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Crack the Spine Literary magazine

Issue 109


Issue 109 April 2, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine


Cover Art: “Seashell & Bubbles� 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.


CONTENTS Marguerite Weisman The Year of the Squirrel

Brent Lucia During Recess

Rosalia Scalia Soul Music


Dan Sicoli To Turn From Beauty

ZoltÎŹn Komor Chickenbone Mary

Lucille Lang Day

Pneumonia

Dean Kritikos The Dive-est Bar in Chelsea

Stanley Noah Backward, Turn Backward


Marguerite Weisman The Year of the Squirrel

I remember the year of OJ Simpson — not as the year of the trial of the century—but as the year my heart came open like a spring-loaded snake in a can. I was eleven and oblivious to anything I couldn’t put in the shoebox on my dresser—the one I decorated with decoupage and angel stickers, filled with headbands and barrettes. But the trial provides essential parentheses because, during that time, it was as though life stopped. In California, from June 17th 1994 to October 3rd 1995, our level of priority as children lessened slightly. We dipped below the meniscus, into a delicious pit of neglect, littered with empty Cheetos packets. Our parents were captive, as though by some Martian force, to the small boxes and speakers and screens that would give them breaking news of the trial.

Driving along Franklin Canyon, with those wet spaghetti turns, no way to see the oncoming cars, my father would feverishly twist at the radio knobs, looking for something more than static. The Canyons had bad reception and I, in the passenger seat, felt like I was hanging off the edge of the world. I looked out over the side and would sometimes see the rusted doors and fenders of long forgotten wrecks in the sticky, unchecked crags below. The trial itself meant nothing to me, but during that time we were frozen in amber. We lived in an electric, unsupervised haze. There was a sphere of light that was that era of parenting and, for a moment we were allowed to disappear beyond the fuzzy outer edges, slipping into darkness like watches into pockets. The world had stopped but we were still ticking.


There was a wide dirt trench behind the school and it was not a place for kids to play but we played there anyways. We called it “the gully,” and that’s exactly what it was: a grimy, shallow gulch that separated the school from the rest of the world, from out there, from the Valley. It was full of refuse, old Slurpee cups and used syringes, and in the public park drifters and buskers got dizzy on the tire swing and laid down in the and. This stuff was above our collective consciousness, though. For us, the gully was just another version of the fantastical woodland places we read about in books. Maybe once a year it would rain so bad the gully would fill up with water and flood the entire school. I liked to imagine my classmates swimming through it, being carried away by a muddy current of acid rain, floating down Tujunga aboard upside down umbrellas, like a hundred baby Moses on a river

through record shops and Panda Expresses, delivering themselves to royalty. When it was nice out, we built forts out of dried palms and bamboo shoots. We made arrows out of sticks and pointed rocks tied on with yarn, and pretended to live off the land. We all had totem animals, we’d got them during a ceremony in social studies, and mine was a deer. The other girls were relegated to weaving tall grass together, or preparing meals out of berries and silver dollar pods. But the girls never wanted me as part of their


practiced domesticity. Instead, I made arrows, alongside my two best friends, Tyler Machete and Joe Cunningham. I wasn’t really one of the boys. I wasn’t really anything yet. When Joe and Tyler had the chicken pox, I tried to play with some of the girls during recess, but they locked me in the classroom and told me I wouldn’t be good at any of their games. My parents were lapsed bohemians and so they sent me to a school founded by a small group of Socialistleaning Hollywood types. We ate our lunches sitting on the ground outdoors, and the concept of spelling was not strictly enforced, but girls could be mean, just like anywhere else. The first time I was invited to Joe’s house, to hang out with Tyler and him, it was an occasion of fear and relief. I felt baptized by this divinity of dead arms and loogies. It took forever to get there and my mom bitched about the traffic because, as much as I loved her,

she was snobby about driving east of La Cienega. Joe’s house was a lot smaller than mine, a blue stucco toadstool on a shady street that reeked sweet from the hot cakes of horse shit lining the curbs. It was one of those funny, fakeseeming neighborhoods that are still zoned for beasts of burden. Most of the houses were the same squat shape, with driveways up to one side and an iron gate swinging into a backyard, and above most of those iron gates were the huge, sleek animal heads, all nerves and nostrils. When I got to Joe’s house, Tyler was already there, and the two of them were sitting on the floor playing Nintendo, jaws tight, fiercely jiggling the knobs of their controllers like they were trying to get them off. I was really anxious about the fact that I had never played a video game before and I hoped there was something else we could do. But I think they knew,


because they stopped playing when I came in. They both stood up and stared at my mother and me in the doorway. Tyler pulled a wedgie out of the back of his shorts and, because he blinked while he did it, thought we could not see. “You can go,” I told my mother in this really punishing voice. Normally that kind of tone would get me in trouble, but there is something that all women know, no matter what age. And that is that, to be in the presence of boys, and to be truly accepted and not judged for our sex, is something rare. And that should be protected. So my mom gave my ponytail a soft tug, and walked back to the car. I watched her walk and there was looseness in her hips, like she was walking to music, and I thought that it must be because she was proud. My baby’s got it, she was thinking. We both knew she would pick me up at eight. The boys and I stood like that for a second, in a

triangle, until Joe said, “I’ll go run and get my mom,” because being a parent, she had to meet the girl that was in their house. Joe's house was small and it was different from my house in so many ways. In our living room, we had a white carpet and a plush white couch adorned with a strategic palette of throw pillows. We had lots of closets, and they were well segregated and organized: there was a dry goods closet, a linens closet, a ski closet, a doll closet, a giftwrapping closet. Every kind of closet. Joe’s house was filled, floorboard to molding and window to wall, with stuff. On the kitchen table: an enormous sewing machine, seven balls of yarn, knitting needles, a carpeted tower for the cat to play on, three boxes of girl scout cookies, an EZ-Bake oven, a lemonade pitcher with a built-in squeezer, a teapot shaped like a tomato, a small Christmas crèche made out of clay, a stack of videos


rented from the library, one placemat with the United States of America on it. Lining the walls: two floor fans, an old gerbil cage with tunnel systems but no gerbils inside, a family of stuffed African birds with wire for hanging, an empty television box, an empty crib box, an empty humidifier box, a black binder full of cut out “Got Milk?” ads, bamboo window shades, a leaf blower, a leather saddle, board games— Operation, Trouble, Hungry Hungry Hippos, and so many more, a grocery bag full of dead orchids, two radios, a bicycle pump, a toolbox, stained carpet squares torn from the floor, crutches, a ream of cactus paper, a busted fender, a mahogany secretary desk atop a stack of banker’s boxes, disembodied keyboards, cowboy boots. There was a narrow passageway between the kitchen counter and the couch, which was stacked with sheets, and then another path down a corridor that led, I presumed, to the bedrooms.

Tyler was staring at me, his eyes looking wide and terrified the way they do when you watch live surgery programs on Medical TV. I stuck my tongue out at him. “We were playing super Mario,” he said. There was the sound of a screen door closing and, from behind a stack of law textbooks, stuffed animals, and lamp shades, Joe emerged, with a small, huddled woman at his side. She looked like the old woman who lived in a shoe. “So nice to meet you, sweetie. Call me Dolores.” Dolores hugged me, and


she smelled like mushrooms and polyester. “We got another one,” she said, grabbing my wrist and raising my arm in the air like an Olympic coach. “Team Girl!” She looked at me and, seeing the blankness in my face, added, “Wahoo.” “Mom, mom,” Joe unfurled his mother’s grip. We touched so infrequently, that his hand on my arm sent a signal down the center of my stomach. Tyler hung back like a wounded wolf, feeling the pull of the inner quarters of the house, the dark carpeted hallway that lead to the bedrooms. Joe’s room was free from the clutter of the rest of the house. His Star Wars posters were hung corner to corner on the wall above his bed, and his Nintendo cartridges stacked neatly in a tape deck on his desk. Even the tassels from his various participation ribbons were untangled. That first time, we tried to get drunk. Joe had seen a

movie where, at a Mexican restaurant, some young people were doing tequila shots, licking their hands like envelopes. Joe pulled open his desk drawer to reveal three limes, a butter knife, and a cardboard canister of salt, with the little girl in her prim, judgmental dress and enormous umbrella. No tequila but, we didn’t miss it. The two of them hung out here all the time, but I could tell that this was something they had saved for my presence, could tell by their symbiotic smiles. Joe put in a cassette of karaoke backtracks he had, to cover the sounds of lime-sucking, I guess. Tyler’s face went red; the undocumented muscles in his arm trembled as he kneeled on the floor and worked at the rind with the butter knife. We hovered over him, waiting for incredibleness. “If I can ever get this stupid lime to open,” he grunted. We took turns sprinkling salt onto


each other’s palms, lapping it up, and then slurping on the desiccated segments of lime. “I am definitely feeling something,” Joe said. He did a hippie dance, moving his arms in the air like he was doing the backstroke. He was the most eager to have a good time. Tyler and I were both more content to be bored, to practice our smirks. A pleasant smell filled the room, of seat and stalepacked-up summer. Later, at dinner, we silently swung our legs under the table while Dolores hobbled around the kitchen, sifting through the mazes of stuff in the cupboard and on the counter, looking for the salt. In February, a two-year old little girl was shot in the head outside the Henry’s Tacos four blocks from our school, caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. The parents were called; there was a brief assembly in the Multi-Purpose Sharing Center about the senselessness of violence

while we waited. Then we were all sent home, one at a time, while poor, overwhelmed Miss Lucy stood at the classroom door writing down our names and the name of the adult we left with. We went to Joe’s house because Joe’s mother was the only of our parents who didn’t work. Tyler’s parents were both dermatologists. My father was playing a gig in Finland, and my mother was at Gypsy Rose, the ladies boutique she owned. Gypsy Rose never made any money, so my mother was reluctant to lock up the store and come pick me up. It agonized her to imagine that the second she left, somebody would come strolling up, put their forehead against the darkened window, and see a pair of twelve hundred dollar harem pants they just had to have. Sometimes she’d turn her head quickly, thinking she heard the bell on the door announcing a customer, but it was just the sound of her own bangles jangling.


