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Issue Nineteen

CRACK THE SPINE Issue Twenty


Crack the Spine Literary Magazine Issue Twenty April 16, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack the Spine

Cover Art “Touch� by Christine Catalano Christine Catalano is an English major who slipped into publishing through the back door as a graphic artist. She worked happily there for many years. Now liberated from daily deadlines, she keeps her muse satisfied with camera and Photoshop. Some of her artwork has been published in Fiction at Work, the San Pedro River Review, and Mused.


Contents Benjamin Chapman ……………….…………….……………..No Signal Jeffrey Park…………………………..………...….……….Hard to Reach Guts To-Do List Santosh Ananthakrishnan………………………..Of the Power Outage Melanie Whithaus…….……..……………………....…Makeshift Blinds Tom Pescatore………………………………………………......Cellulose Shave Stephanie Wilson……………………………...Until the Walls Crumble Kathryn Willoughby Weed……………………………..…December 22


No Signal By Benjamin Chapman Some days it’s just awesome to be in Southern California. “I hate this place, bro,” said Franz. “How can you hate it?” I asked. “Because it’s all brown and boring.” “We’re in the desert you know.” “Whatever.” We were driving on the 10 heading toward Joshua Tree. It was one of those clear days, not a cloud in the sky. We have ‘em all the time here, it’s one of the nice things about Los Angeles. “I can’t see a damn thing anyway,” said Franz. “It’s too bright out.” “It’s just the glare. Here.” I handed him an extra pair of sunglasses I brought. I figured he may need them. We were surrounded by the desert. The mountains were off to the north, like big brown spikes trying to pierce the sky. It was sandy all around, with some beige shrubs and tumbleweeds here or there. I saw an occasional yucca but we were driving too fast to get a good look at ‘em. The grey and black highway stretched forth in front of us, taking us through the desert. Most of what we could see was the grey and black of the highway. “Hey Foster: Can we turn on the damn air conditioning?” Franz asked me. “No way man. In this weather the car will overheat. We’ll just roll down the windows.” “This fucking black truck of yours is burning up and it’s 100 degrees out there! That ain’t gonna cool us off, bro!” It was easily over 100 out there. I rolled down the windows anyway. A desert breeze came through. Going over 80 miles an hour, the air coming through the windows howled mightily. Franz had to shout to talk to me. “I HOPE MY PHONE DOESN’T BLOW OUT THE DAMN WINDOW, BRO!” It won’t. I kept my eyes on the road. There wasn’t any traffic, but I love the open road and the desert. And the hot desert wind felt great, blowing the hair on my arms.


It was beautiful. Already, some Joshua trees were growing here or there. Their brown trunks stretched up from the ground. There’s life out here. “IT’S TOO DAMN HOT!” said Franz. “HADLEY’S IS COMING UP SOON AND WE’LL STOP THERE!” I took the off ramp for Hadley’s. They have the best date shakes around. I was looking forward to one; they’re great on a hot dry day like this. “Say aren’t those giant dinosaurs around here?” asked Franz. I was going 30 now on the side streets, so we didn’t have to yell at each other to talk. “Yup.” Then I added: “We’re in Cabazon.” “We gonna stop by ‘em?” “Nah. We’re here for nature.” “Whatever, bro.” I pulled into the parking lot. When I stepped out, I could feel the heat on my feet from the black asphalt, even through my shoes. “You can fry an egg on this parking lot,” said Franz. “I’ve heard that one before.” We went into Hadley’s. The aisles of groceries stretched ahead of us. Dried banana chips here, fresh dates there. We were here for the date shakes. “They make the best date shakes here,” I said. “Date shakes, sounds like something sexual, man.” “Nah man, they’re awesome.” “I’ll shake your date.” I laughed at that. “Dates are good,” I said. “More for you then. I’m just stickin’ with vanilla.” We stood in line and finally got to the counter. We got our shakes. I also got a package of fresh dates for the desert hike later. We got back in the truck and road on. “Hey Franz.” Franz didn’t respond. I turned to look at him: he was texting on his iPhone. I spoke to Franz again: “Hey—you get a signal out here?”


