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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 185


Issue 185 March 9, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine


CONTENTS Tom Whalen Ladies Slippers

G. K. Wuori

Abattoir Emily

Allen C. West

Grateful

Mark Anthony Rossi Pimp Slap My Poodle

Tricia Yost

Everything to Look Forward To

R. L. Ugolini

We Ate and Ate and Ate and Were Happy

Jeff Fleischer

Alchemy


Tom Whalen Ladies Slippers

What to make of this slipper fancier, i.e., adorer, from a distance, often through shop windows, of ladies’ shoes? I notice that whenever a slippered foot enters the bedroom or parlor of this novel, which it has a tendency to do with a frequency not in access of reality, the prose raises its head, listens more closely, in one incident to wind rippling across Lake Thun as if over a dark evening gown the woman I adore would likely never be seen in, but whom, at the moment I read this passage, I imagine strolling across a lawn in that dress in moonlight at the birthday celebration of the town’s recently elected mayor, who, while at university thirty years ago, had loved the woman whose footwear this novel relishes pages upon, as if what graced her feet were not simply what any housewife and university instructor would wear, but something of such supreme rarity it deserves our admiration, even worship. I feel compelled to confess the elegantly shod heroine of Ladies’ Slippers reminded me in ways not altogether comfortable of a woman I know intimately only in my imagination. I would send her a copy of the novel or of my review, but I don’t want her or you to get the wrong impression. Unshod female feet, by the way, also meet my approval, though Ladies’ Slippers keeps this thought, if thought it is, under, so to speak, wraps. But back to the wind: the description of it goes on for four pages, a feat I in no way deride, any more than I do women who spend a sizeable portion of their incomes upon footgear. In fact, I admire any woman who can obtain money in our misogynistic society. When K. comes running up to the narrator in her gold and black, newly purchased Nikes, he fears for a moment


he’ll swoon. I’m not saying I myself would make an especially congenial or for that matter diligent pedicurist, but I can imagine worse occupations. Of course we know where these shoes come from, the slave conditions under which they’re manufactured, the slaughter houses. Not for a moment did I forget this while reading … well, perhaps for a few moments I did. But we shouldn’t demand of an author who finds aesthetic pleasures inscribed in ladies’ shoes that he fly off to Indonesia or China or Vietnam and report his findings in a book whose social significance and impact is already limited to a niche market.


G. K. Wuori

Abattoir Emily

I don’t know much about the incidence of feline consumption in the world, though it might happen in Mississippi, a state most Americans are embarrassed about and would gladly sell, say, to Cuba, or even Alaska if they can get their earthquakes under control. We have a problem, though, consuming anything governed by the ominous sounding Vector Control. Betty, for example (and she’s rarely an example as you’ll see), once threatened her children with Vector Control, explaining that if things didn’t change they’d be trapped with head-nets on long poles and taken out to a park or a farm, there to subsist on grubs and bitter acorns. When it turned out that her two kids, Walpole and Mildred, had no idea what a head-net, grub, or acorn was, she made them go out and paint the garage pink (for breast cancer) with toothbrushes. By the time they finished they were sixteen and fourteen with more or less permanently pink teeth. That, of course, was a bit of hyperbole. Fairly succinctly, however, and with no small amount of tongue in cheek, is it established that Betty’s having problems with her kids. Many people have problems with their kids, of course, but Betty was a busy person and didn’t have a lot of time for books or therapy or for having doctors check her kids’ livers to see if they could tolerate some world-altering medication.

Betty, by the way, is in her forties and has been quite active in community theater, performing regularly in several plays I’ve written. She enjoys wearing


skimpy costumes because she thinks it pleases, and may even be therapeutic for, the only man in her life right now, her parish priest, Father Ricky Gomez. Betty hasn’t been to Mass in years, but she works part-time making breakfast for Father Gomez and doing his laundry. She also knows Father Gomez has a fondness for the bright red varnish she usually wears on her toenails. For breakfast Betty likes to make the good father pot roasts, fried chicken, Reuben sandwiches, pork chops, and the occasional pea, bean, or vegetable soup. She’ll make him a batch of garlic bread, too, along with side dishes of scrambled eggs, lime Jello, mushroom beans, and beer-batter zucchini sticks. She knows Father Ricky finds her breakfast menus quite strange, but he is too polite to say anything and simply eats what she prepares. Betty thinks his calm acceptance might also be due to her showing up on most days wearing only her bathrobe – not as a temptation, but to make Father Ricky feel as though he’s a proper part of a proper family life. Betty, as everyone knows, does have some views on the handling of liturgical practitioners.

