Crack the Spine - Issue 170

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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine Issue 170

Issue 170 November 4, 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 Richard Key Cakewalk

Grant Tarbard

The Thunder Machine

Richard Orodenker TV Land

Jared Pearce


Rosie McFarland Daniel

Todd Mercer

This is Your Captain Speaking

Josie Turner The Wall

Richard Key Cakewalk An Essay

“This cake is so easy to make…” declared my wife casually, “…a blind monkey could make this cake.” Here was a challenge I couldn’t pass up. I’m the nearest thing to a blind monkey in our household, so I ventured that I might be up to the task. It was my wife’s birthday, and this was a chance to make all the other husbands look bad. No, of course, I mean a chance to demonstrate my love. Also, to see if I’ve learned anything from those cutthroat cooking shows on television. The recipe for “Mrs. Elkin’s chocolate sheath cake” was lovingly handwritten on both sides of a yellow-stained index card, and shared its individual cellophane slot with three other cards in the dessert section of a recipe book. The book was so overstuffed that the front and back covers were permanently stuck in a ninety-degree angle, like a duck having its wisdom teeth extracted. “Have you ever thought about reworking your recipe book—you know, maybe organize it and make it look less like a forgotten repository of ancient manuscripts dug out of the side of a cave next to the Dead Sea?” “No, I haven’t.” She was serious. I dropped it. One has to know when to back away. Besides, there was work to do. I closed my eyes and tried to channel Mrs. Elkin. I imagined a big, hairy woman with rude manners and a gravelly voice. “You don’t need no stinkin’ recipe,” she growled, “this ain’t Julie and Julia.” She grabbed a handful of butter, dabbed some on her meaty lips, and started

coming after me. I was about to plunge under the table when my eyes popped open and she was gone. After regaining my composure, I dove right in with masculine confidence and just a dash of overconfidence. But soon I found out the whole thing had been rigged by years of feminine conspiring. Females will do that. It may take a while to pay off, but they will stack the deck against a male just to watch him squirm. And there I was, up to my elbows in cocoa and flour before I realized I’d been had. But she played her hand well—tried to be “helpful.” “Oh, I never sift the sugar and cocoa. It’s fine to just mix them well.” “The recipe says to sift the sugar and cocoa into a large mixing bowl.” I began to softly chew on my upper lip like I do when confronting the illogical maze of modern bureaucracy. “I know, but I don’t.” I’ll give her that one. But later, the icing part said empty a one-pound box of powdered sugar into a mixing bowl. “You need to sift that.” “The recipe doesn’t say anything about sifting,” I pointed out with my Criscoglazed forefinger, trying to keep a positive outlook. My upper lip was starting to get raw. “There’s not room for every detail on the card,” she said, “but everybody knows to sift powdered sugar because you don’t want to have sugar lumps in the icing.” Now, I don’t think sugar lumps in the icing would necessarily bring about the apocalypse, but if a person thinks this is important they should state so plainly in the recipe.

“So here where you need to sift, there’s no mention of sifting, but over here where you don’t need to sift, it clearly says to sift.” “Basically, yes.” Well, the logic here was just so pristine, I had to milk it to its source. “So, perhaps here where it says one half-cup cocoa, that could just as easily mean one half-cup vanilla?” “Don’t be obtuse.” That shut me up. I’m not about to run to the dictionary with cocoa all over my fingers. I was in over my head and I couldn’t turn back. The best thing to do was stiffen my spine and forge on ahead. Pure human fortitude got me through the next few steps. There were tablespoons of this, teaspoons of that, reminding me of my dear spouse’s slavish devotion to nonmetric measuring systems. “Is this the cinnamon?” I asked with the humility of a dwarf on the basketball court playing with his shoestrings tied together. “That’s stick cinnamon. Here’s the ground cinnamon, but I usually use the Mexican or Vietnamese cinnamon—I keep those over here.” Well, that hit me between the eyes. Each country has its own cinnamon? No wonder we have war after war after war. Can we not even agree on one cinnamon? Let alone currency, and God, and which sport to call football? My head was still spinning as I mixed in the last of the ingredients. Soon I was pouring the smooth, dark mixture into the greased pan and was ready to pop it into the oven, when… “Did you preheat the oven?” “It says, ‘cook at four hundred degrees for twenty minutes.’” “And right now the oven is at room temperature. It doesn’t just magically go from seventy degrees to four hundred degrees when you turn the switch on.”