Franz was still engrossed in his iPhone. He looked up after about half a minute and said: “Yeah, but barely. Only one bar of signal strength. It takes forever to upload or download anything.” I kept driving on, and Franz kept texting or whatever on his phone. I saw some hawks way up in the sky, flying around. Down below, the Joshua Trees were growing more numerous. There was a huge one, with dozens of branches with lush green spikes growing out on top. A hawk landed on it and I got a good look at it. It looked right at me with its yellow eyes. And then flew off. “Did you see that, Franz?” “Huh?” “The hawk. On that Joshua tree.” “Nah man.” And he went back to his phone. “Are we gonna talk at all?” I asked. “What’s to talk about?” “You know what.” “Nah man.” We would have to broach the subject eventually. So, I decided to: “Look man, I’m sorry about Reeva. I know you were goin’ after her and all, but she started going after me.” “It was fucked up and you know it.” “I’ll be the first to admit that.” “I don’t wanna talk about it.” I took the off ramp toward Joshua Tree. When I got to the intersection I brought the truck to a stop. “Why’d you stop,” asked Franz, “There’s no signal here.” I looked around: he was right. I put a date in my mouth and drove on. I spit the date pit out in the truck’s ash tray. Franz was still texting on his phone. *** We were hiking through Joshua Tree. It’s the desert alright but it’s like being on an alien planet. This isn’t a monotonous sand dune desert. There’s a lot of variety out


here. There’s a lot of boulders out here. The boulders are numerous and huge. You’d think a desert would be flat and barren—but not Joshua Tree. Some parts are flat. Others too ragged and jagged to even get through. Other parts have smooth boulders all around. Other parts of this national park don’t have much in the way of boulders but are lush despite the arid weather. Flowers bloom in the desert. Animals live here. “Think we’ll see any coyotes?” asked Franz. “Nah. I’ve only seen ‘em at night.” “You’re a real desert dog yourself, Foster.” We were hiking in between some narrow passages through the giant boulders. The rocks and boulders are mostly smooth, sort of polished by the desert sand and wind. Through them, we could see the yucca plants and Joshua trees. For just a moment, I saw a desert rat dart between two small yuccas. “Those desert rats are neat,” I said. “They aren’t so neat when they’re in your pantry.” Franz was looking all around him, just like I was. “You aren’t on your phone,” I said. “No signal out here. Kind of annoying.” “Yeah—that’s kinda the point of places like this.” Franz was starting to look around more. He just gazed at the terrain. “I gotta say—this place is really growing on me, bro,” said Franz. Then we were silent like the desert around us. The light beige sand was blowing in the wind. There were dust storms the size of my shoes. The boulders were of all shapes and sizes. Some were smooth ovals, others piercingly pointy, like the green leaves on the yuccas. One yucca ahead of us was blooming. “You know in some places they eat fried yucca. It’s amazing,” I said. “I’ll bet.” We kept on hiking. The sun beat against our backs and the desert air beat against our cheeks. We trekked on among the boulders. There was another red-tailed hawk. It landed on a boulder right ahead of us. Franz and I stood still, frozen still in the middle of the desert as the hawk gazed right through us. We just stood there and it just stood there. The moment was frozen in time, like the desert, and then—it flew off.


