Crack the Spine Literary magazine
Issue 164 September 23, 2015 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine
William C. Blome
La MemorĂ?a de La Vida
The Last Dream Song
Us and Mom in a Fancy-Schmancy Restaurant, If You Can Believe That
On Color Blindness in Cephalapods
My Cousin Gabe
Ricky Garni EMT
Wolves and Rabbits
William C. Blome Tokyo Tea
Being webbed in the face by some thug spider disgruntled over standing guard in the center of its entrails reminds me of having to giggle at your husbandâ€™s racist jokes when he pours us tea and exaggeratedly squints at the rising sun flag behind two Ueno servers and their four big silicone tits.
La MemorĂ?a de La Vida Mariam remembered a time before the rehabilitation center, before the loud company of three other girls, two of whom were compulsive liars and a third who drank alcohol so frequently that she smelled like a haze of liquor was permanently etched onto her breath. Even though all three of them made enough chatter to drive her mad (ha-ha), she thought the noise was better than the fragile hiss of silence. This was a place for kids like her, she was told, as her mother packed her suitcase, tossing in clothes haphazardly. Mariam had stood there for the longest time, letting the glass wind lick against her scabbed cuts and bruised knees. Then she got into the taxi and shut the door. She didnâ€™t look back because there was nobody watching her from the window. She didnâ€™t say a thing because her throat had iced over permanently. It was just her, the taxi driver, and a blue suitcase, with faded kitten stickers left over from her childhood adorning the handles. The drive took four long hours. It started with second grade. Actually, it started long before her, before her mother turned gray and her father became bent. It happened when her mother started fucking
her ex-boyfriend, the Hispanic accountant who smoked too many cigarettes and loved his hair gel more than life itself. It happened when her father played the slots at the nearby casino to keep himself happy, one eye fixed on the machines and the other on the women in tight dresses and full hair. The pull of life caught all of them up, even little yet-to-be born Mariam, huddled in the sanctuary of a womb, rolling in the lights of Las Vegas, where the party never ended and sex teased the air. But, to Mariam, it started in second grade, when she came home to snapped, set images – Of tossed, wadded clothes, flung onto the chairs in a reckless hurry, in an abandonment of the eight years of what would’ve-been if she hadn’t come along, Of happy, messy sounds from the bedroom, swimming in heavy emotions, playing tag with her ears, Of her mother’s voice (“Shit, Adam, I think Mariam’s home”), Adam’s voice (“Goddammit, Liza, where’s my shirt?”), them together, clamoring over each other to speak (“Darling you’re home early how was school had a good day?”) Mariam watched the fantastic puppet show before her. She watched the strings attached to their jaws flap up and down in a mesmerizing dance, before she responded as mechanically as they did.
Before: Mariam had a stuffed rabbit named Panda. She must’ve been delusional when she named the thing, but it was hers and, worn as she was, Panda was loved. She sat on Mariam’s pillow, cuddled with Mariam at night. She smiled back with patient, stitched lips and her black eyes glowed against the dark. Bed springs strained from too much weight, the wet whispers, creasing of pants and tugging zippers After: Panda fell under the bed and lodged in the corner. Mariam didn’t bother getting her back because of the monsters that gathered there. “Te amo, Mariam,” Adam said to her one day as she came home from school. He was at the table, his coffee mug in his hand. She doubted it was coffee. He said he loved her. She didn’t even distinctly like him. “Okay,” she said, but filed away the Spanish phrase for later. She needed a new project instead of sleeping – maybe she would be one of those genius kids, self-taught and self-helped. She would travel the world, promoting her book, and sit on one of the squishy chairs on Ellen to tell her story to thousands.
Adam smiled. His skin had a pale pallor to it, waxy from filing numbers behind his eyes. “Do you happen to know where that caliente mamí of yours is?” She thought of closed doors, slowly squeaking in the dead of night, the brush of feet as they drew closer to her bed. “No,” she said. Definitely not coffee. Her mother announced her engagement on a Thursday, and dangled the large ring in Mariam’s face, where the diamond flashed against the buzzed lights. “Pretty, huh?” The little facets grinned smugly up at Mariam. She wondered how much pressure had been put on the poor rock before it relented into the façade of a jewel. “Very nice,” she responded. The first time Mariam traced the words PURE into her stomach with a piece of metal, she cried because the pain dug into her bones and scooped out her marrow. Two days after the gashes had started to scab and the gauze had been peeled off, Mariam went at it all over again, sculpting her flesh to suit her needs, arranging her limbs into positions of beauty.
When Mariam turned fifteen, she faced the alarming realization of her own body, concaving in in strange places, dipping and curving. The boys in school drew quiet snickers behind her back and to her side and at her front, all giggling with curious, sadistic glee. She stood in front of the mirror when she got home, examining herself from all positions. The faded hem of her shirt flapped mournfully, as she turned and twisted, pinching at her rounded angles with the light pad of her fingers. There was something to be said about the splitting of flesh on flesh, she thought, before stepping away from the glass. “Mary, are you home?” Her mother had the talent of making her squirm with only four words. Mariam turned the corner to see her mother there, brushing mascara onto her eyes to maximize and enhance. She saw Mariam and twisted the lid tightly. “Honey, I’m so glad you’re home. How was work?” “Worky,” Mariam said back. She didn’t mention that she’d tried her first cigarette today, by the dumpsters, wedged against the rotting wall. The thick scent of French fries had lingered in her hair long after that, and her nametag was decorated in the red Sharpie doodles of a bored employee.
“Good,” her mother said absently. She needed to touch up on her roots; the gray was starting to crown the gold. “Mary, would you mind staying home alone for a few days? Adam and I are going to our little place up in the mountains.” Mariam thought the translation for this was that her mother and her soon-to-be stepfather would become Liza and Adam. They would fuck on the floor and kiss in the bathroom, half-drunk on wine and delirious with the failure of their dreams. They would rant about life (“I know, your coworker’s a real bitch, isn’t she?”) and, when they were both tired, listen to the purity of the nature around them but completely ignore it for another full glass. “Sounds good,” Mariam said. She went out that night, in a top that skimmed the top of her naval and barely covered her bra. She went barefoot, a disgusting and dangerous endeavor amongst the throngs of tourists, crushed hopes and shattered bottles, dripping with vomit and spit from thousands of feet. “Sweetheart!” came the calls from all directions, whistling, shrieking, laughing. “You, me, tonight?” She kept walking, through the desolate streets of Las Vegas, skirting around strip clubs and nighttime bars. Everyone here was so lonely, she
thought, and for some reason, this filled her with a sharp, heavy sadness. They thought she was homeless, curled up in a corner, trying to block out the world. She saw the masses avoid her, their empty chatter flying over her head. One teenage boy looked over. He had thick chains dangling from his neck, his eyes red from the screaming force of hard liquor. “Basura,” he muttered, and she didn’t bother to correct him, because trash was trash, no matter what it might’ve once been. Mariam came home to this: empty rooms, shadows crowded in the house, each one mumbling empty promises, the weight of the world placed on the thin shoulders of a grimy girl, the linger of cologne (God, she hated that smell) on her bed sheets, no matter how many times she washed them. Mariam’s mother came home to this: full rooms, weighed down with secrets, her daughter curled up on the couch, trying to sink into herself, her knees to her chest, eyes staring ahead, refusing to speak no matter what she said. After six more days of utter silence and three more night of the dripping whispers of a man too old to know innocence, Mariam was
told she was going to the Healing Hearts Rehabilitation Facility. “It’ll be good for you,” her mother promised, as she planted a careless kiss on Mariam’s forehead. “Maybe then you’ll start talking again, sweetheart. I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but these doctors are the best there are. Have fun, okay?” Mariam didn’t say a word. She didn’t think she could’ve if she tried. And she was back again, in the godforsaken rehab center, stuck between Brittney while she cried and Matthias, who kept poking at his self-pierced belly-button proudly and drumming his fingers impatiently. Mariam fidgeted a little between them, but not too much, waiting for this session to end, for the next one to begin, for the circle that never finished to go on and on, running her into the ground. She spent three hours conjugating Spanish verbs while the man in the pressed pants went on and on about love and confidence and the meaning of life itself, carving out ripples into the wall and trying to get her to see them, even though she didn’t: Estar: to be – Renuncir: to remember – Olvídar: to forget
The Last Dream Song That last week, he said it at least two times, And maybe three; First, during a reading the University had arranged To honor him for winning the Bollingen Prize The year before From Yale University. After the reading, two women he had just met From the audience, Took him to their apartment in the luxury high rise That towers over the Washington Avenue Bridge In downtown Minneapolis Where they drank and fucked all night. The next day, bleary-eyed, but cheerful, he said it again At a departmental party that my friend Martin and I Arranged for him. After that, he and Martin took a bottle of Jack Daniels From his office stash, Went to Martinâ€™s place, had sex, got thoroughly drunk together, And slept it off in lounge chairs They floated on, holding hands, in Martinâ€™s pool.
