Crack the Spine
Issue 107 March 19, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine
Cover Art: â€œThe Flower Speaksâ€? by A.J. Huffman A.J. Huffman has published seven solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her eighth solo chapbook, "Drippings from a Painted Mind," won the 2013 Two Wolves Chapbook Contest. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry, fiction, haiku, and photography have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, Kritya, and Offerta Speciale, in which her work appeared in both English and Italian translation. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press.
Annabelle Edwards Make Love
Dick Bentley Up North
Jessica Evans Foreshadowing
Morgan Bazilian Punctuated Joy
Kenneth P. Gurney Extended
Judith Cody Life is Good Except for the Eternal Flames
William Dâ€™Arezzo One Empty Space
Annabelle Edwards Make Love
Let us make denial Wandering minds caught In a wordless rut For what feels like a millennium Shall our worries make quiet Peace and serenity come forth Uncertainty stripped of its loose clothes Faux leather heart beats Replace the chilling spontaneity of love's soft hums Our drive is losing its fuel Gas floods from a tank gone haywire Replaced with cinnamon sprinklings Sweet to pursed lips Our scrumptious apple pie taste won't make my love start
Settle for a night sans amusement In the midst of a dispute Because I craved conversation And wondered if you were capable of more than muttered syllables Arguing about little things I'm fighting through realization's tears Desperately searching For the old mold of pickpocketed youth Robbed of naivety before maturity arrived Wisdom is another story Passion cannot stop itself from fondling awry Making love to internal cries Hidden beneath you; soft spoken as I Manufacture a soft sigh Sadness surrenders Curtains of courage peer out Shiver from the mist Clouding what is to come
Dick Bentley Up North
come to Northern Michigan, and the lake gulls were shrieking at him. He’d been on vacation only two days, but he sat around the cabin, springing up now and then to go to the window and back. It was too chilly to go out onto the beach. The sky looked like rumpled tinfoil and the wind was strong and cold. Lake Superior came rolling up to the beach with thundering splashes. He would go to the door, then return and slump by the fire. I also heard him last night, walking around upstairs
in the night, mumbling swear words in the darkness. This morning he fidgeted around the cabin for an hour, not eating anything. “Demon,” he said. “No, that’s not it.” Lucy, my sister, had wrapped a blanket around her. She shivered and looked out the window. “Demeanor,” our father said. He laughed quickly and without humor, “No, that’s not the word.” “Don’t worry about it, Dad,” I said, “The word isn’t important.” Lucy said, “Dad, I can
tell you the word.” “No, no,” our father said. He held up his hand. “I’ve almost got it.” “Demeanor,” he said. He shook his head. We first noticed it last year when we drove up here. We stopped at a gas station. He put his wallet on the roof of the car while he filled the tank. Later, he said, “It was the credit card.” The words on the gas pump flustered him --- remove card rapidly. We drove off with the wallet still on the roof. We didn’t discover the loss until we arrived here three hours later.
“Debilitate,” he says. .”Dyslexia.” “Dad, cut it out,” Lucy says, “you’re making us crazy.” “Crazy,” he says. The waves sweep along the shore. “Dementia!” he says suddenly. “That’s it! Dementia. That’s the word the doctor used. Comes just before Alzheimer’s. Remember? Do you remember?” “Dad,” I say, “don’t worry. The doctor said it could be a long way off. It doesn’t happen right away.” Our father straightens himself before the window, watching the waves. “A long way off,” he
says. He says, “Please keep helping me to remember...help me to keep remembering... the word.”
Jessica Evans Foreshadowing
remembering errant lilies Gerber daisies, hair pins and spray, alone in morning, I set my face for the life you lead, fitting into leather-strapped wedge shoes, my barefoot spirit conforms to your vision. In Japanese cars, we caravan to the lake, arboretum whisking past like experiences to un-live, bleached-bright mermaid dress trails long gauzy veil of early autumn sunlight crossing the bridge, I wince, wanting Mozartâ€™s violin to play simple chords, but standstill motion of bird song ripples from wind more intelligent than vows we repeat, these hands, clutching to a kiss, we hold on without passion, but, strength. as Elvis sings, we hold cocktail smiles, knocking back drinks like weâ€™re fishing for dreams, wanting husband-wife fingers wrapped in yours, youâ€™re off joking with sometimes friends, I practice waiting.
left hand weighted by baubles, we pose, eyes scared, rambling to that Newark dive bar, my spine aches from so much pretending, I watch you shoot pool like itâ€™s the only thing worth attention, and we find a funeral party. I should have known black dresses and white gowns are the same.
Morgan Bazilian Punctuated Joy
get your slow arse out here!” Philip yelled. Then he laughed. Then he coughed. Coughing more, he threw up in the salty blue/grey water. He wiped the spit off with the black neoprene of his wetsuit, and let his arm fall into the water. The surfboard dipped a little, but he stayed upright. The ocean swirled around. He put one hand on his knee, and bent his elbow. The other hand grabbed the rail of the board. He shook his head and, looked towards the skyline. A set of four
waves arrived soon after. He did not move, but just let them go by him – through him. They landed one after the other on my head, as I tried to dive under them, making my way out to the line of other surfers to try and see the expression on his face. The water was moving in several directions at once that afternoon. The wind was coming off the small dunes. Past the dunes, three small streets were running away from the ocean. Low houses with big yards placed in rows. Only one other car
beside ours was in the small parking lot. A weathered wooden staircase led from the pavement to the sand. The stairs were half broken, but I don’t remember them making any noise when I stepped on them. Most of the time we cannot distinguish a moment of significance. Perhaps because they are all significant, or perhaps because we are rarely paying attention. The water was grey, or something like a lack of colour. As we sat and watched for waves and the sunset at the same
time, the water brought us slowly farther out. The sun lighting up the line of the world in the distance. And so, periodically we would have to get back on our board and paddle in towards the shore. Paddling at an angle, because going directly against the rip current was too tiring and futile.
