Crack the Spine Literary magazine
IIs ss suuee 110011
Issue 101 February 5, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine
Cover & Interior Images by Christine Catalano Christine Catalano Worked as a graphic designer for many years and is now able to concentrate exclusively on photography She has been published in Crack the Spinepreviously, is a regular contributor to Bella Onlineâ€™s Mused magazine, and recently was interviewed for an article about her photography in Canadaâ€™s Front&Centre literary magazine.
CONTENTS Romana Iorga Fear
Daniel Clausen Native Monsters
Pamela Hammond Winter Walk
John Gorman Lornaâ€™s Doom
Rose Mary Boehm A Pilgrimage
Hannah Thurman Harmony, TX
Savannah Ganster O, Tragedy
George Dila My American Dream
Romana Iorga Fear
It never goes away, it only diminishes, thins out like a bookmark you forget in one of the books you now rarely read. Then you find it while dusting one day. It springs out voluptuous, huge—this bosomy aunt who always arrives out of nowhere to stay, suitcases and all, who manifests her love by crushing your face against the solid breasts, the loudly thumping heart. When she’s done, you’re done with. She takes you by surprise, yes. She doesn’t kill you, though death might seem preferable. You start eating your meals together. She sips from your tea, shares your bed at night, comfortably curled in between you and your husband, in the crook of his arm, in the warm dip of your thigh— incestuous, fascinating. Like an old dog, she slathers you with her drool, and you’ll never understand why your husband takes you so lightly
when you say you hate that. He laughs it off and you seethe. You feel murderous. You go off to some room to drown your unhappiness in folding laundry, or else, yelling at your children. The fear is there, folding along with you, carefully smoothing away all the wrinkles, stocking the drawers with clean T-shirts and socks. In the kids’ room she hides her misshapen body under their beds. Suddenly playful, she giggles, saying your name with your children’s voices, grabbing your feet from under the bedspread. Her hook-fingers get stuck on your clothes. So you whisper her name, reel her in to examine the scaly sheen of her body. Her eyes fasten on yours and you’re in a trance. Everything falls to the side: the house, its children, asleep in their beds, the husband, who’s never awake enough to save you, anyway. You give way to this wave of forgetting as it slowly fills up your shoes. When morning comes, you’re a still everglade, fathoms deep, hiding a body that was, once, yours.
Daniel Clausen Native Monsters The
first time Chris saw the
centipedes crawling out from under his bed he was sure that it was all part of his imagination. Usually, during the night, he would close his eyes tight and try to make his bedroom turn into a jungle. But for the last few nights, whenever he closed his eyes to create the jungle out of the shadows cast by his nightlight, instead dangerous and horrible things would appear. He hated centipedes the worst. Even though he knew they were imaginary, they still looked as awful as any centipedes he could remember seeing in movies or in books. They were everywhere now. But he wasn’t going to be defeated by his imagination. Not tonight. He reached down and picked up one of the centipedes. His imagination told him that it was alive and crawling all over his hand. But he wouldn’t be defeated. He took
the centipede and put it in his mouth. He closed his mouth and dared his imagination to make him taste centipede.
was his foster mother. This
much he knew for sure. He had lived with her since the age of five. A very young age, indeed. It was hard to remember things before that age, but he did have vague memories of living someplace with other kids. If he tried hard enough, he thought he could recall a man, someone with a broad smile who was putting him up in a tree. There was nothing hostile about the action. It was the most natural thing in the world. This memory, however, was just a shadow in his mind, whereas the knowledge of his foster mother was real and ever-present. At night she would stand in the door frame and just look at
him. The soft glow cast by his nightlight made her into a silhouette. For a long time his imagination would work overtime. He would imagine her as some scary beast off in the distance. The room would grow into a jungle. He would slip past the beast, and then he would be off on a boat by himself. He was sailing off to an island. Yes, they would soon call him WILD THING. There he lived, free and unburdened by his old life. In his imagination, at this point, things became hazy. Magical, but still hopelessly obscure. Then one night, the jungle didn’t appear and his room filled with centipedes. The silhouette of his foster mother was still there— a terrible beast, but he was no longer able to go off into the jungle to find a boat. Instead, there was just the centipedes and her.
The taste in his mouth had been awful. Even if it was just his imagination turning against him there was nothing more real than the awful taste of centipedes. Now, as he was walking across the floor, he could feel the centipedes crawling between his toes and crunching beneath his feet. Still, he had to know whether he could reach the image of the silhouette in the background, whether he could put his hand against it and knock it down like some cheap cardboard cutout. But when he was almost there, when the silhouette was big enough for him to reach out and touch, he found himself back in his bed. There was nothing there. Not even the silhouette. He was alone in a bed that existed in a vacuum, and all he could do was open his mouth. He tried to scream, but the vacuum swallowed up the sound of his misery and scattered it across a universe of nothing.
