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CRACK THE SPINE

Issue Nineteen


Crack the Spine Literary Magazine Issue Nineteen April 9, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack the Spine


Contents Martin Gibbs ……………….………..…..…...……. Lustful Putrescence Smoker’s Sonnet Isaac Boone Davis…………………………..………..…….…200th Street Dan Hedges………...……….…….……………..….Rubber Tomahawks Golden Bowerbirds James Reynolds…….……..………………....…………….Life Shrinkage Kyrie Amos……….……………....…...May Cause Marked Drowsiness Peter Naughton…………………………...…….……...…The Late Train A.J. Huffman……………….….…………………. Detonating Twilights Open Mouth(ed)


Lustful Putrescence By Martin Gibbs He is giving a haircut on a silvery day... turning to me, he chimes: "my George, you’ve got an erection this fine morning."

turning to him, I reply "yes, yes I do. My my."

and plant it firmly, gently, between his broad thighs; mutter: "Mr. Parakeet with the daisies in the hay." Whistle whilst he croons, Portray the art of smooch and fling him, across the table

and watch a ferryboat queen. cut my hair.


Smoker’s Sonnet By Martin Gibbs

Cold, crisp winds of February do they blow, Flame and fan my soul’s wanting fury I gasp and grope and choke for air— Life spent on a smoldering, snotty stick. My lungs they stand a crusted, charred fortress— As the winds, they never shall come in— Fate flicks me, its long cigar. To the cold, chilling, groaning winds of despair.

Martin is an avid cook, cross-country skier, metal guitar god wannabe, IT researcher, and writer. He's finishing up a fantasy trilogy and a piece of historical fiction. He lives in the tropical paradise of Minnesota.


200th Street By Isaac Boone Davis

(1) She's outside when I get there. It's a crappy neighborhood just off 312th in Federal Way. The whole street is just these vacant four-plexes with cars on the lawns. She walks up to the cab and I can see she's carrying something. At first I think it's a suitcase but when she gets in I realize its a boombox. One of those old school batterypowered types like Radio Raheem got killed for. "We going down to 200th street where the jail's at, "she says. I can tell she looks good even though I don't turn around. She's tall and dark. Her skin's the same color as an oak table if you shined it for an hour straight. I turn the cab around and almost run right through this huge pile of broken glass that's just sitting in the middle of the road. I jerk the wheel too hard and we spin into a yellow pirouette. I can smell the rubber sizzling on the street. "Damn," I say. "Did you see that?" "What?" she says unimpressed. "Oh you mean all that glass? That's been there forever."

(2) Last week my Aunt Rosa called the dispatch desk at Pacific Taxi where I work. Like most everybody else in my family she doesn't have my number. It's not personal. I like Rosa. I just haven't talked to her in six years. Somehow she must have found out I was driving a cab because that morning the girl behind the desk handed me a creamcolored Post It note. It said Rosa: 206-334-9807 important. When I dial the number there's a raw ache in my teeth. Rosa tells me that my Dad is dead and I say "uh-huh." Kind of like I was saying "cut to the chase" or something. Housekeeping found him over at the Legend motel in Des Moines. The girl had walked in and seen him lying on the bed. She was about to turn around and leave when she stepped on one of his


needles that had rolled all the way to the door. She started screaming then, presumably in Spanish. "I don't get it," I said. "Did the girl have on flip-flops?" "I guess so," Rosa paused. "Can you imagine? At the Legend? I'd want steeltoed boots just to drive by that place." My family. Christmas would be a real blast if we ever got around to talking to each other. "I'm sure he didn't feel anything," She tells me. "Why start now," I think. But that's pretty whiny, even for me. So instead I just say "I'm sure he didn't."

(3) "You gonna take the highway?" She asks while she smears her lipstick. "This time of day Pac-highway's faster. Pacific Highway is the main drag south of Seattle. It runs through Kent, Des Moines, Burien and few other spots no one cared enough to name. Somewhere near the airport, the name of the street becomes International Boulevard. There's some truth in advertising here. You've definitely got your representation from every part of the world, particularly the parts where you pay for your wife in goats. Understand, this isn't the kind of "international" where you sample the different cuisines and you listen to all the pretty languages. If you're into that sort of thing there's the International District downtown. The Boulevard is more the "what the hell is that smell," kind of international. Mostly unfriendly folks running .99 cent stores and their teenage kids who dress like Achmed the missing Beastie Boy. So despite what you might have heard, that's all Pacific Highway is. Nothing to be scared of. unless of course, you're scared of hoes. You can't talk about the Pac without talking about them. After midnight, if it's breathing on this street you can probably pay to have sex with it. For people like me, who grew up around here, the tricks are sort of like the de-facto mayors of the neighborhood. The town elders who just happen to give head in the KFC bathroom. Just like the rest of this road they're dirty not dangerous. I won't give them rides anymore though. None of them ever think they really have to pay cash.