Betty has been hesitant in calling Vector Control about Walpole and Mildred because she does not like dealing with the government, not even the cute Vector Control officer she met at the supermarket one time. Her name (Betty will always say, “honestly”) was Valerie Princess, an oddly ebony (in Betty’s town, often thought of as a haven for white supremacists) beauty with pixie hair and a degree in animal husbandry. Betty’s also been hesitant in calling Valerie Princess because, like most of us, she’s never quite sure that the things she threatens to do are things she actually wants to do.


Her children, though, Walpole and Mildred, contacted Valerie Princess on their own, what they thought of as a pre-emptive strike. They’d learned early on that their mother was eccentric, and that if she threatened to have them both encased in concrete it was best to check behind the garage regularly to see if there’d been any deliveries of gravel or Readi-Mix. “She seems to be regarding us as akin to mice, rats, bats, termites, centipedes, mosquitoes, flies, and all the eggs, sprouts, and larvae therefrom,” Walpole said to Valerie Princess. “Is there really some kind of kinship?” Then Mildred added, “Can she really have us sprayed or zapped on one of those little electric cookers? Or released into a wilderness to fend for ourselves on gizzard gravel, sparrow sweat, or the occasional skinned water moccasin?” Valerie Princess thought the kid’s concerns amusing, but she took them seriously and suggested they sit down and have a good talk with their mother. Occasionally respectful of authority, Walpole and Mildred did just that. “We need to have a talk, mom,” Walpole said late one night. “Okay,” said Betty. “Talking’s always good. How about if we all sit down and have a good breakfast tomorrow? Father Gomez is going to be out of town for a few days so we’ll have plenty of time to talk and plenty of time for you to see how you’ve failed to meet the team objectives.”

“Regional sales goals?” Walpole asked the next morning as he dug into a nice piece of baked salmon. “By analogy,” said Betty. “That’s what I meant. You’re only as good as what you bring to the table – so to speak. Sometimes I feel as though I don’t know who you are or what you like or what you’re good at. Neither of you.” That one word Betty pronounced ny-ther.


Mildred, filling up on scalloped potatoes and ham, said, “I am passionate about music. I honestly feel that’s what I bring to the table.” “Not really,” Betty said. “You think you are because you have those little earbuds on your ears all the time. But you don’t sing. You don’t play any instrument. You’re thin enough for ballet but as clumsy as an octopus in a phone booth.” “What’s a phone booth?” Mildred asked. “Never mind,” said Betty. “Mostly, you just have that clatter against your ears because you’re afraid to confront the emptiness of growing up, the thin wail of the void you hold onto with only the lightest grip of your varnished toenails – black, I notice. That’s not good.” “Wow!” said Walpole. “I knew she was a freak.” “Don’t wave your wiener too proudly in sibling triumph, young man,” Betty said, “or at least not as proudly as you wave your butt out of those ridiculous jeans you wear. Do you honestly think girls want to see your anus?” “Um,” said Walpole. “I dress according to the standards of my time.”

Predictably, Betty thought, this is how it goes. Neither of her children could see themselves as the salvator of life as it’s known in modern times. No trip down to Guatemala to feed the poor for either of them, no mission of seeking jacaranda sap as curative for everything from smoking to obesity to being underinsured. After serving them a fine tuna and peach casserole as a breakfast dessert Betty asked Mildred what she wanted out of life. “I’d like better hair,” Mildred said. “You kooked-out marmoset,” said Betty. “I think I’m going to have you turned into a giant ring of diva sausage.”


Betty, naturally enough at such times, questioned her own parenting skills. She wondered, her wonder tinged with guilt (of course), how these two knotholes had emerged from her vagina.

Later that afternoon Walpole and Mildred walked down to the last true butcher shop in the entirety of that north central region of the state, a place that went by the odd name Abattoir Emily. Sawdust covered the floor and a weepy, metallic aroma filled the air. Three long white coolers fronted and backed with glass filled the shop. In the coolers sat an array of meats that neither had ever seen, trays of brains and calves liver and pancreases, pallid pigs feet, goat testicles, oxtails, cow tongue, hog spleens, and even a tray filled by two cow hearts. “We need to be sure we never tell mother about this shop,” Mildred said quietly to Walpole. “I’m sure she knows,” said Walpole, “and I’m sure we’ve eaten things from these very trays. You know she’d cook up a skunk if she could find a decent sauce to go with it.” Finally, taking charge as the older sibling, Walpole asked the butcher what it would take to turn a human being into sausage. “That’s an odd question,” the butcher said. “These are odd times,” said Walpole. “Very well,” said the butcher. “Above all, I would say, it takes willingness.” The butcher’s name was Asa Manganese, eldest son of Karl and Maypole Manganese, the family just another rung on a long ladder of Manganese’s that led back to Andrew Jackson’s time which, crusty family letters confirm, was not a good time.


