CRACK THE SPINE
Crack The Spine Issue Ten February 6, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack The Spine
Cover Art â€œSleep Anywhereâ€? by Eleanor Leonne Bennett Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15 year old internationally award winning photographer and artist who has won first places with National Geographic, The World Photography Organisation, Nature's Best Photography, Papworth Trust, Mencap, The Woodland trust and Postal Heritage. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph , The Guardian, BBC News Website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. Her art is globally exhibited , having shown work in London, Paris, Indonesia, Los Angeles, Florida, Washington, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Germany, Japan, Australia and The Environmental Photographer of the year Exhibition (2011) amongst many over locations. She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus run See The Bigger Picture global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010.
Contents Zack Nelson Lopiccolo ……………….………..………….Burnt Shrubs Cobwebs Robin Boy Wonder Christi R. Suzzane…………………………..………….…………..Mitten Richard Peabody………...……….…….…….I Burned the Planet, Dear M.Y. Pastorelli…….……………………………....………….……..Traffic John Grochalski……………….….…...Woman Kicking a Plastic Bottle Jennifer Kikoler…………………………….……...…The Beet Goes On Eric Prochaska………………………………………………………..Lines
Burnt Shrubs By Zack Nelson Lopiccolo
Lick your right elbow. Tear a square piece of paper, section it into four squares just like the game. Write the first four words that come to mind, yes poop and sex count. Stick it to your damp elbow. Walk around in a circle four times, not to fast, you don’t want to get dizzy. Sit down next to a bush, a big one the size of a Volkswagen. If you’re hot, sit in the sun, if you’re cold sit in the shade. Lick the paper on your right elbow again, slowly, think of how the words taste. Their earthiness keeps you alive, remember this always. Write as if you were the bush observing the human (you) sitting in front of it. Do this until the shadow of the bush engulfs you or completely abandons you. Then lick your left elbow and cry.
cobwebs By Zack Nelson Lopiccolo
The corners of the bar are strung with cobwebs of spiders long since passed- full of dreary dust and the shit-smell sweat- stories of drunks drowned in tab, hiding from half-way houses and hazardous lives. Each filled with eighty proof shots of lying husbands and wives like ice-cubed flies floating around in whiskey breaths waiting to unthaw from a cubicle prison frozen thicker than arctic Pluto.
Robin Boy Wonder By Zack Nelson Lopiccolo
“HOLY PICKLE JUICE BATMAN!” This was his last line, before he finally turned to Adam West and flipped him the bird. He’d had it being a hacky sack character with stuck with minimal, POW, CRACK, BOOM, and SLAP’s. For once he wanted to solve more than the Riddler’s Riddles. He wanted to wear the cool costume not the Christmas ornament that he wore each day. Retired from the business, he sits at home solving riddles laughing like a crazed makeup wearing green haired man The crazy cat women down the hall from his apartment taunts him each time she passes and all he can say Is, “HOLY ROTTEN PEANUT BUTTER BATMAN!” to his cardboard cutout of Adam West.
Zack Nelson Lopiccolo is a recent graduate of California State University, Long Beach where he stole a B.A in both Creative Writing and Literature. He is one head of the Cerberus that runs Bank-Heavy Press in Long Beach, CA. He also owns a poem farm that aims to lessen the country's reliance on fossil fuels and to make poetry a booming alternative fuel. Some of his work can be seen in Indigo Rising Magazine, Vaya!zine, Bank-Heavy Press' "Don't Forget the Chapstick" and "Pom-PomPomeranian" and is forthcoming in Contemporary American Voices. He also loves canned green beans!
Mitten By Christi R. Suzanne
I felt the scratchy red wool of the mitten. It smelled like cardamom. Eli would be back to pick it up. Unless he never wanted to see me againjust because he was my brother didn’t mean we would see each other again. Lots of things could happen between now and then. But, where had the cardamom smell come from? He didn’t cook. I couldn’t even imagine that he knew what cardamom even tasted like, that he would remember. Yet, I knew it. My mother used to make little buns, like cinnamon rolls, but instead of cinnamon she used cardamom. She said she liked to put the “mom” in her cooking, not the “mon”, she wasn’t from Jamaica, you know? We laughed at that joke for years. I missed that joke. I missed Eli too. I walked home from work with the mitten in my pocket. When I finally got to my apartment I shivered from the transition of the cold outside air to the warmth of the apartment. “Eli stopped by,” Janet, my roommate, said. “When?” “About ten minutes ago.” “What did he want?” I asked. “He thought he left his mitten here, but we couldn’t find it.” I touched the worn cardamom infused fibers to make sure it was still there. “Strange,” I said. “Maybe it got lost somewhere else,” she offered. I nodded and walked quickly to my room. I wondered why Eli had come back so soon. It had only been two days. Why was the mitten so special? It wasn’t particularly soft or even new. In fact, it looked old and miserably used. Like it hadn’t been washed in years. There was a small hole between the thumb and pointer finger. I sat down at my old wooden desk and placed the mitten in front of me. Taking a deep breath I tried not to think too much. I called Eli. He answered on the first ring, which was rare.
