Crack the Spine
Literary magazine Issue 167
Issue 167 October 14, 2015 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine
Cover Art Dahlia Meteor by Christine Catalano Christine, a onetime graphic designer, likes to take photographs and play with them on the computer. She dedicates her work to her muse, in the hope that he continues to inspire her.
CONTENTS Katrina Johnston
Destiny With Extra Cheese
Gardening the Forest
Susan G. Duncan
A Fine Night
E. Branden Hart Quitting
Three Christs of Ypsilanti
Destiny With Extra Cheese
“Break a leg”– a phrase of long tradition. That's what he says to himself. Dale Carrington recites the words using his best and his numerous accents. He repeats it often, loudly, and then quietly, chanting every way, like an affirmation.“Break a leg.” In the midst of his quest for superstardom, the phrase exemplifies his search for Hollywood. Others who arrive here, so close to Tinseltown it's like a neighbourhood village, come by bus or motorbike, or by train. And by plane, or otherwise by hitchhiking or walking in from the verdant hills and valleys. All are wannabes like Dale, and they're not yet in Hollywood. Close. This is Langevin. Dale hasn't made it to the big-time show but Langevin is the next best thing, a stepping stone. “Break a leg.” At dawn, he decides he might actually prefer to stay under the covers where he can continue dreaming. He likes to laze around. Dale could melt. But sleep is finished. The dingy motel room could be a refuge, especially if he doesn't try again and again. Today could be his chance. He could launch himself like a spitfire into a destiny of dramatic superstardom. Either way, he needs a lucky break. So he rises and puts on the same old shirt and pants and vows to make the next 24 hours a fulcrum for rebalance. He'll find an acting gig in a dramatic production even if it's here.
He yanks the curtain aside. A spectacular sunrise creeps over the horizon. The clouds are coral hued and the hills are backlit gold. He hopes the orange and creamy glory defines a harbinger of change. Aspiring actors and producers congregate in Langevin because of its proximity to Hollywood. Bordering the crossroads near the interchange, Langevin boasts an improvised red brick city centre and a public park, is technically an independent entity that caters to the lower echelons of the entertainment stratosphere, another LA suburb. Undiscovered stars show up to audition for the low budget television pilots, spin-offs, commercials and reality shows. There are occasional voice-over gigs, public service announcements and countless infomercials. Hollywood's the ultimate, but Langevin holds the key. Dale is not sure if he qualifies as a professional, but he wants to be the grandest actor who ever makes it here or there or anywhere. During this particular season, the summer stretches into a languid ending and a warm September. The competition is fiendish. The place is swarming with aspiring Hugh Jackmans and Scarlett Johanssons. As he squints through the dust-spattered window he finds the famous sign. He can almost make out the 'W-O-O' portion of the huge block letters upon the hills. In Langevin, warehouse-style production facilities at the main crossroads accommodate the low-budget networks. The town boasts six TV lots between Canal Street and the Boulevard. Dale is getting used to the cattle calls for casting. He's fairly certain that he is skilled at asserting and then demonstrating his acting chops. He flaunts his amateur credentials from his home town of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, noting them like they're big time accolades. These references are from high school dramatics but casting agents need not know. He does have talent. Dale can easily
mimic character and voice, especially voice, mastering any sort of accent â&#x20AC;&#x201C; an Irish lilt or the laconic drawl of a Texan. He can spew an adenoidal Scandinavian should that be necessary, or a bellicose and middle-aged Italian. Dale can modulate the dialogue, making the delivery humorous or banal, serious or stupid, or whatever the script requires. There is no one else like Dale Carrington, up-and-comer, one-and-only. He might be a legend. Could be huge. He doesn't truly understand his own desire for fame. He just has to become a superstar. There is no other path for Dale. But no one whispers his name and he's not mentioned in the tabloids â&#x20AC;&#x201C; yet. He tidies the room with military precision. Neatness confirms renewal. Nil for breakfast. A recent eating binge causes him discomfort. Last night he demolished an entire chocolate cake and washed it down with two Big Gulps. His waist is thicker and the pants uncomfortable. Dale knows he should be eating sensibly but he's on the road, on the move, and he makes concessions. A healthy resolution will have to wait for another peachy sunrise. Today's orange splendour dwindles as the day progresses into its dusky ordinariness creating an illusion of a pleasant hiding place within the motel room. But Dale honours his new intentions. He shudders down an instant coffee concocted from the hot water faucet. At 7:30 a.m. he heads across the street. At Green Cuisine he powers up his laptop without buying a muffin or a sprouty bun. He checks the casting calls. 'Accepting Amateur' and 'Spellbound' have nothing. On 'Local Talent' there is a call for one unknown. A commercial. Outside again, the sidewalks are hot and sticky and dotted with strangers. The hum of traffic whistles past. When he gets to the production studio, a note is pinned on the door advising that the role is filled.