happened, but his foster mother and father had stopped talking. In the morning the silence would drag on forever, and then finally, he would go to school. Something was happening, but at the age of 9-going-on-10 it was hard to know exactly what anything meant or if anything was real, or if he would just melt away. The mug his foster father drank from still said “Jesus Saves!” in big broad letters with an exclamation mark. He still put the same efficient energy into getting dressed every morning. His foster mother still got up early and made their breakfast every morning. But something had turned their relationship, one of submissive loyalty by the wife toward the husband, strange and quiet. It had been about a year since their real son, Tommy, had left to join the Army right out of high school. In a way Chris loved Tommy. It was Tommy who had sucked up the wrath of the two adults who had seemed constantly angry and constantly struggling to show their kids they
were in control. Tommy’s torture, he was sure, had been worse than his. At first, Tommy had bullied him. Such was the natural order of a child with an older brother. But as time went by, it was Tommy who had taught him how to survive. He showed him how to keep his mind busy with activities; how to avoid angering the two adults; how to avoid talking out of turn. More importantly, Tommy had given Chris the most important piece of advice through his actions: when it was time to go, it was time to go. Outwardly, they tried to project themselves as kind and charitable. But as young as Chris was, he couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t think of his foster parents as angry people. Everything they did projected control. He avoided the new couch which was still wrapped in plastic to avoid stains. His cereal boxes would be thrown out and the cereal put in plastic containers to keep out germs. The house was clean beyond reason. There wasn’t a day he
didn’t come home and his nostrils didn’t burn from pine-sol. These things he could handle on most days. But lately, he would come home from school and the silence would fill up the house. He didn’t know what to make of this silence, the anger that followed, any of it. He found himself going outside more and more to play. But he wasn’t supposed to go anywhere beyond their block of the street. He found his stepmother watching him from the window. Some of the kids who were a year or two older than Chris would tell him that they were going down to the pier and asked if he would like to join them. Chris couldn’t. Not with his mother looking out the window at him. Chris wasn’t allowed to climb trees either. There was a large one in the front yard of the house with a long branch that extended outward. Once, in his boldness, he had asked if a swing could be put on it like their neighbors had a few yards down. His foster
mother had looked at his foster father who replied simply, “No.” When he asked if he could climb the tree, his foster father similarly replied with the same simple word. Instead, he looked at the tree and wondered if the vague memory of a man with a broad smile was a real memory or something he had made up.
had always known that
Chris was deviant. He had come that way from the orphanage. Sometimes his foster father would spank him over his misdeeds. Sometimes it was worse. But there was only so far they could go. Later he would realize that they were afraid of his case worker at the Department of Family Services. Sometimes Chris would have to read scripture out loud for hours. He couldn’t pronounce all the words exactly right. But his foster father would stand and watch him, and then eventually, once he started crying, the man would say simply, “That’s enough.” Chris had continued to suck
his thumb throughout elementary school. Eventually though, after his foster father had weaned him off this practice through spankings and scripture readings, he would develop the habit of opening his mouth as wide as he could. He wouldn’t scream for real. He would just pretend like the sound coming out of his mouth was an awful scream. First it was a scream of agony. Later, as he grew older, his scream would become a roar of defiance. He would open his mouth wide and try to let it out. Eventually, the jungle would appear in his dreams. He would go there, and with the monsters, with their horrible teeth and horrible claws, there was nothing but screaming and yelling.
Though he couldn’t be sure, Chris thought that his foster mother had it worse. Sometimes he thought he could hear her whimpering in her room. Sometimes he heard them arguing. His foster father wanted her to think only of the Holy
Ghost, but the truth was that she would sometimes sit on the couch or on the porch and see ghosts. Not the holy kind, just ghosts. And then one night, long before the silence started, he started to see the image of his foster mother as a silhouette at night in his door frame. At first he could imagine her as some kind of monster out in the distance. After a while, though, he couldn’t imagine anything. She was just in the doorframe. Sometimes the centipedes would come and sometimes they wouldn’t. Either way, he would open his mouth to scream—he would scream silently because he didn’t have anything to counter the silence.
He was a WILD THING again. Suddenly, all of the other things seemed arbitrary, pointless. His mother coming to watch him at night. The angry silence of the house. The rules against him going past their street block. What did it all matter? He was a WILD THING. He found himself wading through the jungle. In the back of his mind, he knew he was really leaving the house. But what did he care? He knew he had been something before he came to this place. And now he would be that thing again. The boat would be waiting for him at the pier. It would take him to the island where he could continue his real life with the other monsters.
Then one day the jungle came to He had a backpack full of clothes. him without even trying. He had all but given up on his imagination. He half-expected his foster mother to come and stand in the door frame of his room, the nightlight casting an ominous glow. But she didn’t. Instead, the jungle appeared, green and lush.
He took a few canned goods with pop top lids from the pantry along with some pop-tarts and some other snack food. He did this very quietly, but it occurred to him that if his foster mother or foster father found him, if they raised their voice, he would have
no choice but to attack. He would fight to the death. There would be no other way. It would all be over soon, he kept thinking. And then he was at the dock. But where he expected to find the boat, he instead found the monsters. Native monsters. With horrible teeth and horrible noses and horrible claws. The horrible monsters let out their horrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth, but when it was all over he was still there. He roared the loudest, and they all cringed before him. It was just like in the book, only these monsters were real. There were no menacing silhouettes that night. Under the dock, he slept in the cool air and listened to the ocean. He knew he couldn’t hide forever. In the morning his foster parents would call the police and have them looking for him. Yes, his foster parents would find him. And they would scream and roar, but he would show them what they had feared all along. He would show them with his terrible roar and his terrible teeth, and more
importantly, his terrible friends that he was the WILD THING. He would roar and go wild in ways that would make their silence impossible. He would say things, and do things, and throw things that would make it impossible for them ever to take him back. And that was the point. They would take him to be with all the other WILD THINGS in the jungle where he belonged.