There was a rumor that he shouted it from the balcony of his apartment, But I’m pretty sure what happened there Was what Peter Finch shouted out his office window, A couple years later, In Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” John liked yelling out like that Just for the Hell of it. But here’s what we know for sure. That last night he called his son, then Martin, and then he called me. He was drinking, of course, and, he said, he was sick of Minneapolis. He called, he said, to tell me that N.Y.U. Had offered him a year to write there, A cottage on a lake in the Catskills And no classes to teach. They had even agreed to hire him a private secretary. He’d bring Marsha, he said. “That won’t help you get much work done,” I said. “Mind your own business,” he said. There, he said, he thought he could get the Old Berryman going again. “The Dream Songs I did in the ‘50’s were the tops, you know. Even Anne Sexton told me that. And I went to bed with her—too-Before Dickey fucked her over.”
No one heard from him again Except a bartender from Flynn’s Pub, At the foot of Washington Avenue Bridge, Who insisted he came out of the snow That night and rolled dice for drinks Until closing time, around four in the morning. “I had to throw him out,” he said. They found his body the next morning Caught in a piling under the bridge. His clothes were still on him. He had a scarf wrapped and tied Around his neck. In the pocket of his coat he had his reading glasses, And a money clip. In his suit coat pocket they found a poem He had laminated and enlarged for a reading. It’s the one that starts, “Life, friends is boring” and later says, “Even to confess you’re bored Means you have no Inner Resources. I conclude now I have no, Inner resources, because I am heavy bored.”
And, that, of course, is what he had said At least two and maybe three times That last day, And all of us who loved him and heard him say it thought, I guess, That it was just a poem. He was buried the next day in the Jewish manner As he had insisted he must After writing, “The Imaginary Jew.” The University arranged a memorial for him At Christ’s University Church. Martin and I searched his office and his apartment for a note His son insisted must be there. We found nothing.
Us and Mom in a Fancy-Schmancy Restaurant, If You Can Believe That
As soon as the Famous Author came on the scene, we knew there was going to be trouble. We first met her when Flynnie asked us to pick her up at Laguardia, but then we didn’t see her again until months later, and that was at the fancy-schmancy restaurant. The total amount of time we spent together, like an hour when you add it all up, she never once asked us a single question. It was all “I this” and “I that,” every sentence out of her mouth started with I. “I, I, I.” No exaggeration. We all had a pow-wow about it, after our warm and fuzzy family dinner. Talk about a mismatch! They’re like complete opposites. Flynnie’s more like “you, you, you.” He wants to make everyone happy. The rest of us, we can be a little gruff, right? That’s putting it mildly. But Flynnie was always the sweet one. Like when he was a kid, whenever one of us was sick, he would come into our room, kiss our forehead, get us a ginger ale, that kind of thing. When it snowed, he would go across the street and shovel Mrs. Leimus’s driveway. When Pop wanted a beer, Flynnie would jump up and get it for him. Pop used to call him his golden boy. (Me, he called Anna Banana. Not quite the same.) And once he grew up, he was all about his kids. When Nathan was born, he quit his softball league, stopped going to the rec center, quit hanging out with his friends—they all bitched to me about it, like Where the hell’s
yuh brothuh, what is he dead or somethin?—but I was like what do you want me to do, he’s with his kid, shut your face! And my friend, the one that works at Fairfield, she says he’s like that with his students, too, he always makes time for them, he goes to their whatchamacallits, their music recitals, he stops by their baseball games, she said he won Professor of the Year last year but he never even told us about it. When we were kids Pop used to always tell us about the martyr types, like that girl who died in Africa, down there helping the poor or something like that, maybe it was the Peace Corps, it was on the news and Pop was all over it, he said that we, meaning me and Flynnie, we should grow up to be just like that girl (there were, like, tears in his eyes) and I was like, “What, you mean dead?” but Flynn must have taken all that stuff seriously because he did end up like that girl and now look what’s happened, it’s like a whatchacallit, a, a backlash or something. At his wake, at Pop’s wake, Flynnie was the one who held us all. He wrapped us up in his gangly arms and made us cry with him like in a football huddle. (Mom did her thing where she blinks with her face scrunched up as if she has the power to force her tears back into their sockets.) He was, let me think, sixteen. Yep, sixteen. But, even then, even so young, he was the one we could count on for that kind of stuff. Not the practical stuff, and definitely not the financial stuff, but you know, the emotional stuff. And the family stuff too. Like no matter how busy he was, he always came over to Mom’s for Sunday dinner. With
the kids, of course, and Rachel came too back then, but toward the end, like in the last year of their marriage, he came without her a lot, I mean with just the kids. Always in a good mood, too, no matter how bad things were. He’d give my Mari a hundred kisses, put his ear to my big belly to see if there was any action (this was when Robbie was in there), ask Mitch how many criminals he’s caught lately, and tell Mom dinner smelled good even though, let’s be honest, he knew damn well there was a slim-to-none chance it would actually taste good. She’s the absolute worst cook. She could burn boiling water. Last week she was over our house and we had just got one of those electric teapots and she decided she wanted some tea so she filled it with water, put it on the oven, turned on the gas, and burned the shit out of it. Melted plastic everywhere. The smell was terrible. But I digress. The only time he wasn’t like that, like sweet and nice, was, you know, right after 9/11. Things got a little weird there for a while. Missed a lot of Sunday dinners. I mean he was living in the city at the time, which had to totally suck, not to mention the smell, and our cousin she died in Tower 2, she was on the 93rd floor, he said he kept imagining her jumping, he was sure she was one of those people that fell down the side of the building, remember that? Like the tower was crying. But after he married Rachel and they moved up to Westchester and Nathan was born, he got back to normal. That’s what saved him, Nathan’s birth. I’m convinced of this. Saved his life. He cheered up one hundred percent
after that. Absolutely loved being a dad, from Day One. He worked at it, too, unlike my Mitch, the lazy bum; he got up in the middle of the night to feed him and he cooked all their meals and did all the grocery shopping and laundry and diaper-changing. Rachel said once it’s a good thing he didn’t have boobs or she would have nothing to do! (She’s a pisser, that one.) Last summer he was Nathan’s coach for tee ball, cutest thing you’ve ever seen. And with little Janey, my god, sweet as can be, he sings to her and kisses her toes and makes her giggle all the time, that girl is such a pumpkin. A few weeks ago I was in the car with the three of them, we were going to Mari’s school play, she was a cow in Charlotte’s Web—a cow! Like that’s not typecasting or nothing, like, um, let’s see, who can we get to play the cow, oh hey what about the retarded kid? Only Mari was so happy about it she never knew it was an insult so she was the best freakin’ cow you’ve ever seen. And so here’s the point, while me and Flynnie were talking he put his hand back and the kids grabbed onto it and he drove like that, his arm bent back while talking to me, like that’s how they always drive now, even when he needs to hit the blinker or turn down the radio, he keeps his hand back there. Not exactly safe, but you know. Oh, and you know what they do at night sometimes? Nathan, he’s the one who told me. They all go over to the park, and they stand out there, the three of them, all of them holding hands, looking up, and Flynnie tells them stories about the constellations. And when he says “Okay
kids, time to go home,” Nathan says something like, “Wait, what about those, are those the seven sisters?” and Flynn stays out there, telling them stories, until they get so sleepy he has to carry them home. See, it’s like he became an even better father after he left Rachel. And she, all of a sudden she’s like supermom. Weird, right? In other words, my point is, they were doing just fine before the Famous Author showed up. Flynnie was starting to adjust, Rachel was starting to calm down after a year of being separated and she was letting him see the kids once in a while, though to be honest it was only when she went out with Mr. Garage Mechanic and she needed a babysitter, and the kids, they seemed to be adjusting. But my God, in the beginning? In the beginning it was terrible. He cried so much about them, that first month he stayed with us. He’d be in our guest room, door shut, but still, we could hear it. He ate with us sometimes, and he came out the room of course whenever we asked him to babysit our kids. He’s like the ideal babysitter. He’s one of the few people who really “gets” Mari. We all have to tiptoe around her sometimes, she requires a lot of extra care and I’m not gonna lie, it’s stressful. I mean I’m raising her more or less by myself. Mitch is gone a lot because we need the overtime, oh I forgot to say he’s a cop in the Bronx, and no, he’s not actually a lazy bum, he’s a peach, and he works hard for us. Anyway she’s destroyed a few babysitters, my Mari has, just completely wiped them out, but Flynnie’s great with her, she just adores her uncle