“How so, my good man?” said Walpole. At sixteen he felt a need to address the elderly in somewhat formal fashion. “A willingness to do it, a willingness to be it,” the butcher said. “It’s not all just meat, you know. A good sausage is like a United Nations of all the elements. You might find yourself intimately connected with a true familiar, or you might find yourself rubbing bone and cartilage with, say, that one teacher you despised above all others. What was her name?” “Mrs. Groantoast,” said Walpole. “Of course, of course,” said Asa Manganese. “I slept – dated her daughter for a time. She, the daughter, lost a leg in one of our many forgotten wars but you couldn’t keep her off the dance floor. Still, I don’t think anyone in that family ever had a good thing to say about anything in the entire catalog of humanospatial-temporal existence. You hated her, right, the mother? Mrs. Groantoast?” “With all my heart,” said Walpole. “Such unions, though, the fair and the foul, therein lies flavor,” he said. “Kids your age, though, flavor’s still a mystery. You’ve not got it much in your lives.” Just then, Mildred leaned in to Walpole and said, “I’m a little scared, Wally.” “Don’t be afraid, little one,” said the butcher. “One minute you’re sweet, the next you’re savory. Be glad you’re a carnivore and not broccoli headed for vegetable lasagna. That tends to be painful.” Asa Manganese laughed, then, at his scary joke, although neither Walpole nor Mildred got it. “Can she do it, though?” said Mildred. “Our mother? She said she was thinking about it.” “Do you have any other brothers or sisters?” asked Asa Manganese. “No, sir,” said Walpole.


“No, sir,” said Mildred. “Are you sure?” said Asa Manganese.

Betty sold health insurance for a large, multi-national corporation. She was part of an agency that had established her, in her home, as (officially) an outpost. That designation pleased her and gave her home a certain pioneering cachet, the feel almost of a rebel camp. Since the town was small and the insurance market slim, Betty had to supplement her income. She’d tried delivering newspapers for a large Chicago daily, but had to quit that when a change in the delivery schedule required her to be up at four A.M. Lingerie parties had worked for a good many years, at least until she began to realize that the average age of her participants had slowly crept up from somewhere in the forties to nearly sixty. Success by word of mouth might normally be considered a good thing, but when she saw those mouths increasingly filled with dentures she could see the limits on selling desire. Home delivery, though, of breakfast had a nice sound to it. Oddly enough, it had been Mildred who’d first come up with the idea. Betty had always had people over for the occasional breakfast as just a friendly bit of social deviance (having always found dinner parties terribly boring), and she’d never had anyone leave her house with anything but lavish praise for her braised short ribs and pomegranate pancakes, or her eggs scrambled in cream and served over her bacon pasta. Her cantaloupe and coffee soup was an odd hit, as was her prune and corn flake pie.


“People get pizza delivered, mom,” Mildred had said. “Chinese food. Italian beef sandwiches, prescription drugs from Canada, even pork chop dinners from the church. Why not breakfast?” Betty had noticed an attitude change in both Mildred and Walpole of late, but this contribution to their survival possibilities struck her as quite amazing. Even Walpole, seeing her start to cry, had gone to the bathroom and returned with a box of tissues. The box, however, turned out to be empty since Mildred had been experimenting with different breast sizes. “Was it that bad an idea, mom?” Mildred asked. “Oh no, my sweet,” Betty said. “It was a fine idea. A real idea. Honestly, I’m going to have to give it true thought.” Which she did at about the same time that she heard Father Gomez needed someone to prepare his morning meal. Unfortunately, both Mildred and Walpole assumed that the mere delivery of a good idea got them off the hook. Walpole getting both nipples pierced was as much of a slap to Betty as the day she discovered that not only had Mildred stopped wearing panties, but that she’d also thrown all of her panties away, even the ones she’d bought herself with those semi-cute sayings like, I.D. Required For Entry and No Is A Two-Letter Word Followed By A Ten-Year Sentence. By coincidence it was Valerie Princess who took the call from Betty. “I can’t even get them to sit down for dinner anymore,” Betty said to Valerie, “and my son said he was thinking of calling the Internal Revenue Service about me.” “Is there something to worry about in that?” Valerie asked.


