Crack the Spine - Issue 184

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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 184

Issue 184 March 2, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine

CONTENTS C.C. Russell Night, Inside

Laura Schulkind Eye Exam

Adam Matson Scream Queen

Dustin Pearson Beliefs

Elizabeth Kert Letting Go

Joddy Murray XOCOLÄ€TL

Cezarija Abaritis

I Have a Question For You

C.C. Russell Night, Inside

Pillows behind their backs, they are supported, they are superimposed against the soft shape of the bed while the tv glares another neon night. Here, the positioning of hands is important. We can tell – just visually – that this is no honeymoon. Her wrists intercept each other at sharp, bony angles, fingers an irregular scatter-plot of raw data. His lie at his sides and slap a rhythm alongside the laugh track of another sitcom. On the screen, it is snowing soft soapflakes while the young would-be lovers shift their bodies on a tangent towards touch. They attempt to regulate their pulses. They adjust their views of the peripheral. Here, the positioning of the set is important. The loveseat is exactly two feet, five inches too short to be called a couch. The false ice is painted on the window approximately one inch thick. The fireplace (and of course, there must be a fireplace – see section 15a of rules for television seduction) is placed across the room to be otherwise featureless, devoid of warmth. You would not want the viewer’s attention to wander. Any warmth in the scene must be human, must be human only. The lovers’ thighs touch through denim and jump back. Back in the house, he turns his face in slow increments towards hers. He thinks of asking a question. Any question, really. The science is not exact. Here, what is important is the positioning of words, the syncopation of their sound.

Laura Schulkind Eye Exam

She said I wasn’t losing my mind— put her hand on my arm, looked at me without blinking, said, “Of course.” And although hardly her area of expertise, I accepted her diagnosis with relief— rationalizing that she really must know her stuff, having figured out, after all, that this was the answer I was really looking for. I listened to the metronome of her voice, One or two? Three or four? and dutifully did my best, despite desperate hopes of failure. (Please, let it be my eyes.) And between tests, I confessed to more— that I could see the water stain in the corner of her ceiling. (One not two) And the cabinet door slightly ajar. (Four not three)

Dust on the magazine stack. (LPED) Picture askew. (PCEFD) Shade cord missing. And yet, I whispered to her in the dark, her beam of light piercing me, I had stopped changing lanes if I could help it. And when I do, I check the side mirror, then the rear, then the side again, and unable to trust where shadows end, turn and crane my neck for a direct view, free from the interpretation of mirrors. She said my eyes were fine, which crushed me. But that is when she put her hand on my arm, and I saw the soft brown spots on her wrist, the bright pattern of her blouse beneath the sleeve of her white coat, and she added that I wasn’t losing my mind either.

Of course I had stopped trusting mirrors, she said, her gray eyes wide and clear behind her own thick lenses, and I saw her crow’s-feet, the hollows in her cheeks, the skin just starting to sag under her chin. Then mine reflected back at me, her hand on my arm as we sat together.

Adam Matson Scream Queen

Los Angeles sparkled below us like creation itself, and we stood like gods against the railing of the overlook. Danny and I decided to drive up Mulholland one night for no other reason than that there’s no other road quite like it. A twisting mountain passage with big houses and lush trees, hairpin turns and steep canyons. The city shines around you, boundless. Danny had moved to LA to become an actor, against his parents’ wishes, and I had moved there because he said it was awesome, against my parents’ wishes. “This is the street where Brando lived, dude,” Danny said when we were back in the car, winding our way through the mountains. “I mean, he actually lived here.” So far he had not landed any significant roles in television or film. He was paying his dues, doing background and extra work, trying to accrue enough hours to join the union. His biggest part so far was playing a college student in a UCLA promotional video. “You want extra money, Russ, you should come along with me,” Danny said. “You’re Asian.” “Asian.” We laughed. “Not Chinese?” “It’s all the same to them.” Danny Ma. Russell Chang. Both of us born in Concord, Massachusetts. About as Chinese as crab rangoons.

