Crack the Spine Literary magazine
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Issue 100 January 29, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine
Cover & Interior Artwork by Addison "Here today, gone tomorrow... Will wonders ever cease?"
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Crack the Spine Literary Magazine has been a labor of love, right from the very beginning. Producing a weekly magazine in the literary genre has been called many things: “ambitious,” “daring,” “downright insane.” But what we call it is simply “necessary.” As technology propels the careers of aspiring writers with unprecedented speed, editors and artists struggle to keep up. Our weekly format was designed to keep our audience, voice, and reach ever-present and ever-fresh. Now, as we present the 100th issue of our digital magazine, we are looking back with unrestrained pride. We have published work by award winning authors, up-and-coming undergrads, and everything in between. We have kept our commitment to allow the merit of the poems and stories we receive to be our first and most essential guide. And even as we pause to celebrate this milestone moment, we are already looking to the future. Our commitment to publish quality poetry and prose is stronger today than it has ever been. We thank all the contributors to Crack the Spine – you are kind and talented souls who have shared your words and art with the world and for that, we are truly grateful. May our writers keep writing, our readers keep reading, and may the independent literary community stay strong. Cheers! Kerri Farrell Foley Managing Editor, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine
A very special thank-you to the people who donated to our 2013 fundraising campaign! Bless you all for your contributions and for helping us to keep going and growing. James Reynolds Molly Bonovsky Anerson Pithead Chapel Travis Sharp
CONTENTS Kimberly Lojewski How to Get Rid of a Ghost (and Other Lessons from Camp Pispogutt)
Mike Finley Grief Plan The Money
Rosa del Duca Boxing
Michael Emery From the Ides of March to Mayday 2012
Chiara DeLuna Tennessee Blix
Erik Bendix Time is Money
Donald Bagley A Harder Wood
Cathy Allman The Night Before the First Frost
Caroline Brucker Entirely Without Regret
Fiona Marshall Childrenâ€™s Glitter Ball Knowing You
Adam Zobel His Own Strength
Sri Wele Cebuda On India
Diane Simkin Outside Fractals
Kimberly Lojewski How to Get Rid of a Ghost (and Other Lessons from Camp Pispogutt) It’s
lucky that Pispogutt rhymes
with lots of things. I have the campers close their eyes and make up poems while I hide Russian nesting dolls around the perimeter of the nature cabin. There’s a red cardinal that I bought on clearance at a craft store that counts as extra points for whoever finds it first. The game isn’t over until every nesting doll has been rescued from makeshift shelters of moss and slippery elm bark. Sometimes I throw other wild cards into the treasure hunt. Indian pipes. Forget-me-nots. Hemlock sprigs. This is my fall back exercise for when I’m too hung over to think up anything original. Which is nearly every day. I try not to talk to my ghost in front of other people. This morning I don’t even want to look at her. She kept me up nearly all night with the clickety-clack of
her silver knitting needles. I know she’s pissed about being ignored, because when I take the children out to the fire circle to practice building fires she keeps blowing out the tiny flames. The campers get so discouraged that I leave them alone long enough to sneak inside the cabin for a quick slug of vodka. “You’ve got a drinking problem,” my ghost says, materializing in the doorway. The air between us turns frosty. “There’s little kids playing with fire unchaperoned out there.” “You’re my drinking problem.” I tell her. I’ve dribbled a little down my shirt, which bears the proud Camp Pispogutt logo in a bright, hopeful canary yellow. Just beneath it is a rising sun. She laughs. Wind chimes tinkling in the breeze. “Tell it to a therapist,” she says. “Or better yet, explain it to your boss.”
My boss is a large, formerlyJewish, recently-converted Zen Buddhist called Bear. He has a five year plan to turn Camp Pispogutt into a mindfulness meditation retreat for families. I know this because he showed me his dream manifestation board during my initial interview. It features a collage that includes pictures of the rustic six-acre camp, magazine cut-outs from different five-star resorts, and pasted in snippets of Buddhist prayer and meditation. At our camp training, he had Doshinji monks come down from the Catskills and stay a weekend with us so we could all learn how to be attuned to our surroundings. Most of them had names like Brother Sun and Sister Smile. They took us on a lot of slow walks through the forest. “Imagine your feet are kissing the earth with each step,”
Brother Sun would say. I staggered along, drunk as a lord, wondering why the monks couldn’t see my ghost. On the last day of their visit I broke down on a yoga mat to Brother Sun. I guess confessing to monks is something like confessing to priests. Brother Sun never said anything to Bear about our discussion. I begged for help, but he was a kind wall of brownrobed detachment. “You need to clear your mind of impurities,” he said, solemn faced and serious. “There is energy. There is the spirit. We create personal versions of this.” It was the first and only time I mentioned my ghost to another person. Of course, she heard the whole thing. She was furious. She didn’t speak to me for days afterwards. Silent treatment from a ghost doesn’t sound bad, but it is. It’s nerve-wracking. Quiet haunting is the most unpredictable.
ahead, Regan, try it,” she
says now. “Spill the beans and see who believes you.” She’s still laughing. She pulls herself up into the tall branches of a maple tree and twirls around. I go back outside just in time. One of the younger kids has figured out how to get a pile of leaves to smolder with a magnifying glass and a shard of sunlight. My ghost especially loves the nature cabin. It’s full of the husks of dead things. Butterflies, beetles, bird nests, old skulls and vertebrae of all sorts of animals from mice, to muskrats, to giant elk. It’s a bone yard of the living, breathing forest outside. I teach the campers about our surroundings by tracing outward from what’s left behind. We never talk about it, but I think she is drawn to the bones because hers were never found. On good days my ghost sits on the splintery counters following along with the lessons with some interest. On the bad days, like today, she torments me and plays pranks on the campers. It leaves me feeling dismal and down.
Even later that afternoon when I’ve got a pretty strong buzz and a group of campers spots a nest with perfect sky-blue robin’s eggs in it, I still have to pretend to be thrilled. I hardly notice the colors or the teacup china quality to the eggs. Instead I’m glaring at my ghost who is tying two campers’ shoelaces together. In life we weren’t like this. In life we were friends.
Ghosts aside, I’m not a very good employee. In between groups of children I swig heartily from a water bottle full of vodka in my backpack, smoke cigarettes behind my cabin, and pop Xanax and breath mints like candy. I give myself regular rubdowns with insect repellent and hand sanitizer to cover the scent. Perfume would be too suspicious around here. I do my best not to sweat. Not an easy task outdoors in the summer. I try to come up with low energy, nature-oriented tasks for the campers. We harvest a lot of butterfly eggs. Once we’ve ravaged the milkweed
supply on one side of the tennis courts, we move on to catching newts and salamanders. “Finally,” she says, hanging upside down from a tree branch as we turn over logs and splash through streams. “I am so sick of watching you scrape eggs with plastic spoons. At least these things move.” Her blond hair dangles down in baby fine wisps that snake out to taste the spicy forest air. I want to tell her she doesn’t have to hang around and watch all the time. But I can’t yell at her in front of the campers. “Please,” I hiss. “Please go away.” I turn my attention to a little girl who’s balanced on a rotten log. There are living things that need my help right now. I blame a lot on her. Things happen. Things that seem like omens, or something worse. Someone puts tadpoles in the Kool-aid. I find a hognose snake in the cabin, mistake it for a copperhead, and sever its head with a shovel in front of some
campers before realizing my error. Juniper, the much beloved, injured flying squirrel we’re taking care of, gives birth and eats her own kits. I find the nest full of blood and tiny, transparent limbs in the morning. Birds fly into the screened windows, batting their beaks against the wire mesh, poking holes for swarms of mosquitoes to fly in. I take the campers wading through a pond to catch bullfrogs and we all end up covered in leeches that crawl quickly up under our pants and above our knees. This results in a Bacchalian display of frenzied nudity in the forest. I can’t prove she’s behind it, but I think she is. She rolls on the banks laughing as I pull slimy parasites from pale, white, quivering adolescent thighs. One day there is a thunderstorm so fierce that we all have to crowd inside the small, rickety cabin. In the pitching shadows and rumbling darkness of the storm it feels like we’re in a ship. My ghost crawls around the ceiling knocking mice nests from
the rafters onto our heads. The kids scream. They panic. They jostle terrariums full of newts and spiders. I have to radio down to the main office for extra counselor backup. She looks pleased at my inability to handle the situation. “You’re an asshole,” I say. We glare at each other. In life we weren’t like this. In life we were friends. Bear sends up one of the lifeguards who takes in the scene with some horror. I have the five and six year olds this afternoon. Stuck in the nature cabin with me and a ghost during a thunderstorm they’re a small herd of stampeding cattle. They squash newts and trample bird bones. I can’t blame them. She’s breathing on the backs of their necks. The whites of their eyes roll around with terror. “Christ, Regan,” the lifeguard says, even though we aren’t supposed to curse on camp property. His name is Bay and he’s worked here for a few summers now. A lot of the staff
began as former counselors. They’re a tight click. No room for a girl and her ghost. “It’s like the Little Shop of Horrors in here. Let’s just take them down to the mess hall and wait out the worst of it.” The mess hall is through a patch of forest, across the tennis courts, and down a large hill. It has a tin roof. It’s not the safest place to shelter a thunderstorm, but I don’t argue with him. It’s a giant, open air pavilion with plenty of benches and no specimen jars or poisonous animals. We do a head count, pair the kids up, and Bay takes the front while I hold up the rear of the line. My ghost trails through the rain after us, laughing at the thunder and holding her palms up towards the sky. I’m not surprised to see her behind me. She follows me everywhere. In life she wasn’t like this. Dying has given her some kind of dark edge that makes her unpredictable and terribly codependent. Her mood swings are mercurial. I can’t trust them. I
can’t trust her. This is mostly because of the nets she makes at night when she thinks I am sleeping. I’m pretty sure she is planning on suffocating me.
got circles under your
eyes,” Bay says. The kids have calmed down now. A few of the smaller ones who are scared of thunder huddle against us, but for the most part it’s turned into an adventure for them. Bay is tall and strong and brings an aura of lifeguard safety wherever he goes. The campers run around the picnic tables playing tag. “Really, you look like shit,” he says, ear-muffing the little boy beside him. “Maybe you should move back into the cabins. And definitely get checked out by the nurse.” We’re sitting on the top of a picnic table. The spray of cold rain bounces off the grass and mists over us. She’s dancing out there. Spinning in circles, her thin dress stuck to her body. Delighting in the heavy thunder cracks and
white flashes that zigzag over the trees. There’s nothing a nurse can do for me. “I’m fine,” I say. “I like sleeping out in the open. Those cabins make me claustrophobic.” All of the other specialists and instructors share cabins. The counselors sleep with the campers. I stay in my own tent at the edge of Beaver Pond, even though I don’t like beavers. It’s isolated from the rest of the camp and hidden from view by Big Poppa, a giant rocky precipice that is off limits to the campers. Bear agreed to this because I told him it was part of my solitary journey to attain spiritual enlightenment. Really, I need a few hours where I can stop pretending. Pretending my dead friend isn’t following my every move. Pretending I don’t need a lot of liquor to make it manageable. Pretending I’m not falling apart. In the evenings, after camp lessons are over, Bay and the others sit out by the lake and socialize and tell each other
stories about their days. They have nicknames for everyone. The kids. The directors. I don’t know what they are. “Do I have a nickname?” I ask. He makes a face. “A nickname? No but you should.” “Dances with Salamanders,” I say. “Swims with Muskrats.” “Flies with Bats.” “Travels with Ghost.” She’s beside me suddenly, her dress transparent on her skin. Raindrops hanging off her eyelashes. “Say it,” she urges, her lips curved into a half moon that really isn’t a smile at all. Just a half moon. “Say Travels with Ghost.” She leans across me and holds her face so close to Bay’s that their noses almost touch. “That’s why she doesn’t sleep in the cabins. Because she has me.” If Bay could see her he would be awestruck. When she was alive she was stunning. As a ghost she is magnificent. All glowing and golden and long-limbed. Ethereal. At least that’s the way
she looks when she knows I am watching her. Sometimes at night I see her drawn up in the corners of my tent like a crouching spider. She’s taken to knitting as soon as I get in my sleeping bag. I usually pull up the drawstrings around my head and count fireflies blinking on the thin shell of the tent outside. Bullfrogs chorus around the lake. Water laps at the rocky shore. It still takes me at least a half a pint of whiskey before I can fall asleep to the clicking rhythm of her gleaming ghost needles. Even though he doesn’t see or hear her, Bay shivers and rubs at the gooseflesh spreading across his arms. “I think you’re becoming feral,” he says. “You’re spending too much time with children and wild animals.” “She’s a drunk,” my ghost informs him. “You should try being around a group of your peers.” He smiles. “It really doesn’t hurt.” “Says Mr. Lifeguard,” she says with a sigh. “Do you want me to tell you how many of the
counselors he’s slept with? You’re killing me, Regan. You used to be smart and fun.” She launches herself away from us and back into the grass doing cartwheels and backhand springs. “I’m fun,” I tell Bay, conversationally. “Last week I made up a song about a butterfly named Omoscis who drinks nectar with his proboscis. The campers loved it.”