As soon as we got home, Dolores went to her room and closed the door closed to work on her projects. She crocheted hats, poured sand sculptures in glass bottles, and made dolls from parts she bought by the cart full at Carmen’s Crafts. The best thing about Joe’s house was the animals. They had three dogs, five chickens, two horses, and a donkey, in a yard no bigger than a basketball court. All this, and, if you climbed up into the avocado tree next to the chicken coops, you could see the Paramount water tower looming in the distance like a Mother Goose-land Panopticon. Joe’s dad built a small droopy barn in back when the first bought the house back in the seventies. Recently, Dolores had taken a pottery class, and loved it so much, that she bought her very own throwing wheel she kept in the barn. On one side, there were three stables where Mork (horse), Mindy (horse), and Mr. Ed (donkey) lived. On the other side was

Dolores’s wheel, with a little stool, a mini-fridge and a boom box. Between the two areas Dolores hung a makeshift curtain of stained sewn together sheets. To keep the space private and peaceful. It started as a game of sort of charades. One person would go behind the curtain and act out an ordinary task, like brushing my teeth or making pancakes. The others had to guess what the person was doing -- the way the light came in through the barn window, it created a perfect silhouette. Tyler built a fire. Joe pulled a rabbit out of a hat. I forgot my audience for a minute and did a little bit of a dance from a Janet Jackson video but neither of them knew it. “Dumb,” Tyler ruled. “Stupid. Next.” Joe raspberried. Panicking, I did the first thing I could think of. I gave birth to a baby. Things quickly turned scatological. It was Joe’s turn next and he did a


really convincing taking a shit, complete with sound effects. After an anti-climactic pissing off the side of a boat, there was barfing on a rollercoaster, barfing in the car, and barfing on a dog, and we’d exhausted most bodily functions. So it was on to inventive ways of dying. Tyler fried in the electric chair. Joe ran straight off a cliff, not falling until he looked down, just like Wile E. Coyote. I was tied to the train tracks. Then Joe made it dark. He went behind the curtain, mimed himself pulling his belt out of its loops, wrapping it around his neck and hanging himself. I was shocked. I actually gulped. We--or at least I--had only just learned was suicide was. That summer a bass player who used to play with my dad slit his wrists in a hotel bathtub. My dad flew to New York for the funeral but he didn’t ask us to come. My mother sat me down in the living room and tried to explain to

me the kind of pain that meant a person would rather end their life than try to fix the pain. She called it an unfixable pain. But I was still trying to get my head around it. I had crying jags, times when I locked myself in my bedroom, lay on the floor listening to my dad’s Tom Waits records. I felt sad mostly all the time, but I didn’t want to die. I looked over at Tyler, who wasn't ruffled. In fact his eyes sparked like half-dead batteries. He had an idea. “No, no, Joe,” he stood up and waved his arms. “I got a better one.” Joe came around from behind the curtain and, as they passed, Tyler took the invisible belt from Joe’s hand. Joe didn’t see, didn’t give it to him, but it was an exchange that I saw. Tyler’s turn started the same way Joe’s had. He held the belt at either end and snapped it in and out, to show us it was there, then looped it around his neck, but didn’t hang. There something else


was happening. He started to unbutton his pants. He held something in his hand and began shaking it vigorously up and down. “Maracas?” I said. I glanced over at Joe who was silent, and mashing his lips together tightly. And something clicked, a little piece of unexamined information I knew but never thought of, which was: that’s how boys do it when they masturbate. Tyler stopped and held his hands out to either side like, so? whatdoyou think?

“Oh, gross,” I screamed, turning the word into two syllables. Tyler cackled. He came out from behind the curtain smiling. “That’s disgusting.” “What,” Tyler shrugged. “My brother says all guys do it.” He looked over at Joe now but Joe had taken a few steps over to the side and was studying a moth’s cocoon that had grown into the cranny between two boards of wood. “Your turn,” Tyler said to me. “Top that.” I saw his face, how proud of himself he was. In his mind he was spitting and polishing the great nugget of shock and fear he’d taken out of us. I wanted to. Top that. I knew how to masturbate, but I was absolutely not going to do that. As far as I knew, you had to lie down for sex, and there was horse and chicken shit all over the ground. So I did the first thing I could think of and started taking off my clothes. I peeled off my blue tank top and began rocking my hips. I closed my eyes, swung the tank top over my head


then placed it gently on the stool. I left on the white cotton bra my mother bought me at the May Company. It was the only one I had and I wore it every day. I unbuttoned my jeans shorts and stepped out of them, careful not to let them touch the ground. I left on my underwear and my sneakers. And I was dancing. I danced like a woman, like the way I’d seen my mom dancing sometimes at my dad’s shows. I opened my eyes and saw that the boys had drawn back the curtain. They were leaning against the wall, Tyler with the sheet pulled up against his chin, and they were watching me. But I just kept dancing. The whole school year was leading up to this class camping trip in April. They were taking us down the coast to this nature preserve that had a HopiChumash workshop, where we would learn how the Native Americans live. Among other things, we were going to be split into groups of two, and we

would all perform a traditional Hopi coming of age ceremony with our partner. “We’re going to live off the land,” Joe kept saying excitedly. He said it so much that I was sure it was something he’d read somewhere, that he didn’t quite know what it meant. The bus we took to get there was hot. Seven AM, ninety degrees, and every few minutes I peeled my legs off the seat like BandAids. I noticed the way the fat around my thighs spread out when I let them rest, so I tried to let them hover above the seat. I had the window seat, pressed into the metal side of the bus. The boys sat on the other side of me, constantly moving. They’re conversation went back and forth quietly like an air hockey game I couldn’t see. “What are you guys talking about?” “I thought you didn’t want us to say gross stuff in front of you anymore,” Joe said. He became more stubborn


and louder the more time he spent with Tyler. He just became more Tyler. Tyler looked over at me, his eyes slick with the verve of some newly discovered form of torture. He held up his arms as though at gunpoint. “Yeah, you made the rules. It’s Miranda’s world, we’re just living in it. Am I right, man?” He jabbed Joe in the ribs with his thumb. It would leave a bruise. “Then just stop only talking about gross stuff.” “Yeah, not going to happen,” Tyler said. He held up his hand for Joe to smack, and Joe missed, hitting Tyler’s forearm instead. “There’s a reason there are no nearsighted superheroes,” Tyler said. “Peter Parker,” Joe pulled his feet under him so he could get up on his knees and gain some air. “Exactly. Peter Parker’s glasses are a very convenient disguise, but do you ever see Spiderman wearing them?

The answer is No.” Outside the city receded in a stream of pho houses, Sunset Tan’s, and roof blimps, giving way to fields and fields of migrant workers. All the other kids had brought grocery bags full of snacks. It hadn’t even occurred to me to ask my mother for food, but I desperately wanted Oreos, or anything that tasted like home -- the dim, cool session of an air-conditioned living room. Joe had a Walkman and he stretched out the band of the headphones until they could have wrapped all the way around his waist. He handed me one foam-covered pod. “Do you want to listen with me for a while?” We each took a pod, me on my right ear and he on his left, the silver stretched between us. Our heads like Siamese twins’. I could only hear the percussion and the bass but that was enough.