"We got to get there by 5:30." "Is that when they close?" This sounded funnier in my head. She looks through me to the windshield, maybe wishing it would drive. I decide to take it easy on the comedy. "No problem," I add. "We've got time." "If you say so," she says. We pass some cherry-faced white girl in a dirty halter top and mismatching heels. She sticks out her thumb more out of instinct than anything else, but doesn't seem too disappointed when we don't stop. Up north the hoes tend to be a little more discrete when they're working. The Boulevard girls post up at the bus stops or wait on the corners and try to lock eyes with their potential customers. Not Here on Pac-highway. These girls could give a fuck. They're like the Jehovah Witnesses of selling pussy. They'll walk single file down the middle of the street if they feel like it, sometimes barefoot. It's like watching the world's most deluded supermodels, always with that "you know you want me" look even when they're throwing up in the grass. "So, is today visiting day or something," I ask. "Huh?...Oh no, none of that. I got some open cases myself I can't go up in there." Then, like she figures she owes me an explanation she adds "my man's up there. Saturday's I dance for him 'bout this time. They be cleaning the tier on Saturdays til about 5:30. He can see me from there." "How long have you been doing that?" "Every Saturday, nine months now." "How'd you get the idea?" Beautiful women make some men crazy and some men stupid. Me, I turn into a reporter for the school paper. I think I can who, what, where, my way into some ass. "I'm sorry," she says. "You say something?" "Nothing," I tell her. I don't know much about women, but something tells me the one in my back seat; she could give a fuck about a "good listener." A block goes by and then she says "he told me he didn't want no letters." The words fall out, coins returning from a pay phone. "Is that right," I say


"He said 'letters don't help nothing.' Pictures were cool though." "What's he in there for?" She snorts a laugh when I ask this. "Same thing all those motherfuckers are up in there for. Getting caught." The city hates Pac-highway. Its a big embarrassment having an open air ass market all the tourists notice when they get off the plane. Wanna see one of those whales everybody gets so excited about? Drive two hours through some old Navy base, pay fifty bucks, jump on a ferry, wait another hour, if it's not too foggy you might see his tail. Want to see what Chlamydia looks like if you don't treat it for forty five years? Turn left. Without the hoes though, I'd die of boredom. Take them away and this is just twentyfive miles of airport parking and karaoke bars named after fish. Plus, me personally, I could give a fuck about the tourists. Every single one jumping in my cab, making the same stupid jokes about the rain. All of them thinking they're some kind of hot shit philosopher kings because their business card has the word "designer" in it. Fuck you, Michelangelo. I hope someone throws you a fish with Ebola. "I hear federal time's the easiest to do." I flex my street muscle. She doesn't notice. "It ain't" she says. "People say that but nah...they feed you a little better but that's about it. Plus, they make you do like eighty percent of your bid." "Better than those state pens though." "The way I heard it," she says, "time is time." She starts to fiddle with her boombox but then she stops. She's looking at me with a big green smile in her eyes. All of the sudden, I got no place to run. "Why? You ever caught a bid baby boy?" The more I drive this road the less I notice the mountains or the water. It all starts to blend with the planes flying out of Sea-Tac. Just another life passing by. Just another light changing colors. "Once," I say. "When I was younger." I don't know why I tell her this. It isn't true at all.

(4) I surprise myself by going to the funeral. Aunt Rosa practically begged me to come. When that doesn't work, she does beg me. Finally I say yes and even though I'm