the third week of camp, I’m
getting awfully paranoid. I’ve become convinced she can hear my thoughts. Most of them revolve around her and how to make her go away. I’m also worried that the old man who works at the liquor store in the nearby town, where Bear sends me to get supplies, is going to squeal about how much vodka I buy every week. These hill towns are small. Every time I get radioed to come down to the main office, I’m sure someone will notice that I’m drunk. Or question my liquor store purchases.
I dispose of the evidence by burning cigarette butts and plastic liquor bottles. I transfer most of my stash into water bottles before I return to camp. I am bug-sprayed and sanitized to the point that my flesh should be peeling off. “You’re a regular crime scene,” my ghost says. I also swim a lot. I like Bay and I like the smell of lake water drying on my skin. There are lots of salamanders down by the lifeguard station so I have a hardy stock of them in rows of aquariums in the nature cabin. Some have laid eggs. We observe their different life cycles: me, my campers, and my ghost. “They’re the only animal in the world that goes from aquatic to terrestrial and back to aquatic again. That means that they have gills first, and then grow lungs and feet. They live on land for up to eight years, traveling far and wide, before switching back to gills, shrinking their legs, and returning into the water as salamanders. Some newts even
do this several times.” I wow them appropriately by sticking my hand in a terrarium and pulling out a squirming, juvenile red-eft newt, neonorange with soft, poisonous skin. The kind that are abundant in this early, wet part of summer. The kids ooh and ahh and my ghost entertains herself by keeping the feathers that are tied to the rafters spinning overhead. She’s already heard this spiel half a dozen times today. She’s seen a couple handfuls of newts. We move on to the salamanders. I pull one out of the tank and it flops around in my hands. There is something about their eyes. They look blind in their aquatic stage. They creep the kids out a little and I understand why. It’s hard to trust something that changes so completely that it becomes an entirely different animal. They gaze at the salamander tanks with interest, but no one ever wants to hold them. “So how do they do it?” my ghost asks after the kids have
gone. I’ve stoked the firepit outside the cabin and I’m grilling a burger. I don’t eat a lot these days. My curves are trimmed away, leaving hollows in my cheeks and making caverns of my clavicles. “Do what?” I take another gulp of my vodka water bottle and squint at her through the smoke. She doesn’t disappear. Instead she lights the tips of her fingers on fire and blows them out carefully. My stomach lurches. I abandon the burger. “How do they change back and forth like that? From newt to salamander.” “Magic,” I tell her. I don’t know how they do it. I’m a pretty crap nature specialist even without the alcoholism. Bear didn’t hire me for my qualifications. He hired me because I told him about the accident. After she died I knew I didn’t want to waste anymore of my life. I quit my bartending job to find something meaningful and fulfilling. I wanted to influence
and change lives. I wanted to work at Camp Pispogutt. “I don’t invest in things, I invest in people,” he’d said after my speech, clasping me in a hug that explained his name. “There’s a reason you found me. Welcome aboard, Regan.” That was the night my ghost showed up. She was sitting crosslegged in the middle of my bedroom when I got home, examining a stack of her own records that her parents had insisted I keep. I had packed her clothes away in giant lawn and leaf bags to bring to a donation center. They were unpacked and strewn around my room in a violent explosion of patterns and colors. It was exactly three weeks after she’d died. It was the first step I’d taken away from her.
my day off, I drive to the
closest library that has wifi. The main office at camp has a computer, but I don’t want anyone to see what I’m researching. “Where are we going?” she
asks? Her hair is a puff of silk out the open window. Her profile is perfect. She chain smokes along with me, blowing smoke rings into the shapes of animals that skate off into the sky. Her knitting bag is on the passenger-side floor beneath her feet. I turn up the music and drive fast along the country roads. There’s no easy way to do this. At the library, I browse through the books for a while. It’s a small town library. I don’t expect to find anything I’m looking for, but I take a few manuals about regional edible plants and wild animals. “You’ve already researched that stuff,” she comments. She wanders off to look in the art section. In life she loved to paint. It must not have stuck, because she’s back in a flash, looking over my shoulder at the computer screen as I type HOW TO GET RID OF A GHOST. The good thing about becoming a full blown alcoholic is that I have a water bottle in my purse at the ready. I can get drunk anywhere. The
warmth that settles over my insides as I read doesn’t stop me from noticing that she’s crying, but it makes me feel a little less. The Universal Psychic Guild is no help at all. What I’m dealing with is beyond a poltergeist. It’s a full blown incarnation of my best friend. Most of what I find online is fairly unhelpful. I read the signs of supernatural interference: hearing voices, objects appearing or disappearing, electronics turning on and off by themselves, hallucinations, feelings of being watched, animals acting strangely, a sudden urge to overeat, drink, smoke, or do drugs, and nightmares. All understatements. But then, I never doubted I was haunted anyways. My ghost reads the next steps out loud as I scan them: 1) Identify the energy. Higher level guides are not abusive or negative. If your ghost is a loved one who died, realize that it’s better for both of you if they go to the Light. 2) Sometimes ghosts don’t
realize they’re dead or being bothersome. Therefore, firmly yet calmly explain out loud that he or she is dead, and it’s time to move on to the Light (point upwards). Make sure you are sober and centered during this process or you’ll open yourself up to the risk of possession. 3) If the energy does not want to leave, call in God, guides of the Light, and for tougher cases, archangels Michael and Sandalphon for assistance in guiding the lost soul(s) to the Light.
leave the library in silence.
Inside the car I say, “Listen, it’s not because I don’t want you to be here.” She doesn’t answer me. Her face is tear-streaked and looks like thunder. I want to feel sorry for her, but I know what she wants. She wants my body. She wants my bones. “It’s not right,” I say. I’m dressed in her clothes. Waify, fluttery garments that she snuck into the suitcase I took to camp.
She replaced all of my things with her own. When I look in the mirror I hardly see myself anymore. “You aren’t supposed to be here.” “You’re so selfish, Regan,” she says. Her eyes are solid black. “You’re half the reason I’m here you know. The least you can do is share your life with me. And you won’t even do that.” Each word is a punch to the gut. I take my time going back to camp. We drive through the mountains taking in the bright green of new leaves and swirling mist tendrils that soften the forest into someplace magical. I do it for her. She’s not staying here. “And if you try any of that new-agey, sage-burning, walking to the light bullshit with me then I really will possess you,” she threatens, slumping down in her seat. When I’d checked my email at the library there were several messages from her parents. She’d read them over my shoulder with
childish satisfaction. Each one was a heartbreaking avowal of a parent’s grief for their dead child. It’s this type of thing that makes me feel like my ghost isn’t the girl that I knew. In life that would never make her happy. Since it’s my day off, I drink whiskey the whole way back. The sun becomes a slanted shimmering thing. I sing along to the radio with soulful abandon. I buy a bucket of red paint and some brushes. I don’t slow down when I get to the long dirt road that leads through Camp Pispogutt property. Instead I bounce off potholes and send shimmering sprays off micah flecked dust up behind me. “I feel fine,” I tell her. “I’m great.” She taps her fingers on the console. “I will never forgive you,” she says. I shake a Xanax into my hand, and take another drink.
By the time we get back to camp, I feel as if I am swimming. The afternoon is a drop of amber.
Everything has that slightly surreal quality, as if time has turned thick and slowed down. It’s why I like being drunk on whiskey. I feel burnt and liquid at the same time. I don’t waste any time. I carry the bucket of red paint through the forest and paint two coats on the door of the nature cabin. Red repels ghosts. At least I hope it does. Juniper, the filicidal flying squirrel, watches me from her bird cage. I haul the cage outside and open the hinged slider, and then go back inside so she can escape on her own terms. The red-eft newts have been captive for over a month now. I carry the terrariums out next to the empty cage and dump them out, watching their neon skins disappear into the mossy earth. Then the salamanders. The aquariums are too heavy to lift, but I scoop them up with a net and transfer them to the campfire water bucket. “What are you doing?” my ghost demands as I return to our campsite and lower the bucket
into Beaver Pond. The salamanders swim away like gun shots under water.
change into the bikini that I
wasn’t supposed to bring to camp. The one my ghost used to replace the standard navy onepiece I bought to accommodate Pispogutt regulations. The waterfront dock floats. Water spiders scurry up through the cracks beneath my feet as I walk down to the deepest part of the swimming area. Bay waves from the shore where he’s teaching the Minnow age swimmers how to tread water. A few of the campers shout my name. I’m a surprising favorite with the kids. Several have adopted my/ghost’s style of wearing silk scarves as bandanas, and short skirts with galoshes. The older girls braid feathers and flowers into their hair. I’ve taught them how to make scotch tape nature bracelets, by ringing their wrists with inside-out tape and pressing leaves, ferns, acorn caps, flower petals, and berries to the
sticky side in order to fashion personalized forest accessories. I dive into the lake and swim. I breaststroke until I’m out of breath and crampy and Bay is signaling for me to start swimming back to shore. “Your schoolgirl crush is pathetic,” she says. She floats on her back wearing oversized sunglasses. “Do you really think he would like you if he knew the things I do about you?” I swim back towards the shore underwater. I can’t hear her. I can’t see her. It’s blessed silence. Just me and the salamanders. So there are places she can’t get at me. I climb back up onto the dock. “You’re quite the swimmer,” says Bay. Afternoon lessons with the campers are over. The other lifeguards are closing up the swimming area. I help Bay pick up discarded life jackets and carry them into the boathouse. I’m still drunk, but the water must have washed the smell of booze away because he doesn’t seem to
notice. swimming gear and make a “Do you have any snorkels?” I ask.mental “And a note maskto maybe?” myself to write an “Sure,” he says. He has a white online post next time I go to the strip of suntan lotion on his nose. library. Ghosts can’t bother you His arms are tanned and muscled. when you’re snorkeling He’s vigorously alive. “But you underwater. And you don’t notice can’t see too much in the lake. them so much when you’re It’s pretty cloudy.” having sex with a good looking I don’t care. I’m imagining lifeguard. hours of uninterrupted silence “You should come down to the underwater. He digs out a pair of bonfire,” he says. It’s a weekly each and hands them to me. camp event that includes all of “Just don’t go swimming the campers, instructors, and alone,” he says. “Bear would kill staff. I’ve never participated me. Buddy system. Even for the before. I know Bear likes to play adults. Come get me if you want the bongo drums and has to swim.” replaced traditional Pispogutt I nod. My mood’s improved a camp songs with some of the hundred percent. ditties that the Doshinji monks “Wow,” says Bay. “You’re taught us during training. I have a smiling.” blurry recollection of them. Songs “Like an idiot,” my ghost says. to fall asleep to. He smiles back. “What are you “Why not,” I say. doing with the rest of your day “What?” my ghost asks. off?” “Great,” says Bay. “I’ll make us some sandwiches. You should put We have sex in the boat room. dry clothes on. It’s getting cold.” “You have to be kidding me!” Then in the water. The campers shouts my ghost. “What are you and counselors are at dinner so doing, Regan? First this idiot and we have the lakefront to now campfire songs with a bunch ourselves. I try out my new
of brainwashed morons? If you think this is going to cure you, you are so wrong.” I ignore her and strip out of my wet bathing suit, hanging it on a branch to dry. I pull on one of her lacy shirts, jeans that hang on my hip bones now, and a striped hoodie that has thumbholes poked in the cuffs. The whiskey’s done a number on my stomach so I switch to vodka, smoke a cigarette, and then perfume myself with bug spray and tea tree oil. I pop a mint in my mouth. She moves above me in the tree tops, angrily shaking the leaves. Bay meets me by Big Poppa and we walk up to the bonfire spot together. There’s a big moon tonight and the stars are bright and low hanging. Fireflies blink on the path around us. The air is spicy and clean. We eat our cheese sandwiches in silence. I wouldn’t say I feel happy exactly. My ghost is still there. She makes rude comments the whole time. Still, it’s the farthest I’ve felt from alone in a while.