“No,” said Betty, “only that my son would give me over to the feds. Both of them, they’re just rats. You know, my daughter, just last night, called one of my old boyfriends and told him I was weeping and wailing and calling his name.” “Pranks,” Valerie began. “Our kids are always …” “I went out with him in high school!” Betty fairly shouted. “Can you imagine how embarrassing that was?” Valerie Princess wasn’t sure that Betty had such terrible kids, but she liked Betty and wanted to help her through such a difficult time. She never would have thought such a thing if she still lived in the city. There, you kept to yourself, studied martial arts, and joined gun clubs. But moving out here, what with her own kids – twins, no less! – entering their teenage years, she knew the only real help you had in anything was the help you could look in the eye and say, Jeepers, Creepers, can you think of anything? Then: Would you like some more coffee?

Valerie trapped both Mildred and Walpole late that evening. She used a special Spring Dickens 2300 weighted with lead shot – generally harmless but you could subdue anything from a bull in heat to a Mini Cooper (well, sort of) with it. The nice thing was you only had to secure one hasp and a buckle after bagging the prey. She had her truck parked in the alley with Walpole in the back when Mildred came home in sneak-in mode. She hadn’t gagged Walpole because she thought that was cruel, and she fully expected Walpole would call out if he saw Mildred coming – which he did. Mildred ran, but before hitting her with the SD 2300 Valerie Tasered her – something she’d always wanted to do. Her first thought


was, Maybe that’s a good thing what Betty said about the panties, since Mildred released a gusher of urine as she struggled on the ground. Mildred, though, young as she was, recovered quickly and began struggling against the steel netting. Valerie finally told her, “The more you work it, the tighter it gets.” “What are you doing?” said Mildred. “What is this?” “Asa Manganese is about as honest as Santa Claus,” Valerie said. “A fair dealer and a square shooter. So I thought we’d go talk with him. In the morning, of course.” “Who’s Asa Manganese?” Mildred whispered to Walpole. “He’s that meat cutter,” Walpole said, “the butcher guy.” “Oh, Jesus,” said Mildred. Valerie drove into the alley behind Abattoir Emily. “I only live a block away, kids,” she said, “so I think I’ll just have you hang out here until morning.” “We have a choice?” said Walpole. “Oh, right, of course,” said Valerie with a light laugh as she checked the hasps on the two Spring Dickens 2300’s. “Anyway, that little warehouse right there – I think it has a special scale for weighing big things. That’s probably what we’ll start with in the morning. Asa told me it’s always good to know at the beginning just how much weight you’re processing.” “How did I go from looking at college catalogs to worrying about being processed?” Walpole said to Mildred. Mildred said, “I’m very unhappy with mother right now. Nor do I particularly care for anyone but me to know my weight.” “Mildred?” Walpole said.


“Yes?” “What was it like when she Tasered you? What did it feel like?” “Illegal,” she said. “Illegal?” “It made me feel illegal. It was the pain of being in error, of being wrong, of being caught.” “Oh.” “It’s a dirty feeling, Wally.”

Early the next morning they heard voices coming from inside the shop. They remembered Asa Manganese as he came out of the shop with Valerie Princess. A big man, a bald man with unshaven white whiskers, red-faced but a happy man whose father and grandfather had run the shop on Pure Market Boulevard before Asa was born. The “Manganese boys” had a reputation borne out of supplying only the finest meats to the finest restaurants in Chicago, as well as furnishing that same quality of meat to the town at prices everyone could afford. “Oh, yes, yes, yes,” Asa Manganese said to Valerie as soon as he saw the kids. “I spoke to them not long ago. Seems they were fairly warned.” “Fairly warned,” said Valerie, “I believe they were.” “I’ll open the shed, dear,” said Asa. “You can just drive right in and we’ll hook them up to the scale.” Like a fish, a nice bluefin tuna, thought Valerie, as she watched Asa put the hook in at the bottom of Mildred’s net. A motor then, a hollow whine, as Mildred rose off the bed of the truck, hung for a moment as Asa looked at a


