Crack the Spine
Issue 189 April 28, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2016 by Crack the Spine
CONTENTS Thao Votang Edges
Lauren Lara Charlie Baylis
The Perfect The OldPeople House
Heath Brougher Boisterous Niches
A Sense of Drift
Darryl Lauster Chronicle
Joseph Victor Milford Excerpt 35
Andrew Bertania Minding the Gap
John Manuel Arias
Night, Morna, and Writhe
Thao Votang Edges
It took Helene forty-five minutes to get out of bed. She sipped from the glass of water Allison had left on her nightstand. This was after the fifth martini. This was after the puking on the curbside as they waited for Sonya to pull the car to the front. Sonya drove quickly and erratically. She laughed and said it was to help Helene out—to get all the alcohol out of her system. Allison sat in the back with Helene, holding her hair out of the way and helping her puke through the window. “You’ll need to get your car washed tomorrow,” said Allison as she pulled tissues from her purse and wiped vomit from Helene’s face. “Just image how poor Helene is going to feel,” Sonya’s tires screeched as she took a turn and abruptly stopped in front of Helene’s house. Helene doesn’t remember how she got to the door and was glad they remembered where she hid the spare key. She recalled Sonya yanking off her shoes and pushing her into bed. Allison brought the water and ibuprofen. All of that and there was still an ache inside of her body and the feeling of drowning. Ten years and she couldn’t shake the feeling from her. Each year she found herself in a similar situation. Trying to drown out the memory of the bodies of her parents thrown carelessly across the grass. She covered her head with blankets and ignored the buzzing of her cell phone. It would be Sonya and Sonya would show up at her door any second now.
“You owe me brunch,” Sonya dropped her purse onto the floor and flopped onto the bed beside Helene. “Stop making the bed move,” Helene moved away from Sonya. “Or you’ll puke again? You’ve nothing to puke. Let’s go get food.” They sat in a corner patio seat at Hillside Farmacy. Helene kept her sunglasses on and sipped water, still unable to take big gulps. “It’s a good thing that you always take a few days off,” Sonya spread butter on toast. “We’d never get a table here on the weekend.” This was their ritual. They ate toast and then moved on to bacon and eggs. They ordered biscuits and gravy and then mimosas. Helene slipped back into a gentle numbness that would keep her from remembering, from sobbing, from feeling. She had ghost pains and she wasn’t sure if her therapist believed her. Helene refused to take pills after the first five years, the ones that caused her to feel nothing—not even happiness. Sonya brought out a pack of cigarettes and they began to smoke them, one by one, obliterating the taste of their breakfast and tarnishing the fresh taste of their mimosas. “Maybe you ought to go back to bed,” Sonya paid the bill and with Helene’s card. She drove gently back to Helene’s house. Helene wondered if she had been drunk last night when they went home and why Sonya didn’t just drive them off a bridge. Because Allison was with them. Sweet Allison. Sonya left Helene along with the packet of cigarettes and leftovers in the fridge for later. With no one to talk to Helene sat on her back porch and smoked the cigarettes. She drank lemonade from a bottle she found in the refrigerator,
there was a bottle of wine, but her stomach wasn’t as strong as it used to be. Her hands smelled of the tar and chemicals of the cigarettes. In the early evening, as the sunlight began to deepen, Helene looked for her car keys in an attempt to find something to eat, something else to drink. Sonya had taken them when she rummaged through Helene’s bag for her credit card. After three days, it would all go away. The feeling of being covered in blood that doesn’t belong to you. The ache of being shaken in a box. The memory of white roses, carnations, coffins, tulips—all a blur. It was six and she knew Sonya would be back soon. She combed her hair and looked at herself in the mirror. Age was making her thinner. She could see where wrinkles would settle on her face and she imagined herself with gray hair. Helene remembered the white hairs that had begun collecting at her father’s temples and the erratic strands that appeared in her mother’s hair. Helene shook her head and walked into her living room. Allison sat in the middle of the couch, gazing at the fireplace. “Oh, hey,” Helene said and cleared her throat. “I didn’t know you were coming over.” Allison nodded and looked in Helene’s direction—stared at her face then let her gaze fall to the floor. “Thank you for helping me last night,” Helene continued. “I’m sorry I was such a mess. I didn’t know Sonya had invited you...I would have asked her not to. It’s just a bad time right now.” “It’s a bad time for me too,” Allison said. She put her hands in her lap folding them into each other. “Would you go on a drive with me?”