On the pavement at Third Avenue, he's willing himself to find the unadvertised auditions. Enthusiasm begins to dwindle by one o'clock and Dale angles back to Green Cuisine for a double cheeseburger. The server smiles at him. She's thin and friendly and she looks like his girlfriend back home in Sudbury, roughly the same height, similar hair style. Maybe he should not be thinking of Joanne as his significant other. They'd split-up for a time and that was before this current separation. Now he's caused a great divide by carrying himself away to spend the summer alone and distant upon his vision quest for fame in Southern California. Joanne is always joking. It's hard to know exactly how much she might be missing him right now. He decides to e-mail her a cheesy love note later on, and he'll hope for one from her. He has not expected to be so thoroughly discouraged. Every day he shambles around without a nibble of acceptance, not even a callback. It is hard to keep on walking into production agencies and saying with a forced and bright enthusiasm: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Hi there. My name is Dale. I want to audition for the role of....â&#x20AC;? He doesn't feel like telling Joanne about these encounters. Not yet. Today, there are no new calls for the TV lots. No new auditions for Langevin, but when he rechecks, Dale finds that Myerling is asking for two unknowns, each carrying the generality of his description (which is sandy hair, blue eyes, midtwenties, not overtly overweight nor freakishly tall). They're casting for a couple of roles in an upcoming production of 'The Statue Complex', a new TV pilot. He races out to Myerling. When Dale arrives, he finds that the information must have gone out earlier. Twenty-seven applicants precede him. Some are seated in chairs or are lounging against the walls. Most of the guys fit the general description. A few appear to be
over thirty-five and one guy totes a gut too ponderous for stunting escapades or action scenes. A flunky appears from the inner sanctum and she announces that the number they will be pre-screening is capped. She consults her clipboard. The newest arrivals, including Dale who is standing in a lineup that snakes along the narrow hallway, should turn around and leave. “Turfed,” he says. “Ousted before I even get a chance to enter the waiting room of sorrowful orange and plastic chairs.” “Bummer dude,” someone says behind him. Maybe Dale will have to admit to all his friends and family back in Sudbury that his lofty aspiration of becoming an actor has expired. Joanne might not be impressed. He is running short of cash, losing his incentive. A month left. Two if he budgets. He may have to slink back. “No way,” he tells himself. “No damn itsy bitsy cheesy way.” That evening, the pay phone outside the motel room jangles. Dale is finishing his second family-sized bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. The unexpected ringing collides against inertia. He runs out, hefts the receiver. “What?” he says. “Callback? Yeah, sure, I'll be there.” It's a commercial. Perhaps not the royal eminence of all dramatic gigs, and not much of anything. He cannot turn the offer down. It's a callback for a TV spot for Conrad Foods International. The product is Cheddar Spreader. They want an alien champion, someone to play the role of 'Super Cheese,' a character dressed up like a hero, a flying entity to swoop in from Cheese-Land (or some cheeseforsaken place out there in the vastness of the universe) a character to tell earthlings about the delicious possibilities and the meltable and sandwich-
enhancing properties of Cheddar Spreader. “It's out of this world,” is a catch phrase. Dale will have to fake enthusiasm. He's never been a fan. Occasionally he's wondered if Cheddar Spreader was an edible plastic or a strange derivative from petroleum. “You're perfect for it.” The coordinator flatters Dale with her soft and bubbly laughter and a slight Spanish accent that Dale might easily mimic. Then the coordinator explains further that Dale will have to wear a great blue cape, red tights and orange boots, a slick and orangey mullet wig, his hair concealed under cheesy perfection. He will expound the benefits of the microwaved jars of Cheddar Spreader. “Hot and creamy. Sure it's dreamy.” In certain scenes, he'll be tethered by a harness and held aloft in front of a fifteen-foot green screen, flying and landing with the grace of an acrobat. He'll have to learn how to swoop. There is no mask to obscure his identity and Dale shrugs away a minor concern about being typecast as a cheesy icon. But first Dale has to memorize the lines and learn the ropes. Two days after his audition, the phone jangles again. “Tuesday,” the coordinator says. “Come in here on Tuesday at 8:15 a.m., ready to begin.” Dale breathes in. “You mean, I got the part?” “Yes, you're it.” “I'll be there with bells on,” he says. “The costume has no bells. Knee-high boots,” she tells him. “Not a Tinkerbell. And that reminds me.... You need to report to wardrobe first before you come into to the studio. They'll get you sized and fitted for your harness.”
He tries repeatedly to place a call to Sudbury, to tell Joanne, but she doesn't answer. When he finally reaches her, he's feeling shy and rather cocky at the same time and reluctant to share the news. Will she understand that such an oddball commercial is a great place to get started? It's not exactly Macbeth or some hot new pilot for a criminal drama with possibilities of airing in primetime. “Hey I got a job,” he says. “It's gonna pay me well.” “Congratulations,” Joanne tells him. “You sound excited. That's great. I'm happy for you.” “It's wonderful,” he says. “I'm going to be shooting several commercials for Cheddar Spreader. I have to dress up like a bozo, but it's going to be worth it, a solid credential for my acting resumé before I'm onto greater opportunities.” “Good for you,” Joanne says. “Success for everyone.” “What?” “Me too. I've been accepted at the University of Alberta – the sociology program – I told you. Remember? Postgrad. A wonderful opportunity. I'll be staying for a two-year certificate.” “Oh man that's fantastic,” Dale says. “When will you start?” “Three months.” “Will you find a student residence?” “Well no I...” “Can you afford such a long distance move – I mean all the way to Alberta?” “Bill Chamberlain and I are going to share the travel. He's got an off-campus place.” “Bill Chamberlain? Bill Chamberlain? And – you?”
“Yeah. Sorry that I haven't called. And e-mail seems so sketchy. I wasn't sure if you were keeping your laptop on the go. I guess I got busy with family and plans and, well you know – doing other stuff.” “You mean, that the two of you are... going... going....” A long silence ensues. The magpies squawk. The flies buzz. Dale listens to his own breathing. “Joanne? “Yeah. See, it's perfect. Bill's accepted also. We're in the same faculty.” Dale begins to understand where the idea of 'seeing red' comes from. A crimson gauze blurs the phone in front of him. He tells himself to remain unfazed, to modulate his voice until it sounds ordinary. He pretends. “Well, I've gotta go and get some much needed sleep.” Dale says this line of dialogue ultra smoothly. “I've gotta be ready and with bells on.” He laughs too loud. “I'm an honest-to-goodness performer now. I'm in demand.” “Dale, for heaven's sake. We never, and I mean never promised to be exclusive. And you're free to date just anyone out there. And so am I.” “I've gotta get moving. I'll call you in a few days.” Dale hangs up the receiver. The sunset reminds him of Cheddar Spreader. It's tangerine and cream, advancing in thick gloppy textures. New clouds congregate above the Hollywood signage. Why, he thinks? Oh, why does opportunity bless and then deny? Audition and subtraction. Joanne had never promised to be waiting forever en-pointe for his triumphant return. Maybe he'd exaggerated the stakes of the relationship. And now Joanne is going with Bill Chamberlain, a guy who carries all the charisma and subtlety of an oncoming train or the football tackle he used to be. A woman might find Bill attractive in some strange circumstance, but Dale cannot fathom it.