digital readout, and was then dropped rather impolitely back onto the truck bed. “Do you know if they’ve been fed recently, Valerie?” Asa asked. “Not on my watch,” said Valerie, “and that’s close to twelve hours now.” “Good,” said Asa, “an honest weight then.” “I should hope it would be an honest weight,” said a voice from the alley. Both Asa and Valerie turned to look toward the doorway. Father Ricky Gomez, fresh from Mass and wearing a cassock and surplice, stood in the alley. “Good morning, father,” both Asa and Valerie said, not quite in unison. In the warehouse now and standing next to Valerie’s truck, Father Gomez said, “You have Betty’s children.” “By her request, father,” said Valerie. “She says they are no longer recognizable, that they are no longer human.” “Hey!” said Walpole. Asa walked over to the truck bed then and tapped Walpole on the shin with a piece of pipe. “Hush, imp,” he said. Walpole said no more, but the smack to his bone had made him fart. “That’s not entirely her judgment to make, is it?” said Father Gomez. “A mother knows, I should think,” Valerie began, “when the spark, the virtual glow that makes us what we are is gone. Once that happens are we really anything more than fish feed?” “The future of our children needs to rest on something more solid than a metaphor,” said Father Gomez. “Discipline, that sort of thing. The soul, you know, never goes bad. Sometimes it gets misplaced, sometimes covered up. We’re all teachers, though, and the finding, the uncovering, is our job.”


“Look, bud,” said Asa, clearly (as Valerie quickly thought) not a Catholic man, “I have a business to run. Legal inventory is what it is, whether you like it or not.” “Certainly,” said Father Gomez. “You prepared to buy them from me and assume the maintenance?” said Asa. “What I am or am not or what I can or cannot do is not the issue here,” said Father Gomez. “Then out of the way, good sir,” said Asa. “We have sterilizing to do.” Both Mildred’s and Walpole’s eyes widened as they watched Asa Manganese take the lid off of the biggest steel pot they’d ever seen. In the morning chill a large cloud of steam rose up from the boiling water. “Do you need me for anything?” Valerie asked Asa as Asa pulled the two netted kids from the truck and onto the floor of the warehouse. “You’re sure you don’t want them?” he said. “I just put two-hundred squirrels in a place that can handle maybe sixty,” Valerie said. “Two kids? I don’t know. There’s always a burlap bag and water, but even the creeks are down right now and they’d hardly fit in the average toilet.” “I hear you,” said Asa. No question that it was unseemly, even embarrassing to watch the tears flow down the cheeks of Father Ricky Gomez. A pro-life man by nature and learning, he felt the world beginning to tilt in a perilous manner. Even Mildred and Walpole felt “oogy” (as Mildred said) by the display of the good priest’s tears, although they dearly appreciated his intervention in this odd thing where it looked like their lives might actually be at stake.


“We’re missing some things about this world,” Walpole had said to Mildred a while before. “I fear the world is going to be missing us shortly,” said Mildred. “Do you really think we were all that bad, Wally?” “I’m not sure that matters,” Walpole said. “Don’t ask me why. I thought for a while this was all a game, just something to make us see the poopheads we were. You know, like a TV program where everything works out in the end because it was written that way.” “And now you don’t?” said Mildred. “Now I’m wondering if we’re about to become one of mom’s loopy breakfasts,” said Walpole. “Good father,” Asa Manganese began, a dyspeptic surge in his gut seeming to mirror the tears falling down Father Gomez’s face, “I am neither the Archangel Michael nor his adversary. I run a butchery and my needs are rarely theological. If it’s all that important to you I can, I mean, I have a large amount of squab just came in. Broccoli just came in, too, and, you know, squab and broccoli – anyway, what I mean is …” “You would give these children to me?” said Father Gomez. “A handoff over the river Styx,” said Asa Manganese. “I can be Charon seeking a refund on an unnecessary purchase.” “I have no money,” said Father Gomez. “Oh, hell, they look a little boney anyway,” said Asa Manganese. “They probably skip their regular meal times,” said Father Gomez. “Naughty children will do that.” “What will you do with them, Father?” asked Asa.


“Their mother makes my breakfast every day,” said Father Gomez. “Did you know that?” “I don’t believe I did,” said Asa. “So some tough burlap and ashes, you know?” said Father Gomez. “Maybe evidence of flagellation – the saints, you see. So much direction there for behaviors. Tooth-pulling was always good for the truly devout, hair-pulling a good runner-up to that. I always liked it when they had their tongues cut out, but I suspect that’d be pretty messy.” “So you’re going to …” Asa began. “Sainthood, Asa. I will school them in that,” Father Gomez said. “Something good for Betty, a gift. Seeing your children on the way to sainthood – could anything be greater?”