Helene looked at Allison’s face. It was pale as usual. Her hair was a little untidy, odd for Allison who was always ordered. Her clothes never wrinkled and her nails always clipped and polished. “Of course, I will. That sounds wonderful, actually.” Helene went back to her room and put on shoes and a sweater. She sent Sonya a message as she got into Allison’s car and put her phone and purse in the back seat. Helene shut her eyes to let her body get used to movement of the car, hoping that her stomach wouldn’t turn and force them to stop driving. Allison drove west, toward the nice houses perched on the hills. “It’s silly isn’t it,” Helene asked out loud. “I’m sorry to do this every year. I wish I couldn’t. I know you’ll get tired of it. I’m surprised that Sonya hasn’t.” “It was a terrible thing,” Allison said. “Especially at fifteen. That’s a bad time in life.” “You’re good for saying that. But I’m 25 now. I should be growing up. Less puking on curbs and things like that.” “Everyone’s different.” The speed limit picked up and the sun began to set. Outside, the landscape had been changing from apartment towers to historic houses to land. Now the road twisted and only provided glimpses of rooftops from the entrances of private gated driveways. Those became more and more sporadic as the land took over. “We could drive all the way to Marfa,” Helene said. “We might arrive around 2 a.m. and have to sleep in the car. But that happens, probably often in Marfa, don’t you think?” “Probably.” “And then we could drive through Big Bend.”
“Let’s do it.” “We should have called Sonya. I could message her now, see what she’s doing.” “She’s busy,” Allison pulled into the leftmost lane and put on her sunglasses. “I called her before I came over. Was caught up in her freelance job and wasn’t going to be able to get out.” “We had dinner plans, I guess she hasn’t called me.” Helene reached for her purse. “Maybe she hasn’t yet. You know how she is.” Helene shrugged and let go of her bag. She turned on the radio. They drove well out of the city, making steady progress toward Fredricksburg. “Do you really want to go to Marfa?” Helene asked. “For real?” “Of course. I don’t really care,” Allison shrugged and pushed the accelerator. “I mean, I don’t have to go back to work for a few days, but what about you? I don’t want you to get into trouble.” “It’s fine,” Allison took her sunglasses off. Helene watched the needle creep upward. They were hitting ninety miles per hour. “Allison, you can slow down.” “What happened ten years ago? Why you get so messed up around this time every year?” “I don’t really want to talk about it, Allison,” Helene looked away from the speedometer and out the window. The sun was setting and the trees were dropping into shrubbery.
“Ten years ago my parents, my family, were killed in an accident. That’s what happened to you, isn’t it,” Allison pulled quickly to the right and back to the left to pass a car. Helene gripped the handle of the door. “Yes, Allison. There was an accident.” “And who caused the accident, Helene?” Helene trembled and looked at Allison. She stared straight ahead, tears falling down her pale face. Helene looked away, shivering. Her face felt warm, but her body cold. She remembered her father asking her to drive, telling her mom that she needed to learn to drive in bad weather. That it was going to be fine. “It wasn’t my fault,” Helene said. “That’s what they said. There were just being kind.” “You have always been so nice to me, Allison,” Helene watched as their speed continued to increase. She sighed when she saw red, blue, and white flashes of light behind their car. “Allison, there is a cop. Just tell them it was because of me. We can make some excuse. Pull over,” Helene let go of the door handle and crossed her arms in front of her, then held the edges of her seat. “This is my favorite part of the road, Helene,” Allison pressed the car faster. “There is just this tiniest turn, but you should slow down to take it, you know.” “Allison, there are other people on the road, what if we hit them? I don’t care what you do, but what if you hit another car?” Allison was silent and Helene looked straight ahead. She looked at the emergency brake, close to her hand. She had heard some story somewhere. Somewhere. She pushed the gear shift into neutral and pulled on the emergency brake before Allison could push her away.
The car went into a spin, but veered right. Allison must have pulled the steering wheel as she reached to push Heleneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hand away. The car hit the grass of the side of the road and crushed itself against the limestone hill, leaving a mark of rubber, metal, paint, and glass.
