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Issue Twenty - Four

Crack the Spine Literary Magazine Issue Twenty-Four May 14, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack The Spine

Cover Art “Red and Pink Lady� by Abigail Denniston Abigail Denniston is a Dublin City based, self-taught photographer. She discovered her passion 3 years ago. Her work has taken a strong focus towards street and cityscape scenes and shows her great interest in capturing the unsuspecting subject. She has held a number of exhibitions in Dublin City and her work has also been published online and in hard copy most recently in the newly published Patasola Press art and literary magazine in New York, Website:

Contents Molly Bonovsky Anderson………………..….…………..….……..Bears Gregory Gunn………...……….…….…………..….……Milites Gloriosi Elusive Einstein Cody Newton.………….Too Old for Beer Pong, Too Young for Wine Brendan McDonnell……….……………….…....…….….….Light Years Sean Crose………………………...………………….……...Japanese Art Maui Holcomb……………….…………………...……..……...Drive-bys A.V. Boyd……………………………..……………………….City Range

Bears By Molly Bonovsky Anderson

Around April, someone smashed Arch Holloway’s bears to bits. Whoever did it was real quiet, because Arch never heard a thing. It wasn’t as if he was expecting it, but he wasn’t all that surprised, being that several mailboxes had been done in recently, from a car, with a bat. He didn’t even know until Micah Brillig came by and told him. He walked past Arch’s trailer several times a week, and every so often would stop by and say hello— maybe have a sandwich or some coffee. This day he knocked on the door and before Arch even let him in he said, “I see someone smashed your bears.” Arch went out to the front of the trailer where the bears had stood on either side of the air-conditioning unit. Pieces of black and white plaster lay on the ground in piles of gray dust. “Pandas, weren’t they?” asked Micah. He pulled off his baseball cap and scratched the back of his head. “No, I don’t think they were,” answered Arch. He went inside to get a broom and dustpan. Micah helped him gather some of the larger chunks. “What a shame,” Micah said. “I know I might not sound like it,” and he didn’t, because he very seldom raised his voice or changed his intonation, “but I’m awfully upset. It really cheeses me off. I mean, what kind of people would just come around and bust up somebody’s bears like that? Did you pay much for them?” Arch shrugged. “I can’t say. Don’t remember. I’ve just had them for so long.” “Awful,” Micah repeated, moving a chunk of black muzzle around with the toe of his boot. “Yeah, well,” Arch said, “What’re you going to do? That’s life.”

“Man, if that’s life—”Micah began. He stopped short and stood looking down at the busted bears. “You want to come inside for some coffee?” Arch said. Micah shook his head. “I gotta get to work.” Arch nodded. “Still laying bricks for the new school?” “Uh-huh.” “Alright, then.” Arch said goodbye to Micah, who ambled off, mumbling, “It’s a shame about those pandas, though.” Arch went inside, poured himself some coffee, and sat down in front of the television.

A few days later, Micah returned with an offer. “I was thinking about the bears,” he said, as Arch let him into the kitchen. The bears had been swept into a green garbage bag which now sat on the curb, and Arch had forgotten about them. Tonight the trash collectors would come and take them away. “I was thinking,” Micah said, “That you should have something else to put out there. What kinds of things do you like besides bears?” Arch shrugged. “Anything you put out there would get smashed,” he said. “It’s that kind of neighborhood.” “No,” Micah said. “I don’t think it is.” “Getting to be,” Arch said. “Ah, well.” “But you had those bears forever,” Micah said. “I know. I’m only surprised they didn’t get smashed sooner.” “Hey, I know a guy that works in granite. How about a pair of lions? I’d like to see someone try and smash a pair of granite lions.”

Arch shrugged. One didn’t really put lions outside a trailer house. “I’ll see what I can do,” Micah said. “Oh, and another thing—I was thinking about what you said, about ‘that’s just life.’ I was thinking that if this is the kind of life we live, where someone can just come along and smash your bears at will, and not feel a thing about it, then I’m not sure I want to live it.” “They’re just bears,” Arch said. “I know it sounds weird,” Micah said, “but I’ve been thinking. Something’s got to change, starting with me in this trailer park. You know what I do every night when I get off work?” Arch imagined that Micah did exactly what he did—sat down in front of the television. “I sit down in front of the television,” Micah said, “or the computer. Remember I told you about the chat rooms?” Arch nodded. Micah was trying to meet women. He didn’t have the easiest time talking to them in person, but he sounded pretty good in type. “I was thinking how I’m going to be thirty-six next month. If I was going to meet a woman, I would have done it by now. But that’s not really where I’m going with this.” Arch took a sip of his coffee and braced himself. Since Micah had quit drinking, he’d begun doing and saying some strange things. “I was out walking in the woods, you know right across the highway there? And I found myself, Arch.” “You found yourself where?” “In the woods. I found myself.” “Oh. What were you doing out there?” “I was looking at the trees and putting my hands on the birches and all—you know how’re they’re sort of like people—and thinking about how I’ve been plugged

into all these things lately. TV, the computer—these man made stimulation machines. And I realized—it’s all life support. Like in the hospital. I thought these are the things keeping me alive. So I unplugged, and found out just the opposite. It’s the great unplug of my life, Arch. Everything’s unplugged. No more TV. No more internet chat rooms. I’d unplug my fridge if the food wouldn’t go bad. I even unplugged my phone.” “That’s interesting,” Arch said. “What if somebody needs an emergency bricklaying?” “I hadn’t thought of that,” Micah said. “It needs tweaking, that’s for sure. But I’m on the path.” “Okay,” Arch said. “Good luck with that.” “Thanks,” Micah said brightly. “I gotta go, but I’ll see you soon. And I’ll see about those lions.” “Alright,” said Arch. He said goodbye to Micah, poured himself some more coffee, and sat down in front of the television.