Flynn. She was so worried about him when he was in there, in his room I mean, crying into his pillow. Is Uncle Flynn okay? Shouldn’t we go in there? No honey he just misses his kids, we’d say, and she’d say, Well why doesn’t he just go back home? And we never knew what to say to that, because let’s face it, he should have. He should have just gone back home. He was like this when he was a kid, a big crybaby. Don’t get me wrong he was normal and all, always running around playing sports and riding his bike and reading his books, my God he was always reading books, but Jesus Christ what a cry-baby, forget about it. Even now, even as a grown-up—what is he, thirty-six thirty-seven? Thirty-six—he was mostly crying about his kids at first, but then he was also crying about some woman, some woman at Fairfield who had promised to go out with him back when he was thinking of leaving Rachel but dropped him like a hot potato as soon as he was actually available. But, Mitch and I talked about this, let’s be honest, Flynn was quite the mess, what woman in her right mind would jump into a relationship with someone who’s crying every day about missing his kids? Not a healthy woman. Not a woman who has her shit together. So that must be why she said uh sorry, no thanks, changed my mind. To be perfectly honest it was hard to have him in the house. To be perfectly honest. You get used to your home being a certain way, and you already got an mentally handicapped kid, and you throw a
depressed adult male into the mix, and it doesn’t matter if said depressed adult male is your baby brother, it throws everything out of whack. That’s all I have to say about that. Anyway it got better once he moved into that little whatchacallit, the carriage house, over in West Harrison. The first week, I went over with Mari to bring him some books he left at our house, and you could tell, he looked much better. He actually smiled and gave me a hug, or he tried to. I’m not very good with hugs. Mari, though, she’s like my surrogate hugger. She can kill a man, the way she hugs. I have to keep her away from my little Robbie or she’ll squeeze him so hard she’ll give him an internal combustion. She gets a little enthusiastic, is what I’m saying. She likes having a little brother. That’s how we used to be, me and Flynnie. When we were kids, we slept in the same room, we played in the little pool together, we took baths together when he was a baby. I know for a fact I saved him from drowning a few times even though Pop once said if he left us alone I would have drowned him! (Apparently I had issues about being the princess of the house and then having to share the spotlight.) But he was just exaggerating. He was a kidder, Pop was. I took care of my baby bro, I would never let anything happen to him. But then, according to Flynnie, I turned mean, back when he started to get stronger, back when he shot up and got as tall as me and then went through puberty and all that ugliness and he started stinking up the house. But I don’t
see it as me being mean. All I was trying to do was keep him on the straight and narrow. Pop was gone a lot, and Mom wasn’t exactly the most attentive parent, and then they were both really gone when Pop died, I mean like gone gone, and somebody had to see to it that Flynnie went to church, that he did his homework, that he came home right after baseball practice instead of hanging out with the troublemakers. He acts like this is the reason why he had a bad marriage and why he always went out with cold women, but that’s obviously his therapist talking. His therapist thinks he gets into relationships with quoteunquote emotionally unavailable women who remind him of me and Mom because he’s trying to quote-unquote resolve his issues. The only problem with this theory is that I am not a quote-unquote emotionally unavailable woman. My emotions are very available, I can tell you that! Yes I can be bossy, this will not be news to anyone, but I am not, like, coldhearted or mean or something like that. I am . . . well organized. I am a realist. I am the person in our family who does what needs to be done. Not cold. Practical. As for Mom, she can be a little stiff, I grant you that, but you should have seen her back before Pop died, she used to sing, play old records, dance with us around the living room, la di da. Not all that affectionate, that’s a given, not emotionally available, that’s for sure, she had a tough childhood, not for nothing she and Pop had their problems in the sack, but that stays right here, all right? Still we all have our issues, and I wouldn’t go so far as to call her cold. Guarded,
that’s it. Guarded. Appropriately, no necessarily, on guard. Anyway, I’ll just come out and say it, it hurts, it hurts to be seen this way. I’ve been his rock, his true defender, all his life. I used to play school with him when he was little, I was the teacher, he was the student—why do you think he’s such a smarty-pants, we had a little blackboard and everything. When he got his permit and he went out with his friends and came home drunk at four a.m. with a dent in the car, Mom freaked out, absolutely freaked out, but I was the one who told her to back off, he was just a stupid teenager, make him pay for the repair and that’s it, and all of this while he was sound asleep upstairs. That was just after Pop died. He was pulling all kinds of crap back then. One time he came home and shit the couch while he was passed out drunk. I know, right? Gross. And when he was nervous about marrying Rachel, saying he wasn’t sure if he loved her, I’m the one who told him, this was right outside the church for God’s sake, I’m the one who told him to man up, get in there, and do the right thing. And this year when he needed to hire a lawyer but didn’t have any money because he kept giving Rachel his entire paycheck even though they were freakin’ separated (see what I’m talking about?) I’m the one who gave him a thousand dollars. A thousand dollars! And then he meets this Famous Author and he takes my hard-earned money, okay Mitch’s hard-earned money, and he flies to Colorado with it! Comes back looking different, like he just saw the
Purple-Mountain-Majesty-Above-the-Fruited-Plains with his own two eyes. Agh. See? This whole thing is giving me agita. Anyway the Famous Author, whose name shall henceforth never be uttered in our household, now that girl is cold. We heard about her for months but we’d never met her, because Flynn is apparently now embarrassed by us, his own flesh and blood. Then, we finally met her. Here’s what happened. I’ll tell you. Flynn called us from his house, well Rachel’s house now, in a total panic. He was watching the kids, and Famous Author was flying into Laguardia, and Rachel said she’d be back home by seven but when he said “Okay good because I have to be at the airport by eight,” she apparently got a little gleam in her eye and by now it was eight thirty and Famous Author was sitting alone at the World’s Shittiest Airport and who knows when Rachel would be back so could I please please please go to the airport, pick her up and bring her back to our house and by that time Rachel would surely be home? And when I said “Geez, just bring the kids over here! Or I’ll come over there!” he said the kids were sound asleep and he had sworn to Rachel that nobody else would be present whenever he babysat and that included family and he also swore to her that he wouldn’t take them anywhere without her knowing and he didn’t want to piss her off and she would absolutely freak if she knew she had a girlfriend visiting and then he’d never get to see the kids and she was not answering her
phone so I said “Oh good grief all right” and I asked Mom to come over and watch the kids and told Mitch to grab the blue light and we blasted down to the airport to pick her up, I mean we flew down the Van Wyck so fast I swear Mitch went into warp speed. Took us twenty-one minutes. New record. When we got there we spotted her right away, A because we googled her picture and B because there was a crowd of people like always but she, she was the only one standing there all annoyed with her hand on her hip like her chauffer was late. I couldn’t get much out of her on the way back. Very quiet and sulky, like Mari when she misses her nap. And I don’t recall her ever saying thank you for the police escort. When we got to our house, Flynn was waiting in the driveway, looking embarrassed beyond belief. When I told him to bring his new girlfriend inside so she could meet Mom, Flynn shook his head and said “Some other time, Annie,” and they drove off. Now how do you think Mom felt about that? I mean, we saw her looking out the window. It broke her heart. She couldn’t even talk about it, she just told me the kids were sound asleep, handed me Robbie’s binky, and went next door to her house. That’s right, we live next door to Mom. Flynnie always teases me that it’s symbolic or whatnot but it’s not. Again, I have to say this: practical. Have you seen what real estate is going for around here? So we just built onto Mom’s and wala! Affordable mortgage in Westchester County, and an instant babysitter free of charge, on-call 24/7.