Franz and I hiked on. “Still have those dates?” Franz asked me. “Sure.” I unzipped my backpack and handed him some. He ate ‘em. “Reeva played us, didn’t she?” said Franz. “She did.” “Nah, like, she completely played us, bro. You realize that, right Foster?” “Neither of us stood a chance with her.” “She’s a total man-eater. I’m just like, starting to figure it all out, ya know?” I nodded in agreement. “Yeah man,” I said, “totally.” “She totally knew I liked her and she went after you and she knew you’re my buddy and all that.” “What kind of girl does that?” I said. “Reeva—that’s who,” said Franz. “She absorbs men by smiling at them and then eats them alive. She’s a man-eater.” “Man I tell ya—women.” “Yeah.” “But ya gotta love ‘em.” “Well yeah man. I just wish they could be more straightforward, ya know?” said Franz. “They are—ya just gotta speak their language, ya know?” “I feel ya, bro. I just wish they wouldn’t yack at us about stupid shit. Like what color blouse they should wear. They put so much effort into shit like that. Like we even care!” said Franz. I laughed at that. “That was the funny thing about Reeva—she put all the crap of being a boyfriend on us without actually dating us.” Franz laughed at that. “We just have to learn to read the signals,” I said. The hot desert wind came up again, making a larger sand storm, up to our ankles now. It felt great. We saw palm trees up ahead: date palms. That meant the oasis was near. We stopped in the shade of a 30 foot tall boulder and finished the dates, splitting them evenly between us. We guzzled water from our canteens greedily. The sun was burning our necks and bleaching the sand.


Around us, the desert was blooming. All different kinds of shapes: spikey plants, cacti blossoms, oval fruits. The reds and purples and yellows and oranges of the different desert flowers surrounded us even in the shade of the boulders. “What’s that white flower over there?” asked Franz. “It’s a Dune Evening primrose.” “It’s neat.” “It is.”

Benjamin Joel Chapman is a recent graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. He’s always loved reading and recently got into writing as well. He wanted to be a writer when, while studying for a law school exam, he had to just stop—all he wanted to do was re-read Fahrenheit 451. So he did. It led him to the realization that the reading and writing skill set doesn’t need to have a practical application; art is important in and of itself. These are his first published short stories.


Hard to Reach By Jeffrey Park Accessing hard to reach places was his specialty like the place where the rubber and the road meet for a nice gin fizz like the small of a very large person’s back like a fish’s inner ear or the needle peak of a Martian mountain poking its way out of an impossibly thin atmosphere or like the mythical center from which you can finally get a fresh perspective and see that the train hurtling towards you is just opportunity knocking at a hundred miles an hour.


Guts By Jeffrey Park

Calmly I can go on about kidneys, heart and liver and pituitary glands, large intestine, little intestine, colon, esophagus; smugly,

slyly aware they have nothing to do with me – poor bastards, I think, and try my best to picture just where all their internal stuff is

and what it might be doing and what they have been unintentionally doing to it. If you cut me I do not bleed. Slightly

off-white through and through, I make my way in this world with no heed for organs, internal or otherwise, living my carefree

starchy life just as I like and sprouting the random eye here and there from time to time.


To-Do List By Jeffrey Park Kick the neighbor’s dog when the neighbor’s not looking, use up the last of the milk, empty out the lint from your pocket in a co-worker’s cubicle.

Flush and don’t wash your hands and touch everything in sight. Take some change from the poor blind beggar’s coffee cup (but make damn sure he’s really blind first).

Laugh at homophobic jokes and turn on every light in the house. Kick the neighbor when his dog’s not looking. Pick at a loose thread on an expensive garment.

Smile at the Jehovah’s witness and just keep walking, poke fun at the old lady with the palsied hands, fart in the elevator fart in the taxi, fart everywhere.

Stub your toe right in front of the Methodist church and yell out “God damn!” Lie in bed late at night and think ungenerous


thoughts about ex-lovers.

Then just relax. Relax. Wait. Wait long enough and the neighbor’s dog will forget to avoid you and be ripe for another kicking. The neighbor too.

Baltimore native Jeffrey Park currently lives in Munich, Germany, where he works at a private secondary school and teaches business English to adults. His latest poems have appeared in Subliminal Interiors, Mobius, Danse Macabre, Darkling Magazine, Right Hand Pointing and elsewhere.


