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Crack the Spine Literary magazine Issue 168


Issue 168 October 21, 2015 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine


CONTENTS W.T. Paterson Shadow Kitten

Angelica Poversky

Wonderful

Brian Howlett

Jackson Baugh from Wye County

Terry Minchow-Proffitt

Proceedings of the 15th Annual Session of the Rock Solid Association

Claire Polders

The World on Fire

Susan Niz

My Current Footing

Fatima Jamal My Sister


W.T. Paterson Shadow Kitten

“Great work, team!” Captain One-Shot announced when they returned to their headquarters safely. He lit a giant cigar and took a big puff exhaling through his toothy grin. The aromatic smoke swirled around the room. After three hard fought days, the elite unit, which the media dubbed Team Omega, had defeated Dr. Catastrophe. The world was now safe once again. Thunder Beast bumped fists with The Stone Falcon. Centaur hugged Wild Man Miller and compared battle scars. Shadow Kitten bent down to unzip the tight black leather body suit she had taken as a uniform. “Lookin’ good!” El Guapo said with a sideways smile, tilting his head as she undid her boots. “As if I could be anything else,” she winked back. In the past year, she had become the media’s golden child. The internet and newspapers lit up with articles about how there was finally a badass, sexy, superhero to represent women. For too long, the world had watched as other greats like St. Stiletto, or Miss Voodoo fell victim to the boys club of super-men, often becoming sidelined on bigger missions. It wasn’t until St. Stiletto sprang into action against Silver Ghost that a path began to emerge for other women to follow. Journalists everywhere were thrilled that Shadow Kitten had risen to the top, but more so that could run with the boys and hold her own. An ass-kicker who still kept her feminine flair.


There were fan web pages, fan fiction, fan comics, basically everything people could think of to be part of the new movement of strong female heroes. Women wanted to be her. Guys would cut off their arm to be with her. She was a sex symbol, a role model, and a superhero all rolled into one. With a tight black leather costume, a sleek eye mask, and a low hanging utility belt, she was the image of sexy. “Don’t undress fully,” One-Shot said, walking over, the smoke from his cigar lifting and falling over his shoulders in thin wispy strands. He hadn’t shaven, but that was his look. A gruff leader pulled from the Marine’s after his sniper skills under pressure made him legendary. “You’ve got that phone interview with Maxim in ten minutes.” “If it’s over the phone, why can’t I put on jeans and my hoodie?” “It helps keep the intrigue alive,” he laughed and clapped her on the shoulder. She winced in pain, the bullet graze had only started to scar over. But she smiled and zipped back up swinging her hips as she walked into the conference room. These interviews helped maintain funding from the government for crisis situations, which seemed to be popping up more and more often. Every interview was the same. How did you become Shadow Kitten? How do you maintain that bod? How can guys get a date with you? And she answered all of them with the same, ambiguous, pre-approved Omega responses. I was in the car with my parents when our car slid off the road. When I woke up in the hospital, they were dead – but I had heightened senses and reflexes. My


physical therapy had me doing martial arts and once I healed, I found that I could do amazing things. Omega got wind, One-Shot recruited and trained me, and now here I am. That last part wasn’t entirely true. Omega had sent for her, but it wasn’t OneShot that trained her. The truth was, she studied under St. Stiletto. She was Kitten’s true mentor – but aging superheroes are rarely spoken of in the present tense. This body? Haha, well to be in my line of work, I can’t exactly afford to be out of shape. It’s literally the difference between life and death. It wasn’t enough that she saved the world. It was expected that she also be pretty while doing so. Any female war veteran would never let their hair down during a firefight, but hers had to be near salon quality on every mission. If these guys want to catch my eye, send me a letter with a headshot to the Omega Headquarters, the downtown one. I’ll take it from there. She giggled into the receiver flirtatiously and then ended the call. She knew that the next day, thousands of pictures would pour in and the boys would go through them laughing at all the wannabes. Shirtless and lifting weights, comparing scars and battle wounds, they’d go through the photo’s mocking the very people they were saving. Really, to capture her heart, Kitty didn’t want an extraordinary guy. She’d be perfectly content with a schoolteacher, or even a small town mechanic. Her life was so hectic as it was that to add professional athlete or eccentric billionaire to the equation was a recipe for drama. More than that, she didn’t want to become someone’s bragging rights.