citing its distance from “everything” as my justification for leaving. I knew he was going to die soon. It was all predicted. We had stayed in touch on email. He would send me pictures mostly - of fires, smoke, sharks, waves, and sailboats. When I found out, I left work, went home to grab my surf board, and paddled out Philip was a great into a gray sea far from looking guy. He had Australia. But all water is ruddy good looks. He the same. There were no was a funny and good waves that day, just sometimes moody and an intermittent wind violent. He died last year. blowing sideways, and I didn’t find out for three lots of seagulls on the months. No one thought beach near the patches of seaweed. My feet went to tell me. I had lived away from numb after five minutes. Australia for ten years – I ended up quickly out of breath, but far enough
out for my solo memorial. I closed my eyes, cried, looked up, looked down, tried to see my feet through the clouded water, and then paddled back to the beach. Trying to make a circle with no one else - a “paddle out” of one – a Zen Koan.
periods of rapid change, transitional species do not appear to leave fossil remains. This helps prove elements of the theory of punctuated equilibrium – proof by omission, by silence. There are jumps from time to time between periods of stasis. It is hard to imagine, since these short lived species
do not leave any trace, and because we are not good at imagining long periods of time. Such a theory rarely touches us deeply though, as it is too abstract to embed on our psyche. But then a silence, and a death. Seemingly without any warning, Phil’s lungs were ruined. Lungs are so frail in any case, it is a wonder we do not simply stop breathing more often. In moments of joy or pain or horror, it is odd that these terribly thin membranes do not just tear and lose their form. It is the abruptness of the changes that are surprising. In and out. Before the transplant,
he was stuck in a bed. In the heat of the Aussie summer. The low, concrete house painted a gentle yellow. The garden growing well thanks to his girlfriend’s care. The sky was blue that whole year nearly. A huge drought struck the large island – even at its edges. The air was still most of the time, there were no waves. The beach was crowded every day. I would go for runs on the hard sand close to the quiet, lapping water in the mornings. The heat already apparent. The gay men working out in the urban gym. The Irish backpackers waking up with sunburn. I remembered telling
him he had girl lungs. The new ones that is – after the transplant. They came from a teenage girl killed in a car wreck. She was some kind of sports star at her school. That sport they play in Australia that reminds me of dodge ball. I think it is called hand ball. The girl’s parents gave her lungs to Philip, and her heart to another girl. The lungs worked for him for a pretty long time. Much longer than the statistical average. Much longer than the doctors predicted. The long tail of the statistical distribution of expected average life spans seemingly went on forever. Like the
Rainbow Serpent of Aboriginal myth, travelling across the continent in dreamtime. Or visible in the sky after the rain.
didn’t teach me to surf, but was around many of the days I was learning. Mostly chattering away as I tried to take a wave. Laughing as my arms moved wildly trying to catch a wave he knew wouldn’t break. Or when I stood up too early. But there was a limit. He was not happy with the used surfboard I bought from a Mambo store. Rainbow colours. “Friggin’ totally arsedup gay, mate” was his
description. So he found me a 6’2” board that was razor thin; handed it to me and just turned around. “That’s your new board, mate.” And so it was. I still have that board. It sinks when I try to put my weight on it now. But it used to work just fine. Some days we would meet on the beach at 6:00am. The light diffuse and unaware of itself. Mist covering parts of the beach and ocean. Some drunks and some birds on the beach. The sand hard from the moisture of the evening. The water was bracing on first touch. We would run in and try to skid the board on the surface.
The paddle out to the waves was always tiring that time of day. It was hard for me to keep my neck up and look forward. Not Philip, he crossed his feet and stuck out his big chest and paddled and hummed and talked the whole way out. Me, trying to chuckle at the right times while catching my breath. Some days he would get angry at his predicament. He would kick his dog. One time he threw his bike across the room. It broke the radiator, and water spilled into the living room and onto the hard wood floors. The water started to pour out black, and then rust, and then
clear. He put his hands on the pipe and tried to stop it, cursing, and finally letting go. He sat on the now wet floor, his hands on either side of his hips, his back in a slouch. His temper would get short at work too. He would take dramatic deep breaths and walk away from the conversation or the computer screen. He threw his phone on the ground. He slammed his car door. “Do not go feckin’ quietly in that feckin’ quiet night”, he would mumble. Or he would go outside and yell, but then that hurt his throat, and the coughing would
come. He would pound his fist on his legs, stooped down, trying to catch some air. The he would have to sit and calm down, and breathe in tiny, even, slow breaths. It was infuriating to be so tempered by disease. He would go for days and live on his boat. Coughing and spitting and raging. His yacht. A 1979 29-foot Compass Spindrift. It was named Ella, some girl he loved when he was young. He would get drunk on beer brewed in Tasmania. He would throw stuff off the bow in the middle of the night, then wheeze for an hour, looking at the ageing hull.
I remember a bright day. Lingering. Squinting my eyes, even under sunglasses. Driving by old pie shops and chip shops and auto shops and Chinese restaurants in Maroubra. On the way south. Small beach enclaves carved out of tall forests of white trees. Passing the turn off for the Wawarra highway. On the small Princes Highway past Jervis Bay. Past surf spots where white people don’t go. Waves from Dreamtime we could only imagine. Or get the crap beat out of us. Turning off the road before Ulladalla, towards Manana. Onto a winding
road, and then the small general store and well cut lawns of Bendalong. The feeling of calm and quiet, remembering the walk down the beach, and how the wind felt. Then a pang of fear for the river mouth where Lake Conjola hits the sea to the south and the sharks. And then the site of that point break. A left wave forming from the little island reef. And only two other lads sitting out there, now pissed with the site of Philip and I walking out of the woods, and down the wooden stairs and onto the long beach. He was mumbling something, seemingly to the two surfers in the
water. I could never understand more than one quarter of the drivel that came out of his mouth. Some combination of Aussie slang and his own convoluted imagination. But it made me laugh as I stretched into the still semi-moist wetsuit. That uncomfortable, damp feeling of the neoprene making me sweat in the sun. The drive back was focused on pies. Aussie pies. Meat pies. He just loved those pies, but was very specific with his tastes. We would pass two or three dodgy looking pie shops in the white painted strip malls along the road north. In between bike shops and
auto mechanics, pharmacies and hair places. Then a break in the strip of stores, and a small park and a southern hemisphere low tree, and then a small stand-along house painted blue and brown. And we pulled in. He stretched and said something like, “Feckin’ bloods nearly wasted in me shorts waiting for this lovely little tit of a shop, feck.” And I understood, as usual, almost none of it, but smiled and walked in and see a beautiful array of pies and try to make the decision that will garner Philip’s approval of my choice. Chicken, mince, lamb curry.