The Perfect People
Last summer I was engaged to look after Lester and America. It was a strange job. They lived in a large white house in a fashionable part of the city. Porches and Bentleys shone on summer nights, twinkling like ocean stars all the way down the beach drive. Given the nature of the work, I was well recompensed. I was essentially a personal assistant, but my role was various. Despite the summer heat, their house was airy and cold. Early in the morning I would rise and light fires in each room, there was an ideal temperature, by the time Lester and America were awake it was essential that the house remained at that temperature, otherwise it could cause problems. It was not that they were fussy, they just needed certain conditions to operate at their best. Dust was also a concern. Even a small amount could lead their systems to malfunction. Lester and America had no real work, their income came from attending fancy parties, they were hired to look good and enjoy themselves. Their names appeared in newspapers, on screens, you couldn't walk very far away without hearing about them. They were icons of a glamorous age that didn't really exist, many people even believed that they were real. They were perfect people, their manners were immaculate, they were never sad, they were always controlled in every action and reaction, what would you expect from living dolls? That's right. Lester and America were living dolls. Every morning I would polish them until they shone. Sometimes it was hard for them to breathe. Sadly towards the end of the summer Lester's skin began to crack, other defects soon
became apparent, large clumps of dark hair would turn up on sofas and in the shower. Perhaps the most unpleasant thing I did was burying Lester in the garden. I can still recall him protesting as I tipped the soil over his head, but I was just doing my job, he would not make it through another summer. I'd been told that a new doll was being manufactured to replace Lester, a slightly more glamorous doll, with teeth a little bit whiter and eyes a little bluer. That doll is probably in operation now, perhaps you've read about him? I don't know his name. America was in better condition, she had a few more seasons left in her, though she certainly wouldn't last forever.
Heath Brougher Boisterous Niches
I yelled for silence but it hid in boisterous niches where the soundlessness of life befriended nonexistence. I screamed for silence but boister rendered me hopeless and submerged me within the possible reality of never finding it and let the grave clamor pound me into incessant fury.
A Sense of Drift
Again, rain. Potter lifted his head from the pillow. Three days without sun, almost without light; mournfully, his eyes moved toward the window, the olive-dark pupils sliding to the corners of his face. His mouth tasted vaguely of onions, profoundly of scotch. The pain in his head throbbed like a thumb that’s been hit with a hammer, insistent. He tried to sit up, then immediately collapsed onto the pillow. He glanced out the window. Braids of dark birds moved haltingly against the gray sky, searching for cover. Something lovely and warm in his belly, a cup of black coffee, maybe a sweet roll…. Waking again, some hours later, his efforts to get out of bed went only a little bit better. This time, his feet found the throw rug, his hand the swollen side of his face. Voices downstairs worked their way up the heavily carpeted stairs to his ears, a reminder of how he had continued to drink when all the others had stopped. Making certain motions, the innkeeper, Mr. O’Connor, had let him to know it was time to retire. If it’s not too much bother, Potter had asked, waving a hand at the bookcase, as if to suggest he were still capable of making sense of a book. Pursing his lips, O’Connor had left him, locking the bar on his way out.
Leaving Potter to fend for himself. How had he gotten to bed? “God,” he suggested, wondering if he’d tried other doors before finding his own, thinking
he probably had. Thoughtfully now, he stroked the erection peeking out of his shorts. With a groan, Potter put on his robe. He shaved at the sink, using a disposable he’d picked up in town. He wiped the last bit of lather from his face, returning the towel to the porcelain bar by the sink, and took a step back to see how he’d done. A check mark of blood appeared at his throat. Hanging his robe on the back of the door, Potter slipped into his clothes, then sat on the hard wooden chair at the end of the bed and put on his shoes. He gripped the laces between his two fingers and thumb, the way his father had done every day of his life, and tied each one off with a harsh, savage tug, snapping in two the one on his right foot. “Shit,” he observed. Tying the two broken ends back together as best he could, Potter rose to his feet and stood in the center of the room until whatever idea or notion he’d been expecting to descend from above compelled him to reach for the door.