That night he buys and consumes an extra-large bag of Chunky Chewy Chips A'Hoy and two sausage rolls and three cans of orange soda. On the second day of shooting, Dale is hoisted in front of the green screen, gliding along. He's faking superhero. The harness is not aligned and the clasp that holds him at the apex of his flight is a rusty carabiner clamp. It snags against the grommet. The mechanism opens with a click. Dale senses it in a split second of terror. He is loose and still hanging out in mid-air. His body pitches forward in a ghastly aerial tumble before he slams into the stage, smashing his left side. A dreadful pain electrifies his leg. Dale lies twisted and motionless, like a busted clown upon the floorboards. The wig is flung back, but the orange mullet clings by its super glued fixatives attached to the nape of his neck. Black wires connected to camera and audio equipment writhe around his crumpled form. And everyone on set, the camera operators, the director, the props manager, freeze in a moment of paralysed shock before they rush to see if Dale is breathing. “Yep, he's alive,” someone says. And Dale can't do anything else but to breathe. At the hospital, the attending physician confirms that Dale has a broken fibula, a clean-cut simple fracture just below the knee, not serious, but it has to be reduced by tethering weights to his ankle. He expects to be in hospital for six days, perhaps longer. His foot is rigged and held above his heart and head. Days seep by. He dreams. Clarity is slackened by the drug-induced oblivion while he's idle and his foot is trussed. He gets fitted for a walking cast, the inflatable variety. He laughs with the technician. “Now, I'm casted.” The Director of the commercial team visits on the fourth day. He speaks empty pleasantries before he get's down to business. “We cannot hold the part
for you.” The Director says. His name is John Pillerton, or something that reverberates inside Dale's skull like Pillerton. “Our Backers want the commercials in the can and there are others who've applied.” Dale cannot readily follow along. Extra-strength painkillers have just kicked in. He is drifting, gliding, soaring. Pillerton scribbles a number on a scrap of paper. “We will compensate you for your time and energy and your unexpected injury – a generous severance package. Here's the amount.” Dale takes the paper and works hard to focus. “Uh.... Are you sure the decimal is correct?” He squirms. His foot itches. The Director snatches the slip of paper back. “Le'me look,” and Pillerton scrutinizes it before he hands it back to Dale. “Right, that's it.” “That's more than I could ever expect to earn in three years – massive,” Dale tells Pillerton. “It's enough to keep me in A-plus style. I could move.” Dale fights to keep his voice noncommittal. “Yes, I know. That's the deal.” “Is this really true? Wow! Why are you paying... like, I mean, why are you paying me so much?” “Let me explain.” The Director wrings his hands. “Don't shoot yourself. I understand. I get it. I see that you didn't just fall off the hay wagon.” “No, it was the equipment. Too dangerous.... a broken clamp.” Pillerton paces slowly around the perimeter of Dale's bed like he is reevaluating his eight-ball sinker. “I see that you were not born yesterday. We're giving you this lump sum. A gift. Yes, the amount is considerable. But we seek your ongoing cooperation and we will also cover all your medical expenses. No worries there.” Pillerton ambles over to the window, peers out. He rubs his chin
with the palm of his hand. “But...” He does not swivel around. Does not look at Dale. “We cannot continue. We cannot have some bit player, an extra like you just meandering into the muck of strange publicity. That's part of this settlement. You'll have to sign a waiver – 'A Cease of Contract Agreement'. Conrad Foods International and all its subsidiaries will incur no blame. The company will not admit involvement. So, you understand? Yeah, it's a pay-off for your silence. Pure and simple. We're hoping you'll manage a complete recovery. Look, I'll be be dead honest. You could find a very lovely situation with this money. You could rent a posh place in Beverly Hills. You could rent a yacht.” And when Pillerton finally stops pacing and speechifying, Dale closes his eyes. Eventually the man takes his exit cue and Dale begins to relax again and then to dream in technicolour – orange. Alone again, he falls into a pleasant state of nothingness, making no plans whatsoever. There's no rush now; no worries. Zilch. The serious dramatic parts will be possible when his leg is healed and when he's out there auditioning. Dale might try for the lead roles in any A-rated screenplays or the big-name productions at the major feature networks. Why not? There will always be a chance at superstardom. But first he's got to get out of the hospital bed and then back upon the quest. Where? It's not going to be back to the dingy room at the Langevin Motel. It's not going to be in Sudbury. Hurray for Hollywood! And Dale Carrington, the next big thing, the next up-and-comer to arrive in the golden land of Southern California closes his eyes and makes his fine agendas. He could star in anything – if it's in Hollywood.
A splendid sunrise creeps over the horizon. The clouds are amazing. He opens his eyes wide and watches while the peachy hues gather and disperse. He breathes in and out and he melts into a perfect dream of destiny, understanding it's not going to be the least bit cheesy.
Gardening the Forest
Le Brassus, Switzerland
Lentement, lentement, lentement, the old man says. That is how the trees must grow, like the hairs on your head. Sometimes they will stop to gather strength. Branches sparse. There must be no knots to hamper the sound of the instrument. These thousand-year-old spruces, these violin trees, are a long-term investment for the great-greatgrandchildren of the latest virtuoso. Down below, bells ring on villagers who wear paper shirts and shave wood (ever so lightly) onto their spaghetti. This is not just said, this is so. A fire crackles, a cello is brought out while high above, the old man throws his leftover polenta to the wolves. How can the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s finest watchmakers not stare up in wonder?