As she left the conference room, Thunder Beast was injecting himself with a serum to control his outbursts. He shrunk down to the size of a normal person, but still maintained a square jaw-line and strong chest. “Get some rest, Kitty-Cat,” he said to her. “You too, Boomer,” she smiled back using the nickname he absolutely hated. “Hey now,” he laughed finishing off his injection. The rest of the team had gone to Omega’s built-in bar to put back a few and relive the downfall of Dr. Catastrophe. As much as she wanted to go, she needed to sleep. The three day onslaught had left her exhausted and in desperate need of her own bed. The thought alone made her drowsy. Omega snuck Kitty to the drop zone using a series of unmarked cars and switch points. By the time she was let out of what was now a fake taxi, she stepped onto a busy street. It was alive with people who had no idea that she was the one who had saved them all from certain death and/or total enslavement. Most didn’t even look at her, except for a few drunk twentysomethings who whistled, called her baby, and offered to buy her some drinks. She blew them a kiss and unlocked the door to her apartment. On the way up, she took a deep breath and suppressed the urge to go back and dump the beers all over their heads. But ultimately the allure of sleep drew her up the stairs and under the covers as the familiar comfort of her mattress quickly gave way to a gentle tide of dreams.

When morning came, Kitty stretched and slipped out of bed. In a sleepy haze, she brewed a cup of coffee, checked her transponder for any messages from Omega (there were none), and put on some music while the aroma of the French press filled the morning-lit room. Even with the small output of energy,


she could feel the parts of her body were still sore from the mission. In a few days, she knew it would be fine so she danced through the pain. It was how she was trained, and how she persevered. Days off were rare, but after her cup of coffee she knew that if she hadn’t heard about any missions yet, then she could take the day to herself. Feeling like getting pampered, Kitty decided to head out to the nail salon down the street. She did, after all, have to keep up with appearances and she hadn’t had a manicure since before she could remember. Luckily there was room for a walk in, and the woman whose nametag read “Thuy: Owner” was more than happy to accommodate. The comfortable plush cushion and backrest were a welcome distraction to her other life. In street clothes, hair pulled into a ponytail, and Boston Red Sox hat pulled over the top, no one was any the wiser. “Hand and feet?” the tiny owner smiled limping over with a basket full of pampering goodies. “Just nails. Thanks,” she answered matching the grin. Thuy pulled a foldable table across Kitty’s lap and had her place her hands on it. She then pulled up a stool, rubbed some lotion into her palms, and started massaging the woman’s fingers and hand. Kitty closed her eyes and tried to relax. There was an unmistakable satisfaction knowing that she could afford this luxury, because without her – the city would have been reduced to ashes. She had helped save the world, and to top it off she did it in style. Not even St. Stiletto could boast the same field record. It really felt like she was unstoppable until the massage of her hands started slowing down as the owner’s thumb kept gently grazing over the busted scar tissue on her knuckles. The rubs went into a softer probe


of each finger feeling how they were crooked, never healing right after being broken and set. You try fighting 30 armed henchmen without breaking a finger or two, Kitty thought. Then she realized that these wounds weren’t just from the run in with Catastrophe. There was the hostage situation with Commando Black. Two broken fingers. The extraction of the President’s daughter Jessica from the grips of The Sentient. Fractured wrist. Infiltrating the den of NovaWar’s compound. Right hand – surgery on the knuckles. Left hand – permanent nerve damage. But that was the gig. Some of the guys wore gloves to keep their fists in place, but a human hand isn’t meant to continually punch walls and faces. Shadow Kitten only had sleek black gloves that hardly offered any protection. Yet, she always fought through the pain never taking her eyes off of the end game. As she stared down at the old woman who had begun to file and shape the nails, she noticed that Thuy couldn’t look away from the crooked finger joints and scarred over knuckles. Kitty squirmed in her seat and tried to pretend that it all never happened, that she was just a regular person getting a manicure. But she wasn’t. She carried these scars despite what her identity may or may not have been. For the first time since joining Omega, she felt self-conscious. The only way she was able to get through it was to tell herself at least I’m only getting my hands done! She paid the woman and left feeling less sexy than she would have liked. Kitty seemed to remember manicures as day brighteners and confidence


boosters. After leaving the nail salon, she shoved her hands into her pockets and walked along the sidewalk. Her hat was pulled low over her eyes. That night, she called her mentor St. Stiletto looking for a friend. “I’m at the bar on Irving and 5th,” the woman said into the phone, her voice – a practiced sultry, “right near your place, actually.” “See you in ten,” Kitty said, and put on a pair of different jeans and a tight white blouse. She let her hair down and brushed out the snarls. The highlights against the brown hair accented her face, and seemed to ignite the air when she did a back flip escape, or landed a hard spinning heel-kick. Seeing this lifted her spirits. She still had it. She was still the sex symbol everyone was raving about, even if her hands had some battle scars. The bar on Irving and 5th was nearly empty save for a few tables, and slow southern rock was playing from jukebox in back. It smelled like stale spirits and flat booze. The dim red lights smoothed out everyone’s features leaving them with long, expressionless faces. Stiletto was sitting at the end of the bar with perfect posture, one leg crossed over the other, and staring at the gin in her short glass. “There’s my girl,” the woman said as Kitty sat down next her. “Get’cha a drink, hun?” the bartender Odetta asked. She was an older, heavier set woman and Kitty’s immediate reaction was to assume that Odetta had let herself go. But then she caught herself and rethought the question. “What am I holding onto?” she asked, and Stiletto slowly nodded. “And yes, I’ll have a…Vodka Cran please.” “Odetta’s on it!” the bartender said, her gruff voice an echo of the life she had led. The drink was made and put on a napkin in front of her. Kitty threw a few


