Crack the Spine Literary magazine
Issue 129 October 15, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine
Cover Art: “Sunset Across the Pasture” by Anita Roberts Soupir Anita Roberts Soupir was born in Missouri, but had a wandering soul. She has lived in Connecticut and South Florida, but now calls rural North Dakota home, where she lives with her husband and two children. She enjoys freelance writing and is currently polishing her first manuscript, "The Dessert Club Series Book 1 - Don’t Trifle With Me," as she searches for representation. Her work can be seen in: Crack the Spine Literary Magazine and Mused - the BellaOnline Literary Review Magazine, as well as Boston Literary Magazine, Literary Juice, 50 Haikus, Thick Jam, and Espresso Stories.
Diana Anhalt El Regreso
Holiday Inn Express
A.J. Huffman Hearing Champagne
M. David Hornbuckle Scrapple
Chris Ozog Polaroid Memories
Ten Thousand More Times, From the Top
Diana Anhalt El Regreso I used my writing… nostalgically traveling through words to the country I could not inhabit. - Ariel Dorfman My morning settles into dailyness. I settle for words— my one way ticket, my passport home—and strain to hear the echo of my footsteps scuffle their way down San Angel’s cobblestoned streets. You allow me to defy the Entrada Prohibida signs, ramble down avenues, stoplights frozen on green. I collect a glossary of sensations, travel your sounds. The chance encounters—a steam whistle’s clamor, sting of mescal, scent of ocote—mark my days. You tempt me with promises: sidewalk serenatas, market bounty. Today your language quivers on my tongue, turns me affable, serene. You bequeath me a childhood brimming with mornings, serve me boleros to sing before breakfast. Mexico, you are my ayeres, my country of skinny moons.
Michael Fumai Assemblers Needed
Frank set up his utility table in the New Rochelle Home Depot garden center by bags of mulch and potting soil. It was a few minutes past six and the store had just opened. There were only three or four employees in the whole building. Warblers and pigeons sang and scavenged in the garden center with Frank. By default, a utility table was twenty-nine inches high, but to accommodate his 6’5” frame, Frank had to order an adjustable table off the internet, which he liked set at thirty-six inches. He parked an orange Home Depot shopping cart to the left of the table. This is where he kept his tools, thermos, and parts that he wasn’t going to use until later. He cut out one side of the box to a Brinkman Elite Five Burner Grill with
his utility knife, flipped it over upside down, and then slid the box off. He pushed it to his right, and began gutting the pile of metal and smaller boxes. The side table, side burner, and doors went by Frank’s feet until they were ready to be attached. The cast iron cooking grates, knobs, heat plates, and warming rack he threw into the shopping cart. He’d put those under the hood when the grill was finished. These were for the customer to take care of. Frank was always skeptical about this though. The world of men had become increasingly helpless. He cut into more boxes until the tank holder, plastic wheels, and cart base were on the table. He ripped off their bubble wrap and plastic. Nine years ago unpacking a grill and assembling it in less than half an
hour was enough to push Frank to the edges of sanity. He wasn’t nearly as fast as the veterans. He got frustrated with the tape and plastic. He often wondered what ghastly sins he had committed in other lives. There were days in the beginning where he thought about launching grills out on to the middle of 95, his joy of seeing an eighteen wheeler transform them into string cheese. Or, dousing one with gasoline, lighting his Zippo, and sending it down the compactor chute. But these were only fantasies. It had taken him months to find a job after his unemployment ran out. And if he walked out how was he going to pay rent? How was he going to be able to cover what Medicaid didn’t for his mother’s retirement home stay? So, he trudged through the circus of frustrations, and cuts on his hands, metal splinters, and sixteen hour days. Now he was one of the fastest assemblers in Westchester County.