The cello hits a high C resounding dead-straight rings ingrained in the wooden body that has witnessed Napoleon’s journey, the British Army marching through Ypres and the loss of Anne Boleyn’s virginity. At the end of autumn, when the moon is lowest on the horizon and furthest from the earth. When the sap has sunk into the ground away from the heart of the wood. Only then, is it time to cut the one in ten thousand—the Stradivarius of trees. So you must, after you have finished wiping your lips of rich chocolate and checking your iPhone twice for Miley’s latest antics, climb out of Le Brassus into the Risoud Forest. There, in the middle of knee-deep snow, you will happen upon a dying breed of one, at eighty-three scampering up the next tree. This man, gardening the forest, finding the tree for the perfect violin.
The wife had cooked salmon. Slick and pink and buttery, it was delicious. After supper, they sent their boy upstairs to finish his homework, while they sat at the kitchen table and talked. He told her about his day, all the little things he thought funny. She laughed because she liked him, and talked in turn about their son. He told her that he loved her. She smiled, her chin propped on her hand. They kissed. In fact, I grow more in love with you every day, he said, standing with his dishes in hand. Her heart fluttered â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the same way it had the first time he held her hand. The same way when he had kissed her under the gazebo in the park, with the willow branches draped over the slanted roof. Together, they washed the dishes. They flirted. She whispered in his ear. He pinched her. And when she looked over her shoulder, trailing out of the kitchen, there was the distinct, unspoken promise of more to come. They put the boy to bed around nine. He said his prayers, his elbows pressing sloping dents into the sheets when he knelt. The husband tucked him in, the wife leaning against the door. Goodnight, they said. The boy fell asleep easy, knowing his parents were in love.
The feeling came over the husband before they made love. He tried hard to ignore it. There was no point in ruining their fun because of indigestion. Instead, he told her that supper had been delicious. I made it for you, she said. After it was over, sleep came quickly for her. In his arms, skin-on-skin close, so close you couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t slide a razor in between.
Around one in the morning his eyes flew open and he knew it was upon him. He tore back the covers and tripped, groped, stumbled his way to the bathroom, and as he pushed the door open in the dark it came up all at once; he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have time to flick the light switch and came to his knees at the mouth of the toilet, staring into the black hole like some gaping abyss with him poised on the edge, totally naked, at the mercy of his stomach, clenching and unclenching for what felt like hours as he rested his elbows on the icy porcelain edge that was so stark it was almost painful. He gave all that he had to that maw. And then the light was on and his wife was standing in the doorway with her hair all tussled and beautiful, clutching a blanket to her breasts, and a tired, sympathetically confused questioning on her face until she saw the discolored pink and green smattered across the floor and flecked in the sink and bobbing in the water of the toilet, and her husband bent over, naked with ropes of vomit swinging from his mouth, groaning in pain and exhaustion. Then she brought a hand to her mouth: the salmon she had served, undercooked and poisonous as love. To his side she came and knelt, crying, apologizing, uttering hysterical words of comfort and rubbing his back as he retched again and again until there was
nothing left and then he would go ahead and give the rest, and then there was a sound, something awful from somewhere else in the house, and she had to leave him, speaking in a string of furious tears and she was up and had picked her shirt and his boxers from the night before off the floor and slipped into them and down the hall the bathroom light was on and inside their boy, bent over the toilet like his father, convulsing almost violently, and the salmon, given up and smeared across everything like a declaration: Marriage is the surest way to hurt someone. She was down and beside him, cursing herself and letting him know she was there all in the same breath and the night wore on like a salmon swimming upstream, jumping in the froth, exhausted and ready to give up.
In the morning, she brought them both crackers and water. Her husband was very pale, staring straight up at the ceiling on his back, but he managed a halfway smile, and her heart gave way and crumbled when he said he was more in love with her today.
Susan G. Duncan A Fine Night
for lightning bugs, meadow-borne river-mirrored; yet overhead a rebuke, rebuttalâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; enough force to lose footing and vacillate oscillate twist and fall twixt fickle and fixedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the artifice of fireflies and the virtuous stars
E. Branden Hart Quitting
“Why don’t you try whores?” my mother asked me one day when I expressed my doubt that I would ever quit smoking. “Maybe you need to trade one vice for another.” I switched the phone to my other ear and told her I didn’t think my wife would approve of the method. “Oh, come on,” she said. “Men--married or not--have been going to whores for thousands of years. Your father’s been seeing one since before we were married. She’s fat like a pig–has a limp.” “Which leg?” I asked. “Her right. Or maybe it’s her left. Or maybe it isn’t a limp at all--maybe it’s the gout.” “But definitely something that impedes locomotion?” “Definitely. Anyway, if you need to be deviant to satisfy yourself, whores are much less likely to kill you than cigarettes.” That night after we finished dinner, I told my wife what my mother had said, and she laughed. “You, with a whore? I don’t see it--you don’t even like strip clubs. What about gambling?” I lit a cigarette. “We don’t have enough money for gambling.” “But we would, if you quit smoking. Think about it. You’re throwing money away on cigarettes, but if you used that money to gamble, you might actually make more, especially if it turns out you’re good at it.”
I tapped a gray column of ash into a nearby ashtray. “I don’t think someone can really be good at gambling. Just lucky.” “But how do you know you aren’t lucky? You’ve never tried anything that would benefit from luck in the first place.” I mentioned this all to my boss the next day, and he agreed with my mother. “Whores are definitely the way to go--and whoring also has an element of luck to it. For example: one in four people in the United States has genital herpes. In the professional escort population, that statistic goes up to seven in eight. So if you sleep with a prostitute and don’t get herpes, you can consider yourself lucky. And as a lucky person, at that point, you should probably try gambling.” “So you’re saying that I should base my decision to gamble on whether or not I catch a venereal disease?” “If you need something to push you one way or the other, sure.” He shrugged. “Look--you’re the one looking for advice--don’t get confrontational if you don’t like mine.” Then he handed me a report to fill out. It took most of the day to fill out the report. When I turned it in to him, I said, “What about having an affair?” “What about it?” he asked as he looked over the report. “I could have an affair to help me quit smoking. I’d save the money I would have spent gambling, and would have a better chance of not catching herpes.” He shook his head. “Affairs are hard work.” “But you have affairs all the time.” He began marking up the report with a red pen. “I happen to enjoy hard work.”