bucks onto the table, and Odetta nodded her thanks. They were left alone after that. “A much needed day off,” she said with a hollow smile, staring into her drink. “You deserve it. I heard Catastrophe finally got his,” Stiletto smirked. “That’s putting it lightly.” They both chuckled and took a breath. The pale thump of the jukebox filled the air. A few moments of silence passed. “So what does the hottest superhero on the planet do on her day off?” “Got my nails done,” Kitty answered, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there. Her mentor knew the rest without it being spoken. It was the same story from a different time, a different life, in a different world. She took a sip of her drink to push away the painful memories. “It catches up with you,” Stiletto whispered, “just like I said it would.” “You told me there were things you couldn’t teach me, things I had to learn on my own.” “Honey, you don’t know the half of it.” Kitty took a slow slip from the cool glass and felt the vodka heat up as it slid down her throat. The sugar of the cranberry juice left a welcomed aftertaste. “Omega promised to take care of me. I guess I didn’t realize which me they meant.” Stiletto slowly swirled her drink with a thin straw. Her breasts were still large and firm, her hair still shining. Time had been better to her than most other aging superheroes, but she was not the woman she used to be. “Just be glad you still have it,” she answered. Her words were starting to slur. How long had she been here? What number drink was this? “The thing is, I didn’t ask for fame. I didn’t ask for any of it.”


“Yes you did,” the woman answered, forcing a smile. “When?” “The second you put on the suit.” That trademarked leather suit custom built for her body. It supposedly drove men wild. Sex shops were now selling replicas for ‘role playing’ bedroom games. Girls in elementary school were dressing like Shadow Kitten for Halloween leaving the top cut low and stuffing the curves where needed. Comic book artists were making her waistline tiny, her hips huge, and breasts ungodly large all because of the suit. Kitty put the glass to her lips, this time taking a longer gulp. “You’d think saving the world would be enough…” she started, letting out an unintentional groan from the vodka sting. “What’s the point if people don’t want to be you? Captain One-Shot, or James, as we once called him, liked to say that superheroes were Gods among men, that we were images of fantasy, of hope, or everything that was righteous and good. We were the symbols of safety, of patriotism, of justice. But who are we really? We’re just people with above average skills. We’re an illusion. We are a flash in the pan. You can either embrace the lifestyle, or get swallowed by it.” Stiletto leaned over and took a sip through her tiny straw, making her lips look even more full and luscious by comparison. “Which are you?” Kitty asked. The jukebox changed to a slow piano ballad from the 70’s. “There are two types of superheroes,” she started, “those who die in the field and are remembered forever, or those who don’t and are forgotten. I am the latter, and you are my living proof. A younger, sexier me.”


Kitty was stared at Stiletto, who stared off into nothing. The only thing that reflected the truth was the mirror behind the bar revealing the backs of topshelf liquor and two women trying to make peace with a life that demanded otherwise. “I don’t buy into that,” the young superhero tried, feeling like there had to be some purpose in what she was recruited for. “Of course not. You’re the new breed. The independent female, the badass, one of the guys. But if that were true, they’d give you body armor instead of highlights, covert ops that citizens will never hear about instead of interviews in Maxim. Why is it that we never see superheroes with bald spots or thinning hair? Oh Shadow Kitten, one day you’ll wake up and it will be the last day you will be you. On that day, you will either die…or become just like me. A forgotten warrior sitting at a bar pretending like they ever made a difference.” “You did make a difference,” Kitty said. The alcohol was hitting her system. She felt warmer. “Ha!” Stiletto laughed and signaled to Odetta for another round. “Odetta’s on it!” The bartender cheerily yelled. The drink came a moment later and then they were alone again. “Can I ask you something? You wore stilettos on missions. It was your trademark.” “And?” “How many times did you have to have ankle surgery?” St. Stiletto smiled a big tipsy smile trying to mask her disgust with pride. She was swaying back and forth in her seat doing everything in her power to not lose that perfect posture.


