodies flayed in a diving ritual to retrieve a Deux Gourde or a Cinq Gourde—some half-ripped, some dank with sweat. We’d stand and smile in the center of the street. With haste, a violent frenzy ensued when a wave yielded gold chocolate coins—always a hand, never a face. And we’d return to the yard, hands teeming, bodies a dust armor—one shade cap-a-pie—stealing away up to rooftops, where hands full of rice and cans of water would light up a feast. Beneath the bloat of some stomachs worms aligned like soldiers in a field, for the first to have vyann ak pois with their rice, to fit more than grains of brown sugar between our bread.

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Enzo Silon Surin For some, hunger’s soul-tie a fistful away from eviction; others, like a whist hand circling around and around a purposed clock—tick tick tick ‘til they drop; tout rès lavi ak mizè. Here, death courts with a cold dollar coin in a callous pair of hands.

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Wally Swist All the Green Lights Going Home Back on my feet again and summer already. The third-floor apartment sweaty and hot, but there’s money finally coming to pay the rent, stock groceries on the pantry shelves: I found work. Back on my feet again, driving through a city summer night; headlights slice the air, stringing a breeze like paper dolls through rolled-down windows. Back on my feet again. Her head cradles snugly on my shoulder, rocking against potholes and bumps. Fingers rain dance over her ankles to the radio’s pop, and I make all the green lights going home.

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Karen J. Weyant How I Killed the Beetles I practiced first. Armed with a toy water pistol, I took aim, shooting at abandoned wasp nests or knotted tree trunks. When I was sure I would never miss a shot, I attacked the beetles invading my mother’s garden, the ones that chewed rows of tomato plants into limp skeletons. I collected their bodies in soapy water, watching them struggle before finally dying. Then, I buried them hiding the evidence that was supposed to be my first pay days: my mother had promised me a penny for every beetle I killed. I knew that the spare coins would help pay the bills and make her smile, erasing the shadows under her eyes.

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Ross White Main Branch Emptied of money, its investors & staff for twenty-five years, the National Bank of Washington’s main branch, 14th & G NW, arched windows crusted with dust & flakes of skin that fell from bills, has never been rented, never been sold. Massive ionic columns still clutch the three-fingered W of its final logo. Grime scorched so long in the sun you’d be forgiven for thinking it empty due to fire, but like most human catastrophes, its catastrophe was greed.

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Ross White * I’m past forty now & to see the bank abandoned, rusty runoff on its stone face, mossy silt embedded in letters carved beneath four gargoyles, makes me wish I’d slowed down sooner. * I grew up there, when it was still a Beaux-Arts monument to capital, Saturdays spent reading X-Men in the executive boardroom, Sundays in rapturous exploration of crevices & broom closets, sketching on deposit slips while my father slouched at his desk

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Ross White a few offices away, dictating memos on branch location or sifting through folders of commercial lease agreements & liens. I felt I’d discovered a superpower: invisibility. * Even now, from the corner opposite the empty bank, I strain to see if his north-facing window is lit by the green-shaded teller’s lamp he kept on his desk. The sooted panes reveal nothing but unkempt decades & abandonment. Why did I spend a life working towards something I could quantify when those markets crash—& why did I end up in the same recession

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Ross White of spirit my father felt when regulators closed this building & left its Neoclassical beauty to the mercies of dilapidation? * Maybe all tabulations & calculations end with this remainder: I am still that eleven-year-old at work with his father on Sunday & will be for all the Sundays after. Isn’t that how love works? Isn’t love, too, work?

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Carolyn Williams-Noren Bargain I bought her canning kettle for a dollar. She was getting air through a tube in her nose and chatting with a skinny man about her move from North Dakota. I lifted the lid— speckled, like a shorebird’s egg, and covered with dust, but good. I balanced it on my hip and wandered: peach glass bowls, a shelf of prayer books, a row of dusty saucers. Her daughter folded clothes. The woman said, You have the old canning kettle. We settled up. She looked at all four quarters, looked at both sides. Any California? I wondered if I should open my purse again and spread out all my coins to search for a condor and John Muir. We’ll keep it full, I told her. Lots of tomatoes this year. Driving home, the lid rattled at every corner and bump. I pictured her hair blond and her face free, her little girl on a stepstool peering into the dark water, then listening for each jar to seal, that little breath.

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Anne Visser Ney Poor

i.

I am sound asleep when my seventeen-year-old nephew calls from across the country. I barely know him. I sit up in bed and ask him what’s going on.

Six weeks ago my mother and I flew west to celebrate his high school graduation. When we arrived at my sister’s two-bedroom subsidized apartment, I catalogued the chaos as she mumbled hello from the couch. Her thirteen-year-old had been sleeping in a urine-scented overstuffed easy chair; the graduate had the bedroom. Dishes overflowed the sink. Laundry spilled from the table. Garbage littered the floor around the trashcan. Pill bottles tumbled around the nooks and crannies. My sister fell from her chair at dinner. Two days later she rallied for commencement and we cheered my nephew’s awards from the International Baccalaureate High School. The next morning I bought him breakfast. Over coffee I advised he take the fullride college scholarship, study hard, and focus on his own future. I told him to call me any time for any thing. Before we said good-bye to my sister and her two sons, our mother and I bought groceries and cleaned. I sorted prescriptions and added up dosages. Weeks later, my doctor would tell me anyone taking that much opiate should be dead. I turn on the light and check the clock: one a.m. Eastern Time. My nephew clears his throat and asks in a too-even voice if I can watch his brother for a few weeks. “Mom’s in the hospital. I think she needs a rest.” But it turns out that she took some Vicodin the dentist unwittingly prescribed on top of her existing drug cocktail; my nephew found his mother unconscious and called 911. Everyone’s safe but his college orientation is coming up and he can’t miss it. I say I love him which means I will help as much as I can. The next morning I phone the hospital. My sister says they won’t release me from this fucking hospital because they are fucking incompetent. I say maybe they’re worried she’ll OD. She says it wasn’t the meds; she was overcome when the fucked-up propane didn’t shut off after she lit her cigarette from the burner. I say she’s addicted to the morphine and needs

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Anne Visser Ney help. She demands someone in the background get a doctor. I tell her to calm down. She says she’s not an addict because they use drugs for pleasure but she takes meds for pain. I say either way you get habituated and then the pain comes from withdrawal: pain leads to pain meds, which leads to pain and more pain meds. She says I don’t understand. She’s right. I lie awake at night trying. I buy one-way plane tickets for her and the thirteen-year-old to fly east, maybe get a fresh start. ii. The first thing my baby sister wanted to be was a snowflake. She had this petticoat she wore every day, eschewing other clothing except the white cotton underpants our mother insisted we wear. The petticoat, salvaged from a cast-off dress, flounced like a white ribbon-and-tulle tutu around her toddler legs. She called it her snowflake as though what she wore was synonymous with who she was. She pirouetted around our living room lost in her happy world. Blonde curls framed her cherub’s face; her dark blue eyes glowed with openness that I will never possess. But she had mood swings. There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead! And when she was good she was very, very good; and when she was bad she was horrid! When our older brother and I teased her, she mushroomed into an atomic tantrum. It was the 1960s. Bipolar and its pals—OCD, ADD, and anxiety—were rarely discussed, least of all in our small Ohio town. iii. After my sister and thirteen-year-old nephew arrive, I make calls and struggle to decode her life of disability, poverty, and government hurdles: overlapping, sometimes competing bureaucracies, and endless rules governing Social Security benefits, health insurance, subsidized housing, and nutrition assistance. She receives Supplemental Security Income for fibromyalgia and mental health problems, Medicare because she’s on disability, and Medicaid and Section Eight housing because her SSI keeps her below the poverty line. In theory, Section Eight units are scattered across neighborhoods; in practice, she lives in a high-crime, urban food desert served by failing schools.

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Anne Visser Ney Her SSI will get cut when the boys turn eighteen unless they’re enrolled in school or disabled in their own right. If she is gone from her apartment for too long she loses the housing voucher; reinstatement takes months or years. She gets less food assistance than she might because her ex is supposed to pay child support. He doesn’t. He brings leftovers from the steam line at work and calls it a day. She went to Legal Aid to take him to court but they’re always changing attorneys, it’s a long bus ride downtown, and it’s impossible to get appointments. If you have money for a good lawyer, then you already have money to eat, right? Anyhow, you can’t bleed a stone. I locate an East Coast inpatient treatment center that accepts Medicare. When she and my nephew arrive she assigns his guardianship to my husband and me. Our mother drives her to rehab where she will be treated for opiate addiction and sexual trauma. She calls three weeks later to say it sucks. They’re making her detox; the pain is excruciating. Her voice rises with righteous anger. She is not an addict and doesn’t need group therapy and is going to check herself out. I ask about trauma counseling. She says, what trauma counseling? She leaves with a Suboxone recommendation, but approved clinics are sparse in the state; the closest one is fifty miles away. Her copay for the clinic and opiate substitute will run to hundreds of dollars a month. She’ll have to borrow our eighty-year-old mother’s car to get to mandatory follow-ups. iv. Our parents divorced when she was seven and I was twelve. We moved into a two-bedroom apartment with our mother, who taught school to support us. Sometimes on weekends my sister visited with family friends that she, my brother, and I called aunt and uncle. A few months after our family broke up we discovered the uncle had been sexually abusing my sister. My mother found out first. We three were at the laundromat on a balmy spring evening. I was absorbed in homework. Our mother folded clothes in her precise way. My sister played outside with a flock of other kids clustered around a man in a car; suddenly she flew inside, flung herself into our mother’s arms, and cried in terror. That man is doing what Uncle Al does! Her story spilled out. Later, our mother questioned my sister, then me, recording the interviews on cassette tapes she would give to my father for dispensation. I was nonplussed when it was my turn. Did the uncle ever touch me? No. Did he ever hurt me? No. “Why do you want to know?” I asked. Our mother gave the recording to our father. He did nothing: a double betrayal. First the assaults, then my sister’s anguish left to smolder.