In a few days, Micah returned with his truck. He didn’t have any lions, or anything else made of granite. He’d loaded the bed with things from his trailer at one end of the park and driven them up to Arch’s trailer at the other. Arch came out and spotted a floor lamp, some clothes and shoes, an end-table, a stereo, a blender, and a toaster. “What’re you doing with all this?” He asked Micah. “Giving it to you,” Micah said, hoisting a small bookcase out of the pickup. Arch touched the toaster. “I already have one of these,” he said, though his popup mechanism was shot, and his trailer was often filled with the smell of burnt toast. He put his hand in the slots and lifted it like a bowling ball.

“You can give away what you don’t want,” Micah said. “I don’t want any of it anymore.” “Why? You moving?” “In a sense,” he said. Arch fumbled the toaster and it landed with a bang in the truck bed. “What do you mean?” “I was thinking about the bears again.” He ran one finger along the edge of the bed, leaving a trail in mortar residue. “About how people are kind of like those bears— and like the people who smashed them, too. I mean, we all just go around, capable of smashing each other. Most of us say we wouldn’t do it—we wouldn’t smash someone. But these bears—they weren’t a fluke. It’s a pretty common occurrence—something getting smashed like this. You know—mailboxes get hit, flower gardens get torn up, people spray graffiti and stuff—it happens all the time. I’m not capable of smashing someone’s bears. I’m just not sure that I want to hang around here, you know, with people who are.” “This is because of my bears?” Arch said. Micah picked up a dartboard. “Well, there is another thing. I was laying bricks for the new school, you know? And I was feeling kind of bummed out because of the bears—so I started laying them in a shape, like a happy bear face, to cheer me up. I thought it might make some kids happy too, you know, to have a happy bear face on the side of their building. When it was done I was pretty satisfied, and I felt a lot better. The foreman didn’t like it so much. They laid me off. You know, Arch, I don’t know if I want to hang around when you can’t even make a happy bear face on the side of an elementary school.” Arch looked into the truck bed, then at Micah, then into the truck bed again.

“I don’t know what I would do with another omelet pan,” he said. “Couldn’t you just go and live in the woods for a while or something? I mean, do you really have to— check out?” Micah had been maneuvering the dartboard like a steering wheel. He stopped, pulled a black-winged dart from the bull’s-eye and tossed it back into the truck. “I’ve pretty much made up my mind.” He placed the dart in the breast pocket of his jacket. “I’ve been thinking about it for years anyway—I guess your bears just gave me the extra push. I’m not going to go right away or anything. I’ll give you due notice first.” “I appreciate it,” Arch said. “Would you mind giving me a long notice?” Micah got into the cab of his truck and slammed the door. He stuck his head out the window. “What do you want me to do with this stuff?” He didn’t sound angry. “I’ll take the toaster,” Arch said, pulling it to his chest. “Just leave the rest of it in there for now. We’ll figure something out.” “Alright,” said Micah. He waved and drove down the street to the other end and parked his truck outside his trailer. From where he stood, Arch could see him get out and walk into the house. Then Arch went back inside, and sat down in front of the television.

The man at the check-out had asked Arch if he was building an army. “Kind of,” Arch said.

He couldn’t wait for Micah to come back in a few days. He went himself, with a plaster bear under each arm. He hadn’t been able to find black and white ones, but these were in the same style at least—kind of skinny brown bears with long snouts, each with a pink salmon in its paw.

He set them outside Micah’s trailer, in the front, on either side of his airconditioning unit. Then he brushed his hands off on his jeans and knocked on Micah’s door. “Come on out and see,” he said. Micah surveyed them, and whistled through his teeth. “Those are nice bears,” he said. Arch nodded. “I’ve got the same ones in front of my house. You’d be surprised how inexpensive a four-pack of plaster bears is.” Micah craned his neck to see down to the other end of the park, to see Arch’s bears. “I figured they won’t go to the trouble of smashing two pairs of bears,” he said. “But say they do. Well, I’ll just get more. If they smash a bear I’ll put a new one out.” “What happens when they run out of bears?” Arch shrugged. “Lions? Whatever it is, they’ll eventually get tired of smashing it.” Micah said, “I’m not so sure about that. But I’ll stick around at least long enough to see how it goes.” “Alright,” Arch said. “I was thinking. It’s almost summertime. I forgot that you always throw your block parties in the summer.” Arch nodded. “Every year.” “I like those,” Micah said. “I want to stick around at least to go. Are you going to invite that red-haired girl again?” “I invite everyone,” Arch said, “but that girl doesn’t live around here anymore. She got married around Christmastime and moved away.” He jerked his head toward a blue trailer. “Three-eighty is empty now.” “Oh,” Micah said. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah.” Micah bopped his boot against the side of one of the bears and sighed. “Maybe someone else will move in before then,” Arch said. “Yeah, maybe.” “Alright, I’ll see you later. Take care of those bears.” “Thanks, I will,” Micah said. Arch believed him.

Arch walked slowly back to his trailer, remembering it was Thursday. He brought up Thursday night’s schedule in his head—it was a good night for television. He was just a few feet from his trailer when he spotted his bears. He stood and admired them for a bit, from a distance, and then on second thought, turned and walked across the street. He cut through an open field to the highway. After looking both ways, he bounded across it, and made his way into the woods on the other side.

Molly Bonovsky Anderson is from central Minnesota. She studied Philosophy, Art History and English at Northern Michigan University. Her work has appeared in Passages North, Flashquake, and FortyOunce Bachelors. She lives and works in Marquette, Michigan.

Milites Gloriosi By Gregory Gunn

Having crawled on my belly through passional pastures, or passed by flaxen fields of barley-ears via charabanc, I am taught and have learnt about cosmography, appreciate more my ability to act as a sponge allowing nature’s pulchritude to seep through these pores. Having forged ahead of those observations still fresh herein my mind, crows of conscience roost in higher branches of my tree of knowledge like Darwinian revelations punctuated by bullying religious tactics; aka continual guilt trips for antimony reigns supreme. Where is the Messiah while I heedlessly await, hiding behind a presentable en masse mortal underworld’s breaking of bread with the dead?