“Surgeries? Try five reconstructions! I’ll never walk right again.” She then held up her glass and cheers’ed to no one before drinking the entire spirit in one gigantic gulp. “Save the world!” she said in a mocking cheer. “What are you going to do when it all ends, though?” “Honey…” the woman slurred with a bitter resignation, “it ain’t never going to end. And that is the truth.” “Hi there,” a nervous and stuttering voice interrupted. The women turned to see a guy standing there in a checkered collared shirt and sweat forming at his temples. “Mind if I buy you ladies a drink?” “Well sir, I think I need to go home, but Kitty here…she’s just getting started,” Stiletto said leaning into her pupil and making kissy faces. “Get it while you still can, my beautiful creature,” she whispered with a wink. Then she stumbled off of her stool, regained composure, and walked out of the bar as though she hadn’t been drinking at all. Her silhouette in the door, wrapped in black, looked like a living memory from her glory days. And then it was gone. Odetta came by to clear the empty glasses and pick up the cash left for the tab. “Best tipper I know,” she grinned walking away with full hands of cash and glass. “My name is George.” “Katherine,” Kitty said holding out her hand. When she realized it bore the scars and marks of her battles, she quickly pulled away and hid them under the edge of the bar. “Sorry, slammed my hand in a car door, kind of embarrassed about it.”


“Oh don’t worry. I’ve done plenty of stuff like that. One time I fell asleep with my window and screens open in the summer and got mosquito bites all up and down my arm.” Kitty chuckled. “Sounds itchy,” she smiled. “I think I single handedly raised the stock of calamine lotion in one day.” He sat down next to her and asked Odetta for another round. A vodka cran for Katherine, and that beer that was on tap for him. “Odetta’s on it!” George was a pool salesman. Families from the suburbs would come to The Pool Haus looking to add some summer fun to their properties. He was the guy that helped them narrow down the style and dimensions. Though it wasn’t as exciting as skydiving out of stealth jets into enemy territory, he spoke with passion and enthusiasm. George was the perfect type of boring, and Kitty started losing herself in the fantasy of a quiet life in the suburbs sitting poolside, having to pay bills, and stressing out over dinner parties. “You want to get out of here?” she asked after half an hour of small talk. George wasn’t going to make the first move, that much was clear. Asking to buy two women a drink was his limit. “Really?” he popped, as if it may have misheard the question. “I mean, sure, we can go. You really want to leave with me?” “Yeah, I live down the street. Come on,” Kitty said taking his hand, kissing him on the neck, and pushing her torso into him. George paid the tab and followed the woman out the door. They hurried down the street to her apartment. There hadn’t been any type of romance in Kitty’s life since before Omega, and suddenly a fear that she had lost that skill


set barged into her mind. However, they had already come this far and she reasoned that her body would know what to do. Once inside, Kitty grabbed George and started to kiss him again. Out of the bar light he was awkward and clumsy, but that’s what she was looking for. It was cute. It was honest. Most of all, it was real. He didn’t have the best haircut, and he wasn’t that tall, and he wasn’t in the best shape, but he was a real person. They tumbled onto the couch and Kitty again took the primary initiative. She grabbed one of George’s hands and placed it on the back of her leg. He squeezed gently and traced it up her thigh. She kissed the bottom of his chin and unbuttoned the checkered shirt. George fumbled to unbutton her blouse while he kissed her collarbone. “What’s this?” George whispered, suddenly stopping. The tone was somewhere in the realm of alarm. Kitty realized the man was looking at the large scar on her shoulder. Situation in Mumbai. Car explosion courtesy Megaton. Heavy shrapnel. 38 stitches. “I was in a car accident,” she said quickly, pulling a blanket from the top of the couch over her shoulder. “But you have more,” he said, and she followed his eyes down her body. Siberian torture cell. Intel mission. Broken rib. Hijacked cargo ship with weapons of mass destruction. Two stab wounds, left side. Pirate Nefarious escaped. Later apprehended by Centaur. Bullet graze. Right hip. Shootout with Cryotron. Bullet graze. Left shoulder. Dr. Catastrophe’s men. Bite mark. Back of leg. Guard dogs in Henry Kang’s mansion.


Whip marks. Back. Showdown with The Bandito in San Juan. Torn ACL. Knee replacement. Battling Carmina Fury’s cartel. George ran his hands across her body feeling the imperfections. Spots were still sore from the last mission, and big purple bruises weren’t yet faded. “Do you get in a lot of car accidents?” he asked. “It’s not what you think,” she said softly. “I think…it’s just…I think I should go…” he said and stood up. Fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, he hobbled over to his shoes and slid them on. “Please stay!” she begged, not wanting to feel alone. “I don’t think I can,” he answered nearing tears, “I’ve been hurt before by women who weren’t honest with me, and we both know you weren’t in a car accident. You’re very beautiful, but I just…don’t think I can do this.” He then let him self out, head hung low, keeping his eyes on the floor. Kitty wrapped herself with the rest of the blanket wanting to hide under it forever. The woman hailed as a sex symbol, the one with the perfect body, the oh-so-desirable appeal, it was all an illusion. A few moments later, her transponder beeped with a message from Captain One-Shot. “Shadow Kitten,” he said, his voice - a practiced authoritative, “we need you at HQ immediately. Vixen has gone rogue and is thought to be joining forces with The Yellow Plague. There’s a taxi waiting for you outside. Get in. We ride at dawn. Omega needs you. The World needs you. Over and Out.” Kitty tucked her chin under the blanket for a moment longer. Then she got up and, out of absolute frustration, punched the bathroom door. The scabs on her knuckles reopened leaving a smear of blood on the partly splintered wood.