Frank wheeled another Brinkman into the aisle lined with lawn ornaments and imitation wishing wells. When he came back he set his tools neatly to the left side of the table. He heard the whirring of an engine outside. Then the smell of diesel making its way into the open air. He looked up through the windows hazy with condensation. A landscaping truck. But past that he caught the pink and orange sky, the sun slowly turning the silver spring dawn into day. Beyond the parking lot and planted trees, beyond the hurriedly erected apartment buildings, there was some kind of magic happening. Frank tore into another box and began the cycle again. He picked up his Milwaukee impact drill (the only brand he would ever buy) and looked at it almost lovingly. In another time, he would’ve been a cowboy deputy polishing his badge with spit, or a
samurai over a water stone sharpening his blade, meditating on the protection of great honor. Frank knew there was no honor in what he did. He knew the world inhaled and exhaled without ever taking much notice of him. What did he really do anyway? He enabled people to grill hot dogs and hamburgers. Frank was the unseen hand behind cookouts and summer family reunions. But, he rarely pondered his importance here on earth. It was not a healthy mental activity. Instead he focused acutely on doing his job. And at least Frank could take some solace in doing that well. His Milwaukee hovered over the table, the magnetized bit attracting a 12mm screw. He fastened the propane tank holder to the cart base. This took two minutes. He attached the rear panel in a minute and a half. He flipped the base over, pounded the
leg extenders in with a mallet, and attached the wheels and axles with cotter pins: two minutes. He put the base on the floor, picked up the hood of the grill body with one hand (70 lbs.) and then drilled in four screws to attach it to the base. Three minutes. The sound of the bit catching the bolt and thrashing it into the metal, a crappy alloy made in China, captured the attention of an older gentleman reaching for some retaining wall stone. When he saw Frank and his drill he figured out what the racket was and went back about his business. Frank leaned the grill against a cardboard box full of garbage at an angle so he could attach the side burner. Ray had taught him all of the tricks. “Use the shopping cart as a helper.” “If you’re right-handed keep the hardware on the right side of the table.” “Since there was always going
to be more garbage than cardboard keep the box for garbage on your right, and the box for cardboard on your left.” Frank had liked Ray, a sometimes mechanic pushing sixty. He liked that Ray respected him, not because of his size, but because he was a fellow human being. And Frank liking the Yankees certainly didn’t hurt. Ray was someone who usually gave people the benefit of the doubt. “Those are for the husbands that don’t know how to do anything,” Ray would say to Frank when he’d catch him peeking at an instruction manual. “It’ll take them all day to put it together. Then they’ll leave it outside in the fall and winter and then they’ll be back again for a new one next year. You’re too smart for that. If you’re really stuck, ask me.” Before Ray had inherited property and took off to Arizona they’d talk outside on smoke breaks. Ray would puff on an unfiltered Pall Mall, Frank a
Marlboro Red. Frank would talk about the good old days when he worked for Maytag, repairing refrigerators and washing machines in people’s homes. He liked talking to strangers, and he liked making three times as much and working half the hours. It was more than obvious to Ray that Frank didn’t like working for Insight Sales & Marketing, the outside company that assembled products for Home Depot. He’d tell Frank to keep his chin up. He’d say that luck had a way of always changing. Ray would complain about his wife, goodhumoredly, a paralegal that struggled with her weight. He’d keep Frank informed, no matter how minor the detail, the progress on the restoration of his ’68 Camaro SS. Again Frank looked up, outside the window. The colors in the sky. Now there was blue. It was odd, usually he wasn’t distracted so easily until right about lunchtime. And certainly not by something as quotidian as the sky.
Frank didn’t as much smile to himself as he did acknowledge the fact that there was a beauty out there that he didn’t know how to harness. He wondered if anyone knew that trick. He only felt it sometimes. Like right then. He felt…lighter, like something unwanted was oozing out of him. When was the last time he had felt like this? It was probably a long time. This scared the hell out of him. He turned away from the window and left the grill hanging precariously against the box. He walked all the way down the aisle and eyed the collection of grills that he had already assembled. Eight so far. Some were all black, a couple with red hoods, a few all stainless steel. A colony of metal that he tried to find the same feeling in that he felt just a moment before. But Frank couldn’t. Part of him was relieved. Frank went back and attached the side table and side burner then put the remaining things under the hood:
“What’s up Frank? How’re you feeling this morning?” Arham asked, walking into the garden center. Frank looked at his Seiko as he was cutting the plastic off a pallet to get down a Weber E-310. Half past nine. “Just ducky,” he said. “How many grills we got today?” Frank wanted to say something sarcastic, so Arham would know that he was pissed. Pissed that the kid thought he could just stroll in whenever he felt like it. But Frank wasn’t his boss, and technically Arham could come in whenever he wanted to as long as he put in a solid eight. Plus, Frank was grateful for the help. He didn’t like leaving a store until all the pallets that Home Depot had dropped the night before were finished. No matter how long that took.