Outside the city receded in a stream of pho houses, Sunset Tan’s, and roof blimps, giving way to fields and fields of migrant workers. All the other kids had brought grocery bags full of snacks. It hadn’t even occurred to me to ask my mother for food, but I desperately wanted Oreos, or anything that tasted like home -- the dim, cool session of an air-conditioned living room. Joe had a Walkman and he stretched out the band of the headphones until they could have wrapped all the way around his waist. He handed me one foam-covered pod. “Do you want to listen with me for a while?” We each took a pod, me on my right ear and he on his left, the silver stretched between us. Our heads like Siamese twins’. I could only hear the percussion and the bass but that was enough. In the way of supervision, there was the art teacher and her bolo-knecked husband Nug. They had come up early

in their airstream Winnebago and spent a few nights. They knew the territory. She wore a loose batik dress and her nipples showed. Her name was Dougie. They lived on a farm in Chatsworth and raised rabbits, grew strawberries. I had dreams that Dougie had pagan bacchanals at her farm where they took psychotropic drugs, roasted pigs on spits, and stuffed strawberries and clumps of moss up inside and around each other’s genitals. I didn’t know acid was, but I’d


seen on television people putting little stamp-sized tabs on their tongues, and the world turned into a sexy carousel, and that’s what I imagined happened. So being in the woods with Dougie and Nug I didn’t feel so safe. Except for both the fifth grade teachers, Miss Lucy and Miss Momo, were there too, and one parental chaperone. The parental chaperone was named Maxine and she was an agent, and her shoulders were so pointy and her waist so thin she looked like a sexy trapezoid. She usually wore power suits to plays and parents’ nights but she was dressed down for the Hopi retreat. She wore fringed boots and a sweater with a Navajo print. Maxine was dressing to theme, which is a thing that people who live in Beverly Hills do. First things first, the class was told to circle up, Indian style, and sit still for a talk about safety. The rules as Miss Lucy presented them were no soda or candy, no hitting, no going in the water

outside designated swimming times, no wandering off without a buddy, and no leaving the sleeping bag circle at night. If we had to piddle, we were to wake up an adult. Miss Momo added, most importantly, that we must respect to earth and the Hopi Chumash traditions we were there to honor. Then Nug took center stage. “Listen up, chickens,” he said. “He spend so much time with chickens that he doesn’t know what humans look like anymore,” I heard Tyler whisper to Joe, and Joe didn’t acknowledge him. It was not that funny. “This isn’t some hidden temple TV adventure. This is Mother Nature, and Mother Nature doesn’t play fair. She plays however she wants.” I sensed there was more to Nug’s speech about mother nature, the vagaries of the outdoors, but just then, two hawks flew overhead, do-si-doing each other through the clouds. And just like that,


all necks crooked backwards, all mouths opened to suck a shock of air into our throats and say, “Aww man.” Just like that, they lost us, safety talk was out the window, and the trip began. They didn’t let us choose our partners, and we got them the way we got our clothes, our meals, and the songs we knew the lyrics to. They were handed down to us without explication, in the practical packaging of the adult world. And we sat crosslegged in the dirt, scabby disciples of hay fever and attention deficit disorder. We waited for our assignments and the canoes on Lake Casitas wobbled on the waves with the uneven downbeat of drunken sex. “Tyler Machete and Miranda Beem,” they called. You can see our names start with letters that are very far away so this was not an alphabet thing. Tyler was my best friend but I couldn’t tell if that’s why put us together. Because the

pairs had to be boy-girl, and none of the other girls had boys for best friends. All the others seemed random. The chaperones played a game of psychological poker with our names on index cards. The phases of the ceremony were clear. The boys went into their cabin to change into the leather loincloths they had made and decorated in art class. They were given Sharpies to decorate them and most of them were covered in pentagrams or Stussy symbols. The girl went into their cabin to prepare some sort of native porridge -- the recipe given to us by Miss Lucy and Miss Momo -- of mashed up acorns, peanut butter and carob. Once this was done we were to go off into the woods with our partner and find a secluded spot. First, the boy would eat the porridge made by the girl, and then he would lie down in the dirt. He was to close his eyes, and imagine his spirit animal, as the girl


gently stroked his naked chest and limbs with a feather. We would stay in the woods for about a half an hour. Tyler and I found a spot behind a spikey beach shrub, where we could see the ocean lapping into the tide pools below Diablo Cava to the West, and hear the distracted hum emanating from a fallen wasp’s nest at the forest’s edge. Tyler ate the porridge. “It takes like peanut butter.” I smiled, “It’s mostly peanut butter.” Tyler lay down and, before he closed his eyes, he said, “This is stupid.” “So stupid,” I said, my feather poised above him like a scalpel. We had to say it in order to keep going. I began to run the feather over his skin. Since his eyes were closed, and since I had to be moving the feather up and down his whole body, I looked at everything. Most of it I’d never seen before. Never noticed the way that he did have hair on his body, but that is was blonde.

Never noticed the bony, swollen lumps underneath his knees, or his smell even -- like American cheese fresh off the plastic peel. Dragging the feather up his left leg, I saw the loincloth stir. It rose. He wore underwear too, so I couldn’t exactly see, but I knew what this was. I wasn’t moving the feather, and I looked up at Tyler’s face, and his eyes were open, and he said, “Touch it.” I didn’t move. Tyler raised his eyebrows, and nodded at me. I started laughing. “Seriously?” The skin around Tyler’s lips grew tough and taut. I put the feather in my pocket. “I don’t think I’m supposed to do that.” “Do you always do exactly as you’re supposed to do?” Tyler asked. He seemed to be getting impatient. I searched his face for clues, for understanding. If this were happening with anybody else, I would tell Tyler


“Do you always do exactly as you’re supposed to do?” Tyler asked. He seemed to be getting impatient. I searched his face for clues, for understanding. If this were happening with anybody else, I would tell Tyler about it and they would beat him up. But how could he beat himself up? “What if we got caught?” I asked. “We won’t get caught.” His breathing became thin and fast, like he’d just run ten suicide sprints in gym. I stared at him. It was funny: in a way, this felt inevitable, like something we’d been silently rehearsing for. But it also felt different, like Tyler was going off-book. I didn’t know what this was. I knew I’d had dreams about kissing him. “Yeah. Ok,” I said. “Ok, I will.” He pulled his thing out from the strap of his underwear, and let it rest sandwiched between the elastic and the loin cloth, so I didn’t see what it looked like but, from the side I saw it

was paler than the rest of him. I slid my hand underneath the leather, and tried to imitate Tyler. What he’d done during the game. It felt sort of soft and slippery, like a small satin pouch that maybe a gypsy would keep coins inside. It seemed delicate and I didn’t want to hurt him so I tugged gently and slowly. But then Tyler started bucking his hips, and he put his hand over mine and started jerking it faster and faster. Then, his whole body sort of tensed up like a rolly-poly being tickled, and he made this achey-breaky moan under his breath. Something like pancake batter spread across my palm. Tyler let his head loll back and he smiled like he was asleep and having a good dream. Then he sat up quickly, looked at my hand, and pointed at the tide pools. I went over to the water and rinsed my sticky hand under the surface while anemones beat below like tiny, shredded hearts. Lunch was at two. We ate burritos


that were all rice, and just a little bit of bean, with the girls at one table and the boys at the other, and I at the boys’ table. Tyler and Joe sat across from me, but Tyler didn’t talk to me. He talked to Dikega Hadnot, who sat next to me. They talked about the Lakers. “This is fun, I guess,” Joe said. “Yeah, what about you, do you feel like you came of age?” “Naw," he said. He picked up his burrito and tried to take a bit, but all the insides just came out the other end. Dikega laughed and pointed. “Ah! All that stuff just fell out of Joe’s burrito’s butt!” After lunch, Dougie gave all the girls a bag of arrowheads and some string so that we could sit in the shade and make necklaces. The boys were in the dirt clearing playing kickball in the sun. However, it wasn’t long before the boys got wind of the arrowheads and saw an opportunity.

Dikega Hadnot had brought tons of candy, hidden in his bag. “We’ll give you candy if you make us some genuine weapons with those arrowheads,” he said. We spent a few minutes sifting through the brush for some good sticks, and began binding the arrowheads to them with string. Peanut Cups and Snickers for long spears. Jolly Ranchers and Warheads for short, dagger-like instruments. There was enough candy for each boy to be armed. The boys stomped across the clearing towards the cool cloisters


of the forest, dirt rising around their ankles, dusting their Nike socks. As they walked, Joe turned back and called to me, “Miranda, aren’t you coming?” They all stopped. The rest of the boys jiggled about, itching to get on with the hunt. But Tyler was motionless; he stared at me, trying to disable me with his eyes. He stared at me so hard like he was trying to telepath. The word I saw was dare. I grabbed an unsold spear and sprinted across the sun-slapped dirt-dense clearing. It felt like we were in the deepest wombs of unscripted wilderness. Years and years later, after I learned to drive, and began to figure out the controlled madness behind Los Angeles’s sprawl, I realized we were less than a mile from more than a couple motels and liquor stores. But it seemed scraggly and free, haunted by the spirits of the Native American’s who once called it home and the horses that used to run

wild. We trudged through a foot of sage and yucca, the thorns scraping our ankles. There were no animals. Only small grey birds, flying high and too nimble to overpower. Dikega was at the head of the pack and then he stopped suddenly, holding a finger to his lips. Six feet in front of us, worrying a half an acorn, was a twitchy, black squirrel, who didn’t seem to hear us nearby. It happened very fast, but first Dikega’s spear flew, then another, then another. The squirrel felt the danger like wind, dropped its acorn, and set to flee, across our path and to a nearby tree. He started to scale the bark. I didn’t see him do it, but I guess Tyler decided to lean down and pick up a rock, because the squirrel was halfway up the tree, when a rock the size of a teakettle went throttling at the tree trunk, knocked the squirrel and sent flakes of wood flying. A few of the boys cheered.