Of the Power Outage By Santosh Ananthakrishnan

"I wonder if anybody's sent me mail" you think, to yourself. Not in as many words of course, as many naive authors would have you believe, because you do not think in sentences, do you, you think in pictures. You imagine a new mail in your inbox, and then react in the hope that this has indeed happened, much like your ancestors imagined a nice hot meal and felt hungry. You open a new tab on Google Chrome, because you're too lazy to find the Gmail tab that's already open. You go to Gmail. Your username and password are already entered, because you've saved them on your computer. If you haven't, then you're a suspicious ass, and I spurn you. You click on the Login button, and you wait anxiously for your bloated add-ons and customized HD background to load. You swat aside offers of a million dollars from recently widowed wives and gratuitous offers from Nigerian businessmen. You slice through your daily news feed from various sites that you subscribed to earlier, those dark days when you were weaker of will, and were whoring out your inbox to all varieties of spam in the world. You find nothing interesting, and disappointed, you move to switch to your favorite feeds site in a new tab, in order to pass time, waiting for new mail. But then, suddenly, your senses alert you to a curious silence in your surroundings! Something's not right, you say to yourself, again in pictures, not in words. Perhaps you imagine a spidy-sense tingling in your head. Perhaps you recollect a time as a kid when you were uncomfortable. But that feeling is most certainly there, for your laptop screen has dimmed, and the whoosh-whoosh you were accustomed to is no more - your ceiling fan has stopped spinning. "Brace yourself", you say to yourself, "summer power cuts are coming". You chuckle at your little joke, and as your battery power deprived laptop dives into hibernation, you wonder if you should buy the books of "A Song of Ice and Fire", or if you'd rather watch the TV series instead. You long to Wiki the series and read more trivia online, but you can't because the router outside went the way of the power. You turn around and lie facing the ceiling, marveling at how good the rest to your neck feels after an hour of staring forward at the laptop screen. You wonder how many other things you've missed out on because of your attachment to your favorite computer. You turn to Google "laptop addiction", but realize in time, and curse


everybody you feel is responsible for your discomfort. You stare at the fan willing it to start rotating again, but your psionic powers aren't quite up to scratch yet, so no go. Soon, you give up, you being the sort to not try too hard. You wish to check your mail, just in case somebody sent you something Important in the couple of minutes since you last looked in every nook and cranny of your inbox, followed by a quick peek in Spam. Enough, you think to yourself. You're not going to sit and mope around anymore. You refuse to let something as insignificant (so you say to yourself) as a half hour power cut pull you down. You extract that Mumbai Mirror from your bag, you pull your pen from your pocket, you turn to the last page. Tea-Time, they call the page, the one with the nice puzzles and the crossword that you unfailingly attempt every day, your little reward scheme for suffering the Times of India. You get up, off your bed, and head to the door. Your plan is to relocate to the hammock outside, where you imagine it will be cooler than your room. There you plan to sit and solve those puzzles until the power returns. The halves of your brain congratulate each other for coming up with this brilliant scheme. Feeling quite pleased with yourself, you head to the door. But wait, what's this? You detect the whoosh-whoosh again, and you feel the breeze hit your neck. You look up for confirmation that the fan is indeed rotating, because the sound and air moving in a closed room obviously aren't evidence enough for your suspicious behind. Absent-mindedly, you fling the Mumbai Mirror aside, and hit the power button on your laptop. "I wonder if anybody's sent me mail", you think to yourself.

Santosh Ananthakrishnan is a final year undergraduate at IIT-Bombay. He loves reading Terry Pratchett and Wodehouse, and likes to think his writing style derives a little bit from both of them. He doesn’t get too much writing done, sadly, more often out of laziness than lack of ideas. He is currently looking for an evil minion to do his writing work for him, aside from other minion-ish tasks in his dastardly plan to take over the world.