Insight had hired forty new assemblers that season for the Westchester area. After seven weeks Arham and two others were the only ones who hadn’t quit yet. These were pretty accurate turnover statistics. “There’s about forty left,” Frank said with restraint. “Then your favorite: wheelbarrows.” “Ah, shit man. I hate wheelbarrows.” “That’s where the money is.” “How many of those?” “About two pallets worth.” “Shit…” Arham left his cart and walked down a few aisles, near the automatic door that led into the Home Depot store. The doors opened and closed as he counted the finished grills: sixteen. Every grill, wheelbarrow, picnic bench and patio set was paid by the piece. Arham did the math in his head. Frank had made about hundred bucks so far. “Damn, Frank. You’re a machine,”
Arham said striding back over. “More human than machine now. I’m not as young as you are anymore.” “Yo,” Arham said, grabbing his table off the cart, and unfolding it. “Remember that girl Stephanie I was talking about.” “Yup. How could I forget. You’re in love.” Frank used his forearm to wipe the sweat from his brow. “No…come on Frank it’s not like that. Anyway, we hung out last night. We got some drinks. Well, at first I was like we should just get some coffee, trying to be a gentleman and all that. But she was like, come on, let’s go to Shark Bar…” “Sounds like a dangerous place.” “I think she’s into me, man. I really do.” Frank grabbed his thermos from the cart and topped off his cup with black coffee. Arham talked a lot and Frank wasn’t always sure which parts were true and which were bullshit.
Arham was from Oman, a country in the Middle East. A land of oil, strict alcohol laws, and a lot of desert. A place where a woman’s body left a great deal to the imagination. He talked a lot about going to bars and clubs where girls were plentiful, just waiting to be swooped up. Arham called America heaven. Frank wasn’t familiar with these types of places. Nor was he interested. The bars that Frank went to had baskets of salted peanuts and TV’s that played Judge Judy in the afternoons and sports at night. “Good for you buddy. You’re in charge, I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Frank said.
Frank took a Marlboro Red out of his pocket and sat down on one of the benches for sale outside of the Home Depot. It was chilly and Frank could smell rain in the air. If he was right it would be the first rains of April.
He stared at his cigarette for a while letting the end turn into a long pile of ash. “What’s cooking good-looking?” a voice asked. Frank looked up to see Carol, one of the greeters, walking up from the parking lot, towards where he was sitting. She had her orange smock balled up in one hand, a small paperback in the other. “Hey there Bean,” Frank said, a puff of smoke chasing his words. She was 5’10” with long dirty blonde hair. When Frank first started seeing her around he thought she was pretty but then a couple weeks later he wasn’t so sure anymore. Frank was no fashionista but there was something about her that was too plain, something lacking. Whether it was her Skechers, her jeans that were too loose for a woman, or the way she kept her hair he didn’t know. It wasn’t until she came up to him one day and they actually started
talking, the way her voice and her words somehow snuck around his defenses, that he changed his mind about her again. “Mind if I join you for a minute,” Carol asked before Frank could reply. “I still got ten minutes to kill before I start.” She sat down next to Frank. Closer than she’d normally sit next to someone. “Can I bum one off you?” “I didn’t know you smoked.” “Once in a while. When I’m stressed out. Or at the pub.” Frank handed her a cigarette. “I need a light, too. Sorry.” Frank produced a brass zippo and lit it for her. It was his father’s. It was one of the few things that he had left of his. It gave him a sense of comfort, like he had roots to the earth. Carol puffed on her cigarette staring at something, or nothing, in the distance. “I really hate this place sometimes.” Frank looked over at her. “Could
have fooled me. You’re like the happiest greeter I know,” he said flashing a smile. But clearly that wasn’t helping. She needed something more. He hardly knew what he could offer. “I used to really hate my job,” he found himself saying. “It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right. You should’ve seen me. I think the only words I used to use started with the letter F.” “Really? That sounds horrible,” Carol said, turning towards him. “Yup. It’s not so bad now. I don’t curse all that much anymore.” Carol seemed revived by Frank’s words. Smiling, she tapped Frank on his knee. “We should hang out some time…” She had said this before. Let’s hang out. She was at least ten years his junior, this was probably code for dinner, or lunch. Did he have to get dressed up? Why was he actually considering it now, and not deflecting it like he always had before?