Anyway Flynnie stopped showing up for Sunday dinners after that, or he’d show up but he wouldn’t say much, or he’d show up without the kids because Rachel, after she got wind of the new girlfriend (okay, because I told her about it), she went into Defcon V and started telling the kids their father was an adulterer and they couldn’t see him anymore. So he’d come over for the occasional dinner but he’d just sit there while all of us watched TV, staring out the window like something was out there, something besides the train tracks I mean. Then he missed one of his weekends with them because the Famous Author was visiting again and then the next weekend he flew out to Colorado again, and I had to say something then, I had to say listen, little bro, I love you, you know that, but these are weekends you should be spending with your kids, right? And what’s the deal with missing three days of work? (My friend told me, the one who works at Fairfield.) And—I had to say this, you know?—I wouldn’t have loaned you that money, I said, if I knew you were going to donate it to United Airlines instead of your lawyer. And he was like “Annie, don’t do something nice for me and then impose conditions on it, okay? I’ll just give it back. You want it back now?” But we both knew he didn’t have it. Please. “Listen, Flynnie,” I said, “I read her book.” (I’m talking about the paperback, not the one that’s out now in hardcover. Who spends $24.95 on a book?) “This girl,” I said, “forget about it, she’s messed up. What do
you get out of living like that, out in the wilderness like that? I’ll tell you what you get. You get dead.” I had just seen that movie, Into the Wild. Great film. Stupid kid. “Or you grow hair on your tits,” I said, which is my way of saying the girl might be a little too, you know, testosteroney “Please, Annie,” he said, and he put his hand on my arm, right here. “I’m in love with her,” he said. Which of course melted my heart. And scared the shit out of me. “No you’re not,” I said. “You’re in love with that,” and I pointed out the window, at the “out there.” You know, the “out there” that everyone’s in love with. The “out there” that everyone thinks is going to solve their problems until they realize that they can go way out there, as out there as they want, but they’re still going to be walking around with whatever’s in here. “This is what counts,” I said. I was pointing at my chest. Which, let me tell you, is pretty impressive. I use it to make all kinds of points. Pop used to call me “husky.” “I’m thinking the two are connected,” he said. Whatever. No matter what you might think right now, let me tell you something. My brother has a good head on his shoulders. Not for nothing he got a PhD when nobody else in our family graduated college. (I went for two years but then I married Mitch and got my PhD in Pregnancy—four friggin’ miscarriages and one stillborn before Mari was born.) But when it comes to women, he’s always been a little stupid. He never had a date
in high school, but as soon as his zits went away he got so cute so fast that he had a lot of girlfriends all at once in college, not that he knew what to do with them. Mostly he dated these artsy forlorn types and then all of a sudden Rachel who’s the opposite of artsy forlorn. And now this Famous Author, same thing as Rachel, very outspoken and opinionated, I can’t stand people like that. Anyway, when we met her for the second time, that’s when it was at the fancy-schmancy restaurant and that’s when the shit so to speak hit the fan. Flynn wanted to bring her over for dinner and finally meet Mom—she had already met Nathan and Janey in secret once, out at the park, and according to Flynnie it “went very well” but according to Nathan “she bought us puppets.” (Hello? You cannot buy the affection of children. They are too smart for that.) And Janey just made a face, what a mug she has on her, she looked like she might start crying, and as for Rachel when that happened, it was the first time she had let him see the kids in a long time, when that happened it made her so furious she said he would need a court order to see them again—but anyway I was saying we were all set to host this momentous get-together, we were all set to cook up a big dinner and eat in the back yard, my Mitch had actually cleaned the grill, but then Flynn called to insist we meet at a nice restaurant instead, Famous Author’s treat, even though he knew damn well that us and Mom in a fancy-schmancy restaurant is not a good combination. But what was really going on was that Famous
Author must have said no dice on going to a place where she didn’t have any power, meaning Mom’s house or my house, looked up “best places to meet your nasty future in-laws in White Plains without causing a scene” on yelp.com or some place like that, and came up with this restaurant with a French name, “La Reserve,” forgive the air quotes. Regardless. We wanted to be nice to Flynn, we all have to treat the baby of the family with kid gloves (it was always like this, poor Flynnie, such a sensitive boy, he doesn’t really have any friends, he needs a little extra love is all), so we said okay okay and went downtown and met them at “La Reserve,” which was, let me tell you, there’s no other word for it, swank. Which is probably the reason why we never heard of it before. We in the Hawkins clan don’t exactly traffic in swank. Flynn was all smiles. Mister Sunshine Blowing Up Our Asses. Mister In Love. Mister I’ve Seen the Mountains and They’ve Calmed Me the Fuck Down. He can light up a room, that boy. He’s tall, he’s got the thick wavy hair, and those long eyelashes I was always jealous of. (In middle school once I actually trimmed them when he was sleeping, but we’re not going to get into that.) But me and Mitch and Mom, we saw right through it. We knew the deal. And there, right next to him, with a new haircut (her bangs hanging over one eye, like a 40-year-old trying to look like a 25-year-old), this flowing Asian sarong-type thing (to cover up her belly, which looked like mine when I was four months pregnant, no make that five), and a pair of those hipster glasses celebrities wear
when they can see just fine without them, was the Famous Author. “So,” I said after shaking her hand for the second time, which is, by the way, like a man’s, “our place not good enough for you?” But Flynnie, he kept chatting about how the Famous Author was kind enough to take a break from her book tour to visit with us and blow us to a big meal, then he kind of leaned in and grabbed my arm and said “She didn’t want to go straight into the lion’s den, surely you can appreciate that, so just roll with it, okay sis?” I nodded—Mom can be a handful, this is true (as he well knew, I once went a freakin’ year without talking to her), and I do love my baby bro, I do—so I gave the Famous Author my nice smile, how-do-you-fuckin’do. And I’ll give you this, she has a presence, that one. I mean, people notice her. She looks like a fucking lioness. Plus a cute nose, pretty smile, and smoking hot boots. When I asked her where she got them, she lit up and talked about some little shop in Tibet and she gave the exact location even though we both knew I would never be caught dead in Tibet (and yes I do know where that is so shut your face), and then she went on to tell us, with Mitch looking bored out of his mind and Mom looking like she was going to shit her pants suit at the cost of the drinks, where she had gotten everything she was wearing—the Asian sarong thing was from Laos, one ring was from a Hopi jeweler in Telluride, another was from a quote-unquote artisan in Morocco, her brooch was from an ironsmith in Selma, Alaska, her socks were from a