“It sucks, we don’t even know martial arts,” Danny said. “We could be background Yakuza.” “They never taught us to fight in Advanced Calculus.” We were a long way from high school. Danny and I, and Grace Yi, and Hideki Matsumoto, had been so smart they’d created a special math class for us. Of course, right? Grace was at Yale Medical School now. Hideki was getting his Master’s at M.I.T. “Last month I worked background as a programmer on Silicon Valley,” Danny said, rocking in the passenger seat. “My parents were so excited when I told them. They thought I’d gotten a job as a programmer, and moved to Silicon Valley.” “My parents think I’m out here looking at grad schools,” I said. Really I was majoring in Los Angeles. One thing I loved about LA was that you could be listening to your favorite band while driving to a restaurant, then sit down to dinner and the singer from that band might be at table next to you. Then the next day you might go surfing out in Malibu. And it might be January. And none of that would be weird. “Dude, Jack Nicholson lives around here somewhere,” Danny said. We rounded a sharp turn and in the street light ahead of us we saw a white woman running naked down the road. Instinctively I slowed down, and Danny turned off the radio. “What do you think is up with this?” he asked. “I don’t know.” In any other city this might be The Weirdest Thing You Ever Saw, but in LA it was about a 6.5 out of 10.

I cruised past the woman, and we both sort of turned to look at her face. Her eyes were so wide we could see the whites, and she was screaming loud enough to drown out my engine. “Dude, pull over.” I eased to a stop. She ran toward us, a red, naked mirage in my tail lights. “What do we do?” Danny asked. “Well,” I said, but I had nothing. I put the car in park and we got out, left the doors open and the engine running. The woman looked to be about our age, mid-twenties. “Help me!” she cried, her voice harsh and out of breath. “They’re chasing me!” I held out my hands either to offer help or keep her at bay. Danny stood there with his mouth hanging open. “It’s okay,” I said, in a voice that did not sound like my own. “Please help me! Oh God, they’re chasing me!” “Who’s chasing you?” “I don’t know!” Her whole body rippled with tremors. She held her shaking hands against her chest. “I met them at a club- they said they were producersthey asked if I wanted to hang out- I went-” Her words sputtered out like stray bullets. “They put something in my drink- I think they put something in my drinksuddenly they were pulling my clothes off- and I just ran! Oh, God, please help me!” “Okay,” I said again. “It’s okay.” I looked at Danny and his face was pale. In the distance we could hear the roar of the city. “Hey, come back! Where are you?”

A man’s voice cried out in the darkness, somewhere above us. The girl released a high-pitched shriek. I stood frozen still. She screamed again. “Where the fuck are you?” “She’s down on the fuckin’ road!” Another voice, older, rougher. “Let’s get out of here,” Danny whispered. I grabbed the girl’s arm and pulled her toward the car. Opened the back door and she jumped in. Behind us we heard the squealing tires of a car. “Oh, Jesus,” Danny said. The girl screamed again. “It’s okay, calm down!” I cried. She twisted around, staring out the back window. “Hurry! Go!” I hit the gas, but Mulholland was no race course. Anything over 30 was a bad idea. The road rose steeply and we grumbled uphill. A car came the other way and I swerved suddenly, riding the ditch. There was no guardrail and a steep drop beside us. Danny closed his eyes. I braked and took a deep breath. We crept around a hairpin turn, cruised into a straightaway. I floored it again. Climbed higher into the hills. Frantically checked the rearview. The girl began to moan. “Oh, god, it’s them….” I turned and saw headlights behind us. Not right behind, but several turns back, and a couple hundred feet below. Far enough that I could lose them. “Just go, man,” Danny said. “Don’t look back.”

“Please go faster,” the girl said. “I’m going as fast as I can!” I stepped on it, jerking the wheel like an arcade game, the car growling, lurching, steering wheel shaking. The land vanished beside us and we saw the Valley sprawling in the canyon below. I scanned the road for a driveway, a turn, anything. “Call the fucking cops,” I said to Danny. He stared at his phone. “No reception up here.” I threw mine at him. “Nothing,” he said. “Shit.” The headlights flickered in the rearview, dipping in and out of the darkness like a winking eye. The girl started to cry. Ahead I saw a side street, winding uphill, no street lights, black. I jammed on the breaks and swerved into the turn, gunned it up the hill, nearly lost it on another sharp turn, stopped suddenly in the parking space of a “scenic overlook.” Shut off the car. “Nobody move.” Through the trees we could see Mulholland below us. I stared at the black road, not breathing. Danny leaned forward and craned his neck for a view. The girl clutched her face, sucking back tears. A moment later a car went by. We saw the red flash of tail lights and a bolt of ice shot through my heart. But the tail lights vanished, bleeding away. We did not move. The night air was hot and still. “I think we’re okay,” I said eventually. “Where does this road go?” Danny asked.