Makeshift Blinds By Melanie Whithaus It’s morning. You feel the sun peaking through makeshift blinds, sneaking up your sheets, and the warmth tickles you feet. You keep your eyes shut and listen to the sound of the street below before you exhale sharply and long for the sound of morning birds. The sun continues to creep up your leg and you feel the need to lie on your side as it reaches your groin. You find yourself grimacing because you don’t deserve that gentle touch. Slowly your eyes open and memories of last night flood in like a hurricane at the sight of an empty wine bottle that sits on your beside table. Sickness fills your stomach and you slam your pale eyelids shut. You don’t wish to remember anything. If you could, you would erase every piece of your life before today. From before this moment. Start a new life every morning to the sound of the street below and the touch of the sun through broken blinds. But of course, like so many other things, that empty wine bottle won’t let you forget. You find intoxication to be a gift but what you do with that gift is what you detest. Getting drunk is beautiful. You first feel it in your stomach and then in your face as it slowly warms you. Everything begins to burn, toes begin to tingle. You feel on top of the world and only will another glass make the feeling last. Only will another shot of whiskey act like an eraser to a life that felt permanently written in ink beneath the skin. You start to wonder why you are so unhappy in the first place and you begin to hate yourself for relying on this poison to make the pain fade. Your answer to your problem is to drink until you pass out, and then to wake up and start all over again. But this time is different. It isn’t the intoxication you regret, but rather it’s what you did with that warm feeling. You abused your gift. This makes your stomach flip. You pull your knees to your chest. Maybe you’ll just fall back asleep and forget your reality because in your dreams, things make sense. In your dreams, she doesn’t exist. From across the room, the phone begins to ring. You think about getting up to answer it, but it’s probably just work wondering where you are or just another telemarketer, maybe your mother. None are important so you let it go to voicemail, not


like you’re actually going to listen to any of your messages anyway. But the phone rings again. And again. Reluctantly, you sit up in bed but keep your eyes shut. Blood rushes to your head. You think you can maybe make it into the bathroom or to the kitchen without opening your eyes. Feel your way around like a blind man without hitting any obstacles.

If you make it to the bathroom, you’ll take a shower and

swallow your pills. Or you can head towards the kitchen and have another shot of whiskey all without looking. Or you can do both. You would wake up just to pass out again. You could skim the surface of death. The doctors all told you not to drink on your new medication, but you figure why not since you’ve had more side effects than results: insomnia, decreased appetite and sexual desire, and most importantly those silly little pills make you suicidal. It’s funny how those little pills that are supposed to make you happy only fuck you up even more. They make you think in ways you never thought you would. Expecting you not to drink makes you think that the doctors are the crazy ones. You can barely make it through most days with alcohol. You can’t make it through any without it. The phone rings again and you still haven’t gotten out of bed. You still sit on the edge of your cheap sleeper sofa and feel the metal bars dig into your ass through the cheap mattress. You know that it’s work who keeps calling wondering why you haven’t shown up for the past two weeks. First, you tried to explain to them why you haven’t been “up to par” for the past several months, yet still they don’t seem to understand. You know they call you a drunk when you’re not around. But after all, depression is something you can’t understand unless you’ve caught it. Second, they asked if you could work out of home since you’re always so “sick”, but you can’t be a columnist if you never go out and experience the world. But even inside this apartment, you’re not safe. You assume that this time they’re probably calling to fire you, but you don’t care. You just sit on the edge of your cheap wire bed with the sun bleeding on your back through cheap blinds. You think you may go out to the water today, but your eyes still haven’t opened and you’re thinking about the kitchen and the bathroom. The phone stops ringing. You finally stand, but your blind quest quickly ends once you stub your toe on a chair that misplaced itself in the middle of the room. You