“Taking care of business, like fuckin’ Braveheart,” Dikega yelled, and slapped Tyler on the back. The squirrel landed in the grass, on its back without a sound. I could only sort of make out what it looked like through the boy torsos in front of me and, I’d never seen anything dead before, so I imagined Xs in its eyes. I felt bile worm between my ribs and I moved through the gang, pushing the boys to either side, and ran towards the squirrel. I don’t know what I planned to do. I stood over it, trying to think what I could do to save it. It was alive but its face looked weak, and its limbs contorted. It began to chug its back legs, trying to get away, and when the rest of the group saw it moving, there were little sighs of surrender and disappointment. “That is bullshit,” Dikega murmured. “Not a good kill.” They all stood around, sort of wondering what was next, but nobody

was taking the lead. And I stood over the squirrel, my hands out like a shaman, desperately scanning my brain for a solution. “Kill it.” I turned around. Tyler walked towards the font of the clump. “Just kill it,” he said. My spear was still in my hand but I didn’t move. He walked right up to me and his face was inches from mine. What I wanted was to kiss it but I didn’t. And then I felt his spit on my face as he yelled, “What are you deaf? Just kill it. Kill it, you slut.” And without even trying I felt my spear go up and then drive hard into the squirrel’s body and the ground, harder than I’d ever hit anything in my life. And I folded my eyes into the crook of my left elbow, raised my spear and stabbed it again. Then again. And I was sure it was dead. I actually heard a whisper of expiration, like a busted bicycle tire. Dikega cheered and raised his arms


in the air. All the other boys followed suit, punching their fists into the air and cheering. Except Tyler, he just stared at me. “All hail King Miranda,” Dikega yelled. He stepped forward and put his arms around me. “What a badass,” he said shaking his head. We didn’t know who, but somebody told Dougie about the squirrel. Miss Lucy and Miss Momo had driven to town somewhere to buy supplies for a special surprise. When we came out of our cabins showered and ready for evening activities, Dougie, Nug, and Maxine flanked the picnic table, and on the table was the squirrel, laid out on newspaper. Poor Maxine was wearing a beautiful khaki Tahari jacket and a silk scarf, and staring disdainfully at the fuzzy little body. Dougie looked sad. Nug had taken the reigns. “One of you -- I don’t know who it is,” he said, as he paced back and forth

like a drill sergeant -- he was enjoying this. “But one of you took a life today. And when you disturb nature’s cycle in that way, there are consequences.” A few of the girls snickered -- nature’s cycle sounded like a euphemism for the menses. But I didn’t laugh. “The consequence today is we’re going to give this squirrel a proper good-bye,” he said, emphasizing the good. “We’re going to skin it. Because it’s the right thing to do.” Dougie descended from the Winnebago barefoot, a leather pouch with many knives laid across her arms.


We stood around the table, so still. For the ones who couldn’t even make it through a movie like Gremlins without a nightlight, this was unparalleled stress. Nug tinkled the knives, and then chose one that was small with a curved tip. Dougie lit sage and began smudging the picnic site. Nug coughed. He started at the tail, making small cuts. Then, he put his boot up on the picnic bench, the skin under his heel, and yanked the squirrel up out of its skin like an onion out of dirt. None of the kids made a sound. There was a small, almost flirtatious yelp from Maxine, who stood in the back with her hands over her mouth. It was, at this moment, while Nug held the slippery pink squirrel in the air like a scepter, that Miss Lucy and Miss Momo came driving back around the bend, bags full of marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers in the back seat. I saw their faces drop in horror before the car had even

stopped, as they could see Nug in all his stature through the windows. It was getting to be dusk, and it was far too late for anything to be done. They had already bought all the fixings, so we had ‘smores. But they were very sad ‘smores. All of us sitting, holding our sticks out above the fire limply like fishing rods. I let my marshmallows burn up and shoved them in my mouth in a gooey, sooty mess. Back in the girls’ cabin, they played Bullshit and I lay on my sleeping bag and read. Miss Lucy came in at eight and told us it was lights out. And we all lay there, stiff, breathing loudly, with the frisky bladders and burning eyes of creatures who know that it is much too early to go down. At eight the next morning, a park ranger who looked like a Ken doll arrived to give us a talk about respecting animals, and the laws of the wild. He seemed genuinely sad for what had happened, and he scolded us,


but gently and fairly, as a park ranger should. With negotiation, Nug relinquished the small body, stowed in a cigar box, and the ranger departed. There were multiple parent assemblies following what came to be known as the squirrel incident. Joe’s father, an environmental lawyer, was irate and threatened to sue the school. More than a couple kids told their parents that I was the one who had done the deed. Those parents then told the teachers, and the teachers, in turn, told my mother. But, no matter how many eyewitness accounts surfaced, I maintained my innocence. And – in that era of self-esteem, when all were so desperately trying to protect their daughters’ fraught and gauzy insides, trying to stop them from bleeding, and trying to keep them from throwing up everything that made them who they were – my conviction was gold. We all grew apart. I started doing theater, and I made friends with other

girls and boys who liked boys. Tyler became very good at water polo, though I never saw him play and, through the perverted telegraphic chain of adolescent Intel, I happen to know that he took two different girls virginities. When I was in college, my mother called one day to tell me that the Cunninghams got divorced. I snorted and said that I wasn’t surprised. And then I felt badly. Because who was I to judge? I had never had a Valentine and, in those years, I went to very concert on campus, where I’d do coke off the toilet seat, and go home with a different drummer each time. A few years ago, at a bar in Silverlake – when I was still young and hip enough to hang out in bars in Silverlake – I saw Tyler, leaning against the jukebox, talking to what looked like some friends. I was sitting in a corner booth with a co-worker, and I remember exactly what I was wearing.


I went completely hollow, like a nauseous hologram, and had to drain my drink to breathe. I clutched my co-worker’s thigh. “Oh my god, there’s a guy over there that…I know him, we were like best friends in elementary school.” I nodded over at the jukebox. “He’s cute. Go talk to him,” then she winked at me, “Show him how good you’ve grown up.” Tyler was leaning forward now, his face was in the light, and he played this expression that I recognized: the one where he’s just thought of something he shouldn’t say, but he’s going to say it anyways. “I haven’t washed my hair in, like, three days. It’s just the wrong night for a throwback.” By the time Tyler and his cadre of overly-oily friends were leaving – undoubtedly to go somewhere I could not get into – I was emboldened by three more cocktails. As he passed our

booth, I grabbed his arm. “Tyler. Tyler,” I called above the music. He looked at me. Unimpressed, I know, because he did not do that updown thing boys do when they think you’re cute. “It’s me, Miranda, from middle school.” He narrowed his eyes a bit, searching. I was ready to unleash a whole catalog of memory-jogging details and anecdotes. Remember, dancing to Stone Temple Pilots in an air-conditioned room? Remember, playing h-o-r-s-e at recess? Remember, sitting on the playground before it got dark and having nothing to talk about but not wanting to go? But then he nodded, and he smiled this completely horrible smile, where I felt like his mouth was going to stretch out into this enormous thing and swallow us all. And he said, “Oh, right. You’re the girl who killed the squirrel.”


Brent Lucia During Recess

I can be another branch in the woods. Where Mary takes you, holding hands. The tree’s run lengthwise here, growing out of the mud. “No one can see us,” she says. Her dress running down to her ankles, like a proud father greeting his child. And you wish you were the breeze, the only hand that reaches between her racing thighs.


Rosalia Scalia Soul Music

Fingertips

caressing the smooth coolness of the piano keys, thumbs on middle C, Delia Carmel breathes in and plays the C-major chord, treble and bass, as if sounds come from inside her. She presses the notes and leans into the piano. “Good, keep going,” says Lucy Santero, Delia’s piano teacher. “Now play the triad to warm up your fingers, and then our scale exercises, once fast— allegro.” The C-major chord completed, Delia moves her fingers up one note to D and plays the triad

first in an arpeggio and then the three tones simultaneously. Lucy nods approval, and Delia continues with the scales. She loves how logical and mathematical they are, the major thirds, the perfect fifths, the harmonic sevenths. Each sound of the octave, divided into twelve equal parts, each semitone or half step, an interval of twelfth to the root of two, comprising twelve each half steps, adding up exactly to an octave. Delia doesn’t know why the math of music comes to her so easily while the math of geometry eludes her, and the math of