“Deena?” “What’s going on?” I asked. “I just stopped by your place.” “Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m calling you. What’s this about a red mitten?” “Red? I didn’t say what color it was,” Eli said. “Oh, I just assumed.” “It is red though. Do you have it?” “Why are you so desperate for it?” “Am I? I just need to return it to someone,” he said. “Who is this someone?” He held his breath back for a moment and then said, “It doesn’t belong to me.” I smiled, knowing it was my mother’s. “So, she stopped by to see you, but didn’t bother to contact me.” “She had to pick up some money I owed her, she didn’t have time.” I glared at the ugly mitten. “Did she make you cardamom buns too?” Eli paused. “Deena, stop making this so hard. You make things so complicated. She didn’t have time to visit everyone.” “But she had time to make cardamom buns. I get it,” I said. I picked up the mitten and threw it in the trash. “I brought you some, but you weren’t home.” “Did you leave them? I didn’t get them. Why does she need the mitten so much, anyway?” I waited for an answer, but the silence drew out until I started to regret my question. “She doesn’t,” Eli said. I felt, for the first time, like I was on equal ground with my brother. “Well, I have it.” I could hear a long exhale and then he said, ”Can I come pick it up in ten minutes? I’m waiting for the bus, but I can walk back.”
“Maybe we can have dinner together?” “I have plans tonight.” “With her?” I asked. “No, she’s gone, you know that. I promise I’ll stop by next week.” “When is she coming back?” “She didn’t tell me,” he said, “Really, I don’t know.” “You promise you’ll stop by next week?” “Yes. How about Tuesday?” “Tuesday.” I took the mitten from the trash and placed it back on the wooden desk.
Christi R. Suzanne is a writer who grew up in the dry heat of the Arizona desert. She moved to the Pacific Northwest over ten years ago for a mistier climate and now resides in Oregon. By day she works at a university as a web and communications professional. On her off hours she spends her time writing, playing soccer, and reading. The Splinter Generation online journal will publish a creative non-fiction piece in February 2012 and her fiction has appeared in Irreverent Fish Journal. She is currently writing a novella as well as other short fiction and non-fiction pieces. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and a Master’s in Technical Writing from Portland State University.
“Rust & Decay” By Eleanor Leonne Bennett
I Burned the Planet, Dear By Richard Peabody
“Are you kidding me? Not again. Well, that tears it. No more karaoke nights for you Trixie. Last night was absolutely the last time.” “Oh c’mon dear, we’ve got more planets in the freezer. Put some out to thaw when you take out the trash tonight. I’ll fry them up tomorrow. A couple soft shells. Some corn on the cob. Sliced ‘maters. What’s not to like?”
“C’mon, have a cold Bud.”
“You know I had my heart set on eating planet tonight.”
“Well, I’ve burned the northern hemisphere. We can scrape some char off the rest. Maybe salvage South America? You like blackened tuna after all.”
“Besides, you know you like karaoke nights. You get all horny when I sing “My Guy.”
“You’ll bring up some more planets then?”
“Any one you want dear.”
“Will you wear just the apron tonight?”
“Can I still go out for karaoke?”
“Okey dokey. Trixie, do I have to take out the trash?”
“Maybe we can skip it just this once. So you gonna come over here and help me out of this dress?”
Richard Peabody edits Gargoyle Magazine and has published a novella, two books of short stories, six books of poems, plus an e-book, and edited (or co-edited) nineteen anthologies. He teaches fiction writing for the Johns Hopkins Advanced Studies Program.