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Anne Visser Ney v. Three years after my sister checks herself out of rehab, the afternoon Detroit Airport crowd jostles me toward baggage claim. I have come to visit family my sister hasn’t seen in decades. “Hey, what’s up?” I answer when she rings. Those motherfucking cops! I told that asshole Krystina couldn’t drive because she didn’t have a license and he said I was high and I told him go into the woods and find the fucking deer because that’s why I went off the road in the first place. And my fucking Verizon bill is like two hundred bucks and those motherfuckers are going to cut my phone off. Anne, what am I going to do? She starts to cry. The escalator delivers me to the ground floor. I locate my flight’s carousel and watch suitcases pop up from below while I untangle her story. She was driving Krystina’s car. A deer darted across the road; she swerved, went into the ditch. One of the Krystina’s four unbelted kids gashed his/her head. A trooper arrived. My sister blew up when he asked for her ID. Now she has another huge fine. “Why didn’t you have your license?” I ask. Because they already suspended it for speeding: eighty in a sixty, to arrive on time for a doctor’s appointment two towns over with the only guy who treats fibromyalgia and takes her insurance. He won’t see you if you’re late and charges twice as much if he doesn’t see you because the insurance won’t pay. Mom got to my sister’s apartment late with the car; ergo, the eighty in a sixty. “So now you have another ticket for driving without a license? Why wasn’t Krystina driving if it was her car and kids?” Krystina forgot her license at home. How does this make sense? I think there must be more to the story; there always is. “So what does this have to do with your phone bill?” She takes this as sarcasm and shouts, “You’re not listening to me!” The phone goes dead. I claim my suitcase and wheel it to the curb. Over dinner I relate my sister’s predicament to our cousin and her husband. Fox News dominates their lives. They turn it down to listen to me, then say my sister is lazy and should get a job. They are weary of people like her being subsidized by the rest of us, whomever that is. I tell them fibromyalgia is real, Medicaid sucks, and opiates are health care for the poor. They say bootstrapping is the way real Americans improve their lives. Elbow grease. My cousin’s husband says the day is coming when people like her will have to get off their duff and work for a living. Bill O’Reilly leers Amen! from across the room.

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Anne Visser Ney vi. The year our parents divorced, our mother took a new position in a town fifty miles distant. She struggled to make ends meet as a teacher. The town had a single junior high where I blended in with all the other seventh graders reporting from the city’s elementary schools. It was my third school. My sister also started at her third school but as a second-grader. Again she was the new kid, something that would happen twice more as we moved across town the following year then again when our mother remarried. Every move, every new school, my sister fell further behind. By fifth grade she climbed inside of herself, daily begging to skip school while our mother coaxed her out of bed. After the last bell she rushed home to watch H.R. Puf n Stuf and consume mounds of ice cream. vii. I hear nothing more about the deer accident. My sister’s phone is shut off, or she loses it, or she is depressed and doesn’t answer. Seven months later my husband’s phone rings with an 877 caller ID; he says hello then answers questions I know spell trouble. He writes JAIL on a notepad for me to see. When the call clicks through, he holds the receiver away from his ear until my sister’s stream of profanity subsides. She was in a car with a guy, sitting, talking. The police showed up. They searched the car for no reason and found one capsule of pre-SCRIBED Class C meds in her pillbox – who the fuck carries the bottles around with them? I learn that a single Lyrica without its prescription bottle is a felony offense. Those assholes charged me with possession. Because I’m poor. Because they think I’m white trash. And the fucking car wasn’t moving or even started. I say they can’t do that without probable cause. She snorts. They booked her, let her go, and gave her a court date months in the future. She forgot; it came and went last week. A few days ago she was organizing and found the paper. She called the court to do the right thing but the clerk flagged the cops and they showed up with a bench warrant before the call was over. I say get yourself a calendar. She tells me to fuck off. I say we’ll wire money to her commissary account. She says Krystina’s baby-daddy’s attorney might bail her out. I ask why an unemployed man has a personal attorney but she doesn’t answer. She’s in the detox cell and is crazy with pain. Six weeks later she calls again. The baby-daddy’s attorney got the charges dropped. I say maybe Krystina and her people are drug dealers and she should stay away from them. She says they love her. They understand. They’re her best friends. They occupied her apartment while she was gone so she didn’t lose Section Eight but they neglected to pay the water bill. Now it’s cut off—

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Anne Visser Ney two hundred bucks to get it turned back on, because of the fines and new security deposit. Dad might send her money. viii. In seventh grade, my sister wanted to be a singer. She and her girlfriend choreographed Love Potion Number Nine. She planned and practiced before their debut in our family room. Move your hands this way. Move your feet that way. Words. Inflections. Harmonies. My sister’s voice is powerful and pitch-perfect. I took my troubles down to Madame Ruth. You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth. Her delight beamed from her dimples as we applauded. Weeks later, for no good reason, I tossed some adolescent snark her way. Scarlet rage burst onto her face. She shrieked and hurled our mother’s heavy-duty schoolteacher stapler at me. Then she turned, fled into her bedroom, and slammed her door. Our walls quaked. ix. My sister cycles down after her bench-warrant stint. Our mother calls to say she isn’t answering her phone or door – my mother fears her youngest is dead. I tell her I’ll check it out. In under five minutes I find the police report online: arrested for shoplifting at the Wal-Mart on her birthday. The store is half a mile from her apartment; its sheriff sub-station is always manned. Black security camera eyes watch every move. I consider how little of anyone’s life they really see. I deposit fifty dollars into her commissary before the 877 call comes. When it does, she admits it was stupid. I put her on speakerphone so my husband can listen in. We were just walking around looking at stuff. But then Krystina dropped a thing of motor oil into my jacket because I had big pockets and she didn’t have any. I said what are you doing but she said she needed it and I said whatever. Then I figured fuck it, it’s my birthday, so I got some candy and a cheap-ass bottle of perfume. “So you got caught lifting Reese’s cups and someone else’s motor oil?” my husband says. Yeah. The next time her collect call comes she announces she has found the Lord. Someone gave her a book and it is all clear: God will help her. He does—she gets time served after two months. But when she gets home everything worth anything is gone. It wasn’t much but it was still my stuff, she mourns. I ask who took it. She says Brandy, whose baby-daddy is the same as Krystina’s youngest son’s. The drug dealer? I say. She ignores me.

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Anne Visser Ney She had said it was cool for Brandy to stay at her place since my sister worried Section Eight might show up while she was gone, figure out she was in jail, and revoke her voucher. Plus Brandy just got out from eight years in the big house and needed a place, plus her baby is adorable. My sister told Brandy to take whatever she needed. She took it all. Krystina helped. My sister is crestfallen. Weren’t they her friends? x. As my sister struggled through elementary school, I breezed through junior high and high school. When I got mono my senior year my sister baked perfect, tiny, pastries that she delivered to my bedroom on a tray. Then she went outside to roller skate on our long driveway, play with our trusty German shepherd, or haunt the horse pasture behind our house. She said she wanted to be a veterinarian. Eighth-grade summer vacation she smiled shyly into our mother’s camera as the Rockies soared behind her. In ninth grade she was suspended for punching a girl who threatened to turn her in for smoking in the bathroom. In tenth grade she lobbed a glass vase into her bedroom mirror during a bitter, three-way battle with our parents over school or curfew or underage drinking. Our mother phoned my dorm to say my sister was incorrigible. With equal parts sorrow and relief our mother confessed they were taking the matter to the courts, which she and my stepfather believed would help. I listened and imagined my sister’s life cartwheeling away like the vase but in slow motion, soon to shatter into jagged, impossible pieces that least of all I would know how to reassemble. When I returned from college she was living in a group home for troubled girls. Once during those years my sister and I sang Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s Teach Your Children for our parents. I strummed the three guitar chords I knew and harmonized with my hesitant voice while she carried the tune, resonant as a throaty bird in full glory. Our mother wept as we sang. Teach your parents well their children’s hell will slowly go by. xi. After she finds God and gets time served, my sister calls to say she is heading west again. My nephew is graduating college with an electrical engineering degree and she can’t miss it. Plus, she owes rent and expects to be evicted. I ask, didn’t your SSI bank while you were in jail finding Jesus? She says true that; but, if she pays rent she won’t have money to fly west for graduation. I think, so you can’t pay rent because you have to fly, because you can’t pay rent? But she is soaringly proud and determined to be there. “Are you taking your lithium?” I say.