“Hang out?” “Yeah,” Carol said. “Hang out. Go bowling, take a walk, get a slice of pizza. And, if you’re feeling like really living on the edge we could even go grab a drink, get drunk enough to dance.” “What are you reading?” “It’s true crime. I just started it…but basically it’s about a family on a boat stuck with a killer out in the middle of the Atlantic. And don’t change the subject.” “Okay. Okay. I’ll ‘hang out’,” Frank said, as if he was finally giving in to going on the world’s largest roller coaster. He liked Carol. But Frank did not like liking her. It made him feel like he was giving away something dense and thorny that he liked to hold on to.
The lights in the courtyard flicked on. A bundle of shadows appeared on a bare piece of kitchen wall in Frank’s
second floor apartment. He stepped on the petal of the garbage can and scraped off the remnants of spaghetti from the plate. Frank was exhausted but his mind was like a hamster cage. This was going to be another one of those nights where sleep was not promised. He looked at his recliner in front of the TV. He could stay there until reruns morphed into infomercials. But he had already done that so many times in the last few weeks that the thought of doing it again tonight made him almost break into a panic. His bed, of course, was too official for sleep. Every time he was lying there in the supine position, just about to enter the sleeping world, thoughts would erupt out of nowhere. An undisclosed anxiety, an unnamed fear, a forgotten errand. This would start him pacing about the apartment, lighting up cigarettes. At first he had tried reading. The Pacific War, The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer, Lessons From Rome, and Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were all there waiting on his bookcase to be read again. But at night, their pages were no match for insomnia. Just a month ago he was a fine discipliner of his thoughts. Now in the darkest hours he was at their mercy. But nothing had changed in his life. He had his routine down pat. He’d scan his brain searching for culprits. It could’ve been the visits to his mother who had emphysema and dementia. Lately she had been confusing Frank for his father. “You’re a good actor,” she would say snidely. Or, “I should have burned all of your clothes when you left.” A shy, petite woman who chain-smoked Bel-Airs, Frank couldn’t picture her saying these things to her dead husband. It might’ve been about the winter that had left not so long ago. It was as if its only mission had been to choke out all of the light, pounding New York into a frozen submission. Frank
found that a difficult thing to forget. Now he was worrying about Friday when he was supposed to see Carol, trying to understand why she liked him so much. Was he having a mid-life crisis? Was forty-five considered mid-life? Frank clicked off the TV, put on his Carhartt, and grabbed the keys to his Explorer.
Outside the 7-11 Frank rested his bag of Miller Lite, Marlboro Reds, and Pringles Sour Cream & Onion by his Red Wings. He was consumed with the glowing screen of the Red Box. He touched it with his finger. Vivid stills from movies passed before him. Picturesque mountains with green fields in the foreground, a prisoner being lead to death row, explosions behind soldiers walking towards Frank unfazed. Frank had never heard of any of these titles. He loved the History and
Discovery channels, Animal Planet. He had a DVD player that Ray had given him in return for helping him replace the tranny in one of his pick-ups, but Frank had never even hooked the thing up, let alone used it. He kept pressing the red arrow over with a tap of his index finger. He stopped at a title whose picture looked both dramatic and beautiful. He didn’t bother to read the synopsis. He was only concerned with the picture. A man and a woman sitting on the dock of a pond. There was love between them. But also something else. Something was wrong. The man was looking slightly away from the woman in the white dress. Frank was drawn in, the simple complexity of the machine. What did its guts look like? The circuitry, the computer boards…a mechanical hand sifting through a world of discs, offering its treasures to those beyond its cage. These weren’t just movies. They
were more than that. This is what couples did at night. They pushed buttons and offered discs to a welcoming tray. They sat with goblets of fancy red wine on their sofas after dinner; their children safely tucked into bed. A car with a loud exhaust, and an even louder stereo system, pulled up into the parking space behind Frank, tearing him away from his trance. He turned around to see a neon orange car with shiny rims. Three kids somewhere in their twenties got out. They were loud too, and the big one closing the passenger door, stared Frank down for about half a second, exactly enough time to size up Frank and see he was not one to be trifled with. They walked past him almost silently through the doors of the 7-11. Frank thought that he heard one of them say “fuck that guy” before the doors had already closed. None of this bothered him. He
returned back to the screen like it was a sedative. The couple on the dock at the edge of the pond…Joanna. Every so often Frank would wonder about her. If she still lived in White Plains, if she had kids, if she still was with the teacher. There had been a time when his exfiancé had been sleeping with one man feverishly, the other man hardly at all. Eighteen years had still not removed all of that sting. Frank was tired now. He picked up his bag and got back into his Explorer.