She washed her hands, put on a tee shirt, found her Red Sox hat, and went to the taxi outside. As soon as she got in, the windows darkened and the recorded briefing began. It was all standard Omega procedure. At the next checkpoint, more information was released. A dossier and case file with photos for her review were waiting, as well as surveillance video of possible attack plans. While listening to the audio, Kitty put her head against the bulletproof glass window and instead watched the world go screaming by. Everything was a blur. At the Omega headquarters, the team was already gearing up. “Glad to have you,” El Guapo said. The Stone Falcon gave her a fist bump and winked. Kitty went to her locker like she had a hundred times before, and put on her skintight black leather outfit. It hugged her body and pushed her ass into the perfect inverted heart shape. The low cut top accentuated her breasts and the sleek mask covered the space around her eyes. In this outfit, she was the symbol for everything that she was not. After fixing her hair with a straightener and some product, she stepped out onto the floor. Wild Man Miller moved aside so she could join the briefing circle. “Lookin’ good, Shadow,” he said. “As if I could be anything else,” she smiled back.


Angelica Poversky Wonderful

Rejection is a pine that makes up a little blush bush on small swallowed hill’s lump, which slumbers into another, together they weave like a Basket picnic fairy tales and loose legged fantasies Rejection is a pine That tastes like blackjack instead of Cinderella Playing moonlight midnight whistle but instead the princess’ shoe shine sucked and blew the wind to moonshine Rejection


is a pine beetle chewing on the frozen cotton candy clouds that once were childhood revelries Rejection is a pine convinced You are wonderful, hush the way you are Wonderful is a pine in oblivion


Brian Howlett

Jackson Baugh from Wye County —A Springsteen song about fathers, brothers, and other repeat offenders.

Once you muster up hate, there’s no putting it back on the shelf. At least that’s how it seemed to be playing out for Jackson’s brother. Hate had become a cause for him to believe in. It got him out of bed early and kept him working late into the night. Others might rally around saving the environment or helping the homeless; Jim believed in the sanctity of hate, and it was sustaining him, making him stronger over the years. Jackson would sit there countless times across the table, listening to Jim pick at the same scab, over and over. It would always bleed, and Jackson could see just how addicted Jim was to the notion that he was the one fatally wronged. “She loved me best, so just handle it. Don’t pretend you didn’t know. But what the hell was she thinking, leaving me like that? Was she screwing around on him you think?” Jackson suspected the hate was going to take Jim far. He was top of his mechanical engineering class in third year. He had interned the previous summer with a property developer in the UK and was setting his sights on a job in the Middle East upon graduation. “Somewhere so stinking rich they’ll let me build the kind of megatower Tom Cruise would want to dangle from,” he’d say.


Jim had always been smart, but he could never have been called ambitious until that day. They had come home from school and their mother was just gone. There was no note—it was bloodless—but the house felt different. Their dad went upstairs and, sure enough, her luggage was gone, and all those personal “mom” touches that the boys would joke about were gone too. The fancy hairbrush, expensive creams, and jars of lotions that made Jackson feel like she was from a different planet. Their dad came back down and just quietly set the table and then ordered a pizza. He didn’t even seem surprised, as if her disappearance proved his suspicions of his own inadequacies. He made the boys wash their hands. He took out the good china from their wedding set that they only used on holidays. He went upstairs again and brushed his hair. He came back down but turned right around and went back up to put on his church blazer. Jackson and Jim didn’t say anything. Jim was only sixteen, but he helped himself to a beer, and his father didn’t stop him. They said grace and then silently waited for the pizza. Jackson wanted to leave the table. He wanted to go watch TV or do homework. But he had to just sit there, watching his dad roll the napkin on his lap, unroll it, and roll it back up, all the while humming something under his breath. Jim helped himself to another beer, staring into the glass as the foam dissipated. Jackson was alone, kind of like he had always been— except now he knew it. Jim referred to it afterward as The Holy Day of Departure. Their father took her leaving as permission to just give up. Jim chose a different path, throwing himself into his studies, talking on about starting salaries for engineering grads in faraway lands. As for Jackson, who had just started junior high, he tried his


best to hate her like Jim but, mostly, he just didn’t care. He wanted to miss her, but he didn’t. All he could muster was a sense of disappointment; at his father, himself, their house, and school. By the time he was into his high school prime, that sense of disappointment had become a cold comfort, because no part of being seventeen years old and in high school was sticking with him. Not the keg parties or the football tryouts, not the tests, essays, assemblies, or even smoking dope out back. He plain couldn’t make himself get interested in any of it. He just wanted to work at the factory full-time with his dad. Buy a truck and be done with it.