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Anne Visser Ney She says, with a lilt, “No, it makes me tired and everything goes flat.” She hauls what Brandy and Krystina didn’t steal to a storage unit, borrows our mother’s credit card, and books a one-way flight. She promises she’ll pay Mom back; she’ll never have enough to do so. xii. My sister and I talked as girls for the last time while standing on the group home steps one sunny October day. She said she planned on heading west the day she turned eighteen. She would get her GED, work her way through college, and become a forester—they work in beautiful places. I sold my car to the group home supervisor for five hundred dollars on the condition my sister would get it one day. The next morning our mother snapped our photo hugging each other’s waists—so little to hold onto. My sister’s eyes twinkle. We all climbed in the car for the drive to the recruiter’s office in Akron. The burly Coast Guard chief swore me in and I was gone. As promised, she earned her GED, claimed my old car keys, and drove west. There, she put herself through business school, earning an associate’s with honors. She married, bore two sons, and battled with an abusive alcoholic husband at home while keeping meticulous books at work. Something happened, though—a misunderstanding, a brouhaha with a coworker—and she left her job-with-benefits for a new career in massage. xiii. Her plane lands in time for graduation. She texts freaking out b/c she doesn’t want to embarrass her son. Her clothes are cheap; other parents will notice. I text she should be proud; he made it because of her, plus the thing that counts is not where you are but the miles you traveled to get there. I ask did her ex show up. I piece together he’s living in the alcoholics’ shelter, penniless, struggling to pay off a DUI fine. When the economy tanked, the restaurant cut back to one kitchen manager: last hired, first fired. He asked the judge to order jail time in lieu of the fine—he would dry out in there, plus how is he going to pay six grand? The judge denied the request. After the ceremony she texts a photo of herself standing between her two tall, handsome sons. She glows. She’s going to stay in the homeless shelter for a while—the good one, for women. She’s wait-listed for Section Eight since returning west. She’ll be able to bank enough for a new security deposit while staying at the shelter. It sucks because they lock up during the day and it’s like a hundred and twenty outside but whatever. She’s been clean a long time. No way can she afford the Suboxone. Her fibromyalgia pain is constant.

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Anne Visser Ney xiv. She graduated at the top of her massage school class and got a great gig at an upscale resort. She worked hard to get her firstborn into the university’s gifted pre-school program. The economy was good. Her husband moved into management. Things settled down at home and they were okay for a couple of years. Then she got rear-ended: whiplash, lost work hours, and chronic pain—the masseuse’s showstopper. The doctor prescribed meds. And so on. I look at the photo taken the morning I left for boot camp and try to see how we ended up in such different places. I imagine that my sister and I hoped for the same things that day—a place in the world, enough to make ends meet, a good marriage and happy family—lives with purpose and dignity. Was it genetics? Did she get the bipolar gene I dodged? Or is it more complicated? My early years were grounded; hers were a parade through towns, houses, schools, families. I made a few choices that sent me on an upward trajectory; she made a few that weren’t smart but shouldn’t have ruined her life. Over the decades my luck mostly held; hers mostly didn’t. We each worked hard, earned a living, and paid into the safety net on which she now depends for almost everything. For many years I believed I possessed aspirations and she didn’t. But that’s not true at all, is it? There were so many things she wanted to become. A masseuse. An accountant. A forester. A singer. A snowflake. But nobody wants to be poor. xv. My sister texts her Section Eight came through. Nobody wants to take the voucher so it’s hard to find a place but she’s located a one-bedroom— in a shitty neighborhood but still. It’s small but she doesn’t have much stuff since Krystina ripped her off. LOL. She wishes she had a microwave, though. I send one from Amazon: fire engine red. She saw one like it at the Wal-Mart and fell in love. I collect donations from the rest of our small family, all of us struggling to stay in the shrinking middle class. We order groceries online for delivery since she lives two thousand miles away. When the guy arrives with food, she texts me big red hearts which I text back, plus X’s, and O’s. xvi. My baby sister turned fifty-five this year. I sent her a card with a little money. But what I believe she wants more than cash is empathy. So I listen and try to bear witness to those who live in poverty.

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Anne Visser Ney When she says I don’t understand she is partly right. I do not war with bill collectors, housing managers, insurance middlemen, or overworked, underpaid doctors. I do not struggle with poorly controlled disease or improperly treated mental health disorders. I do not listen to neighbors arguing or making love through paper-thin walls. My utilities have never been turned off; I am not freezing, or listless with heat. I do not choose between homelessness and seeing my child claim the degree he earned by merit while the world collapsed around his ears. I do not bear shame disproportionate to culpability or receive scorn for doing the best I can with what I have. Indeed, I have often been the person offering one-stop solutions, ignorant of the no-win feedback loops that govern the lives of the poor. But she is partly wrong, too. I have begun to understand something about the why and how of her circumstances. She began at-risk and every time choice or chance overwhelmed her, she fell further behind. She had trouble and so got into trouble. She sank as she fought to stay afloat. Now she is poor. Being poor leads to being poor. xvii. We text back and forth those times her phone bill is paid up. Things are okay compared to what she calls the dark days. My older nephew and his fiancée have good jobs; she lives close to them. My younger nephew, now in his twenties, struggles with issues borne of poverty: inadequate schooling, doctors, mental health care, housing, nutrition, and stability. Plus he has the genes: alcoholism, bipolar. Still, my sister is at peace with what she can’t control. She says she has become a healer. She likes to sing karaoke. Her favorite warm-up is Teach Your Children…Well, their [mother’s] hell did slowly go by. One day she texts me a video, shot under a ratty palm tree in her courtyard. Her phone camera follows a jewel-like hummingbird visiting a hanging feeder she loaded with sugar-water. The video replays over and over without my touching the screen. The bird is an emerald blur: fragile, tenacious, quick. I barely discern its wings as it darts to and from the feeder’s red petals to sip what she has offered. I watch for a while. It is a loop, this moment of time in which the hummingbird has become entrapped. How could it escape these frames? Back and forth it flits: not landing but still unable to fly completely away.

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Fabia Oliveira Good Money I am running out of time. The evidence is in my mother’s hands; once soft, white, and neat, they are now dotted with liver spots. Her pointer finger has begun to turn at an odd angle from the years and years of pressing down to remove hard stains. Not only the stains in our home, but those in other homes, where she has worked as a cleaning lady for thirty years. Though she is healthy, strong, and determined as ever, I feel if I don’t do something fast she will move further into her elderly years without ever experiencing the good life that was promised to her. My father is almost seventy and he continues the same work alongside her. They don’t complain, or take days off, or ask for much from the world. They are deeply involved in the Pentecostal church and expect their treasures to be stored up in heaven. It always seemed to me that they have bought into what I overwhelmingly came to believe as the lie of self-sacrifice, of tithing faithfully, of a Lord who promised their cup runneth over with blessings. How many years have I heard the word blessings? Count your blessings, what a blessing, God bless, be blessed, bless you. Even their church understood that blessings and money are not separate entities; you’d tithe to participate, give offerings to bless the less fortunate, and wail at the altar for financial deliverance. Every blessed undertone was the color of money. When I was small my father would drive around aimlessly with my brother and I in the back seat and always, coincidentally, we’d stop in the same convenience stores for my father to buy Cokes, candy, and lottery scratch tickets for the three of us. He never bought more than a few twodollar cards—the kind where the prize must match one of two numbers for a win. My mother was against it. When we’d get home I’d tell her about our drive, about our twenty-dollar win on one scratch ticket, and she would look at my father, her eyes mean on her broad face and say, “It’s wrong, Ramos. It’s gambling. I don’t want that money. It isn’t of God.” He’d wave her away, click his tongue. “Lidia,” he’d say, exasperated, “everyone has a chance, and the Bible says we are all allotted some luck. Lotteries were held in the time of Jesus!” “It’s a hole in the pocket, Ramos. You’ll see. You win today, tomorrow the car will break down.” Surviving in a foreign country when you don’t much have money while