wool factory on the Aran Islands (okay now that, I have no idea where that is)—and that’s when my stupid husband butted in: “You ever travel to someplace normal, like France?” and that sent her off. “I think that what we, or the Western world rather, calls ‘normal’ is typically a place that’s been overrun by tourism and where everyone speaks English and there’s a McDonald’s and Starbucks downtown and they’ve lost their true character” blah blah blah “so that’s why I choose not to frequent such places.” “Except for book signings, of course,” Flynn told us, like I care. “Her last book was translated into German and Italian, so she had to travel there to give readings. Sweet, huh?” He put his hand on her back, but she acted like he was invisible. “So you’re like one of those anti-American artists?” Mitch said, and I thought You hit that nail on the head, hubby and of course that set her off again, this time on a liberal tirade against capitalism and how we are destroying the planet and spreading our quote-unquote consumerist values to other countries “much to the detriment of their native cultures” and she used words no normal person uses like jingoistic and, uh, wait-let-me-think ethnocentric and in the middle of all this the waitress came by, smelled trouble, and gave us the “I’ll come back after the tsunami’s over and pick up the dead bodies” look and at the end of it Mitch said “What the hell’s wrong with consumerist culture? Isn’t that how you got rich, by us capitalists buying your little books?” and even I
had to cringe at that one, ’cause he said “little books” like he would say, I don’t know, “ditties.” My dear husband does bring a lot to the table, mainly Overtime Cash, but one thing my husband does not bring to the table is couth. “Well, not us capitalists specifically,” Mom said, because no one in the family had ever bought any of the Famous Author’s books. Famous Author gave Flynn a look, and Flynn cleared his throat and glared at Mitch, who had that face on him, like he had just grilled a perp in the examination room and gotten all the information he needed without even buying the guy a Subway sandwich. No further questions, lock him up. “Are you done?” Flynn said, and Mitch put his hands up, like it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t do nothin’. “Because we have something to tell you guys,” Flynn said. And that’s when he said it, and man did that shut my Mitch up. Mom just sat there with her mouth open and her eyes welling up. Me, I looked at the Famous Author but she was doing her best Mona Lisa impression. I know I promised my baby bro I was going to be nice, but that did it for me. “You have any idea what you’re doing?” I said to the Famous Author. I may or may not have poked her in her chest. “You’re separating this man from his children. From his family.” “I’m not doing anything,” she said. Then Flynn dropped Bomb Number Two. “She’s pregnant,” he said. Famous Author looked at him like we agreed you weren’t going to tell
them anything about that, and Mom let out a groan like she’d been stabbed in the gut and her innards were coming out. Me and Mitch, we were too stunned to speak. I am not one who is typically at a loss for words, but there I was. I couldn’t speak. Then Mitch kind of sat back and blew out his cheeks, like game over. Like the perp they just booked killed himself in his cell. That actually happened once. “How!” I blurted out, but then I felt like an idiot. “Never mind,” I said. The waitress came by again—by the way, she was wearing a tux, and she was super hot, and yes, I saw that in spite of the situation, my Mitch managed to give her the once-over, twice—but she pulled another U-ee and went right back to the bar. “You shouldn’t be flying,” I said to the Famous Author. I don’t know why I said that. But she just waved her hand, like it’s no big deal to fly when you’re pregnant. “Don’t do this, Flynnie” I said to my baby brother. But my baby brother wasn’t my baby brother anymore. “His name is Flynn,” Famous Author said, and that’s when I almost jumped her. I swear to God, I almost jumped her and gouged her eyes out with my fingernails. I didn’t even feel Mitch’s grip on my arm until afterwards. “I am doing it,” “Flynn” said, looking me right in the eye, like I’m not afraid of you anymore, but I could tell he was. “At the end of the semester,” he said. He looked around. “And I really would love some
support from my family.” But when nobody said nothing, he looked at the Famous Author and held his hands out like this. “I’m sorry,” he said to her. Then he looked at us. “We’re leaving,” he said. And they got up to leave. And the waitress came by again. “Are they leaving?” she said as they were leaving. “They’re leaving,” Mitch said. Mom put her head down and folded her hands like she was praying. Then Mitch told the waitress we were leaving too, we wouldn’t be needing the table after all, thank you very much, and we all got up, kind of like zombies, and we left. Ah, the agita! Know what I’m saying? Out in the parking lot, Mitch took the keys from me—I was too shaken up to drive, you know?—and he drove us down Mamaroneck Avenue to Walter’s for some hot dogs. “We’ve lost our golden boy,” Mom said, dramatic as usual. She was in the passenger seat, of course. I was in the back. “It’ll be okay,” I said. I patted her on the shoulder. “He’ll come to his senses,” I said. “I’ll talk to him. I’ll call him.” But I knew she was right. We all knew. What a dumb-ass, right? He always was a dumb-ass. Stupid little shit. He was like this as a kid. A dreamer. He used to just sit and read for hours. “Our Little Professor,” Pop used to call him. But you know the problem with books? They’re not real life, that’s the problem. They’re not real life.
On Color Blindness in Cephalapods As pigment ripens toward coral, her eight arms vanish, her head re-textures nearer her context. Hidden instantly, clearer for her exertion, her skin grips some light but lets slip other. The contraction and release of specialized skin cells blend her better with her setting. She defends herself with scattered light, with distraction. And though she slips from one peculiar hue directly into another, as though to match her skin with colors that she sees, she doesnâ€™t perceive color: seeing two like objects, which out of grey scale would show their contrast, she discerns only degree.
My Cousin Gabe My mom won’t use the term “Dad” when referring to her father. When she must, she says, “The man who fathered me,” or something. She cannot forgive George for abusing and abandoning her family, especially her mother, Lula, but when I suggest that Lula, at 16, might have married George to spite her father, an old-time patriarch with nine children, she says, “No, she was too stupid for that.” By this I know she means Lula was in love with George. She cannot think of George apart from the act of depriving her of the experience of being a child in a loving family. She won’t say a word against Lula, though her mother never hugged her, or told her she loved her. My mother grew up starved for affection and too emotionally greedy to generate sustained warmth. She puts on an act, she says, to hide from others all the hurt she has received. What she doesn’t understand is that this hiding also prevents her from close interaction with others, including me. She talks incessantly to cover her loneliness, her neediness. Her laughter punctuates the end of sentences when she thinks they contain something that has humor.
