Crack the Spine
Issue 193 July 6, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2016 by Crack the Spine
“Beached” by Anne Anthony Anne Anthony photographs nearly anything that catches her eye. Never go on a walk with her or you’ll never finish.
CONTENTS Scott Wordsman Getting MyLauren Head Checked Lara Kathie Jacobson
The Old House
Myself as Jehovah
Nathan Willis Song & Dance
Kara Bright Kilgore
God Jumped Out a Window
Get Whoâ€™s Got You
Getting My Head Checked Monday. Much trust in irrigation. Rain on the streets. Inside, couches sprout plots of rotund buns. Lady neighbor weeping; my seat becomes her garden. Awake, we are the same–– twin twenties for a copay; two fifty milk chocolate bar. Now I’m kissing her face with my eyes, holding her hand in my mind, questioning the vestibule, the ins and outs of mental health. Have I told you, reader, my name is worthless without an owe? Hours later, on my windshield down the road, I find a thin strip of paper demand: sixty dollars to repent. Hear this, therapist, when I turn twenty-six, I will seek help elsewhere, siphon shame, convert your money into white sinal rain.
Kathie Jacobson Thirst 1.
In times of drought, burrowing frogs live more than half a year underground. The frogs secrete a mucous that hardens to prevent evaporation of water stored inside bladders and flaps of skin. The frog waits for rain, hidden, nose pressed against small holes for breath. How long, I ask. How long can they wait? What I knew then: the habits of morning, the sound of breath when dreams disturbed sleep. What I didnâ€™t know: the manifest of history, the intercessions of love. Yearning fills the space between seconds, slips between membranes of cells, weights the air between proton and ion, bends light: a jaundiced rainbow slicks puddles after rain. The first time I made a home, I slept on a borrowed bed and read books from my landladyâ€™s shelf. A snow globe wedged between the books. Inside, a woman in a long red coat stood on a bridge and watched as glitter descended through the viscous liquid to cover a duck pond below. She might be contemplating flight; she might feel envy for the dead. When my landlady traveled, I borrowed a friend. I borrowed a dog. I borrowed a life. The friend, the dog, the life blackened every inch of the floor. I could not restore the luster before she returned.
I made a home with a woman from Illinois. She liked her music louder than the birds. I hid with the winter coats and unremembered boots. Snow on the window kept our food cold. Ice bumped our lips as we sipped beer from the sill. I made a home with girls from town. One liked to clean. One liked to cook. One studied construction, her specialty bridges. Marilyn Robinson writes: To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. The inseparable pleasure of one from the other invades my dreams. For when do we know a thing so utterly as when we lack it? 2. I worked nights in an ice cream shop. When it snowed a boy came in. Perfect weather for cones, he said. He preferred his ice cream never melt. Charlatan, my mother warned. She warned and fretted and tied yellow police tape round him like a crime. He only wants, she said. As if by sex he would evaporate. Over my dead body, she called as I slipped into his pocket. Not wearing that. No child of mine. No telling where. Nor what youâ€™ve been. Up to no good. No good. I am going now. No turning back. No moving on. My motherâ€™s rules draped round my brain like a constrictor. I cocooned like a frog, inserted straws into my nostrils and left these poking through the sand.
Seven months the aestivating frog waits, breath as thin as parchment paper, porcelain cocoon holding water like a baked clay jug. A drop of rain registers as if equal to a typhoon and the frog awakens. In minutes he hops about as if he’d never been asleep, as if hunger were a matter for another day. I went with the boy who turned into a man. I learned to eat ice cream in the cold. 3.
What does she dream, my mother? What does she want? She is the woman in the long red coat. Snow glitters on her shoulder. Don’t fly Momma into that goodnight. For in that sleep, what dreams? I call to her. Mother may I play the game? braid your hair? Find your shoes? Mother may I find your key? I can find what’s missing. What am I missing? Am I? Missing? He wakes, the boy with the ice cream, at the sound of my voice. Poor baby black sheep: no wool. No wool. I read: Lang, Jung. Arendt. The psychoanalyst, D.W. Winnicott, speaking of children’s play noted: It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found. A man can find an aestivating frog by watching for its breathing holes. He can cup the frog in his palms, squeeze gently and earn himself a half a cup of nearly fresh water. He can return the frog to its chamber, the need for rain more urgent than before. The man will live another mile.