Traffic By M.Y. Pastorelli Mostly when we walk it's not hard for people to walk among us. It was a gloomy day of early fall, rumpled masses of silver and dark forming a marble pattern above us like modern mosaic. "Jesus, do they think they're invisible or something?" My girlfriend Sara accused through the window of our cab. A quick glimpse of the middle-aged cabby in the mirror. "No, I believe invincible," I suggested. Several times during our 20-minute ride the taxi lurched. Our driver was navigating through a mine field of crisscrossing traffic, as the motorcycles of Chinese and McDonalds' delivery boys weaved in and out of the occasional hole in the line of cars. They sometimes sped right along between the lanes, in the no-man's zone, their heads erratically turning with each prospect of the next swath-cutting opportunity, this narrow, extremophile escape of death of alien-killing schoolboys. Pedestrians sometimes leaped out onto the road chasing a bus taking off and, as a general rule, motorists of all kind tailgated each other in an unbroken chain of un-yield. I often wondered how the bus drivers dealt with the sheer load of the uncompromising stampede, their awesomely unwieldy bodies like that of an elephant among sacrosanct centipedes. The trouble was that the city was adopting a new public transport design scheme whereby new stops were to be located on islands--some even sporting a healthy stretch of evergreens--in the middle of the 10-plus-lane boulevards. The less busy stops were left piously clinging onto the old order, by the wayside. Speaking nothing of the obstruction caused by the constructions itself, the clash of the plans, new and old, effectively turned the drivers' job into something of a harrowing slalom across at least four lanes for every 250 meters scored. Such a municipal mandate seemed to require the public servants to attain mind-reading capabilities. Taxis casually ran red lights when no one was crossing the street. Ours didn't, to my gratitude, though I have in the past wished for my man to take himself above the rules in this fashion when I found myself on the losing side of the clock. It's scary how quickly bad habits and beliefs, even infringements of life-and-death consequence, can grow on you.
Through the carbon-exhausted consternation central, our driver didn't honk once. Not even the easy swear emanated from his seat. We pulled up in front of "The World's Largest Shopping Mall." Was this for real? I thought, figuring Dubai to have already claimed that particular throne. Sara got off and I paid the cabby, thanking him with a small tip. He didn't know how to take it at first as this is not a custom practiced, but I nodded with a smile and he happily received it. The weekend pilgrimage was in full swing. Amidst the drone of a thousand lapping footfalls suffused with the sloshing of rolling tires, invisible droplets silently fell and broke into diminutive vapors on the heads and shoulders of the humanity on the move. We clumsily joined the advancing huddle on the sidewalk, locked ourselves into the flow of economy. Each person cut the shortest path to their varied destination in the collective procession, happening without concern upon whatever sphere of privacy and history was ours, or flat-out bumping us off our trajectory or otherwise using our slow-moving gravity as a pivot to help their looping footwork of orbited pathfinding. We were a couple of impediments in the great rush, two protruding rocks forever observant and frozen in time, but slowly defiled and homogenized by the whisking finger of an unceasing transgression. During lunch Sara told me about an old woman she saw on the subway the day before. She said she hadn't realized the woman took notice of her when she, Sara, got on, but that every time her back was turned the woman would eye her from behind with what she felt was a bit of contempt. Sara had seen the reflection of the scornful look in the window when she happened to look up from the pages of The Surrendered. "This woman was ogling me. As if she wanted to take a mental picture for later, from my hair all the way down, then back again. I didn't know how long it would go on. I mean, how interesting is the back of a person?" I suppressed an urge for a crude kind of facetiousness, then offered, waxing instead a little solicitous, "And would you reject my input that maybe she found you immensely desirable, the being you are, in your totality, all the while desperately wanting to savor your full, glorious frontal?" But she didn't bite. She endeavored on with what had plagued her about the nosy old not-quite-lady. "Well, there are tells. I think..."
I slurped my spicy seafood noodles, solid and steady, until a searing mouthful filled up. As I swallowed, the last strain of pepper caught my throat, almost down the air pipe, and sent me into a convulsion of coughs and tears. "Here, have a drink." I coughed up the spice spores, gulped them back down chilled with ice water, which in my head sizzled on my tongue like in the slapstick stylings of Bugs Bunny. Dabbing my eyes with a napkin, I squeezed out huskily: "Showing my false colors here. Sorry, please continue." "I know. You're usually really good with the stuff. You OK?" "Yeah, thanks. So what happened?" "Well, I think she was trying to find something wrong with my hair. Is that my own insecurity?" Rhetorical. I offered nothing, as she paused for a careful sip of her O-den soup, brushing the curtain back, pinning it behind her ear. "You know what was funnier? Every time I turned slightly, she would look away, like she thought I was turning around and she didn't wanna get caught looking at me. And when I'd turned back again, she'd resume her little... adventure." "That's an awfully pesky thing to do," I agreed. "So what'd you do?" hoping for the ending I believed was in the wake. "So I did a double-take and caught her little red hand." I laughed heartily. She told me the woman had blushed quite a bit then, and haughtily looked away, for good. "That's my girl." The little commotions of my coughing fit and our shared laughter followed by a highfive turned more than a few eyes on us, hearts against us. We were quickly becoming the ear-sore couple, and then a quick tug at my chest to kiss Sara aroused in me. Not just for my own sake of boasting, but, I feared, it was a baser and much more juvenile sort of impulse. I sloughed it off with another cold drink.