My dad, painfully shy, socially ill at ease, hardly said a word. He had a sense of humor when I could draw him out, but we didn’t talk that much. He died of a stroke. I have no siblings; aunts and uncles have mostly died off, and what few cousins I have are mostly gone from AIDS or cancer or weak hearts; I was never close with them anyway. I moved away from my relatives when I graduated from college, and I never missed them. I certainly didn’t envy my cousin Gabe, with his two much older sisters and year-older brother, Chipper, a childhood memory of visiting their three-room second floor walkup in the city, with the back porch where they hung their clothes facing a yard shared by a rectangle of a half-dozen buildings. Gabe’s brother died from cancer, long after his father succumbed to a heart attack, and before his mother died from heart problems. Then the younger of Gabe’s sisters died. When my mom, now a widow, grew closer to her relatives, I began to hear about Gabe; that he lived in a comfortable apartment in Mehlville, south of St. Louis, and that he expressed an interest in seeing me. I decided to drop by his place on my way back from my annual trip to see my mom after I heard that his wife Sherri had died from a sudden kidney infection. The flight attendant, being solicitous of the child (“Is this your first time traveling alone?), had that “Christian” look (something about
putting on a face, so even if the spirit comes through, it has to come further.) Gabe lived in a first floor condo of an apartment complex, houses with outdoor ground-level decks and spreading, managed grounds. He buzzed me in, and I walked through the carpeted lobby to his door and found it unlocked. The first thing I noticed about my cousin after so many years apart was not how fat he was—he had always been fat— but how genuine his smile was, how much he liked me, and how much we laughed together. As he stood to greet me, his physicality came back; the youthful sounding hoarseness, the strain you could hear in his speech, caused partly by bulk, partly by enthusiasm. I was soon sitting on his comfortable leather couch, across from him in his recliner chair with his legs propped up, sliding doors giving way to his deck with its feeders and birdbath and rolling, unfenced lawns. We laughed constantly over recounted memories and stories. Sometimes Gabe would inject conversation with hokey deadpan punning. “You look good,” I said. “I’m in great shape. I can jump higher than this house.” “Really?” “Yeah. The house can’t jump.” I could laugh because of the impulse, even if I knew what was coming, even if what came carried a hint of desperation in its need of release. We both took mutual satisfaction in knowing we had never killed anyone.
I couldn’t believe there was someone in my family I shared common interests with. Gabe actually liked history, and more amazingly, he took a compassionate interest in politics. But the greatest revelation was that he saw through the hypocrisy of the Church of Christ, the family brand. He told me how his sister Betty and her husband Owen, a preacher, had pressured him to get baptized, and how he had resisted, telling them not to worry about his soul, he was fine. He maintained the place just as Sherri had kept it until she died. The shelves and glass cupboards were ornamented with her handmade dolls and clay figures. Gabe had asthma and diabetes, and he slept connected to a machine which regulated his breathing. He wore supports around his calves to keep them from swelling. He had a neighbor, a Filipino named Rico, who lived with his mother in a building adjacent. Rico saw to some of Gabe’s needs, and Gabe in turn would help give Rico’s little dog daily insulin injections, something Gabe was skilled at. The first time I visited, Gabe drove us in his big Buick to Chipper’s grave at Jefferson Barracks, which overlooks the Mississippi River; then to the St. Louis Museum of Transportation, with its steam locomotives, pumper fire trucks, trolleys and miniature trains; and to Ted Drewes for ice cream. When we got back, Rico came over with his little dog. Rico had a frenetic quality, and a wiry, detached look. While Rico helped change his wrappings, Gabe told me about his success at trivia night on Tuesdays at the Crow’s Nest, where he went
regularly with one of his nephews; and how Sherri’s family had continued to treat him like one of their own after her death. I had just finished my baseball novel, Broken Bat Single, and I spun out the entire story to him before I went to sleep on his couch. He listened as relentlessly as I talked. I left reflecting that I had a new friend and a new and better way to cap off my trip to Missouri than mulling over my mother’s maddening ellipses. Each year when I came we would talk for hours, our conversation occasionally filtered with a baseball game on his big tv, our talk touching on movies, history, (especially the Civil War and the Second World War), politics, and our family. Usually Betty called, sometimes right when I got in. It was clear she wanted to know what was going on, if I had arrived. He tolerated her. There had been a kerfuffle around that time between my mother and Betty. Mom had been going to Betty’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas, shortly after my dad died. They lived a few hundred miles apart. I wondered how long this would last, what with the controlling and demanding personalities of both women. Although her death was not imminent, nor even on the horizon, my mother had planned out her funeral, created a list of pallbearers and had chosen Owen to handle the service. No doubt thinking to help out, Betty wrote my mom’s obituary and sent it to her for approval. Apparently this was crossing the line to my mom, getting too
anticipatory even for her tastes. She announced that the holiday trips to Betty’s were getting to be too demanding for her. In conversation with Gabe, who talked to Betty daily, the subject of their rupture came up. He said, “She just kept complaining to me, ‘she’s this, and she’s that, she’s so needy, and so on.’ I finally said, ‘Betty, why do you invite her?” “She said, ‘Because I’m supposed to. Because the Bible tells me to. She’s my widow aunt, and it’s the Christian thing to do.’ “I said, ‘Then stop doing it. The goodness of the act is what you take away. You’re not doing it for the right reasons. Let it go.’ To my shock, she listened to me! Hah!” Then he told a story which made me sure we were some kind of blood brothers. Although both of our families belonged to the Church of Christ, we never attended the same congregation, as we lived in different parts of St. Louis. In my last years at home, there was a preacher whom I developed a particular loathing for. Wayne Haller was a young, selfrighteous, indulgently overweight, belligerent “fighter for the Lord,” and had a singularly nasty look when he zeroed in on the perpetrators of sin, idolators and fornicators who trashed God’s glory to pleasure themselves. He was also stupid, and his presence may have hastened my exit from the Church of Christ, if that was possible. Now tonight, more than forty years later, I sat in Gabe’s living room as he told how
Wayne, whom I didn’t know he knew, had come to his church to preach at meeting, and how he had gone to Wayne’s house after a service at his invitation, with a few other young men. “The talk got around to how I was the only one who hadn’t been baptized yet. Didn’t I think it was time, somebody said. I told them that was between me and God, but Wayne said it was dangerous to wait, and they started to pick me up and take me downstairs. Wayne had a little tank that he used as his baptistery, and he had already filled it up! There were three or four guys, and they were pulling at me and my clothes. I finally had to say, Get your hands off me. I called my mom, I told her, I’m never getting baptized. And I’m never going to that church again. She understood. But Betty doesn’t get that.” As we talked, I got the sense that I was with a character from a movie. I could see Gabe in suspenders and a fedora, diamond stickpin in his tie sweating in the St. Louis summer, a mob guy with a smile and good connections who could have made it big, except he was soft, his voice hoarsely falling in a cascade of stories about the characters in our life. It was hard to believe I was related to him. Gabe‘s condition worsened annually. Obesity stretched the skin across his face into a mask, a frozen cheer. His appearance produced a confusing blend of caricature, amusement and agony, but he laughed as hard as ever, though not as frequently. We did not go out of his apartment; we sent out for pizza. He used a cane to cross the room.