“Do they tell ghost stories at the bonfire?” I ask. Bay shakes his head. “Bear doesn’t like that. As of this year there are no ghosts at Camp Pispogutt.” My ghost snorts. “Did there used to be?” I ask. Bay gives me a fiendish smile. “The Goatman. He lived in that abandoned shack down past the nature cabin. Where we keep the tennis nets.” I know exactly where he’s talking about “There’s no Goatman,” my ghost says, thoroughly annoyed. “What was his story?” I ask. Bay shrugs. “The usual. Ate little kids. Bad campers. Played pranks. The subject of campfire stories. I think he was half goat, but I don’t remember why.” “Why would a ghost eat a kid?” she asks. “How did Bear get rid of him?” Bay gives me a funny look. “Because he never existed, Regan. You are strange sometimes. Bear just outlawed telling ghost stories. They aren’t
very Zen, you know?” My ghost takes offense at this, but we’ve reached the bonfire. I sit beside Bay. Bear is indeed playing a pair of bongos. The camp music teacher has a guitar and someone else is playing a triangle. It’s amazing that I’ve been here half the summer and I hardly know anyone aside from the campers. I vaguely remember the song they’re singing from orientation. The lyrics consist mostly of the words breathe in, breathe out. I can’t quite bring myself to sing along. Behind me my ghost has made herself comfortable. I tip my head slightly to one side and hear the click-click-click of her knitting needles. She works in tempo with the music. I watch the firelight lick at the faces around me. The words blur. The sounds change. My eyes become heavy-lidded and sleepy. “I feel funny,” I tell Bay, but he doesn’t seem to hear me. I tug at his sleeve but he remains impassive. All of a sudden, my stomach is churning violently. I get to my
churning violently. I get to my feet, stagger over to the bushes, and begin to projectile vomit. My lips are slimy and taste like lake. Beneath me are squirming masses of slick-bellied shining salamanders. Everything tilts. The music is pounding at my head. I can’t see my ghost. I can’t find Bay. I can’t even make out the faces of the people sitting around the fire. Everything is strange and foreign. I lunge down the hill towards the bathrooms. I’m going to be sick again. I have the sudden fear that I’ll throw up newts this time. Or the disembodied parts of newborn squirrels. “Hey,” says my ghost. She’s come after me. “It’s okay, Regan, I’m here.” I open my mouth to speak and begin vomiting again. I close my eyes so I can’t see what it is. I wipe something wet from my chin. “Come on.” She’s helping me. We’re walking away from the music. Away from the bathrooms and back down towards our
campsite. I stop to throw up again on Big Poppa. This time I look. Leeches. I fall backwards and scramble away, coughing the last few up in long, stretchy pieces. “You’re just hallucinating, Regan,” she says, trying to still my panic. She looks beautiful in the moonlight. I can’t be hallucinating. There’s blood all over my mouth. She hands me my vodka and I gargle with it. I rinse my face and chin. I gulp it down greedily hoping it will kill anything that’s still inside. After a long while my stomach finally settles. I want to go inside the tent and crawl into my sleeping bag but I can’t move. I’m too exhausted. My ghost is knitting. I lay in the grass and she perches on a rock above me. Stars spin as her knitting needles flash and gleam and click. Something settles over me like a blanket. Soft strands. Silken threads. They wave across my cheek like ripples of water. Then they become stronger. Weedier. Full of all kinds of things. Dappled sunlight, green
vines, fireflies, dead butterflies, and bluebird feathers. It’s hard to breathe. I feel around for my snorkel. I am underwater. I lay flat on my belly at the bottom of the lake. Cool mud. Feathery water ferns. I see the top part of a Russian nesting doll half-buried in the glittering silt. I have always loved the way the surface looks from underneath. It fractures the moonlight and turns fireflies into glowing embers. I try to push the weeds away to see them better. From down here they look like the remains of leftover campfires.
Mike Finley Grief Plan The Money Don't write poems about your sadness, sensible people will head for the exits, except the wrong ones, some of them, who see opportunity in sobbing. Don't cry on every shoulder you come upon. You don't have the tears for so much irrigation and you may get stuck with dry cleaning bills. Instead make a schedule for weeping and keep to it. Every ten minutes should do. Over the years try stretching this out to eleven or thirteen. Then find a good heart, a person who knows you, someone whose heart has been broken themselves. I recommend a loving sister. Feel them pat you on the back and say I know. I know. I know.
Mike Finley The Money After we ran out of room in the house we began moving it to the garage, which filled soon thereafter. We made a down payment on a bloc of ministorage cells and that addressed the worst of the overflow issues but not in any permanent way. We started leaving boxes of money out on the lawn, and giving people the evil eye who seemed too curious. Eventually we rented a backhoe and dropped over a billion dollars in Hefty Bags into the pit, each one secured by a twist-tie. Still the problem wasn't solved, so we were forced to stack it chin-high on the roof secured by a blue grommeted tarpaulin, so now when we eat we hear the beams groaning overhead from the weight of all that paper and all that gold and all because, whatever else might or might not be true, we didn't trust the banks.
Rosa del Duca Boxing She loved boxes, and incidentally, worked in a hat store, where everything went into beautiful boxes— the kind of boxes you saved for presents or trips. She must have had a dozen of these boxes in her long hall closet at home, some striped, some solid colors, all round, all with a sturdy handle on top. She used them for things that clearly needed boxing up. For instance, Carl, an ex-boyfriend, was in a box. Her middle school swim team was in another box. The trip to Argentina was in a box. The inbred kittens her mother handed to her in a sack and ordered her to drown in the creek were in a box, all five of them. And her step-father was in not one but three boxes, sealed with duct-tape, at the back of the closet under a stack of old lawn chairs and a croquet set and sacks of unfinished embroidery and the umbrella for the glass table out back. They were all neatly labeled, these boxes. She didn’t want to accidentally peek in the wrong one. Everything needed to be kept in its place. And if she did lift a lid, she made sure to cram every detail back inside before it could settle on her shoulders and weigh her down. She wondered if everyone had created such a storage system. She had the suspicion they hadn’t. Or couldn’t. As she went about her day, everyone looked so heavy, so tired, so superficially happy. As
soon as they stopped consciously smiling, pain crept across their faces like a stain, just under the skin. But then again, they had to store things. Otherwise, how did they ever leave the house? “Honey, what are all these empty boxes doing back here?” her husband asked her one summer. He was looking for the American flag they hung on the porch every Forth of July. “Can I get rid of them?” Her heart sprang into her mouth. “No! I’m using those.” And for the first time she suspected she’d never be rid of the boxes. All along, she’d thought she was just storing things for a while. She’d get rid of them in time. She’d toss them in the garbage. Or leave them when they moved. But that wasn’t true at all. She spent that Fourth of July in a kind of fog. She found the flag for John. She greeted her guests and ushered them to the backyard where John had the grill going. She filled champagne flutes with layers of red and blue jello, separated by a layer of whipped cream, and carried them out to the picnic table. When the neighbor kids started shooting off bottle rockets, she didn’t even flinch. She felt leaden. Waterlogged. She could feel the contents of the boxes encroaching. She excused herself. In the basement, under the lurid light of a single bare bulb, she started a fire in the ancient claw-foot
bathtub John had inherited from his grandparents. One by one, she burned the boxes, watched the cardboard twist and the bright colors darken, blacken. They burned quickly, as if they were empty. Starting at the pile of ash, a searing panic overcame her. The contents hadn’t been destroyed, but merely transformed. The kittens, the girls on the swim team, Carl and her step father, they were all there in the bathtub, staring at her, confused, accusatory. “Sweetheart?” John called from the top of the stairs. She would never be rid of them. “Is something burning? What’s that smell?” No, she would never be rid of them. John pounded down the stairs as she scooped the pile of ash into her two cupped hands. “Jesus Christ, what’s going on?” She swallowed and licked the last grey flakes from her palms. “Just tidying up.” She guarded her words, her arms and legs, worried that what she’d consumed would misbehave. “In the middle of a party? You’ve been really distant today. Maybe we shouldn’t have people—” She shushed him with a smoky kiss. “Distant? No, I’m right here. And light as a bird.”
Artwork by Addison
Michael Emery From the Ides of March to Mayday 2012 On wheels and on foot, The family tree expands its borders In the four directions of delight, Finding refuge from winter In sun dappled shadow, Finding respite from summer On twilight verandas, Where viewers tweet secrets and Contestants sing praises To the pastas of spring Gnoshing with fishes, Faceless and nameless, On the Lower East Side.
Living small is the best revenge, Analyzing the couch In a just so apartment With friends in a World of oneâ€™s own Might be tiny but thrilling, Healing an act of defiance, And owning the past A declaration of freedom.
Lessons in the history Of the hard sell Abound rebound And reverberate With songs of lament In the mind of a con man For the vicious end Of a battered fortune, Where the American Dream explodes Into clutch of cactus flowers Along a lonely desert track Dreaming of the next rain.