Several hours after climbing into bed, Angela was awakened by the usual plea from her bladder. She picked up her phone from the nightstand and flicked on the display: 12:30 a.m. The idea of giving up the warmth of her comforter for a trip down the hall to the bathroom was not exactly appealing, but if she didn’t go now, she might never get back to sleep. Having neglected to pack a robe for the trip, she slipped on the parka she’d worn on her walk earlier in the day and then stood by the door for several hushed moments, listening for sounds in the hallway. There were still a few voices coming up from the drawing room, but why should that matter?
Carefully, she opened the door and stuck her head into the hallway until, satisfied that no one was coming, pulled the door shut behind her and advanced on the balls of her feet to the bathroom. Much as she’d always wanted to try the bed and breakfast experience, one weekend of sharing a bathroom had been more than enough. And yet, in spite of this inconvenience, she was inclined to judge the trip a success. The couple that looked after the inn, Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor, made it a point to ask each of the guests three or four times a day if they could do anything to make their experience more pleasant and almost always acted on those suggestions if it was within their power to do so. One guest had asked if the coffee service could be left out an extra half hour one morning to accommodate a friend dropping in for a visit, and not only had they put out a fresh pot, but they had also set out a plate of Danish and croissants. For Angela, such kindness couldn’t have come at a better time. She had been taking care of her aunt while she recovered from hip surgery for the last year, and this was the first weekend in a very long time that she’d been able to get away on her own. When your life becomes entirely about somebody else, it becomes rather easy to forget the things that once made you happy, or that gave your life meaning. She hoped that this trip would in some small way put her back in touch with that person, whoever she was, so that the two might become reacquainted. Angela shook her head in dismay. Such an odd way of framing what to most people would have been just a simple weekend away. But then, maybe that was part of it too, the disconnection from self, the sense of drift. Easy, everyday decisions such as what to have for breakfast or which day to go to the store had even become difficult, she supposed because the outcome was of no
consequence. Upon what should you base a decision when all the usual criteria, scheduling conflicts, other commitments, etc., don’t even matter? Was that footsteps she heard on the stairs? Pulling her hair back over her ears, she leaned toward the door and listened, focusing all her attention on the sound of someone moving with considerable effort down the hall. Hearing a door being opened somewhere temporarily alleviated her anxiety, but then the steps came toward her again, as if the person had changed his or her mind or…opened the wrong door. Had she remembered to push in the lock? Before she could reach for the knob, the door suddenly opened and a man, swaying a little from drink, leaned into the frame and regarded her now as if he were trying to make sense of a painting by Pollock or Klee, alternately squinting and opening his eyes wide. “Pardon me,” he said with exaggerated formality, but still not looking away as Angela struggled to cover her lap with her arms. “Please close the door,” she ordered, and when he still did not move, added with more urgency, “now!” “Of course,” he said, backing out with a slight bow and closing the door. Hurriedly, she put herself back together before he could return to explain his mistake which, given his behavior thus far, seemed more than a bit likely, and then stepped into the hall in just enough time to see him disappearing into the room next to hers. For a while she lay in bed listening as he dropped first one shoe, and then the other. This was followed by a much louder thud that might have been him falling down on the floor because she heard nothing more after that.
How easy it was to shut out the very experiences that made living worthwhile and give into the comforts of mindless routine, immunized from lifeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all too frequent disappointments with the vaccine of low expectations. Sad to say, but last nightâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s surprise encounter in the bathroom was the closest that Angela had come to a moment of intimacy in a very long time, a realization made all the more plain by the fact that the manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s face was the first image to come into her mind when she awoke the next morning. As she went about getting ready for breakfast, choosing her wardrobe with particular care, she continued to think about him and wonder what if he too was thinking of her. Was he simply feeling embarrassment, or was he also revisiting the image of what he had seen and thinking to himself, not without shame, what a good bit of fortune for me! The first thing she would do when they met up downstairs would be to apologize for her rather ungracious response to the intrusion, to which he would no doubt respond with another, even more effusive apology and then glance away bashfully when the image of what had occurred the previous night flashed into both of their minds. She would need to assure him that no real harm had been done, perhaps even joking that she hoped that the encounter had not been too disappointing. Or was that going too far? She did not want to seem cavalier or unaffected by the experience, but how should she give him encouragement without seeming desperate? She hit on an idea. She would make him even more complicit in the experience by saying that it had been embarrassing for both of them but that, if he was agreeable, perhaps they could start over and pretend that the whole thing had never happened? Diplomatic, but sensible.