Elusive Einstein By Gregory Gunn

Single-mindedly this time I will find him. Elusive as tachyons, in all probability he was transported to a higher bookshelf level in the library, way beyond my grasp. Contemplating on various constants, speculative over intuitions, and pensive positing perverse hypotheses. Perhaps he’s positioned above Planck and Rutherford, right below Aristotle? In any event, within my brown study, he is merely of elfin dimensions and I, in my vibrant green years, extraordinarily inquisitive, multifariously nonconforming. One might remark, theoretically, I am definitely on a similar wavelength. Resolute today, I fully intend to discover him.

Born in Windsor, Ontario in 1960, Gregory Wm. Gunn grew up in a few small towns throughout the province until finally settling in London. A graduate of Fanshawe College as an Electronics Technician in 1980, Mr. Gunn began writing seriously during his academic tenure there. Since then, he has written six full poetry collective works and has had or will have several poems published in: Yes Poetry, Cyclamens & Swords, The Toronto Quarterly, Ditch Magazine, Ascent Aspirations, Carcinogenic, Steel Toe Review, Covalence, Shangri-La Shack, 1000 Acts of Kindness, Carty’s Journal, Tea With George, 20 X 20 Magazine, Exercise Bowler, Corium, Lines and Stars, Blue Lake Review, Forty Ounce Bachelors, The Light Ekphrastic, Side B Magazine, Burning Wood, and others

Too Old for Beer Pong, Too Young for Wine An Essay by Cody Newton

It’s times like these that make you wonder where the police are. Midnight on a Saturday, heading west with my best friend on the horsehair worm of a road they call Highway 20 splitting eastern Oregon. For 19 hours we’d been riding a high and wild wave and it had just crashed. Washed up in the foam, we slogged down Highway 20, blind to the future and driven by the past. Still half drunk and mad off Redbull we had four hours of driving until we made it home. Warped Tour 2010: 23 hours, 646 miles, my friend’s white 2010 Subaru Legacy, more than 60 bands, 20 miles of hitchhiking, $100 dollars worth of beer, a ticket stub signed by Reel Big Fish and a black T-shirt that says “Get Fucked.” That’s what I got from my first trip to Van’s Warped Tour. To some this might seem like a lot of bullshit, but there are many of you out there that will understand this story. That day in Nampa, Idaho, somewhere between the blazing sun and the burning asphalt of the Idaho Center, I realized I was no longer a child but not quite a man. That terrifying moment when your palms sweat and you realize you’re too old for beer pong, but too young for wine. Just 23 hours earlier, at 5 a.m., I got a call from my best friend Keenan. “You ready?” he managed to force out, still half asleep. I grabbed my wallet and headed out the door. Ahead of us we had more than 600 miles of desert, FRS Energy drinks and Harry Potter 5. Yes, we listened to Harry Potter to get us pumped for a day of raging with thousands of young punk rockers and hipsters, and a handful of 30-year-olds with a

vestige of youth in their eyes; wraiths of their former selves they struggled to leave behind—a struggle that at 23 I was slowly starting to understand. We stopped first in Boise so we could park our car and grab a ride with a couple people we knew that were headed to the concert. The air was already scratching the mid 80s. I got out of the car and decided to change my shirt. As I stood in the strange neighborhood, half naked, I realized there was a small family watching me from inside the home we had parked in front of. To late to turn back now I thought. If I were three years younger I’d have changed my pants on their doorstep for fun, but a growing awareness that I’m not the only human in the world told me this might be rude. Keep changing. Let them imagine—probably falsely— all the decadent and depraved activities my 23-year-old tattooed body had partaken in. About an hour later we were at the Idaho Center, through the lines and in the concert. By then it was almost 90 degrees. We were rubbing shoulders with the sweaty masses, thousands of kids with purple hair and leather bracelets. It was like being inside the sticky pages of a Hot Topic catalog. A Justin Bieber concert with tattoos. I couldn’t tell you who was playing when we first arrived. Probably some of the smaller bands: AM Taxi, The Word Alive, Set Your Goals. I could, however, tell you where the beer was. We found the giant two-dollar Pabst and began to drink our selves down a few maturity levels. At some point in the day, Reel Big Fish did a meet and greet, complete with catering by Buffalo Wild Wings. Keenan and I caught wind of it about seven beers deep. We weren’t drunk, our ability to communicate was still evolved, but boozed enough not to care. We didn’t have tickets to eat wings with Reel Big Fish, but we decided to go anyways.

Security for an event like that isn’t too bad. The meet and greet was set up behind a handful of tacky green curtains inside the stadium. I wish I could tell you our secret entry involved air ducts, 60 meters of high-grade 10.2mm Mammut rope, chloroform and black masks, but that’d be a lie. In reality it only involved getting past one bug eyed, skittish looking girl who stood as both ticket taker and security, her back-up being inside the event setting the buffet. Any loud noises around that one and it looked like she could fall into violent tremors and bite her tongue off. We had to be careful because we didn’t have the capacity to explain, if we had to, what happened to the writhing tongue-less girl we left behind if we got caught. Far too risky. An operation like this requires one thing: confidence. Walk past the twitchy coed like we owned the place. Make eye contact with a stranger on the opposite end of the room, wave, and move in their direction as if seeing your friend distracted you from revealing whatever credentials were required. The key is to not look back, no matter how loud she yells. By the time you make it to the far end of the room, she’ll have given up for two reasons: One, she doesn’t want to make a scene—they don’t pay her enough; and two, she knows if she chases you to the other end, it opens up a flood gate of kids hungry for Buffalo Wild Wings and Reel Big Fish. The operation went off without a hitch. I knew it would, I had used the technique a year before at the Blazed and Confused show in Portland, to get backstage and smoke the good smoke with Slightly Stoopid. Another story for another time. Once we knew we were safe we introduced ourselves to the two girls sitting at the table we had used as our distraction. One of them was balls deep in her cell phone and seemed not to care about the band. Freaked out by her weird vibes, we hit the wings and met the members of Reel Big Fish. The food was good and the band was great. Obviously, with a few dozen adoring fans all clawing at their pant legs, we didn’t spend a lot of time with the band.