At first Frank drove past the accident. But about a mile down Bronx River Road he turned around and parked his truck in front of the house where a car had hit a birch tree. A half-moon shown on the crumbled hood of the car. There was already a man there on his phone calling 911. The girl who
had been driving kept yelling for someone to get her out. The windshield was cracked and splintered. Frank tried to open her door but he couldn’t. Her airbag had gone off, now it was deflating and a puff of white powder was coming up from her lap. There was a small cut on her forehead, a drop of blood sliding down the side of her face. “Everything’s going to be okay,” Frank said to the girl. “We’re getting you help.” Lights had gone on in the houses alongside the road. People were starting to look through their windows. Now that he knew no one was seriously hurt Frank regretted turning around. He walked over to the white line to wait on the shoulder. In the darkness Frank could smell the moist soil and wet leaves leftover from the thawed winter. The rain had never come.
He could here sirens. He lit up a cigarette, there was no doubt now that he would need a few beers to go to sleep. The guy who had called 911 pulled up next to Frank. “I have to go,” he said. “My wife just went into labor.” Frank waved. It was a bullshit excuse, there was a million better than that. The front end of the car started to smoke. Frank walked back over and checked it out. The white smoke was only coolant--the radiator had been pierced, or a head gasket had blown. Red and blue lights were turning the corner up ahead. But with the new light Frank could see something moving in the passenger seat. The passenger door opened easily. There was a blonde girl in a black hoodie, moaning. “Jesus Christ,” Frank said to the girl in the driver’s seat. “Why didn’t you say there was someone else in the car?” “I just want to go home,” the girl in the driver’s seat said.
Frank grabbed the blonde girl’s face and turned it towards him. “Hey…hey!” Frank said, tapping her face gently. “Look at me. Are you alright? What’s your name?” The girl started to come to. She opened her eyes. Frank looked her up and down. A black hoodie, a pink skirt, purposefully ripped stockings, combat boots. There was no airbag for her. “Where did you go?” the girl asked. “What?” Frank said. “Where did you go…?” “Nowhere,” Frank finally said. “I’ve been here the whole time.” “That’s good…I thought you had left…” “My stepdad is going to kill me,” the girl in the driver’s seat said. “Can you please call her mom? Please.” “I will,” Frank said, lying. “As soon as the ambulance gets here.” The blonde girl tried to get out of the car, something fell on to the ground. “Stay put,” Frank said. “You shouldn’t move.”
He looked down on the street, a small cloth wallet, halfway zipped. He picked it up and was about to put it in the girl’s hands, but instead he opened it. He couldn’t help himself, even though he usually respected other people’s privacy--to a fault. There was about half a dime bag of pot, which Frank opened and held to his nose. It had that same old smell he remembered. He chucked it into a patch of woods so the cops wouldn’t find it. There was some store credit cards, a folded up letter and the girl’s license. Gwen Staverson, 19, Bronxville, NY. Organ Donor. Gwen started moaning again, moving her head back and forth. Frank touched her shoulder. “Hey, hey…I’m still here.” “Can you call my mom…? Can you tell her it was just all stupid…a mistake.” “Here they are. They’re coming.” “Can you call my mom? Tell her I’m sorry?”
“I will,” Frank said. The sirens pierced into the darkness. Red and blue lights washed over the street. People started to gather around. Frank looked down at Gwen, her face a pure white. He stepped aside for the man in latex gloves.