I stopped at a bar on the way home and drank whiskey straight while listening to the bartender prattle on about the problem with serving alcohol for a living. “I want to drink,” he said. “It looks fun. But I see people like you coming in here, drowning your sorrows every night, and it makes it seem like work--like you’re almost forcing yourself to do it just because you think things will get better the more alcohol you cram down your throat.” I assured him that things did get better the more alcohol you crammed down your throat. He laughed. “You say that now, but what do you say when you wake up in the morning-your head on fire, your eyes to bloody to see?” I told him Billy Joel was a hack. He swung his bar towel over his shoulder, looked at me with something like contempt, and walked to the other end of the bar, where a rugby team celebrated a recent game where none of them had to go to the hospital. I went home and had sex with my wife. It was fine. As she was walking to the bathroom after, she said, “There are faster ways to kill yourself, you know. Besides cigarettes, I mean.” “Yeah,” I said, “but none of them taste as good.” She flushed the toilet, walked back into the bedroom. “You could put caramel on the gun barrel before sticking it in your mouth. You like caramel.” “Wouldn’t that ruin the metal?” The bed sank as she sat on it, then laid down. “Depends on the gun, I guess.” I told her we didn’t own a gun, but she was asleep by then. The next day, instead of going to work, I went to the community center and attended a support group for nymphomaniacs. When they asked me to
introduce myself, I used the name of a coworker who had recently gotten promoted ahead of me and told them that I couldn’t stop fucking. With me, it was just fucking, fucking, fucking, all the time. It was a problem, I told them. My family was getting worried about me, and my neighbors kept their pets inside more often. They all nodded like they knew exactly what I was talking about and kept drinking their shitty coffee. When the meeting was over, a girl who looked like she wasn’t much older than eighteen asked me if I wanted to get a beer. It was only eleven in the morning, but we went to a bar that was open down the street. She ordered us a pitcher of Guinness and stared at the glass as the head settled. “I gave my first blowjob when I was seven,” she said. “Really?” I asked. She nodded. “I’ve gotten much better at it since then.” I gulped my beer, wiped away the froth from my upper lip with the back of my hand. “Practice makes perfect,” I told her, and lit a cigarette. “Why do you smoke?” she asked. I shrugged. “Why do you fuck?” She took a sip of her beer, looked away from me. “My psychologist says it’s because I was sexually abused as a child. He says that even if I don’t remember it, that’s usually why people get addicted to sex.” “But why do you think you do it?” “I just like to fuck. Despite the possible negative consequences.” I stubbed out my cigarette in an ashtray. “Same with me and smoking,” I said. We drank until the pitcher was empty. After she finished her final glass, she put ten dollars on the bar and walked toward the door.
“Hey,” I said. She turned around, shifted her purse to the other shoulder. “Yeah?” “I didn’t notice it before, but you walk with a limp. It isn’t gout, is it?” She smiled and walked back to me. She kissed me on the cheek, then limped away. I lit another cigarette and ordered another beer. I smoked cigarettes and drank beer until my lungs were on fire, my throat paved with hot coals. Then I smoked and drank some more. When I got home, there was a note from my wife on the kitchen table. “Gone gun shopping,” it said. She never came home. Then again, I could never really figure out why she’d hung around so long in the first place.
Three Christs of Ypsilanti I. In 1959, psychologist Milton Rokeach forced three men living with paranoid schizophrenia to seek treatment from Ypsilanti State Hospital. Each man suffered from delusions of grandeur; all of them thought they were Jesus. By having the men in constant contact, Rokeach thought he could break their delusions. Three different men could not be the only begotten son of God. II. In Bible class, we learn about the Holy Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I ask which one is God. My teacher says, all of them. That God is everywhere, knows everything, and can do anything. I begin to worry God is watching when I pee. That He knows I touch myself at night. I start seeing Jesus when the lights go out in a sudden flash, his face a screensaver behind my eyelids. III. If God takes three forms and there were three men in that hospital, why couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t they each be God? Did it ever occur to them to draw straws in the lunch room instead of crying imposter?
IV. My best friend and I have same personality type. Psychologists say we have the same type as Jesus. My friend is the saint, the one swamped with a line while the Father and the Holy Spirit sit alone. V. Rokeach pitted the Christs against one another to test the limits of identity. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti concluded one must have been a mental patient, the other dead and operated by machines. My whole life I was the saint. The one who would cry when the kids teased, I know you are, but what am I? I am no longer the one the people want. I am alive, there are no machines here.
Sometimes you just know. I don’t mean you can’t be wrong; but in what my Dad calls “matters of the heart,” you never are. I knew Tinny and I were meant to be even be-fore we said ten words to each other, and those were on the phone. That’s why I took a tape recorder along on our first date; I knew that years from now we’d prize that tape. Maybe I’d keep it a secret, give it to Tinny for our golden wedding anniversary. It sounds a little creepy. I’m aware of that. It’s the secrecy. I considered telling Tinny in advance, but think about it: if she knows, where’s the surprise, the spontaneity? Where I hid it was in my underpants. Not a perfect choice – sometimes the sound is crinkly – and it isn’t comfortable. But I can’t think of anyplace else secret and secure. There is a further problem in that my underpants are tight, make that very tight, in all directions. I wear boxers, which I think is true of most men, not that I’ve asked around; and with boxers you can conceal a recorder, no problem, but it’ll also fall right down your leg. So, I have a choice: sew it to the inside of my boxers (which I can’t) or borrow my brothers’ undies. My brother is fourteen and wears jockey shorts, tight legs, so that once something inside it’s not going to slide out. But man, are the legs tight, along with the waist and all around. My brother’s small for his age, though I tell him not to worry, as I didn’t get my full growth until I was sixteen, swear to God. I must have jumped six inches one summer.