Early bridge builders filled creeks with stones leaving small gaps where the water ran through. A rope might tie across the river. For balance, a railing. Later, masons balanced stones in a rising arch, each suspended against gravity to arc above the water or the canyon or the gorge; to meet in the center, their own ferocious tension securing them in place. How many rocks must a person try before finding the one that balances, that floats out, tensing toward the other side? Suspension bridges dangle like giant swings from cables that curve between towers and anchor to opposing shores. Sufficient weight, weight enough to exceed the promised traffic, is required of the bridge table. Torque disrupts vibrations from the wind. In 1940 Galloping Gertie thrilled motorists more than Ferris wheels. In a light wind, the bridge would sway and buck causing the car ahead to vanish and reappear. Gertie twisted apart four months after she opened. The bridge builder told me this over years while I waited for my mother to call. The oldest bridge spans the Smyrna in Turkey, she said. I imagine stones piled, moss covered, weighted with time. I find a picture. The bridge dulls between buildings. A car drives over. The water below floats plastic bottles and the green scum of algae. Even the river has changed its name.
When children take hands and skate around a pond, the smallest among them will contort her spine in an effort to maintain the link. The spine refuses to fail, renders loose the childâ€™s grip. The chain breaks and children slide hither and tither squealing like hunted rabbits. They blame the smallest, leave him bouncing foot to foot, dry eyed, as they skate away. Even the smallest know the danger of crying in the cold. I put a shelf in my kitchen. I do not use a power drill or divine with taps for a solid post. I wedge the plank between the stove and wall. Bridge to cliff. I move away, send postcards, wait. I do not tell her when I marry. 5.
We moved coasts, one to the other, my husband and I. I did not look back for a pillar of salt. I did not look back for bridges of wood or stone or metal, or dangling cables in a wind. Four years, then ten, then twelve, then thirty and still I have to calibrate with care, pause to remember the ocean is no longer to the east. Home is relative. My husband says this when he has been talking to his mother. Home is how we know the shape of things. D.W. Winnicott: Home is where we start from. Once when we were very new, we visited. Meet the parents, mature, we thought. My husbandâ€™s, hospitable, liked to shock. His mother listed all the girlfriends he had known. Mine liked to ignite. My mother did not call out to
my father, look who is here. Her words of welcome: Call the police. Palms up I backed away. My husband looked like we should call the fire department. When the Golden Gate Bridge turned fifty, so many people came for Bridgewalk 87 that the suspension cables, usually draped convex, flattened into a line. Small winds vibrated the road bed. People, buoyed by shoulders and elbows and arms stood for hours on the bridge unable to maneuver. City officials will not celebrate the bridge with foot traffic again. Not if they can remember. Seven year itch. Seventh inning stretch. A man has to move in his body. A woman must escape, must elope, must find water in the driest season. Seven once, I left a coast. Seven twice I lived in silence. Three times seven came the call. Twenty one years when we flew home to see the mother dying. 6.
He is brutishly kind, my husband. He brings oranges when we fly to Dallas where my mother will peer at us, her hair tufting like patches missed by the hay mower. I cannot stop myself gloating up and down the aisle watching the envy a single orange inspires: the peel punctured by thumb nail, a drop of juice springs upward to hit my cheek, the scent releases and increases in the dead air that fills the so-called cabin. I do not look at my husband for he would offer sections to our seatmate rather than share my gloat.
Behind me men are talking their voices a slow rumble that hovers just above the drone of airplane motor. One has strong opinions, his voice pitching insistent tones. The other has the cadence of a slow nod, an indulgent parent who will not remember his distracted agreement in the morning. The engine blends with their voices. I lean back into my seat, my head angled against my husbandâ€™s shoulder. The rumble of voice and engine sway between my ears. I am a child pretending sleep in the back of our panel station wagon. My father drives. My mother sings, poor little lambsâ€Ślost ways. I shiver. My husband indicates the window, his palm upward, ushering, a magician misdirecting. The Grand Canyon gapes below the wing. I lean forward then back to gather its vastness into my view. From here it is a wound, its edges ragged lips, nothing more than untended flaps of skin. The Taos Bridge juts a platform from its center. Wind barrels over the span, funnels between the canyon walls, enjoys the path of least resistance, the route without friction. A woman standing there feels she can fly. She lets her toes reach beyond the edge, gives up trying to hold back hair which billows forward in the wind as if extended from her face. Her elbow crooks about her head. She wets her lips, tastes the texture of hair adhering to her lips. Padlocks dangle from the rail, keys dropped through wind to the cliff below. A crow will carry the shiney home. The woman watches a bird that sits on the wind as the river trickles its jagged course.