We had just enough time to say hi, get our ticket stubs signed and snap a cell phone picture. Our one and only good deed for the day came when we got lead singer, Aaron Barrett, to go over and cheer the bitchy girl up. Some sort of weird parental instinct made me want to help the girl. I’ve always been thoughtful, but the damn emotions were growing out of a new place. I didn’t even do it to impress her. I still can’t decide if it was a good or a bad thing. I didn’t even hit on her afterwards. After the feast we found ourselves by the main stage and in sight of a half-naked man, probably in his mid 30s. He was drunk and dancing like an animal, jerking between what looked like a hunched over swamp-monster bear-walk, and a stretched sylvan yoga pose. Suddenly the animal began to howl like a wolf, sticking his nose to the sky as if to snort a cloud like a fluffy pile of cocaine. I thought to myself, “thank god this beast is inside here, with all the other crazies and hustlers.” A sight like that can go unnoticed in the middle of a concert. But unwilling to die, the boy in me imagined putting that thing out in the real world. He would surely send the head of some conservative yahoo spinning off into the universe of unspoken freakiness. For a brief moment I wrestled with the reckless thought of placing that animal in the middle of some quiet southern town. Watching the faces of the towns folk twist in furious angles as they attempted to grasp exactly what it was they were looking at. Suddenly thrust from the comfort of their wooden pews and into reality. I quickly abandoned the thought. Too hot for wild fantasies. The boy in me doesn’t need to die, he just needs to realize the ramifications of his twisted thoughts. I chugged my two-dollar PBR and faced the brutal truth that I could be the “crazy dancing, too old to be here guy” someday. I imagined myself being placed in a small southern town where the folks would make quick work of me. Beating me in the shins with tire irons until I couldn’t even walk home, and then regressing deeper in to their

churches. The image haunted me. A futuristic mirror that made me want to wear Loafers and watch Jeopardy. It was time to leave. We started to sober up as the concert drew to an end. We had lost track of our friends early on, so we hitched a ride the 20 miles back to Boise. We said our goodbyes to the chauffeurs, got in our car, and headed to Taco Bell for some fat and grease to soak up what beer was left in our guts. More than 300 hundred miles of long dark HWY 20 stood between Bend and us. I don’t remember the exact time, but after some tacos we pointed the white rocket west, pressed play on Harry Potter and hit the gas. We made it home safe, and had no troubles with the police. When I woke up the next day I felt odd. It wasn’t regret; we both had a blast. I felt a strange sense of guilt. The kind of guilt that doesn’t come from a poor decision you made, but rather from a decision you were expected to make. The same guilt you felt when you left home and threw out your old toys. The sharp pain when you think about how much you once loved those toys but that you’ll never play with them again. I guess we all sort of feel that way at some point. I did after the show. A guilt that we’re leaving those shows in the past and moving on into the future. Not only that, but I have no idea how much money I spent on the shirt I woke up in. The big black one that says, “Get Fucked.”

Cody Newton is a 24-year-old recent graduate of the University of Oregon. His degree is in Journalism and is currently working as an editorial intern at Willamette Week magazine in Portland, Oregon. He’s won two national journalism awards (Pacemaker Award by the Associated Collegiate Press; Mark of Excellence Award by the Society of Professional Journalists), and was nominated for a Hearst Award. He’s just recently begun to publish his creative fiction and non-fiction. His first creative publication was for a short story contest for The Source in Bend, Oregon. He was the youngest of six writers to win. Cody’s education is in journalism, but his passion is in creative writing. Despite the standards of a dry journalism industry, he’s done his best to try and combine a love of creativity and journalism. He loves the freedom of creative writing and respects the people that do it well. Cody began writing creative fiction and non-fiction when he was 18, but has only recently begun to pin down a unique style. His work varies, but a voice is emerging and he’s excited to see where it’ll take him. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his girlfriend of two years. He has a 12-yearold, one-eyed Welsh Corgi, named Columbo. When he’s not working or writing he likes taking his 1969 Mustang out for joyrides in the country.

Light Years By Brendan McDonnell

“Daddy,” she said, “my eyes are watering.” Scott placed his hand on his daughter’s head. “It’s okay to blink, Honey,” he said. “I promise, I won’t let you miss it.” Yawning, she eased her head back onto her father’s chest with her eyes trained on the night sky. The lawn chair rattled beneath them as she settled in. Stretched out, she did not yet run the length of his torso. “When’ll it happen?” He repeated the explanation he had read in the newspaper: they were about to witness an event that happened a long time ago, miles and miles from here, that they would only experience now. He didn’t know how to explain this to a child. He wasn’t sure he understood it himself. “Soon,” he said. “Will Mommy see it?” When his ex- dropped Chelsea off at his doorstep, he had asked her to take a moment to watch the comet. (He was careful not to ask where she might be, or whom she might be with.) An educational event, he’d called it, that she could discuss with their daughter. He said he wanted to plan more of this sort of thing, that he hoped that they, as mother and father, could work together to share ideas and experiences with Chelsea as she split time between them. “We can do it,” he said. “It’s not too late.”

When he stopped speaking she stood in the doorway, blinking. “I have to go,” she said. Their visit began awkwardly, with Chelsea shy and cautious after a two-week absence. Panicked, he played her favorite DVD, a cartoon she had seen a hundred times. He watched her watch it, saw her lips move softly in time with the dialogue. She eventually joined him on the couch, sitting beside him, then against him, then on him, a transition he allowed to unfold at her pace. He carried her up to the roof in the day’s last light, and as they waited she asked him to braid her hair. He positioned her on his stomach and ran his hands through here hair like he knew what he was doing. And what materials he had to work with! Her hair was fine and soft, with strands of honey, blond, red, and brown flowing like warm water through his fingers. At first his hands felt clumsy in all that down, but after several false starts he settled into a rhythm: over from the left, and over from the right, and over from the left, and over from the right, until he ran out of hair in the square of her back. It took him four tries to get it right, and he was touched and frightened by how easily she submitted to it. “There!” he said, triumphant. They watched the sky together, and talked. As she spoke, he marveled at her tiny nose, that anyone could breathe through something so small.