lying when I say it, I still show up at St. Ezekiel's in Burien. There's a white guy outside that I don't recognize in a dark suit. At first I think he's one of Dad's NA buddies, but he's actually from the funeral home. "Are you the 2:00?" He asks. He nods me into the church and I find a pew in the back. About twelve people show up. A few of them I make as uncles or cousins, the rest are strangers. None of the other kids are here. In fact I'm probably the only one that even knows he's dead. My brother JJ's been AWOL for years now. More than likely he's out somewhere trying to scoop up whatever smack Dad couldn't fit in his 2go box. I got a half sister somewhere in New Jersey whose name, I think, is Carol. Someone'll probably get around to calling her next week. I didn't meet my Dad until I was fourteen. He spent the first eleven years of my life in Monroe on a weapons charge. We really only hung out a few times off and on. Those were decent memories, I guess. He was a skinny little guy with a bunch of tattoos. He always seemed pretty harmless even if he had shot two people. We'd drink beer up in his motel room and watch basketball games (he still called it the "ABA".). He had a lot of funny stories about prison, which to hear him tell it was a pretty hilarious place, all things considered. When the preacher asks who would like to share a remembrance of the deceased all you hear is some toe tapping. I feel kind of bad for the preacher. But he's not getting any help from me. The only other memories I've got are from my sophomore year of high school when he showed up on campus trying to buy weed. And my senior year when he beat the shit out of me in front of my girlfriend because I still owed him $20 for the brakes he put on my car. When I graduated, I got a check in the mail from him for fifty dollars. The check bounced and so did he, violating parole like a motherfucker out in California. A few years later he got popped again on a conspiracy case and took himself out for another four years. To be honest, if my Aunt hadn't called my job last week I'd have assumed he was still there. Finally a few people do try to speak. A few others cry politely. About the time the preacher drops his fourth chorus of "God loving God's children and the way God's love is in His holy plan," I make for the door. On my way out I pass by Aunt Rosa. I wave goodbye but she doesn't see me. She's being yelled at by a dark, frizzy-haired lady. The woman is wearing a very long t-shirt that covers her ankles. It has a picture of some rabbits and the caption reads: SOME BUNNY LOVES ME VERY MUCH. As I


leave, I hear her yelling at Rosa. "Yes bitch, I know he's dead. I'm not stupid. That don't change things. Five hundred dollars is five hundred dollars and best believe I'm a get my money." We pass by the Legend and I point it out. "You giving a tour now?" She laughs. It's a real pretty laugh. Prettier than I would have thought. "My father died up there last week." "Oh, for real? I'm sorry to hear that." "It's all good. I didn't really know him all that well anyhow." "He get killed up or something?" "OD, fucking with that 'ron." See baby, see where I'm from. She looks out the window again. "I remember back in the day, me and my homegirls would be up at Cafe Arizona then after it closed we'd be partying over at the Legend. That place was cracking," She shakes her head a little. "Yeah, I had to go and see all my family. I hadn't seen them in like forever." "You don't talk to your family?" "Not so much to talk about," I tell her. "They pretty much all strangers to me. Unless one of 'em needs an alibi or a kidney." I must be hilarious because that gets another laugh. A good long laugh that stuns me for a second. "I hear that, baby. Where you going I done been." She says this so soft I almost think I imagine it. Her voice puts air in my lungs. We're at a red light. All the traffic's stopped. "Damn, The Legend. I ain't thought about that place in hella," she says. And then it's all gone. She steps back into wherever she came from. Her eyes start to read the street signs. 224, 216, 204. "Hey," she says. "You got to turn here." "Yeah," I snap, "I know where it is."


(5) She pays me and says "wait here." There's a field about a hundred yards away. I watch from the road as she walks into the grass and sets the boombox down. From here it looks more like a hospital than a jail, but I'm not getting any closer. She takes a minute choosing her spot, trying to find the place where she can be seen. I don't know how she can tell if there's anyone back there. The sunshine is pasting those windows, blinding it. A spiderweb of dirty lightning jumps off the building and slices something inside my eye. She starts dancing then. The CD skips a little at first, like it's as nervous as I am. It's one of those tired girl-rap songs they play constantly on the radio and in the clubs. So I don't pay much attention to the music. Everybody I know has heard this song a million times. But, I do watch her. I won't lie about that. She's killing the beat, bullying it almost. And she's beautiful, but not the way you'd think. I don't know how her man could stand to watch something like this. I picture him in there propping his head on a broom, face against‌the glass? The bars? What do they have in there? Who are you, my man? Is this ecstasy or torture for you watching her in that field? I don't know, but she is dancing like it matters. She starts popping her chest and popping her ass, making it twitch. She drops in the grass and then comes back up. Hurricane rolling her hips, like those Puerto Rican girls roll their eyes. I mean she's sexy, but this ain't about all that. This is like watching the wind move through the rain. I guess I'm a little tired because there's a second, a split second, that she disappears. Straight vanishes in the sunlight. Then she's back, arching and flipping, making things scream. This bitch is made of shadows. When it's over, she puts her hand over her eyes and stares up into that gray glass. It's impossible to see if anyone besides me caught her act. The windows are just big vertical swamps burning in the spotlight. So, no, she can't see anything. But she stands like that for a long time.