I watched his confidence
trucks or four litre Ford get stripped bare by the wagons. They go to the brutality of his disease. RSL on Friday night and The lungs do not heal. He take part in the meat They never would have to bow raffles. down, and ache, and spit, noticed Philip’s coughing and groan. Then swallow - his lungs starting to rip apart. and try to laugh. They broke quickly, I never did much gradual or research on his nothing condition, I took his incremental. There was word for it. His lungs no pause. I kept thinking of his deteriorated fast. Likely from chemicals on a son during that time. His construction site. Or son was called Alex. He maybe from many was tall and thin, and construction sites where had a mop of sandy he managed teams of blond hair. He always steel workers. In had sand on his clothes Australia, these men from being around the wear dark blue shorts beach. He was beautiful and “wife beater” tops. to watch in the water – They drink tea all day, his teenage inelegance as he they smoke cigarettes all disappeared day, they drive white looked down the wave, arched, stood up and
move along the water. Dragging his hand. Usually laughing. Alex loved his father. They saw each other only one week per year, and sometimes not for several. They started to talk every night on the phone when Alex turned 15. The way men usually do not. They hung up without sadness. Alex had that lovely hair of youth. Full. Swept. Thick. I was so jealous of it. He still had acne too, or traces of it that the sea had not erased. Philip’s transplant occurred on a sunny day. The first such operation had been performed by a man named Hardy. The man died in two weeks—the lungs were
rejected. Twenty years it took for a Canadian surgeon to perform a successful double lung transplant. Twenty years later was Philip. The immunosuppressive drugs made his skin very thin. Like an old man’s. He had both lungs done – avoiding bacterial colonization, the doctors said. En bloc they said. French, in an Aussie accent. His old lungs were collapsed. The new ones went in, a ventilator went in, a tube for feeding went in. No clouds appeared that whole summer. A vast dry continent. A long drought. The crops failing. No moisture. Philip’s skin dried and bled. The colour of red
ochre pigment from ancient Aboriginal tribes. The colour of the Middle. The Rainbow Serpent is said to have made the world. The Rainbow Serpent’s story changes every day. She made animals and plants from nothing. The moon leaped from her belly into the sky. Her blood turned to water.
And eventually the wheezing came back, and the weight loss, and the sick. This time, he let the air escape. His resolve no longer accessible. The tail of the statistical curve flying out into infinity, making no difference to anything. A fluttering of nonsense.
Kenneth P. Gurney Extended
Because we had only a few minutes we stretched them out of shape so they were recognized as hours. Unexpectedly this changed the tenor of our meeting and conversation topics and the coffee became cold. There was some place Dora had to be, but we were not finished yet, so she relocated that location to this place where we sat and talked. We heard voices speaking as if they were here, but they were not here or where we set that other place under our chairs like a carpet.
Those other voices we recognized as people we knew and so we asked them not to be separated from the elsewhere we moved and set down like a carpet. They arrived, but younger than we remembered them, because they managed to leave a lot of their cares behind and all their worry lines fell through the cracks our manipulations created.
J.D. Kotzman Regarding Bethany
August 6, 1998 I hate weddings, Brian thought as he pressed harder on the accelerator of his run-down black Audi. He sped along a dark country road, U2 blasting from the speakers, the way ahead abandoned. God, I hate them. He glanced at the invitation on the passenger seat, wondering whether his cousin Jack and his cousin’s lovely bride-to-be Kelly really did request the honor of his presence, or whether they sent the invite as a mere social courtesy. He hadn’t spoken with anyone from that branch of the family tree in more than two years. And regarding Bethany, Kelly’s sister and maid of honor, given the power, he would have eradicated every trace of her from his memory. I should have just sent a gift, he thought, his face contorting into a sneer as he peered into the onrushing blackness. He
cranked the volume on the stereo. … You don’t know how you got here You just know you want out Believing in yourself Almost as much as you doubt … Later, as his disgust ebbed and his angst rose, Brian’s hands started jittering—rhythmically at first, then frantically—against the wheel. He popped open the glove box and retrieved the hastily rolled joint stashed inside. Therapy, no? He lit the cigarette and took a long drag, letting the salubrious fumes fill his lungs. After a time, he felt himself unwinding, receding from awareness, drifting into unconsciousness. He fought to hold open his eyes, a battle he might have won on a level field, but the vodka and pills in his stomach had marched him too deep into enemy territory, a
suicide mission. His head drooped toward his lap, and he nearly steered the Audi into a waiting guardrail, swerving only at the last. When he slammed on the brakes, the car skidded, almost perpendicular to the road, before jolting to a stop in the middle of the asphalt. Fuck, he thought, followed by nothing but the sputter and hiss of dead air. After a while, sounds and images began broadcasting intermittently through the static, and after a while longer, the transmission became clear again. Where the hell am I? Brian turned his bleary gaze toward a signpost towering before him, guarding the uncharted stretch ahead. DEAD END. He almost wished he had crashed.