He could feel her

weight shift with each breath, felt her heartbeat pushing blood through her body. He crossed his arms on her chest, smelled her hair as he kissed the top of her head. He could feel by the rise of her ears that she was yawning. “Is it time?” “Almost.”

She closed her eyes, her face so relaxed it bore no expression at all. “It won’t ever happen again,” he whispered. “What will we do if we miss it?” She yawned again, a gaping child’s yawn. She couldn’t even open her eyes. “Maybe we could go somewhere it hasn’t happened yet,” she said. He was surprised to feel, not pride, or even wonder, but panic. My daughter is smart, he thought. My daughter is growing smarter without me. She would grow more so by the day in her mother’s home, more beautiful, more adult. How could he see this, from ten miles away? How would he share it? He watched her exposed belly expand and shrink with each deep breath, felt the hard-earned braid pressing against his heart. “Honey?” “Mmm?” “Are you awake?” “Mmm-hmm.” “Do you want me to wake you when it happens?” Silence. “Chelsea?” He opens his eyes wide, determined to stay awake. Against the night sky he imagines himself, years from now, climbing the stairs to a city apartment. He sees the tendons on the back of his freckled hand tighten as he grips the banister. He needs this banister, needs it to pull himself up each painful step. And he can’t help noticing that he is climbing those steps alone.

Chelsea will hug him in the doorway. Her husband, taller and darker, will stand an appropriate step back, smiling. She will loop her arm inside her father’s and lead him to the couch as her husband pours the wine. They will talk for hours, and at some point he will remind her of the night they shared an old lawn chair on the roof of a distant apartment. She will tilt her head thoughtfully, trying to remember. He will take this moment to observe the way she casually holds the wineglass with just her fingertips. The tiny laugh lines in the corners of her eyes. Her unconscious tendency to lean toward her husband as he moves around the room. He will tell her then about an event from a long time ago, recreate for her, as best he can, a brief, fantastic moment that flashed across the cosmos and was too quickly, too quickly, past.

Brendan McDonnell lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His stories have appeared in Beginnings, The Griffin and Foliate Oak.

Japanese Art By Sean Crose

The small museum is one he really appreciates. It isn't one of the titans like the Met, the Boston Museum of Art or the Getty. Still, it exists on a prestigious campus and holds an invaluable collection. He likes the quaintness of the place, the quietness. “Where else,” he asks, “can you stand alone in a room with a famous Van Gogh? Or an almost famous Picasso?” She shakes her head and tries to look interested. She's a “team leader” at a large, government subsidized corporation. She makes a lot of money. He takes one last look at a late-era Gauguin, then leads her out of the Post Impressionist exhibit. Next up are the moderns. He's not a fan of the moderns, save for the aforementioned Picasso. She's clearly not a fan, either, though she puts on a game face. “What's that?” she asks as they float through the Abstract American exhibit. “That's a de Kooning.” “What's a de Kooning?” “He was a famous abstract artist.” “I'm guessing he was American.” He nods. “He was American. He was originally from the Netherlands, but he was American.” He makes sure to call the Netherlands the Netherlands rather than Holland when he's in her presence. “Do you like his stuff?” “It's better than Pollack's, I think. You?”

“Pollack was the chocolate syrup guy,” she asks, “right?” “That's one way of putting it.” They laugh. He is pleased. “Are you having fun?” She nods in a way that seems genuine. His heavy flannel shirt, thick black glasses and messy reddish hair don't appear to bother her. Nor does the fact that he makes what little income he earns as an associate professor of philosophy. They enter the Contemporary exhibit. “Freakin' ridiculous,” he snaps. “These aren't pieces of art, they're statements – and not very profound ones.” She suddenly catches herself wondering if Len is still sleeping with Rachel. They walk about in silence. The exhibit consists of things like shovels and hoses hung up on the walls with simple titles like “Shovel #1,” or “Hose.” As they meander about, he fights to keep his cool amongst the garbage posing as art. She, on the other hand, fights to keep her mind off Len. Len, the hedge fund prodigy, who, she figures, is probably across campus at this moment, doing lines at a tailgate party. “Well,” he says finally, “maybe we should make our way downstairs. There's a cool new Japanese exhibit down there.” “Eh...” “Oh, come on. You'll like it. Japanese art's different than the western stuff.” “It's not that.” “Van Gogh was influenced by Japanese prints, you know.” “Look,” she says with finality, “I've really got to go. I didn't know the building was this big. I'm late as it is.” She heads towards the exit sign at the other end of the exhibit. He thinks of asking if he can call her, but instantly realizes what a foolish question that would be.

Less than a minute later she's out the building and on the sidewalk. She can hear the crowd roaring at the stadium across campus. Back in the museum, he makes his way down to the Japanese exhibit, replete with heavy flannel shirt, thick black glasses and messy reddish hair. He pauses on the stairs and wonders if he should have told her about the time he was a varsity wrestler at the University of Arizona, back in the days when they compared him to Dan St. John. After a moment, though, he realizes it's for the best he didn't.

Sean Crose's work has appeared in Breakwater, 6 Tales Magazine, Fiction365 and The Cheshire Patch. He is a graduate of the Act One Writing For Hollywood program and has been a finalist for the McFarland Screenwriting Fellowship. Having recently completed work on his maters degree, he now teaches middle schoolers how to read and write (fairly) well. He resides in Connecticut with his wife, Jennifer, and Cody, “the world's greatest cat.�

Drive-bys By Maui Holcomb

“Come on, dude! Just need a few drive-bys and exterior montage shots,” said Pat, basically whining now. “Drive me around for ONE hour, and I’ll be able to wrap up a rough cut on this baby.” Adam flipped his loose sandy hair and grunted, hefting bound periodicals onto a top shelf. This was as much exercise as he got these days, and he liked to think he chose the bulkiest books when he loaded his re-shelving cart for each shift. Three years into the job he must’ve touched nearly every book in the library, and now, with a few months left in his final year at Vesta College, this was his sole source of cash, summer job earnings long gone for pizza, beer and weed. He wore a faded blue t-shirt, which stretched across his gut tighter these days than across his still-somewhat-toned (as a lapsed-athlete) chest and shoulders. Exhaling, he cracked his neck and drummed his stomach. “Gotta study. And my tank’s on empty anyway.” Canvas sneakers squeaked against the pale red marble floor as he rolled to the next aisle. Behind him, Pat took off his cap and rearranged his blonde dreadlocks, twisting and snapping the rubber band that held them back. Perched on the edge of a desk, legs swinging, a black vinyl camera bag hung from his shoulder, and earmuff headphones encircled his neck. He peered at a clock down the hall and chewed his fingernails for a moment, then hopped to the floor and followed Adam. They had reached the angle made by the two wings of the T-shaped building and, accounting for

the bookshelves, could see most of the third floor from this spot. It was a highceilinged room, shelves disappearing left and right, rectangular banks of fluorescent lights matching them beat for beat on the ceiling, and a long open concourse spreading ahead in the third direction toward still more shelves at the other end. Students pecked keyboards and flipped pages at the tables and desks that lined the walls and were tucked into every nook among the stacks. Fall semester finals loomed. “Studying with Jess?” Pat asked while settling on another desk and lazily surveying the multitude, his natty suede shoes notched in the ribs of the chair. “Nope.” “Still not talking to you?” “Nope.” Adam had planned to move in with his girlfriend Jessica after they graduated in May, relax in town, wait tables, just chill for awhile, but now things were up in the air, since she’d told him to Fuck Off shortly after returning from Fall Break. He didn’t know if he should hang around town to try to win her back, or move to Hollywood with Pat to work on movies. Or, least appealing option, head home and search for work with his parents hovering around. Pat reached inside the camera bag. “What’s this you have to study so bad?” he asked, pulling out a crisp plastic bag of dope and glancing up and down the aisles. Adam hesitated, watching Pat hunch over to pack the bowl. “Uh, well, just got to work on this paper,” he said. “You know, for seminar.”

Pat looked up, eyes wide, fingers still working the herb. The skunky taste floated over and Adam’s leg, propped on the cart, began to bounce in anticipation. “Dude, come on,” Pat said. “That shit’s not due for months.” Adam rolled his lips as his buddy stepped close to slip him the pipe and a red plastic lighter. Glancing around, he ducked behind the cart to spark the flame. Pulled in hard, throat burning. He passed the weed back, choked back a cough, and slid the last volume into its proper spot on the shelf. Blowing the smoke out among rows of The Journal of Dental Hygiene, he felt urgency begin to melt away. Why was he so worried about it anyway? Besides a couple of easy spring classes, senior seminar was all he had left for his degree. Plenty of time remained to finish, and all he had to do was turn it in - no masterpiece necessary. And, as Pat reminded him, he had promised at some vague point in the past to do some driving for this movie. He shrugged and took another hit. “Fill my tank,” Adam said. “Halfway,” Pat insisted. He waggled his brow and shook the plastic baggie. “And I’ll get tacos.” Adam squinted and pretended to think for a moment. “Alright, but only an hour. Then I really have to work.” Pat grinned, clicked his tongue and hopped off the desk. “I’ll meet you by the car in ten,” he said, snatching back the pipe, and hurried down the hall. Adam gaped helplessly, thinking he could’ve used another. Instead, he pushed the empty cart the other direction towards the elevators, which stood on the far side of a skyway crossing over the road to the library parking lot. The skyway was walled with glass, and as he waited for the lift, Adam looked out

over the scattered lights and trees of campus. Vesta College, a smallish liberal arts school, rested on a gentle slope in the middle of the affluent town of Palomar, at the base of the snowcapped San Gabriel Mountains in Eastern LA County. South of the town, visible beyond the brightly lit river of I-10, the vast basin stretched for a dozen grimy flat miles through the grittier metropolis of Nelson City, the historic anchor to this end of the county.

The bigger city’s streets and moderately tall skyscrapers

glittered and pulsed. Rolling orange hills looming in the distance, on the far side of the valley, caught the last beams of daylight before the sun dropped into the Pacific. DING! The doors opened, and a pair of cute freshman girls glanced at Adam and breezed towards a study room. Adam stepped onto the elevator with the cart, turning back to catch a glimpse of their skirts and ankles before the doors slid shut. It seemed ages already since his first year. He and Jessica had met early in those first crazy weeks of freedom.

Adam had stood, shy and awkward, in a courtyard in the middle of three closely built dorm towers that rose around a Saturday night keg party.

A punk band

screamed and gyrated against the opposite wall, the music reverberating in the courtyard. Being a school-sanctioned party, security guards had checked their I.D. and distributed orange wristbands. Adam and his underage friends, buzzed from the beer they’d pounded in the room before heading out but now dry-mouthed, tried to ignore the older students standing in line at the kegs. A small group of women from the adjacent women’s college idled close by the guys. The anxious strangers glanced and smiled at each other nervously at first, but a shorter-haired Pat had already proven himself the most daring of his friends, and he began chatting the girls up, concentrating on a striking blonde with flushed cheeks.

“So, did you go to an all-girls high school, too, or were you just looking for a change?” he asked, scratching his chin thoughtfully. “Cuz I see you’re not exactly avoiding the dudes now you’re here.” Adam caught the eye of the brown-eyed girl he’d just been introduced to but whose name he hadn’t caught, Jenna or Melissa or some such, her bushy hair held back in a ball with a paisley headband, and arched his eyebrows in a “he’s not with me” expression. She had an easy grin and floppy sandals. A door next to them cracked open, and a hand started passing out Jell-o shots. The mixed group closed in, whooping and giggling. The girl with the floppy sandals stepped over to hand Adam a shot and got bumped by a teetering partier. Adam caught himself awkwardly as she fell against him, the towers tilting above, and the Jell-o squelched across his face like a sloppy kiss. For a moment he inhaled vodka and soft breasts, clumps of sour cherry sliding off his face, then she fell back laughing.