I had no idea. From the backseat I could hear the girl’s teeth chattering. I turned around, averted my eyes from her nakedness. “There’s a bathing suit and towel back there,” I said, pointing randomly. She fished around in the dark and found my bathing suit, pulled it on. She wrapped the towel around her shoulders. She sat there quaking, mouth moving but no words coming out. Eyes bleary now, dazed. “We should find a police station,” Danny said. “I think we need to get back on Mulholland,” I said. “No,” said the girl. “I have no idea where we are.” One turn and lost. I started the car and crept around in a slow circle, headed back down the slope. Stopped at the intersection. “Back the way we came?” Danny asked. “That’s a long way,” I said. “We’re not far from the 405. Maybe a couple of miles.” I turned back onto Mulholland. Now we were heading the same direction as the car that had been following us. I saw no tail lights ahead. I drove slowly, normally, fingers gripping the wheel, heart pounding. The turns were sudden and pitch black, every curve a possible collision. We drove for a couple of miles. No freeway. Danny kept checking his phone. “Signal?” “No.” “What’s your name?” I asked the girl in the back. “B- Briana.”

“I’m Russ, this is Dan. We’re going to take you to the police, okay?” Easier said than done. We passed several roads, some of them labeled, others not, leading either up or down into darkness. The city bubbled on the horizon like lava. “Oh God….” Briana groaned. “Slow down, man.” A Porsche or a Ferrari, some ungodly fast LA car, had stopped in the middle of the lane, engine running, tail lights like red eyes glaring at us. “That’s their car,” Briana said. “Get down,” I told her. “Just get way down, on the floor. Don’t look up.” I pulled into the oncoming lane. The sports car’s driver’s window rolled down and a young man with a blonde beard and curly hair leaned out. “Hey!” he cried. “Don’t stop,” Danny said. “It’s cool,” I said. “They don’t know who we are.” The man waved. Clearly wanted us to stop. I rolled to a stop, rolled down Danny’s window. “Hey, man,” the man said, grinning, smoking a butt. “Hey, dudes, listen, this is so weird, but did you see a naked chick back there on the road? Like running? We kinda lost her.” “No,” I said. “Back there on the road?” Danny said nothing. “Yeah, fuck,” the man said, half-laughing. “She just jumped out of our car, man. Crazy fuckin’ bitch. Give ‘em a little E and it’s like… you know what I mean?” “Yeah,” I said. “Didn’t see anybody. Sorry.”

I started to drive away. “Hey!” he called after us. I picked up speed. The Porsche revved to life. “Shit,” Danny said, rolling up his window. “What if they have a fuckin’ gun?” Briana started crying again in the back. “I don’t know, man, are they coming?” The Porsche roared behind us. I stepped on the gas, taking the turns way too fast, careening through the night. We passed another oncoming car and missed it by inches. The Porsche caught up to us in about thirty seconds. Rode our tail. “Russ, he’s gonna hit us!” Danny cried. “Please, God, don’t stop!” Briana wailed. She sat up, saw the headlights behind us, and let out another quaking scream. “Keep your head down!” I shouted. But they definitely saw her now. The Porsche inched closer. Its headlights vanished in my rearview and I could now see the outlines of two heads. Suddenly I felt angry. They wanted to run us off the road. I would not let them fuck up my car. I eased off the gas. “What are you doing?” Danny asked. “Trying not to get us killed.” “Go fucking faster!” Briana shrieked. I ignored them both. I had a plan. We passed a sign for the 405 and I felt a pinch of relief. Around the next turn the road straightened out, and I saw the freeway onramp. The 405 planed below us, blasting north and south like a runway. I slowed the car to a stop, a hundred yards from the onramp.