Bird’s computerized cash register doesn’t even figure because she, the rabbit, must be alert to Bird’s, the hawk’s, whereabouts in the store during her whole shift. The cash register tells her how much change to give anyway, which she doles out without counting. She hates working in Bird’s store, mostly she hates working for Bird, and she’s not sure if she actually hates Bird, but loves how her fingers on the cool ivory keys cause the vibrations that transport her to her happy place. “Let’s begin with the


pieces from last week,” Lucy says, after Delia completes the major and minor scales. A yellow Labrador guide dog, Gracie, at her feet, Lucy sits in a brown wooden chair to the right of the piano bench. A Braille copy of the sheet music Delia will soon start playing rests on Lucy’s lap—an intermediate version of a Chopin piece, Prelude 4, Opus 28, somber and beautiful, and her favorite Chopin’s “Raindrops,” along with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” Behind her gray-tinted black plasticframed glasses, Lucy’s pea green eyes appear normal, though when

Delia and she are face-toface, gaps in Lucy’s irises resemble keyholes. Lucy nods in rhythm, her fingers following the Braille notation of the Chopin Prelude. “Focus…focus. You’re losing focus.” Lucy turns toward Delia. “Pay attention. Music is both craft and art,” Lucy says. “Try to feel it, let the wave of what you feel carry you forward.” “I do feel it!” Delia says. She’s always felt it. She embraces the solemn sounds of the Chopin Prelude; when she plays, her mother, who’s tipsy too much, her father, who works too much, people, school, the

world, everything around her vanishes, and only the tones that fill her with joy matter. Delia likes going to Lucy’s house for her lessons. Even with all the furniture against the walls, Lucy’s house feels homey and safe, and Delia wonders who the people are in the framed photos on Lucy’s shelves. She recognizes Lucy in a few of them. In one photo, Lucy, in a black cap and gown, stands next to a German shepherd guide dog and an older man and woman. Probably her parents. In another photo, Lucy and a cute guy, also with dark, curly hair like Lucy’s, both


with wide smiles, stand side by side, hugging each other. Lucy’s life seems so happy. In her bedroom, Frederick Chopin’s expressive face fills a silver frame. Framed photos of her parents’ wedding sit on the mantel in the living room, next to a few of her as a baby and as a toddler. No pictures of her parents graduating from anywhere. Or of her grandparents, now dead. Despite trying to hide her increasing bouts of tipsiness, her mother, who works as a waitress in a nearby restaurant— Tony’s Italian Garden―shows diminishing interest in housekeeping chores,

which for the past year now, Delia has taken over. “So, Delia, which is it? Are you here because you want to be or because your mother wants you to be?” Lucy asks, irritation in her voice. “Because I want to be,” Delia says, knowing her mother prefers that the money she makes at Bird’s store would go straight into the bank, instead of wasting it on lessons. Lucy doesn’t know that Delia pays her own way. “Music is espressione! If you’re not having fun, if you’re not enjoying either practicing or being here with me for


an hour on Mondays, if you’re not expressing your innermost self when you play, I’ll tell you right now to quit,” Lucy says. “Are you tired or something? Your head is a million miles away today.” “Long day,” Delia says, her fingers tripping over sharps in the Prelude. She doesn’t tell Lucy—or anyone—how Bird’s been touching her at work, stroking her lightly, brushing her fingers when she hands him something. No one would believe her anyway, since everyone in the neighborhood admires him for his generous donations of both money and time to

community and church endeavors. She begins the Prelude again, this time forcing herself to concentrate, still stumbling over black keys as the melody shifts downward on the scale. “Keep going,” Lucy says. Instead, Delia starts again from the beginning, her fingers stumbling over the same black keys once more. Wanting perfection, she stops at her first stumble and restarts the piece. “Take it slower,” Lucy cautions. “Careful of your fingering techniques; you might be stumbling because of the wrong fingering.” She claps the rhythm that she wants Delia to follow and sings

the notes aloud to the exercise she wants Delia to play. “D flat, E flat, F flat, G flat, A flat, B double flat, C and D flat,” she chants, her voice mimicking the sound Delia’s fingers press on the keyboards. “Slowly,” Lucy says, now singing the Prelude’s melody. Delia smiles. Her former piano teacher never sang the notes to her. Lucy leans slightly forward in her chair, back straight; her long, curly black hair is held tight in a barrette, the thick mass cascading down her turquoise sweater like a carpet between her back and the chair. Her mouth opens in an “O,” Lucy


sings, and they both arrive at the end of the phrase together without Delia’s fingers stumbling over any keys. “Wonderful. Again, slowly,” Lucy says. “You sing too.” Singing the tones barely above a whisper, Delia begins. “Put some umph in it so you’ll hear them properly when you are away from the piano,” Lucy says. “Don’t be shy here with me,” Lucy says, smiling. Singing louder, Delia plays. Lucy sings too, fortissimo. Delia repeats the Prelude from the beginning, singing and playing it slower.

“Well done. Sing the tones anywhere you can, in the shower even, so you can hear it. Train your ear. Like this,” Lucy says. “Scoot over.” Lucy’s hair cascades around her shoulders when she bends forward to pat Gracie’s head, directing the dog to “stay” before she sets the Braille sheet music on the floor. Lucy moves to the bench, and Delia can smell the spicy sweet aroma of her perfume. She doesn’t look like a piano teacher, Delia thinks. She looks like a movie star, confident and beautiful. Lucy’s face glows even without makeup, except lipstick. Today she wears a black

skirt and a turquoise turtleneck sweater, silver dangling earrings with low-heeled, pointytoe black ankle boots. Delia wonders how she selects her clothes so they match, whether she shops with a friend or her mother, and how she knows what outfits don’t clash. Delia admires Lucy’s independence, she and Gracie going wherever they want, taking the bus to Peabody, where Lucy teaches piano. Unable to afford Peabody, Delia knows how lucky she is that Lucy is willing to teach her at home. Lucy presses a note to acclimate her hands to the keyboard, then easily


moves her fingers up to the B above middle C. She plays the bass but sings the melody, leaning her upper body closer to the piano when she plays something pianissimo, softly, and away from the piano, her back straight, when she plays something fortissimo. She sings the tones without the piano. “This is how you develop your ear,” she says, returning to her chair, retrieving the music from the floor, and replacing it on her lap. “Some people are lucky to be born with perfect pitch. The rest of us have to work at it,” she says. “Far as I’m concerned, having

perfect pitch is overrated. Chopin’s ‘Raindrops’ next, please.” Delia scoots back to the middle of the bench and opens the sheet music on the piano’s book ledge. Imitating Lucy, she leans into the instrument and begins the first slow pianissimo notes of a sonata she loves, a piece that gave her goose bumps when she first heard it because it starts soft and builds to a joyful crescendo. In her head, the orchestra plays while she sits at a grand piano in a great concert hall, the audience mesmerized by her performance. Playing “Raindrops” allows her to forget. She


forgets Bird, who’s married and who pressed his lips into hers for her first movie-star kiss earlier that afternoon at work, and she even forgets the indelible black mark, the size of an apple, now staining her once luminous, all-white soul.

them. Bird walks in and out of the store— Lupini’s Groceries— several times a day, every day of his life, inured to the neglect. Not quite in the middle of South Hampton Street, the main street of her small Baltimore neighborhood, the store sits one block The imperfection of the from Lucy’s house, faded cursive red script around the corner from painted on the front of her house, and across Bird’s store irritates the street from the Delia. If it were her store, restaurant where her works. An she’d do something to mother spruce up the window, ancient, rusty meat hook or at least invite the 21st juts from the top of the century inside, like peeling red wooden scraping the peeling red frame of the storefront’s paint off the storefront’s left window, a final outdoor wooden frames, vestige from its early cleaning, and repainting icebox days when Bird’s

grandfather first opened a butcher shop. An old black-and-white photo of Bird’s grandfather wearing a bloodstained apron and holding a long sausage chain hangs on the wall behind the deli case. Bird—whose name is Joseph John Davis— bangs around behind the deli case, tossing stainless steel bowls into the sink, the crash reverberating throughout the store. When Delia glances at the deli case, he’s leaning all the way into it, eyeing her through the glass, but pretending to rearrange the bowls filled with olives, slaws, and fruit salad. Muscles bulge under the sleeves


of his polo shirt, the result of his morning, pre-work gym routine. Joyce, her coworker, goes missing every afternoon, leaving Delia alone in the store with Bird. By their eye signals, Delia knows Bird’s involved whenever Joyce goes missing and has a stake in the brown bags Joyce carries when she returns. On her guard, Delia ignores Bird by staring at the shelf beneath the register. She hopes someone comes into the store sooner than later, though midafternoon always brings a lull. When Bird looks at her in that funny way with a crooked smile, her face flushes. He flashes

the same crooked smile when older ladies tell him he resembles John Travolta. Aside from blue eyes and dark hair, she doesn’t see either a young or old John Travolta in Bird. From yesterday’s kiss, she knows the sensation of Bird’s disgusting tongue in her mouth. Picking her thumb cuticle until it bleeds, she ignores him, pushing the sheet of her brown hair to the side so that it shields her from Bird’s stare. “Hey, Delia, hand me the paper towels,” Bird says, pulling his head out of the deli case. She retrieves the roll of paper towels from the shelf beneath the

counter when two magazines tumble out, landing at her feet, the center staples visible. Delia rips a piece of paper towel before tossing the roll across the store to Bird. She wraps the paper towel piece into a makeshift bandage for her bleeding thumb before picking up magazines. In one, a woman stares back at her. A naked woman. Blond, with white lacy underwear, red-nailed fingers pushing them aside to expose her bare crotch to the camera, her head thrown back, boobs bare. In the second magazine the center photo consists of two naked women


embracing. She stares at the color spread of the two women, tongues stuck out, licking each other. Their legs spread wide too, each with longnailed red fingers opening the other’s private parts. Did people really do these things? She blushes. Is that what grown-up women looked like? Her mother, who sometimes runs from the bathroom to the bedroom only in her white holey underwear when getting ready for work, doesn’t look anything like that. Her mother’s big stomach droops almost to the top of her thighs. Blue varicose veins line the backs of her legs and

knees like a treasure map, and her fatty hips jut out on both sides. Her mother never wears frilly, lacy underwear, just the industriallooking white cotton ones that she also supplies Delia, except Delia doesn’t have holes in hers because as soon as one forms, she throws it away. Her mother’s boobs point to Florida. “Oh my God, Delia, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have left these magazines out like that,” Bird says, rushing toward her from the other side of the store. He snatches them out of her hands, slips them into a brown bag, and stashes them on the back shelf.