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Fabia Oliveira serving a God that demands you put him before all needs, forces you to get creative. It meant some nights my parents would drive to the parking lot behind the Salvation Army thrift store and swiftly lob glossy black trash bags filled with donations into our trunk while my brother and I ducked down in the back seat. Those nights I remember feeling like we were on a family adventure, looking at the upside-down world, bent orbs of light from the street lamps and pitched roofs of the Victorian homes in the neighborhoods, hanging as if from the sky. Once, in one of the donation bags was a book on tape set of “Little Red Riding Hood.” I listened to it every night before bed and read along with the foreign English words until, at five years old, I knew what they were trying to tell me. At the end of our street in East Somerville, my mother tells me now, as I drive her to and from errands, “There was useful trash everywhere in those days. We found TVs, couches, clothes, tables, every day we went out and found something. We were not ashamed.” I tried, but I couldn’t fix the problem for them then. I’m sure they wish it wasn’t so, but I knew money was lacking, and I planned on resolving it. Once, the church held a lottery for all the members who were looking to win a permanent home (all of the members were recent immigrants; almost all three hundred members wanted to win). The church—likely as a tax evasion method—bought a series of townhomes to give away, but we in need thought it was a true blessing. The pastor’s inspired idea was to have the children of the families slip their names into the waiting boxes. The deacons would later choose the winners—only after much prayer, of course. It seems he forgot to consider how the children who lost homes on their family’s behalf might feel. If I were ever sure of something happening in my life, it was of winning this house. I fantasized about being our family’s saving grace at seven years old. Never mind that the glory was supposed to be to God; the real hero would be me. I whispered chants onto that card, rubbed a thumb over our family name, forced some tears out by refusing to blink on my way to the altar. No other person in that room felt the divine presence like I did that night; I knew we would win. My childhood was split up at many different addresses. The moment I was sure would come never did. We have been renters of homes and of cultures since we arrived in this country, and continue to be today. The apartment I rent now is in a luxury, semi-gated community. Even today, I don’t pay the same rent as most of the other residents. I eventually did win a housing lottery of sorts, for an affordable unit in an otherwise tooexpensive apartment complex. On good days this feels like luck, on bad days it feels like I will always be a little behind everyone else. But there is a chance. There is always a chance that you might break that cycle. My brother had it figured out, for a while, at least. He sold merchandise—pharmaceuticals, really. He was seventeen when he started

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Fabia Oliveira the lucrative career of drug dealing. He made enough money for flashy watches and sunglasses but he never seemed to be able to hold on to any of his earnings. Our understanding of money was limited to the belief that only a big Massachusetts Lottery win would change our lives. My father believed in this chance so much more than I ever did. I gleaned all of my hopes and magical thinking from him. A preaching man, his quiet and authoritative tone created in me the perfect believer. Most anything he said was true, wise, and to be respected. On our drives he would point to the drug addicts nodding out and in solemn tones tell me that once you chose a life of drugs there was nothing anyone could do to save you. Or else he’d try to impress on me the importance of studying geography (which, looking back, I think he may have meant travelling) and of praying every night. And still, under this call to pious living, his gambling streak endured. He didn’t know much about American football but we watched the Super Bowl every year. We knew as a family, however, that the night represented an opportunity, the moment our lives could change. We attended church Sunday morning for Bible study and again in the evening for service, or, culto, and then returned home to watch a game none of us understood. It wasn’t the game we were watching for, but we still felt an American kind of loyalty having our TV tuned in with the rest of our neighbors. But we were quiet and anxious throughout. “Will it happen this year, Daddy?” “Maybe, Chu-Chu. Maybe.” “This is ridiculous,” my mother scolded in the background. She was often ironing one of my father’s shirts, reading her Bible, or filing her nails. I knew she felt the possibility was real, too, but wouldn’t show it like the rest of us. She wasn’t charmed by my father’s magnetism anymore; she felt small because of it, like she’d lost some of her power over her children around his booming authority. On the screen, men lobbed their bodies at one another for the oddly shaped ball. I scanned the field and its miniature players but could not make sense of their halting dance and abrupt charges. Sometimes we would cheer but mostly we sat still, all the while, waiting for the Publishers Clearing House million-dollar winner to be announced. The man in the suit and tie holding the microphone, followed by cameramen and a smiling woman holding balloons and a check the size of a small child walked carefully to the door so as not to let the winner know they were there. They would knock, looking to the camera, looking at us at home, and some unsuspecting woman in her housedress, curlers in her hair, peeked through a small crack of her door and immediately started crying. The game show host man congratulated her with the check, and those zeros comma zeros comma zeros made her the most blessed woman in this world at that moment. My father subscribed to Publishers Clearing

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Fabia Oliveira House weekly newsletters for the chance to win the big check. Oh the frenzy that stirred in us. The quiet prayers we each said. We must win! We would win! I don’t buy scratch tickets often, and maybe it’s because money makes me bitter. I don’t want it to be true, but it is. I worry about money every day. Some days more than others—especially when I make my way to work in the car I am financing that is in my father’s name because I could not afford the loan on my own. On the short drive to work I pass the local tavern. If I were to stop in, I would find some former high school classmates drinking Bud Lite bottles on their lunch break or drinking after their shifts as city workers. They are all much heavier these days and some have lost most of their hair. They are bitter, too. They have learned to cover it by drinking too much on weekends and holidays, and repeatedly suggesting that a simple life is all they could ask for. But I know the truth. I remember the grand schemes of those once-athletes in their glory days. This city was meant to be their humble origin on their way to an opulent lifestyle all would envy. When I arrive at work, I walk through the parking lot and tie my short black apron around my waist. I say hello to the chef who is taking a cigarette break by the dumpsters. Inside, the pizza maker is preparing orbs of dough to be used during the dinner rush. The dishwasher, who is a Brazilian woman, is making her way up the stairs with the trash from the kitchen, and in Portuguese she says to me, “Ai, Fabia, she is with me today.” I know the answer but I still ask, “Who is, Gisela?” “My fatigue,” and she adds, “Don’t get old, it’s a trap.” “Still no solution for how to avoid it, hmm, Gisela?” “Get rich, before it’s too late.” I say what every person in the service industry has said one time or another of doing hospitality work to get by: it’s good money. It isn’t work we are often proud of, though some do enjoy the theater-like quality of being a bartender with a nightly audience. And while we are handling customers’ attitudes and cleaning up their dirty dishes, all with a smile on our faces, we know the payoff will be worth it. The payoff being cash—more of it hourly than the friends who work for corporations with job titles they are likely to boast on their dating profiles and at dinner parties. My parents have worked for years like many Brazilians and other South American immigrants have who come to this country: doing labor in beautiful homes. They emptied trash barrels, washed toilets, and vacuumed the teenaged children’s rooms. With rags piled in the trunk, they drove their old Camry to the lovely neighborhoods sometimes as far as two hours away, all for that sought-after king: cash.

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Fabia Oliveira If there is a formula, an equation I can solve with sentences, well-formed paragraphs, a beautiful turn of phrase or two—would that kind of hard work, because it is hard, hard work, add money to accounts? Money in each of our accounts was the goal. We had lived too many years in the world with humble earnings. What would an essay have to say, I wonder, to be worth so much that I could retire my parents’ tired hands on? It would have to be enough that I could walk out of that restaurant where many of the customers refer to me as the Brazilian girl, like a euphemism for a sex kitten, and make slurred comments about my breasts. Just enough money so that I would never again have to see those men who ask me out on dates, never bothering to wipe off the grease from their chins first. Not every customer I’ve dealt with has made me feel hollow in that awful way leering eyes can. There was a WASPy older man, Dobbins, who came in regularly, sat at the bar, and drank a bottle of wine with his dinner. He was friendly, well-spoken, and seemed to have a rooted understanding of life. What I mean is even though I know he came from money—he still received an inheritance well into his sixties now, and was part owner of a prestigious tennis and racquet club in Boston—he treated everyone in the room the same. Dobbins would sit at the bar with his newspaper and complete the crossword and eventually strike up conversation with whoever happened to be seated next him. By the fourth glass of wine he would start talking about his daughters. When they were small, he and his wife traveled the world with them. Sometime around their sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays, his girls began acting strangely. At first it was a moderate interest in religion, and then it was a worrying obsession. They began mistrusting their parents, calling them sinners. And one day they began hearing voices. Voices that told them God was calling them to kill their parents. And they tried. He and his wife had to commit them to an asylum. Dobbins told these stories in detached tones, shrugging as if to say, that’s just life. No bitterness, just a resignation to making the best of what happened, as things just seemed to sometimes at random. He asked me one evening if I would be interested in working at the private bar in the club he owned. “The members are mostly a bunch of bratty rich kids,” he told me. “You know the privileged assholes who walk through the world as though everyone should bow down at their command, but you know, the club is a nice place, and you could make some good money.” I tried it for a few months. It was as Dobbins had said. Most of the members—white males—treated me like a servant, hardly bothering to look up when ordering more drinks. They didn’t tip very well either. I saw handsome men who maintained tans all winter long. They had waifish blond girlfriends who came in for glasses of white wine after a day of