So here he was, idling in an F150 with only one payment on it to date, parked on the shoulder of County Road 8, watching the rain still coming down onto his windshield, about to make the turn onto Highway 99. He had driven the last mile with the wipers off, wanting to see how clear the view would remain through the drops. He must have made this left a thousand times. He knew the pothole under his right tire like an old friend and the decomposing Dunkin’ Donuts cup squashed up against the fence post. But this was his first day as a man in his own boots and he knew enough to relish the moment. He had hit the big time. Things were no longer borrowed: the coffee on the dash still that was still warm, the thick cotton pants on his legs newly creased, the sturdy watch riding strong on his forearm, these things all belonged to him. He chose them. He paid for them. His father’s passing had created an opening for him at the warehouse. It was anything but a pity hire. He had worked there summers as a kid and had earned the company’s respect for a work ethic that was equal to his dad’s. His father


had wanted him to go to college, but this was what Jackson always wanted, and now no one could refuse. He left school three months before graduation. He told Jim he would get his diploma at night school. Neither really cared that they both knew he was lying. He was full-time, a legit member of the Pickton Seed Company. He’d be able to park in the lot out front. Having his union card meant his time card would be the royal blue he had long envied. He got up early this first day. He couldn’t wait. He knew he could be the most efficient lift driver Wye County had ever seen. He walked past the empty bedroom where his father once slept. The door was ajar, the light was on, and staring out at the hallway like one dead eye. He had left it that way since the funeral. He couldn’t quite close the door all the way, nor could he push it all the way open. When Jim came back home from college to visit, only then would he close it shut. Good thing he didn’t want to ever go inside or start on packing up his dad’s things. If he had dug through all the receipts and papers in the bedside drawer, he would have found a plane ticket rumpled with age in the back of a slim, blue vinyl wallet. It was dated August 2000. Jackson would have been seven years old, his brother ten, long before she finally left. It was a one-way flight to Los Angeles, never cashed in. In red, flashing across it, the word “bastard” was scribbled in red lipstick, the angry energy of the writer still shining through the years. It was some kind of reminder, the intent of either husband or wife to keep the memory of the potential mutiny right at hand. If Jackson had seen it, he wouldn’t have been able to understand that love is all the more real for being flawed. Jackson finally pulled off from the shoulder. A lone pickup truck was rolling


slowly east, so he waited at the intersection. The rain had stopped. He flicked the beads once with a single turn of the wipers, admiring their smooth precision. He looked across the highway at the tomato fields stretching far into the distance, well beyond the Wye County line. Those were the fields his grandparents tilled; his father used to bore them all by talking about buying the fields back one day. But he never would find fortune’s blessing. The early sun was already working hard to raise itself up from the horizon, as if already dreaming about the noontime part of its work day, ambitiously stroking the tips of the evergreens that lined the perimeters of the fields, separating one plot of land from the other. The long valley floor that yielded so much bounty was still in shadow, but the treetops hummed silver in the light. Dime-store tinsel, but beautiful. He had never seen the light like that and, for some reason, it made him think of his mother. At exactly 7:12 a.m. he pushed that thought away, turned his truck onto Highway 99 and into his new day. He made a point of looking at his watch, wanting to make a trophy of the moment he left his childhood behind. At break later that morning, as the newbie he had to buy a round of coffee off the truck for everyone, but there wasn’t much initiation beyond that. This was not an exclusive club. Becoming full-time at the seed plant was not the most difficult of advances a man can make. But it was all Jackson wanted. Now that school no longer separated him from the men at the plant, and he had laid down his lot with them for life, saying “I’m with you men. I think this is a fine thing to do with a life,” there was nothing foreign to them about Jackson Baugh. He held no potential for anything beyond what any of them had achieved. No longer a threat to their own ideas of what a life should be, he was one of them.