July 4, 1996 Alone, at a table outside a crowded bar along the waterfront, Brian waited. He fidgeted with an empty oversized cocktail glass,
surveying the area for any sign of a waitress. His cousin Jack, Jackâ€™s new fiancĂŠe Kelly, and her younger sister planned to meet him there for drinks. At least, Brian thought so, but the Xanax he took earlier had left him hazy. When he replayed it in his head, the message, an unreturned voicemail sent a month ago, sounded garbled, ambiguous. What is the plan? What are my orders? He asked himself these things, but even before the questions could crystallize, their answers ceased to matter to him. He slid a Zippo from his pocket, lit it, blew out the flame, and lit it again. A lone ship sailed along the gum-colored horizon, while a flock of gulls cried in the distance. I always wanted a yacht, he mused, snapping the rusty lighter closed. He recalled summers spent at his uncleâ€™s beach house, the fleet of boats, with their whimsical names and vibrant sails, sweeping in and out of the marina. On the water. On the water, he could drift,
and no one could reach him, like an astronaut in orbit on the far side of the moon. He closed his eyes behind his Wayfarers and let a warm zephyr catch his dark, wavy hair. When he opened them again, he saw her leaning against a railing on the nearby boardwalk. Brian couldn’t help but admire her graceful movements as she strolled toward him, wending her way through the pack of revelers, her long blonde hair unfurled in the breeze. In her white summer dress, she glided over the weathered planks like a wraith, a reflection of some other reality. And when her wide, haunting eyes met his, Brian had to drown an urge to weep before he could motion Bethany to his table. She sat beside him and let out a protracted sigh, bored or simply indifferent, he didn’t know. I can’t believe my cousin is getting married to her sister. They ordered drinks and decided to wait for the happy couple, or Godot, whichever arrived first. She
recounted her exploits at Swarthmore, from which she recently graduated with honors in English literature— loved Beckett and Kafka, hated Hemmingway, she said. Who could blame her? he thought, before launching into a fervent account of his own unpublished novel. After a third round of drinks, she slipped a pack of Marlboros from her purse, and they smoked over a discussion about the recent truck bombings in Saudi Arabia—19 dead. They traded a few informed observations but, in the end, collectively shrugged. The events seemed far away and unimportant, unreal. Sometime later, the mood dimming with the fading light, she offered him an exaggerated smile, displaying her perfect white teeth. He wanted to return her mirth, but his expression remained somber. “What’s wrong?” Bethany asked. “Aren’t we having a good time?” “I guess, sure, but it … doesn’t seem
to mean anything.” “That doesn’t matter,” she said. Brian stared into his vodka martini and saw a picture of his life—the one he’d always painted for himself—swirl into focus, frozen in a moment of clarity, before receding into nothingness. “What does?” he asked, after a while. Bethany didn’t answer. Brian felt someone, or something, clutch his shoulders. Death? he wondered. He shut his eyes, and images of the past flickered through his mind, like bits of an old home movie. Am I really dying? He didn’t die, and when Jack released his grip, Brian forced a smile and offered him and Kelly a seat. The two of them filled the evening with talk of their future plans, while Brian and Bethany smoked the last of the pack of Marlboros, almost in silence. Darkness descended, and the starry July sky suddenly came alive with eruptions of blue, green, red, and gold.
Emboldened by the far-off blasts, Brian turned to Bethany and beamed, imagining the soft touch of her hands on his chest and the sweet taste of her lips on his. A week earlier, his girlfriend, Melissa, left him after two bumpy, often acrimonious, years. To travel in Europe, she said, but he knew that was only the official story, the one she told at cocktail parties. She left because, to her, he didn’t give a damn about their relationship, about anything, anything save his writing. Bum, a drunken bum, she always said, inevitably followed by a jab about his nonexistent book deal and a decree to drop his novel and write a screenplay. At least I graduated from college, at least I read something other than celebrity gossip magazines, he would argue, but after her fourth glass of Cabernet, the words drifted harmlessly past her ears. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Fuck, it was just the worst of times. He hated Dickens
BRIAN I’m just not sure I see the point anymore.
June 26, 1996 FADE IN INT. BRIAN’S APARTMENT KITCHEN — MORNING
MELISSA Then I’m leaving. I’m going, with or without you.
Brian scrutinizes Melissa for a The scene opens in a typical modern moment. He takes a drag from his kitchen. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde cigarette, exhales a cloud of smoke, and plays softly from a source off screen. A returns to reading his newspaper. French press, half filled with coffee, MELISSA rests on a round table next to two Don’t you care? Don’t you care empty coffee mugs. BRIAN sits at the about anything? table in a bathrobe, smoking a Chesterfield and reading a newspaper. Brian ignores her and continues His girlfriend, MELISSA, also sits at the reading. table, thumbing through a copy of US MELISSA Weekly. (continuing) BRIAN Fuck you, Brian. Forget Paris. Please … forget it. BRIAN MELISSA (agitatedly) But I’ve always wanted to go. You Have you read this? said you wanted to go. Brian brandishes the World section
of his newspaper. BRIAN (continuing) Truck bombings in Saudi Arabia … MELISSA Goodbye, Brian. FADE OUT
her swollen toes to the tiny knots in her neck. She missed how he would smoke a joint or sip a snifter of brandy—sometimes reciting Milton, sometimes not—while she read for her lit classes, sessions that always ended with them in bed together. And his weird obsession with Sartre and incessant talk about death, she missed those things too. She wondered whether Brian was anything like him. At least they both appreciate Beckett, she thought. When she felt Brian’s hand brush against hers, she let him take it. Later, after the last bright hues had faded and the last thunderous crash had quieted, she invited him to her hotel room, and he accepted. They made love that night … but in the morning, she left him lying alone in bed, barely offering him a goodbye as she slipped out the door.