“I’m so sorry,” he repeats, but he doesn’t sound sincere. “But now that you saw them, what did you think of those pictures?” he asks, sounding like a conspirator. Delia shrugs, her face still hot. Avoiding his eyes, she looks at the register, but Bird leans closer to her and rubs her shoulders with both hands. He rotates her body so that they face each other. His breath heats her face, and she smells garlic and salami. His face too close to hers, he drops his large arms, lightly dusting her body as they descend. Though she isn’t certain, it feels as if his fingers brushed


her crotch, lightly, as if his fingers were hairy spider legs crawling across her. It’s quick, so quick she doubts herself. Did that really happen? Did Bird really touch her there? Bird remains in the tight space behind the counter and leans into her so that she can feel his hard dick against her. Delia imagines the E-minor Prelude. She imagines the opening notes of her favorite “Raindrop” piece, two Bs, one low and one high, and concentrates on the melody. In her front jeans pocket, her thumb cuticle bleeds. Bird stands too close to her. She dislikes his invasion into her bubble of space,

especially now with the fingers of one hand wrapped around her upper arm while the fingers of his other hand snake behind the snaps and zipper of her jeans, and the cotton of her white panties, heating her skin. His cologne reminds her of her father’s, the one he wears when he’s dressed up and taking her mother out for their anniversary. Hidden from view behind the cigarette display, right there, in the store, behind the counter, near the register, Bird bends slightly, barely touching his lips to hers, inserting first one, then two

fingers inside her. She panics, attempts to wrestle herself away, but he presses his lips into hers, slipping his tongue into her mouth, plowing his fingers deeper into her. “I’ve been wanting to do that the minute you walked in the store today,” he whispers between kisses, his breath blowing warm on her face. Married Bird holds her close; his penis bulges against her, contained only by his slacks. She imagines the indelible black mark on her soul growing to the size of a watermelon. “Do you want to hold my dick?” he asks, as if offering her a great


prize. She doesn’t want to hold his dick. What could she say when he is kissing her again, swishing his tongue all over her mouth. The fingers inside her dance, sending jolts straight to her stomach, which is falling down to her knees. With his free hand, Bird pinches and fondles her nipples through the cloth of her shirt, through the cloth of her bra, before dispensing with the cloth altogether and reaching up under her shirt and under her bra band. She wonders if he tastes the chocolate-covered raisins she ate earlier. She tries to free herself,

to close her mouth, but his whole body dwarfs hers, and the jolts from his dancing fingers zap her; it frightens her when her body opens itself to him without her permission. “You do like it,” Bird says, rubbing the knobs of her nipples. She doesn’t like it. She does like it. She likes the pleasure from the jolts zapping her, an electric current through her whole body. She doesn’t know. She’s fifteen years old, and Bird is her mother’s age, her mother’s friend, and the reason she’s working this under-the-table cashier job at his store to pay for piano lessons.


Heart racing, stomach knotted, palms sweating, thumb bleeding, Delia can’t stop the moaning sounds that betray her as they fall from her own mouth. Perhaps mistaking her silence for an invitation, mistaking her moans for agreement, for desire, for anything other than confusion and numbness, he keeps his dancing fingers inside her, pins her in place with his hips, and with his free hand lets his penis loose from his slacks and underwear, setting it in her hand. She doesn’t know what to do with it, so she holds it in her open palm, where it sits like a

wild animal until he wraps his fingers around hers so that they close around it, and he pushes her hand up and down, “Like that, steady and slow, and now fast,” he directs her, keeping her hand trapped under his. His directions sound like Lucy’s when Delia plays the scales. She thinks of the Prelude in E-minor descending the minor scale as Bird moves her hand faster. He kisses her chin and her neck and pulls her into a close, suffocating hug, fingers of one hand still wrapped around hers still holding his dick, fingers of the other causing a new, unknown wave of sensation inside her. “I know you don’t

her. “I know you don’t have a boyfriend, Delia. But now you do, and it’s me. I don’t want to see you talking to any other boys, or there will be trouble. You understand?” he whispers into her ear, his fingers still inside her. “And you can’t tell anyone either. If you tell anyone that I’m your boyfriend, we both will get into deep trouble. You don’t want to get us in trouble, do you? Your dad would be so mad at you knowing you have a boyfriend.” He puts his dick away, readjusting his shirttails into his pants. Her insides tingle from a new sensation. She doesn’t


want to be Bird’s girlfriend, nor get into trouble, but she’s now addicted to the jolts his dancing fingers sent through her entire body. Her father will kill her if he finds out she has a boyfriend. Bird returns to the deli case on the other side of the room, humming and beaming happy-looking smiles at her, looking as if he’s rehearsing for a toothpaste commercial, but Delia knows she’s guilty of a great sin of having a married boyfriend. Bird is washing his hands in the sink behind the deli case when the bells of the front door jangle. A regular customer enters,

an old woman with a brightly colored cloth sack dangling from her arms, followed by Joyce, whose glassy eyes ignore her but signal to Bird. Carrying a brown bag, she heads straight for the sole bathroom in the back of the store and clicks the lock. Delia wants to wash her hands and her insides because the wild animal smell mingled with that aroma of Bird’s cologne clings to her. She tried prying Joyce out of the locked bathroom a few days ago to no avail, and Delia refuses to wash her hands near Bird at the sink behind the deli counter. She longs to be home where she can

clean herself. Fingers clicking the cash register buttons like piano keys, Delia rings up a bottle of pink generic dishwashing liquid, a crusty loaf of Italian bread, a quart of olive salad, and half a pound of grated Romano cheese for the old lady, placing all of it in a large brown paper bag with her wild animal hands. Bird keeps his hawk eyes on her from behind the deli case when he should be keeping his hawk eyes on Joyce, who’s probably using again in the bathroom. Stuffing the brown paper bag into the old woman’s colorful cloth sack, humming the E-minor


Prelude, Delia wonders if the old lady can detect something different about her, if her lips look bruised and purple from Bird’s kisses, if her shirt looks discolored where Bird rubbed his semen into the pink fabric with a dry paper towel, trying to clean it up, if her eyes—the windows to the soul—reveal the inky blackness spreading inside her.


Dan Sicoli To Turn From Beauty

this is the dress you filled this is the tune’s generic response this is the gift offered as illusion in the warehouse of secrets your echo is impenetrable in this quiet age what is more brutal more merciless than cruel water falling off your body eroding a private memory of evening


ZoltÎŹn Komor Chickenbone Mary

Chickenbone

Mary couldn't find a husband for herself, even if she wanted to. But as she never thought about marriage, she made it easy for the men in the town, who rather chose another pathway, so they won't have to eschew the woman's bumblebee body on the street. Everybody knew, the only thing excited Mary was chicken meat. Fried and roast chicken, chicken soup, bird legs and greasy wings, damn, even raw meat, if that was the case: her mother never stopped telling tales about the little Mary, who trained her little growing teeth on the legs of waddling chickens on the porch, when she was just a baby. Drops of blood everywhere. A few gnawed legged, crippled birds couldn't even walk after the encounter, they were just sitting there with silent agony in their empty eyes. Mary, Mary – her mother bored

the crap out of her listeners – sneaked out to the shed when she was six, and gobbled up a whole chicken alive. The little rascal. "First you have to cook 'em!", her mother nagged at the kid, and as the years passed, and the child got fatter and fatter, she taught him how to kill and pluck the poultry. At nights the little girl murmured the best recipes in the dark room like they were prays. So Mary couldn't find a husband, that's sure as hell. As she ambled along in the dusty streets on her massive legs, the chicken bones on a string, that she wore on her neck clashed against each other. The children mocked her, whenever they seen the woman: "Ladies! Hide your damned poultry, 'cause here comes Chickenbone Mary, the chicken sucker, the one and only!" Oh, Mary hated these kids. But she didn't take it to her heart, because she