The hospice nurse explained to Frank his mother’s condition. It was the same as it had been for the last week. Elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, a low oxygen saturation level. She slept almost all the time now. It had not escaped Frank that the staff at adult living facilities were very different from those at hospices. They were overly-cheery and optimistic, almost as if the elderly were children. At hospices they cut to the chase. These were clearly not children. He thanked the nurse and walked down the hall towards room 301 with
a bouquet of white flowers. Frank bent over and kissed his mother on the forehead. She was turned on her side. There was dried up saliva around the corners of her mouth, and there were tubes in her nose. Her hair was short and tangled. The monitor flashed with numbers and chaotic lines. Frank emptied last week’s flowers in the garbage in the bathroom. He refilled the vase with fresh water and arranged the new flowers. He dabbed around his mother’s lips with a wet paper towel. Outside was an antique shop, an Italian restaurant, a Salvation Army. People walked on the sidewalks and in and out of storefronts. Frank opened the window. The crisp fall air came in and dissolved the smell of stale air freshener and musty garments. He took a deep breath, and then slowly exhaled. He produced a flask from inside his checkered blazer. He always dressed up to see his
mother. “Mom,” Frank said. “…you ever wish you had gone right where you went left instead?” Frank’s mother gave no response, save the numbers on the screen that fluctuated when her son spoke. “You’re probably thinking I’m too old to be thinking like that anymore.” Frank took a couple of swigs from the flask and bourbon warmed his chest. “You’d probably be right.” “This girl died. I didn’t know her or anything…” A few more pulls of bourbon. “They took everything that was good out of her. They took her heart, her lungs, all of those precious things. I wish I could’ve given them to you. I know, I know, I know…you don’t want to be saved again. Don’t worry, I’ve squared that all away with the doctors.” “The shrink says I have some kind of latent stuff going on. Maybe you’d understand. I don’t know…but it’s not your fault, that’s not why I’m telling
you. Anyway, it doesn’t look like me and Carol are going to be together too much longer. She’s got most of her stuff out of my place.” Frank took a few more swigs. The golden cross above his mother’s bed jumped out at him. She always wanted Frank to believe the story behind it. Frank never bought into it, even though some parts were believable. Men nailing each other to crosses didn’t surprise him. “I remember one day when I had just gotten home after school. It was almost graduation. I had long hair. You used to love my hair like that, remember? You were by the open kitchen window doing dishes. Dad was outside mowing the lawn. He cut the engine and picked up his Miller Lite. You smiled as we talked because we were actually talking and dad wasn’t all lit up yet. You couldn’t hear but he said something about my hair. Remember how upset you were when I cut it?”
Frank took one last draw from his flask. He was feeling better. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry…I’m sorry I cut it.” Frank left the window open. He went over and kissed his mother on the forehead again. He was crying. He passed some of it on to her cheek and left the room. Sixteen minutes later, about the time it took Frank to assemble a grill, a nurse came into to room 301 to check on no one.
Cady Vishniac Holiday Inn Express Tony had a sparse beard and a single earring in his left ear, not on the right side like a queer. He was the sort of person who walked into each new situation equipped with the blithe assumption that he was gifted at everything from tattoo artistry to detective work. “I could beat up a big dog,” he once told his young fiance, Rose. “Like a German Shepherd.” “No, you couldn’t,” she’d replied. “They’ve got more feet than you, and better teeth. They’re clever animals, Tone.” He’d wanted to wallop her right across the face
for talking back, again, the way she always did. But she might call off the wedding, again, were he to do that. And then where would he be for money? So he decided not to wallop her just yet, and then he took a moment in his head to feel self-satisfied about this show of restraint, restraint being another talent of his. During the course of this conversation, they were sitting in a hotel bar near the army base in the Northeast part of El Paso, waiting for an infantryman to come meet them at the table, take Rose up to the
room, do what he wanted with the awful secret between her legs, then leave them with a hundred dollars. “Young shemale,” the ad had said. “Are you bicurious?” “He’s late,” she said. Glum. Rose wanted the money badly, for her surgery, so she could become a real woman. Aside from the problem of her not being real, Rose was lovely. “He’s coming, you be ready,” Tony told her. He wanted the money just as badly, for a new and fake identity with no priors attached, so he could get a job as a
fireman or a military recruiter or even a cop. With that sort of job he could become a real man. “He’s coming,” Tony said again. “Probably just got turned around on Interstate 10 like the the guy this morning. Stay a minute, Rosey, we need the goddamn cash.” Rose said, “He’s not coming, and I’m going up to the room to shoot up and take a nap. Anyway, why is the bartender an armadillo? And who turned the walls into Jupiter? I hate this place.” What was she thinking? Tony had no idea why Rose got moody like this. They were building something, working toward the same goal.