He would pretend to weigh out the merits of such a surrender, not wanting to seem too eager to be done with the matter, and then, with an encouraging smile from her, he would agree to the proposed truce and suggest they have breakfast together. She would thank him, of course, point to the table where she had already been sitting or if he had arrived first, at his table, and then sit down across from him. Thus, it would begin. He would tell her a bit about himself, and she would then tell him about her aunt and the need for this trip. “To beginnings,” he would propose with his coffee cup raised, at which point they would toast to the future. It was perfect.
“Take a seat wherever you like, dear. Do you want coffee?” “Yes, please,” Angela answered, completing a quick scan of the room. Her surprise visitor from the previous night was nowhere in sight. “Did I understand correctly that breakfast was served till nine?” “Absolutely. Let me get you some coffee, and then we can see what you’d like.” Angela went to a table far off in the corner, next to a window that looked out into the woods. The ground was still damp and muddy from all the rain, but there was now sunlight on the tops of the trees and she could hear songbirds going about the day’s business. Setting her cup of coffee down on the table, Mrs. O’Connor recited the day’s choices: a delicious egg scramble with smoked salmon, pimento, and green onion served with a croissant or brioche French toast with a choice of either bacon or sausage. As the idea of mixing salmon with eggs held no appeal for her, Angela opted for the French toast. Angela took a sip of her coffee, enjoying the warmth of the cup in her hands almost as much as the taste of the coffee. An older couple at the next table was
just finishing up with their breakfasts. In the ensuing silence the wife spoke in bursts to her husband in a voice so circumspect that only a few of the words made it to Angela’s ears. Farther off at another table two women sat discussing what sounded like a recent event in the news. She could see Mr. O’Connor out at the front desk going over the day’s reservations and answering questions from the guests as they passed through the lobby, some of them coming into the dining room for breakfast, others leaving by the front door. It was like one of those old drawing room mysteries where the detective, mingling discreetly with the rest of the guests, notes the one clue that in the end reveals the name of the killer. And her friend from last night? Where was he hiding? What did his absence say about the otherwise unremarkable events of this morning? When Mrs. O’Connor set her plate on the table, Angela asked how many of the guests had already checked out. “Only two couples. They came in for breakfast very early. As for the rest, some are still packing I suppose. And of course there are still one or two who haven’t come down yet. The ones who like to sleep in,” she hazarded, flashing an indulgent smile, “or, other things.” “Like a bit too much to drink?” “That certainly happens. Not very often, of course, if we can help it. As a general rule, we close the bar down by ten. There are those times though when Mr. O’Connor,” she trailed off, pleading discretion with a finger pressed against her lips. “Your secret is safe with me,” Angela assured her, hoping this would encourage her to go on. However, she said nothing more. Either she had been speaking hypothetically or simply thought it better to say only nice things about her guests and leave the judgments to others.