“Russ, man, what the hell are you doing?” Briana’s crying turned to heaving sobs. She curled up in a ball and buried her face in the seat cushion. I watched the rearview mirror, waiting. “Don’t move,” I whispered. The Porsche sat about fifteen feet behind us, engine chugging, high beams burning into our car. I squinted into the side view, watching the driver’s door. “Come on….” The driver’s door opened. A moment later a man stepped out. Closed the door. Started walking toward us. “Oh, shit, Russ, they’re coming.” Danny squirmed in his seat. I tried to see if the man was holding a gun or any other weapon but it was too dark to see. Foot on the break, I shifted into Drive. The man was two feet from my window, his buddy flanking us on Danny’s side. I floored the accelerator and we rocketed toward the onramp. Eyes darting between the exit and the rearview, I saw the two men standing in the road, shaken and surprised. They hesitated for maybe five seconds, then turned and ran back to their car. Just enough time for us to make the onramp. I leaned hard on the wheel and punched the gas, tires squealing, the car drifting into the long turn. No headlights behind us. The onramp straightened, melted into the freeway and I blasted between the oncoming cars. No turn signal. In a split second we were a ghost on the freeway, one of a thousand anonymous cars. In the rearview I saw the Porsche pull onto the highway behind us, but it was too far back. LA traffic hemmed it in, a long, moving fence, impenetrable. “Both of you get down,” I said, and Danny and Briana ducked.

I drove the speed limit, pulled into the right lane and put an eighteenwheeler beside me. Glancing out the side window, I saw the Porsche haul ass two lanes over, flying by, a Hail Mary sailing down the road toward the city. “Adios, amigos,” I whispered. We got off at Sunset, headed toward Westwood. Danny pulled up the GPS on his phone and guided us to a police station. Nobody was following us now. “I have some more clothes in the trunk,” I told Briana, and when we pulled into the police station I got them for her.

About a month later I told this story to a customer at the bar I worked at and he said it might make a cool screenplay. He was a producer or something. I thought about it for about two days, even called the police station to speak to the detective. “Never heard back from her,” the detective said. “She had no idea who they were or where they took her, so there’s nothing more we can do.” He sounded annoyed, as if the whole night on Mulholland had been some charade Briana and Danny and I had cooked up ourselves, for kicks. I let it drop.

But Los Angeles has a way of taking weird to the next level. About two months after the incident Danny was at a casting call on the Sony lot for a horror movie. He was auditioning for a role as an extra who died horribly. The scene called for a whole mob of people to die horribly. As Danny told it to me later, he was waiting around to meet the casting director, and in the conference room where the reading was he heard this blood-curdling woman’s scream.

“There was no doubt in my mind,” Danny said. “It was her.” He waited in the lobby, and when the door opened Briana walked out. He said he almost didn’t recognize her because she was fully clothed and had dyed her hair super blonde. “Briana,” he said. “It’s Danny….” No recognition. “We met on Mullholland Drive….” Instant recall. He said she “went pale.” They talked for a few minutes, in low voices, trying not to attract attention. He asked her if she was okay. “Getting better,” she said. “I heard you scream just now.” She nodded. “Yeah, well, now I’ve had the practice.” Trying to laugh it off. He told her he was from Massachusetts and she said she was from Minnesota. “Did you think about going home?” he asked. “After it happened?” “Yeah, totally, I almost did,” she said. “But then I got a call back, and another call back, and, you know, I guess I’m still here.” Danny stayed in LA for a few more years. I only stayed another few months, then went home and applied to grad schools. I liked Los Angeles, for the sunshine and the weirdness, but ultimately I couldn’t live there. The city didn’t have a soul.

Dustin Pearson Beliefs

For the longest I’ve believed any man I meet will want to hurt me eventually. I remember walking into this office, lights off, with more than enough daylight to see the red paisley rug at the center, under the brown high back executive chair catty cornered by the bookcase. I remember wanting to believe something else. He was an academic. I’d heard from everyone who studied under him the brilliant therapist he’d make, and better for me to work up to the real thing. I sat, talking through the incident that provoked my suspicion, though never disclosing it while he stared and listened, the details hollowing out his eyes. He never moved his feet, even as the fit of his suit pulled harder around him as if his body underneath was changing.