After the meal, Sara got up to go to the bathroom and I wondered if I could have done the same to the lady on the subway. Similar episodes have happened to me before, and I had always opted out more passively, confused even, ever-conditioned to put myself in the other's shoes, often to my disadvantage. Sara may have had the advantage in her flowing blond locks, her long legs and angular face, traits not only different from the old lady's, those of any old lady here, but ones of sheer exoticism, envy, and then, of course, eroticism. I, on the other hand, was always left wondering just what the onlooker had discovered in me, what distinction of note they had stumbled upon, whether or not they could somehow see through the skin to my truer nature and voice, based on my countenance, carriage, sense of fashion, or whatever else was imminently available to them. Or perhaps it had simply been the inquiry itself, the uncertainty of whatever didn't fit their expectations given my usualness. The food court was full. While not packed, it was teetering on the edge of becoming so, the newer arrivals having to look for a table after ordering at the central kiosk and paying. Their wait was never too pressing, but if you lingered a minute too long after finishing your meal, you ran the risk of upsetting the precarious balance of the enterprise's incomers and the outgoing bellyfuls. As I put on my jacket, an older couple came along. "Are you leaving?" The woman asked. "Yes. We are. Please." With them standing behind me and watching quietly in wait, I consciously took my due time tidying up, collecting Sara's Chanel lipstick and iPad 2 and messenger bag, and picked up the tray. This, I realized, was how I would repeatedly play my hand of cards in the larger game of society, the mutual understanding between involved parties of strangers in their bid to eat and multiply. Against the backdrop of our greater population afoot and commerce in ebb and flow, a strange notion of conspiracy, a foursome, came into view, and I felt a closeness to the gentle old couple. When Sara returned, she was newly perked up like a giddy schoolgirl holding beseechingly earned cotton candy. She was vibrant, brilliant, beautiful. My heart pained for her again. "Did you forget this?" I held out her lipstick.
"Oh, I don't need it." Her energy bounced. And as she grabbed me with both hands by the collar, pulled me in, and we smooched, all the searchlights were on us again. We were a couple of rocks frozen in time, and the laws of nature momentarily suspended.
It's kinda strange isn't it? M.Y. doesn't like to believe in predestination, but nonetheless he almost wants to say that fate just played a trick on him. Of course you may think his intentions are obvious in coming up like this to talk to you. You may even have relied on a repertoire of excuses to politely eject yourself from just this kind of a scene in the past. But knowing all that, somehow MY has found himself here, talking to you and you listening to him. And he is thinking wishing to have met you at a different place and a different time is simply meaningless, because this place now is what fate, in all its wisdom and mischief, has uniquely presented to you. He doesn't want your number. No, right now, he just wants to take your hand and take off running. Won't you come running with him?
“Feather & Bone Revisited” By Eleanor Leonne Bennett
woman kicking a plastic bottle By John Grochalski
violent city violent heart
this violent woman is attacking a plastic bottle
that someone set in front of her newly paved driveway
and her violence is so beautiful
the anger on her face over this inanimate object is beyond precious
i have to stop walking shut off my music and watch
violent city violent passion
it’s like a gang beating the ways she’s going at this thing
i think maybe her husband put it there
he finished paving the driveway grew sick of her shit and took off with the neighbor
for a better life a different piece of ass
or one of her kids left it there
and this angry wrinkled love lost woman is kicking the plastic bottle thinking of how much money she’s pumped into an ungrateful child how many years she’s lost to raising it
violent city violent mind
there are garbage cans all over the street
she need not kick the bottle
but only pick it up and toss it in one of them
itâ€™s violence and anger violence and more violence
until that bottle is a heaping lump of plastic kicked and kicked rolling in front of the next neighborâ€™s driveway
now someone elseâ€™s problem for another violent time on this block
another angry neighbor looking out into the black dawn through another angry window
another black soul whose veins are seeping with violence
whose belly is thirsty for blood and whose mind is plotting a war
as this woman heaves her desperate breath
gets into her huge american car
composes herself and puts on the morning talk shows for a laugh
leaves for work or the gym
with the rest of us frantic and trapped fools.
John Grochalskiâ€™s is the author of The Noose Doesnâ€™t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008) and Glass City (Low Ghost Press, 2010). Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he worries about the high cost of everything.