This time of year the searing Santa Ana winds blew down into southern California, and the baking evening air enveloped Adam as he stepped out to the parking lot. Pat gnawed his fingernails and leaned against Adam’s little blue wagon. “Pretty much over for you two, then?” he said. “I don’t know,” Adam said, unlocking the car doors. Pat looked at him sideways, grinning, as they settled deep into the sheepskincovered seats. “ regret...?” Adam sighed and pulled out from the parking lot. Pat chuckled. “Maybe it was meant to be,” he said. together, y’know?”

“I mean, you guys were ALWAYS

Adam didn’t answer. The library and its pampered green lawn receded behind them as the street turned south, lined by mammoth eucalyptuses and a wrought iron fence roped with vines of scarlet bougainvilleas, papery bracts spilling onto the sidewalk. Pat was right, of course. For nearly three years Adam and Jess had practically lived together, neglecting their other friends.

They’d latched onto one another,

addicted to couple-hood. They studied together, played house together. Mostly kind to each other, they fought, too, and disorienting jealousy sprouted for them both. Adam sometimes felt stifled, and she often said they didn’t have the same values; the implication that hers were superior insulted him. But they stayed together for some reason; it was easier, and they let the good times cloud their memories of the bad. Now it had all gone to crap, due entirely to him.

A few weeks earlier, at the start of the extended weekend that broke up the semester, he’d cashed the clutch of savings bonds from his grandmother and bought his first car, then arrived on campus early while Jessica camped with the girls. It felt good to be on the scene uninhibited, reconnecting with the guys, and he relished finally being the one with the car. Standing to one side at a house party, he hadn’t noticed Jessica’s perky friend Abby talking to him. Music vibrated the walls of the sparsely furnished house, and he rocked on his heels, beer in hand, taking in the crowd through blood-shot eyes. “ADAM,” she yelled a second time, grinning up at him. “Oh, hi.” “You’re all alone tonight,” she said, flicking silky black hair off her shoulder.

“Not any more,” he replied, smiling. She laughed and touched his arm. He’d never cheated on Jess before, but he fell into it like he’d planned it all along, knowing Jessica would probably find out, knowing they’d be over, hoping maybe they wouldn’t, depressed and relieved that they probably would.

As they drove, Pat lit a fat sausage of a joint and puffed quickly several times, thick white smoke curling away to rush out the cracked window, then passed it to Adam. They cruised by stucco-coated dorms and students strolling towards town. Ivy-encrusted academic buildings squatted on the quad, connected by walking paths and trimmed hedges. “Going to Hassan’s party Friday?” Pat asked as he fiddled with a small video camera. Adam grimaced. “I’m just sick of this place,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s always the same shit, week after week. I’m ready to get out. Get on with life, you know?” Pat looked at him, smirking. “You sound like a bitter old man,” he said. Adam shrugged. “I’m tired of this place. Tired of classes, the games... I need a break.” It was Pat’s turn to shrug.

“I’m telling you, man. Hollywood,” Pat said. “Get a job in da bidness for the summer.” “Maybe.” “This movie is our ticket, dude,” Pat said, tapping his camera and nodding earnestly. “I’m telling you. We finish this baby up and then find financing in town to do it right.” They left campus, driving along the quiet streets of the town. Low, well-kept bungalows soon gave way to small shops and slanted parking spaces. Black retro street lamps lit couples and students ambling along Main Street, looking into shop windows and lounging at sidewalk cafes. If they did make up, if he stayed in town with Jessica, this would be his life for the summer, but now it seemed too sterile and cute. They headed south, and beyond a leafy park with a baseball diamond and bright plastic play equipment the eucalyptuses came to an end, and the road ducked under the thundering eight-lane freeway.

As usual, a patrol car from Palomar’s well-

appointed police force lingered at the border to keep an eye on any riff-raff entering from Nelson City. Adam and Pat barely scored a glance from the cop as they went by, but on the return trip he’d give them the once-over for sure. A block beyond the freeway, Adam turned onto a swift-moving neon billboard avenue. Fast food restaurants and strip malls replaced the bistros and historic drug stores of Palomar. Streetlights flashed above them, holding the shadows at bay. Pat leaned out the window and recorded the buildings as they drove. The car’s old speakers strained with a thumping metallic beat. They passed grungy bars, hole-in-the-wall taquerias and beaten-down grocery stores, beer logos blinking through barred windows. An old man in several layers of tattered clothing

pushed a loaded shopping cart along the sidewalk, bags of recyclables dangling from the sides. Pat recorded it all, muttering about all the good stuff. Dual squadrons of hundred foot palms marched ahead on either side towards shimmering Taco Bell and Exxon signs, sitting like beacons on either side of the avenue a half-mile or so ahead. Both Adam’s tank and his car’s were now definitely on empty, and his stomach growled in anticipation. But Pat motioned to pull over. “Okay, now shoot some of me behind the wheel,” said Pat. “Uhhh...” “Come on, dude,” said Pat, already climbing out of the car. “Relax. Just aim the camera at me and I’ll do a few lines, then we’ll get that grub, okay?” Adam sighed and climbed over to the passenger seat.

Pat turned his cap

forward and re-lit the joint as he sat down. Adam leaned against the door to frame the shot and Pat gunned the engine and jerked into the road, grinding the clutch. “Sorry,” Pat said with a crooked smile. Adam gave the thumbs-up and pushed record, and Pat peered around the street as if searching for something. “Yes, General,” he said into the phone, and then paused. “No, we haven’t found the fugitive yet.” He paused again, and Adam glanced from him to the LCD screen. “Uh...yes, sir, I understand,” Pat continued, pretending to listen again. He snorted out his nose forcefully.