Allen C. West Grateful

Along the road to Monplaisir homes are newly numbered, old umbrella pines gone bald, the wheat crop all beheaded, grain threshed and carted off, the amber eskers left to coil as once did your russet curls. Beneath the bridge, two rivers, l’Alzeau et la Dure, mingle in a green and easeful shade. Oh my love, how they murmur in their bed like you and I.


Mark Anthony Rossi Pimp Slap My Poodle

It’s hard to hate a Taco Bell dog. But I’m giving it every effort. He’s about the size of a cat; yet leaks more than a White House staffer. Wish I could train him to use a cat box. Wish he was as quiet as a church mouse. Wish his stomach wasn’t connected to my Visa debit card. He doesn’t like anyone but me. Why? I don’t know. I don’t take him on walks and have no patience for a weirdo in a winter coat of white wool. I’m not an animal hater. He was left to me by a dying relative. I grew up with cats. Now I’m stuck with dysfunctional doggie. And all I wanna do is pimp slap him whenever he starts barking at shadows. He means well. And probably misses my aunt whom treated him like a son. Sometimes in the afternoon after a rain storm I see him staring outside. He’s looking for a glimmer of her ghost dancing in the drops splashing against the window. He’s chasing yesterday because I haven’t adjusted fast enough to show him a tomorrow. Somehow this pain the butt mutt has stolen by heart. And I have to figure out a way to form a relationship with a lonely dog. I’m not about to hug a tree or save a frigging whale. But I’ll help this dummy find happiness again.


Tricia Yost

Everything to Look Forward To The body contains the life story just as much as the brain. – Edna O’Brien They suspended her mother’s bladder in a hammock because the tissue around it had gone slack, and she has taken to wearing a dust mask when she rides a bike, sometimes when she works in the yard or merely stands outside. You won’t talk to her those days. I can’t see your face. Only her eyes show above the polyester binding. Her eyes which she thinks reveal too much as it is. Still, you wait for the revelation of lips before asking her to rub your sore instep. It’s true you’re both getting older and have stopped telling each other how beautiful you’ll be


in your seventies. She tries not to notice as she carries her body, which used to carry her, through the day, or as she considers a friend’s mother who’s having her knees replaced with titanium. They shave that big bone at an angle. The femur. Yeah, they shave it. She thinks of her father’s face, unshaven all her life.


R. L. Ugolini

We Ate and Ate and Ate and Were Happy

The old ball and chain could kiss his white, pruney ass. That was, if she could manage the bending and the puckering and the whatnot the act would require. Hank Gotz doubted it since the ball in question weighed more than his John Deere and had a larger turning radius. Today was the day. His kingdom for his freedom. Maybe he’d even recoup a shred of dignity while he was at it, though Hank wasn’t sure he’d know what to do with it. It had been too long. Honestly, at this point, his kingdom would be a bargain. Getting things squared away had taken some doing. Their original ambulance-chasing sonovabitch had died two years ago. The new guy had redrawn the settlement agreement -- thirteen sheets of legalese which boiled down to what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. The papers, trifolded and stuffed in Hank’s boot, chafed against a patch of eczema on his calf, reminding him to get it done. Today. Right now. He’d get her to sign or the hell with her. Marian pushed back her Chinette paper plate, as if to say she’d lost her appetite, but that little ploy had never worked on him. Hank had yet to see a day his wife hadn’t finished what was set before her. Sure as shitting, she knew something was up, but hadn’t said boo. “Make people come to you,” she always said. Hank was ready for her. She’d play her little games and he’d play his, because that’s what it was like to be married thirty-eight years, separated for eighteen,


and yet still sharing a pot of coffee every morning. She glared at him from under heavy lids, her pendulous forearms leaning on the laminate table as if to guard her food. Between her fingers, her skin glistened with bacon grease yet her nails, manicured and filed into points, reminded him of the danger of saying anything about her eating. Marriage was full of double-standards, and Marian had read the fine-print. A minute ago, she’d said Hank was chewing too loud for her liking. Though what she expected him to do when his false teeth hadn’t fit right in years, he had no idea. But more curious was how she heard him at all over her strained breathing. Well, he might not be able to do anything about how he ate, but he could damn well change where he did it. His own trailer was a mere thirty feet due east with a perfectly good kitchenette. Well, it looked serviceable. The microwave was all he ever used. A fridge full of Buds and a microwave to nuke his hot pockets. What else did a man need? She was still staring at him, and Hank had the feeling that had only grown over the years that she could read his mind. “I know you better thank you know yourself, Hank Gotz,” she liked to remind him. But if that were the case, she should be looking for a pen. Eggs. He needed eggs. He helped himself to a large scoop of the fluffiest, lightest goddamn eggs a man could find in the tri-county area and looked anywhere but at her. Light filtered in through the kitchen sheers and down the long hall to the bedrooms. The door to Gemma’s room was shut tight as it always was. “Chicken Noodle sleeping in, huh?” he said. “Can’t say.”