(6) My Dad had one good story. That's about how it works. Live forty-seven years, get three kids, a couple of diseases and one really great story. Don't like it? Get your money back at the door. I only heard him tell it once. And in the years since, I've been told that there is absolutely no fucking way this could have happened. Whatever. The time that he got picked up on the weapons charge he'd been wearing this old black coat. It was a cheap tired type coat with big pockets and a wide zipper a lot like the


kind little kids wear. Dad had bought it at the Salvation Army for two dollars. Anyway, he'd been coming back from his supplier's house when these two rollers (he called them "jumpouts") popped him for the old warrant. This was downtown near the space needle. Somewhere, deep in that coat pocket my Dad had a fresh ounce of dope. Already rocked up and ready for sale. For some reason, Dad kept toilet paper in his coat pockets. Lots of toilet paper. I have absolutely no idea why. When the duty officer took his coat for inventory he started emptying out the pockets and he kept pulling back sheet after sheet. The cops all laughed, made some jokes and finally set the coat aside as inventory. They never found the rocks. My Dad did those eleven years at Monroe knowing that at the end of his bid, the state was holding another six minimum on him in a dusty storage unit somewhere. They tell you horror stories in prison. Stories about how on your last day they'd process you and walk you to the gate. And then just before they'd release you, the warden's voice would come over the intercom and call you back. They'd find some infraction, usually minor (a recommendation for parole got filed late. Something like that.) and you'd get put back in the system, sometimes for another couple of years. My Dad knew that on his last day he was going to take a brand new charge for what was in that coat. Possession with intent-six to eight automatic. When his release date finally came, they walked my father into a small room on the far end of the prison. They gave him all his things. They brought out a cardboard box with his inmate number and the words PERSONAL BELONGINGS written across. They let him change into the same clothes he'd been arrested in; they said goodbye and they walked him to the door. My dad said he wasn't even excited. He knew that at any moment the deputy warden's voice would come crackling over the loudspeaker "and this nigga gonna have to do that shit all over again." He kept his eyes on the ground, trying not to look at anything on the other side of that fence. He was still looking down, when they rolled away the gate. At Monroe, once the gate opens you walk about a half mile down a wooded trail and then you board a bus. Dad said "I got a little ways down that trail and then I reached real deep into that coat pocket. It's summertime, right, and I'm already sweating and I'm wearing this bigass heavy black coat. But I reach in it real deep anyway...and Damn! Ain't nothing changed!" His sack was still there. No different than the day he'd gone in. He didn't take his hand out of that coat until the bus reached Seattle.


(7) I quit the job at Pacific Taxi about a month later. I had about $4,000 saved up which turned out not to be as much money as it sounded like. I'm working in a restaurant now, bar backing, waiting on the slow nights. Its called Puesto's a Mexican fusion joint, part of the "new White Center" they're trying so hard to sell. It clears about a hundred bucks a shift, which ain't all that but its safer than the cab. My back doesn't hurt the same way either at the end of the day. And for what its worth I'm less angry. Anyhow, she came in a couple days ago. Took me a second to recognize her without the radio. She sat at the bar and ordered something that she sent back. She wasn't as pretty as I remembered. Not bad looking, but tired and kind of pushed together. And there was that tell-tale slow eye when she sipped her apple-tini. Of course, she didn't recognize me, and after a few minutes it started busying up and I forgot all about her. She left a crappy, if passable tip and disappeared. Somewhere shortly after that I decided to write all this down. "Hey George," I say to the chief bartender. "You know that girl that was just here?" "Blondie with the four-top by the window?" "Naw, the black girl sitting right here." He makes an uninterested sound and his eyes roll up in his skull. He looks like a center fielder trying to determine whether its really worth it to give chase to this long fly ball. "If you say so."

(8) I'm not sure what it is I love so much about my father's story. The guys that do the most time, are always the one's with the stories about how lucky they are. And probably, that's all this is. Just some junkie fairy tale about getting over on the system. But for me, I think there's something else there. I couldn't tell you what. Maybe it's the way we keep our secrets close to our heart even when we're walking towards freedom. I like that. It's poetic, but it isn't true. My Dad wasn't the symbolizing kind. Possibly its just that the shit that happens to other people can feel more real than the things that happen to us. But that image- him, the coat, the gate, the bus; you can't tell me there isn't something there. Something I just can't explain. Something, about the way the past, the present and the future are all accounted for. The sum total of your life


intersecting with the day of your release. You see, me, I drive a cab. You'd think I'd have a million stories, but really I don't have one. I just take you there. I don't go inside. I suppose you could say that I'm still in Monroe. Standing at the gate, steeling myself against hope. I'm still waiting for my name to be called. "I got to get going," I say to her. "Then go, if you want to," she snaps without even looking at me. "You can go. The 174 bus runs every half hour. I'm gonna be here for a minute. I'm right here."

Isaac Boone Davis is a writer living and working throughout the United States of America. He is a friendly guy and a decent arm wrestler. Professionally, he moves furniture and sells newspaper subscriptions. His work has appeared in Writethis.com and The Smokelong Quarterly. 200th St. is dedicated to his big sister, Tavia Renee Martinez.