4, 1996 Under the pale light of the pyrotechnics, Bethany tried to make sense of Brian, who sat slightly slumped in his chair, arms casually draped beside him, a hint of a smile on his face. Freshly wounded by her last boyfriend, she’d spent the evening goading him with her eyes but brushing him away gently with her words. Besides, his cousin is getting married to my sister, she thought, hopelessly trying to discern whether that would make them relatives. Getting married. The idea made her August 7, 1998 At the church, a feel lonely. She missed the way Jeff used to massage her entire body, from horrible Gothic Revival behemoth,
Brian sat away from the other wedding guests in one the pews near the egress. His button-down shirt clung to his chest under a black polyester suit jacket, and his pants stuck to his thighs like glue. He tried to focus on the bridesmaids as they strutted past in their purple silk chiffon dresses, but the sweltering heat, or possibly the pot he’d smoked earlier in the confessional, had sent him into a delirium. Wiping beads of sweat from his face, he flashed to the summer he went to Cairo. Under the desert sun, the ancient monoliths looming ominously, he wandered the smoggy streets. He remembered soldiers toting machine guns and barking orders in Arabic, devout worshippers falling on their knees, prostrate, and raucous taxi drivers luring tourists into their cars, then barreling off with reckless abandon. Sometimes, he sought shade in the pubs, nursing bottles of Luxor beer, or smoked
sheesha in the coffeehouses. At night, he haunted the casinos and clubs, rolling on Ecstasy, often staying out until dawn. And in the mornings, too early to stir, he would lie in bed and listen to the muezzin reciting the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer: Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar … Still feverish, Brian shifted uncomfortably in his seat and loosened his tie. He returned his attention to the ceremony as the last of the parade of bridesmaids passed, like models on a runway, their elegant, strapless gowns trailing along the marble floor. As they continued their march, he attempted to place the moody tune the organist played. “Stairway to Heaven” … no, maybe something by Beethoven, but the music slowed and became distorted, incomprehensible to him. After a beat, the maid of honor emerged from the curtains behind him. He turned to catch a glimpse of her, noticing the way
her pale blonde hair draped over her bare shoulders and brushed against her breasts. She looked older, a woman, more beautiful than the girl he remembered. When the bridal march began to play, Brian forced himself to stand, while the blushing bride, donning a stunning white Vera Wang gown, promenaded down the aisle. The lovely couple met at the altar and took their wedding vows together. After the ceremony, Brian and one of the bridesmaids met in an alcove and took some codeine together, washed down with a drink of holy water.
Brian stood in line for the bar at the reception, an extravagant, chic soirée at one of the luxury hotels near the church. He’d eaten scarcely any of the lavish dinner—roasted beat salad with chèvre and pistachios, followed by poached salmon topped with cucumber-mint raita—his appetite lost
to restless thoughts of Bethany. Just before the waiters served dessert, he’d made his escape from the table, hoping to find solace with a drink. Relax … or not. He blanched as she traipsed across the ballroom, heels clacking gently against the parquet floor, and nearly collided with him in line. When she saw him, she froze for an instant, a look of revulsion creeping onto her face. To her, he represented everything she wanted to forget, a time when she let herself go, a time when she gave herself to him, a time of desperation. Fuck! I fucked him. God, how did things get so out of hand that night? Fuck him. She told herself she was no longer that fragile girl. She was engaged to the son of a state senator and had a successful public relations career at a top pharmaceutical company. She drove a brand-new Mercedes. She knew people. Quite simply, she was better than him. “Oh, excuse me,” Bethany said, no
longer betraying a hint of recognition. She turned to her fiancé, who waited in line in front of Brian, and wrapped her arms around his burly torso. Brian tried to compose himself, quell the dizzying sickness in his stomach. He needed to leave, slip away from her, but his feet turned to stone. His heartbeat slowed, and he labored to breathe. He felt himself falling, falling, falling, but he didn’t. The surrounding clamor—the boisterous voices, the band’s festive tune, the clatter of dishes as the servers piled them on trays—cleared the haze and vivified him, staying his vertigo. He pressed a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. Around him, the cacophony grew painfully loud, and he started to feel faint again. Fighting to keep his balance, Brian lifted his head from his hand and caught one last glimpse of Bethany before she receded into the crowd. She flashed him a spurious smile and pranced off, arm in arm with
her well-bred suitor. Brian felt like crying, but in the end, he didn’t have it in him. What he needed, more than anything, he decided, was a drink. “Pardon me, sir,” interrupted the bartender, an older, balding guy with a salt-and-pepper mustache and a snowy-white, pointed beard. “What can I get you?” “Scotch.” “Neat?” “Bottle.” “Long night, sir?” the bartender asked crossly. Brian eyed him quizzically, oddly enthralled by his pristine white blazer. He looked like a captain, ready to set sail on the high seas. I always wanted a yacht. “Long life … admiral,” Brian said, wresting a bottle of Glenfiddich from the bartender with one hand and raising the other in a clumsy mock salute. “Too fucking long.”