“Can’t say, or won’t?” “What crawled up your butt this morning?” “I’m just wondering why that girl’s never up for breakfast.” “You want her up, get her.” Hank didn’t move. What he had to do was better done without an audience and definitely without the girl’s snark. Truth be told, Gemma was getting a little too much like her mother – a fact he kept to himself. When the shit hit the fan, he’d need Gemma on his side. Not that Gemma was one to choose sides. Or so he’d like to believe. His daughter played her cards close to her chest, being of the “what are you looking at?” and “why do you want to know?” variety of teenager. He hadn’t knocked on her door in years. Through the pass-through counter, the living room sat quiet, the television warming up for the inevitable marathon of daytime television. The doublewide, bought new eighteen years ago, was holding up good against the icy winters and muggy summers. “You got a real nice place here,” he said. She’d be fine without him. “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” Ridiculous. She always had to find something to pick at. Hank leaned across the dinette and opened wide, wiggling his tongue at her. He could taste the coffee on his breath and hoped she could, too. “You’re worse than a child,” she said. “Finish your breakfast.” Hank pushed back his plate. “Couldn’t do that. I might have to chew it.” “Finish it, or I won’t make it anymore.” “I don’t ask you to cook for me. Should have stopped years ago.” “And then what?” She swirled the dregs of her coffee. “You’d have starved to


death.” “That would have saved us both a bundle of expensive paperwork.” Hank pushed out of his chair and reached for her mug. “Can I top that up for you?” She nodded. “I guess.” He poured out a measure, being sure to leave room for her Bailey’s Irish creamer, and made space on the table for the carafe, leaving it where she could reach it. Today. It had to be today. He took his seat and forced the last English muffin down his craw. “What?” Marian asked. “Nothing.” Maybe he should open a window. Marian’s place caught a decent breeze in the morning. “Hotter than snake dip in here.” “You and your sayings. I never will know when you’ve gone funny on me.” “Not that it’ll be your problem, anyhow. I expect.” “You’ve always been my problem, Hank.” Marian’s mouth pulled in at the corners, the closest thing she had to a smile these days. Married as long as they have been, Hank knew that sweet nothings were usually just nothings. “One of those bodice rippers came for you yesterday,” she said, by way of an apology, nodding to a stack of mail on the counter. The book of the month club. He hadn’t forgotten. “That was a gift for you.” “Yeah, right.” It had been. That she had never taken much of an interest in romance hadn’t been his problem for a very long time. He riffled the pages of the paperback. The pulpy, almost damp smell promised so much, as did the buxom half-clothed young duchess on the cover.


“You still getting these then?” “You know I am. You’re the one that keeps sending them.” Hank stood to go, seating his fraying ball cap back on his head, in the wellworn groove. “Day light’s burning. Time to skedaddle.” “Tomorrow, I’m frying up your favorite,” she said. “About that. Don’t know if I’ll be around.” “Where else you got to be?” “Shirla’ll –” “Shirla’ll what? Cook for you?” “She might. She could,” Hank said, knowing well enough she never would. In seven years, she still hadn’t mastered coffee. But Hank relished the delicious domestic fantasy. A good woman – hell, any woman – to share his bed and his breakfast table was all he wanted. And Shirla was definitely a woman – all legs and lips. Get over the whistle of air between her ears – and what man couldn’t ignore a little breeze?— and what else could he ask for? He stopped, one hand on the screen door. The hinge needed oiling. He should see to that. He turned to go, bending over as if to scratch an itch. An itch that wasn’t there – he just needed to check to make sure the papers were still in his boot. He’d be damned if he was going to pay that pip-squeak lawyer another couple hundred for an extra copy, as if Xeroxing was some state secret or whatnot. Marian pushed out of her chair and made her way to the counter – her way of seeing him out. She leaned her arms on the Formica and called after him, “Really? Well, good for her. The Twink’s finally discovered fire.” She had him there. “That’s my girl.” Which might have referred to either of the women in his life, but in truth, only meant this one. The papers were exactly


where he’d left them. They’d just stopped scrapping him threadbare is all. Tomorrow, then. Tomorrow would be the day. Because, in truth, they both knew he’d be back. Which was a pisser.