I could see the clenching of his hand on the arm of his chair. He kept silent, less opening his mouth to ask information I wasn’t offering, and I think I knew at that point what I’d given was exciting to him. Maybe it would’ve paid to stay, to learn what about the encounter, as an adult, would make it different, able to see each button of his shirt unfastening, the belt undone, the buckle fallen next to his pants, and the bulge bust open, the appendage stiff after unraveling, the rest of him sitting pink and white, a landscape for an early yield of wheat stalked across his entire body.

Elizabeth Kert Letting Go

I kept a firm grip on my eight-ounce cup of freshly brewed Starbucks while whispering a barely audible “Thank you” as I paid the cashier presiding over the mélange of doctors, nurses, and visitors in the hospital cafeteria. I made my way slowly to the elevator, trying to think of some distraction to delay my ascent from the street level to the sixth floor; I made a detour to the ladies’ room. I was terrified. The prospect of helping my sister and brother decide how long we would sustain my mother’s life overwhelmed me. I felt helpless, angry, and confused. I kept wondering if we should do absolutely everything to keep her with us for as long as possible. I worried that she and I had more to say to each other and more to share. Most terrifying was that she would leave too soon, and I would not be ready to manage my own life. Unfortunately, it took no time at all to reach the lobby, which was adjacent to the intensive care unit where Mom’s labored breathing kept her confined. My brother Charlie had flown to Los Angeles from his home in New Hampshire. My efficient sister, Kathryn, lived close by. She had time to complete her daily routine of yoga stretches, a brisk walk, and steel-cut oatmeal with organic strawberries before arriving at the hospital. My physical fitness regimen varied daily, and rather than adhering to any particular schedule, I took the next available Pilates class or walked the hills in my neighborhood if I remembered to do so before my son needed my attention, or it was time to get the next meal on the table. I admired my sister’s selfdiscipline, but as she resembled my mother in this regard, I sometimes bristled

at what I perceived as rigidity. This morning I was too anxious to eat breakfast or organize myself for an aerobic workout before driving to the hospital. Charlie, Kathryn, and I sat on the black leather and chrome chairs that were arranged under the large picture window framing a view of the world outside: young mothers pushing baby strollers, people gathered for lunch at any number of cafés in the surrounding neighborhood, and cars waiting in line to park at the Beverly Center shopping mall across the street. I could see palm trees and the hills of Trousdale Estates, north of Doheny Drive, where I had grown up. Healthy people moved through their day while the sick and their relatives struggled to make sense of a different reality. Our family doctor, Phil Levine, joined us, and my siblings were both remarkably composed as they asked pertinent questions. I rambled to myself. My questions were not about Mom’s medical care. “Why was she able to leave her mother in St. Louis and come to Los Angeles with my father? How was she so successful? What was the source of our connection to each other? Was I too dependent on her? Did she help me too much? Did I want to be more like her?” She might never be the source of answers to these recurring questions, but perhaps I would. Mom’s dementia had left her speechless. It had been over a year since I heard her voice. Back in July she called me at home in San Francisco to ask, “How is Nico? Are you still dating Robert? Where are you teaching? Do you have enough money?” My brother reiterated that Mom would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state. “It would be great if she can come home,” he said, “but only if she has some chance for a normal life.”

His tall, lean frame and deep, steady voice reminded me of my father. Like Dad, Charlie was a physician and he had inherited his ability to be both reassuring and realistic when faced with medical uncertainties. For me, the problem was that my mother’s life would never again be normal. The dementia would progress and she would eventually die, no matter what kind of care she received. My sister-in-law Cathy held my hand as I struggled to focus on the medical questions now before us. She knew how much I depended on Mom. Unlike me, she had periodically been estranged from her parents. Perhaps as a result, she adored her in-laws, and as surrogate parents, they helped her transition into the demanding and sometimes lonely role of a doctor’s wife. Cathy preferred to live in a small New England city, but my father was dismayed when she and my brother moved from Los Angeles to Nashua. Mom, however, supported their desire to establish some autonomy from my parents’ professional and personal lives. Charlie had joined a nephrology practice not far from my father’s office soon after he and Cathy were married. Dad was thrilled: not only had his son become a doctor, but as my father reluctantly anticipated his retirement, he looked forward to feeling useful and stimulated as Charlie sought his advice, thus appreciating the wisdom my father had accumulated from so many years as a highly regarded physician. Dad did not want to lose my brother’s companionship, and seemed to forget that he had encouraged my mother to leave her parents in St. Louis soon after they got married. My father did not want to compete with his in-laws for Mom’s attention, and he needed my mother to fill the void left by the premature death of his own mother.