The party raced toward its apogee, but Brian, tired and sufficiently inebriated, wanted off the ride. He waded through the sea of guests, most too wasted to notice the bottle of single malt he’d pilfered, and headed for the door. As he rounded the dance floor, he stopped to watch the throng of twentysomethings swaying to “Hotel California,” someone’s warped idea of a tribute to the bride and groom. … There she stood in the doorway I heard the mission bell And I was thinking to myself This could be heaven, or this could be hell … Definitely hell, Brian thought, considering the possibility he’d already arrived. He stood in awe, back to the wall, dumbstruck by their painted-on smiles. They seemed unnatural to him, the way they drank and joked and laughed, as though their lives weren’t falling all to pieces. A beautiful lie, he
decided. The disquieting scene recalled the posh dinner parties Brian’s parents used to throw, before his mother lost interest in her family and left and his father lost his job and his grip on reality. He remembered one occasion, during a rowdy game of hide-and-seek with his younger brother Fred, when he toppled a carafe set precariously at the edge of the sideboard. When the falling projectile smashed into the burnished hardwood floor, red wine exploded in all directions, spattering the eggshell walls and the alabaster rug with countless crimson flecks, like bloodstains left after a gruesome murder. His father stood over the carnage, glaring, wearing a look of disdain Brian could never forget. And everywhere, glittering like so many diamonds, lay bits of … CRASH! The noise made Brian shudder, but the dancers didn’t miss a beat. They ignored the middle-aged Hispanic
woman as she swept up shards from a shattered champagne flute and mopped the pink liquid oozing along the floor. Brian slumped into a chair at one of the empty round tables, overcome with fatigue. He struggled, in vain, to hold open his eyes. … A snarling beast rises up through a seemingly bottomless chasm in the floor. The monster bears a pair of bloodstained horns and growls fiercely at the wedding guests, threatening to swallow them into its massive belly. The beast dismembers one unfortunate guest, inciting panicked screams and a mad rush for the exits. Amid the chaos, some of the braver guests stab the beast with their dinner knives, but the giant ogre ignores its bloody wounds and begins devouring them whole … The harrowing vision threw Brian into consciousness, and he fled the banquet hall, stopping only when could no longer hear the din of voices. Finally free of the suffocating mob, he
crumbled to the carpet in an empty corridor and caught his breath.
avoided the elevator bank and took the stairs to his room, six stories down. He struggled through the door and found himself caught in the middle of another party, hosted, he had no doubt, by his wayward brother. Locking the door behind him, Brian stood silently in the foyer, bemused. As he took inventory of the debauchery, his hand clenched the bottle of Scotch. Christ, I need a Xanax. Two women, their half-naked bodies wrapped in a grotesque display on one of the beds, ignored Brian. He watched them writhing against one another, sweaty, breathless. On another bed, two guys snorted lines of coke from a Gideon Bible and babbled to two women who took turns smoking a joint and slugging a bottle of Patrón. The air reeked of pot and cum, and a scourge of empties from the mini-bar blighted the landscape. On
the unwatched television, placid scenes wrestled the bottle from his grip. from a Savage Garden video washed “Let me pour you some,” she said. over each other, casting an eerie, pallid “By all means,” Brian replied. “Just glow about the room, but a New Order give me a minute.” remix wailing from someone’s portable Brian dragged himself to the walk-in CD player drowned out the sound. closet and pounded on the door, shouting for his brother. In a flash, the … I don’t care ‘cause I’m not there door swung open, releasing a potent And I don’t care if I’m here tomorrow waft of pot into the room. The rush Again and again, I’ve taken too much made Brian flinch, but he recovered in Of the things that cost you too much … time to see Fred emerge, flanked by a Brian retreated into the bathroom pair of topless women. Fred grinned at and stood in front of the sink, his brother with adolescent delight, balancing the Glenfiddich on the blissfully oblivious to the taut look on porcelain. He stared at the mirror, Brian’s face. The sight reminded Brian hoping for sympathy, or at least a of the time he caught Fred, on the night reaction, but his reflection mustered he turned sixteen, getting high with his only a tired sigh. Fuck you too. He ran girlfriend in the basement. Brian stood the faucet and hurriedly splashed some quietly in a dark corner, watching, water on his face, barely remembering watching them, their delight almost to reclaim the Scotch on his way back bringing him to tears. Fred wore the to the party. One of the women he saw same ebullient expression and had the earlier, clad only in a bra and a tiny same grin plastered on his face. After pair of denim shorts, spied Brian as he Brian appeared to them from the wandered through the door. She shadows, their smiles wilted, and they approached him seductively and
fell silent, their laughter muted by fear. But Brian never told his parents. He never told anyone. He only smiled wryly, turned, and trudged up the stairs. Have a good one, bro. Have a good one. What did it matter to him? He didn’t really care about this little escapade either, except this was his room. “Brian! Glad you could join the party, bro,” Fred said. “I said you, singular, could crash here,” Brian said, but his reproach didn’t seem to register. “Who the hell are these people?” “Friends of the bride, most of them anyway,” Fred answered, still grinning. “Why don’t you relax, kick back a little?” “Yeah, relax, right.” “What’s wrong?” Fred asked. “Bethany …” “What, you’re still hung up on her? Jesus, bro, that was one night two years ago. Forget about her,” Fred told