So, now she’s telling me the oven’s not magic. What’s next? I would have pointed out that the instructions would be more complete if they mentioned that detail in the first few steps, but it would have had all the futility of arguing with the umpire. Before long it was in the preheated oven, and I was preparing the icing mixture. After twenty minutes the timer went off for the cake, and I had a saucepan on the stove filled with a hot cocoa and butter mixture. And if you’d have asked me the odds of a timer perilously attached to the hood by a flimsy magnet dropping suddenly into that mixture as I pressed the off button, splashing a third of the hot, brown goo all over the stovetop, the floor, and my front, I would have said the odds were low, because no one would keep a suicidal timer with such a flimsy magnet in the full service of the King’s kitchen, would they? Would they? Well, it was good for a laugh, even if I did use a profane version of the word “fiddlesticks!” to express my intense displeasure. It was so funny. One of us thought it was extremely funny. And that person had a birthday cake with very thin icing.

The thunder machine is set like a mouse trap, Grant Tarbard coiled in the grey to scare unsuspecting dogs.

The Thunder Machine

The thunder machine is set like a mouse trap, coiled in the grey to scare unsuspecting dogs. My grandmother said in days gone by "it's just God moving his furniture" but God keeps thunder in lobster traps under the blanket of the sea. Children harmonise with its grand sound, this boom mocks itself with applause. I watch the transient flies not knowing where to go, suspended on a string, caught between a parched inside and the perfumed perspiration of God. Children splash in these dissolving puddles of transitory hokum. Teenagers bounce a football across the horoscope, Pisces rising and falling as the chest of a dying man. The rain is a balm to all this menagerie of cars, driving slow, slick as a snail, two steps from walking, fledglings gnawing at the loose thread of the sky merging with the grey anonymity.

Richard Orodenker TV Land

I finally left Naked City. I’d cracked the Crawford mystery. Theater people! The law firm of Livelong and Prosper would be happy. There was still the matter of the man with a camera. But I could save that search for tomorrow back in Texas. John Slaughter, my partner, was already on it. I was hungry. I pulled into the 1776 Diner on Della Street on Route 66. “Gimme the Hamilton burger,” I said to the waitress. I grabbed a box of Mason Mints and some Drake’s Yodels from the display for the long ride home. I’d been away so long I felt like a fugitive. My wife was half asleep. “Good night, Gracie,” I said.

Jared Pearce Counting

Come along, my plus one, My addition, my extra, My luscious addendum, I will eat your heart And liver as my Aztec kin, Take up your victim part; Or hold me down with the chain Of your skin, make me answer, Make me begin; cup your brain To the measure of my anger, My desire, while I zip you up, Play your tune by finger Memory only, a rhythm Limited in us, in us limitless, Some rock, some suite, some hymn.

Rosie McFarland Daniel

An Essay

Trash rots on the street – mango and plantain peels, flies hatching in old meat, wires, soda bottles, newspapers soaked with urine and feces, all covered in dust and dirt from passing moto tires – congealing together, evolving into an ecosystem for insects and rodents. Motos and pedestrians avoid the evergrowing piles with practiced and unconscious motion. One-two-three-four-eh-de-twa-kat - Daniel dances along the street to a song in his head, preparing for his next dance lesson. Daniel heads to the library to study for school, humming to himself, quick-quick-slow - he imagines that the world is dancing around him, the basketball player he passes dribbling in time with his internal rhythm. Slide-lift step-turn- The trash around him bakes and the smell ripens with the rising sun. The air grows thick as he walks under the shade of the downtown Jeremie storefront porches. Eh-de-twa-kat-Daniel smiles at shop attendants as he passes, they smile back and sometimes stop him to ask how he’s doing. Then suddenly – blan. White people, a whole swarm of them. That alone is strange, but even more so, they are walking straight into the garbage. Walking closer, Daniel sees they are scooping damp gloved handfuls into garbage bags, bits of plastic and soggy cardboard dropping off back onto the ground, the trash almost seems to be squirming. There are seven of them, some making faces at the smell, but working nonetheless. Daniel stops behind a pillar of one of the store porches, out of sight. There are plenty of others staring

more blatantly as they continue walking down the street, or stopping completely to watch the spectacle. Suspicious-curious-confused faces watch as these ten blan in oddly clean clothes pick up street trash. When a garbage bag is filled, the white people tie it up and toss it into the back of a pickup truck. Daniel frowned. Why would white people do this? A friend passes in front of him; Daniel grabs his arm and asks Carlos if he knows what is going on. Carlos shrugs, says something about idio blan, and keeps walking. Daniel looks around and sees that James, another friend, is talking with the white people, acting like they know each other. He waits until James has walked a little away from the horde. He asks James why all these white people are here. Don’t they have anything better to do? They want to help their community. Their community? They’re a new mission in town. Another one? You want to help? No way. James smiles and goes back to the white people, waving him away. Daniel shakes his head and looks behind him at the pick-up truck slowly filling with black bags threatening to burst like the skin a rotten fruit. James is laughing with a blan, a joke told in the midst of swarming flies. Turning, one-de-three-kat in rhythm with the movement of the street, Daniel hops over the what-might-be-water draining from the alley into the street, which flows down the slight hill towards the ocean, and continues his dance to the library.