Pamela Hammond Winter Walk Chicken Ranch Beach, Inverness
My shadow stretches into a long cloud, follows me, settles into the sand with each step, slithers around stones in a mischievous way. For a time we amble together in peace along the bay. But today sudden change, oblique light descends, sculpts swiftly moving clouds. Heavy skies hug chilled air, a surrender to winterâ€™s rebellious ways. As balance quivers in uncertainty, crows hatch a scavengerâ€™s plan. Tall pines huddle in a pool of blackness. Their ragged edges etch the sky. Branches shiver, waters tremble onshore. No shadow to follow me home as I enter this season of mulling, shaded lamps, fireplace nights. A time for swift walks warmed by my inner light.
John Gorman Lorna’s Doom Lorna licked black truffle off the lip of her spoon. It tasted sublime, but the fatty demons in her mind pinched her parietal lobe with their pitchforks. The wannabe Super Model, two tables away, gave her the old stinkeye. Lorna herself yucca thin, but not golden. Her demure mouth and cold brown eyes whisked the truth to the side. Charlie wouldn’t believe her anyway. He laughed heroically, sniffing his Aglianico as if it were the glorious remains of Pompeii. He waved the sommelier over to kill the rest of the bottle. Lorna stuffed herself with angel hair pasta and Charlie, the cornball, ribbed Lorna that there was a mimetic connection between her hair and the feast on his plate. Lorna made a nervous snort. She knew her hair was kinkier. She wished Charlie would stop trying to dazzle her. She suspected he’d once worked in a liquor store, maybe while earning his way through college. Lorna’s hands grew clammy at the thought of the bill. Maybe he’d never believe she was a professional chowhound, but she dreaded, even more, the confession of her true joy— ceramics. Only her kiln mates knew her passion. She had zero talent. Her plates looked as if they’d been mauled by rhinoceroses, her cups looked like cereal bowls after smoking too much ganja, but she loved the intimacy of cold clay, caressing her fingers and loved food, but
hated eating because she hated the way she gorged herself in competitions. She seldom revealed this until a third or fourth date, which wasn’t often. She seemed to be a magnet for those Yuppie assholes who tried to impress her with their Audis and their weekend getaways in Ibiza. They frisked her with their eyes, only one thing on their mind and she was tempted every now and again to get it out in the open, but always feared that she was doomed to meet another whack-job, like that slimeball who imported furs, who didn’t even want to enter her, opting to watch her stuff her face with chorizo and kielbasa. She had no clue why she went through the ordeal. Charlie was different. He was the Rhone Ranger and everything he said about Gigondas, Côte-Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape watered her mouth. She loved the way he said they smelled of lilacs, spice box, and dirt his forehead crinkled, his shock of hair askew, his pronouncements almost prophetic and then he’d hunch his shoulders and make a wry grin as if second guessing his unmitigated zeal. She pictured him curled up in the morning underneath her quilt while she snuck off to brew coffee. He ate like a bird and drank like a fish. Could he understand? She watched him dip his bread, mottling the cloth with oil. Sharing her passion couldn’t be any worse than getting the ingrown toenail removed when she’d gotten back from Tokyo. Up she sat, readying herself to mouth the words. They wouldn’t budge. She toed the paper bag
under her chair, nesting the crummy decanter sheâ€™d made for him. She slunk into her unsettled self, drowned the last drop of her Riesling, and felt a new warm pulse rippling inside her. She elbowed onto the table, wetting her lips with the blade of her tongue. This time sheâ€™d wear the fat of her meal as a badge of courage. The bottom of her throat swelled into a cantaloupe. She reached under the table and removed the decanter from the paper bag and held it gingerly and waited for Charlie to accept her failure.
By: Christine Catalano
Rose Mary Boehm A Pilgrimage
In Rosh HaNicra I look across to Lebanon. Below me is the sea. I pick up a stone and let it bounce against the rocks.
The Sea of Galilee cuts me with contrition. I want to atone for sins to which I feel fettered by blood. The Jordan washes the dusty crust of the Negev from my skin. The Dead Sea lifts my burden.
Haifa receives me in a language I understand, Bethlehemâ€™s brittle alliances donâ€™t inspire. My friend rejects the kipah and holds my hand. And Yom Rishon is the first day.