To prolong her time in the dining room, Angela lingered over her breakfast, accepting Mrs. O’Connor’s frequent offers of refills, in hopes that the man would come down for breakfast. But when nine o’clock came and went, and she realized that she was the only one left in the dining room, she gave up her vigil but not without a feeling of regret for what could have been a far more noteworthy breakfast. Modesty prevented her from asking after him directly, but when she heard Mr. O’Connor mention the name Potter as she passed the front desk, a name that she had not heard until now, she ventured a comment, saying she hoped someone hadn’t missed breakfast. “I don’t think he’ll miss it,” he said with an edge to his voice that betrayed anger and perhaps something else…like shame. Mr. O’Connor cast his gaze along the banister to the floor directly above but, not seeing what he had been looking for, shook his head in disgust. “I suppose I’ll need to go up after a while.” Angela offered a sympathetic smile. She thought she should take one last walk before she checked out, and went back up the stairs to her room where she put on her parka again and grabbed a hat from her suitcase. Because the ground was still so very wet, she kept to the edge of the road, following it down the hill into town. At the general store she bought a dishtowel with the name of the town embroidered across the bottom and then, in an art gallery with the works of a few local artists on display, she bought a photograph of a barn shrouded in fall foliage that for some reason she thought would continue to remind her of her stay at the inn. She was not ready just yet to leave this place, but wasn’t exactly sure why. Wasn’t it normal to want to return to one’s home after a journey, to get back to the safe and familiar? Besides, where else would she go? She couldn’t just wander forever, staying in hotels, eating out every
meal. Her resources were too limited for that. She realized that she had been hoping from the very beginning that this trip would turn into some kind of adventure that would take her a different direction or at least write the first line of her life’s next chapter. Something inside her knew that if she returned to her old life, she would languish, or worse. And now something else overcame her, something that seeped into her being like the rain seeping into the ground until it could hold no more; it was a deep sadness, a sadness as profound as any she had ever felt. And she leaned again the wall of the gallery and started to cry. “Everything all right?” asked the proprietor, coming out of the gallery to investigate. “It’s fine,” Angela assured him, hurriedly digging around in her purse for a tissue. “I’m just having a moment I guess.” “Well, if you’re sure,” he replied. It was clear that he needed her to be all right so that he could return to his work in good conscience. “But if there’s anything at all I can do, I’m just here inside.” Dabbing the end of her nose with the tissue, she said, “No, no, I’ll be fine, but thank you. I better be going now. Thanks again.” She started to walk in the direction of the inn, not looking back lest he see that she was still crying. The walking seemed to help though, and by the time she arrived back at the inn, she had managed to regain control of herself. Her thoughts at this point returned once again to the man in the bathroom, wondering if he had checked out by now or if she might find him sitting downstairs sipping on coffee, looking hung over, but in a loveably disheveled way, like a child just waking up from a nap. Before she even could realize what had happened, all the optimism she’d thrown out the window only moments before came back to her in a rush. She
was ready to throw herself at his feet, if need be, if only so that he could see that it was not just an impression he’d made, but a connection. A real connection. She realized that she had been running for the last several hundred feet, and now paused on the front porch to catch her breath. Behind her, the rain had started to fall once again, only lightly just now, but destined no doubt to resume the intensity of the last several days. The bags with her purchases hung from her fist like short lengths of rope that cut into her hand. Her thoughts were a jumble. What if he’d already left? Tilting her head back, she closed her eyes for a moment and tried to remember how it felt to be happy. “Pardon me,” someone said as the door slammed behind him. Angela stepped out of the way, seeing as she opened her eyes that it was the man from the bathroom. He was looking out at the rain with an angry expression and muttering curse words under his breath. Much as she’d pictured him, he was certainly disheveled but perhaps not as charmingly so as she would have hoped. Nevertheless, there was still something quite handsome about him in an unaffected sort of way. “Can you believe it?” she asked him expectantly, the hopeful note in her voice causing him to turn and look at her directly. “What’s that?” he asked without even an attempt at a smile. “The rain, it’s back. Can you believe it?” she repeated as though it were the punchline to a joke. “I suppose I have no choice but to believe it,” he answered miserably, turning his attention again to the rain. “Have you ever in your life seen so much rain? I mean really. It’s ridiculous.”
He had no idea who she was, no idea whatsoever. She regarded him now the way you might look at something you didn’t quite understand, but thought that you should. “The inn is still nice, even so.” “I suppose it was nice,” he said, bitterly lingering over the word ‘nice’, “at least for as much as I remember of it.” With the subject of memory now on the table, she now had the in that she needed to pick up the subject of the previous night, but only if he had stayed on the porch. Before she could formulate a reply, he ran out to his car, climbed into the front seat, and drove off without even a final glance her direction.