Rubber Tomahawks By Dan Hedges Whilst the literary control mongers ‘alouette’ to hopeful derivatives of ‘art freedom’, we Xerox a certain field-guide aesthetic, and defend it now with our rubber tomahawks. We proceed angle-find America to a new ritual of orange, while the neo-cliché hipsters triangulate the set-list at will, one last time. Then, in some strange spontaneous rapture, the Resplendent Quetzal casts all doubts aside, while field-guide aesthetics burns visages through the haunting tense, sacrosanct forever.

Golden Bowerbirds By Dan Hedges

While Marx surfs the cobble-stone with alpha-thoughts of social Buganvilia, the Golden Bowerbirds scourge the aesthetic field. Optional Warhol now makes it possible for the humanimal aesthetics to agrammatically strike again.

Dan Hedges currently teaches English in the Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board of Quebec. He has also taught English at Sedbergh School, and the Celtic International School. His degrees are from Trent University and Queen's University. He has lived in the Yukon, Spain, Mexico, Wisconsin, Algonquin Park and Quebec. Dan runs an artist collective called Humanimalz. His poems have appeared in The Monarch Review, Certain Circuits, The Maynard, Ditch Poetry, Jones Avenue Quarterly, Fortunates, Haggard and Halloo, Rigormortus, Wildflower Magazine, and The Camel Saloon. His work is forthcoming in Wilderness House Literary Review, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Inertia Magazine, Retort Magazine, Short-Fast-and-Deadly, and Poetic Diversity.


Life Shrinkage By James Reynolds

"We are twins," Thelonious would often say. He and Dave shared the same birthday; the same birth year. "We understand each other." Thelonious went over to the stereo and put on the old CD of Monk tunes that he had brought over, tunes played by his favourite defunct Swedish piano trio – the Esbjorn Svensson Trio. This was not normally Dave's first choice, but darned if he didn’t have these occasional cravings for it that were so like food cravings that, when he listened to this trio's youthful pianist interpreting his band’s selection of Monk's timeless songs, he was never surprised to find himself pining for the days when he could eat anything he wanted. He was not well enough to think about food today, however. It never made him feel any better either, remembering how young Esbjorn had been when he died. Thelonious, a person with a developmental disability, Oscar's ex-patient from his community nursing days, went and sat back down. He had slowly become one of Dave's closest friends. He was, by far, the most interesting person in their desperate and shrunken lives - Oscar' and Dave's desperately shrinking lives. Oscar had to put off early retirement, mainly to keep up the long-term health benefits for Dave. Sometimes on these visits, Thelonious would tell Dave disturbing bedside stories about his years in the institution; all the more disturbing because Thelonious had a sense of humor about it, and it was literally impossible not to laugh until you cried. Dave inevitably needed more drugs to get to sleep those nights, but he would never


think of asking Thelonious to stop telling his Woodlands Asylum stories. Lest we forget‌. Thelonious still has the same partner from his institutional days. Johnny. He married Johnny in an intimate dual ceremony with Oscar and Dave as soon as gay marriage was legal, back in 2005, but Thelonious and Johnny have been together, against all odds, since the ‘70's. Thelonious rarely brings the middle-aged but nonetheless hyperactive Johnny with him for these contemplative jazz visits, though. Dave looked down from the heights of his home hospital bed. Whenever Oscar was at work, Thelonious whiled away hours at a time sitting there in the lounge chair beside him, telling him (usually uplifting) stories, or reading to him, or just sitting quietly. Thelonious was truly psychic when it came to understanding Dave's now solely non-verbal communication. But the jazz was playing, and Thelonious, as always when the jazz was playing, but especially when it was the music of his immortal namesake, held on to Dave's shaking, skeletal hand, and with his eyes closed, rocked his graying head silently in perfect synch with the impossible time signatures. Life Shrinkage - Part 2 Thelonious was at the door, but by the time Oscar answered, he had turned away to watch his bus silently move off into the traffic. When Thelonious turned back around to the view through the open door into the living room, he was still moved by the sight of the returned sofa; the missing bed.


Every time he had come to visit Oscar over the last few months, Thelonious tried sitting on the sofa, but every time the spirit of the bed – of Dave’s bed – seemed to rise up and pressurize him. The pressure caused tears to flow; quiet, draining tears. Sadness and depression, Thelonious felt quite sure, are as much a physical, external pressure as anything psychological. Regardless, he went straight to the couch again this time. He wanted to feel comfortable there. But while Oscar was busy in the kitchen, Thelonious wiped his eyes and moved over to his lounge chair. Oscar returned with two glasses of beer. They have taken to sharing a beer or two on these recent visits. No music, no disruptive Johnny, not much discussion, just two friends quietly enjoying a few sips of beer together and deeply missing their dear, dear friend.