Hannah Thurman Harmony, TX The
last Monday she was in
office, Maryanne Berger (D) sat at her desk, watching Arden Bowles (R) nail a football stand into the wood paneling above the sign that said MAYOR. “Is this supposed to be taking this long?” she asked. Arden grunted. A thin man with long limbs and a blonde mustache, he had defeated Maryanne 6,000 votes to 450. But even he rarely took credit; everyone knew Maryanne was beat as soon as the contract for the prison fell through. “It’s going into a stud,” Arden said. “Maybe it could go somewhere else,” she said. “No room.” He kept hammering. Maryanne peered around her desk at the cart Arden had wheeled in. Trophies stuck together in a clump lay under a framed picture of the Bowles family and an espresso maker. A machine connected with rubber
tubing poked out of the top, likely some kind of device for Arden’s youngest son, who had cystic fibrosis. With each smack of the hammer, Maryanne’s head pounded. “Arden,” she said finally, “Knock it off. I’m trying to work.” Arden hooked the hammer into the pocket of his khakis and walked over to her desk. “Sorry. What are you working on, anyway?” “A second appeal.” Arden frowned. “Look, I know it seems crazy, but there’s still a chance. Rodriguez was on vacation during the vote. If she comes out strong in favor, we may be able to get a revised contract through by May. I mean, it’s already built, for godssake. We just need the contract.” Arden shook his head. “It ain’t gonna happen. No one in Austin wants to send jack shit to
Harmony. Not even felons.” “I disagree.” “O-okay. Well, you’d better get it done this week. I’m not touching it after that.” “I’m trying.” Arden clapped his hands a few times then sat down on the edge of her desk. “How’s your family doing?” “Fine,” Maryanne said. Her head continued to throb. “Say, Jessie says she hasn’t seen Kacie in school lately.” “She’s taking classes online so she can get to all her appointments.” “When’s she due?” “Two months,” she said. “March.” “Bless your heart. And her not even kin.” Maryanne smiled coolly. “Look,” she said. “I really do need to finish this.” “No, you don’t,” Arden said, walking back over to the wall and taking out the hammer.
It was a ten-minute drive from the city government building to her house, on a long, potholed road flanked by empty storefronts. Harmony had once stood at the edge of a thoroughfare from Austin to Mexico City, but a freeway built in the early ‘90’s bypassed the town. It declined slowly, then quickly, then all of the houses were too cheap to sell. Maryanne moved here from Houston six years ago, planning to jumpstart both the town’s economy and her own career by building a maximum-security prison. When the project went over budget for the fourth time, her supporters in the capitol disappeared. Then her supporters in Harmony. She paid for the last month of construction out of her own savings, but it was no use: the prison remained empty, and she lost the election. She was still thinking about the appeal when she pulled up to her house, a drooping ranch style with stained siding. She
got it pressure washed every three months, but the dust returned almost immediately, blending it once again into the gray landscape. She parked the car and walked inside. “Hello?” Something smelled like glue. “Hi, Mrs. Berger,” Kacie called. Maryanne frowned. Her son’s pregnant girlfriend was the last person she wanted to talk to. But she set down her briefcase and walked into the kitchen, where Kacie stood stirring a pot of something thick and brown. One hand on her belly, she grinned when Maryanne came in. “What are you making?” Maryanne asked. “Cream of chicken noodles.” “Cream of chicken noodle?” “No, cream of chicken… noodles. It’s noodles with cream of chicken on ‘em.” “I don’t remember buying cream of chicken.” “You didn’t,” she said. “I got some.” Maryanne peered into the sloppy pot of sauce. It looked like melted plastic. “I was going
to make steak salads.” “I know, I know. I saw your sticky. I thought I’d save you the trouble. Plus, I think Jack took the steak for lunch.” “Someone should have warned him.” “I did. He didn’t listen.” Maryanne began flipping through the stack of today’s mail. “That’s not surprising.” Jack’s stubbornness was legendary, one of the reasons she’d been so disappointed when she found out he’d gotten Kacie pregnant: she knew he’d want to go through with it. She threw away three mailers and looked at Kacie once again. She reminded her of the girls she’d known growing up in Louisiana: thick eyeliner and thin clothes, unambitious, sweet, and boring. This was not who her son was supposed to end up with. She breathed through her mouth so she wouldn’t have to smell the chicken soup. The front door slammed and she heard Jack and Eli come in, laughing as they set their things down in the hall. The father-son
duo looked very different—Eli was tall and dark-haired, Jack stocky and blonde—but the way they pushed into the kitchen, feet heavy on the floor, could not have been more alike. Jack nuzzled at Kacie’s neck. “How’ve you been?” “Gooood.” She grinned. One of her front teeth was crooked. Maryanne turned away. Eli nodded at Maryanne. “Hey.” “How are you doing?” she asked. “How was your day?” It was all right.” Eli did home computer repair, a job he hated. When they’d lived in Houston, he worked at Dell; out here, this was the closest thing. He’d been a lot quieter since she’d lost the election, which he’d counseled her not to run in. “At least you’re home on time.” She smiled. “Yeah…” He looked past her. “Smells good, Kace. What’s cooking?” “Chicken soup over noodles.” “Mmm!” He left to set the table and Maryanne turned to Jack. “How was school?”
He shrugged. “Did you ask Mr. Ailand about AP Comp Sci?” “I don’t think they want you to take the test unless you took the class.” “But they can’t stop you, can they?” “I dunno.” “But you’re good at computers,” she said. “Maybe I can talk to them.” “Please don’t.” Jack turned away. Before Maryanne could say anything else, Eli called that the table was ready, and Kacie began scooping wads of gloopy pasta onto four plates. “This looks great,” Jack said, sitting down. “Thanks, sweetheart.” Kacie smiled so wide Maryanne wanted to slap her. “What did you do today?” Eli asked Maryanne. She twirled a long noodle on her fork. “Arden came in.” “What did he want?” The noodles were so salty she gagged. “To brag, mostly.” Eli didn’t answer. When she looked over at him, he was checking his phone.