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Fabia Oliveira shopping on Newbury Street, planning where they would dine out that night. I saw the men gossiping a lot. Mostly about money: who had any, who was vacationing where (vacations from what, I often wondered), and the nastier of them talked about their friends’ love affairs openly. When I tell my mother that I cannot go shopping with her on a Sunday because I am working, she thinks I mean I picked up another shift at the restaurant. She does not at first chance think that I mean writing. I don’t always think of writing as my work, either. I know it’s what I want it to do, though. I felt it for the fist time at a weekend workshop I signed up for, the summer after I finished my bachelor’s degree. I was sitting in a room at the library with about seven other writers. There were cracks in the ceilings and severe mold damage along some of the walls. But what I remember most is the heart-pounding spark I felt when we got the chance to read our work out loud. I am not a morning person and still, for four weekends I was there at eight in the morning to write until noon. Something began stirring then, I guess, because I haven’t stopped chasing that feeling or pursuing this kind of work. It is a long process that is often being interrupted by a panic that hits right during a sunny day without warning, about the worth of spending my time trying to sustain my children and myself with writing. But I am making strides, I think. Sometimes, growing up, I went to work with my parents on the occasion they could not find a sitter for me, or a holiday was being observed at school and for other workers, but not for them. There were modern homes, colonial styles, and regal brownstones in Boston’s Back Bay. One of the more memorable homes they brought me to during the holiday season had three floors, and on each floor, a different fifteen-foot Christmas tree. So much extravagance didn’t make me bitter then. It inspired me that I could have a home like it one day. As I let myself dream up a future that didn’t include cleaning other people’s homes, it hadn’t occurred to me the sort of hard-to-find peace I was witnessing watching my parents work. Like thoughtful monks, they moved silently through the home carrying out tasks with an affection that makes me thinking of gardening. They tended to these homes for the customers who had become, over the years, reliant on my parents’ constant care. A family they cleaned for for over a decade called my father and asked him for his prayers. He asked for advice with a troubled son. Others cried to him when a spouse died and more often when a pet did. “The Mahcki-donal’s dog died,” my father told me one day when they came home from work. “Mr. McDonald’s dog?” “They don’t stop crying, they say to me: ‘Oh Tony, my friend, my friend

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Fabia Oliveira is gone.’” My father had often grown attached to, and was equally adored by, dogs and all of the other animals in the homes they cleaned. He would walk into one home and the skittish cat would greet him at the door with flirtatious purrs. My parents’ feelings towards their customers varied, but their dedication never seemed to. “But you know,” he added, “when his wife died—he did not seem this sad.” At this I heard my mother’s good hearty laugh in the background, and soon we were all in fits, my father’s magic charisma lifting us out of the rut of believing they were doing anything less than God’s work; their tools simply mops and rags.

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Carly Parker-Plank Close Quarters I worked too much for too little pay, I cried for trivial reasons, and I watched people smoke more than was healthy. My clothing smelled of grease and oil on too many nights, I slept in too long on too many days, spent too many hours in the apartments of people I worked alongside for forty hours each week, just trying to understand each one of them. I tried to preserve them all—the people and the moments. It started and ended with money—quarters, nickels, dimes rattling around in the cash drawers, then transferred from hand to greedy hand through the drive-thru window or over the counter. Some of these customers were paying more for a single sandwich than a Wendy’s employee earned in an hour. I was a sandwich maker—we weren’t called artists, like the ones at Subway, because here, at Wendy’s, we were quick but sloppy, ambidextrously tossing together seven-second sandwiches to meet the company standard. Bottom bun on the wrapper, cheese, meat, cheese, a plastic knife-full of mayo on the top bun, then a “w” of ketchup, two or three pickles, one or two rings of onion, a tomato slice, half a leaf of lettuce, and a “w” of mustard. I was proficient enough to get by just listening to the orders over the headset, rather than glancing at the monitor. I paid attention to the bodies around me, reaching behind me to scoop fries, reaching around me to grab a bag and open it with a flick of the wrist, brushing each of my elbows as I slid the wrapped sandwiches along the cutting board to my left and to my right to be stacked into bags and handed out by the cashiers. Before the cameras were installed above the registers, I trained with another manager—Dante, the first person I closed with regularly enough to miss him when he left. While he waited at the drive-thru window, he had a habit of playing with the drawer of his register, springing it in and out against a tattoo of his girlfriend, Felicia. Her image, which spanned the length of his forearm, was slimmer than she appeared in person, but still a recognizable likeness. He told me how she’d stood by him during his three years in jail on an embezzlement charge. He complained about her moods and how they would fight, how she’d say she’s leaving, and he’d tell her to go ahead, but she never would. Dante told me that if she ever followed through on her threat, he would steal money again just to keep her with him. But some nights I’d steal a glance at Dante warming up a cup of

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Carly Parker-Plank macaroni and cheese, salting the top. He’d present this bowl to Felicia, who was hanging her elbows through the drive-thru window waiting for her free food before she went off into the night for the remainder of our shift. After his till was counted down and stashed in the safe at the end of the night, I’d sit with Dante on the concrete parking blocks, eating a leftover grilled chicken breast, which tasted more like hot dog than chicken, dipping the three-hour-old meat in ketchup while he smoked and waited for Felicia to come pick him up in her cherry red ’97 Dodge Neon, because no one waited alone—that was the closing crew’s pact. I waited with him so often I could recognize the sound of her car, a high pitched, whining buzz above the low drone of the other vehicles on M-44. After I left work on Dante’s last night, I cried on the way home—the soothing, silent type of tears—and I had this intense, unfounded desire to sketch the faces of Dante and Felicia. With a knife-sharpened carpenter’s pencil from the bottom of my junk drawer, I sketched for the first time in my life, graphite glinting in the half-light of my bedroom at 1:30 am. I suppose forcing the lines of their faces together on the page was my way of praying for their happiness. But I wasn’t an artist, and the sketch was functional, but sloppy, like maybe if viewed from far away, or consumed quickly, it would be acceptable. Months later, I heard from a visiting manager that Dante had been fired for deleting items from his register and pocketing the cash. Dante’s replacement was Angel, a single mother raising four kids on a Wendy’s paycheck, child support, and food stamps. I spent a lot of money on gas driving Angel home, to the house she rented across the river. I drove her one Sunday, which turned into every night, because the city busses didn’t run after eleven, and, eventually, I began picking her up from work and driving her two youngest kids to daycare. On that first Sunday, she invited me over for a late night dinner of taco salad—I just had to buy the beer. I entered through the back door, which spilled light into a concrete alleyway between two of the city’s grid-straight streets. Sheets hung where doors should have been, and two of Angel’s sons sat playing cards at the kitchen table. One looked like a younger version of the other. I joined in, suggesting Crazy Eights, something the boys would like, as Angel and I talked and drank a couple of Bud Lights. Angel had so many goals. The house was supposed to be smoke-free, per the landlord’s request, but she lit up a Newport and kept mentioning things like, “I’m going to get back to Georgia, visit my hometown, even if I have to borrow somebody’s car,” and “I’m going to buy a house before the year’s up.” And she’d flash a smile that would spread cheekbone to cheekbone—that smile she used when she told customers to have a beautiful day. The volume of our conversation woke Angel’s two-year-old son, who, emerging from behind his bedsheet doorway in a training diaper and nothing else, resembled a miniature Tarzan, shoulder length jet-black hair

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Carly Parker-Plank and all. He sat on my lap as we played cards late into the night, begging me to spin quarters between my turns so he could slap them flat onto the table, turn towards me, and laugh with his mother’s wide-faced, toothy grin. Then he’d ask me to spin them again, and again, and eventually two at once, just so he could see the glints of silver each time they turned toward him.

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Jackie Sizemore Aim High In the stall of a shared bathroom, I balanced one foot on my tennis shoe while hopping into my gym shorts. I wished I hadn’t slept at my friend’s dorm, especially when I had something to go to that morning. At least, that’s how I’d put it to the friends I’d made in my first week of living in Pittsburgh during Carnegie Mellon University’s Orientation week. I wondered why anyone like me would be walking to an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Welcome on her first Saturday of college. A few months earlier, my parents were denied a Parent Plus loan, revealing a truth I’d long suspected about their finances. Between the fourcar garage Buffalo, New York McMansion and rotating credit, my mom panicked over college costs while I wondered if my parents would divorce. She decided I should join the ROTC, even though I’d have to wait a semester to be “official” and get the scholarship. She listed my options like a grocery list. “Army, Navy, or Airforce?” My logic at seventeen went like this: I didn’t like ships, and Army commercials were too Starship Troopers. I picked Airforce and hoped I could use my hair to hide my ear piercings like I had for JV volleyball. By 6:30 am the Pittsburgh heat seeped into my new Air Force hat. We practiced saluting our training officer, Cadet Second Lieutenant Chen, in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Learning, a towering Hogwarts-like building that serves as the beacon of the University of Pittsburgh. With ring finger against eyebrow, I imagined my hand as the wing of a plane, tilting for the correct angle. I tried to salute while snapping my heels together over the cobblestones and addressing imaginary officers. “Good morning, Ma’am! Good morning, Sir!” I stumbled with the snap and laughed. Chen asked me if I thought this was funny. I didn’t reply because I knew it was. After salute practice, we left the noise of Forbes Avenue traffic and went inside. On some high up floor, in a room scattered with cardboard boxes, someone in a uniform told me to try on a dark blue skirt, a starchy blouse, and the ugliest high heel shoes I’d ever seen. I looked around the room at the other girls in my company, hoping they looked terrible too. One girl with short blonde hair tucked behind her ears beamed into her mirror. She gave herself a perfectly angled salute. Back in my mirror, I looked like a fraud in my costume. I closed my eyes and tried to picture receiving my first salute as an officer but instead