James P. Reynolds lives in Vancouver British Columbia with his partner and their two cats. He has spent most of his career providing community-based support for people with intellectual disabilities, but lately his work has shifted towards writing and publishing. He has published two works of disability rights literature with Spectrum Press. James loves to read and collect modern literary fiction, and he hosts a book collecting website at www.jamespreynolds.com. For many years now, he has been quietly spending every spare minute writing fiction. He has completed two novels and a collection of short stories, but has only very recently decided to share his obsession with the outside world. Life Shrinkage is his first work of fiction to be published.


May Cause Marked Drowsiness By Kyrie Amos shaking this jitter of my skull is tougher than i thought. Finishing a thought isn't on the menu today. Or the other days. Days to come in a state of Insanity as a verb. Labored breathing impairing a steady gasp for air. The the effort to breathe overwhelms Everything else. All my thoughts Paused. Until my body catches up. Complete normalcy is a small childs toy. Given away Or lost. More than likely stolen. Yet I have no energy to chase this thief. I'm paralyzed by this suggestion. I walk Room to room Forgetting the task. Pulling my mind behind me in a lackluster manner. It is crystal clear this winter, But I am unsure of almost everything.

Kyrie Amos hails from a bustling, eclectic town in the heart of Georgia by the name of Athens. She has been writing privately for over ten years now. Most recently, she began submitting her work and will be in the upcoming April issue of Emerge Literary Journal. The journal mirrors what she is doing, emerging onto the scene. She has been published in Crack the Spine previously for a flash fiction piece as well. She describes herself and her pieces as unconventional, unchained and free. Her goal is to venture the depths of my mind and deliver what she has found to the masses, causing them to take a second look at all the wonder and darkness within the psyche.


The Late Train By Peter Naughton

Doreen looked down the length of the tunnel hoping to see some faint glimmer, but there was nothing. She glanced down at her watch. -11:58- The train was already well beyond late and the likelihood that it wasn’t coming at all throbbed at her temples like a nagging headache. She shivered and pulled her coat tighter around her, leaning over and looking again for any sign of light in the distance. There was a clattering behind her and she wheeled around to see a rat scuttle out of a trash can and disappear down into the depths of the tracks. For a moment she couldn’t move or breathe and had to fight the grayness pushing in at the periphery of her vision. She wondered what these situations felt like to people whose imaginations weren’t wired to see every elongated shadow or fluttering piece of trash as a potential threat waiting to rape and murder them. Even now she was picturing her bruised and broken body being hefted onto the wooden ties by some faceless, hulking monster who would leave her there to die, assuming the delayed 11:30 didn’t come around to do her in first. The platform was empty, which simultaneously made her feel both better and worse. The lack of other people waiting for the train only added to the probability that she had missed it, and there wouldn’t be another one on that line until tomorrow morning. Still, a part of her was glad that she was alone. Whenever she shared the platform with anyone else her mind automatically turned them into assailants. She hated how pervasive and consuming her paranoia had become. It was a symptom of the anxiety that had plagued her since childhood, feelings that had only grown greater over the years. Both her doctor and therapist had recommended medications to help quell these feelings, but the idea of taking something that might make her sedate or unaware only heightened her sense of dread. As much as her irrational fears pained her, not to mention the comments from friends and family about her odd behavior, she needed to


keep control of her world and that meant no meds. Her watch read 12:05 and by now she was certain that she had missed the train. Maybe it had arrived early or maybe she had left work later than she’d thought, either way it didn’t really matter. The important question was how she was going to get home. A cab would cost a small fortune and the busses wouldn’t get her all the way home before they stopped running. Normally she would’ve called her sister, but Kim was out of town at a conference. There was Kim’s boyfriend Evan, but she didn’t want to call him. She doubted he’d find it much of an imposition, but Doreen had never entirely trusted him. Something about the way he looked at her whenever they’d all been out together made her uneasy. She barked a nervous laugh that echoed down the subway tunnel. ‘Of course she didn’t trust Evan. He wasn’t one of the handful of people bonded to her by blood or lifelong friendship and therefore was clearly out to get her.’ Doreen had long ago accepted the irony of being her own worst enemy. Her mind suddenly flashed on the accident. She had been driving on the expressway and had changed lanes to avoid traveling behind a van with a mattress strapped to its roof. The cargo had been well secured and there was no sign of it slipping, but that didn’t matter to her. When the van changed lanes and wound up in front of her again, she changed back and started to edge around the vehicle. She kept looking over at the mattress, consumed by the idea that it would fly off at any moment and send her skidding into another car or the concrete divider. She couldn’t stop herself from staring at it and had still been looking when she rear-ended the vehicle in front of her. It was the reason she no longer had a car; the reason she was waiting next to a set of empty tracks for a train that wasn’t coming. There was a low rumble from somewhere deep in the tunnel and when Doreen looked down the dark corridor she could see a small pinprick of light off in the distance that was slowly growing. “Oh thank God.” Doreen started to collect her things from the bench behind her and when she turned back the engine rocketed past her sending a rush of warm air curling around