Embarrassed, she turned to Kacie to change the subject. “What do you have going on this week?” “Actually…” Kacie looked at Jack. “I have an appointment tomorrow in Austin and we were wondering…” “I’m going to drive her,” Jack said. “After school?” Maryanne asked. “It’s at noon.” “No, you’re not.” “Jesus, mom. No one cares if I skip.” “I do. And colleges do.” “I already told you I’m not going to college.” “Maybe not next year, but—” “Dad, can you please tell mom I can drive Kacie to the doctor?” Eli looked up from his phone. “It’s not like he’s cutting class to cook meth.” “Who would know, looking at his grades?” “God,” Jack said. “If you won’t let me go, how’s she going to get there?” Maryanne considered her options. “I’ll take her,” she said
finally. “Really?” Kacie looked up from folded hands. “Sure, I’m free.” Everyone was silent. “Thanks, Mrs. Berger,” Kacie said after a while. “Don’t mention it,” Maryanne said.
Later in bed, Eli said, “Good for you.” “Good for me what?” Maryanne was staring past her book, thinking about Melissa Rodriguez. She hadn’t answered her email about the appeal. Maybe when she was in Austin tomorrow, she could stop by her office. “Driving Kacie.” She shrugged. “I can’t let Jack skip school,” she said. “It’s still nice,” he said. “Kacie really wants you to like her.” Maryanne shut her book. “Do you think I should bring up adoption again?” Eli shook his head. “She’s not the one you have to convince.” She sighed. “Can you talk to him?”
“I’ve talked to him. He says he’s ready.” “But he’s not.” “I know.” “Well, why don’t you talk to him again?” “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” She propped herself up on her elbows. “Why not?” she asked. “This isn’t something you can force,” he said, rolling away from her. He turned off his light. “Babe,” she said, touching his arm. He pulled away. “Not tonight.” She lay back, watching the ceiling fan cut through the darkness. Eli rustled under the blankets for a moment, then lay still.
next morning, Maryanne
waited in the car, checking email on her phone. For the past four years, she’d awoken to upwards of sixty messages. Today, there were only two. One was the weekly newsletter from the Texas Association of Women
in Politics; the other came from Melissa Rodriguez’s secretary. Melissa couldn’t talk to her this week. She didn’t offer an alternate time. Maryanne dropped her phone in the cupholder with a thunk. Kacie opened the door on the other side, climbing in and immediately beginning to pick at her chipped nail polish. “Do you need me to get out the GPS?” she asked. “Is it right in St. David’s?” “Yes.” “Then I’m good.” She backed the car down the driveway then out onto the road. “We had some functions there last year,” she said to break the silence. “Fundraisers. Jack may have told you about them.” “He said the election was pretty close.” “That’s kind of him.” Maryanne laughed. “The Libertarian almost beat me.” “I thought that’s what you were.” “Libertarian? No, I’m a Democrat. Maybe you’re thinking of ‘liberal.’” “Maybe.” Kacie leaned her
forehead against the window. “You lost because of the jail, didn’t you?” Maryanne frowned. “There are a lot of factors that people take into account when voting. So much of it is fundraising, and honestly, I’m not going to say there’s no glass ceiling—” Kacie shrugged. “People say you lost because of the jail.” “Well,” Maryanne said. “I didn’t.” She swallowed. “Do you ever think you’d like to go into politics?” “No,” Kacie said. “I want to open, like, a pet store.” “That’s nice,” Maryanne said, then tried to smile so she wouldn’t sound sarcastic. “What kinds of pets?” “Dogs, mostly. But not from puppy mills. Maybe like dogs whose owners moved away or who had puppies and they don’t want them.” “So, basically an animal shelter?” “No,” Kacie said. “This’ll be different.” “I don’t see how.” Kacie didn’t say anything. Maryanne blushed. She knew
she shouldn’t be so critical of Kacie, but it was hard not to. “Let’s listen to the radio,” she said.
hospital, Maryanne parked in a spot with a stork painted on the asphalt. “You don’t have to come with me,” Kacie said. “Are you sure? Don’t you need an adult to sign?” “Half the girls in there are like fifteen.” “Oh. Well, then—” “I’ll call you when I’m done.” Kacie maneuvered out of the car and shut the door. Maryanne looked at her phone again. Nothing. Feeling suddenly tired, she drove out of the parking lot in search of a coffee shop. The roads here were so smooth, she had to turn the radio up to drown out the silence. When she stopped at a stoplight, she pressed her temples with her fingers. Could you please give me a break? she asked no one in particular. When the light turned green,
she sighed and began moving again. As she scanned ahead for a coffeeshop, an acrylic sign caught her eye. OPEN HOUSE TODAY. Almost without thinking, she began following it, inching down the road until another sign told her to go right. Here goes nothing, she thought and turned onto a wide street lined with elms.