White picket fences. You ring the doorbell and Rose opens the door with her genuine tits straining against an apron. She holds a tray of cookies. A cop’s wife, a nice sane woman married to a police officer named Mister Goddamn Anthony Fichero. This great future was constantly reaching out to shake her hand, but Rose kept slapping it away. Stubborn. Now he really had to wallop her one, if only to remind her who was boss. Bring her back down to reality. But he still didn’t hit Rose, only reached out his hand and grabbed her by the wrist. Hard. “Honey, be ready,” he said, squeezing her so
forcefully she yelped, “and don’t you pay that armadillo no mind.” “Baby, you think this doesn’t hurt me too?”
A.J. Huffman Hearing Champagne
bubbles bounce against crystal flute, flutter up, explode from pale golden pond, float images of strange fountains, glasses stacked in fragile pyramid. A knife tapping, tink tink tink, calls attention to a tuxedoed toaster. Wishes for a future pour, get swallowed into already vow-set dreams. Another life, launched with blessing of bottle.
M. David Hornbuckle Scrapple
revolt against Harvey began in January after he forgot to log out of the shared computer in the adjunct office. Shirley Plato pressed the spacebar, and out of laziness, she didn’t log out the previous user before looking up “scrapple” to answer a bet she had with Siobhan O’Connor about what it was made of. Shirley said it was sheep’s bladder, and Siobhan said it was pork scraps—bits of pig noses and ears. After Shirley typed “scra” in the search box, it automatically filled in “scrabblecheat.com”
from the browser history. “Come look at this,” Shirley said. If he cheated at Scrabble™, it now suddenly made sense why he was always telling people what obscure words meant even though nobody had asked him. Words like “weregilds” and “ranulas,” words for Chinese coins, bones, parts of plants, and ancient diseases, words that always had seven or eight letters, it turns out. A lot of the adjuncts had played Scrabble™ online against Harvey, as well as the game’s bastard brother Words with
Friends™. If he cheated at Scrabble™, what else could he lying about? Maybe he didn’t even have an MFA. Maybe that book he wrote was selfpublished. Everybody already knew he never made his students buy textbooks. After Spring semester, Harvey wasn’t asked to return. They let him drift away like so much detritus. Shirley heard he was teaching online classes through an online university. In the middle of the night that summer, she realized it had been haggis, not scrapple, that she had been thinking of on that
fateful winter afternoon. In her guilty dream, she was pushing Harvey through a meat grinder, stuffing the bloody bits into a sheepâ€™s bladder.
Chris Ozog Polaroid Memories Time doesn't belong to the future, where every day holds onto the past. Where it lives, we are delivered. We carry our minds in buckets until it pours into a shadows past, and if it's lost, do we still glance back at old backs, and recessed memories? fabled melancholy melodies that mop our lives still continue to persist, where harmony refuses to age,
and if we still peak at generations of grandfathers and cobwebbed clocks, will we become deceased declarations, or successive retaliations? When time is wound back into the past, tomorrow will be yesterdays repetition, and like a star gaze in the opaque night, we hope that we don't ever lose sacred sights. Waves ascend, then dissipate. As dye fades, our past
refuses to be a placebo when the future is a fable in a distant memory.
Amy Friedman Ten Thousand More Times, From the Top
The recitations begin before her feet hit the floor, before she fully opens her eyes and takes stock of her surroundings, before she recognizes the piercing beeps in the air that have shocked her awake or knows what day it is and why she's getting out of bed. The beeping spurs her to quickly page through the cluttered pile of paperwork, IOUs, and to-do lists that is her mind to find its origin. Her heart is a hammer knocking an empty metallic pipe, issuing forth tinny, muffled thuds as a crumpled mental Post-It reminds her after several seconds of panic that the siren is the alarm clock she's set the previous night. This knocking, activated by the siren's sound, echoes inside her chest cavity, down her arms and legs, and serves as a familiar reminder that she's become detached from sleep's temporary release. The laminated
paper cover on the bottle of her life has been peeled back anew, revealing its contents. Her brain is off to the races, and like an outlaw with no regard for the rules, it ignores speed limit signs and tramples her spirit as it goes. Never does she wake to contend with general weakness and the dull haze of morning. The alarm is not deactivated before the habitual narrations launch; they are nuclear weapons that cannot be recalled and do just as much damage. For the rest of the day they will command center stage until she drugs herself to sleep again just before midnight. These perennial monologues invariably start from the first word of whatever poem or soliloquy or essay or book passage or conversation she's replaying in her mind, as if she's performing them for a panel of judges that will deduct points should she
skip a word or start midway through a work. They are recited quietly in public spaces to avoid the judgment of strangers or confusion as to whether she's trying to engage one of them in conversation. Each day she must muster the concentration of a Jedi to stay on top of this, remaining conscious of her thoughts and their resulting actions at every turn so that she doesn't begin to mumble a soliloquy from Macbeth while standing in line at the grocery store or whisper a particularly pointed article from a recent edition of the New York Times while walking her dog near her neighbors. Even when alone she only speaks them under her breath from years of trying (unsuccessfully) to hide this madness from her husband. That, and when she speaks them at conversational volume they raise her anxiety to stratospheric levels, both from their moralistic preaching and her constant fear that she is certifiable.