In spring, frogs migrate in the rushing waters of snow melt. The ground turns soft and soggy and children pivot on their heels, bore holes to capture marbles. A purie is worth four cats’ eyes. A globe as clear as moonstone orbited the playground one season, changing hands for wagers. A dozen cats’ eyes for that single sphere. When it was mine, I dragoned it from circulation fingering the smooth, cold in my pocket. Rolling orbs together, pleased by the vibration of glass on glass, stone on stone. I tell my husband. I want to peel another orange, share it section by section. We fly beside the moon. Hey diddle dee day. The cow that jumps, the cat that romps. Come little children, close your eyes. I startle and my husband coos. A moonbeam carries in it the cold, reflected light of tomorrow’s sun. 7.
She has a flowered dress that she wears again as she thins. ‘Still have it,’ she grins over her shoulder. My husband obliges with a whistle, soft and low. He cheers her with a mural on the wall: all the flowers that she cannot smell, all the birds she cannot hear, a single butterfly. I think it will drop from the wall and shatter when the paint dries. Two days and she cannot stand.
She is not the person I wish she was. She is not the smell of strawberries ripening in the garden. She is not lilac or lavender. She is not the odor of wet leaves kicked over. She is not wintery gingerbread. Veins line my mother like a river. I trace my finger up the incline of her forearm. Skin pulled from the body could wrap a building. Not a cottage, but a government castle. The brain, the lungs, the heart, the beast. Geography unfolds inside. My husband hums. Wind rifles. My motherâ€™s face is skeletal, her teeth segregated, gums drawn back. Her lips no longer close. Her cheeks bubble red and squirrel upward, squint her eyes until they are nearly closed. Until they close. Air suspends between her lips. Fold me up like an origami frog. Crease by crease I shall paste my folds together, sequester myself inside an impermeable page; wait for rain. My husbandâ€™s hand is on my back, on my arm, takes my hand. I am a desert. His eyes blossom with a storm. Water enough, I think. Water enough.
Myself as Jehovah The finches arrive. He blushing, she Demure. They peck neatly at the feeder. The cardinals, the white-breasted nuthatch, Blue flash of the indigo bunting,delight of the oriole Brown thrashers like elegant luggage. The sparrow that God watches. Like Jehovah, I judge: the graceful, The humble. I have erected Lunch counters for the lovable. Not the gangster grackles Strutting wide-legged as wrestlers Nor the con-artist cowbirds Depositing counterfeit eggs In songbirdsâ€™ nests. These are the fallen angels I condemn with a shoo, a hand-flap, A thumbs-down. As for squirrels This manna is forbidden. I hang baffles the way God bestows Tablets of command..
Secular, Iâ€™m shocked To find such a religious hierarchy In my frontal lobe. A bishop praising The tuneful choir. The rareties: Rose-breasted grosbeak, Ruby throated hummingbird. Ah, flock of my ordination, Here is the promised land Of hanging and platform feeders, Of millet, sunflower seed, cracked corn. In the new Jerusalem of my backyard, I aim The telescopic lens to frame Who shall be singled out and saved.