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Jackie Sizemore remembered sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance one time at high school assembly. I remembered Vietnam War literature and imagined myself as a boy without options to quit. I would run to Canada. In that moment, I did not believe in war. But even if war made no sense, someone had to fight because the world was mostly stupid and intent on blowing itself up. Faced with a reflection in uniform, my seventeen-year-old mind tumbled. How could I decide about something as inevitable as war while also wondering if I could study photography when it wasn’t on the Air Force’s approved list? If I were a History major, would I like being an Air Force Historian? Wouldn’t I have loans whether I officially joined or not? I felt respect and bewilderment for the other teenagers in the room, ready to die if this country asked them to. Second Lieutenant Chen ushered us outside for a game of frisbee in the open grass dotted with sycamore trees. He talked teamwork and promised the next four years would have some fun moments. I told him I wasn’t feeling well. The dread in my stomach was too heavy to launch myself into the air. Back on CMU’s campus, among people who had few commitments other than to themselves, I wrote my final email to the Air Force: Thank you for the opportunity. Not the right fit. Should I return my Soaring Eagles company T-shirt? Without the Air Force, I would eventually double major in Creative Writing and History, work as Assistant Director of Admissions at CMU, and earn a graduate degree in a state I wouldn’t visit until I’d already committed to the school, and make a habit of driving across the country. These were all things I could never have imagined when I called my mom with my decision. “You are making a mistake,” she said, furious. I walked along Forbes Avenue, staring across the street at the Carnegie Museums; full of the art and history I would fall in love with over and over again. “The only mistake would be staying in,” I said. “If that means more debt, it is my debt and not yours.” She listed the repercussions of giving up a guaranteed job after graduating. “Why am I here if you don’t think I can find any kind of job afterward?” Our call ended with both of us angry, but for different reasons. With eyes burning, I walked to the square where I’d practiced saluting and promised myself I would make my life exactly what I wanted it to be. On Monday, the first day of classes, I scheduled an emergency meeting with my first-year humanities advisor. In the bright basement offices of Baker Hall, the twenty-something blonde woman appointed to me by my last name listened to the saga of my ROTC weekend. With the ROTC class removed from my schedule, I needed to leave her office with a new class in its place.

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Jackie Sizemore “What sounds interesting to you, Jackie?” I thought about all the things I’d been told I was good at. I thought about subjects I hadn’t studied yet, and the many movies I’d seen where college students discover who they really were. I thought about my four years of high school darkroom photography, my dismissal of art school dreams in pursuit of research and humanities, that meaning of life stuff. “I think I’d like to take black and white photography,” I said. “Well, let’s figure out how we can make that happen.” For the next four years, I explored Pittsburgh with my camera and my words. Poetry for the all-day thunderstorms, stories hunched over restaurants in Oakland, and photography of disintegrating landscapes against the growing medical corridor. I even took a Mayan archaeology course at the University of Pittsburgh, giving me new experiences with the nearby campus. In the plethora of parks and fussy one-way streets, I learned to live within my means and began to shape the adult I hoped to be. Looking back, that phone call marked the first of many quits. Quitting jobs, quitting relationships, quitting cities. Money, or the promise of it, can’t make a life on its own. The glimpse of my future as a costumed person without passion shook me into finding a way to make college work. I sold my former upper-middle class material wealth for grocery money, sold my mind’s reactions to psychology studies, and held my bras together with electrical tape. When I graduated, I took that mindset up and down retail shopping streets until I landed a temporary job that afforded me the professional wardrobe I would wear as a college admissions counselor. I’d like to think teenage-me would be proud that I didn’t sell out to the military machine; I belonged behind a camera and a laptop, not a gun or a plane. Months after quitting, I learned that my former Lieutenant lived in my dormitory. He found me working on a painting in one of the lounges, smearing teal blue across a canvas. “I knew it wasn’t for you,” he said. I laughed. “It really wasn’t.” We talked as I continued to brush paint across the white surface, about college, money, and pirating music. He accepted my choice to leave without question and told me he didn’t plan to stay in for life either. Then, he called me an artist, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.

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Contributors’ Notes

Carol Willette Bachofner, award winning poet, watercolorist, and photographer served as Poet Laureate of Rockland Maine from 2012–2016. She is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The Boyfriend Project and Test Pattern: a fantod of prose poems. Her poems have been widely anthologized, danced, used in classical music compositions, and featured in art museums. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and blogs from her home in coastal Maine. Visit her at www. carolbachofner.com. Jenna Baillargeon is a Division III student (senior) at Hampshire College pursuing her BA in Creative Writing (Poetry) with a minor in ASL. She has represented Hampshire in the annual Five-College Poetry Festival and has been featured in Emily Dickinson’s parlor room and elsewhere. Her work also appears in PORT smith.  Linda Bamber is a Professor of English at Tufts University. Her poems have appeared in  The Harvard Review, Ploughshares, Agni, The Kenyon Review, Raritan,  etc;  her poetry collection, Metropolitan Tang, was published by David R. Godine. Taking What I Like: Stories, also from Godine, includes re-inventions of six Shakespeare plays, a riff on Jane Eyre, and a fictional look at the work of Thomas Eakins. Her scholarly book on Shakespeare, Comic Women, Tragic Men: Gender and Genre in Shakespeare, was published by Stanford University Press. She is currently writing an epistolary novel based on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Brian Barker is the author of three books of poetry, Vanishing Acts (SIU Press), The Black Ocean (SIU Press), and  The Animal Gospels (Tupelo Press). His poems have appeared in such journals as  Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, American Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, The Washington Post, Indiana Review, The Cincinnati Review, Blackbird, and Pleiades. He teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, where he is a poetry editor of Copper Nickel. Learn more at www.brianbarker.net. Roy Bentley is the author of Walking with Eve in the Loved City, a finalist for the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize, and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House), which won the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize. A new book, American Loneliness, is due from Lost Horse Press. Bingh  studied literature and creative writing with Jim Crenner at Hobart College, where he founded and edited SCRY! A Nexus of Politics and the Arts (Anne Carson was among the contributors). Bingh conducted an interview with the American novelistpoet Katherine Towler and co-translated the poems of Mario Bojórquez for  Poetry International. He writes theater reviews for the  San Diego Reader (under the name Binh H. Nguyen). Bingh holds an MFA degree in poetry writing from SDSU and is the founder and curator of Thru a Soft Tube, a monthly reading series in San Diego. Ace Boggess is author of four books of poetry, most recently I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So (Unsolicited Press) and Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press).

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Contributors’ Notes His poetry has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, River Styx, cream city review, and American Literary Review, among others. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. Massachusetts-based poet Robert Carr is the author of Amaranth, published by Indolent Books and The Unbuttoned Eye, a full-length collection forthcoming from 3: A Taos Press. Among other publications, his poetry appears in Bellevue Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Massachusetts Review, Rattle, and Tar River Poetry. Robert is poetry editor with Indolent Books and an editor for the anthology Bodies and Scars, forthcoming from the Ghana Writes Literary Group. Additional information can be found at robertcarr.org. Olivier Castaignède was born in France in 1973. He has been living in Singapore since 2000. In 2015, he decided to quit his salaried job to focus on writing and traveling. His first novel in French,  Radikal,  was published by Editions Gope.  A graduate of Lasalle College of the Arts’ MA in Creative Writing in Singapore, he also writes in English: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, often inspired by his trips around the world. His work has been featured in Joyland Magazine, The Business Mirror, and The Wanderlust Journal.  Christopher Cervelloni is the founder and Executive Editor at Blue Square Writers Studio, an online resource and community for writers. He earned his MFA from Rutgers and his recent work has been published in The Barcelona Review, Fogged Clarity, Metaphorosis, and Sixfold, among others. He currently lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado.  Amy Clark’s essays have appeared in the New York Times, Salon, Chattahoochee Review, Appalachian Heritage, and Blue Ridge Country, among others. Fellowships and awards include Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian Writing, Key West Literary Seminar, CR’s Lamar York Prize for Nonfiction, and Honorable Mention in Best American Essays. She is author and co-editor of Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community (U. Press of KY). She teaches Rhetoric and Appalachian Studies at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, where she serves as chair of Communication Studies and Co-Director of the Center for Appalachian Studies. Rasheed Copeland is a native of Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Book of Silence: Manhood As a Pseudoscience (Sergeant Press) and is a recipient of the 2016 and 2017 D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities Fellowship Award. He placed second at the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam. His work has been featured in online publications such as Public Pool and The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database at Split This Rock. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, DéLana R.A. Dameron is a writer and arts and culture administrator living in Brooklyn, NY. Dameron is the author of Weary Kingdom, and her debut collection of poetry How God Ends Us was selected by Elizabeth Alexander for the 2008 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize. Dameron holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has conducted