The Beet Goes On By Jennifer Kikoler
At first glance, they are ugly, scabbed, crumbling dirt, trailing roots like hairy rat tails. Zombies, beets will live for months in the fridge without rotting. If you peel and cut them raw, you will be covered in beet blood. A crime scene: long sharp knife in one hand, red juice splattered everywhere. But with a little care, beets reveal themselves. Like the best humans, they are sweet, funky, earthy and adaptable. Beets ask for your patience and reward your effort. Wash off the soil, wrap in two layers of foil, roast. Watch the steam fly out of the foil packet. Now, the beets are sweet and deep, the way you imagined the home life of the high school teacher you had a crush on. To serve, slice the beets into wedges, each one shaped like a crooked grin. They will make you smile at the person sitting across from you sharing your beets.
Writer, editor and teacher Jennifer Kikoler earned her MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. Her fiction was featured in The Parlorâ€™s first annual emerging writerâ€™s festival in Chicago. Jennifer is a born-and-bred Midwesterner (hailing from Detroit and Des Moines) now living in Brooklyn. She has taught writing at 92YTribeca, Brooklyn College and Pace University.
Lines By Eric Prochaska
Tristan sat in front of me in history class, seventh grade, second half of the second semester. He had moved from the Twin Cities during spring break. My older brother Tony and I had also just started attending South Rapids Middle School. We'd spent the first semester at Pinedale, then about nine weeks in Highlands after we moved to this side of town. We were supposed to have been attending South Rapids those past nine weeks, but our father believed we would receive a better education -- or at least be part of a better student body -- at Highlands. So, although we lived three blocks from South Rapids, we had to walk forty minutes each way to Highlands. Because we couldn't take the bus. Because the bus didn't pick up where we lived. Because we weren't supposed to be going to Highlands. Because we lived three blocks from South Rapids. But, like I said, that only lasted for nine weeks. Because Tony got into so many fights that the police were finally called to drive him home, which, it turned out, was outside of Highlands' boundaries. The vice principal was all too happy to find that Tony had never belonged at his school, and forced the both of us to transfer to South Rapids before the grin even faded from his face. *** Before class on that first day, the swarm of guys around Tristan's desk prompted me to crane my neck for a look, too. "Suh-weet!" Frankie declared. "You got to introduce me to your model," the other Frankie said. "Shit! You ever see a real woman that fine, you'd put thumb in your mouth and stare like a baby." The two Frankies both came from the blocks neighboring the school, just past the baseball field. They walked together every day after school through that chain link and concrete pedestrian tunnel over Twelfth Street, descending toward the train tracks, the smell of the processing plant. I had lived there when I was much younger. I had lived everywhere low in that town. A few months at a time.
The drawing was a penciled copy of a barbarian woman, her loincloth flung up as she spun around with her sword, exposing her high, firm buttocks. I didn't know the character's name, but I was sure I recognized her from a Conan comic book. But that was secondary. The truly important matter was that he drew. And he drew from comics. "Yeah, that's pretty good," I said, attracting their stares for the first time. In this school they were used to new kids, and didn't hassle me so much. Didn't even pay me any attention, because maybe they knew how kids like me would be here one day, gone the next. But maybe I wanted to be noticed. So I said, "But tomorrow I'll bring in a drawing that makes her look like Smurf." "You think you can draw better than this?" Tristan said. "Hey, don't get mad. I mean, if you hadn't given her a jaw like a man, and if you had drawn hands instead of baseball mitts, and if you hadn't made her boobs about as long as her sword, that might not be too bad a sketch," I said. "So when I bring in something better tomorrow, it won't be like I'm working too hard to beat that, you know." Frankie stumbled back, melodramatically recoiling, grabbing his chest as if he'd been shot. "Damn!" *** And so our friendship was forged from a rivalry. The next day, I did bring in a drawing that was clearly better than his, but which he criticized all the same. I'd looked through all of my previous drawings that night, but wasn't satisfied with anything I saw. So I spent three hours working on something to show off in front of Tristan and the others. And so each day for the first few weeks, we would bring in one of our drawings to best the one brought in by the other the day before. I drew Herculean super heroes, their bulging pectorals and biceps threatening to burst from the confines of the page. Tristan drew the hips and breasts of erotic warrior women, which attracted more eyes. "Uh-huh! Now that's a fine piece of art!" a Frankie would say. So I drew women in spandex form-fitting enough to reveal everything but their tan lines. We drew fiercely. We drew intensely. We drew not caring what the would-be's