try to forget how it got there, but the wavelengths of pain shiver up your leg like electricity filled with memories of last night. They’re filled with thoughts of her. There’s no point to keep walking blind. Slowly, you open your pale eyelids and take in the room around you. First you see the chair. The simple wooden chair from the kitchen set. Next, you look behind you and your sheets are jostled and on the bed for once instead of on the floor where they are normally kicked from a restless and lonely sleep. The blinds hang awkwardly, letting in more of the morning sun than usual, like they were carelessly drawn. Lastly, you notice the empty wine bottle sitting on the bedside table glistening in the morning sun and another poking out from beneath the bed. You feel the bile in your throat and taste it in your dry mouth. No one could have guessed she was here. The room made no memory of her presence to an outside source, but you know she was here. You want to climb back into bed and kick the sheets on the floor, but instead you slip past the chair like she’s still there and into the kitchen. A bottle of whiskey sits on the counter. You don’t even bother to pour yourself a glass. Regretfully, you let yourself think of her. She was delicate with small hands. If eyes could be fragile, hers would be. They were stained glass and could easily be broken. Pieced together from several different shades to make one color. You couldn’t even begin to describe her. She was young. Much younger than you, or maybe she was the same age. You couldn’t tell at the time, even if you were sober. There was something about her golden hair that drew you to her. But it wasn’t golden hair; it was more bronze with a golden dusting. “Beautiful,” “lovely,” “gorgeous” were words that meant nothing when it came to her. She was so much more than a dictionary definition. You don’t know how it happened, but you find yourself pouring her a glass of wine. She sits on the couch with her tiny hands wrapped around that same glass. She even runs her finger along the brim as if to play along to the soft background music. She doesn’t look nervous. She’s confident which makes her look wiser than her years. You sit down in the wooden kitchen chair across from her. You want to keep your distance. You didn’t want to scare her off. You noticed the black makeup clumsily smeared around her stained glass eyes and the stray stands of golden


dusted hair framing her face. The moonlight shows through the blinds. She finally notice how young she looks, but she isn’t nervous. She sits down her empty wine glass and begins to drink directly from the bottle. You do the same and you don’t know how it happened, but she sits atop of you with small hands on your face. You feel your way up her sides. Soft skin beneath the little black dress that fit her like a glove. Soon, the wooden kitchen chair is forgotten as she pulls you over to the bed. By then, her soft skin illuminates in the moonlight and you’re reminded once again of how young she looks, especially naked. You quickly try to draw the makeshift blinds before you flip off the light. She looks so young and you abused your gift. She was no longer innocent. You don’t remember her leaving and you don’t even remember her name. Instead, you try to drown her out of your reality with whiskey. How young was she really? Fifteen? Seventeen? Was she in high-school? College? Did you break her innocence or was it broken long before you came along? You suddenly have to leave the room and get away from the memory of her. Once again you think you might go down to the water. You have a sudden rush of energy with the alcohol pumping through your veins and feel you don’t need your “happy” pills this morning. You’ll go outside because it is a beautiful morning even without song birds outside your window. You throw on some clothes that you find lying on the carpet and slip past the bed, the chair, the wine bottles, and makeshift blinds. You don’t even bother to lock the door behind you. As you walk out into the morning light, you begin to wonder how it feels to be in a coma. You’re cheating death and skimming the surface of it, but you’re out of your reality. No wonder it takes so long for people to wake up. Who would want to leave that paradise? The water comes into view and you find yourself nearly sprinting towards the dock. With each step in the sand, you sink a little further. You try to ignore its golden color, but it’s not a golden dusting. You stare at the green waves and try not to think of stained glass. Instead you think of rebirth. Each wave is born anew with each pulse of the current. Each wave is innocent, waiting to be corrupted by a bottle of wine and the moonlight through makeshift blinds. Each wave is so young when it dies out.


You don’t know how it happens but you’re now in the waves. They’re pulling you all around. On the surface, the waves are innocent, but as they work their way deeper into the sea, they grow stronger. Faster. Become undercurrents that can sweep you under just like when they were as innocent waves atop of the green sea. You keep your eyes closed and refuse to take in the colors of the stained glass waters around you You float below the surface even as your ears begin to pop and your lungs begin to cave, and feel your fingertips glide along underside of the waves, but you don’t push through and corrupt them. Instead you crack your eyes open to the sunlight above you, sneaking through the stained glass waters like they’re makeshift blinds.