Chiara DeLuna Tennessee Blix Tennessee Blix was destined for greatness. She knew it, her Momma knew it, and her eleventh-grade English Lit teacher, Mr. Lee, who gave Tennessee just a little too much attention, knew it. Tennessee was born to it. And her Momma gave her a name that would guarantee it. A girl who stood 5' 11" (without high heels) by her eighteenth birthday, born to a stout mother and unnamed father (no doubt her benefactor for height) was destined to be something. But at thirty-seven years old, Tennessee found herself settling for insignificance in the tiny town of Dead Horse, Arizona. Her accent almost gone (thank goodness!), the only things that distinguished her from anyone else were her height and her name. That’s why it upset her so
much that Monday lunchtime when she discovered someone had stolen it. Taking lunch at her desk (not because she had so much work to do, but had nothing better to do), she googled her name, as she had a hundred times before (at least), expecting the usual. Newsletters she had edited for the insurance office’s monthly bulletin. References to legal briefs she had cowritten and slipped her name onto, even though it wasn’t company policy to name authors. Spattered throughout would be links to the societies to which she now or once belonged: Republican Women’s Agenda Who’s Who in Nevada TeamCeline: The Fan Club The newspaper articles she’d gotten herself quoted in: “Wife of Presidential Candidate Visits Nevada, Gets Mixed Reviews”—Las Vegas Daily
“Local Residents Affected by Georgia Hurricanes”—Dead Horse Sun Finally, old newspaper articles about the rise, and premature fall, of her tennis career: “Blix Nails Hammond in University Showdown”—UCSD Guardian “Carden and Blix Unbeatable!” [Why did Sandy Carden always get her name first?]—San Diego Union Tribune And her all-time favorite, a whole article all about Tennessee, written by her college boyfriend during his journalism internship: “Small-Town Girl, Big Dreams”—Southern California Times But for the first time in a long time, there was a new link topping the search. She clicked on it as fast as her mouse could go. This year’s collection of short fiction by new authors is…[yada yada yada]…works by Sher Linden,
winner of the Newberry…[yada yada]…among the favorites for best short fiction by new authors is “Tennessee Blix” by Chiara DeLuna of Davis, California. “Somebody stole my name!” she yelled out loud, Southern accent flaring with her anger and scaring her already intimidated coworker, Jenny Bell (now there’s a mundane name if you ever heard one). “I can’t believe somebody stole my name!” “You can’t really steal a name. Names don’t belong to anybody,” said Jenny quietly, regaining an upright position. “If it’s a common-property name like yours, sure. But my Momma gave me a name no one else ever had. It’s always been just mine. I check the Internet to make sure nobody else’s got it. Now this person’s used my name without my permission. Just stole it!” “Well, that’s ridiculous,” said Jenny with unusual assertion, making her assertiveness-training support group proud. And she
was almost sure she was right. “A name isn’t anybody’s property… unless it’s copyrighted…” Jenny began to doubt herself. “You didn’t copyright your name…did you?” Tennessee glared. “No. But I guess I should have.” She clicked the second result. A table of contents. Chapter 3 was her name, the title of a story: 2. Sunday Afternoon—Clare Masterson 21 3. Tennessee Blix—Chiara DeLuna 39 4. Bake Sale for Bail—Alex Vercel 45 She counted. Six pages! It was short even for a short story. Who was this DeLuna woman, and how did she get Tennessee’s name? “How did she get my name?” “Who?” “This writer, Chiara DeLuna.” “She probably just made it up,” reasoned Jenny. “No. She could not have made it up. I am totally original. No one could just think up a name like Tennessee Blix.” “Your Momma did,” muttered
Jenny. Then more clearly added, “Well, how else would she get it?” “She stole it! I just can’t see how.” Who the hell (ooh, if Momma could hear her think like that!) was this Chiara DeLuna woman? Did Tennessee know her? She obviously knew Tennessee. But how? She would remember a silly name like that. It had to be a pseudonym. Yes, someone had written a story about Tennessee and didn’t want her to know it, so they used a pseudonym. Someone had written a story about Tennessee Blix. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Someone had finally noticed her. Someone had found inspiration in Tennessee Blix and written a story about her. Tennessee was excited. Obviously, someone had realized, or remembered, how remarkable she was, and had written a short work of fiction about her. Six pages wasn’t much, but it was
something. It was published, after all, and apparently a contender for some prize. All thanks to the inspiration of Tennessee! Now, who could it possibly be? Tennessee was obsessed.
she drove home, all three
stoplights turned green to welcome Tennessee without slowing her down. It was a sign. The world had finally noticed her, and her life was going places! Going full speed, unhindered, unstoppable! To be honest, Tennessee’s life hadn’t been going places since she finished college. She had followed her budding tennis career to a college education. The coaches were honest: she’d never go pro. She’d started too late for that. But she was recruited to San Diego to play women’s varsity, and Tennessee thought, surely, she’d have a shot at the real thing once they saw how good she was. But a beach-volleyball injury in her sophomore year made short end of her plans, leaving her with six months of physical therapy
and a lifetime of chiropractic visits. After such a promising start, her life had just stopped moving. “I guess tennis wasn’t my true calling. I’m bound for something else, clearly. Something greater.” Without a clear direction for her destiny after graduation, she followed a boyfriend to Santa Cruz. It was a small town, but greatness does not need a big audience, just an appreciative one. Tennessee worked as a paralegal, impatiently waiting for her potential to be realized. She flirted with the lawyers, but was sure her Southern accent kept them from giving her the respect she deserved, even if most of them had to look up to her when she stood—with or without heels. She suspected her Southern tells were mistaken for naïveté and obscured the magnitude of her promise. That was probably why she wasn’t recognized for her brilliant legal mind, wasn’t offered promotions, wasn’t whisked away to the city to make
her mark on the world. She was destined for greatness. She knew it. And her Momma knew it. But other people had to know, too, to make it happen. It hadn’t happened by the time her boyfriend left to go surfing in Thailand and never came back. (Good riddance. He wasn’t really going places anyway.) And it hadn’t happened by the time the law office closed and left her without a job, a plan, or a proposal from a prominent lawyer. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” Tennessee confessed to her masseuse, Colette VanWest (a cute name, though not a remarkable one). She used her massage therapist as a psychotherapist. Two treatments for the price of one. This was the last session before her insurance ran out. Colette dug her knuckles into both sides of Tennessee’s spine and worked her way up Tennessee’s long back, to her graceful neck, which held up her strong head, burdened by wavy waterfalls of
almost completely natural strawberry-blond hair. “Don’t think about that right now, Tennessee. Just breathe…. Relax…. Let that tension go.” Colette soothed in her smooth, perfectly accentless California voice. Tennessee breathed in, held it, exhaled loudly. “I can’t relax, Col. Not ’til I figure out what I’m going to do!” Her life had not progressed along its natural course. It was stunted, stopped up before it really got started. She didn’t know why, or how to fix it.
Who could have written a story about her? Was it her dark-and-artsy neighbor, Celeste? Celeste was always in Dead Horse’s only wireless café, pounding away on her laptop, looking like a struggling artist in black hair and thick glasses. She had defected from New York after 9/11, looking for safety in obscurity, and found it in Dead Horse, Arizona. It could definitely be Celeste. No one else
in town seemed the writerly type. Who else back home could be Oh, but what about someone from a writer California? now? They’re It was somore long creative since out there, and even though it was near she’d a decade madesince the effort she left, to Tennessee see her was sure she’d left an impression old on the girlfriends state as during a whole…but her sparseshe couldn’t recall any individual who visits seemed to Momma. perceptive Why enough wouldto shesee Tennessee’s greatness and write about want her.to show off her lack of a If not California, could it be husband or fame or fortune? someone back home? Could it be Besides her high school her “best- friend-forever” (or girlfriends—none of whom until life takes us in different (except Rhoda) had amounted to directions), Rhoda? Rhoda had anything, much less a writer— bested Tennessee for who could it be? valedictorian, and though she Of course! How could she be hadn’t gotten as much of Mr. so limited? It doesn’t have to be a Lee’s attention as Tennessee, she woman just because it’s a female got A’s in English Lit and Creative pseudonym. Why, that sly fox, Writing. And she got a scholarship Mr. Lee! It must be him. They to Duke, where she studied were quite close in high school, comparative literature. and he was the only person back Tennessee regularly googled home who’d ever had anything Rhoda’s name to make sure she published. After all these years, wasn’t taking over the world like he still remembered Tennessee. she’d taken over Tennessee’s Had he written it back then, and spot in the high school limelight— just now published it? Or was she to Tennessee’s relief, she hadn’t. still steaming up his dreams like But maybe Rhoda made she had twenty years ago? She something of herself after all, had dreaded her upcoming thanks to Tennessee and to their twenty-year high school reunion, loyal friendship that was certainly not having fulfilled her obvious worth writing about. Hmm, destiny—she’d been voted “most Rhoda was a possibility. likely to become famous” and
knew it should have happened by now—and hadn’t planned on attending. But now! Now there was reason to go. Now she was famous. And she might get to see Mr. Lee. How old would he be now? But the reunion was three months away. And Tennessee was not a patient woman. She wanted to know for sure who wrote that story, read it, get the author’s autograph personalized to his inspiration, and show it off at the reunion. She would call Mr. Lee! She’d just chat about the reunion, hint around a little, and see if there was any news he wanted to share. Wouldn’t he just be surprised to hear from her!
“Lee residence. This is Bretta.” “Good afternoon [one has to be more formal with the South], this is Tennessee Blix. I was a student of Mr. Lee’s at Biltmore High.” “Why, Tennessee. How sweet of you to call.” “Are you Mr. Lee’s mother?”
“No, dear, I was his wife.” “Was?” Tennessee did not know how to ask this delicately: “I’m sorry. Are you divorced?” “No, Dear. I thought that’s why you called. David passed away two weeks ago.” What terrible timing! “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Lee. I didn’t know.” “Thank you, Dear.” Tennessee was stunned. How could he die on her just when she was about to reconnect? Really, it was the most awful timing. How old was he anyway? He couldn’t have been that much older than Tennessee. She remembered him as sophisticated, young, handsome, attentive, and…young, for a high school professor. “Tennessee, Dear, is there something I can do for you?” “Oh, yes. I’m sorry, Mrs. Lee; I’m just a bit shocked. I called because I wondered if…well, if Mr. Lee published a short story recently?” “Hmm. I don’t think so. He really hadn’t written anything in years.”
“Well, could he have maybe written it earlier, and just recently published it? Or perhaps published under another name?” “David didn’t publish under a pseudonym. He was always very pleased to have his name associated with his essays.” Well, maybe he hadn’t wanted his wife to know about this story. After all, what could she think of him writing about one of his students—a beautiful young woman, full of promise? “Maybe there’s something in his records, in his computer? Something with my name on it? Tennessee Blix?” “No, Dear. We’ve just been through his files. I would have noticed anything with your name.” Of course she would. It’s an unforgettable name. Completely unique. Mrs. Lee was right. If it was in his files, she would have noticed. “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Lee. I’m awfully sorry for your loss.” Tennessee could hear her drawl creeping back. Damn it!
“Thank you, Dear. Good-bye.” Well, what the heck! If it wasn’t Mr. Lee…who was it?