behind us thought. Their eyes would settle for anything slightly better than average: better than what they could hope to do. But we would not settle. Drawing had always been “my thing” before. It made me unique. But now it made me the same as someone. Most people might be threatened to share their most unique quality with someone else, but I found that being like someone else defined me in new ways. And the attention was multiplied exponentially. Not only had I not been written off as the “new kid” once again, but I had become one of the more popular kids – among the least popular kids, that is. So at lunch, I got one of the best seats at one of the least desirable tables. Servants in Heaven, rulers in Hell, and all that. But our table was between the most popular kids' table and the food line, so the angels always buzzed our skies. All it takes is one encounter with one of those angels to invite their perpetual scorn. For me, it was asoftball game during P.E. when Matt Kendall was being a jerk to a new Vietnamese transfer, giving him crap about his running shorts of all things, and I told him to lay off. That's all it took. I removed the target from Dat (the Vietnamese guy) and hung it around my own neck. So when Matt passed our lunch table with his buddies, he would utter one of his patented, veiled insults. One day, it was, “Oh, no! What a mess! This table has crumbs all over it!” And when they had picked up their trays and were standing a distance away in line, Tristan said, “What the hell was that? Does that guy think he's funny? And, anyway, what crumbs?” “He's talking about us,” a Frankie said. “They're the upper crust – they think! – and we're the crumbs,” the other Frankie continued. *** Over the last part of the semester and into the summer, Tristan and I spent more and more time together, our mutual pressure on each other to match the excellence of the other boosted my drawing skills more than ten years of art class could have done. But
more than that, we were the same. I mean, when I watched Family Ties or those shows, I couldn't relate at all to the characters or the type of family and house and life they had. I knew it was what “normal” was supposed to be, but to me normal was what my life was. Still, I believed it to be wrong. Bad. We weren't good enough, my family. But I understood how Tristan's family lived. His parents sleeping on a mattress that lay directly on the floor, no bed frame, with an alarm clock on a milk crate near the electrical outlet with no cover plate, and a window fan holding the pane open, spinning from any slight breeze, but not run except when it got sticky hot at night. I knew the reason that Tristan cut the grass of the tiny lawn with a weed whacker wasn't because they had had a lawnmower but it had been stolen. I knew why he turned his eyes down, his head away, pretending to scan the chewing gum rack, when extending the food stamps cupped into his palm every time he was sent to the store for no-brand cola. Or so I thought. “Don’t you hate that?” I asked once, emerging from the store, relieved that no employee had sounded the klaxons and shone the spot-light on us as a voice announced over the intercom, “Foodies! Foodies! These boys are using food stamps!” “Hate what?” Tristan said with a sour twist. “Having to use foodies. I hate it. It’s so embarrassing. Especially when they send me for stupid stuff like cola. I mean, if we have to use them, we should at least use them for real food.” “Whatever.” “I’m just saying, my dad could get off his butt and find a job anytime he wants to. But he doesn’t want to. He’d rather cheat the government. He could probably do anything he set his mind to, but he'd rather brag about being clever enough to screw Uncle Sam out of some free cheese and foodies.” Tristan didn't say anything. He just strode on with his eyes straight ahead, keeping one step ahead of me. I'd said too much. I'd assumed. Everything I saw at his house that looked like what I knew from my own. I thought it was all the same. And maybe I was right. Maybe it was all the same. Except for one thing: The way we felt about our families.