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Contributors’ Notes readings, workshops and lectures all across the United States, Central America and Europe. www.delanaradameron.com   Darrell Dela Cruz’s work has appeared in The Stillwater Review, The Tau, Studio One, The Laurel Review, and Ignatian Literary Magazine. He has a blog where he tries to analyzes poems, but has been told by several poets that his analysis is either missing something or is “interesting”: retailmfa.blogspot.com. He graduated with an MFA in Poetry from San Jose State University. Jaclyn Dwyer has published stories, essays, and poems in a number of literary magazines, including  Ploughshares,  Pleiades,  Witness,  Indiana Review,  Electric Literature, and  Salon. She received a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She earned a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University, where she received a Kingsbury Fellowship. Her full-length poetry collection, The Bride Aflame, will be published by Black Lawrence Press. She lives in Ohio with her husband and daughters where she is Assistant Professor and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Malone University. Meg Eden’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She has five poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest was published with California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter @ConfusedNarwhal. Avra Elliott is a writer and toymaker from New Mexico. A lover of poetry and prose, Elliott’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Barrow Street, Cider Press Review, Tinderbox, Comstock Review, Contrary, Fairy Tale Review, and Waxwing, among others. Elliott received her MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. Valerie Fioravanti is the author of the linked collection of Brooklyn stories Garbage Night at the Opera  from BkMk Press, winner of the Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review, Cimarron Review, and LUMINA. Her story “Loud Love” won the inaugural Tillie Olsen Short Story Award.  For more information, visit http://valeriefioravanti.com. Car Fontenot is from Kenner, Louisiana. He is a recent graduate University of Mississippi, where he was a John and Renee Grisham Fellow. “Bad Kids” is his first publication. Rebecca Morgan Frank is the author of Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country and The Spokes of Venus, both from Carnegie Mellon University Press, and Little Murders Everywhere, a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Guernica, and elsewhere. She is co-founder and editor of the literary magazine Memorious.org. Susan Grimm is the author of  Almost Home (Cleveland State University Poetry Center),  Lake Erie Blue (BkMk Press), and  Roughed Up by the Sun’s Mothering

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Contributors’ Notes Tongue (Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared in Blackbird, The Journal, The Cortland Review, Seneca Review, and Tar River Poetry. She earned an MFA in poetry through the Northeast Ohio MFA consortium (NEOMFA) and teaches creative writing part-time at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She also occasionally teaches classes for Literary Cleveland. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and can be found online at The White Space Inside the Poem. A Professor of English and Creative Writing Poetry at Georgia State University, Beth Gylys is an award-winning poet with three collections of poetry (most recently Sky Blue Enough to Drink) and two chapbooks.  Her work has recently appeared in Cortland Review and Cimmaron, and she has work forthcoming in James Dickey Review and Birmingham Poetry Review.   Stacey Haas is a poet from Saginaw, Michigan. She lives in a drafty old house by the river with a couple of cats and a dog named Martha.  Shaneen Harris is a graduate of the Sierra Nevada College MFA Program. She’s done bodybuilding, taught, programmed, and many other things. But her one constant has been writing, having created her first book at the age of nine. Her poem “Clergy Woman Eats Her Shadow” was a finalist in the Wolverine Farm Broadside Poetry Prize, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Postcard Poems and Prose Magazine, Rubbertop Review, and Rattle. Shaneen is married and the mother of three. She loves a good breeze, a good book, and a good red blend. JD Hegarty is a lawyer, a poet, and an essayist living in Saint Paul, Minnesota with two loud grey cats. They have an MFA from Hamline University. JD’s work can be found in White Stag and Mortar Magazine. Their first chapbook, On Passing, was published by Red Bird Chapbooks. They can be reached at jdhegarty.com. Jaimee Hills is the author of How to Avoid Speaking, which won the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and was published by Waywiser Press. Her work has appeared in Verse Daily, Best New Poets, Mississippi Review, Drunken Boat, Blackbird, and elsewhere. She lives and writes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and more work can be found at her website www.jaimeehills.com. Alexis Ivy is a 2018 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in Poetry. Her first poetry collection, Romance with Small-Time Crooks, was published by BlazeVOX [books]. Her second collection, Taking the Homeless Census, won the 2018 Editors Prize at Saturnalia Books and is forthcoming. She is a Street Outreach Advocate working with the homeless and lives in her hometown, Boston. Charles Jensen is the author of six chapbooks and two collections of poems, including the recent Nanopedia. His poem “Tucson” received the 2018 Zócalo Poetry Prize. A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, The Journal, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a cityby-city basis. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Contributors’ Notes Leslie Jones was raised in Anchorage, Alaska. Her stories have appeared in Narrative, The Baltimore Review, and The Masters Review. She received her MFA from Rutgers-Newark and lives in Brooklyn. Whittney Jones is winner of the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize in The Illinois Emerging Writers Competition and a finalist in the 2017 International Literary Awards Rita Dove Poetry Prize. Her poems are also featured in Ninth Letter, Zone 3, Alligator Juniper, Split Lip Magazine, Switchback, and the minnesota review, among other journals. Holly Karapetkova’s poetry, prose, and translations have appeared recently in  The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, The Nashville Review, and many other places. Her second book, Towline, won the Vern Rutsala Poetry Contest and was published by Cloudbank Books. Enid Kassner is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University writing program. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, (b)OINK, Inscape, Watershed Review, and other publications. She was awarded first place in creative nonfiction by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation. Enid writes and teaches yoga in Arlington, Virginia. Ben Kingsley is best known for his Academy Award-winning role as Mahatma Gandhi. A touch less famous, Affrilachian author Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley has not acted since his third-grade debut as the undertaker in Music Man. A Kundiman alum, Ben is currently the Tickner Writing Fellow and recipient of a Provincetown FAWC fellowship.  He belongs to the Onondaga Nation of Indigenous Americans in New York. Peep his recent work in Boston Review, FIELD, Kenyon Review, New England Review,  Oxford American, &  Tin House, among others. His first book is Not Your Mama’s Melting Pot, selected by Bob Hicok. Daniel Lassell lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. His recent poetry appears in Post Road, Lunch Ticket, Frontier Poetry, Permafrost, and Yemassee. For more information, visit his website at www.daniel-lassell.com. Joanne Mallari holds an MFA from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her work appears in Palimpsest, The MacGuffin, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, and elsewhere.  Ciera Horton McElroy’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Chattahoochee Review, Little Fiction, Burrow Press’ Fantastic Floridas, Lumina, and Flash Fiction Magazine, among others. Her work has also received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train and Smokelong Quarterly. Ciera currently resides in Orlando, Florida, where she interns at The Florida Review and works as a communications consultant. Claire McQuerry’s poems have recently appeared in Tin House, Birmingham Poetry Review, Fugue, and other journals. She has recently completed a collection of poems about economy and consumerism, and her first collection, Lacemakers, was published by Southern Illinois University Press. 

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Contributors’ Notes Faith Merino is a 2017 WxW fellow and her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Notre Dame Review, The Moth, Jabberwock Review, Open Windows III, and Calliope. She lives in Sacramento with her husband and two young sons. Matthew Moniz is an MFA candidate in poetry at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA. He hails from the Washington, D.C. area. He was recently awarded the SCMLA Poetry Prize at their annual conference. Matthew Murrey’s poems have appeared in many journals such as Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, and Rattle.  He received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry a number of years ago, and his first book manuscript, Bulletproof, is being published by Jacar Press after being selected by Marilyn Nelson as the winner of Jacar’s 2018 Full-Length Book Contest.    He is a high school librarian in Urbana, Illinois, where he lives with his partner.  They have two grown sons. His website is at https://www.matthewmurrey. net/  Anne Visser Ney lives in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Her work has recently appeared in Ruminate, Scintilla Magazine, The Fourth River, and Brain, Child. She is anthologized in It’s My Country, Too: Women’s Military Stories and Red, White, and True: Stories from Veterans and Families (U of Nebraska Press). She is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, serves on Milspeak Foundation’s Advisory Council, and teaches writing to women veterans through Milspeak’s On Point program. She is currently working on memoir essays about grief. Ben Nickol is the author of the books  Sun River: Stories  (Black Lawrence Press), Adherence (Outpost19), and Where the Wind Can Find It: Stories (Queen’s Ferry Press). His fiction and essays have appeared widely, in venues such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Boulevard,  Redivider, Fourth Genre, Tin House Online, Fugue, CutBank and The Greensboro Review. In 2018, he joined the Creative Writing faculty at Wichita State University. For more, or to be in touch, please visit www.bennickol.com. Thomas O’Keefe lives and writes in Chicago.  His previous work was published in Big Muddy. Kelly O’Rourke is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in poetry at San Francisco State University. Born and raised in Boston, she currently calls San Francisco home. She has published poems in HCE Review, Canada Quarterly, Poet’s Haven Digest, Snapdragon Journal, Transfer Magazine, Holy Sh*t Journal, and Blue Collar Review.  Fabia Oliveira currently has essays published in  Rigorous, a journal by people of color, and Your Impossible Voice. Her poetry has appeared in Lesley University’s literary magazine Common Thought. She also has an essay in the anthology Sisters Born, Sisters Found,  edited by Laura McHale. Her work is forthcoming in  Post Road and The Indian Review. She was the finalist for a merit scholarship for the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal and a semifinalist in Ruminate’s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize. Her essay “A Blue Wall” won second prize in the Juncture Workshops’ essay contest The Walls Between Us.