The Internet had found the story; maybe the Internet could find the author. Again Tennessee spent her lunch break on her computer. She started by googling “chiara deluna,” but got only sites about the story, no help at all. She googled “chiara de luna”—1,390,000 hits. Darn it! At least the ones she was looking for should be recent. “La vita di Santa Chiara di Assisi la conduce dare in su… Inoltre conosciuto come sorella della luna, lei…” Damn it! Why didn’t she learn Spanish in high school instead of wasting her time on English? “Santa Chiara, Italian saint known as St. Claire or Poor Clare.” O.K.: Chiara. Name of a famous saint. What about de luna? “Poor Clare bibliography… Santa Chiara, or Saint Claire, companion of St. Francis of Assisi, gave up her family’s riches…”
More saint stuff. “The life of Chiara of Assisi and her relationship with St. Francis is chronicled in the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” Aha! Luna was Spanish for “moon.” Tennessee knew that much. Chiara de Luna was “Saint Claire,” aka Sister Moon! Oh, definitely a pseudonym! Tennessee was feeling quite astute, and on the cusp of great discovery. She changed her search slightly: “claire de luna”— 196,000 hits. Tennessee started at the top. “Claire DeLuna Café opened its doors in Portland last March. This homey coffee shop offers…” No. “Italian recipes by chef Claire DeLuna. Browse below if you’re looking for…” No…but those photos of pasta reminded Tennessee she hadn’t eaten lunch. Oh, well, that’s one way to lose those few pounds before the reunion. “…the impressionist painting by Felix Vallotton Claire de Lune hangs in the Muse de
Orsay…” “BUY NOW! Complete 2disc set Piano Ballads of the 20th Century for only $19.99. Disc 1: ‘Take my Breath Away,’ Clare de Lune…” No and no! “Agh! Nothing useful at all!” So many links for one overused name! That would never happen to Tennessee. She changed the search again, narrowing in on her target: “sister moon claire.” “Brother Sun, Sister Moon, directed by…” No. Been there, read that already. Her lunch hour was over, but she was on a mission. She would go into tomorrow’s lunch hour if she had to. Discovering the source of her renown was too important to be dissuaded by work. Tennessee searched again, excluding the phrase “brother sun sister moon” and adding “pseudonym.” She opened the first link. A series of articles published in the Simpson College student newspaper,
The Floxworth, in 1993 and 1994 were written under the pseudonym “Sister Moon.” The author’s identity was never revealed by Floxworth staff, though both students and administrators attempted to discover the author who riled both groups with essays containing personal jabs and comical heresies. Though Floxworth editors came under pressure from administrators to cease publication by Sister Moon, they continued through the 1994 academic year. So! She had written under this name before! And she went to Simpson College. Tennessee could just feel herself getting to the source of her mystery. But Tennessee had never heard of Simpson College. Certainly no one she knew went there. Each step into this mystery just led to more questions. But that was no reason to stop, not when she was this close. Tennessee exercised her deductive powers like mad! This
disguised author must have graduated college the last year she was published. She googled “claire simpson college graduating class 1994.” “Claire Vallotton, class speaker for the 1994 graduating class of Simpson College, graduated summa cum laude.” Yes! This must be her! Tennessee felt brilliance coursing through her veins. She read on. “Ms. Vallotton has been admitted to the UC Davis PhD program in psychology.” Davis. The author of her story was from Davis, California. “That’s it!” Tennessee yelled. “What are you talking about?” asked Jenny, frantically wiping at the hot tea she’d just spilled down the front of her blouse. “Chiara DeLuna is a pseudonym for Claire Vallotton, aka Sister Moon. I just solved the mystery!” Maybe Tennessee should become a detective. She could specialize in cases of stolen identity. She would become the world’s leading expert in Webbased detective work.
One mystery remained… Why the hell (ooh, sorry Momma) would this Claire Vallotton, of an unknown alma mater, write about Ms. Tennessee Blix?
“Hello? Ms. Vallotton?” “Yes, this is Claire.” “Do you write under the name Chiara DeLuna?” “Yes. I do. I mean, I have.” The no-longer-anonymous author was caught off guard. “I’m sorry…what did you say your name is?” “I am Tennessee Blix.” Tennessee didn’t know what else to say. She wanted the author to explain, confess, tell her why she had chosen Tennessee. But she didn’t know how to ask. “Wow. Um. That’s amazing.” The would-be-Chiara had not anticipated this! This was a stranger-than-fiction moment, a mysterious convergence of lifecourses. “Did you know that I… I guess you must, right? That’s why you’re calling me? ’Cause of that story I wrote? Have you read it?” “Yes, that’s right. But, no. Um,
what I mean is, yes, that’s why I called, but I haven’t read it. I haven’t gotten a copy.” “Wow. Well…um-m-m. How can I help you?” “I just wanted…” What did she want? “I suppose I just want to know how you got my name. Why you chose me.” “Oh, yah, sure. That’s easy.” The author remembered it clearly. “Your name came up a couple years ago when I was talking with a friend about names—” “Names?” Tennessee interrupted. “What about names?” “Yah, names, you know? How some names just suit a person, and some don’t. Whether people grow into their names, whether our names shape our lives in some way. Anyway, Colette mentioned your name. She said she had a massage client named Tennessee Blix, and the name totally suited her—I mean, you.” “So you just decided to write a story about me?” The author laughed, obviously
not realizing how serious this was. “Yah. When I heard your name, I thought, wow, what a totally fantastic name! Like the name of a character in a play or a novel. Then I started imagining writing a story using the name Tennessee Blix. What it would be about, and what would happen if I did. So I did. And here you are.” “So you just…stole my name?” “Well, I guess so.” Tennessee was silent. She had gotten the confession she wanted, but it was not at all what she wanted. “Well, listen, I’m totally indebted to you for your name. [That’s right; she was.] Can I send you a signed copy of the book? I’ve got some extras.” “Yes. I’d love that.” Tennessee hoped she would love it. A signed copy, by the award-winningauthor of a story named after her. That’s certainly something to take to a high school reunion. “As soon as you can, I’d love to see it.”
book arrived three days The
inscribed: Tennessee Blix, Thanks for the inspiration, ~ Chiara Tennessee flipped impatiently to page 39. To her great gratification, Tennessee read the words she had been longing to hear, the confirmation of what she always knew: “Tennessee Blix was destined for greatness.” She knew it, her Momma knew it, and her eleventh-grade English Lit teacher, Mr. Lee, knew it.
Erik Bendix Time is Money It was barter at first. The waves rose frothing toward the shore, like generations spilling novelty into each new indifferent decade, spreading out into infinite flattened sand to receive them and to watch their conquest chase small crabs up to a high-water mark, which was an evident give while the subtle take disappeared invisibly into the undertow, or matched each wave by molecule with an equal feint and yield of salt sea air. Nothing was lost. Hoarding time was a hubris of the empires. Four thousand head-shaven Taoist monks sat motionless in a giant mountain cave, counting out only shared exhalations into windless echoing air and common darkness, storing up such a fortune of empty minutes that death itself would have to forfeit all keys to its eternity hidden behind the far polar star if frozen-faced comrades in combat fatigues had not lurched in to douse them all in gasoline, rousing the very red mountain dragonâ€™s wrath whose fire had swallowed empires long before.
Stealing time fails, too, in any bid to reallocate, yet often not before forty towering fortresses have been built to shackle victims of the theft, doing time as thieves lose all track of their spoils and as hours stiffen into gridlock that opens cracks in concrete cellblock walls wide enough at first for only grass blades, then for ants in single file, then for a rat, and at last for a human hand and foot, a living jailbreak from death that was not waited for until time to waste or spend at last can be restored. Investing time would seem to hold a greater promise. Beeswax builds in tongue-smoothed spittled layers, a pixilation of hexagons to house a humming brood, abuzz with frenzied wings and waggled chatter over orientation to a universe of bright surrounding bloom, layer upon layer of dark distilled gold summer light, all stored against the snows that can freeze a single bee or shrink cities of its kin down to stragglers into spring, if not first crushed by clawed, thickened paws of bears, out to plunder honey and fat for their own deep snores in dark dens they have discovered but rarely ever built. What of saving time, the cultivation of its thrift? A windswept heron sways on a branch of juniper, the spindles of his avian leather legs locked stiff, his beak spear poised above choppy shaded water, his eye beaded at what stirs below its surface light, and his coils of neck looping gently out and back, the only movement spent in all his hours of wait. Or ospreys, too, surveying seas from wings locked
tight for sky rides high on stiff incoming winds, sparing breath for beak dives down to the waves. Not to mention the patient plants, trees that nod into every breeze and stand through every night, fingering countless threaded roots through soil in shade while lifting only green up into light. But the giving of time alone is what is everything, as nature gives from its reserves of time so generous, so inky deep beyond reckoning that digits we derive from fingers must nest inside each other just to keep from shrinking to a dust or being blown from off the page, so beyond our grasp its cycles loop to suckle us to its skies: Our nights fill up with beetle chirps and breezes off the sea, our mornings rise to follow shadow like the shy and slender deer, our days of honeysuckle never tire of scenting air with bloom, while empty shells make tiny chevrons out of thin receding tide, and sunset shimmers brightly off of glistening sheets of sand. The wind flings endless buffetings at bracken on the shore, and dashes apart a thousand wave crests without cause. The ocean stirs beyond the rim of anything we see, and heaves itself like frothing stallions surging over and over and over against the shore. The open sky is vast, the waters wide. The hours gallop only when we ride.
Artwork by Addison
Donald Bagley A Harder Wood After you drive past Colfax on I-80 going east, the uphill ribbon of road begins to nose around the trees and hills like a dry river bed. The pines get taller and denser, and shade pools on the mattress of dead needles that carpet the forest floor. Long before sunset a loamy dimness hovers among the corrugated gray trunks. Quaint little towns like Alta and Baxter roll by, momentary smudges of weathered clapboard shacks at your windows. Eventually, the side roads are unpaved and wander crookedly away from the freeway, disappearing behind verdant evergreen corners. Your SUV takes you rambling up a dirt and gravel side road called Iron Hill Trail. You have the feeling of heading away from somewhere, rather than toward. Last night, at the Falcon Club in Roseville, you drank boilermakers and leaned on the mahogany bar, watching the girls gone wild clips on the wallmounted flatscreen. The occasional violent crack of pool balls, accompanied by beery cheers, was your first distraction. The second was Haley, the woman who took the bar stool next to yours. She was a few years older than you, but well-maintained, the kind who does yoga every day in the storefront of a faded strip mall. A manicured hand was proffered, and you shook it gently. Next thing you’re buying her drinks, Tom Collins.
Your SUV drifts off the shoulder of the rutted road on a hairpin, its tires kicking up a short rooster tail of scree and blood red dust. The dry soil is crimson brown on the side hills carved out for the road to go through. A tap on the accelerator jerks you back onto the path and away from menacing tree trunks and boulders. It’s hard country out here in the summer. Months go by without rain, dehydrating the foliage to tinder. A raging wildfire begins with a careless cigarette or a slant of sunbeam through a broken beer bottle. You’ve got to ignore the heartbeat in your head, an artifact of last night’s binge. You and Haley left the Falcon together at closing, with her riding home with you in your SUV. She had walked there, she said, and could use a lift and another nightcap, whatever you had. Streetlight leaked in around the front door when you opened it, and Haley giggled, her pumps clacking at your oak floor. The living room glowed with outside light, and a baseball bat and gloves and a loveseat loomed in the shadow of a wide bookshelf, humped in funereal gloom. The light green walls were bleached grey in the halflight. She followed you in staggering steps to the kitchen. Rum was what you had, rum and Coke. That and ice in two clinking highball glasses. Nobody can scare you with mere badgers and wolverines. These woods harbor mountain lions and
bears, carnivores that will chase you down like that jogger in Cool. She was out for a morning run, and a cougar ambushed her. It tore away at her flesh, and it secreted her remains by burying them under dead leaves. Her body was found, largely dismembered, a week later. She was a torso of stashed protein with dry vegetation kicked up over her like a blanket of nature’s kitty litter. Who knows what the cougar intended? Come back later for a snack? The bedroom was a cacophony of grunts and bedsprings. You remember your hands clenching at soft flesh and Haley pushing herself into an upright position. She rode you like a cowgirl on a mechanical bull. You cupped her buttocks and squeezed. There was a frenzied back and forth, and a bone-grinding up and down. Most likely, you collapsed in the dark, falling back on the mattress, Christlike, with your arms out. God, accept this soul. You fell dead asleep and afterwards had a hot, bright awakening with the room too warm in sideways dawn. Harsh sunlight limned the tossed beddings. Haley laid there looking like your mother, or your mother’s mother, the hues of her youth staining the pillows. She had run out of her girly essence overnight with the draining away of makeup and left this dry carcass behind. Nobody can blame you for swerving around the skeletons of small creatures, as you don’t see fit to crush even vestiges of innocence. Many birds have died here, their wings beating slower than the fierce updrafts and whorls of flame that licked at the charred trees two weeks ago. Possum, beaver,
skunks and snakes, all consumed by fire and leaving only bones. The stench of charcoal adds mass to the air so that breathing is twice as hard. Emerging from the black scar of the burn area, you find fresh road unmarked with tire treads--just dirt that’s been worked with--plowed over to bury the spent coals. There’s a difference between a two AM barfly and a noon nightmare. She wanted you to go out for Subway, and you were considering suicide. Romance with a stranger looks rosy when filtered through the bottom of a shotglass at midnight. It doesn’t bear up so well under sunny scrutiny. I shall expel her forthwith, you declared. I have the strength of a thousand men. And you were okay with that thought, until she gave you a handy. She’d done more for a McDonald’s value meal. Her skills were honed between sheets. You might say she had you by the nuggets, so to speak. The red and brown road fusses with you, and you fight to steady the steering wheel. You’re almost there; Iron Hill Trail is petering out. Everything is rocky clumps of earth from here on. Up over a lump of treeless hill and then another. Then you stop. There hasn’t been any noise from the trunk for some time, so you think maybe, just maybe... To be sure you grab the baseball bat, a Louisville Slugger made of ash, a harder wood than the soft pulp of the pines down below the treeline.