Todd Mercer

This is Your Captain Speaking

It’s three p.m. in America, but five o’clock over the Atlantic, where her thoughts are traveling the event horizon, away from home base. Maybe it’s been a long enough wait for wine. We’re obliged to revise the rules to fit contemporary challenges. The rules—a living document, flexible as necessary. It’s four-twenty now, and that hasn’t killed anyone yet, like alcohol has, so pass that over, Cochise, if you’re intent on palming it and chattering on long. Keeping up with the jonesin’ is half the battle. It’s dusk in a short while. Relax. Someone’s going out dancing. Or spinning to a favorite groove here. Cheaper. It’s already tomorrow up there, over the eastern ocean.

Josie Turner The Wall

Tessa was four months pregnant when she first noticed the wall. ‘Does that look as though it’s bulging?’ she asked Todd, in the car, as they moved through their village at ten miles per hour. He laughed, and took a hand from the wheel to pat her swelling stomach. The wall was about five foot high and made of stone, with each individual stone nestling against its neighbours, like the scales of an ancient and ugly fish. On one side of the wall a curving pavement led into a blind bend; on the other side there was an earth embankment of some sort. Tessa would check it out one day. They were still new; still finding their way around.

At eight-and-a-half months pregnant, Tessa got the urge to walk. She’d left work and was supposed to be on the sofa, eating biscuits. But all she wanted to do was rock her extended frame around the village’s streets, keeping her hips creaking in their sockets. She feared that her blood would stop pumping if she sat still. She wanted to move towards the life to come, and meet the baby halfway. ‘When are you due?’ people asked her. ‘Boy or girl?’ They put their hands on her stomach – brisk, admonitory, as though she was an amateur who’d got ideas. There were terrible stories. Old ladies had a store of them; misadventures reaching back to their mothers and grandmothers. You needn’t imagine you know what’s coming, they seemed to tell her. Because you don’t.

She rocked out of shops and cafes as fast as she could, casting off the seaweed of their hands. She walked by the wall, where cars skimmed by her side.

The earth embankment was a cemetery. Tessa worked it out. She knew were the church was; a stumpy little building without a spire, glimpsed through cypress trees. The entrance was marked by a dark wooden arch that looked like a table wearing a hat - the lych gate, they called it. Tessa didn’t like old things: churchy things. They were creepy. The village was picturesque enough and the church probably looked pretty in wedding photos, but the place was impractical and also, in a way she could hardly define, unhygienic. Pregnancy quickened her senses – she could smell sour milk in the fridge from the end of the garden. She could sniff out corruption. The bulging wall marked the edge of the churchyard. The church itself had been built on a slope, and the centuries were dragging it, inch by inch, towards the river that ran alongside the cobbled market. Iron wheels and crosses braced its failing flanks; its leaded windows had warped until their diamond panes bounced sunlight along the pews and back up into the sky. There was a restoration fund housed in a great waxy padlocked trunk by the font, with a brass slot for donations. Just knock it down, thought Tessa. Build a community centre instead. She imagined a gleaming studio, with a roof like a wing, hosting yoga classes and toy libraries: she saw herself and her child dancing on a laminated floor. A cemetery. She shuddered. She put her hand to the wall, as though she could push the landslide back up the slope.

After Josh was born her skin healed, and her bones clicked back into alignment. But you’ll never be the same, the old ladies told her with glee, because of your age. My daughter now, she didn’t leave it late - she had her first at nineteen, and her muscles sprang back…Tessa manoeuvred the pram away from the ghoulish crones. She feared growing old in the village. She foresaw Josh’s future visits with his own wife and children. Time opened up to her, past and future, in an alternating sequence of parent, child, parent, so that she began to understand the ancient store of women’s tales. She felt her way around it in the dark – there, on a low shelf, was her own birth. Her mother’s birth. Her mother’s mother’s birth.

I haven’t slept for weeks, thought Tessa, and the world is melting in front of my eyes, and when I see a pavement I want to lie down on it. ‘This wall,’ murmured Tessa. ‘It’s bulging.’ ‘Hmm?’ ‘Isn’t it? Bulging. More and more. Every time I come past. Pushing me off the pavement.’ ‘Give it a rest, yeah?’ She and Todd were walking single file – leaning out, almost, into the road, because the wall was taking over. The fish scales had stretched apart. Rivulets of earth seeped between the stones.