Melanie Whithaus is currently studying creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University. Her work has been featured on websites such as deviantart.com (blackballetshoes.deviantart.com) and fanfiction.net, and she has two pieces of original poetry published with Umbrella Factory Magazine. Her writing is known for its raw and straight-forward voice, and her “no-bars-held” style.


Cellulose By Tom Pescatore

Vitaly nodded like Ginsberg on blow-wrecking the car, the beers were cheap but the place shit Fishtown old spot to hear music but now the 90s dance throb was bleeding--my ears, and the girls-sorry this isn't for you, though you looked nice I guess, I was drunk & Vitaly had the Christian Bale going, where it was going--to the corner, the lights, the trolley line--

wheels were blue 'cause gawd couldn't double park

for shit.

The smell was mold and lights when I pissed in the alley at 3am forgetting the names.


Shave By Tom Pescatore

Joe threw his shit down on the curb, back pack, boots, sleeping bag, hammock, and all, and I dropped mine beside him, Dave was supposed to pull the car around 15 minutes ago, but there was no sign of him, we took pictures of each other so we could look back and remember what we looked like, because we thought maybe we'd forget, this is how I'm going to start it, just like those 7 days started, standing out on Broad flannel shirts and dreaming of the west, the last fast food stop on Oregon and then straight to the arch, we got to see middle PA, but this isn't about that this is about the before, standing still, I kicked a bolt rolling on the sidewalk, it was there when we got back, it was all there, but different, that's why I'm glad we took those pictures, the receipt in my pocket is less than 24 hours old and already it's faded

Tom Pescatore grew up outside Philadelphia, he is an active member of the growing poetry/lit scene within the city and hopes to spread the word on Philadelphia’s new poets. He maintains a poetry blog: amagicalmistake.blogspot.com. His work has been published in literary magazines both nationally and internationally but he'd rather have them carved on the Walt Whitman Bridge or on the sidewalks of Philadelphia's old Skid Row.


Until the Walls Crumble By Stephanie Wilson

Jason refused to think about that moment as he scratched at his stomach where the gown was chafing at his skin. He refused to think about the way his teammates had been crowded around him when he came to. He didn’t want to think about the ride in the ambulance, looking out the back window and seeing his parents’ sedan, his mother’s tears. He wasn’t going to think about it, so he ignored the sound of the doctor’s feet clapping against the tile floor and the soft swish of his white coat as he settled himself against the table. “I’m sorry son, but you have epilepsy.” The doctor paused awkwardly for a moment before walking back out of the room and on to his next patient. Jason lay there, numb for several minutes before grabbing his fitted Yankees cap that lay beside him on the gurney and threw it, knocking over the jar of cotton balls on the hospital room’s table causing his mom to gasp. “Jason –“ “Shut up mom. Just, shut up.” “Jason, don’t speak to your mother like that.” Jason’s dad did the only thing he could do in moments of extreme tension – he yelled. “What the hell am I gonna do? Is coach still gonna let me play?” Jason pounded his fists against the bed. “Why does this shit have to happen to me? My life is fucking over!” Just then, the glass jars and gurney bed began to rattle and shake. Medical instruments fell from their places on the tables and inside the cupboards. The family of three watched in morbid fascination as a small crack progressed up the sterile white wall. Their eyes slid in unison from the crack to the window, where the sky had gone dark. Orange shadows danced in the reflections of the skyscrapers around them before they tumbled to the ground. Jason realized then that, yes his life was indeed over.

Stephanie Wilson is currently a Junior Creative writing major at Seton Hill University, preparing for bankruptcy. She is the Pittsburgh Book Examiner for Examiner.com.