house was a two-story
colonial, renovated, with a kitchen island and blue art on the walls. Everything smelled like Pledge. A woman approached and handed her a booklet. “You look like you like this one.” Maryanne unfolded the booklet and tried not to blink at the asking price. “It’s gorgeous. But I don’t know what we’d do with all that space.” “How many people are in your family?” “Three. My husband, my son and me.” “How old’s your boy?” “Eighteen. He’s going to Rice
next year.” That was where she had gone. “You must be proud.” Maryanne grinned. “To tell you the truth, this place might be a little big for you if he’s gone. But I’ve got a smaller property opening off Center Street if you’re interested…” “That sounds great.” The woman smiled and wrote down a number on a card. “That’s my cell, it’s on all the time.” “I’ll get back to you.” Even though she had not gotten coffee, Maryanne felt more alert as she drove back to the hospital. If they moved to Austin, Eli could work at IBM and she could run for city council. Jack had good grades; he could get into UT and come home on the weekends. With the baby adopted, Jack would move on. Get a new girlfriend: a smart, polite young woman who had the sense to use protection. Maryanne imagined the colors she would paint the walls of their new house, and sat in the parking lot of the hospital,
drove Kacie home in
silence, thinking of the best way to broach the subject with Jack. Should she tell him about the house, or would that seem too manipulative? Maybe she could bring up again how expensive babies were. Perhaps a plea would work better; she was certainly desperate enough. Lost in thought, she pulled the car into the driveway, and was surprised to see Eli’s truck already there. “Do you know what’s going on?” she asked Kacie, pointing. Kacie shrugged. She opened the unlocked door and walked inside. Both Jack and Eli were sitting on the couch in the living room, watching SportsCenter. “Hey,” Maryanne said, walking over to them. “Why are you both home so early?” “My 1:30 cancelled so I picked up him from school,” Eli said. “I thought we both needed a break.” Maryanne frowned. “I took
Kacie to her appointment so he wouldn’t have to miss class.” Eli didn’t answer. Jack got up and walked past her to kiss Kacie. “How was it?” Kacie grinned. “It’s a girl!” she said. “What?” Jack put his arms around her. “I thought you didn’t want to know!” “I couldn’t wait.” Her crooked tooth gleamed. “Oh, my god. The woman asked and I was like, no, no, but then she asked again and I was like, oh, eff it—you can tell me.” “Babe!” Jack twirled her around. “This is amazing.” “Congratulations,” Eli said. Maryanne reddened. She felt her fantasy spinning out of control. “Jack,” she said. “Can I speak to you for a moment?” Jack ignored her. “Jack, I need to speak with you,” she said again. “Mom, this is kind of important.” “So is going to class.” He rolled his eyes. “I mean it,” she said. “You can’t do this anymore. AP tests are coming up.”
“And what if I don’t want to take them?” She sighed. “Eli, can you help me out here?” Eli stared at the TV. “This is between you two.” She turned on him. “Really? Because it seems like you’re always taking his side.” Eli didn’t blink. “You know why it seems like that?” Jack said, face red, “Because you’re a bitch. You ruin everything. But I’m not going to let you ruin my life, too.” Maryanne felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Swallowing, she looked at Kacie, then back to Jack. His hands were sunk deep in his pockets. “You’ve done a pretty good job of ruining things yourself,” she said, then turned around and walked back towards the door.
got back in the car
and looked up at the sky but it was gray now, clouded with rain. She backed out of the driveway, willing herself not to
shake. There was nowhere for her to go. She looked down at her phone. The e-mail light was off. She turned around and began heading away towards the one place she knew she was welcome. The prison stood down a hill at the dusty outskirts of Harmony. As the road dipped down to meet it, it seemed to rise out of the dirt, bright white with silver fencing, a sparkling heaven like in the pamphlets Mormons left on her doorstep. She parked the car at the gate and walked up to the security window. Carlos waved at her. “I’ve got the whole place under control,” he said. “What other man you see guard one of these by himself?” This was probably the eighth time she’d heard this joke. “Can you let me in?” “What do you need?” “I’m going to take some pictures.” Carlos looked confused. “If the people in Austin could see how nice it is, maybe they’ll reconsider.”
“They haven’t already seen pictures?” Maryanne didn’t answer. “You want me to go with you?” “No, thanks. Just the gate.” He handed her the keys to the building and pressed a button to open the chain link fence. She set off across the paved yard, the concrete stiff and hard beneath her like frozen ground.
The main entrance, finished but for a pair of automatic doors, looked like a mouth. She unlocked the inner metal door and stepped into what would have been an administration wing. Some pieces of metal furniture had been stacked in a pile against the wall, balanced precariously in a heap of shining legs. She took a photo and walked down one of the branching, unmarked corridors towards the cells. Her heels squeaked on the white tile. The whole place was lit as bright as an ER, and so
quiet she could hear the faint hum of electricity. She poked her head in each doorway like she had in the open house, snapping pictures of frosted windows, gates ready to drop down from the ceiling, doors that only opened one way. State of the art, all of them. “These will be safe jobs,” she said aloud, comforted slightly to hear her own voice bouncing back to her off the rigid walls. The arches of her feet were beginning to hurt but she continued on. There was nowhere else to go. The door to the innermost cellblock was steel with a booksized Plexiglas window at nose level. She stepped through it, then jiggled the knob on the next. Mechanical safety net. It couldn’t be opened until the other door closed. She slammed the first door behind her, then stepped out into the vault. It was a huge space, concrete and clean, with eighteen cells around the edges. TV’s stood in overhead boxes. Everything was untouched, perfect.