Jeff Fleischer Alchemy

The alchemist made his discovery early, as a youth working in the burgomaster’s smithy. To his mind, turning lead into gold was no challenge. Lead had little value on its own, but combined with other metals could turn into weapons, which in turn he could use to take the gold he needed from anyone foolish enough to value it over his preferred metals. Gold could always buy more lead, giving himself a lifetime supply of gilded rewards. Examining the lead bullets he cast that morning, the alchemist prepared to turn them into the gold he desired.


Contributors Jeff Fleischer Jeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based author, journalist and editor. His fiction has appeared in publications including the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row literary journal, Shenandoah, Steam Ticket Third Coast Review, Pioneertown, Crossborder Journal, Zoetic Press Non-Binary Review, Chicago Literati, and Indiana Voice Journal. He is also the author of non-fiction books including “Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries” (Zest Books, 2015), “Votes of Confidence: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections” (Zest Books, 2016), and “The Latest Craze: A Short History of Mass Hysterias” (Fall River Press, 2011). He is a veteran journalist published in Mother Jones, the New Republic, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Mental_Floss, National Geographic Traveler and dozens of other local, national and international publications. Mark Antony Rossi Mark Antony Rossi’s poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and photography have been published by The Antigonish Review, Black Heart Review, Deep South Journal, Ethical Spectacle, Flash Fiction, Japanophile, On The Rusk, The Journal of Poetry Therapy, The Magill Review, Sentiment Journal, Death Throes, Vine Leaves Literary Journal and dozens of other worthy publications. Visit his website.


R. L. Ugolini R. L. Ugolini’s short stories have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Red Rock Review andDemonic Visions Vol. 3, 4, & 5. The Summerset Review nominated her story “Falllow” for the 2011 Million Writers’ Award. Samhain Publishing released her first novel “Quakes” in 2015. You can find her at rlugolini.com, on Twitter, and on Goodreads. Allen C. West Allen C. West is a retired professor of Chemistry. His book, “Beirut Again” was published in 2010 by Off The Grid Press. His chapbook, “The Time of Ripe Figs” won the White Eagle Coffee Store Press’s 2000 chapbook competition. His poetry is forthcoming or has recently appeared in Main Street Rag, The Tishman Review, The Comstock Review, Rhino, and Salamander.Allen currently resides in Lexington, MA. Tom Whalen Tom Whalen’s books include “Elongated Figures” (Red Dust), “Dolls” (Caketrain), “The Birth of Death and Other Comedies: The Novels of Russell H. Greenan” (Dalkey Archive) and “The President in Her Towers” (Ellipsis Press). His work has appeared in Agni, Bookforum, Chicago Review, The Hopkins Review, Film Quarterly, Georgia Review, Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Quarterly, and the Washington Post, as well as in various anthologies. He teaches film at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany.


G. K. Wuori G. K. Wuori is the author of over a hundred stories published throughout the world. A Pushcart Prize winner and Illinois Arts Council Fellow, his work has appeared in such journals as The Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, The Barcelona Review, Shenandoah, The Kenyon Review, and Prairie Schooner. His story collection, “Nude In Tub,” was a New Voices Award Nominee by the Quality Paperback Book Club and his novel, “An American Outrage,” was Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year in fiction. He has published the novellas, “Now That I’m Ready To Tell You Everything” (Vagabondage Press), and “Infidelity” (Main Street Rag Publishing). A new novel, “HoneyLee’s Girl” (Black Rose Writing), will be published in early 2016. He is Associate Editor of the literary journal, Kippis, and currently lives in DeKalb, Illinois and online at www.gkwuori.com. Tricia Yost Tricia Yost’s chapbook of poems, “First Things,” was published by March Street Press. Other work has appeared in journals such as Hayden’s Ferry Review, Smartish Pace, Prairie Schooner, Borderlands, Clackamas Literary Review, Syllogism, Hurricane Alice, Booglit, and Ice-Floe. She lives and works in the Seattle area.


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Crack the Spine - Issue 185  

Literary Magazine

Crack the Spine - Issue 185  

Literary Magazine

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