December 22 By Kathryn Willoughby Weed

Sister Jean arrived early at Caring Manor Nursing Home. First on her list to see was Jack Covelli, a coal miner brought low by black lung and cigarettes. Not particularly religious, he still welcomed her visits. She stopped just outside his door. The snowman and snow flakes had been up since Thanksgiving. A new addition caught her eye, something most people would not notice: a small green magnet shaped like a star. The DNR star. Do Not Resuscitate. Ah, he's decided, she thought. Covelli had been considering hospice for months. Sister Jean knew this only because the Charge Nurse kept her informed. Covelli always maintained a reserve about him. He liked to talk about his wife, dead fifteen years, and the son who had been a basketball star. But if she tried to probe, Covelli clammed up. So they talked about the weather and American Idol and how bad the food was at Caring Manor. It was frustrating, because she sensed the pain locked deep inside him. She wanted to help release it, to give him some ease at the end of a very long life. Sister Jean unconsciously stroked the silver cross she wore with one hand as she knocked on the half-opened door with the other. She caught a glimpse of Covelli's tear-streaked face as he turned away from her. “Mr. Covelli, what's wrong?” “Sorry, Sister,” he said, looking out the window. “I let myself get worked up sometimes.” Unsure of whether to stay or go, stand or sit, Sister Jean stood until Covelli nodded toward a chair. She sat with relief, but the normally genial Covelli continued to stare out the window. “It's a hard time of year for most folks here. For a lot of folks everywhere, really.” She paused. “Is Jack, Jr. coming for Christmas?”


“Nah. He'll be with his grandkids. Can't blame him for that.” Sister Jean did blame him, at least a little. Jack, Jr. thought driving home from Florida twice a year made him a good son. She had no right to make such a judgment and brushed away the thought. “Still,” she said, “this place does get lonesome during the holidays--” “I'm used to it.” She looked at a picture of him taken on his wedding day. He was a handsome giant of a Marine, headed out to avenge Pearl Harbor. Now Jack Covelli was bonethin, tethered to an oxygen line, his wife long dead, his son distant. “Being used to it doesn't make it easy.” He shrugged, but tears sprang to his eyes. Sister Jean sought clues in his withered face. Praying he wouldn't shut her out, Sister Jean took a chance. “Mr. Covelli, how long have we known each other? “I dunno. Right long time.” “Long enough for you to trust me?” she asked, with all the gentleness she could muster. He lay there, thinking it over, tears spilling down his cheeks. Finally, he nodded. “Then tell me what’s troubling you.” Covelli’s answer surprised her. “It's December 22.” “December 22. What happened then?” He turned away again, but did answer: “I—I left Guadalcanal. A Christmas present for the 1st Marine Division.” “Ah. I hear Guadalcanal was bad.” “It was. Pure hell.” He spoke haltingly, pausing for breath every few words. “Surprised you heard of it. Most people nowadays don't know nothing about the Good War.” “My grandfather served in the Pacific.” He looked back at her. “You ever talk to anybody about it? Guadalcanal, I mean.”


“Nah. They said we should put it behind us. I tried.” He reached for a box of Kleenex, wiped his eyes, and blew his nose. “Never even told my wife much. Figured you had to be there to understand. Nobody else could.” “Sometimes there's healing just in the talking.” He began to sob. Sister Jean leaned forward, taking his gnarled hand into her own. Minutes passed in silence. “Sister, your grandpa, did he ever talk about it?” She hesitated, never having known her grandfather. “No.” “He died, didn't he?” “Yes. On Saipan.” “It was bad on Saipan, too.” Then, for the first time in over sixty years, Jack Covelli talked about Guadalcanal.

A hospital chaplain for twenty years, Kathryn Willoughby Weed lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where she writes flash fiction, short stories, and has just completed her first novel. She has been fascinated by World War II since childhood, after discovering her grandfather crewed a Navy LST on D-Day.


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Crack the Spine - Issue 20