Darryl Lauster Chronicle
Along the way he spent time in the desert, running away, leaving the masses, transacting with locals who shot speed between their toes. Their souls had been forfeited. They glared open-eyed at the blazing sun like the gasping desiccated fish left homeless by the dying Salton Sea. After one of them beat a dog with a broom, he took the poor creature into his truck and drove them both away to a new ditch of the wilderness. Later, in the mountains he found a job at a dinner theater. He and the black lab Harry endured local productions of Cabaret for a year. The pine trees rained onto them their burnt sugar needles before turning to crushed straw. A forest fire destroyed most of the oldest wilds after a summer-long drought. Harry died amongst the charred timber. Then there was nothing left to stay for. Next up was a commune, a lover, some college classes, a drug addiction, three wars and planes destroying skyscrapers. He headed east, through the desert again, now drier, angrier than before. The badlands. Small towns and their small town radio stations. Small churches. Xenophobia. Then the Midwest. Greasy diners. Light beer. Baseball hats and union signs. The Great Lakes. Abandoned factories. Turning south around the Finger Lakes to the trout kills, bejeweled with bleached out aluminum cans discarded after drinking parties. Home. He knew you could go home again, but the trick was in waiting long enough to return. Most of his classmates were gone. Some were in jail. Some were in Afghanistan and had died. He saw their military portraits in the paper.
He took the morning shift in a local diner. The soft twilight of early morning was his great solace. Awaking in the darkness--around five a.m. was bestâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;he could sit in obscurity and wait for the sounds of life to creep into his hotel room. First, the Juncos, the Mockingbirds, and the roosters to follow. The sound of the wind. A dog barking. Out of his window he could see the farm lights slowly pulse. It was a time of great intimacy with the world, with precious few to crowd or destroy it. The drunks and the thieves were sleeping. Alarm clocks counted down, but the offices remained dark. Methodically, the working class roused, invisible heroic bastards, making things run like the gods of the Iliad. Men whose days ended when most people broke for lunch. In the winter they drove the plows. In the summer, the tractors. Garbage collectors. Newspaper carriers. Working moms. He never thought himself worthy. Then a splinter of sun over the cornfields. The magic ends. Day begins. You watch the morning news. You remember to hate your enemies. You spot the garbage rotting in the barbed wire fences. You see the billboards blotting out the rising sun. You pump gas into your car and spill coffee on your pants. Soon thereafter, you find yourself in a restaurant frying eggs and trying to forget as much as possible. Looking up from the griddle, he heard men talking at the counter. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get it Eddie, how can I be racist if I like tacos? That was it. It was time move on again.
Joseph Victor Milford Excerpt 35
when a poor rib rubs against a rich ear with cancer the marrow is the same montage of roadkill. i memorize tags on cars for fun they record my one tag for i am Tiamat and could chaos them. monks shed tropes to traverse thoughts; makes robes necessaryâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;phoenix clothes in monastaries. nothing ever happens nothing ever happened to you life just passes right-wise through you. i have one foot it is called a mind and it is webbed and there is nothing left to swim in tonight. underground in your eyelids underground in your desks underground when you adjust a bra. illuminating scene with a novelty; Christmas toy its lights changing like blurred traffic beacons. i never liked lilacs. i never awaited spring. i am no war-monger; my life was made of firewood. the worst ghosts linger about water. drowning seaweed ghosts. i carry them with me on trains. counterfitting: a tough racket when baskets of bills mean less than piles of bones under bracken.
Andrew Bertania Minding the Gap
It pleased me to see her, after all those years, on the morning train into Baltimore, wearing a white shawl— In Paris, I loved the way that a spoon tapping crème brulee sounded precisely as it would on glass— After the snow, the violet light— There are gaps in everything I’ve written—where the distance between the words on the page and the words that could have been is as vast as the silver back of the sea at night. Those polarities exist for us all, for life is as much a story about the people we’ve loved and learned from, as it’s a story of the words we didn’t say, the people we knew only in passing. Most of the stones in our lives will remain unturned. I’m reminded of the late David Foster Wallace, whose dazzling essays were constantly minding the gap between the text on the page, and what he’d left out. He used footnotes relentlessly in an attempt to carve away at the space that’s created when words are used to shape the world. For me, fragments are the best way to represent the distance between our minds and the page. Our personalities and lives are in flux as Heraclitus knew millennia ago. And yet we rely on linearity to steady us, in writing, in thought, and in the form of our days. This, despite the fact that we are constantly fractured, thoughts floating through our minds like bubbles from a child’s wand. How better to represent a life, where I, sitting on a rug and playing cars with my son, can also be thinking of a woman’s red hair, burnished gold in the January light coming
through the window a decade ago, and also considering which cheese Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be putting on my sandwich for lunch?