She replays the purge of bags
and boxes of her children’s letter books, handmade cards, notebooks, algebra, chemistry, Jane Austin and Joyce underlined and analyzed, trophies, certificates and struggles with the riddle of where to put the stories she never showed anyone.
The Night Before the First Frost
Just after midnight and their lawn shimmers in silver shadow, so instead of counting sheep, she ponders, Is it time to throw away her own childhood color slides and 8mm birthdays with her father still in the picture? Wedding dress? She calms her mind by stepping into their garden where lunar light mutes everything— roses, daisies, wilting gardenia. Her feet on the cold fieldstone. she scans late bloomers staring into stillness fully knowing tomorrow’s forecast.
Caroline Brucker Entirely Without Regret Wanda plunged through the wet sheets dangling on the clothesline, bare feet slipping and sliding on the bathroom floor. I held my breath. Cracked skull. Blood sipping through her small, pink mouth. Blood dropping out of her pointy nose. Eyes staring coldly at the flickering neon lights above. Damn these hard tiles. They can kill a person. Wanda skidded to a halt, turned, and peered through the polka-dotted pillowcases. Thank God. No waiting in line at the overcrowded emergency room today. For a moment I thought I had her. Her little lips were twitching, deciding on whether to let out a high-pitched wail or start laughing. “Wanda, for the last time. Here.” I tried sounding cheerful, holding out her dirty red rubber boots. Living with a twoand-a-half-year-old is like living with a mad, abusive drunk. With
their giddy laughter, they make your life paradise one moment, only to turn it into hell the next with their aggressive Kim Jongstyle outbursts. Wanda ducked away behind the dots. “Do you want to get into your boots yourself, or do you want me to do it?” I asked, putting all my hopes on the good, old “two-choices” method. Wanda shook her head, those brown tangled curls bobbing up and down, lips pressed together in a thin, straight line. She crossed her chubby arms over her chest and frowned. “No,” she stated simply. “Wanda. We need to go. Mommy is in a hurry.” If I were to walk toward her decidedly, she would bolt again; I knew that much. So I remained where I was, the clothesline between us like a net in some game. “Wanda will stay home today,” she said then, matter-of-factly, bending over,
starting to peel off her pink pantaloons. The very same pantaloons it had taken me half an hour to put on. The very same pantaloons that had kicked me in my face while that insane eel wiggled out of my grasp, wailing No! Noooooooo! so loud, I thought my eardrums would burst. “Don’t take off your pants! Honey! Please!” Like she cared. She threw them over her head and grinned like a gangster after a killing shot. An EWR-smile. Entirely Without Regret. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hide in a cupboard, nursing my wounded feelings. I gave up my whole life for you and you kick me in the face? I hated this whiny voice in my head, but it had become a constant companion lately. God, I wished I were one of those mothers who could make their kids do anything with a
friendly command and a joke. Instead I had to bite my tongue not to say what I was really thinking. If you don’t put on your boots, I will not cook for you or change your stinky diaper ever again. If you don’t put on your boots, I won’t ever play with you again, because playing with you is boring and I only do it because I have to. If you don’t put on your boots, I will smack your little behind until you learn how to behave the way I had to, you spoiled little shit. Wanda took off her cardigan too, while she was at it. I sighed, squatting down. Some leader, not being able to grab a toddler and be on my way. Doctor Lin would have to wait another three months. Mommy would have to pay 140 pounds for nothing. The stupid test that would decide if I could have another baby could go where the sun doesn’t shine. Fuck it. Wanda was not the only one who could put up a fight. I pulled off my T-shirt. A musky,
unpleasant odor rose from my armpits. I didn’t even recognize my own smell anymore. Fuck it. I sat down and pulled off my socks and jeans. Wanda stared at me suspiciously. I grabbed a sock and dressed my ear with it. And there was sock number two. I pulled it over the other ear. “OK. I am off,” I said calmly, scrambling up without as much as a blink in her direction, ears flopping. I hummed a tune while dropping my keys into my bag and drinking the last slosh of cold coffee. I heard Wanda sneaking out of the bathroom then. I could feel her standing behind me, holding on to the doorframe. “I want an ice cream,” she tried uncertainly. “Why don’t you go buy one?” I sailed past the stunned little girl and opened the front door. “I have an appointment.” Instantly, a gush of cold rain hit my naked legs. “Bye, sweetie,” I sang, taking a step outside. The wet stone was slippery under my bare feet. Spitting drops plastered my hair to my head. Mr. Neds hurried
past then, red-faced and sweaty, glancing up from under his umbrella. “Good morning, Gabriella!” The man stopped. He blinked a few times, stared at my breasts, at the socks dangling from my ears, then turned to look at the neat row of semi-detached houses, as if wondering if he was in quite the right place. He pushed his spectacles up his sweaty nose, shifted his huge body, and hurried away without another word. I realized I was grinning, wide. It was a long time since I had enjoyed myself this much. “Not go without shoes, Mommy!” Wanda demanded loudly. She came toward me, carrying a pair of old boots and that Kim Jong-frown of hers. “Oh,” I said, “I am just gonna go like this.” “Mommy put on your boots!” she demanded strictly. I crossed my arms over my chest. “Do as I say!” Wanda threatened.
Deep down beneath, something grumbled and lurched. There was no stopping it. It was charging like a wild animal. Do as I say. As I say. Do as I. Say. The words echoed infinitely in my mind, bouncing back and forth like in a house of mirrors of sound. Do as I say. The voice was my mother’s, raw and dry. I felt sick. Her cold, blue eyes burrowed into mine. It was like looking into an abyss of hate. That’s when I slipped. Soaking wet, I fell flat on my back. A shrill spasm shot through my ribcage, up and down the spine, foot to skull. Tears streamed down my cheeks. A cold wind tugged at my hair. Shame flooded my head as the prim houses came back into focus. A small, warm hand on my forehead, full of tenderness and compassion. Wanda bent down on all fours and angled her sweet face so she could look at me, take me all in. In silence she stroked my head. The love of this twoand-a-half-year-old entered me slowly, like a cruise ship coming toward a harbor. How I wanted it.
How I wanted the softness and the kindness. And how it scared me. At once I wanted to sit up and shield myself. Shield myself by talking, by complaining about the pain, by running away to who knows where. Anything but feeling this thing, this choice that now stood before me. At this moment, laying almost naked on a wet staircase in a London suburb, looking into the warm gaze of my child, I realized I had never felt really loved before. I realized I had never dared to. I had never dared to let love in, had never let the ship of love take anchor inside me. I could either close up now or force myself to have the courage to feel all this vulnerability and longing. But I was not really in a position to run. So I opened up. Just a little. Just for that moment. All shame disappeared and instead I was overwhelmed with shyness. “I am stupid,” I tried meekly. Wanda shook her head, her hand still on my face. “You are not stupid, Mum, sometimes one just doesn’t want to wear boots.”
I had to smile. It felt so good lying there, simply not wanting to wear boots, letting the rain soak both of us. I was tired, so tired of having to be perfect, of having to do everything perfectly. “I want cookies,” I declared. “Me too!” came the enthusiastic response next to me. Wanda held my hand as we limped down the corridor at the emergency room. “Look, mommy!” she cried, poking at my hand. “We are not the only ones who don’t want to wear boots today.”
Artwork by Addison
Fiona Marshall Childrenâ€™s Glitter Ball
Give your dreams a shake. Longings roused from the soulâ€™s depths. Catch them as they fall.
Fiona Marshall Knowing You
Let me touch your cheek, Trace my fingers down, like Braille. Read you, like a book.
Adam Zobel His Own Strength My father is a quiet man.
I watch him from the
corners of the room, my favorite comic books shoved under my arm. I carry them everywhere, hoping that sometime he’ll notice and ask me about them. In the morning I sit in his shadow and wonder about him as he makes faces in the mirror while sliding his electric razor around his cheeks and jaw, and later when he sits behind his newspaper and drinks his coffee. I can smell it. It’s rich, dark, and nutty, almost like bitter chocolate that hangs right in the air. He always leaves a swallow in the bottom of the mug, and sometimes I drink it after he leaves the table. I like to think he leaves it for me. Later I watch him as he puts on his dress shirt. His thin fingers fly up the front as he does his buttons, never having to pause for a second. It’s like a magic show. He whistles as he buttons. It’s a low, slow whistle, much deeper and slower than mine. I wonder how he does it. Maybe it has to do with the way he puffs his cheeks so quickly in and out. And then he ties his tie. He flips, pulls, straightens, and tightens it as easily as anything. I wear a clip-on to Church on Sunday mornings, but maybe someday I’ll be able to whistle low and slow like that and wear a real tie that I tie myself. Finally he puts on his dress jacket, checks his watch, and walks by toward the door. As he does he
grabs the hair on the top of my head, like always, and gives it a gentle tug. I follow him to the door and watch him as he leaves. Sometimes he stops for a second and gives me a wink, then yells “See ya!” to my mom. My father is very thin, but he’s almost superhumanly strong. We were at a friend’s house once helping them move. Three men were trying to move a huge old desk out of a truck. They were puffing and struggling, and the veins stood out on their forearms and foreheads. They had almost given up when my father came out of the house and told the three men to get on one side of the desk. They were confused, but did what he said. He got on the other. The three men began to protest; one even smiled a little as my thin father stood opposite him. I stayed off to the side and watched the whole thing from a seat on a cooler my mother had brought. I remember how time stood still for a moment as I watched the hazy summer scene around me, and focused on the sweat-soaked men standing in the truck. The New Jersey sun painted the whole world a funny yellow color, like I was looking through a glass of lemonade, and I could hear the zinging sound of cicadas. There was a trickling of laughter from the new house behind me that came through one of the open windows. The three men hunkered down on one side of the desk
as my father carefully angled himself with a ramrod straight back on the other. I stopped breathing as I watched, silently praying that the desk would move. I could hear the three menâ€™s shoes squeak as they shuffled in the back of the truck, along with the occasional short gasp. The seconds ticked by like an eternity. Then, slowly but smoothly, the desk began to rise. The sun caught its shiny side for a moment and the dark wood exploded into a blinding spot of brilliance, almost as though my father were carrying a star in his arms and not a desk after all. Up and up it went, and then forward. Slowly. Very slowly. My fatherâ€™s steps were trembling but consistent, and they carried him all the way into the house. He just works in an office. I know that. But that makes me wonder all the more what his kind of strength is for.
Sri Wele Cebuda On India
Across the north the Himalayas stretch; below the rich and fertile Ganges flows; Rajasthan Desert burns in the northwest; and in the south are hills and old plateaus that date back to ancient Gondwanaland. Out into ocean, sea, and bay it sticks the vast, peninsular and Hindu hand with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, all densely-packed togetherâ€”one bellyâ€” that is filled up with cities, sites galore: Ahmadabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore; one-third the size, is this sub-continent, with thrice the people, of America.