“Gorgeous,” she said aloud. “What’s the asking price?” She ran her hand along the cinderblock walls. “Is this original?” Laughing at her own joke, she kicked off her shoes. “It’s perfect,” she said. “I’ll take it.” The echoes of her voice rose to the ceiling and she looked up into the grid of fluorescents. Her heart began to pound. She felt angry, small, flawed. Breath came shuddering out of her in waves. She slapped at the wall, but the sound barely echoed. Talons clawed in her throat and she shook her head. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” she said, looking up at the walls no one wanted. Everything was so goddamn big. Wanting to throw something, she pushed hard on the door. It clanged shut, reverberations ringing as her chest heaved and head spun. She brushed her hand across the cool metal, and slowly realized that she had locked herself in.
sunk down to the
floor, pace slowing. She took out her phone but there was no one to call. Jack hated her, Kacie feared her, and Eli agreed with them both. She didn’t know Carlos’s number. Even 911 wasn’t an option. The operator went to their church and she couldn’t bear the thought of other people finding out. She’d made enough public mistakes. But the air-conditioning was giving her goosebumps and she was afraid if she stayed here much longer, she’d lose control again. So she called home. It rang eight times and then she heard her own voice telling her to leave a message. She wondered if the three had gone off to dinner without her, or if they were laughing, listening as she explained where she was. Her head began to pound when she hung up. She leaned against the wall and laughed without smiling. Tears made her face feel warm and tingly. I tried, she thought. I fucking tried.
she heard footsteps in
the hall, she stood up, pushing on her face with the back of her hand. Who had forgiven her— Jack? Eli? She’d take either. Clearing her throat, she stepped into her heels. But following Carlos into the room was Kacie, wearing sweatpants and a pink tank top and carrying her knockoff Coach bag. “Hi, Mrs. Berger.” “Oh—hi.” “Are you okay?” Carlos asked. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve come with you.” “It’s all right. I’m fine. Thanks for coming to help.” She looked at Kacie. “They were gonna come after dinner,” Kacie said. “But I thought you might get hungry.” Maryanne felt her chest tighten. “Thank you,” she said. “I was getting hungry.” “Are you sure you’re okay?” Carlos asked. Maryanne nodded. They followed him out of the cell in silence, exiting the prison through a side entrance. The sky
had turned from gray to blue, dull and starless. “I’ll lock up,” Carlos said. She gave him the keys. “Thanks.” “You ladies drive home safe.” “We will,” Maryanne said. She and Kacie walked up the hill together. Maryanne felt like she should say something, but couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound stupid. She had never been good at being gracious. So she looked straight ahead and climbed into her car and watched Kacie strap herself into Eli’s truck. She rolled down her window. “You can lead,” she said, smiling, but Kacie must not have heard, or understood, because Maryanne sat with her car running for almost a minute before giving up and turning first onto the long gravel road that led towards home.
Savannah Ganster O, Tragedy bone everywhere,
exposed, broken. Michelangelo would, could he see this dream, sorrow and weep into the night. boots ground dirt into honey walking on blood and sand, grain by grain. bodies slip beneath, empty sympathy of the violence hangover, surf-tormented, stricken by death,
Jack perished by the box, finished by brimstone, a shrapnel vision, parting him from his arms. Queen Mab granted them little, star-crossed runners with feet that drum. dare she smile before demanding her toll? peach, oh she, who swallowed that bitter pill. cats perched in the hands of the mad. flown in fear and anger, young men grab guns. dagger and nails, and silver pain struck Alice. rag and gauze could not contain her brain, talks of death. her body lay, spasming on the table. roll silence
the endless shore.
George Dila My American Dream Whatever your daughter tells you about when she started having sex, assume it’s a lie. That’s my advice, and you can ignore it at your peril. Your sweet little girl, the apple of your eye, started screwing a lot earlier than she’ll admit, guaranteed. And when my own daughter said to me, “It’s none of your fucking business, but just so you’ll stop asking, Ronnie’s my first,” I knew she was lying. And I smacked her across the face. “Darlene, you’re a liar,” I said, and I wasn’t thinking, I just smacked her, and it is a moment that I will regret for the rest of my life. I wished I could cut off my hand, sever the offending limb, the guilt I felt immediately while the feel of her cheek still burned on my palm. Her face showed a hundred emotions, none of them good, none of them what the Dalai Lama or the Pope would approve of. I saw hate there, and anger, and defiance, and frustration. And at that moment I wished she’d slapped me back, even harder, maybe several times, but she didn’t. Her cheek turned the color of a ripe tomato, her face contracted itself into a wrinkled ball, and tears began pouring out of her squeezed-shut eyes. We were in the living room when it happened, it’s a small room, maybe a little bigger than a room at the Motel 6. And through the archway is the
dining room, and beyond that the kitchen with brown linoleum on the floor that’s supposed to look like Mexican tile, and down the hall are the two bedrooms and the bathroom. That’s the whole house, where I brought her up, it’s not big but it’s clean and everything works. We were standing in the middle of the living room and behind her, on the 32-inch Sony, I could see Oprah waving her arms and she had a look on her face like she smelled something bad, and she was saying “How could you do that? How could you slap your sweet daughter?” Several million people were watching, and they all knew it was me she was talking to. “Well, Oprah, it’s like this,” I said. “I’ve tried to do the right thing by her.” A woman in the audience groaned, one of those “I don’t believe this guy” groans, shaking her head, her face as severe as a nun. I said to her, “Look, lady, you know nothing about it. My Mary walked out on me when Darlene was only five, and I raised her the best I could, and now for my trouble I get a daughter who’s screwing every Tom, Dick and Harry, what do I know, maybe she’s the town pump for Christ sake.” And the audience woman just shook her head slowly and said “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” I could have killed her.