The bell rings. I open the door – nobody’s there. I call out, “Anybody here?” No answer. I turn to go back inside when I catch a glimpse of this crouching form out of the corner of my eye. It leaps up, yelling something. I scream and strike out by instinct, making pretty good contact with what turns out to be the eye of my date, my blind date, now near literally blind. “You scared the shit out of me! Why did you do that? Sorry I hit you, but Jesus Christ! Are you OK?” All this time he stands there grinning, not rubbing his eye, which was pretty red. Just to get that part out of the way, his eye stops being red and starts turning blue and then blue-green and then full-blown purple throughout the evening. Not too gorgeous. He still just smiles, like maybe he’s a mental case. “Who are you? You OK?” He opens his mouth, which is a relief – at first. “I was just absorbing you, Tinny. Just taking you in.” You can imagine how I feel about that, but I’m so startled I stay shut up. “I shouldn’t have surprised you. I just wanted you to see I’m not a conventional guy out for a conventional time. I know you’re not a conventional woman, Tinny.” “I wouldn’t say that. You Andrew?” “Guilty.” “Pleased to meet you. I hope I didn’t hurt you. Let’s start over. Only no more jumping out.” “Do you like taking risks, Tinny?” “No.”
“Ah, I think I know you better than you do.” “Listen, Andrew, let’s get one thing straight. I’m not taking risks, any more than I’ve already had thrown at me. I like things nice and safe. You don’t, that’s fine. You got every right. Just don’t include me. We agreed? Otherwise, we shake hands and chalk it up to a mismatch, no hard feelings.” “I intend to make you fall in love with me.” “You intend to scare the shit outa me you doing a real good job.” He starts smiling again. I’m about to turn and run inside, locking the door behind me. He’d maybe break it down, but I’d buy enough time to get to 911 and find a knife. But then he does something makes me change my mind. He breaks into tears. “Now what? Don’t do that. What’s wrong with you anyhow?” “I wanted everything to be perfect. And I made you fear me.”
I think the fact that we don’t get off to a storybook start signals the perfection to come. Not three minutes into the date, there I am bawling my head off. Not very manly. I’m trying hard to stop and that makes things worse. I’m glad she can’t see my under-wear; she’d think she got a twelve-year-old by mistake. Finally, I straighten up, turn to studying her face. She is so very pretty, tall and willowy and with the sort of light brown hair I’ve always dreamed about having myself. She’s studying me back, I can tell, trying to absorb me too. Tinny seems to be a little worried, I would say; and no wonder. I’d be concerned too. Time to do some reassuring. “Tinny, I do apologize most sincerely. You must think I’m a dangerous maniac. You see, I just know you’re different from every other woman on earth.”
“No, I’m not.” “Pardon?” “I said I’m not different from every other woman on earth. Don’t go thinking that. I’m exactly the same.” “Ah, you say that.” “And don’t tell me you know me better than I do. That’s spooky.” “I get over-eager, Tinny, have a tendency to go too fast. I was always the first one to open all his presents on Christmas morning.” “I see.” It doesn’t look like she sees. “Here, let me entertain you, as the song says. Let’s go off for a day of fun.” “Andrew, don’t think I distrust you, but what are you planning? All that about risk and me being unlike any other woman on the planet. It’s got me a little nervous. I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to do any sky-diving or exploring caves.” “Oh, let me reassure you, Tinny. I only want to do what you’d most like. And to start things off with a harmless little lift, here. . .”
He opens this satchel I hadn’t noticed. I think at first it might be weapons or drugs or, for some reason, poisonous insects. You know what it was? Candy bars. Twenty-seven candy bars (I counted), all different types, everything from Heath bars to Clark bars, mostly kinds I don’t know about, no Hershey bars, nothing common. “Take your pick – as many as you’d like.” I take a Mallo Cup, unwrap it, eat it on the spot. I mean, how dangerous can anybody be who carries around a briefcase full of out-of-the-way candy bars?
Call me a softy, but that goes some way to alter the weak impression he’d made up to this point. “OK, Andrew. Let me get my wrap.” And I do. I don’t know, something about him. While I’m inside I also get something which I may mention later, depending on how embarrassing it is. Call me crazy. “Do you trust me to plan the afternoon?” he says. Truth is, I’m not sure. There’s the jumping-out stuff and the goofy staring. But then, the candy. I’m on the fence, but it seems rude to tell him that. I don’t think it’s wrong to mumble a little stretcher if nobody is any the worse for it and it saves hurting somebody’s feelings, so I said I did trust him. Twenty minutes later we pull up in front of – guess what? – a school building. He’s signed us up for a class, “Palmistry Made Easy.” I’d always been interested, to tell the truth, though I hadn’t thought about it in years. Not that I actually believe you can forecast the future by reading their lines, not unless you are very good. Lucky thing I don’t believe in it too much, since our teacher, who is very nice, seems to think palmistry is just a way to make money or force people to pay attention to you at parties. But she is very nice, as I say, and I have to admit she is entertaining. “You believe in palmistry, Andrew?” “I believe it is an admirable evasion of whoremaster man to lay his goatish disposition to the stars.” I won’t go through how long it takes him to explain. Turns out his mother quoted Shakespeare at him all the time. Most of it, he says, he didn’t understand; but that line he did. He tells me it means that we are what we are and that when people blame somebody else they are just being whoremasters,
but that didn’t mean some things weren’t meant to be. That makes sense. I start thinking more highly of Andrew.