Nathan Willis Song & Dance
“No. You’re doing it wrong. It needs to look like there’s too much inside but not in a good way. He isn’t a balloon. He just needs to look a little puffy. Not everywhere you’d expect someone to be puffy, only a few places and then in some you wouldn’t expect. Yes. Like that. That’s better. He isn’t attractiveheavy. He’s heavy in a real way. He knows people feel bad for him and have to keep themselves from staring or asking questions. He shouldn’t look like a sideshow act. Just make him look like someone you would be disappointed in. That’s perfect.” “Ok. Now let’s watch him be happy. Not like he’s really happy. The way someone is happy when they’re talking to a grocery store cashier or neighbor. It needs to be restrained but with an air of confidence. Make him look busy like he has more important things on his mind. His goal is to distance himself from the situation because he knows his stature naturally draws the attention of others. Yeah, he should treat the cashier like she’s on his side and trying to get him out of there as soon as possible. Almost there. A little more placating. That’s great.” “Next we need to see him happy in a setting where his happiness matters. A birthday party or a get-together for work. He cares about the opinions these other people have of him so more teeth and exaggerate his gestures and reactions. I didn’t say make him look like a lunatic. Dial it back a little. He doesn’t want to make a huge impression at the time but be someone who later
on people will remember as being a lot of fun. That’s good. Smiling. Big. Almost embarrassing himself but not quite. “Then when no one is looking he relaxes. All this pretending takes a toll on him so if an opportunity doesn’t come up he excuses himself. When he does he’s gone for a little longer than normal. Unless it’s going to the bathroom. He doesn’t want to be the guy hogging the bathroom. Everyone will think he has some addiction we aren’t telling them about or that he’s in there stinking up the place. There is comedy, but not that kind of comedy and not at his expense.” “The whole thing isn’t sad. You’ll see. There is a part where he is truly happy. We’re going to get to it. It’s going to be pivotal. Probably not in the way you want it to be but all you’ve seen this guy do is pretend to be happy to varying degrees. You need to realize that in a sense, doing this makes him happy. It’s not fulfilling but it gives him peace. He gets a sense of accomplishment in compensating for all of his real or perceived shortcomings. He feels like he’s doing a good job and that’s important to him.” “No, there’s not a scene of him in a doctor’s office finding out horrible news. That’s a good idea though. We might actually want to add that. If we do, we’ll put it in the middle and we’ll have him sitting on the examination table listening to the doctor with the same look on his face that he makes at the grocery store. He’ll try to appear strong, almost unmoved through the whole thing. He’ll crack a joke but it won’t be a good one and the doctor won’t pretend it was funny. That’s what will really crush this guy and we’ll see it on his face. It will only be there for a second. Half a second. People will have to rewind and pause on the exact frame if they really want to see this guy fall to pieces. And you know people will. Even if they don’t it will register and that will stick with them. We will never actually reveal what the doctor told this guy. We’ll write it in such a
way that everyone knows the diagnosis is so terrible specifics aren’t important.” “I need a little pick-me-up after that. Can you make him dance? Yeah, that little karaoke scene you put together. You did it on your work computer, dummy. Of course I saw it. If I was upset you would already know. “That will never not be funny. Can you change the song or is it just this one? Put on that new one by the girl that’s always dressed in black and pink. The bouncy one. My god. Look at him go. I could watch this forever. Can you change his outfit? Go back to that plaid thing you had him in. Yeah. With the jeans and straw hat. That’s brilliant.” “It’s probably important that we see him truly happy before and after the whole doctor’s office scene. I know what we’ll do. In the beginning he’ll be watching a TV show that’s a transparent takeoff of a real show so people know what he is supposed to be watching. This will help the audience relate to him a little bit, which I think we are going to need. He’ll pause the show and just stare at the screen for a minute with a curious smile on his face. Then the smile fades to a blank but somewhat satisfied expression. Yes. Like he’s happy and he doesn’t have to prove it to anyone. “We really need to zero in on that look so it sticks out to people and they make the connection at the end. We won’t explain what it means when it happens. We just want people to know its something they should pay attention to. “A little later when everyone has chalked the whole TV thing up to him just being kind of a weirdo, we’ll see him in different department stores looking at ties until he finds the one he’s looking for. Then every time we see him after
that he is wearing a dress shirt and the tie, a noticeable change from the sloppy way he had been dressing up to that point. “The next time we see him happy like this will be at the end. He’ll be getting ready for work and starting to feel the effects of his illness. He’s a little sweaty. There are dark circles under his eyes. He wipes his forehead. He pulls at the skin under his eyes. He goes to the kitchen, calls off work and then takes off his clothes. He starts with the tie, then the shirt and pants and everything else until he is completely naked. The camera never backs away. We see everything. Front. Back. Everything. It’s rough. He gets a beer from the refrigerator, goes to the couch and turns on the TV to the same show he was watching in the beginning. We want to give the whole thing a sense symmetry. He gets a smile on his face and then the smile fades to that same blank satisfied expression. We’ll zero in on it again so that people make the connection. “We want the audience to know he’s watching one episode after another. As the day goes on we’ll add a few empty beer bottles on the coffee table and show him wrapped in a blanket because he has the chills. We’ll intersperse it with various clips of the show. It will become clear that in every episode one of the characters wears the same tie that this guy went out and bought. That’s when it will all come together. “We hear what we are to understand is an especially funny joke in the fake TV show. His expression doesn’t change. The studio audience will erupt in laughter that we will loop and play over and over. “There’s a close-up of more sweat rolling down his face. His skin is mottled and losing color. It’s clear his condition is deteriorating rapidly. Then just as we see what may be him losing consciousness and starting to slump over, we cut to the credits.