I guess this was the big moment my life had been leading up to, it was the American dream all right, the American dream come true. When I became an adult I got married and got a job like you’re supposed to, and put a roof over our heads and lugged home the bacon. And we brought a baby into the world, a beautiful little girl. And then, just like the soaps Mary used to watch, she ups and leaves me, she needs her space she tells me, needs to discover herself, and I keep living the dream on my own, with baby Darlene. And now here we were, my baby daughter all grown up and screwing around (and yours is too, don’t forget that), and me slapping her, and Oprah embarrassing me in front of millions, and a nun woman going “tsk, tsk, tsk.” That’s what it had come to. “I’m sorry,” I said finally, my anger spent. “Sweetie, I am so sorry.” “Fuck you,” she said, her face still crumpled and red and wet. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.” “Nobody deserves what I just did,” I said. “Nobody deserves to be slapped like that.” “Nobody,” she said. “Nobody,” said Oprah. “Nobody,” said the lady with the nun face. “Nobody, nobody, nobody,” chanted the audience. Later that night Darlene had gone off to who knows where, and I sat in front of the 32-incher in my favorite chair, a burgundy velour La-Z-Boy recliner that’s mellowed to fit my body just right.
And on the TV was a news story about the war in Iraq, and some kids who had been killed by a bomb in a Baghdad marketplace, and to see their limp little bodies made me cry. I thought of Darlene, when she was just five or six, sweet and innocent, and it just made me cry, everything I did not understand, there in my La-Z-Boy chair, living my American dream.
By: Christine Catalano
Contributors Christine Catalano Christine Catalano Worked as a graphic designer for many years and is now able to concentrate exclusively on photography She has been published in Crack the Spinepreviously, is a regular contributor to Bella Online’s Mused magazine, and recently was interviewed for an article about her photography in Canada’s Front&Centre literary magazine. Rose Mary Boehm A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of two novels and a poetry collection ("Tangents"), her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in US poetry reviews. Toe Good Poetry, Poetry Breakfast, Burning Word, Muddy River Review, Pale Horse Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Other Rooms, Requiem Magazine, Full of Crow, Poetry Quarterly, Punchnel’s, Avatar, Verse Wisconsin, Naugatuck River Review, Boston Literary, Red River Review, Ann Arbor, Main Street Rag, Misfit Magazine and others. See her photography here. Daniel Clausen Daniel Clausen has veins that circulate 1930s pulp fiction. When he bleeds Philip Marlowe appears. His work has been published in Slipstream Magazine, Leading Edge Science Fiction, and Black Petals. If you are interested in a review copy of his new book, "The Ghosts of Nagasaki," you can contact him directly. Gorge Dila George Dila’s short story collection “Nothing More to Tell” was published by Mayapple Press in 2014, and his short story chapbook, “Working Stiffs” is forthcoming from One Wet Shoe Press in Spring 2014. His stories and personal essays have appeared in numerous journals and earned several literary awards and prizes. A native Detroiter, George now lives and writes in the Lake Michigan shore town of Ludington.
Savannah Ganster Savannah Ganster is a PhD student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge where she spends her time studying and making performances. During her free time she enjoys writing poetry, plays, and short fiction. When she's not working, Savannah can be found relaxing in the company of her two cats, Avalanche and Snapdragon, and her dog, Edgar. John Gorman Before John's stories made it into print he snapped the "Eyesore of the Week" for theQueens Ledger. Now he spits wine for a living. His work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Writer’s Digest, The Summerset Review, Apt, Hunger Mountain and elsewhere. His debut novel "Shades of Luz" is published by All Things That Matter Press. He snagged his MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. Romana Iorga Romana Iorga is a Romanian-American writer living in Virginia. She has previously published two collections of poetry in her native language. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota creative writing program and is currently teaching high school English at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Pamela Hammond Pamela Hammond was born in Chicago, grew up in Southern California, and now lives in Santa Monica. She earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a master’s degree from California State University, Northridge. She worked for a start-up visual art magazine in Los Angeles, images and issues, and then developed her own periodical, Eye International. She became a Los Angeles-based critic for Art News based in New York, reviewing exhibitions for more than a decade. Her love of nature has led her to hike, backpack, and travel, often to Northern California, and to Alaska, the Southwest, Hawaii, and New Zealand’s South Island, which became her home for almost a year. She completed two chapbooks, "Encounters" (2011) and "Clearing" (2012), produced by Red Berry Editions, Fairfax, California. In 2013, her work appeared in Forge, Assisi, Foliate Oak, Broad River Review, and Tulane Review. In 2014, her work will appear in Whistling Shade.
Hannah Thurman Hannah is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. In 2011, she completed studies in creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she received Highest Honors for her thesis, a collection of stories called â€œGood Enough Secrets.â€? She has stories and reviews published in The Coffin Factory, Fiction Advocate, The Apeiron Review, The Menda City Review, Fiction365, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and others.
Visit www.crackthespine.com to review our submission guidelines or to subscribe