John Manuel Arias
Night, Morna, and Writhe Cesária Évora hangs your skin up on the clothesline like a pair of my panties—the blue-lace ones that you tear off when my clients finish putting them back on me, one leg, then the other— affectionately I tend to the laundry of you pinning mahogany pins to each finger reattaching your shoulder to the creases of your back that Cesária
will iron out for me later. you drip sitting next to me, shivering wildly as if winter had strolled through and turned the moon a frozen shade of lapis lazuli. a marooned yiguirro dances about on the skin of your ear, begging whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s left of the sky for rain and inviting CesĂĄria for an overdue duet but she finishes her cigarette and puts it out on the exposed sinews of your left leg, so that you sing in an octave she wants to hear over and over again like the records her lovers played when she wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t looking
Andrew Bertaina Andrew Bertaina currently lives and works in Washington, DC. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in: The Threepenny Review, Hobart, Literary Orphans, Fiction Southeast,Sierra Nevada Review, Eclectica,The Journal of Microliterature, Prick of the Spindle,The Broadkill Review, Big Lucks, ManifestStation, Whiskey Paper, Wilderness House Literary Review, Eunoia Review, Short, Fast, and Deadly, OxMag and Bayou magazine. John Martin John Martin has been making his living as a writer and editor for the past 30+ years, writing everything from technical instruction manuals to poetry. He is currently employed at a large worldwide company as a technical writer, but also does writing and editing work on a consulting basis. In his spare time, he crafts thoughtful, ingenious fictions while pursuing passionate interests in psychology, gourmet cooking, and bird watching. His work has previously appeared in Per Contra, Bias Onus Quarterly, Black Lantern Publishing, The Externalist, Curbside Splendor, Work Literary Magazine, and The Common. More recently, his story â&#x20AC;&#x153;Unidentified Bright Objectâ&#x20AC;? has just been published in 34th Parallel Magazine.
Heath Brougher Heath Brougher is the poetry editor of Five 2 One Magazine. He has published two pamphlets titled “A Drought of Ichor” and “2” (Green Panda Press). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Yellow Chair Review, Chiron Review, SLAB, Main Street Rag, Riprap, Foliate Oak, Of/with, eFiction India, Gold Dust, and elsewhere. When not writing or editing he helps with the charity Paws Soup Kitchen which gives out free dog/cat food to low income families with pets. John Manuel Arias John Manuel Arias is a gay, Costa Rican / Uruguayan poet and crepe-maker, raised in a DC ghetto when it was the murder capital. An alumnus of Pace University, his poetry has been published by the Acentos Review, Ubiquitous Magazine, and the upcoming issues of the James Franco Review, the After Happy Hour Review, Rogue Journal and Rust + Moth. He currently lives in San José, Costa Rica with his grandmother and four ghosts. Joseph Victor Milford Joseph Victor Milford is a Professor of English and a Georgia writer. His first collection of poems, “Cracked Altimeter,” was published by BlazeVox Press in 2010. He is also the host of The Joe Milford Poetry Show, where he has compiled an archive of over 300 interviews and readings with American and Canadian poets. Joe Milford also edits the poetry journal RASPUTIN and he is co-founder and poetry editor of BACKLASH PRESS.
Charlie Baylis Charlie Baylis lives in Spain. His chapbook ‘Elizabeth’ can be found on Agave Press. He reviews poetry for Stride. Charlie has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Forward Prize and for Queen´s Ferry Press´s Best Small Fictions. He has made the shortlist for the Bridport prize. He was (very briefly) a flash fiction editor for Litro. He spends his spare time completely adrift of reality and tumbles, sporadically, here: theimportanceofbeingaloof.tumblr.com. Darryl Lauster A 2010 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Painters and Sculptors, Darryl Lauster is an Intermedia artist and writer and an Associate Professor of Sculpture at the University of Texas at Arlington. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, McNeese State University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He has previously published in The Conversation, The Gulf Coast Journal and Art Lies Magazine. Thao Votang Thao Votang writes short stories and is co-editor of Conflict of Interest, an online publication that covers visual art and literature. She has previously been published in New Texas and New Literati. Votang received a B.A. in art history from The University of Texas at Austin and an M.L.A. in liberal arts from St. Edward’s University.
Visit www.crackthespine.com to review our submission guidelines or to subscribe