her like a blanket. For one terrible moment she thought the train would keep right on going and leave her stranded, but then there was the shrill metallic squeal and sparks erupted from the steel wheels as the train slowed to a halt. Scuffed silver doors slid apart in front of her and Doreen stepped onto the car. The moment she did the doors closed and the train began moving again. She was thrown off balance and reflexively shot a hand out, groping and finally grasping one of the support poles as she scrambled to get her feet back underneath her body. When she finally righted herself she saw that the car was completely empty. Something about this struck her as odd, though she wasn’t sure quite what. It certainly wasn’t strange to have only a few riders at this time of night and on many occasions the people on the platform with her would all get into separate cars just for the peace and privacy it afforded them. She took a seat next to one of the windows and watched as the train raced past the platform and back into the blackness of the tunnel. The fluorescents above her hummed steadily and she reached into her purse and pulled out a paperback with a bookmark stuck near the end. ‘The sun looked like a bloodshot eye as it rose crimson and burning over the horizon. Mel glowered down at the empty contents of his wallet, confirming what he’d long suspected. He had been played. The only question was what he intended to do about it.’ Doreen smiled. She had never been a big fan of the hard-boiled detective novels her father had loved, but reading them brought him back in a way that all the old photos and family stories never could. The lights directly above her began to flicker. “Don’t you dare.” she said, reaching up and giving the plastic housing on the bulb a hard thump with the heel of her hand. As if in response, the rest of the lights in the car began to blink and shutter casting the interior of the car in a stuttering strobe effect. Then, one by one, they began to snap off. Long, jagged shadows pierced the compartment like swords thrust through a magician’s cabinet until the only ambient light left was the little bit bleeding in from the ends of the carriages connected to it. “You have to be kidding me.”


Doreen looked left and then right, trying to gauge the distance to each end of the car in the dark. They both seemed to be miles away, like a pair of mirrored, glowing oases that required crossing a vast black ocean to reach. She stood up and started to inch her way toward the north end of the car. The train lurched and she stumbled forward into one of the support poles, smashing her shoulder against it and careening back onto her chair. “Damn it!” “What’s the matter dear?” Doreen froze. “Is it too dark in here for your pretty little peepers?” The voice was fractured and hoarse, sounding like someone with a four-pack-aday habit or a severe case of strep throat. “Who’s there?” Doreen said, but there was no reply. She looked all around her, staring into the gloom trying to penetrate it and pick out any shapes or signs of movement, but it was like peering into a black velvet bag. If not for the scant light coming in, she’d have sworn that her eyes were closed. She opened her purse and plunged her hand inside, quickly feeling and flipping aside her wallet, keys and compact until her fingers finally found what they were searching for. Clutched inside her palm was a small, cylindrical shape. Doreen pulled her phone out of her hip pocket and used the faint glow from the screen to make sure she was holding the canister upright with the nozzle facing out. She’d never needed to use the mace before, something she had counted as a blessing, but now she wished she’d at least tested it to make sure it worked. It also occurred to her that spraying the stuff in an enclosed space might just as likely incapacitate her as it would the source of the voice. “Hello?” she said, but there was still no answer. It was hard to tell how long she’d been on the train. The clock on her phone read 12:27, but it felt like she’d been riding for hours. ‘There has to be a station coming up soon.’ she thought.


The truth was that there should have been one already. On this part of the line there were stops every ten to fifteen minutes until the train emerged from underground and rose back out onto street level. She no longer cared how far from home she was or how much a cab would cost her. All she wanted was to get off at the next stop and be safe on her sofa with her tabby Gus purring in her lap. The simple idea suddenly seemed impossible to her and a cold chill spread across her shoulders and down her back finally settling as a knot in her stomach. “Calm the Christ down.” she muttered to herself and then burst out with a little yelp of laughter. It was her father’s expression; the one he had used every time Doreen started to have a panic attack as a child. Whenever he said it Doreen had always pictured a SWAT team carefully trying to talk Jesus down off a high-rise ledge. That made her smile and usually managed to get her anxiety under control, but it wasn’t helping this time. Doreen pressed her face against the window, tilting it to try and see any light up ahead. There was a soft yellow glow radiating from the dingy lamps that lined the top and bottom of the tunnel, but nothing more beyond that for as far as she could see. “You looking to leave already?” The voice was closer this time, only a few feet away, and Doreen thought it sounded female, though the rasp made it difficult to discern. She swung her phone around, holding the mace at the ready in her other hand, but there was no one in the seats next to her. “We only just met one another.” “Leave me alone!” Doreen yelled and bolted up from her chair, her finger tensed on the metal canister’s trigger. “Easy there dearie. Don’t wanna end up doing something you’ll regret.” “Stay away from me or I swear....” “Don’t swear. It isn’t ladylike.” “What?”