“Now, you listen to ME, General!” he said, angrily pounding the wheel. “I’m not one of your grunts, and you can’t order me around. I’m doing this for my own reasons, and we’ll do it MY WAY!” Pat fought down a smirk but then spun around in his seat to look back. “What the...” he said, dropping the phone in his lap. “Fight!” It took Adam a moment to realize Pat wasn’t acting anymore. “What?” he lowered the camera, and Pat spun the car around, tires screeching, and sped back the other way. “Hey, watch it,” Adam said, grabbing the dash. Pat flicked the doobie out the window and hunched over the wheel. “This is PERFECT, man! THIS is why we came here.” A shattering crash broke through the music, and Adam saw what he meant. Glittering splinters of glass bounced on the sidewalk and a storefront disgorged tussling and grappling figures. A white sign read Pool Hall, and long thin sticks flashed in the streetlight. Pat pulled to the curb a few doors down. “Come on! Let’s get this!” “Wait!” Adam ran after him, barely shutting the door. Several people ran past them, fleeing the fight, but Pat’s eyes blazed with glee. Adam fumbled with the camera. He lacked Pat’s blind confidence, not sure that a bunch of pissed-off drunks would be cool with getting taped. “Here,” he said, thrusting the camera at Pat. “You take it.” Pat shrugged. “Sure. Just watch my back.”

Ahead, several patrons exchanged punches on the sidewalk in front of the building. Two skinny guys in wife-beaters and shaved heads, all burning eyes and twisted mouths, whacked at a third with their sticks. Bigger than his adversaries, wearing a drenched plaid shirt, the third man gave a roar, covered his head and swung a broken beer bottle at their flanks. A huge man in a black nylon jacket and a hat that read SECURITY pushed two more sopping wet guys down the street. Pat pumped his fist as he captured the bouncer throwing them against a parked car. “This is great, dude!” Pat exclaimed. Adam wasn’t so sure. A wiry character in the doorway of the club, dishrag flung over his shoulder, eyed them from the other side of the scrap. Adam didn’t intend to push this reality thing too far, and felt the calmer confines of campus tugging at him. The bouncer swaggered back to the fray, huge cannons of arms swinging. The skinheads turned to avoid him, and Plaid Shirt connected with his broken bottle, prompting a howl of rage from the taller of the wife-beaters. “You’re DEAD! You are SO DEAD!” the guy screamed while holding his side, swinging back to the man and whacking him one-handed with the cue. “BACK OFF MOTHER FUCKER!” his smaller but well-muscled friend yelled at the bouncer, and, tossing his stick aside, launched himself at the guard, who fell back in surprise. The cue crashed through a car window like a spear, and Adam looked back to his car instinctively. He yelped. “PAT!” he yelled. “My car!” The doors on his little blue car swung shut and the tires smoked as it screeched and fishtailed away.

Adam turned back to Pat, whose face registered surprise.

Perhaps not at Adam’s disappearing vehicle but at the hand that had enclosed around

his neck.

The sharp-eyed dishrag-toting guy held Pat aside with one hand and

knocked the camera to the ground with his other. It bounced on the ground, sparkling in the street light. “Whoa-oa,” Pat croaked. Adam turned and ran after the car. It swerved and scraped against a parked van, and Adam winced as his feet slapped the pavement. He could feel the car’s pain in his own side. He could just make out the taillights several blocks ahead as the car squealed around the corner. The stifling hot air rushed past his head as he ran faster than he had in years, dodging the old man with the shopping cart and vaulting curbs. Rounding the corner where he’d seen the car vanish, he looked round wildly, hoping to see it stalled ahead of him. Nothing. No sign of it or anyone, on that block or the next. He gasped for breath and kicked the curb.

A short time later they sat at a window table beneath brightly buzzing lights. Adam bit into a doughnut and stared past their faceless reflections as Pat spoke on his phone. Outside, an unwashed young man stood thumb-out next to a freeway sign with a piece of cardboard reading Beach. Above their heads a sign in the window flickered Texas Donuts in orange neon. Pat had found only a couple of bucks in his wallet, so even tacos were out of reach. The camera, scraped and cracked, rested against the plate glass.

Gingerly fingering the purpling skin around his eye, Pat

flipped his phone shut. “Ride’s on the way.”

Adam glanced around the shop. A woman in sweats doled out doughnut holes to her toddlers; several workmen sat at a four-top; and a grizzled old man sipped from a coffee cup and stared out the window, stubby cigarette jittery between two fingers. The first time Adam had been here, he suddenly realized, Jessica had sat across from him, at maybe this very table. He looked over at Pat’s scratched, scraggly face, the shorter kinks sticking out from beneath his cockeyed cap. “What?” said Pat, palms up. “Look, they couldn’t have gotten far. I’m telling you, the cops’ll find it.” Adam bit into his doughnut and looked over his friend’s shoulder. Pat always got giddy when he was in a daze, and Adam could tell he was avoiding the sight of his damaged camera. “And I’ll find somewhere to cut that fight into the movie,” Pat added, nodding as he glanced around. “Got some good stuff. Real life, dude.”

Maui Holcomb grew up in the Northwest and currently lives and writes in Burbank, California. He attended Pomona College in the 90's and works in the lower echelons of the film industry attempting to make movies sound good. Previously published in Hobo Pancakes, The Cynic Online Magazine, and Stirring, he spends his free time cleaning up after two rapidly growing children.

City Range By A.V. Boyd

Their guns were bigger and they knew what to do. I did not own a gun, strictly speaking. The camouflaged .243 was my girlfriend's new rifle. It was her brother's, actually. She didn't know what to do either. But we finally figured it out. Then the damned thing jammed. The range officer came over. "What's the problem?" "Oh, nothing." "Yea?" Then the damned thing fired.

AV Boyd was raised in Peralta, New Mexico - an obsessive basketball player good enough to sit the bench in high school and then again his freshman year at Knox College, IL. After two years, he returned to Albuquerque where he completed a degree in pharmacy at The University of New Mexico, then traveled to Richmond, VA for graduate school. He decided there was not enough time for his true passion, writing, and moved home where he now writes full-time and supports himself part-time as a hospital pharmacist. He currently resides in Los Ranchos, NM with his girlfriend and their cat, Freddi, his editor.

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Profile for Kerri Foley

Crack the Spine - Issue 24  

Literary Magazine

Crack the Spine - Issue 24  

Literary Magazine