Diane Simkin Outside Fractals “Ah, that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine, Your anointing oils are fragrant, Therefore the maidens love you. Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; We will extol your love more than wine; Rightly do they love you.” —Song of Solomon
Harold stared at the plaque that had the first verse of the Song of Solomon written on it. The plaque had been given to his mom by “Uncle” Mo for her beauty parlor last Christmas, and since then Harold had been unable to sweep that part of the room without reading the passage. The letters of the verse were rendered in an ornate, Byzantine script and
summoned up images of dancing girls in veils, harem pants, and silky scarves wrapped around breasts; clothing that, for the most part, covered them up, as befitted a Biblical passage. Tonight, however, on this hot, sweaty, last Friday night in August, when he knew he’d soon be off to Gotham on his first foray to a punk rock nightclub with Sal, he forgot the religious association of the poem and surrendered himself to a vision of a multitude of naked women in orgiastic abandon. Harold stood lost in this reverie, leaning on the broom handle. As his mother and “Uncle” Mo were out on their date night, he was alone in the shop and, for the first time, moved to recite the poem aloud. “Ah, that you would kiss me!” he began in a declamatory tone. “Ah, that you would kisssss me!” he said a second time, sounding out
the “s” with such excruciating sibilance that any passerby might have thought Hatty’s Hair Salon had released a case of anacondas. Harold repeated the phrase a third time, a warmth now radiating in his chest from the many repetitions of the word “kiss.” What a word, he thought. In a monotone he read the rest of the poem without stopping, punctuating certain words with jabbing motions of his broom; the word “oils” receiving a particularly strong thrust, for he loved the sticky diphthong “oi.” The poem actually seemed sexy, he thought, even if it was from the Bible. Harold started sweeping again. It was ten to nine, and he had much to do before Sal came by at nine to pick him up. He pushed his broom around the styling chairs, sinks, and dryers and soon had a mass of cut hair piled up in the center of the floor. He retrieved the
dustpan from the closet. “Rightly do they love you!” he whispered to himself just before he started to sweep up a mishmash of hair and dust, and then began to consider this line. Who are the “they,” he wondered—“maidens?”—and where are “they”? In the “chambers”? He thought about it as he scooped the hair up in the dustpan but could not, for the life of him, figure it out. There was a “me,” “you,” “we,” and a “they” in this poem, and he had no idea who any of them were. But still, he loved the last line of the poem, for he knew he wanted to be loved “rightly.” Sal stood quietly outside the shop, watching Harold. When he’d first arrived and saw his friend sawing the air with a broom, for a brief moment he thought Harold was engaged in some sort of deadly struggle with a thief. But as no thief parried the thrust of his broom and Harold began intoning the word “kiss,” holding the “s” out so long it actually sounded like a deflating
automobile tire (a sound so pleasing to Sal, he often contributed to the circumstances in which to hear it), Sal understood his friend was playacting. But Harold? His friend had always been shy and undemonstrative, such that when spoken to, he only ever nodded a reply, and this was usually cut short somewhere on its way down. Sal rang the doorbell. “Harold! Open up!” When he heard the doorbell, a thought flashed through his mind that Sal might have heard him recite the verse, but he immediately dismissed it as too embarrassing to entertain. Harold dumped a dustpan full of hair into a large trash bin, then opened first the door and then the metal gate and let Sal in. Sal could not help himself. “Hey, Al Pacino!” he jeered. “What are you talking about?” Harold’s stomach turned as if he’d swallowed sour milk. “What am I talking about? I’m sorry to have to inform you, Al,
but the word ‘kissssssss’ made headlines all the way to Sixty-First and Seventeenth.” “Sixty-First and Seventeenth?” Harold felt the milk curdle, release gas. “Sixty-First and Seventeenth?” He suddenly imagined old women running out of Gitzleman’s bakery on the corner there, holding their arms up to the heavens expecting a “kisssss.” “Oh, come on, Sal. That’s six blocks away.” “Well, maybe it wasn’t SixtyFirst and Seventeenth. Maybe it was just Sixty-Fifth and Fourteenth. But I sure saw you, and I heard you loud and clear.” He saw me? What? Was he lurking around the picture window? “Well…uh…yeah…well, I have to finish up here so we can get going, okay? I still have to put some stuff away.” “Yeah. Well, I guess you got a little behind with all your emoting.” Harold winced. “Hey! Why don’t you siddown on one of the chairs and have a smoke and I’ll
be ready soon.” Harold returned to his chores, trying not to think about lunging with the broom in front of Sal. He went from station to station and quickly filled a basket with styling lotions, cremes, shampoos, conditioners, and went to the little storage room at the back of the shop. The shelves were all color-coded for brand names. His mom was so organized, capable. Is that why “Uncle” Mo liked her? He understood that. But why did she like him? Over the past five years, Harold thought that Morris Gendleman seemed a bit much, occasionally telling Harold to mind Hatty. I mean, he wasn’t my father. But, for the most part, what his mother said was true— “Mo was a good man.” Occasionally Harold had even worked for this uncle—“uncle” being a euphemism first employed by his mother and dutifully accepted by himself. After school, for a few dollars, he would help Mo shift antique grandfather clocks around in his shop so that Mo could more
easily repair them; and at those times, Mo was generous in his praise and kind. And sometimes “Uncle” Mo would talk to Harold about his childhood in Russia, where he lived in a small village called a shtetl and often ate only turnips or potatoes. But now all that goodness was forgotten, because Mo was the donor of a plaque that read, “Draw me after you. Let us make haste.” Why did Mo have to give it to her, anyway? What was it all about? And before his mom had hung it in pride of place in the shop, Harold had only brief, imagined flashings of Mo’s and his mom’s couplings. Now it seemed it was all he could think about—his mother’s large, capable body entwined around diminutive Mo’s. He sometimes laughed out loud at the outrageous thought that Mo perhaps risked a slipped disc for love of his towering mom. Even at school Harold’s mind raced with thoughts of the jumble of their disproportionate limbs struggling for parity. He even
wondered what happened when they went to the movies. Did they kisssssss? Did they get chummy on their date nights to the Botanic Gardens or the Planetarium? And what happened upstairs, above the shop, when he wasn’t at home? “Hey! Whatcha doin’ in there, guzzlin’ nail hardener?” Harold had never grown used to Sal’s needling, and for a second time that evening felt severely embarrassed. “I’m almost done. What time is it, anyway?” “It’s after nine,” Sal replied, “and we gotta go soon if we’re gonna catch the first set.” “After nine. God!” Harold started rushing around the shop, collecting the rest of the hair products. He put the smaller items in the basket on his shoulder and cradled a few of the larger lotions in his arms. Heavily laden, he hooked his chin over one last bottle and scooched back to the storage area in a Groucho Marx crouch. Sal laughed, “You’re amazing,
man.” Harold laughed too and, though not superstitious, he felt the fact that Sal and he had laughed together was an omen, perhaps auguring a change of fortune. And as he sorted the bottles faster than he’d ever done before, he called out, “Clairol! Nexus! Therappe! Natural! Helen of Troy! Take Notice!” and Sal echoed each shout, even louder than Harold, egging him on. It was a blast. While Harold put each bottle in its correct spot, he suddenly felt extremely competent. Even smooth. Maybe some “maidens” would love him tonight.
10:25 p.m. Sal and Harold
stood outside Fractal’s, a punk rock club in Manhattan on 17th and Second Avenue. They’d been hangin’ there, waiting to see if there were any single girls going in for the first band of the night. Two “possibles” had just entered, and Sal wanted to follow them in, but Harold hesitated. All the kids entering the club wore some
variation of goth clothes with leathers, studs, and chains, and Harold thought for sure he’d see gross mutilations, like cheeks holding enormous kilt pins or the like. And all the kids had a weird kind of pride in their outfits—the more murderous they looked, the better, as if they’d literally “dressed to kill.” Harold felt plainly out of place. He was wearing a plaid madras shirt and chinos, and why he wore these particular clothes, he couldn’t for the life of him fathom. He’d thought all week about buying some goth duds, but time seemed to run out, what with his homework and after-school job cleaning up his mom’s salon. Sal, on the other hand, had had the presence of mind at least to wear a tee, and not only was it black, but he’d strategically ripped it in several places, especially around his abs to show that he was ripped. “Hey, man, let’s go in.” Sal was excited. “Soon…” Harold demurred. “Whadya mean, soon?”
“You know, like I’m kinda thinking about—” “What? Whadaya talkin’ about? I mean, this is our chance! Didn’t you just see the ‘possibles’ go in there?” “Yeah, but…” “But what? You scared or somethin’? They’ll never check your ID. Just walk in there like you’re Al Pacino, you know…ain’t you an actor?” “Come on, Sal. Gimme a break.” Would he never live it down? Harold felt sweat gather on his forehead and in the palms of his hands. “Look, I…I’ll just have a smoke and…and join you soon, okay?” Sal shrugged and headed for the door. “Don’t be long, my man. It’s going to be great in there. The set is starting soon and nothin’s gonna happen ’cept you’re gonna meet a ‘possible.’ Got it? I mean that’s why we’re here, right?” Harold nodded his characteristic half-nod and said, “Yeah, see ya soon, man!” With that Sal gave him the
proverbial high-five and joined the other kids rushing in to see the first set. Clang! The metal door of Fractal’s banged shut, and Harold was on his own. Standing still for a few minutes, reviewing the conversation, he tried hard to make sense of it. The silent rehashing of their exchange stopped, however, when he caught sight of someone milling about out front whom he thought had heard it. He crossed the street to treat himself to a fresh pack of Kools. He always seemed to need a fresh pack, for the habit he had of smoking just one cigarette after school each day ensured him an unfortunate ten stale cigarette days out of twenty. He was going to quit soon, anyway, because his mom would kill him if she knew, and he really didn’t like the taste, despite what Sal said to the contrary. Harold dodged a car trawling for parking and walked inside a news store. Behind the counter a large German shepherd guarded the cash register. The owner was
nowhere to be seen. “He went out for some coffee.” This explanation came from a girl about eighteen years old, whom Harold recognized as one of the “Fractal people.” She was wearing a sleeveless, maroon mini dress that had a shiny, wide gold band zigzagging down the front. Harold thought the band was intended to resemble a lightning bolt, but the effect fell flat in the fluorescent lights of the store. He thought perhaps the band might glow in the nightclub, like certain markings on fish that phosphoresce in the dark. “I’m watching the store til Manny gets back,” the girl volunteered. “He knows me ’cause I live in the neighborhood.” Harold nodded his quick halfnod, wishing to give the impression that he’d soon be carrying out his business and had no intention of disturbing her. He turned back toward the counter and found himself facing the dog. The young woman continued to rustle through the magazines,
noisily rejecting several of them. Finally she settled on one and there was silence. Unable to stop himself, Harold snuck a peek at her from the corner of his eye. She was absorbed in a copy of Sports Illustrated and seemed not so much to be reading the magazine as searing it, for the kohl lines circling her eyes gave them a terrible, piercing cast. He quickly turned back toward the dog. More silence. In his mind’s eye he saw her mouth, and it seemed less like skin than some scarlet inlay set in her pearl-white face. It reminded him of the rosewood inlays set in some of Mo’s grandfather clocks, except that the border around her mouth was haphazard, as if no attention had been paid to the boundaries of her lips. And then her silvery-blond, Monroe bouffant was such an old style, he wondered if she was making some kind of statement or if it was the only style she knew how to set. It was so perfectly done, even his mom couldn’t have done better.