Much of the time she does not realize that she is engaged in the act, a human playlist of magisterial and dogmatic writings on perpetual shuffle, a greatest hits that she has not requested. These recitations take off before she even knows that she is on board, buzz around her head all day like a fly in her ear that she cannot capture or kill, and only land on solid ground when she finally falls asleep late at night by virtue of Xanax, the way a charging lion is taken down with a tranquilizer dart. The comalike sleep that results bears more resemblance to a surgical anesthesia than a restful slumber, as if no time elapses between the last word she speaks as sleep abducts her midsentence to the first word that explodes off of one synapse and sails onto another as the morning alarm sounds, as if the gap between the two were an eye blink instead of several hours. One result of this ceaseless mimicry
is constant distraction as her brain makes an end run around all other aspects of living to see that each parroted work is done justice each time. And when there's a flaw (there's always a flaw), the only viable option is to start over. What else can she do? Over the years various doctors have tried medications and therapies to manage the vicious cycle, all unsuccessfully. It is not to be managed. This is an inveterate cancer of her core, a truck that has plowed through the front of her subjective home and taken up residence in her living room while she tries to endure on its periphery. Her unmitigated yearning for a taste of peace takes its seat as the only audience member in the theatre of her subconscious and watches the recitations perform the role of herself on the stage of her life.
Dana Anhalt Diana Anhalt is the author of "A Gathering of Fugitives" (Archer Books), 3 chapbooks and essays, articles and book reviews in both English and Spanish.Her poems have appeared in Nimrod, Atlanta Review and Comstock Review among others. Amy Friedman Amy Friedman is an English instructor at Harper College with an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Northwestern University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming inBlack Fox Literary Magazine, Decades Review, and Rougarou. She is currently co-authoring her second satirical correspondence novel. Amy lives in Chicago with her husband, her daughter, and her three-pound dog. Michael Fumai Michael Fumai is a new New Englander where he works and writes in Providence, RI. He is a graduate of Drew University and the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. His short fiction appears in The Fat City Review, Cease, Cows and forthcoming in The Quotable.
M. David Hornbuckle M. David Hornbuckle is the author of a novel, "Zen Mississippi," and a collection of short stories, "The Salvation of Billy Wayne Carter". His fiction, poetry, and articles have been published in more than thirty journals. Currently, he lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where he teaches English at the local university. He is also the Managing Editor of theSteel Toe Review and the Birmingham Free Press. 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 also has a full-length poetry collection scheduled for release in June 2005, titled, "A Few Bullets Short of Home" (mgv2>publishing). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry, fiction, and haiku 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. Christopher Ozog Christopher Ozog is a 22 year old writer who currently attends Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has previously appeared in Burningword Literary Journal and The Commonline.
Anita Roberts Soupir Anita Roberts Soupir was born in Missouri, but had a wandering soul. She has lived in Connecticut and South Florida, but now calls rural North Dakota home, where she lives with her husband and two children. She enjoys freelance writing and is currently polishing her first manuscript, "The Dessert Club Series Book 1 - Donâ€™t Trifle With Me," as she searches for representation. Her work can be seen in: Crack the Spine Literary Magazine and Mused - the BellaOnline Literary Review Magazine, as well as Boston Literary Magazine, Literary Juice, 50 Haikus, Thick Jam, and Espresso Stories. Cady Vishniac Cady Vishniac is a former human statue and current copy editor living in Boston. She fights with journalists sometimes but maintains amicable relationships with her toddler and her cat. She has work forthcoming in The Legendary and n + 1.
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