him. “She likes you. Take a look.” Brian turned and watched the woman expertly pour the single malt into a pair of glasses. The golden liquid tumbled smoothly, perfectly over the ice, surrounding the cubes with its warmth. She took a sip of hers and, with her green beguiling eyes, bid him to move closer. He drifted toward her, like a sea turtle returning to its birthplace, pulled by a magnetic imprint of home. Something’s got a hold on me. Memories of childhood flooded his mind: laughter, games on the playground, stolen kisses under the bleachers, impossible dreams. He forgot about Bethany, the sadistic glimmer in her eyes as she waltzed away with her fiancé. He forgot about the pain, losses, and failures he’d suffered. He forgot about everything. Reality vanished, and he smiled. He wanted this woman. Nothing else mattered to him. “Here you go,” she said, handing him
a glass. “What’s your name?” “Holly.” “Holly Golightly,” Brian whispered. “Who?” she asked. But Brian didn’t hear her. The smile disappeared from his face. One of the guys on the bed had drawn a revolver, and the glint from the weapon stole Brian’s attention. Only a few months earlier, he’d held one to his head, and the appearance of the Smith & Wesson brought back the dread of that night. With his girlfriend gone, his novel rejected by another publisher, and his life a shambles, he decided to write his final chapter. In his heart, he believed that he didn’t belong in the world, that he wasn’t long for it, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Self-preservation? Doubtful, but he only tossed the Ruger in a drawer and drank until he passed out on the couch. Fear. He was too afraid to die. No more. He needed to do something. The two guys passed the
revolver back and forth, taking turns aiming it at each other, while the other woman slunk away from them. Brian downed his drink and advanced toward the slaphappy gunslingers, hijacking the piece from them with ease. He held the gun to his head, feeling the cold steel barrel brush against his skin. Our valued destiny comes to nothing. Tension seized the room, and Brian opened his eyes wide, looking almost possessed. The pair on the bed stared at him blankly, unsure what to do or say. “Fuck, man. Don’t do it,” one of them managed finally. “Is it loaded?” Brian asked. “One bullet, two maybe … I think,” the other one said, his words badly slurred. “Fuck it,” Brian said. One bullet, one hundred bullets, whatever. He steadied the gun against his temple, paused for one last breath, and squeezed the trigger. “Bang, I’m
dead.” “You’re fucking nuts, man.” August 8, 1998 Brian stopped reading a story about truck bombings in East Africa—at least 80 dead—and peered over his newspaper, observing Bethany as she laughed with her fiancé and some friends over Bloody Marys in the hotel restaurant. For a moment, their brown eyes met, and he saw a spark of the uncertain, reflective girl he once knew. But the cold confidence quickly returned, and she chortled, masking her brief hesitation with a vapid quip about the latest in the Lewinsky scandal. Deep in his stomach, Brian felt a sharp pain: loss, or maybe indigestion from his fourth cup of coffee. Either way, he could manage only a rueful smile. Too early, or too late, for anything more. He returned to his newspaper, turning to the obituary page, and imagined reading his own blurb. Brian Truman,
may he rest in peace. He is survived by no one. He won’t be missed. He folded his paper neatly into fourths and sipped his coffee. A few minutes later, Fred dropped into the seat across from him, hair tousled, clothes wrinkled, straight from bed. A waitress poured him a cup of coffee. “Rough night?” Brian asked. “I might ask you the same thing.” “I’m fine.” “Let me ask you something,” Fred said, taking a sip from his cup. “How did you know that gun wasn’t loaded?” “It wasn’t?” “You always were a lucky bastard.” “Was I?” Brian asked. “She’s leaving.” “Who?” “Bethany.” “I know,” Brian said. “So, what are you going to do?” Fred asked. “Regarding what?” “Regarding Bethany.”
Brian drank his coffee and watched Bethany as she disappeared through a revolving door.
Judith Cody Life is Good Except for the Eternal Flames
Last count: one thousand eight hundred wildfires surround us as we sleep, eat, inhale them along with the orange-tinted TV news reports (they are now an addiction). Strangling-gray shrouds stainless steel B-rex barbecues, ash-bathed investment automobiles. Strangling-gray mushes tightly against the many window-paneled monster mansions, the calm little row houses, the soft struggle of suburbia. Strangling-gray dips beneath freeway overpasses, seeking the homeless sheltered there. Strangling-gray oozes into nostrils, creeps beneath Ray-Bans, scratching laser-sculpted corneas. Occasionally, as if signaling a turn of events, rose gardens flicker preposterous hues (just for several seconds) that puncture the dense pall before they are instantaneously incinerated, joining the other ash-coated hillsides. On Fourth of July week, the strangling-gray drifted away on a mellow wind off of the Pacific Ocean. No one prayed to the ocean for this wonder-wind that cleansed the sky to Paul Newman blue and allowed tamed-by-man fireworks to come
out of hiding and celebrate the holiday with ingenious boxed and/or bottled fires to do playful things in that deeply cleaned air. Fire is loved, even worshiped, maybe that’s why it returns so often. The media is insanely infatuated with the towering, sky-scorching flames. The higher they tower, the more likely those burning-brightly areas will be chosen to show on TV news over and over, channel after channel. Even after the fire is finished, the old conflagration images will keep on appearing everywhere until you know them by heart, have the place and time of the flame’s site memorized, and are able to pick that photo out from a thousand other home-on-fire photos. A man escaped the fire in Butte County. He had only his worn shirt, pants, and a beat-up jacket on. These were the only possessions that remained from his life. Looking preoccupied, he spoke to the hovering camera, “I wish I’d had a little box with some of my stuff in it. Stuff I’ll really miss. By the door. So I could’ve grabbed it when the fire roared high as hell toward my house that day. I wish I’d…” His hand lightly brushed a smear of soot on his brow. Sometimes California burns exceptionally bright and anguished extinguishing the sun in an immemorial contest of fire against fire.