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Contributors’ Notes Willy Palomo (he/they) is the son of two immigrants from El Salvador. He is a McNair Scholar, Macondista, and a Frost Place Latin@ Scholar. He has performed his poetry nationally and internationally at the National Poetry Slam, CUPSI, and V Festival Internacional de Poesía Amada Libertad in El Salvador. His poems and book reviews have been featured in Best New Poets 2018, Latino Rebels, Muzzle, The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States, and more. His first collection of poetry is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Follow him @palomopoemas and at www.palomopoemas.com. Carly Parker-Plank holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Pedagogy from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is working on a book-length memoir about her four years as a Wendy’s employee, and she is an adjunct instructor of English at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids Community College, and Kendall College of Art and Design. Georgia Pearle has been a coordinator of the VIDA Count as well as the senior digital editor for  Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts.  Her poems have been published by Ninth Letter, Kenyon Review Online, WSQ, and others. She was recently the recipient of the Inprint Marion Barthelme Prize in Creative Writing.  She is currently finishing her doctorate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Houston, where she holds a CLASS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, and she is at work on a collection of poems as well as a memoir. You can find her online at www. gpearle.com. Joe Ponepinto’s novel, Mr. Neutron, was published by 7.13 Books. He was the founding publisher and fiction editor of Tahoma Literary Review, a nationally-recognized literary journal that has had selections reproduced in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays, Best Small Fictions, Best Gay Fiction, and other notable anthologies. He was the winner of the Tiferet 2016 fiction contest, and has had stories published in Fugue, Lumina, 2 Bridges Review, and dozens of other literary journals in the U.S. and abroad. He is an adjunct writing instructor at Seattle’s Hugo House and Tacoma Community College. He is the publisher of Orca, a literary journal based in the Northwest. Rudy Ravindra lives in Wilmington, NC. His fiction has appeared in New Mexico Review, Lunch Ticket, Route 7 Review, and others. More at: http://rudyravindra.wix. com/rudy Molly Bess Rector lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she co-curates the Open Mouth Reading Series. She earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Arkansas and works as project editor for the University of Arkansas Press. She is the recipient of residencies from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and the Vermont Studio Center, as well as a grant by the Artists 360 program to write poems exploring human intersections with nuclear technology. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Nimrod International Journal, Raleigh Review, SAND, and The Boiler, among others. Born and raised in the Philippines, José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes is the author of the chapbook Present Values (Backbone Press). His poems have previously appeared in the Color Wheel issue of Crab Orchard Review and in such journals as Michigan Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Hudson Review, Rattle, and American Literary Review.

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Contributors’ Notes Christine Rhein is the author of Wild Flight, a winner of the Walt McDonald First Book Prize in Poetry (Texas Tech University Press). Her poems have appeared widely in literary journals, including The Southern Review and The Gettysburg Review, and have won awards from  Michigan Quarterly Review and Green Mountains Review. Her work has also been published in anthologies, including  The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017. She lives in Brighton, Michigan.  Nicholas Samaras is the author of Hands of the Saddlemaker and American Psalm, World Psalm. He is one of the leading scholars on the writings of the fifteenth-century author, inventor, and mystic Milo Rambaldi. He currently works in the Section Disparu branch of the New York Credit Dauphine Bank in various locations. Corinna McClanahan Schroeder is the author of the poetry collection Inked, winner of the 2014 X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and her poetry appears or is forthcoming in such journals as Blackbird, Gulf Coast, The Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, and Poet Lore.  Steven D. Schroeder’s second book, The Royal Nonesuch (Spark Wheel Press), won the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award from Southern Illinois University. His poetry is recently available from Michigan Quarterly Review,  Crazyhorse, and  Diagram. He works as a creative content manager for a financial marketing agency in St. Louis. Find him online at www.steveschroeder.info.  Jake Sheff is a major and pediatrician in the US Air Force, and is married with a daughter and six pets. Currently, his home is the Mojave Desert. Poems of Jake’s are in Radius, The Ekphrastic Review, The Cossack Review, and elsewhere. He won first place in the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and was a finalist in the Rondeau Roundup’s 2017 triolet contest. Two of his poems have been nominated for the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology. His chapbook is Looting Versailles (Alabaster Leaves Publishing).  Jackie Sizemore is a writer, educator, and entrepreneur. With no hometown to speak of, she comes from the Rustbelt, the South, and Tokyo. Her prose has previously appeared in Citron Review, Mojo/Mikrokosmos, Eastern Iowa Review, Opossum, and Ravishly’s “Long Reads.” Poetry has appeared in Noble / Gas Qtrly. Her novel-inprogress was a finalist for the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, her flash memoir was longlisted for the Alpine Fellowship, and her lyric essay was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2018. She received her MFA from Boise State University and BA from Carnegie Mellon University.  Crystal Simone Smith the author of two poetry chapbooks: Routes Home, Finishing Line Press, and Running Music, Longleaf Press. She is also the author of Wildflowers: Haiku, Senryu, and Haibun (2016). Her work has appeared in numerous journals including: Callaloo, Nimrod, Barrow Street, Obsidian II: Literature in the African Diaspora, African American Review, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. She is an alumna of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writers Conference. She holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Durham, NC with her husband and two sons, where she teaches English Composition and Creative Writing. She is the Managing Editor of Backbone Press.

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Contributors’ Notes LeRoy Sorenson is a graduate of the Loft Literary Center’s Foreword program and participated in the Loft’s Mentor program. Main Street Rag published his poetry collection, Forty Miles North of Nowhere. He was a finalist in Naugatuck River Review’s annual poetry contest and a semifinalist in Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry’s Pablo Neruda Annual Contest. His work has appeared in or will appear in American Journal of Poetry, Atlanta Review, The Cider Press Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Sow’s Ear, and other journals. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is on his second full-length poetry book. Chloe Stricklin is a Pennsylvanian poet living in Minneapolis. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Bennington Writing Seminars, where she was the recipient of the Liam Rector Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Pittsburgh Poetry Review, New South, The Tishman Review, and others. Enzo Silon Surin, Haitian-born poet, educator, publisher, and social advocate, is the author of two chapbooks, A Letter of Resignation: An American Libretto and Higher Ground. He is recipient of a Brother Thomas Fellowship from The Boston Foundation and is a PEN New England Celebrated New Voice in Poetry. Surin’s work gives voice to experiences that take place in what he calls “broken spaces” and has appeared in numerous publications. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and is an Associate Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College and founding editor and publisher at Central Square Press. Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press), The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Literary Press), and Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, LLC). His forthcoming books are The Map of Eternity (Shanti Arts, LLC), Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System), and On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books). Vanni Thach was born in Cao Lanh, Vietnam and raised in Camden, New Jersey. Thach received a BA at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana with an MA in Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing. Thach was a recipient of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship (Prose) and is working to finish, revise, and edit a novel. The author of two poetry chapbooks, Karen J. Weyant’s poems can be seen in  Chautauqua, Cold Mountain Review, New Plains Review, Rattle,  Spillway, and  Whiskey Island. She is an Associate Professor of English at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. She lives in northern Pennsylvania. Ross White is the author of two chapbooks, How We Came Upon the Colony (Unicorn Press) and The Polite Society (Unicorn Press). His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry Daily,  Tin House, and  The Southern Review, among others.  His manuscript-in-progress,  Guilt Ledger, was selected by Edward Hirsch to receive the 2016 Larry Levis Post-Graduate Stipend from Warren Wilson College. He teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and directs Bull City Press. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswhite.

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Contributors’ Notes Carolyn Williams-Noren’s poems appear in AGNI, Salamander, Sugar House Review, and elsewhere. A chapbook of poems, Small Like a Tooth, was published by Dancing Girl Press. Her lyric essays have been in  Willow Springs  and  Water~Stone Review. Carolyn lives in Minneapolis. She teaches creative writing classes for kids and adults, helps writers reach their goals, and serves creative businesses, educators, and nonprofits as a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader.  Julie Zuckerman’s debut novel-in-stories, The Book of Jeremiah, will be published by Press 53. Her writing has appeared in Salt Hill, The SFWP Quarterly, Sixfold, The MacGuffin,  Ellipsis, descant,  The Coil, and Five:2:One, among others. A native of Connecticut, she now lives in Israel with her husband and four children. Find her on Twitter: @jbzuckerman  

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A B ORCH AR R C D •

•

REVIEW

From this point forward, we will not be open to receiving submissions for the next two online issues of Crab Orchard Review. On August 1 2019, we will open for submissions to our next Student Writing Awards issue. Because of the health problems of our managing editor, we will try to make these publication deadlines on the issues we have received work for, but we cannot guarantee this amidst these difficulties. We will remain closed for new submissions until we get caught up and at that time any new submissions during 2019 will be for the 2020 online issues of Crab Orchard Review and everything should be sent to us through Submittable (no postal or email submissions). Here is our plan: Volume 24, Number 1. General issue with COR 2019 Annual Literary Prizes (closed to new submissions) publication goal: June 2019 Volume 24, Number 2. A WORLD OF FLAVORS ~ WRITERS ON FOOD AND DRINK (closed to new submissions) publication goal: October 2019 Volume 24, Number 1. Student Writing Awards issue (submissions open August 1, 2019 through September 30, 2019) publication goal: March 2020

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Profile for Crab Orchard Review

Crab Orchard Review Vol 23 No 3 March 2019  

"Ka-Ching!: The Money Issue"

Crab Orchard Review Vol 23 No 3 March 2019  

"Ka-Ching!: The Money Issue"

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