His attitude toward his wife’s family had changed. A couple of her siblings had borrowed money from him and he was having a hard time getting it back; worse, it seemed to him that they were ignoring him, that they had fulfilled some kind of duty, which they no longer had to honor. They had stopped inviting him to family events. He asked me if I wanted to see his collection of vintage World War Two vehicles. In another room he carefully took from a box, one by one, various miniature ambulances, tanks, halftracks, trucks, jeeps, all meticulously glued together from kits, and hand-painted. I marveled at his sense of delicacy and detail and his patience. He told me about each specimen and what battles it had been in. Interspersed within his narrative, he bitterly harped on Sherri’s family. It was a new note in our annual reunion, for him to dwell on being wronged, and it affected his ability to laugh. Or maybe that was actually caused by another kind of reversal. He had decided to let Owen baptize him. He insisted it was just for his own relationship to God. He told Owen he didn’t plan on coming to church; he didn’t want to be pressured about it. But since he believed in God and in Christ as his savior, it seemed like a good thing to be saved in the eyes of the church. Then last Thanksgiving, Gabe was driving home from his sister’s house when he pulled over to the curb, and slumped forward. He was out to the world but he must have had a full tank of gas because his
nephew found him several hours later after he wouldn’t answer his cell, the Buick still running. They took him to emergency and did a quintuple bypass. The next summer, I came up from southeast Missouri expecting the worst. To my shock, he looked better than I had seen him since childhood. He had lost weight, sounded less hoarse, laughed more easily. His face had taken back its own character. I saw that the previous distension of his features had been from the straining of arteries rather than added weight. Soon after I arrived, Betty called, as usual. This time she had a question for me. As Gabe passed his phone across the room, I thought both of us rolled our eyes, but maybe it was just me. “How long does it to get from Rochester to Sikeston?” she asked. “About 12 hours,” I answered, “if you take 57 southwest through Illinois and there’s no construction.” That was it. After Gabe said goodbye to her, I said “How transparent. There’s not even any conceivable use she could have for that piece of information.” Gabe shrugged, and we returned to our conversation about the Cardinals and their wealth of young outfielders. But after my most recent visit to my mom, I had a theory about her and I was anxious for Gabe to hear it. “You know how people get a sense of reality? They get it mostly from themselves, but not all of it. They also get it from others. That is, they
get it from their sense of others’ sense of reality. Like when you see me, you don’t just see me. You see the world a little bit through me. You see how I see the world, and that reassures you. It reinforces your own sense of reality. The closer a relationship, the more that happens. If it’s not close, it doesn’t happen at all. But we’re close, so we can confirm the world is as we see it when we get together. The thing is, it’s really not so much in what we say. What I’m talking about is mostly nonverbal. It’s being around someone, exchanging eye contact. It’s where true feelings are. “That is what my mom doesn’t get. The sense of reality from others. She understands what people say, and she picks up on some emotions, if they are about the other person. “But if that person is expressing a feeling—which is a conscious processing of emotion and how that person sees the world, sees reality—she doesn’t get that as a sharing of reality. For her, feelings of others are confined to them, and she doesn’t share them. She gets her sense of reality only from herself. This can’t be unique; there must be other people who suffer from this, there must be a term. But maybe there isn’t, because I’ve never actually heard it recognized as an illness. But it’s some kind of disability.” I could see he didn’t understand. He shook his head. “Your mom is one of the cleverest people I know. You know how quick she is. She couldn’t be mentally ill.”
There was something about the tone of our visits, their conviviality and (now that I think of it) their ritual, fraternal bonding, that did not allow for nuanced debate. We did not have an “agree to disagree” relationship. I decided that I would try to write him later and clarify. Or just forget it, because I hadn’t explained it well, or maybe it wasn’t something he could understand. Rico let himself in. “What’s up?” he said. “We’re ordering takeout from Whittaker’s,” said Gabe. “Can you pick it up?” “Let me see what’s in the fridge first.” He walked back into the small kitchen as if it was his own. Gabe said, “Rico’s dog died.” “Ok. I’m in,” Rico said, coming back. “Ok, what do you guys want? Should we get an appetizer?” “Get the toasted ravioli,” said Rico. “Yeah, I’ll have some of that,” I said. “And a small cheese pizza.” Who’s pitching?” The tv had been on without the sound. I had forgotten about it. “Wainwright,” I said. “If he’s still in.” “Good,” said Rico. “Maybe they’ll win. Oh no.” Someone on the Phillies had gotten a hit. The sound was still down. “Was that Howard?” “Yes, Howard with the big contract,” I said. Gabe was reaching for the remote. “Helped to drive Pujols out of St. Louis.”
“Raised the market value,” nodded Rico. Gabe got the sound up so we could hear the announcer saying Howard might be showing signs of breaking out of his slump. “Better Phillies pay Howard than we pay Pujols,” I said. “They’ll never climb out of that,” Rico said. “His legs will be shot, he’ll be in a wheelchair and they’ll still be sending him a check. He’s on the way down now. Are you going to Crow’s Nest next week?” he asked Gabe. “You kidding? It’s the semi-finals. Of course I’m going.” “There’s the big payoff. Gabe’ll be taking us all out to dinner next week. When do you have to go back?” he turned to me. “In the morning. Plane leaves at six!” “Why so soon? Stay and party. We’ll show you the town.” “Ok, Rico, I’m gonna call it in,” Gabe said. “What do you want?” “Wait,” said Rico. “Is this Thursday?” “What did you forget this time?” “Oh my God. I’m supposed to chaperone these girls at a country club dance. I forgot it was tonight.” “Can you still make it?” Gabe asked. “Oh, yeah. But I can’t pick up the order.” “That’s ok. We’ll have it delivered.” “I can get it,” I offered. “No,” said Gabe, “They’ll bring it. Our conversation is too good.”
“Can you believe it?” said Rico. “Me chaperoning a bunch of nubile eighteen year-olds?” “How can that be?” I asked. “Rico is a tennis coach at Sunset Country Club,” Gabe said. “Somebody thought he must be respectable and dependable.” “I am dependable. These girls are too young for me. Well, at least I can keep them away from trouble. See you later.” Gabe ordered toasted ravioli, garlic bread and chicken parmesan, and a personal plain pizza for me. I settled back on the big couch and watched the game for a while. “I really like watching pitchers,” I said. “I get a strong feeling for a guy by watching him pitch.” “Remember Ryne Duren?” said Gabe. “Coke bottle glasses, hitters afraid he couldn’t see them?” “Yeah,” I said. “Or Roger Clemens. That guy always looked like a bully, I never liked him. The Mindy McCready story surprised me not at all. You know about that right?” “She killed herself,” said Gabe. “But she had drug problems. I mean, it wasn’t all on Clemens.” “But she met him when she was fifteen! How much do you think he played in messing up her life? As if he cares.” Gabe said, “This girl, teenage daughter of a friend of mine, mentioned when we were alone together, she had been thinking of suicide. I told
her, ‘You can’t do that. There is a reason why you’re here, the Lord has given you this life as a gift, you can’t reject it. I mean, you can make all sorts of mistakes, we all do, but that is the one thing you cannot do, you cannot take your own life.’” “What did she say?” “Nothing. But she got it.” I wanted to argue again— not to be pro-suicide, but that I would never take that approach. But my desire to engage in debate was growing weaker, however, and it was easy to let it pass. After I got home, I decided to write a letter. I started with what I hoped was clearer exposition of what I was trying to say about my mom. I said I thought she did not have access to other people’s feelings because she denied them access to hers. Just to get to a topic where I assumed we shared mutual feelings, I also mentioned Betty’s phone call, how blatant an attempt it was to remind us of her presence, not even bothering to make up a plausible question for me. Finally on impulse, I decided to mention Gabe’s remarks on suicide. “By the way, I would never put it like that,” I wrote. “If you told me that God would not let me commit suicide, I might just do it out of spite.” I wrote that I would try to counsel someone by modeling an appreciation of life, not by an imputation of sin, or worse, an assertion of impossibility. Because taking your own life is so clearly possible.
I never heard from him again. When the time came for my next trip to Missouri, I called him a dozen times. He never answered. He has no voice mail. My mom still talks to Betty on occasion, and when I told her about it, she called Betty to see if Gabe was sick, or away. “No, he’s home, and he’s fine,” was all she said. I decided to stop at his place unannounced. I pressed the buzzer by his mailbox. No response. I pressed it again. By this time, I decided that if he was home, he was not going to welcome me. I didn’t wait any longer. Nearby there was a pizza place I loved, but it was a little too early to eat. I decided to visit Cahokia Mounds nearby in Illinois, maybe come back in a couple of hours. Crossing the Mississippi, the late afternoon bridge traffic was funneling slow and thick onto I-70 from multiple levels and lanes. I knew I would not be going back for pizza. Cahokia is north of the interstate, and there was a fine cool mist falling when I parked at Monk’s Mound, a hundred foot high pyramid made of dirt and clay a thousand years ago. There was a concrete staircase, built to follow the course of the original wooden steps. I walked to the top. Horseshoe Lake twisted in the misty north. Looking west, I could see the brewery, the Arch, the stadium, the buildings our fathers had built, some of them standing, some torn down. Monk’s Mound was slumping from
rainwater, but itâ€™s said to have had that problem even when they were building it.