Some nights, when Todd came in from the pub, she pretended to be asleep, and he went along with it. He kissed the back of her neck with beery lips, and

pushed gently inside her, which she allowed. She wondered if it was all starting again; if the stars were in alignment. Perhaps one night a small life sparked, struck from her exhaustion.

She dreamt of the wall, and woke in the night, unable to tell Todd. As she folded herself against him he stirred and covered her with an arm and a leg, warm and bare, and lulled her back to sleep. He could never be any different. He would never join the slow procession of souls marching towards the river – he’d never be reduced to that. The village shrank, or knotted itself up, until it was just a few streets, with the wall looming over every one. She stayed indoors. In a year or two they would escape to a big clean town with no dirty walls, where they’d be free of the dead. Josh would grow up with no memory of this place. She promised him that, as his fingers curled around her own – she would take him far away from the wall. She’d pluck him from the landslide, and they would run – run forever, survivors of the universal catastrophe.

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. Richard Key Richard earned his medical degree from the University of Mississippi and currently works as a pathologist at Flowers Hospital in Dothan, Alabama. His short story, “The Fall Of Squirrel,” received first place in the humor category of the 2013 Alabama Writers’ Conclave Literary Contest and is published at, and his short story “The Point System,” was a finalist in the adult short topics division of last year’s Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) annual literary competition. His work has appeared inThe Penmen Review, Broken Plate, and The Birmingham Arts Journal. Rosie McFarland Rosie McFarland received her BA in English literature before deciding to spend what money she had left to backpack around the British Isles for two months and stay six weeks in Haiti. She has a passion for giving every person the opportunity to tell their story. Rosie spent her time in Haiti interviewing locals and collecting stories for an eventual collection of creative non-fiction short stories, “Seeds in a Dark Fruit Sky.” She has been making videos for

her YouTube channel for over two years. Rosie now lives in California to pursue a career in filmmaking. Todd Mercer Todd won the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts Flash Fiction Award for 2015, the first Woodstock Writers Festival Flash Fiction Award, two Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Prizes and was runner-up in the Palm Beach Plein Air Poetry Awards. His digital chapbook, “Life-wish Maintenance” appeared in 2015 at Right Hand Pointing. Mercer’s recent poetry and fiction appear in:Bartleby Snopes, Cheap Pop, Dunes Review, Eunoia Review, Kentucky Review, The Lake, The Legendary, Lost Coast Review, Literary Orphans and Main Street Rag Anthologies. Richard Orodenker Richard Orodenker is the author of four books on the writing of sports literature in the U.S., including The Writers’ Game: Baseball Writing in America (Twayne’s American Authors Series), which won the SABR/Sporting News Award for Baseball Research. His fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in North American Review, Boston Review, South Carolina Review, Studies in Short Fiction, Aethlon, Work, and other magazines and journals. He earned an M.F.A from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars in 1976 and is Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Jared Pearce Jared Pearce teaches writing and literature at William Penn University.

Grant Tarbard Grant is the former editor of The Screech Owl and co-founder of Resurgant Press. He has worked as a journalist, a contributor to magazines, a reviewer, an interviewer and a proof reader. Grant’s poetry can be seen in such magazines as The Rialto, Illumen, Aphelion, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Bone Orchard Poetry, BLAZE, The Journal, Southlight, Sarasvati, Earth Love, Mood Swing, Puff Puff Prose Poetry & Prose, Postcards Poetry and Prose, Playerist, Lake City Lights, The Open Mouse, Miracle, Poetry Cornwall, I-70, South Florida Review, Stare’s Nest, Medusa’s Kitchen, Zymbol, Weyfarers, Synchronized Chaos, BLUEPEPPER, Every Day Poetry, Verse-Virtual, Tribe, The Golden Key, New Poetry, I am not a silent poet, East Coast Literary Review, HARK, The Black Light Engine Room, The Black Sheep Journal, Haiku Haven, Lunar Poetry, Decanto, Your One Phone Call, Danse Macabre, Message in a Bottle, Of/with: journal of immanent renditions, Elbow Room, The Mind[less] Muse, Ginosko Literary Journal, Abbreviate Journal, Visual Verse and First Time. Josie Turner Josie Turner lives in Hertfordshire and works in London. She’s had fiction and poetry published in The Frogmore Papers, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Fractured West, The Interpreter’s House and The North. In 2013 she was placed third in Mslexia‘s short story competition, and in 2015 she was a winner of the Plough short story competition.

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