Mom encouraged her son and his family to leave California without recalling the guilt she felt as she left her mother, who was depressed and had always relied on her oldest daughter. Mom was unsentimental. Her reluctance to look back, or to deeply analyze her choices, could appear superficial or simplistic, but it was very appealing to friends and family, who regularly consulted her when facing difficult decisions. Mom was able to prioritize her own needs, which not only enabled her to achieve her goals but also, more importantly, staved off guilt and remorse. It was easier for her to be hopeful and optimistic because she had become adept at focusing on the present and moving forward. Over the years, she reassured me before my college exams, reminded me not to settle for any man who did not absolutely adore me, and inspired me to be a single mother equally committed to my son and my personal development. She reminded Cathy, her daughter-in-law, to keep her life balanced as she raised her four children and supported my brother’s growing medical practice. Mom always felt her mother would have been much happier if she had been able to develop a career. My grandfather, she explained, did not want his wife to work. “They had two small children, and men in his station of life—particularly in the thirties—didn’t encourage their wives to work.” When it came time for my mother to start her own family, she knew that she was only temporarily putting aside her dream of becoming a successful writer. She did not want to rely on parenting as her only source of fulfillment, to make sure she would not become agitated and depressed like her mother. As Cathy and I sat waiting to discuss the options for Mom’s care, we clasped hands tightly, as if our firm grasp would keep my mother close for as long as

possible. She was our advocate and lovingly challenged us to take care of ourselves even as our children and partners clamored for our attention. How would we sustain ourselves without her? Those assembled had to decide what would happen if Mom’s lungs were not strong enough to function without artificial assistance. Would we reintubate her? How many times? If her lungs became stronger and she could breathe on her own, would we consider inserting a feeding tube? My brother clarified the medical terminology as my sister leaned forward in her chair and listened intently. I was engulfed by anxiety and started crying. Cathy squeezed my hand. Even though I was older than my siblings, I perpetually felt that I was trying to catch up to them. In my mind they were successful, independent, and perfectly married. I was single, with one child, and in many ways Mom was my partner. As we contemplated the medical options, all I thought about was how would I manage my fears and disappointments without her there to comfort me. From a very early age, I had depended on her to handle my anxieties, and I had a hard time imagining how I could proceed without her.

Joddy Murray XOCOLÄ€TL

Bitter drink from a tree named to be consumed by immortals, cacao pods as orange as pumpkins that sprout from its bark, zits on the neck of an evergreen ready to burst— so many reasons this could never be chocolate. Buses of microbes must salivate and defecate and bathe enzymatic love with acids so kind they create fats my grandmother must have had as she squatted to envelop her arms to scoop up any number of children around. Her pod. Her chocolaty absolution to do better, to do more, to treat with sugary flavonoids: our stained teeth, our engines cranked, converting everyday hugs and sticky hands into flight.

Cezarija Abaritis

I Have a Question For You The thought entered Paula’s mind, What if, in twenty years, I become Louise? Disgruntled, desperate? People questioning my sanity. Paula had to get hold of herself. She was not Louise. Not Louise. Louise looked back at her, eyes burning, perfume sharp, hands twisting the hem of her blouse. “I have a question for you,” Louise said, as if this were a gift. Paula felt herself slipping into a noisy machine with swirling blades. (Children chanted, Would you rather slide down a razor blade into a vat of alcohol or suck a dead man’s nose until his face caved in?) “I want to be an egg again and start all over,” Louise said. “I want different students, or maybe the same ones but interested.” “To be young but have the wisdom of age. . . ” “No. To have the wisdom of age erased–that’s what I want. To believe that Ken will live forever. I’m . . . forlorn.” Her shoulders slumped. Here was madness. Paula’s head ached. The perfume in the room buzzed. “I love Ken,” Louise said. “And he’s going off with Mister Death.” She flicked at a yellow alabaster egg on the corner of her desk. “Imagine that. The giant egg in