had everything, she wanted in life: living in an inherited farm, just outside this dirty little town, by herself, but with a remarkable army of chickens. At nights, when she's laying in her bed, bellyful and burping in the dark room, and the urge came, she just slides a tiny chicken bone between her fat thighs, and when she screams in pleasure, the feathers of the angels falls out from the clouds, and her tightening vaginal muscles breaks the bone into pieces inside her. This worked fine. But as she was getting on in years, the thought of a man around a house struck a root in her mind. Because it was harder and harder every day for her to handle the work around the farm alone, and those damned kids got a bit too saucy lately: now and then they sneaked into the farm, stole one or two chickens, or just beheaded an old bird, writing filthy words on Mary's wooden door with it's blood, other times pegging her

windows with chicken shit. They wouldn't dare such things, if there were a strong man, a proper scarecrow around her home, that's for sure. She knew of course, it was impossible for her, to find someone. She never even got a kiss from a boy, even when she was younger. But Mary simply didn't cared that time. Who cares about boys, when the chicken soup is boiling at home? Oh, the boys. To tell the truth, she couldn't even stand roosters, as they strut up and down, sticking their crops out. Those stupid little cocks, full of vanity and arrogance, like wicks that never stop glowing. The only thing she liked about them, that their testicles were very delicious in soup, that's why she always kept one rooster. Cut-off bird legs crawl in the attic – the nightmares of people ride into the moonlight court – coyotes scream behind the black curtains of the night. Chickenbone Mary screams, and a little bone cracks inside of her. Scorpions’


candle-tails lighting with poisonous flames. Hide your damned poultry, ladies, here comes Chickenbone Mary, the angel plucker. As she moans and groans wistfully in a dark room – into the never disappearing sad ghost of the soup stream – men pops out in their distant beds, like they were just soap bubbles. Outside, pubescent boys smudge the sky with birdshit, writing their nasty words onto the clouds. The angels begin to retch from the ugly smell of the boy-words. Darn kids, look at them, they behead another chicken, and drinks it's blood eagerly, happily burping. "A man‌ I wish there was a man here, he would cook their goose!" Cries Mary under the eiderdown filled with bird feathers, spinning the broken bone between her sausage fingers. Then her eye rounds and she jumps out of the bed. Mary works in the faint light of the moon, crawling on all fours, the dry-rotten boards crackle under

her heavy knee-caps, as she collects the laying bones in the room and the ones, she wears in her neck into a proper mound, then she begins to nest one piece with another, hissing in the dark: "All my life, I did everything myself! I never needed anyone's help! I can make a man for myself, if I want to, god damn it!" And her husband begins to take form: a real wondrous scarecrow, made of bones, at the light of the moon he seems like a real man. Well, almost, only one thing is missing. So Mary runs, holding a knife chasing her only rooster, the animal runs like crazy, it's large red comb waves in the air. But no bird ever escaped from Mary's wide hands: the glinting blade slices the scared rooster's throat, and within minutes, she runs back to the house with the chopped head of the bird. "Now you're a real dude, Joe!" Mary claps her messy hands, gazing her new husband in the light of the rising sun,


the skeleton with the rooster's cut off head between his legs – blood drips from the bird's beak onto the floor, then it begins to heave, and starts to crow. Angels with vulture wings. Everything burns here with dark flysmoke, it's the buzzing mist of hell. The sun only rises happily over Mary's farm, where they can't stop celebrating with festive soups. Bubbles of fat explode, shreds of meat flies out from the saucepan and sticks onto the wall. "What a real valiant you are, Joe, we really need to clink on to your health with some fleshjuice!" It's night again. The pores of the desert opens. Pubescent boys crawl out of their caverns, and gathers in front of the farm. What a flock of fuzzy haired, dirty faced kids. Their eyes glint, small knifes roll between their fingers. "Chickenbone Mary, Chickenbone Mary, the skyplucker, the

cockplucker!" they chant and laugh. The boys climb over the old board fence, and begins to chase the chickens. The lifting feathers tickle the round belly of the moon. They grab a few birds, and chop their heads off – clucking skulls fly over the night sky. "Chickeeenboone Maaaryyy!" Sliced off beaks begin to trumpet. Suddenly, a strange noise comes from the dark: "Fright them away, Joe!" Word-pebbles dropped into the night's black pit. The blood runs out of the boys' faces, they drop their sharp knives, the birdshit and the dirty words from their mouths, when they glimpse the scarecrow, as it draggles towards them in the moonlight. What a monster! A walking skeleton, with a dead rooster's head between it's legs. "Meet my husband, you freaks!" Laughs Mary somewhere in the blackness. "His name is Joe!" The youngsters begin to scream, running as fast as they can, jumping


over the fence, squeezing themselves back to their holes in the desert. "We never gonna see those damn fuckers again!" Mary cheers, as she claps her hands, rocks fell out from a distant mountain. She runs at Joe, cuddles him and gives a big kiss on his bonecheeks. The man's cock begin to prance, the sharp beaks of the bird head tries to peck Mary's pasty skin. "You little eager!" chuckles the woman. "Oh well, you're a man after all, and you really earned your prize tonight!" The old bed crackles. As Mary's hands fondles her husband's body, she finds tiny pieces of leftover meat on the bones. She plucks them off, and puts them in her mouth. The amulet of joy blinks. Oh, what days come in Chickenbone Mary's life! As the sun crawls up to the sky, the rooster head between Joe's legs begin to crow. Then the man wriggles out of the bed, and brings hard food to the birds. He

chases one down, cutting it's throat with a rusty knife. Mary teaches her husband every recipe, she knows – one by one – and Joe's a hard learner. After some time, Mary doesn't even have to leave the bed, she just lays there, sucking left over bones from the dinner, listening to the clucking that comes from outside, yelling: "Bring more meat, Joe! I feel hungry again!" And Joe brings them. Soon he cuts every bird's throat, while his wife fattens more and more. The old bed cranks painfully beneath her. She eats so much poultry, that a few feathers grow out in her armpit. Desert storms come and go – numerous sun downs point their gun barrels at the sky – the dropped feathers of the night dry in the corner. "Oh, Joe! You are stucked music in the mouth organ, and please, bring more meat, my belly rumbles!" But no chicken is left in the henhouse. Mary doesn't even know, where do the birds


come from – but they just come, roasted, cooked, tickling the air with their smelly steam. Finally, the folks in the town begin to talk about the missing chickens. More and more disappear from their courts, but they couldn't guess, who can the taker. Not until the old grocer's wife catches Mary's husband stealing the sitting hens. "It was real awful, I tell ya!" she squawks, while the villagers give her a glass of whiskey. "It wasn't human, that's for sure! It must have came from the grave! It took those poor hens, and headed towards Mary's place!" Chickenbone Mary, Chickenbone Mary, the name circled in the room, so the good old citizens grabbed their pitchforks and head their way to the old farm. There they have found the ugly skeleton straightaway, it was just killing the stolen birds with a knife. So they captured, and carried him to the sheriff, who casted a glance at the

miserable and sent him behind bars. By this time, Mary was sighing in her room, telling: "Poor, poor old Joe!" Big drops of tears rolled on her round face, making the elderdown all wet, and of course she was crying for herself too, she was just too fat, the woman could hardly go out to the craphouse alone. Mary decided, to lose weight, and rescue her husband somehow. And as there were no more meals served in the bed, it wasn't a difficult task after all. The weeks went by, and she starved more and more – eating only smacked flies, the cushions of fat begin to reduce. She didn't became thin, nor pretty of course, but she could walk again, and when she felt, that her legs are strong enough, to carry him to jail, Mary took action. So one night the sheriff catches Mary standing before his desk, murmuring: "I'm here for a conjugal visit." The man yawns, and leads her to the cell. Usually, they don't deny such


visits, no matter, how wild miscreant is the prisoner, a good little screwing always calms the jailbirds down. Not that Mary's husband would needed any appeasement – as you can see, he's just sitting on the pallet, looking at his useless, hanging cock, while rats keep chewing his bony toes. But he gets on his feet fast, when his wife steps in. "Fear not, Joe, I'm gonna help you get out of here!" the woman smiles, then they lay down, and the sounds of moaning, cowing and the cracking of bones fill the cell. When they finish, his wife puts a finger to her mouth, "Ssh!" She hisses, while pulling a little bone out of her man, hiding it under her wide clothe. "Not a word, Joe, I'm gonna take you home, but I can only do it in several rounds!" So it went like this, Mary showed up night after night in the jail, and every time, she carried home a little piece from his lover. There, he joined the portions together, and clapped her

hands, when his husband began to take form. No one noticed that the prisoner was waning. They simply didn't eyed him, because they couldn't stand his sight. But he was less and less as the days went by. In the end, he was just a dead roster's head, left on the pallet, this was the last piece, Mary carried home. And when Joe was ready, she made a promise to him: "From now on, everything's gonna be different, my love! There will be no more days spent in the bed! We're gonna buy new chickens, and raise them together!" This is how they plucked the days together – the feathers of the daylight float over the sky – the night rooted out the most beautiful dreams from their skulls. The chickens layed their eggs, and shady wedding photos hatch from them. Their house was a palace, spinning on chicken leg. In the evening, Mary tears apart the pillows, and welters in the feathers, clucking: "Gimme some cock, gimme some cock!"