The shame of it was that it didn’t take longer than one day. A morning, really. The next day the sun didn’t appear to stroke the evergreens at the T of Highway 99 and the road with no name. Still, Jackson pulled over and tried to remember what it had looked like the day before. A song suddenly passed through the cab of the truck: You cry like the devil at pain. You cry like the devil at fear. You cry like the devil at hope. You cry like the devil. It was something his father used to sing out in the garage, purposely mangling the lyrics to his favorite John Cougar song. A strong whack of sadness hit him in the face. But he was square with that. Young people can handle sadness better than old, his father would tell him. The first two days at the seed factory turned into the first two weeks. He surprised himself with how readily he cut himself off from everyone. He was the only one to leave school early. Even his best friend Norm was sticking with it, determined to make it to college and life as a police officer. Jackson attempted to socialize with the older guys at the factory, but they declined his invitations. He was stuck in no-man’s-land. But it turned out he enjoyed his own company. For a moment, you have a first year to look forward to. But it quickly turns into having the past four years to look back on. At twenty-one, at the same age his father got married, he wed June. He wasn’t really lonely, but he was bored. She worked in the Denny’s out on the Interstate. They had spent one


month dating in the peak of July, spending most nights at the Reservoir. They didn’t even give each other a chance to learn if they liked each other’s company. They didn’t even get to see what the other person was like in the winter or fall. It was all summer and hormones and believing in the moment. He must have known it too. Why else would he have insisted on eloping? They moved into his house. He said it was weird to take his parents’ bedroom, and she was good with it. But June woke up one day realizing she was still just a girl and had made a girl’s mistake. They hugged on the front porch, wished each other luck, and with the turn of her car key, that part of his young life was over.

He met Crystal within the year. It was summer again, but this time around he stayed away from the Reservoir. They would drive out on the edge of town, listening to music. She loved his truck and that’s where he got her pregnant and where their courtship died. She kept the baby, and he was fine by that. In fact, the day Rupert was born, the moment he looked at him, he knew he would love him more than anything else in the world, but he wouldn’t need to be a regular father to him to prove it. By the time Jackson had hit his fifth anniversary at the plant, he was a good man without a friend in the world. He saw his son on Sundays, and that turned into one Sunday a month once Crystal got married. Jim was in Dubai, living in a huge condo, making big money, working on shopping malls, not superstructures. He never came back home, and they stopped speaking of their father when they talked. There were long, strange silences on the phone, and Jackson could still feel his brother’s hate percolating, still driving him. He wished Jim could take some kind of lead, give up the past, and tell him how he


should be feeling about getting older. But Jim had nothing for him, and Jackson finally gave up expecting anything from their conversations. But every morning before work he parked his truck and enjoyed his three good minutes at the side of the road. More often than not, the sun didn’t show up, and he never did see things in the same light as his first day as a working man. But that didn’t matter. The memory of what he saw was enough comfort. And he was happy to patiently wait out the darkness, or the snow, or the rain, or the coming light. You cry like the devil at hope. You cry like the devil at fear. You cry like the devil at pain. You cry like the devil. Three good minutes a day, just long enough for a song to end. Fifteen miles from his house, where he would live his entire life—it was all he was about to ask for. A chorus to lift the spirits; here all the notes and voices came together to make perfect sense of each other. He understood he was lucky to hear it. He figured out by now that he didn’t want his life to ever go past the speed limit, so at least he was one of those lucky few who struck an honest bargain with himself. There were no more disappointments left in his life. No unexpected offnotes. Three good minutes to spend time with the people in his life that he was growing to love more, the further in the rearview mirror they became. That was enough. It was way more than enough.


Terry Minchow-Proffitt

Proceedings of the 15th Annual Session of the Rock Solid Association Elder Daryl declared the 15th Annual Session open, seated and in working order. The Rock Solid Association of Old Time Baptists of Jesus Christ sit solemn in pews before him, reciting The Charter. Deacon Holt knows Elder Daryl by marriage and the Blood, knows, too, the wrath in his own heart as he hears The Charter. Deacon Holt ain’t been right in a month of Sundays, not been a shining light to sinners, not even a fit father to his five children. Cluster Belcher’s on his ass at the mine. Wife Rosalie by his side still can’t look him in the eye. Nothing’s felt blessed on this pretty day as he shook hands and sang some songs of Zion, not nothing blessed since that night he pressed the Devil’s grip ‘round her neck, though she knows now he’s bygod for sure the head of the house, a house


that’s about to go back if the bank ain’t apt to cut a little slack. Maybe if he walked the aisle again, if he went up and dropped to his knees at the altar and come clean, just a man with a hope, his heart only before Jesus, maybe then when he got to the part that said, “Our hope is to be a home for all of God’s children who have been trampled underfoot”— Jesus just might rise up within again, he could get back to walking in brotherly love ‘til the final trump sounds. Maybe he’d quit seeing what was left of that scared look on Rosie’s face. Elder Daryl reads the prayer list. Brother Pervis raises his hand to say his grandbaby’s been born without oxygen a little too long. The doctors can’t tell how things’ll be, but she’s doing okay so far. Says we


ought to be shouting our lungs out because we’re so blessed. It was then, the saints would later say, that the Lord laid a hand on Deacon Holt. Stood him straight up where he was. Heard him whisper: Pardon me, Pardon me . . . sideways out of the pew. Saw him hasten slowly up the aisle to the altar, his head down deep in hope.