Ricky Garni EMT
There’s something about my face that makes people want to tell me about surgical procedures. Some people feel as though trends are the handiwork of angels. Once I met a woman who said, “Why don’t you come outside and see the moon? It’s full.” Which it was. She died before she could describe a surgical procedure to me which once took place there.
Wolves and Rabbits Natalie looked at the bowl of gin punch lovingly, as though she were its mother. "I hope Brad and Cara aren't too weird tonight," she said. "You made a punch that contains an entire bottle of gin for four people. Maybe you're little weird," Greg said, looking up at her from the couch. "Have I ever thrown a bad party?" "No." "And what do I always say is the key to throwing a successful party?" "You get people drunk." "I get people shitfaced. Bachelorette-party-homeless-bum-drunk. I want people to wake up feeling like they slept in the streets. The worse the hangover the better the party." "You never get bad hangovers anymore." "I learned to control my drinking." "Do you ever enjoy yourself?" "I used to." "Back when you got drunk and had bad hangovers?" "Yes. Then I did enjoy myself."
"Why don't you get drunk tonight? Give yourself the gift of a terrible hangover. You have a bowl of gin right there. Stick your head into it. Have a good time for once." "I have to make sure everything goes smoothly." Greg looked at his wife with magnificent distain. "The house is clean. The snacks are out. The punch is done. Why do you worry so much?" Natalie sat down on the couch next to Greg's feet. He wore black silk socks. His feet looked very professional. "You always think I'm controlling," she said to his feet. "I'm not." Greg pulled his phone out of his pocket. "What are you doing?" "I'm looking at my phone. I think it's a better way to spend my time than arguing with a controlling person about whether or not she is controlling." He squinted, stuck his chin out and drew back the top of his head to read, the mask of an man just beginning to lose his eyesight. In the white light of his iPhone he looked old and dead. They sat in a moment of sober silence. "Do you want a drink?" Natalie asked. "Of course I do." "Do you want the punch or something else?" "Do you want me to get drunk?"
"Of course I do." She smiled the smile of a little girl promised a trip to the candy store after the dentist. "Get me a whiskey. I'll drink it before they get here." He would have winked, were he that kind of man. "Good boy." "Make one for yourself." "Ok. Maybe I'll get drunk and prove I'm not controlling." "It's going to take a lot more than one shot of whiskey for that." She poured bourbon into crystal tumblers. They had the heavy weight of fancy things. "Do you like Brad and Cara?" Natalie asked. "I think they are a little weird." "Weird like young? They seem very young to me." "They are both thirty. That's not very much younger than we are." "They are thirty going on twelve. They are too enthusiastic about life. The horrors of middle age will eventually grind them down and make them less pleasant. Especially Brad. He has a face like a little kid." "There are a lot of man-children running around the city these days like they have somewhere important to be. They all look like they're taking the subway to a spelling bee in dad's suit." "My office is full of boys like Brad." "They think they know everything." "They know nothing. When are they getting here?"
"They should be here now." "Cara probably hit traffic picking him up at daycare," Greg said. They laughed in bitter cahoots and drank. "Cara is very pretty, though." Greg, like any man who has masturbated frequently to a woman he then finds himself forced to discuss with his wife, scoffed. "She's not really my type. She has a big ass. She's frumpy." Natalie wiped a little whiskey from underneath her lip with her sleeve and smiled sadly, like she had recognized an old friend at a funeral. "What is your type?" "You, baby," he said. The diminutive fell flat. Natalie took their empty glasses to the kitchen and poured in tequila. "I just bought this. Try it," she said, pressing the glass into his hand. "But then I want to go back to whiskey." "You can do whatever you want." "What about Brad?" Greg asked. "What about him?" "Do you think he's good looking?" "He looks like a six foot four baby," she said, but she was blushing. "Are you blushing?" "No."
"Do you have a little crush on the adult baby?" Greg laughed. Her face flushed to a blotchy, ashamed shade of pink. "Oh, don't laugh. I just think he's cute," she said. "For a baby." He patted her on the knee. "Yes. For an adult baby." "I lied about Cara anyway. I think she's attractive." "I know you do." "You can tell?" "You look at her the way that wolves look at bunny rabbits." The buzzer rang and they put down their empty glasses. Natalie turned to walk towards the door but Greg grabbed her wrist and spun her around. "Maybe tonight you can babysit Brad. I'll chase Cara around the bunny trail," he said. "You can do whatever you want." The next morning Natalie woke up feeling like she had slept in the streets.
William C. Blome William C. Blome writes poetry and short fiction. He lives wedged between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and he is a masterâ€™s degree graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His work has previously seen the light of day in such fine little mags as Crack the Spine, Amarillo Bay, Prism International, Laurel Review, Salted Feathers, and The California Quarterly. Ricky Garni Ricky Garni is a graphic designer and machinist from Carrboro, North Carolina. His work is widely available in print, on the Web and in a number of anthologies. He has received an honorable mention as well as five nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Some of his recent titles include: THE ETERNAL JOURNALS OF CRISPY FLOTILLA, MAYBE WAVY and THE SEA OF KICKING LEGS. JIGGLE FEST, a collection of short prose, was released in December 2014. THE PINKIE EMBRACE will be released late summer, 2015. David Hicks David Hicks is a writer living in Denver. His previous stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Colorado Review, Saranac Review, and many other magazines. He is represented by Victoria Skurnick of the Levine Greenberg Agency. His work may be found at http://david-hicks.com
Kate Imbach Kate Imbach is a writer living in Park City, Utah. She used to work in tech startups. She also has a Master’s in Public Administration from Suffolk University, which is only one letter away from an MFA. Kate’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Weave Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, Map Literary and Axolotl. You can read her work on kateimbach.com and follow her on Twitter @kate8. Charles Kerlin Charles Kerlin has a PhD from the University of Colorado and he teaches creative writing and American literature at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana. He was in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate program for two summers. He’s published half a dozen stories in The Hopewell Review, The Flying Island, and From the Edge of the Prairie. He won the Hopewell prize for best fiction judged by Alan Cheusse, book editor for NPR. His piece, “And One Fine Morning…,” about the difficulties of reconciling science and religion, appeared in the Dec. 13, 2013 edition of Atticus Review. Jessica Morey-Collins Jessica Morey-Collins is an MFA student at the University of New Orleans, where she works as associate poetry editor for Bayou Magazine. She received a scholarship to study at the NYS Summer Writer's Institute. Her poems can be found or are forthcoming in the North American Review, Vinyl Poetry, ILK Journal, Pleiades, Black Tongue Review and elsewhere on the web and in print.
Bill Pruitt Bill Pruitt is a fiction writer, storyteller and poet, and an Assistant Editor with Narrative Magazine. He has published poems in such places as Ploughshares, Anderbo.com and Cottonwood, two chapbooks with White Pine and FootHills, and self-published Walking Home from the Eastman House. He has told stories in various places in Rochester and upstate New York, including the National Women’s Hall of Fame; he recently performed an original version of the lives of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, entitled “Two Kinds of Fear.” He and his wife Pam have two children and two grandchildren. “My Cousin Gabe” is his first published story. Tiffany Wang Tiffany Wang is a junior at John H. Guyer High School, a school on the outskirts of Dallas, TX. She loves to experiment with all different stylistic forms of prose, and usually comes up with story ideas right before she falls asleep. Her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, and has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as the Eunoia Review, the Blue Monday Review, the Texas Writers Journal, and the Cadaverine, among others. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her playing the piano, attending a debate tournament, or studying furiously for the SAT.
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