That walk back to Tristan's house along the heat-radiating sidewalk wasn’t the first time I had felt the tension mount. I thought about not going over to his house for a few days. Giving things a rest. We had spent hours together every day of the vacation so far. So I just stayed on the sidewalk when we got to Tristan's house, mumbled some farewell, waved, and kept walking toward my house. One block over, half a block up. We were crumbs. Fellow crumbs. Occupying the cast-offs of the middle class, who had evacuated these once-charming homes, left them for the less fortunate. White bread crumbs. *** Before long, Tristan and I were thick as thieves again. We rode bikes sometimes, but mostly we just talked -- or not -- as we lay across the floor drawing. When we were at my house, we'd have to bear comments like, “Look at these fags! Goin’ at each other right in the living room!” from Tony and his friends, and sometimes even my dad. So we spent most of our time at Tristan's, instead. There were other differences I noticed, too. Tristan's mom coddled her only son, encouraging him to develop his talent for drawing. My step mom, on the other hand, would act disgusted whenever she found us “just drawing.” She would find chores for me to do -- everything from cleaning the garage to pulling weeds from the otherwise vacant flower beds along the sides of the house -- and send Tristan home. Plus, Tristan's dad never brought any drinking buddies home in the middle of the afternoon. Tristan's father never brought anyone home, because he hardly left the upstairs bedroom, much less the house. Lemonade and bologna sandwiches were ferried up to him at his command by whomever was available: Tristan, his mother, or his sister, Terri. Terri was a milky-skinned, lithe-bodied swan among Tristan's ugly duckling lineage. Her beauty defied the truth of her kinship to these mottle-skinned, wire-haired, clods. Aside from Tristan's aptitude for drawing, there was nothing more than mediocre about the rest of them. In moments when I could turn my stare without drawing anyone's attention, I turned it on Terri and I fueled the forlorn crush I had developed on her. I wish I could draw her. They’d never let me. She’s their treasure. Jeez, I sound creepy even thinking about it. They’d
think I was going to do something, that it was some lame line. But I really wish I could see her body, and I would try to draw it. I know they see me looking at her, but I can’t help it. She comes down here in her shorts and spaghetti straps and must be trying to make me look. If we... maybe in a few years, when I can drive and we can go places alone, maybe I can ask her out. It’d be so great if we got married. Tristan and I would be brothers. That’d be so cool. I was cautious not to let my daydreaming go on too long, or I was sure I'd be caught. Instead, I pretended to be taking in the room around me. The coolness of the bare wood floor. The filtered light through the sheer window coverings that always danced a slow, sultry dance in the imperceptible breeze. The Eagles song through the tinny speakers in the dining room. His mother's humming out of time. "Is that the same warrior-chick, again?" I asked, looking over at Tristan's pad. He had stopped drawing and I was sure he was studying me. "No," he said, bothered. "This is Skyla. She has blonde hair." So we sketched, somehow like a slow-motion gunfight, until his father's voice called down from that mattress without a frame in front of the fan which was running, "Tristan! Come bring me a glass of lemonade! With lots of ice!" "Lemonade," I whispered. "Why doesn't he just call it Kool-Aid? That's what it is." Tristan got up to pour the drink, not commenting. I looked to see if Terri had heard my clever comment. It appeared she had not. When Tristan returned downstairs and came back to drawing, I said in a hushed voice, "Don't you ever get tired of your dad just laying around? I wish my dad would get off his ass and get a job." "Well, maybe your dad should," Tristan said. "Yeah, sure. And maybe so should yours." "My dad hurt his back at his last job. He's not ready to work yet." Hurt his back? I'd been coming over there for four months. Was his back broken in half? "Hey, don't get angry. I just mean, my dad's the same way. Just doesn't wanna go out and work, I guess."
Tristan stood up, folded the cover over his pad. "Yeah, well, maybe that's the way your dad is. But, like I said, my dad can't go back to work yet." *** And so we had another cooling off period. It was like the summer heat was permeating our friendship, putting a strain on us just like the July humidity made drivers honk their horns more in the afternoon on the Avenue. When we had given it a few days, we met up and took our bikes out for a spin. I think we both decided it would be best to stay out of the house for a while. We rode out to the farm roads, down to the river and took a dip in our cut-off shorts. It seemed like in only a few hours we had erased all the petty things that were coming between us. We were closer than before, our friendship stronger than ever. We had barely braked our bikes in front of the house when Terri flowed onto the porch in the new one-piece swimsuit her mother insisted she would get, though she had appealed for the bikini. Terri had determined to walk all the way to the public pool at Rogers Park wearing only the swimsuit and a towel draped over her shoulders. Without conscience, knowing she knew, knowing she intended boys to do so, I ignored the world to focus on the skin which bordered the swimsuit's material. Her body was far more sexually developed than mine at that age, which she could not disclose through the oversized, often second-hand clothes she wore to school. Here was her coming out. The bare body could speak for itself, no brand names to petition by proxy. If class and fashion oppressed us, nature would rectify. I wanted to be one of those boys she wanted to hurt for not paying enough attention to her at school, because those were the eyes this marvel was truly meant for. Then, suddenly, I found myself falling. Powerless against gravity, I toppled over onto the sidewalk leading up to the porch, landing hard on my forearm and skidding a few inches down the coarse walk. "Getcher ass back inside and put some clothes on," Tristan drawled at her. Terri turned in a huff, feigning resistance, stamped across the porch in her sandals. But she was satisfied to leave, having accomplished a successful test run. She held her head high as if her retreat from the porch were merely a procession along a catwalk. "What the hell'd you do that for?" I said, twisting my elbow around so I could inspect the damage. My bike was still laying on one leg. "Jeez! I'm bleeding."