Claire Polders

The World on Fire

No one died that day. At least not in my town. No one saw the light and was saved. There were no mental breakdowns or organ failures or roofs caving in or car crashes or even Wi-Fi blackouts. All that happened was that Marnix lost the bet about Sally (she didn’t, in fact, mention her ex again—good for her) and he slammed his hand against the table in anger, which, unfortunate for him, sprained his index-finger, and now the world was on fire.


Susan Niz

My Current Footing Milk runs dry and empty as driftwood, Pale blue sea glass on pale blue and One is stinging tentacles and one is cielo infinito, Hell if I can tell the difference, Lose balance and slip into the exonerated surf. Below, roots mat and clot, Viaduct detours for the blind, Silt baths and pine needle pokes, Everything is in the debris. Time is not passing. Time is cluttering, Filling my cupboards with ruinous material, Puffing to attention when disturbed The census of sugar breaths and The synapse of sienna hairs slips Between the ravine of memory, Driving roots of luminous indigo flowers Into granite, Drinking the milk that has run dry. Dig out the chalky pebbles, Scrawl out imprinted fears. The taste of sediment Haphazardly left on my tongue.


Fatima Jamal My Sister

Is that it? My white panties with burgundy stains hung from my hand beneath my shocked, crying face. YES, she exclaimed, hugged me, told mom, dad, the neighbors, and dedicated me a bra in a chiffon sack. It was ivory of petals and metal base. I was waiting for this day. Try it on, she commanded. I did. The metal wires felt like chains choking my breastbones. I dared not ask about their function. Mine are small, sadly I said. They will grow, she affirmed. They never did


Contributors

Brian Howlett Howlett received hhis B.A. in English from McMaster University, Canada. As the Chief Creative Officer of an ad agency, he has frequently contributed to magazines such as Communication Arts (Los Angeles) and Applied Arts (Toronto). His commercial films have won many international awards, including the Cannes Festival Lion. In 2013 Howlett was a finalist in the Fresh Voices Screenplay competition. He was recently named a finalist in the Writers Union of Canada 2015 Short Prose Competition and is about to have his first short story published in Limestone Magazine. Fatima Jamal Fatima is a Saudi writer. She had her master in Creative Writing from the University of Sydney and was the Glimmer Train Family Masters finalist. Her fiction appeared in CRATE magazine. She lives in Jeddah with her husband and two kids. Terry Minchow-Proffitt Terry Minchow-Proffitt lives in St. Louis, MO. His poems have appeared in Arkansas Review, Big Muddy, Christian Century, decomP magazinE, Deep South Magazine, Desert Call, Freshwater Review, Hash, Mud Season Review, OVS Magazine, Oxford American, Penwood Review, Pisgah Review, Prick of the


Spindle, Tower Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Wild Violet, Words and Images Journal and The Write Room. His chapbook, “Seven Last Words,” was recently published by Middle Island Press. Susan Niz Susan Niz’s short work has appeared in Blue Bonnet Review, Two Words For, Belleville Park Pages, Ginosko, Cezanne’s Carrot, Flashquake, Opium Magazine, and Summerset Review. Her first novel “Kara, Lost” (North Star Press, 2011) was a finalist for a Midwest Book Award (MIPA) for Literary Fiction. W. T. Paterson W. T. Paterson is a Chicago writer. A Pushchart Prize nominee, winner of the WildSound Writing contest, and inductee of the Academy of American Poets, his recent works can be seen in places like Maudlin House, The Gateway Review, and Twisted Vine. Check out his full length novel ‘Dark Satellites’ due out soon, or send him a tweet @WTPaterson Claire Polders Claire Polders is a Dutch author of four novels. She holds a double master’s degree in Literature and Philosophy and has studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. Her short prose has appeared online and in printed anthologies and magazines in The Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Currently she’s finishing her first novel in English. You can find her at @clairepolders.


Angelica Poversky Angelica Poversky is an avid member of the Spoken Word Community in Vancouver. She has actively been performing at many events in the community, such as Pandora’s Summer Dreams, The CHIMO Violence Against Women Conference and the The Top 25 Environmentalist Awards. She is Vancouver’s Top 24 Under 24 in recognition for her spoken word and has been published in numerous different literary journals such as Farrago, Misfit Lit, The Really System and Re:Zine.


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Profile for Kerri Foley

Crack the Spine - Issue 168  

Literary Magazine

Crack the Spine - Issue 168  

Literary Magazine

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