“The loop of the laughter will not only continue but get a little louder. It will be jarring but it’s supposed to be. If it works the way I hope it does, there will be a minute or two of the audience just sitting there with blank faces, listening to the laughter as the credits roll deciding what, if any, connections of their own they want to make. And that’s the end. “See. I told you there would be comedy.”
Kara Bright Kilgore Botticelli
If I sleep, when I sleep, I hope the sky will be cerulean slow. And this time, maybe, I will dream of my bare feet stepping new onto a Botticelli earth, ankles encircled by a diaphanous dress so sheer that even the white-ribbed chrysanthemums often mistake it for wind.
God Jumped Out a Window (tredici anni fa) before the last turn; before the last turn He had to suddenly shorten, without notice, the long jump going from pussy to heaven: air flight without engine; forward the Hudson, before the last turn; Cerruti suit, Yankees cap (as a parachute?, in stereo, maybe), before the last turn; black smoke, before the last turn; airlines playing hide and seek, before before the last turn; think big, before the last turn: nine eight meters per second squared nine eleven, before the last turn, as if He increasingly reaffirmed His own getaway from barbarism, or in a new and delirious alternative concept of freedom (there was even who was speaking about a painting by Magritte);
bars and stars, before the last turn; on the last turn He is not even a walking corpse, but the remains of a shipwreck.
Michael Cocchiarale Get Who’s Got You
Aaron, his Achilles on fire, pivoted on the stairs and watched Deena’s head dribble in front of the ten o’clock news. His heart went out less to her than to the grinning, champagne-crazed strangers in the photograph above her head— two sweet kids in black and white before a fairy tale tower of buttercream cake. Marriage had been a friendly pickup game at first, fun and freewheeling. Then, before Aaron knew it, a showdown between bitter rivals: weaknesses exposed, an ugly foul fest, survival of the fittest. Lately, when he remembered how far the game had gotten out of reach, he went for an answer to the far end of his figurative bench. “You know who died?” he said now, without thinking, without knowing who in fact died, although someone surely must have. It was a desperate tack he’d tried with surprising success only the month before, figuring if he and his wife no longer got along, they could at least share some poignant news. Deena had turned from the sink to look at him, eyes serious, cheeks flinching. Was she genuinely concerned? Eager for human interaction? In the mood to forgive? Whatever the cause, her reaction was lovely, a flash of vulnerability from a bygone season. For a moment, Aaron lost his breath. “Who?” she asked. “Is everything—” “Thomas Kincaide.” “What?” She smiled but was moved more than he’d thought possible. “You mean the painter guy?” Aaron nodded, shrugged, hands in pockets as if to say, “What can you do?”
“Was he pretty old?” “Fifty-four.” “Really? His work was cheesy, but he had that Mister Rogers quality about him.” “No, no,” Aaron said. “You’re thinking of Bob Ross.” “Oh, yeah . . . maybe so. He’s still alive, right?” “Died years ago.” “Wow,” she said. “Where does time go?” That evening, Aaron and Deena looked for the first time in weeks into each other in the eyes. They talked life and death, the brevity of the one, the galling stupidity of the other. They tried to move beyond platitudes toward honesty. Deena got angry, remained stingy with forgiveness. Later, they brushed their teeth together and, fearful about calling it a night, made half-hearted love. Afterward, they held each other to sleep, remembering yet again that life—even theirs—could be an awfully precious thing. Now—still seething from the argument this morning—Deena was in no mood to be moved. She stared at Aaron, eyes full and alert. He winced at the bottom stair, hand on the railing, feeling every bit the idiot. “Ok,” she said, folding her arms. “I’ve granted you your dramatic pause.” Who died? Who died? Aaron wished this time it could be someone really good—the kind of death that would give them the boost that might last through the second half of their lives. Deena gave him one more second before cutting her eyes back to the news— a gruesome homicide, a young woman, bound and bottomless in a fast food dumpster. Aaron, unwilling to concede defeat, disappeared upstairs to dig up an answer.