The class is a great success, though not quite as spiritual as I ‘d expected. It doesn’t matter, as Tinny and I find a way to generate our own spiritual power just by talking things over. After the class, we take a walk, actually a hike. I had forgotten that this particu-lar trail is a little rugged, with some obstacles: rocks in the path and several rattlesnakes. Never saw so many snakes before, big ones, though I haven’t been on this trail in years. I’d forgot it was so steep, which is probably the reason it’d gotten so crumbly, dangerous. Once I almost topple right off. I’m afraid I’ll go tumbling down the path and mash the tape recorder, but Tinny catches me, bless her. Tinny says she’ll have to go back and change, which I understand, after all that sweating and getting scruffed up some. I don’t feel like I know her well enough to ask if I can take a shower, so I wash up in her sink best I can. I think about looking in her cabi-net for deodrant but I’ve never felt easy about opening other people’s cabinets – seems too much like larceny. The conventional thing at this point would be to go out for dinner, but you don’t start a life like no other by doing what everybody else does. That just stands to reason. I can see why pausing for dinner might be a convention that caught on: you get kind of hungry after a class and a steep hike, long too. But we’ve come this far! Who’d ever remember just another dinner fifty years later, no matter how good? If the tablecloth catches on fire or you get food poisoning, then maybe. Otherwise. . . .
I’m ready to eat my elbow by the time I hurry through my shower and change. Andrew had fluffed himself up some and plastered his hair down. I preferred it as it was, but it was OK. Andrew isn’t the sort of guy you’d pick out of a crowd, but he grows on you. Maybe it has something to do with what we’d been through together, what with tiptoeing amongst the rattlesnakes and him damned near falling off the side of the mountain. He seems comfortable and familiar by now, and somebody you feel at home with. At least I do. “Where are we headed, Andrew?” “Surprise!” “Not the kind where you jump out of a bush, is it?” Soon as I say it, I think maybe I’d said something cutting and it’d go right to his heart. He’s a sensitive guy. It hadn’t been that many hours since he was weeping on my front porch. “Tinny, I don’t blame you for finding that spooky.” “Please, Andrew. I didn’t mean to say anything.” “Don’t think I don’t have a sense of humor. I’d feel terrible if you thought that. It has been a pretty odd date.” “Not odd, Andrew, nicely unconventional.” A bit of a lie,“odd” certainly is the word. Having got myself in this hole, though, I can hardly protest against the next activity, not unless it involves heavy drugs or heavy equipment. “So, Tinny, here we are.” A restaurant! Goody! Only it isn’t! Shit! Instead, some seedy building with thirty little kids lined up outside, almost all of them boys, boy-scouts probably, at least about that age. Now what? “Guess what’s next, Tinny?”
I almost let some sarcasms slip out – bit my tongue instead. I mean it: actually bit my fucking tongue. Not many things hurt worse, not in my experience. “You OK, Tinny?” he asks when I don’t answer. “Bit aye ung,” I say, gesturing. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he says, catching on right away. “Owwhy.” I try to apologize, but who could know that? Andrew somehow does. “Don’t try to talk, Tinny. And don’t be sorry.” He understands, and he doesn’t make me talk. Ever notice how most people, if you get into a coughing fit or bite your tongue or knock out three teeth try to get you to talk, which is the dead last thing you want to try to do? “What’s wrong? You OK?” He just looks at me, concerned and kind of goofy. In a few seconds, not much more than that, the pain starts to go away, and then I answer his question, saying I have no idea what is up next, but am sure it’ll be fun. Not exactly true, but somehow making him wait while I got over my tongue made it even less likely I’d resist. “Well, Tinny. This is more relaxed, more easy on the feet and – the rest of us. Nothing more than flying and landing a U.S. Air Force Bomber.” “Jesus Christ, Andrew. What?” Then it hits me: these little boys and this old building: “It’s a video game, right? OK, I’m up for it.” He looks hurt. Jesus Christ, I’d done it again.
I’d done it again. Here was Tinny, the best sport ever, and I’d managed to scare her again. I hurry to try and make reparations. “Yeah, a kind of video game, Tinny, but better. Don’t be scared. It’s a flight simulator, like they use in schools for pilots.” She brightens up some, and seems not to mind so much when they put on her helmet and lead her away to her machine. I thought it’d be more fun if we watched each other and compared notes. Tinny misses on her first run, and barely makes the runway second time; but then she settles in and starts doing better and better, so fine that she ends up with an “Ace” rating and comes out from under the equipment, just smiling and looking so pretty! I don’t do quite so well, have a little trouble getting the altitude and speed right. I am either having to pull up and try again or crashing into the hills behind or the water in front. It looks easy; but it sure isn’t for me. I figure I’ll improve, even after a dozen or so bad tries. I don’t improve, never make a single landing, to be perfectly accurate. Maybe I would have gotten better with a second session, but to tell the truth I doubt it. Besides, it is pretty expensive, and I don’t have a lot of money. So, I take off gear and sneak out from the seat. Tinny is there with her big smile, gives me a hug. “I wonder what my category is?” “Oh, don’t worry about that, Andrew. You had those side-winds, you know that? They turned them on, makes it a hundred times harder.” “They did? Really?” “They did. And thanks, Andrew. I don’t know when I’ve had such fun.” “You’re really great at that, Tinny.”
“I don’t mean just the flying, Andrew.” “I didn’t either.” That doesn’t make much sense. I intend to say she is great period, but she seems to know that’s what I meant.