William D’Arezzo One Empty Space
When he got back home from the job interview he tried to close the front door softly behind him, but the best he could manage was a neutral click of the lock. As he passed her on his way to the kitchen she kept working, hunched over her drawing table, smoking her cloves. In the kitchen he removed a Miller High Life from the refrigerator, and after hesitating for a moment, carefully twisted off the top. The sound was huge, bigger than the kitchen, filling the corners. He heard her light another cigarette in the other room. He stood holding the bottle as the clove smell entered the kitchen. He didn’t want to walk past her again, but he didn’t want to stay in the kitchen either. Clearing his throat, he went back out into the middle room. She cleared her throat also, as if imitating
him. Streaks of smoke were visible in the air, and on his way past her he caught a glimpse of her eyes flashing up at him through mascara. In the bedroom he stood for a moment looking at the burn marks on the edge of the stereo table next to the bed, where she always placed her cloves during lovemaking. The length of the marks diminished in stages, like on a graph. It was the first time he’d noticed the sequential diminution on the amber wood, as though it were his presence in the house at this unusual hour that made the pattern noticeable. He also noticed for the first time that the Sinatra record under the dustcover was the same one he’d been playing for days, and he wondered how that must’ve seemed to her. The same music over and over. Putting the bottle down with one
hand, he turned the receiver knob with the other, hearing the power come on through the speakers. He lifted the dustcover, placed the needle on the record and sat down where he usually sat, facing the blank wall, his feet up on the stereo table. After a pause and some faint scratches, the music started. In the next room, she cleared her throat again, and he closed the door gently. He lowered the volume on the stereo. Tasting his beer, he discovered he didnâ€™t want it. In the living room the phone rang, and her chair slid against the floor when she got up to answer it. He turned up the volume again. After a noisy interval, she appeared in the bedroom, and went quickly to the closet. He turned the volume down but didnâ€™t look up, sipping his beer instead. Behind him, the rustle of clothing was audible and he felt a breeze around his head as she moved, the air
carrying her cigarette breath. Then she was out of the room and out of the house, with what he judged from where he was sitting to be a neutral click of the front door lock. He got up slowly with the bottle and wandered out of the bedroom and over to her work table, the clove smell lingering prominently in that area. On the table was a large gouache drawing with flat Egyptian-like figures, the colors, carefully-chosen light hues of green, blue, red, placed next to each other in an Egyptian-like tableau depicting some kind of ceremony or negotiation. Many slender arms gestured, and conversation seemed to be taking place. Heads turned. He studied the drawing for a moment, following the movements of the arms and sipping his beer, which started to taste better. He noticed the side table. Topping the stack of books and drawing paper was a letter, still unfinished, addressed
to one of her friends, a woman heâ€™d door open. Then he closed it. The never liked. Lifting his beer he thought rubber stops made a slightly muffled he caught a glimpse of his name in sound. Not a click, exactly. there amidst the other words, so he picked up the letter and read it. The marks on the paper referred to him tangentially, while most of the marks referred to other places and people. The marks that referred to him did so briefly, as if he were far away. In two places in the letter he read the phrase â€œthis situation with,â€? then his name. After reading the letter, he carefully placed it back on the pile where it had been. The smoke was no longer visible, and a new song started in the bedroom. He started to lift the bottle again, but then stopped, went into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. Among the ointments and cosmetics was one empty space, where she usually kept her diaphragm. He stood there for a while holding the cabinet
Contributors Morgan Bazilian Morgan's poetry has been published in Exercise Bowler, Pacific Poetry, Angle Poetry, Dead Flowers, Poetry Quarterly and Innisfree. Morgan's stories can be found in Eclectica, South Loop Review, Embodied Effigies, Shadowbox, Slab, and Glasschord. Dick Bentley Dick Bentley has published fiction, poetry, and memoir in over 200 publications on three continents. He served on the board of the Modern Poetry Association (now called the Poetry Foundation) and was prizewinner in the International Fiction Awards sponsored by the Paris Review and the Paris Writers' Workshop. His books, "Post-Freudian Dreaming" and "A General Theory of Desire," are available on Amazon. Visit Dick's website. Judith Cody Judith Cody, poet and composer, won national awards from Atlantic and Amelia magazines, also a national award in music. Poetry, in Spanish and English editions, is in the Smithsonianâ€™s permanent collection. Poems are published in over 80 literary journals and anthologies such as: Stand, Nimrod, New York Quarterly, South Carolina Review, Texas Review, Fugue, Distillery, Fox Cry Review, Louisville Review, Madison Review, Caduceus, Oakland Out Loud, Anthology of Monterey Bay Poets, and Meridian
Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, others. Poems were quarter-finalists for the Pablo Neruda Prize and won honorable mentions from the National League of American Pen Women, and others. Cody was editor-in-chief of the first Resource Guide on Women in Music, San Francisco State University. She wrote the internationally notable biography of composer, "Vivian Fine: A BioBibliography," Greenwood Press, and "Eight Frames Eight," poems. She is the editor of a PEN anthology and editor of a NASA division history. View Judith's website and learn more about her music. William D'Arezzo William Dâ€™Arezzo is a native of Providence, RI and has lived most of his life in the New England area. A self-taught musician, he drifted from one day job to another for twenty years while spending his evenings playing saxophone in local bars. During his middle age years he enrolled in Rhode Island College and studied creative writing there with Thomas Cobb. He is the author of one novel, "The Rhonda Front," two different excerpts from which will be published in the Spring 2014 issues of Cactus Heart and The Milo Review. His short fiction has also appeared in Niche Literary Magazine. He is currently at work on his second novel. Annabelle Edwards Annabelle Edwards is a young writer living in New Jersey with her two cats. She writes poetry, prose, and short stories whilst studying Spanish and Italian. Annabelle is infatuated with the written word and considers it to be a constant challenge, dependent outlet. Annabelle has had a love affair with writing that has lasted longer than any relationship she has been in. Edwards
is currently working on her first chapbook, yet to be titled. It will contain a series of poems, prose, and short stories. Annabelle runs a successful writing blog on tumblr called The Scribes of a Poet Of Sorts. Jessica Evans Jessica Evans is a 30 year old writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. As the author of innumerable poems, short stories and an unpublished novel, Jessica's fingers regularly burn from overuse on a keyboard.. She is the founder of a local writing Salon held monthly at Cincy Workshop, a design collective. A current student at Spalding University, she is in active pursuit of her Masters in Fine Art, Fiction. Interests outside of reading and writing include yoga and running. Kenneth P. Gurney Kenneth P. Gurney lives in Albuquerque, NM, USA. He edits the New Mexico poetry anthology Adobe Walls. To view a fuller biography, publishing credits and available books visit his website.
A.J. Huffman A.J. Huffman has published seven solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her eighth solo chapbook, "Drippings from a Painted Mind," won the 2013 Two Wolves Chapbook Contest. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry, fiction, haiku, and photography have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, Kritya, and
Offerta Speciale, in which her work appeared in both English and Italian translation. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. J.D. Kotzman J.D. Kotzman works in the health policy field and lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his girlfriend and two pugs, Grendel and Ginger. Previously, he has served as an editor and writer for several print and online news publications. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Speculative Edge, Straylight Literary Arts Magazine, and the An Unlikely Companion collection (a project of Spark: A Creative Anthology).
Visit www.crackthespine.com to review our submission guidelines or to subscribe