Sitting at his desk, he felt a sudden discomfort in his side, a pain the burning Achilles had trumped until now. Stupidly, he checked his email first, discovering a message from one of his least responsible staff writers. The subject line read “So So Sorry!” But there was no message—just an attachment, the draft of an article for the upcoming county fair spread. He opened the document (a vacuous profile of a pretty 4 H queen) and scrolled through it, sighing, mentally making note of all he’d have to improve. The next issue of Emerald Necklace was supposed to go live in three days, but Aaron didn’t have the patience now to set these poor words right. He clacked again at the keyboard, searching for a good list of the recently deceased and trying for the life of him to remember when he’d bruised his ribs. The last pick up game at Sacred Heart had been volatile, angry—murderous wouldn’t have been much of a stretch. DJ, still smarting from an elbow to the head that Coach delivered at the end of the previous game, was playing at a break-neck pace. Nathan, the peacemaker of the group, said “Easy now” each trip down the court, until DJ, picking up his dribble at the top of the key, turned to him with blazing eyes and screamed, “Shut the fuck up.” Later, when DJ slammed into Aaron on a fast break and had the gall to call a foul, the stunning blow—the rank injustice of the charge—flipped a switch inside him, and he became another, more sinister version of himself: seething, sprinting up and down the court, throwing his body at anyone trying to get to the hoop. He even took to trash talking his man, a rickety, begoggled guy who was a Eucharistic minister at the parish. Late in the game, with the score tied, Aaron, still under the spell, jumped in DJ’s face when his opponent’s foot so obviously stepped out of bounds. In another context, the former high school linebacker might have pounded him into the hardwood, but in the heat of the game, in this
otherworldly bubble of a grade school gym, Aaron was almost certain that he wouldn’t come to harm. After a few dead end searches, Aaron discovered an impressive list of “famous” names—so many dead and gone in just the past month. He stood, grimaced, and felt his ribs again, pressed at the bruise until it became a little difficult to breathe. Delicately, he typed up and down the bones. With a blind side pick of fear, he remembered that he was thirty-nine—that his whole skeleton was in there, behind his own weak flesh and blood, simply biding its time. * Later, while Deena scratched a ball of stainless steel around the inside of a frying pan, Aaron slipped into the kitchen, cleared his throat, and said, “Yvette Wilson.” “Who? What?” “Yvette Wilson died. She was on that one sitcom . . . in the nineties.” “Ha! You looked it up.” “What are you—?” “Don’t lie.” “The show had that singer—Brandy.” “Of course—the cutie pie! I forgot how you like—” “Stop.” They fought then about forgetting—the subject of this morning’s heated contest, which had tipped off when Aaron, upon leaving for work, discovered that the back door had been left unlocked all night. “You were the last one up!” he said again.
“I had too much shit to carry,” she said. “I left the box of detergent in the trunk and meant to—” “What next? is what I want to know. The door ajar? The door flung right open? A welcome basket for killers on the kitchen table?” “This is a safe neighborhood.” “Look, when I go to bed, I trust—” “Trust? Please. Don’t ‘trust’ me.” “What?” “You can’t use that word on me. Not yet.” After Deena stormed upstairs to bed, Aaron, still in pain, eased into a chair in front of the living room TV. Slowly, his anger subsided, and he began to enjoy a first round game of the NCAA tournament. In truth, what could be better?—one and done, an entire season on the line every night, a two hour drama that asked the simplest question: “What are you made of when you’re really up against it?” The underdog, a 16th seed from an obscure conference out west, was leading late in the game. Then, after the four minute timeout, their nerves betrayed them. Aaron had watched enough basketball over the years to bet on what was coming—the rushed put backs, the careless turnovers, the inane fouls. He couldn’t help but wince at all that poorly-controlled passion. Only there were times too, especially in recent years, when an underdog—a twelve seed, a fourteen—not only showed poise enough to win but also became so-called Cinderellas, advancing deep into the tournament. Like life, the game of basketball was unpredictable, a mystery that deepened each time he watched or played. Sometimes you found yourself in the flow, doing everything right: boxing out for the board, threading the ball through the narrowest of passing lanes, hitting improbable, off balance jumpers from just about everywhere on
the floor. Other times, the flow rushed right over you and you flailed, every desperate lunge for the surface only making things worse. Later, in the bedroom, Aaron looked down on his wife, her thin limbs twisted, mouth a flaccid black balloon. “Corpse” was the first thing that came to mind. Or better yet: “Sleeping Ugly.” But, to be fair, wouldn’t he soon look pretty much the same?—dead until tomorrow, one of two under a spell of fitful sleep, until they both rose to the bright window light in order to go at each other once upon again. * A few weeks later, Jerry sent Aaron an email with the subject line: “God, you see this?!”; his interest was piqued, but he was in the middle of berating an intern for her careless proofing job and didn’t have the time to read the message until lunch. By then, he was in a dark mood (couldn’t anybody do one goddamn thing right?) and ripped with teeth a large piece of his drab ham and cheese. He clicked on the link to an article in The Plain Dealer and, still chewing, read about the victim of a horrible crime. It took him a paragraph to assemble the clues: resident of Shaker Heights, high school guidance counselor, one-time second string center at Ohio U. The dead man he was reading about was Coach!—the tall, reptilian guy who hectored everyone at Sacred Heart for poor footwork, for failure to make a cut, for taking a shot outside their range. Coach was dead, gone, murdered by his wife of nineteen years. Killed by a knife—a serrated steak knife—to stomach and throat. According to the story, Coach stumbled down the front steps of his house, bleeding horribly, just as the man next door was bringing back up his garbage can from the curb. The neighbor called 911 while sprinting to the falling man. “I held him,” the neighbor explained, “and he kept saying ‘love’ and ‘sorry’ until he died.”