Thank God Andrew suggests we eat. I try not to howl like a ravenous beast. What with his love of the out-of-the-way and the risky, I am a trifle apprehensive about where we might be going, but I’m more hungry than scared. “I thought we might cook for ourselves, Tinny.” “Great!” I try to pack into my voice enthusiasm I sure don’t feel. “Just kidding. Well, not kidding. Well, kind of kidding.” “I see.” He looks at me funny and I’m about to apologize – for what? – when he burst into a laugh. I don’t see what he’s laughing at, but I’m happy his feelings aren’t wounded. Turns out it’s a restaurant where there give you a pot of oil and then, later, one of chocolate and you dip things in them. Apart from getting some chocolate on Andrew, when I flip a marshmallow at him by mistake, it’s a super dinner. A fine night, better than fine. If you’d predicted that six hours ago, I’d have said you were better off backing the Titanic in a yacht race. When we get to my door, I know I had to say something, so I do. “Andrew, I have a confession to make. I want to say this, though I can’t believe I am. It’s just that you’re such a great guy, and so thoughtful. I’d love to see you again. I know that’s forward, but I wanted to say it, since I’m pretty sure you won’t want to see me, after I tell you. . . . .”
You see, at the start of things, I had run back for this – God, it’s hard to admit I did such a thing – tiny video camera. I hooked it to my bra, where it could record away and Andrew would never know. Why did I do this? It’s a terrible thing to say, but I was so scared after he introduced himself as an escaped lunatic, I thought somehow I might protect myself with this thing my Dad had given me for just such moments.
I can’t let Tinny confess something, me being armed with a snooping device in my choking underpants. I thought I was doing it for the best reasons; but now I can’t imagine what I was thinking. Whatever it was, it was dumb. Here Tinny has just told me she wants to go out again and I’m a creepy voyeur. “Tinny, please. You’re the best person I know. I can tell that after a day even. I knew that after an hour. But I have to tell you something.” “Ladies first.” “Please, Tinny. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t so anxious to get it off my chest and also see if I can understand why I did it, maybe, by telling you.” “OK, Andy. Can I call you Andy?” “Yeah.” So I tell her, just rushing right into it—“I have a tape recorder stuck in my brother’s underpants”—and then telling her too much and getting confused and backing up and making things worse and finally stopping, more or less, with, “And I’m so sorry I must have seemed like a snoop with electronic devices in my underwear, my brother’s.” She listens patiently, looking puzzled for a time and then, I guess, amused. The one thing she never looks is angry, which I can’t understand. I mean, angry is what I was sure she’d be. When I finally wrap it up, she giggles.
“Tinny? Really, I wish it was a joke, but it isn’t.” “That’s OK. I did the same thing.” “You what?” “I have electronic snoopers in my underwear too.” You can imagine what a shock this is. Wow. And also, what’s the odds? “Tinny, want to know something crazy. I did it because----this is too embarrassing.” “Go ahead, Andy. I think we’re beyond that. I’m not going to be surprised at anything, so long as you don’t take down your pants and show me your snooper.” I start to answer and then get to laughing, that sounded so funny, not that Tinny meant to be dirty. She sees what she’d said, and starts laughing too. Before I can stop, she says, “Not that I’m sure it isn’t a terrific snooper!” which sets us both off laughing some more. At last, I get myself under control: “Well, Tinny, I got it in my head before we went out that it was meant to be, you and me, and thought I’d tape our date and then we’d have it for our golden wedding anniversary. I know that’s crazy.” She looks at me. I’m hoping she’ll laugh, but she doesn’t. She just keeps looking in a way I can’t decipher. I’m getting uncomfortable and finally say, just so the silence will stop, “I know that’s crazy.” “No it isn’t, Andy. I put my camera in for . . . .” “Yeah, Tinny.” “The same reason.”
Contributors Christine Catalano Christine, a onetime graphic designer, likes to take photographs and play with them on the computer. She dedicates her work to her muse, in the hope that he continues to inspire her. Susan G. Duncan Susan G. Duncan is presently a consultant with a performing and visual arts clientele, capping a long career in arts administration. She has served as executive director for San Francisco’s long-running musical comedy phenomenon “Beach Blanket Babylon,” the al fresco California Shakespeare Theater, and the Grammy-winning, all-male vocal ensemble Chanticleer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Blast Furnace, Compass Rose, G.W. Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, The MacGuffin, NonBinary Review’s online feature, Alphanumeric, OmniArts, Poem, The Quotable, River Oak Review, Skive Magazine, Soundings East, Thema, and The Yalobusha Review, as well as anthologies by Red Claw Press and The Poetry Box. JT Gill JT Gill is a 22 year old who lives in Virginia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cease, Cows, Every Day Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and The Molotov Cocktail, where he recently won the 2015 Flash Fool competition. You can find more of his work on his website, worldsofhisown.com.
E. Branden Hart E. Branden Hart writes, works, and lives in San Antonio with his wife, son, and two neurotic dogs. He is Executive Editor of the online literary and arts magazine, Empty Sink Publishing. His fiction has been published in various magazines and publications, including Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine, The Sand Hill Review, and “Shades and Shadows,” a paranormal anthology byXChyler Publishing. Katrina Johnston Katrina Johnston is the winner of the CBC-Canada Writes True Winter Tale. She lives in James Bay in Victoria BC, Canada. Works of short fiction may be found at several online venues. Occasionally, she breaks into print. The goal of her storytelling is to share. James Kincaid James Kincaid has published many non-fiction and academic books, several short stories, and 2 novels, one of them co-authored with Percival Everett. He taught for years at Southern Cal and am now at Pitt. Marcia LeBeau Marcia LeBeau has been published in Handsome Journal, Poemeleon, Inertia Magazine, and others. She received an honorable mention for the Rattle Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in Oprah’s O Magazine and have been read on the radio. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ creative writing program. Marcia lives in South Orange, New Jersey with her husband and two young sons.
Lauren Yates Lauren Yates is a Pushcart-nominated poet who is currently based in Philadelphia. Her writing has appeared in Nerve, XOJane, FRiGG, Umbrella Factory, Softblow, and Melusine. Lauren is also a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly and a member of The Mission Statement poetry collective. She is currently a Poet in Residence with the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University. Aside from poetry, Lauren enjoys belly dancing, baking quiche, and pontificating on the merits of tentacle erotica. For more information, visit laurentyates.com.
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