“You need to learn to keep your eyes to yourself,” he said. “Take your sorry ass home, you crumb!" His eyes bored into me, forcing me to realize I had never before known true hatred. It was the burning fuse of a bomb. *** "You're gonna get your ass right back over there and bring some of his blood back home on your knuckles." “But it’s no big deal,” I implored. How was I going to knock on his door and call him out? I didn’t want to fight Tristan, anyway. “What’s wrong? Are you chicken? You afraid of that little pussy?” “No,” I said. I wasn’t. “He’s my friend--” I pleaded, but his stare was stolid. If he had known that I had spent the first thirteen years of my life without a true friend because we moved around so much I could never get to know anyone and that now, to make up for all that, I had been paired up with someone exactly like myself, would he still have insisted I beat up my best friend? "Are you going, or do I have to go kick that punk's ass myself?" "I'll do it, Dad," Tony offered. “I hate that little fag, anyway." "Fine. Whichever one of you gets the job done first. But my sons don't let themselves get pushed around." Scrambling out the front door, I tried to intercept Tony. It wouldn't take him two minutes to get to Tristan's house. *** Tristan spotted Tony striding through the street in a bee-line toward him and recognized what danger looked like. He made to run, but Tony was already in motion, and Tony was ferociously fast. He grabbed at Tristan, but Tristan ducked and bolted up the steps of the porch, grasped the screen door handle. But in a move so impressed on my mind I will always equate it with athletic grace, Tony bounded up the grass slope, leapt onto the edge of the porch, then over the railing in a single, liquid motion, terrifyingly precise.
Tristan had slipped inside, but Tony reached in through the closing door, snagging the back collar of Tristan's shirt. "Dad!" Tristan screamed in a voice so shrill any boy's father would be ashamed. "Dad! Help!" I was below the steps to the porch, then, still hoping to somehow intervene and expose this whole mess as a misunderstanding, but I couldn't even manage to speak against those events thrashing forward with such velocity. Through the veil of the screen, the umbra of Tristan's father hastened closer, becoming clearer, baseball bat clenched across his bare torso like a soldier hustling with a rifle. Tony extracted his arm from inside the door, stepped back just as Tristan's father reached the screen door. "You want a piece, old man?" Tony challenged. He had stepped back not in retreat, but to allow room to confront the man. "I'll break your..." Tristan's father started to say as he kicked the door outward. But Tony's bullettrain right hand had already departed. With my brother's fist driving through the flimsy screen door as it opened, and knocking into his jaw with the solid crack of a cue ball breaking a freshly racked squadron of billiard balls, the first true friendship I had in my life was brought down like a crumbling brick facade succumbing to the wrecking ball. *** So quickly the police would arrive, as if a bank were being robbed, pulling Tony off of the father while Tristan's whole family -- Terri, mother, father, and he -- took parting shots, kicking and tearing at him. I stood devastated on the grass strip near the street. The cop car's rear end cocked out into the road, Tony body-pressed against the closed rear door. He knew better than to swipe at a cop. But he was flush: veins and muscles pumped with venom from some bile-producing organ I had not inherited from our father. They loaded him in the back and clumsily made a 3-point turn in the narrow street. Then they headed toward my house, pulling my defeated shell in their wake.
As I rounded the corner, I could see the squad car up the block, the two officers standing uncomfortably in their stiff blue uniforms under the afternoon sun on the walk below our porch, upon which Tony and our dad stood, dissimulating patience and sincerity as they listened to the lecture from the blue swine they detested. The cops sunk back into the cruiser, pulled away smoothly as I dragged my feet up the block. Tony and our dad remained on the porch, their eyes turning the disdain they held toward the cops on my approaching form. I couldn't look them in the eyes. "Why don't you have any blood on your hands?" my father taunted. It felt like he'd spit on my down-turned head. I was still clinging to my friendship. Tristan and I were kindred spirits. We could overcome even this. How was I to know how a spoiled friendship could so quickly give way to a rotten hatred? I couldn't have known that we would never speak again, that Terri would practically crucify me with her glare when I passed her in the halls, or that every day of the next school year, until his family moved out of town, we would have to sit within an arm's length of each other in half our classes, all the while seething with mutual disgust.
Eric Prochaska teaches, hikes, wonders, and writes among the sky islands of southeastern Arizona. He has been writing for over 20 years, and, when life and work allow, he even manages to get a few pieces published in fine showcases such as Whistling Shade, riverbabble, and Blue Lake Review. His first collection of short stories, This Great Divide, was published by Halo Forge Press in 2006. He is currently compiling short stories from the past several years to present in a new anthology and steadily working on a few longer projects.
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