then the bed begins to whimper. But of course, soon the sheriff noticed the disappearance of the prisoner, and showed up in the old farm. Mary hidden her lover in the henhouse, but the old sheriff didn't want to leave her kitchen, telling: "I've had enough of this game, woman! That ugly son of a bitch belongs behind bars!" "Please, don't take him away!" murmured Mary, tears festered in her eye corners, like shinny fat in the surface of a good chicken soup. "I love him!" she admitted, but Mary knew, she couldn't convince this old fool. What a cocky rotter he was! A real vain rooster, with a glittering badge, in tinkling spurred boots. "So be it!" decided Mary, and yelled: "Come here, Joe! We're gonna cook a rooster today!" And Joe came, with a giant rusty knife in his hand. The sheriff shot a few bullets into the smiling skeleton, but it

didn't stopped him. And when the edge was cutting his throat, Mary told him: "See, mister? This is love. That conquers all." Then the whole world turned to black – the cupola made of dark vulture feathers felt on the man. So there boils the good, good sheriff soup. The stream drenches the dirty curtains. Bubbles of fat explode in the saucepan, bringing up to the soup's surface a golden badge or a fat testicle – which's flavor Mary adores so much. And the years pass so fast here, on Wasteland, like rabid tumbleweed chasing each other. Joe and Mary draw a heart onto the sky with their names in it using chickenshit, and it will never goes off. When God will finally scratches down these two lovers from the welt of his ancient boots, they will be buried in the same coffin. That day tiny bones gonna rain from the sky. You'll see.


Lucille Lang Day Pneumonia

“It sounds like a washing machine,” the pulmonologist says, stethoscope to my chest. The CT scan shows a meshwork of cobwebs where alveoli should be clear. Clots of mucus make my bronchi appear bright white in the image. Oh, dear! With every breath I feel and hear a rattle and wheeze. Diagnosis: lobar pneumonia. My mother’s mother, Emma Bumpus, thirty-seven years old, mother of four, died of lobar pneumonia in 1919. And Emma’s mother, Angenette Sampson, died of pneumonia in 1892, the year Cleveland was reelected, before she turned forty-three. I see the yellow mucus from their chests each morning

and wake with them in the middle of the night, coughing, struggling to breathe. Oh, to meet instead in a field where winecup clarkia blooms pink as a baby’s lung while dragonflies zip through delicious air.


Dean Kritikos The Dive-est Bar in Chelsea

I’m usually pretty good at understanding accents. This is a true story and Alexandra can attest to it. I’m waiting to get into the bathroom at The Patriot and a man who has been trying to select a song for the jukebox for half an hour now is still at it. We share some fighting words, but nothing happens. He’s wearing a beanie inside, so it’s good for him that nothing happens. I get in, pee, and get out; there’s another man passed out on the couch. Bar tender wakes him up—“you can’t sleep in here.” She quickly dumbs down her English, as his dim-witted, glassy eyes stare back at her—“I’m going to kick you out if you sleep again.” She rolls the words out slowly, with little inaccurate and artificial pauses in between each one. A real bitch. We walk outside to smoke a cigarette, and the sleeping man comes outside, too. I tell him to get home safely. He says, “my cousin, she here last night.” Or, I think he says “here.” I say, “Yeah, man. Cool. Just get home safely, alright?” He pulls out his phone to show me a picture, and I take my last drag and flick the cigarette away. I’m looking at a girl no older than eight, who’s lying on a hospital bed with a tube in her nose filling up with blood. “My cousin, she die last night.” Alex doesn’t know how to react, lets out a nervous laugh, and runs inside. I’m usually pretty good at understanding accents.


Stanley Noah Backward, Turn Backward Quiet in this square, stained wall-paper room, haunting low-toned mirror and slow moving music dancing out the short ban radio. My mind seem easily to walk backwards the steps of years. Then profoundly

reality is repeating my personal history I lived through with so many persons. their faces, voices, events like a movie. I do not need to meet them as they are today. Some memories are sacred like fresh linen folded and put away like rivers to the sea like beach bone-dried sea shells waiting for generations to be collected. Remembered for what they were, and went like stamps on letters, traveled.


Just to be put away in glass jars like red sweet jam held to sun light. You wonder beyond yourself and with those who knew you as they are constantly on edges, disappearing, again and again--taking a little of you with them as if until now you had never been here, hardly lived, even known by others today. Then fate like gravity soon has its way of placing you alone in this room somewhere in this hour. And the mirror you look into is like an abstract image you cannot fix. Becoming more invisible each time you take a peek. You hate to cut the lights off. Fearing next morning the mirror can no longer hold you. Its the quietness, isn't it, that makes you think of these types of thoughts.


Contributors 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 2013Two Wolves Chapbook Contest. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry, fiction, and haiku have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, includingLabletter, 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. Zoltán Komor Zoltán, 27 years old and from Hungary, writes surreal short stories. His first book, a novel titled "Mesék Kaptárvárosból" (Tales from Hive City) was published in 2010. He is the editor of Katapult Kortárs Alkotói Oldal a site that focuses on neoavantgarde and postmodern literature, abstract paintings and electronic, mostly experimental music. Zoltán is published in Caliban Online, Thrice Fiction, The Phantom Drift, Gone Lawn, Exit Strata. Dean Kritikos Dean is a full-time student at St. John's University, where he works in the Office of Sustainability and the Writing Center. He is Assistant Editor of the school's literary and Arts publication, Sequoya, and has been published in it, as well as the school'sHumanities Review. Dean has presented work in featured performances with The Epic 12 Collective, The Inspired Word, and Poetry Teachers NYC, and will feature at an event hosted by Great Weather for MEDIA later in 2014.


Lucille Lang Day Lucille Lang Day has published a children’s book, "Chain Letter," and eight poetry collections and chapbooks, including "The Curvature of Blue," "Infinities," and "The Book of Answers." Her first poetry collection, "Self-Portrait with Hand Microscope," was selected by Robert Pinsky for the Joseph Henry Jackson Award in Literature. She is also the author of a memoir, "Married at Fourteen: A True Story," which received a 2013 PEN Oakland – Josephine Miles Literary Award and was a finalist for the 2013 Northern California Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. Her short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in more than one hundred literary journals, such as Atlanta Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Hudson Review, The MacGuffin, Nimrod International Journal, Passages North, and The Threepenny Review. Visit Lucille'swebsite or Twitter. Brent Lucia Brent is currently an adjunct lecturer at City College of New York and has been teaching both literature and writing courses for the past four years. Brent's poetry and short stories have appeared in such literary journals as BlazeVox12, Five Quarterly, The Prometheanand Shot Glass Journal. Stanley Noah Stanley has a BGS degree from The University of Texas at Dallas and has been published in the following: Wisconsin Review, Nexus, Main Street Rag, South Carolina Review, Poetry Nottingham and other publications in the U.S.A.,Britain,Canada and New Zealand. He was the winner of The Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest, 2006 and Full of Crow Poet of the month,Sept., 2009.


Rosalia Scalia Rosalia Scalia writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay; The Baltimore Review; North Atlantic Review; Pebble Lake; Pennsylvania English; The Portland Review; Quercus Review; Smile, Hon, You’re In Baltimore; South Asian Ensemble; Spout Magazine; Taproot; Blue Lake Review, and Willow Review, among others. The story that appears in Taproot won first prize in its annual literary fiction competition for 2007, and “Uncharted Steps” merited a 2010 Individual Artist Grant from the Maryland State Art Council.“Sister Rafaele Heals the Sick,” first published by Pebble Lake Review and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, appeared again in an anthology titled "City Sages: Baltimore" (CityLit Press, May 1, 2010), a collection of stories by 32 Baltimore writers, including Poe, Anne Tyler, and Alice McDermott, among others. Her story, “You’ll Do Fine,” was a recipient of the Willow Review Award for the Spring 2011 issue. Her story, “Henry’s Fall,” was a finalist in the Gival Press Short Story competition and her short story collection was selected as one of eleven finalists for the Sante Fe Writers Project Literary Award. Scalia earned a. master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University in May 2003. She lives in Baltimore, Md with her family. Dan Sicoli Dan Sicoli is a co-editor with Slipstream Magazine. Bent fenders, broken guitar strings, second-hand dresses, and three-legged dogs have often made their way into his socalled poetry. He lives in Niagara Falls, NY where he can often be found banging a old Gibson in local dives, gin mills, and barrelhouses with an area rock'n'roll band. Pudding House Publications (Columbus, OH) released two of his chapbooks, "Pagan Supper" and "the allegories." He also oven dries his own garden tomatoes. Marguerite Weisman Marguerite Weisman was born in Los Angeles. She's an editor at HarperCollins and has her MFA from The New School. She now lives in Brooklyn.


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Crack the Spine - Issue 109