“It says here that Carl Chase ran the mile in under five but then collapsed, and his lungs filled with fluid, so they took him to the hospital, where he turned purple because he had a heart attack but, at the last minute and with a lot of medical attention, he survived…and he’s running today. Whatdaya think of that?” Taken by surprise, Harold turned to look at her and nodded vigorously, aware that he was executing no small half-nod, as was his usual wont. “Not only that,” she went on, “at the same time that he collapsed, his wife collapsed in…uh…sympathy and she almost died too. And all their children…” Though Harold knew there were strange phenomena in the world, he also knew it was not very likely that everyone in a family would collapse at once. But then he didn’t feel like contradicting anyone who stared at him with such a penetrating aspect, though with a hint of a smile on her lips. “Ah, the children,” he finally
answered, locating a thoughtful tone in his voice, a hint of smile now on his lips. “Always the children.” Suddenly one of Mo’s stories about a child escaping a raving Cossack in Russia popped into his head and he decided to tell her about it. “I want to—” “I work in the A&P on Broadway and Sixty-Seventh,” she interrupted. “I’m a cashier there.” “Oh…pleased to meet you,” Harold said, lurching forward to shake her hand. From behind the counter the German shepherd stirred and began to snarl. “Mitzi!” the young woman shouted. “No!” This “no” proved only to have the effect of further exciting the dog, for it now broke into loud, sharp barks and assumed an attack posture. “No!” the girl shouted again, her voice escalating. “Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf!” the dog barked back, seemingly unimpressed by the young woman. She shrugged as if to apologize to Harold for the
impending confrontation and approached the dog. “Mitzi!” she barked back. And then, transfixing the dog with her own fiendish look, she growled—“Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf!” And that was that. The dog snarled a weak protest and heeled. The challenge was over. No real contest. To say that Harold had been relieved when the young woman subdued the dog would be vastly understating the case. Harold had always been slightly afraid of dogs. But even more importantly, he’d been grateful, for he’d then been able to make the distinction between the severe look she directed at the dog and the subtly curious one she’d previously focused on him. Harold rushed in to congratulate her. He told her how amazing she was and took her hand, suddenly feeling a heat emanate from it which filled him with such a peculiar sense of wellbeing, he found himself wishing she’d stare at him again with her piercing, potent, unabashed stare.
At that moment Manny, the proprietor of the shop, entered carrying a styrofoam cup of coffee. “Hey! What’s happenin’, Mary?” Ah, her name is Mary, Harold thought. He should have known. She looked like a Mary with her pale-white skin. “Ethereal, honey,” he could hear his mother saying to all her clients with that kind of skin. “You look just like the Blessed Virgin!” Harold immediately started speculating on Mary’s blessed virginity, but just at that moment she let go of his hand to put the copy of the Sports Illustrated back on its shelf. “Nothin’s happening, Manny. Mitzi’s going nuts as usual, and this guy wants to buy something.” “Okay. Thanks,” Manny said. “You want a Malomar?” Mary nodded her assent. Harold ordered his pack of Kools, pleased that the sound of his voice was authoritative and didn’t reveal a ridiculous desire to order a pack of Marys. Mary headed for
the door, peeling off the Malomar wrapper. “I’m going now. Bye!” Mary called to Manny. “I’m going now too. Bye!” Harold announced, feeling extremely cordial. Mary was a fast walker, and Harold had a hard time keeping up with her. “My name is Harold,” he half shouted, slightly out of breath as she raced for the corner. “I’d like to tell you about the children in Russia.” What did he just say? The moment this was out of his mouth, Harold realized what an absurd opening for a conversation this was. He also realized that he really knew hardly anything about the children in Russia, save for the few stories Mo had told him about his childhood. “What’s your last name, Harold?” Mary asked, easily dismissing what did not interest her. “Rapisardi.” By this time Harold had caught up with her, and they’d reached
the end of the block. They stood there, waiting for the light to turn. “My last name is Pohatch,” she said. “That’s Ukranian. It doesn’t come from eggs hatching or anything like that, though I’m teased, you know… Rapisardi,” she continued. “That’s Italian, right?” He nodded. “You don’t look Italian.” “I’m half.” “I would have guessed just half, cause you don’t look Italian,” she repeated. “My mom’s English,” he replied. And then, not able to stop the pride from entering his voice, he said, “My grandmother’s from Cornwall.” Having Cornish ancestry made Harold feel somehow that he belonged to a noble tradition, a tradition that included King Arthur and the Beatles, and that deep inside he harbored a perfect English accent that would someday pop out full blown to lend his speech a terrific hipness, to the everlasting, asphyxiating
envy of Sal. Harold blurted out, “What’s your telephone number, Mary?” “My telephone number? Whatdaya want it for?” Harold was nonplussed. Wasn’t this the correct procedure—“correct procedure” being an expression he heard often enough at home, as Mo had a “correct procedure” for everything including buttering his own slice of bread? “Why do you want my phone number?” she asked again, and then joked, “You a heavy breather?” Harold was horrified. He completely missed her attempt at humor and conciliation. He knew very well what a heavy breather was. Until just a few years ago, when his dad was really drunk, he’d call their house and tie up the line, breathing. His mom would just hang up on his dad, but if Harold answered, he’d leave the receiver on top of the fridge until he heard his father snoring. “I live in Brooklyn,” he heard
himself say stupidly, as if the distance somehow explained the reason he asked for her number. “Yeah?” Mary answered. “Well, I used to live in Staten Island. Now that was a real commute!” At this point Harold had no idea what they were talking about or where the dialogue was heading. The light changed and Mary started walking again, heading toward the club. When they reached it, Mary opened up the wrapper of the Malomar and started wolfing it down. “You goin’ in, Rapisardi?” she asked with a mouth full of chocolate marshmallow. Harold nodded, no half-nod now, but a full weave of his head from side-to-side, as if drawing the figure eight horizontally in the air. Divining correctly that this was a “maybe,” Mary nodded back solemnly, then suddenly grabbed Harold’s hand and looked up at him with the same probing stare that she’d first levelled at him in the news store,
and it distressed him now as it had then. Oblivious to his discomfort, Mary continued to scrutinize him. To his great chagrin, she stared in particular at his eyelids, which, he knew, were a shade of lavender because of his damned thin skin. He hoped she was thinking he used eye shadow like some bad dude, punking up his face, and that he actually wore his madras shirt and chinos on purpose, like she wore her bouffant, as a kind of crowning mockery. But he couldn’t tell, for she said nothing…just kept staring. Suddenly Mary released his hand, reached up, and brushed his cheek with her lips. A kissssss! Harold thought. A maiden’s kiss! For a brief moment the amped music blasted the air and Mary disappeared into Fractal’s. Clang! Harold stood still, aware that this was the second time that evening the metal door clanged shut with him on the outside. He lit up, a soft whish hardly heard against the sound of
the pounding drums coming from the club, then raised his left hand to where Mary had planted her kiss. He felt a dab of melted chocolate on his cheek. “Rightly do they love you,” he suddenly whispered. And for a brief moment, as long as it might take for a punk rocker to strike a pose, he thought he knew who “they” were and what the line meant…but then, it was gone.
Contributors Cathy Allman Cathy Allman has a master's degree in creative writing and teaches creativity workshops. Don Bagley Don Bagley lives with his wife and son on north California. He is a graduate of American River College and has studied at Sacramento State. His work has bean featured at Micro Horror, Salamander Society and 365 Tomorrows. Erik Bendix Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Erik attended a progressive school high in the Swiss Alps and then went on to earn an M.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University and in philosophy from Princeton University. He worked as an editor and in alternative education before settling in North Carolina with his family. Erik is in private practice as an experienced teacher of the Alexander Technique and as a Body-Mind Centering practitioner. Both disciplines require a daily practice of being alive to the life of the body, and that aliveness seeks expression in his poetry. Erik has studied with Richard Tillinghast and Robert Bly and has often attended both the old Asheville Poetry Festival and the current Asheville Wordfest. Erik's work is published or forthcoming in The Alembic, Asheville Poetry Review, Euphony, Forge, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Poetry East, Saint Annâ€™s Review, Monarch Review, Forge, and Word Riot. Caroline Bruckner Caroline attended the National School of Film and Television in London and got an MA in screenwriting. Her film, "The Confession," won a student Oscar in 2010 and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011. Also, an animated film Caroline wrote, "Cooked," was selected for the CinĂŠfondation in Cannes Film Festival in 2010. Her short fiction has been featured in Diverse Voices Quarterly and Willow Review.
Sri Wele Cebuda Sri Wele Cebuda is a lover of India, fascinated by its colour, its beauty, its energy, and its capacity for change, which are at the center of his vision of the World. He has been influenced by figures such as Rabindranath Tagore and Srinivasa Ramanujan, and has long been a lover of its culture and its power, as can be seen in a quote of his, "In India, diamonds are everywhere." Chiara DeLuna With a doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies, Chiara DeLuna carefully observes and interprets human behavior, a practice that contributes to her creative writing, as well as her academic writing for scholarly journals. Chiara loves to explore different voices and genres, and her stories are as often compelled by a particular voice as they are by a specific idea, situation, or plot. Second to writing, Chiara also loves to cook, experimenting with new ingredients and flavors, as she does with new characters and voices, to find unexpected outcomes. Her two lifetime goals are to be posthumously famous as the author with the most diverse set of published work ever discovered and to popularize the peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Rosa del Duca Rosa del Duca lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she’s not cranking out the news at KNTV, she’s writing fiction and narrative nonfiction, or singing with her folkpop band we.are.hunters. Her work has appeared in Cutbank, Grain, River Teeth and CALYX. Michael Emery Michael grew up in the Lost River Valley of east/central Idaho—cow country, the last of the Old West; he left knowing all he needed to about cows, coyotes, fences, rattlesnakes, fly fishing, hunting, and drinking beer, but not much about the background basics for a modicum of learning. As an undergrad at Occidental College, Michael worked a variety of odd jobs to finance my degree in psychology and philosophy. From there, he attended the Teachers College at Columbia University for his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Eric went on to spend some time in the Peace Corps before returning to Idaho, quitting psychology, and buying a ranch. His decision to return to professional practice led him to work for the court system as a forensic psychologist, handling competency, child custody, personal injury, and criminal sentencing issues. Now semi-retired, Eric came to New Mexico via the Creativity and Madness continuing education series and now
live at an artist’s colony in El Morro. His writing has been published in Grey Sparrow Journal, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and The Zuni Mountain Poets: An Anthology, edited by John Carter-North, Margaret Gross, and Thomas Davis. Mike Finley Mike Finley is a Pushcart winner, an author of over 200 books of various kinds, and 100 provocative videos. Today he writes web copy for law firms for a living. His latest work came out "Today: A Pox Upon Your Blessings," with Danny Klecko. Mike was awarded the 2010 KPV Kerouac Award, a lifetime achievement honor. Mike and Danny edit LIEF Magazine. Kimberly Lojewski Kimberly Lojewski writes and teaches at UMass Amherst. She has been published inPANK, Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Jersey Devil Press, and elsewhere. She is currently finishing a book of short stories and a new nonfiction project. Fiona Marshall Fiona emigrated to Northern Alberta, Canada, six years ago with her husband and two sons after living her entire life in the North West of England.There, she joined the Slave Lake Writers Group and the Writers Guild of Alberta, began to write and never stopped! She makes her living as an ultrasound technician but, for fun, enjoys quadding in the bush, making a fire, and toasting hot dogs and marshmallows on it. Diane Simkin Diane's play, "Frankie and Annie," was produced at the Manhattan Theater Company in New York City, and her three one-act plays, "Potter’s Field, The Vacuum," and "Ms. Gomb," were produced at the Wooden O in Los Angeles. Under a commission from the American Musical Theater, Diane wrote the libretto for a children’s opera, "Moonchildren," which was performed at the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina. Diane studied with Uta Hagen at the HB Studio in New York City, and attended theBreadloaf, San Diego, and San Francisco Writers’ Conferences. She was also educated at Columbia University and the University of Rochester, where she graduated with a degree in English.
Adam Zobel Adam Zobel is a recent graduate of Southern NH University's MFA program, and is currently pursuing his passion for teaching by working as an adjunct English professor at two NH community colleges. In addition, he works at a screen-printing company and is a freelance marketing writer. He lives with his wife, Stephanie, and is excitedly awaiting the birth of their first child.
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