“Isn’t that what your mother always told you?” “How did you….” “I know everything dear. Every deep, dark, facet of your sad little heart.” “I’m warning you, I’ll....” “You’ll what? What exactly are you going to do?” “I….” Doreen said, slowly taking a step back toward the northern end of the car, keeping the phone and mace pointed in front of her. “Are you going to chase me away like those memories of your mother? Bury me beneath all the ticks and tricks you use to make yourself feel safe?” “Shut up!” “Sticks and stones my dear; sticks and stones....” “This isn’t real! You aren’t real!” “Then what, pray tell, am I?” Doreen took several more steps backward toward the door. “I…I’m just tired.” “Oh, I know you are dear. So very, very tired.” “Quit calling me that!” “What’s wrong dear, don’t you like me?” “Stop it! Just stop it!” “The really pathetic part...” The voice was right beside her now. She could feel the soft flutter of breath as it brushed past the tiny hairs of her left ear and she reflexively flailed her arm out and felt it sail through the empty air, landing back at her side with a dull thump. “…is that you still don’t understand what’s going on. So much time spent bound up in your own head worrying about all those ‘what ifs’. It took you this long to even notice that I was there.”


“Please…” Doreen said, her voice was small and shaky. “Just leave me alone.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” “Why?” “Because you made me dear. I’d be nothing if it wasn’t for you.” Doreen felt the back of her heel thud against the carriage door. “I just want to go home.” “So go. I’ll still be with you. I’ll always be with you.” Doreen reached her hand back and felt around for the handle; she twisted it and shoved the door open. The deafening din of the wheels racing along the rails filled her ears, and she fought a jolt of vertigo and grasped the safety railing as the car shuddered and swayed from side to side. There was a sharp buzz that started in her right ear and then made its way around to her left, like a fly circling her head looking for a place to land. The air rushing past her was that same warm and comforting gust, not a blanket this time, but a balmy breeze from a late July evening. She stared down at the blurred streak of soft yellow lights streaming beneath her feet. It looked like an endless procession of fireflies and Doreen thought of summers as a girl when she chased them and held them in her hands as they pulsed and glowed like tiny lanterns in her cupped palm. The buzzing in her ears grew louder, more insistent, but the voice still sounded like unintelligible static buried beneath the squall and screech of the rolling steel. “I can’t hear you.” Doreen said smiling. Then she closed her eyes...and stepped off into the summer night....

Peter fell into fiction by writing stories to amuse his grammar-school classmates, which helped him overcome his shyness, but led to very few completed homework assignments. He has an abiding love of cheese in all its gloriously stinky forms, horror movies with a sense of humor and trashy punk and garage-rock. He was raised and currently resides in Chicago with his wife and cats. His writing has appeared in The Delinquent, Candlelight, Black Words On White Paper, Spook City and Apiary.


Detonating Twilights By A.J. Huffman

“a candle is enough to light the world.� -- Wallace Stevens Our eyes have believed in darkness so long they cannot breathe without it. So thick. It bleeds all around us. All over and through us. But trust your whispered dreams more. And touch me. Find the spark. So small. It will blow a door into that wall. Filling our corner full of light and life. And skin that remembers how to breed.


Open Mouth(ed) By A.J. Huffman

Butterfly kisses are such beautiful bullshit. Soft [minded] designs of quasi-romantic intonations intended to what? Distract/distress/diffuse the complicated barrage of emotions rolling on the dating tide. It is seven o’clock . . . do you know where your partner is going? Do you dare [care]? Ask with lips parted for inhalation of answers. That is an intimacy worthy of choking through tongue.

A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published three collections of poetry: The Difference Between Shadows and Stars, Carrying Yesterday, and Cognitive Distortion. She has also published her work in national and international literary journals such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Writer's Gazette, and The Penwood Review. Find more about A.J. Huffman, including additional information and links to her work at Facebook and Twitter.


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Crack the Spine - Issue 19  

Literary Magazine

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