Confused, at a complete loss, Aaron went after work to Sacred Heart and played a few spiritless games with a handful of guys. Afterward, they sat on folding chairs by the water fountain to brood over Coach’s unbelievable demise. “If he was just looking at some gay porn,” Billy said, “why the hell didn’t she just get one of those annulments?” “Because, for one thing, she’s fucking nuts.” “Marcus,” Nathan said. “My sister’s bipolar. Mental illness is a serious thing.” “And we don’t know what the hell else was going on,” Alan said. “A week ago,” DJ said, pounding the ball he’d trapped between his legs. “I elbowed him in the balls.” “Well, he played D I,” Marcus laughed. “I’m sure he was dealt worse.” “No, no, you don’t understand. I did it on purpose! When he went up for the board. Fucker’d been going over my back the whole goddamn game.” Some of the men laughed out loud. Others grimaced and shifted in their chairs. DJ shook his head. “Thing was, he didn’t even notice!” Chuck, a frail man in his mid-60s, had wandered out onto the court to practice layups. In his geriatric, slow-motion way, he drove again and again to the basket—“to the hole.” Aaron thought of holes—black spaces that things tumble into, lethal openings from which dark stuff pours. His legs felt weak; he was relieved to be sitting down. Chuck’s ball hit the floor again—one, two, three times. An aural ellipsis. In the long silence that dropped upon them, Aaron thought about subsequent words, further reactions and explanations that would, like a jump shot on tired legs, undoubtedly come up short. *
“You’re home early,” Deena said, dragging a fork through the guts of her dinner. Aaron eased into a chair across from her, rubbed with an index finger at dried sweat above his brow. Tired, weak, his body a heap of pain, he nevertheless found energy to reach into his gym bag for the printout of the news. “Here,” he said. “This is about that Coach guy I used to play with. Thought you might en—” “Jesus, Jesus!” Deena cried, hand over mouth. “How well did you know—?” “I knew him,” Aaron said, a spasm of anger in his chest. “I said hello. He had a bad back and creaky knees, so he spent about 20 minutes stretching out. Sometimes, he’d bring his boy.” “Oh God, they had a child?” Kevin—the name that had escaped him earlier came to mind now right out of the blue. A quiet boy, this Kevin—portly, thick-armed, with feet that always tangled when he made his way to the hoop. He was allowed to shoot around but only if a basket were available. Otherwise, he was told to sit still in the bleachers and watch. A glass of tap water appeared in front of Aaron’s face. He looked up at Deena, who was trying her best to make her smile kind. Common human courtesy? A peace offering? He took the glass and drank it down in a gulp. “No matter what,” she said, “I will never, ever kill you.” Aaron was ready to rage at her for making light of things, but when he looked again, he saw tears, not the usual sardonic flicker in the eyes. In her own awkward way, he supposed, she was trying yet again to be good enough for both of them. “I’ll remember that.”