the sky.” Louise sighed. “I’m not as crazy as I sound.” She shook her head. “I can be sane. Watch me.” Louise’s slitted eyes looked tricky. What secrets did she know? Paula could use some secrets herself. Magic. That’s what she needed to get through the day. Vinegar for cleaning windows, soda for cleaning teeth, her mother used to say. “My banister is leaning. Can you recommend a carpenter? I need to do my taxes. Can you recommend an accountant? Ken is dying and won’t be able.” “I’ll get you the phone number of my accountant.” Louise picked up the alabaster egg and rolled it in her hands. “Where is the girl I used to be?” Her eyes were empty, searching the office as if for treasure. “I lost an earring.” She tapped her chest. “And I have a pain in my lungs. It rips me.” “You should see a doctor.” “They don’t know.” “They know lots of things–antibiotics, blood tests.” “They can’t fix cancer.” She smiled. “They’re not a carpenter who can fix a leaning bannister. The telomeres are short and dying for Ken.” “You must have hope.”

“So I can be dropped from a great height and smashed to a jelly ?” She raised her hand above her head and cut the air down to her lap. “My students don’t matter. I don’t matter.” “We do matter.” “To Mother Nature? Doctors? Mister Death? But what do you do when family disappears? Tell me.” “I’m interested in art and literature and music. Those things sustain me.” Paula sounded pretentious to herself. “My teaching. My students. I feel I’m part of a cultural thread.” “Threads can fray. I feel I’m part of a chain.” “Even better.” “The links are stretching, breaking. Do you have welding equipment?” Louise’s eyes were wide and beseeching.

Contributors Cezarija Abaritis Cezarija Abartis’ “Nice Girls and Other Stories” was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is Elizabeth Kert Elizabeth has had articles published in the Boulder Daily Camera, Ann Arbor News, and Racine Journal Times. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Michigan and a BA in aesthetic studies from UC Santa Cruz. She has lived in San Francisco since 1981 and spent many years performing with Bay Area modern dance companies. She enjoys reading, dancing, cooking and studying Italian. She currently tutors elementary school students in writing through 826 Valencia, a program developed by the author, Dave Eggers. Working with young writers reminds her to always laugh, have hope, and stay present! Adam Matson Adam’s fiction has appeared in The Bryant Literary Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, The Driftless Review, The

Indiana Voice Journal, The Broadkill Review, Happy Magazine, and The Cynic Online Magazine, with a forthcoming publication in Infernal Ink Magazine. Joddy Murray Joddy Murray’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 70 journals, including, most recently, The Broken Plate, DUCTS, Caliban Online, Existere, Lindenwood Review, Licking River, Meridian, McNeese Review, Minetta Review, Moon City Review, Moonshot Magazine, Painted Bride Quarterly, Pembroke Magazine, Southampton Review, Stickman Review, and Texas Review.He currently teaches writing and rhetoric in Fort Worth, Texas. Dustin Pearson Dustin Pearson is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University, where he also serves as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. He was awarded the 2015 Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Born in Charleston, he is from Summerville, South Carolina. C.C. Russell C.C. Russell lives in Wyoming with his wife and daughter. His writing has appeared in such places as the New York Quarterly, Pearl, and the Cimarron Review. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net. He has held jobs in a wide range of vocations – everything from graveyard shift convenience store clerk to retail management with stops along the way as dive bar dj and swimming pool maintenance. He has also lived in New York and Ohio. He can be found on Twitter @ c_c_russell

Laura Schulkind Poet and writer Laura Schulkind is an attorney by day, where she is entrusted with others’ stories. Through fiction and poetry she tells her own. Her chapbook, “Lost in Tall Grass,” was released in May 2014 by Finishing Line Press and her poetry and short fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Bluestem, Caveat Lector, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Dos Passos Review, Eclipse, Forge, The MacGuffin, Minetta Review, OxMag, The Penmen Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Talking River, Tiger’s Eye, andWillow Springs. Her published work can also be seen on her, along with musings on why “lawyer-poet” is not an oxymoron. She and her husband divide their time between Berkeley and Big Sur California. Her two grown sons continue to inspire her.

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