“Oh, you mean you won’t forget?” Now—just like that—her voice had teeth. “Like detergent in the trunk? Like the back door lock?” “I meant—” “Or how about like a marriage vow?” “Look, I don’t want to start another—” “Well you already did.” Aaron let it go. He stood up quickly, badly, an arrow of pain burrowing into his ankle. Somehow, he would get up the stairs, strip off these stink-soaked clothes, and work a bar of soap around his body. Somehow, his deeply wounded life—and theirs—would stumble on. * It was 9:30, and Deena was already upstairs, tweaking her Facebook profile, messaging far away friends, taking from the computer the kind of comfort Aaron had briefly sought in the old face-to-face way. Relishing another opportunity to escape, he turned on the championship game. Sixty four teams had begun the tournament, and tonight—in few hours or so—there would be one winner, a national champion. Duke was the favorite, of course, but the Butler Bulldogs, a mid-major from Indiana, were going to, in the words of the ecstatic announcer, “try to stick a fairy tale ending on this thing.” It was a fine game—hard fought, evenly matched, with lead changes throughout. With a few minutes to go, the color commentator said almost wistfully, “These young kids have so much on their shoulders.” Kids, kids. Again, Aaron thought of Kevin, who must have been somewhere in the house at the time. Had the screams reached him in bed, stabbing through the gauze of early dreams? Had he been coming into the living room with a soft drink as his father lurched past him, hands frantic at his wounds, desperate to
hold his life back from leaving? Did the boy have to see his mother—a crazed stranger now—sitting calmly on the couch, the bright wet weapon smiling on her lap? And Coach? What did he experience when that first plunge stunned him briefly back to life? What did he see beyond that second thrust he was too shocked to stop? A family photo at Cedar Point? A sitcom pratfall on the TV? An action figure crawling from his son’s treasure trove of toys? A shapely vase, a braided throw or whatever recent gifts he must have bought to allay his guilt? Aaron imagined Coach rising, desperate to understand why he was without warning fighting for his life, staggering by the woman—his wife, his goddamn wife!—to the door because door meant elsewhere, door meant out and air, the squeals of young children on swings or bikes, the slam of car doors, the vigorous roar of a mower across the way, the stairs, the sidewalk, the lush lawn that caught him and all the rest of his blood. Again and again, Aaron dragged the poor man through his imagination, each time tweaking the story this way or that. Was this a brave effort to understand or a pathetic play to feel better about himself? What he knew for sure was the man remained before him, in all his competing versions—Coach, the awardwinning high school guidance counselor who helped young, anxious teens find futures they could love; Coach, the man with his secret vice; Coach, the bastard who was out for blood when he bent his head through the door of Sacred Heart, gym bag sagging over his back. Oh, Aaron recalled, the great, grim pleasure he took in checking players against the padded walls as they made their baseline cuts! Suddenly, somehow, there were only seconds left in the championship game.
“This is it,” the announcer cried, and Aaron, whistled back to the present, leaned forward to watch young kids face the moment of truth in their simple win-lose world. Butler inbounded the ball. There was a pass, a few dribbles by the Hayward kid, a desperate half-court heave. Rim and out. Game over. The entire season as well. Aaron’s first response was anger. A better pass here, a smarter shot there, and these Cinderellas would have been gowned in cut down nets. But who was he judge? With his bad passes and errant shots, Aaron was hardly the hero of his middle-aged pickup games. And things were often worse—had been, at least—when he was teamed with Coach. “Guards!” Coach would seethe after sweeping a rebound off the glass. “GUARDS!” he’d bellow, and the little guys like Aaron were never quick enough to come back and relieve him of the ball he should not be handling. But just as often the gangly, lizard-like man would grab a board and cry: “RELEASE!” And Aaron, dawdling by the foul line, would fail to be far enough down court for the big guy’s outlet pass, which sizzled like a bullet over his head. Sometimes, though, they’d be on the exact same page—two players trusting each other, two people wordlessly in synch. Coach would grab the board and Aaron would be at half court as expected, hand up for the ball that would come to him on a line, and he’d be off, dribbling, the court open in front of him, dribbling, right foot planted, left knee up, the ball like an offering in his palm then gone, into the air, a tender kiss off the glass for the picture perfect finish. Except such baskets would never be the ones that cinched a victory, a fact made clear by a thunderous “BACK ON D!” Had he expected laurels? A douse of bubbly? A happily ever after? No, no, of course not. He knew from long experience that however good or bad he’d been
playing, the first and last lesson of basketball was this: You make a hoop, you don’t forget to get your ass back down court. Who cares if you’ve had enough— if you want to cut out, if you’re ready to drop dead? You suck it up and, regardless of the score, get who’s got you until the end of the game.
Contributors Anne Anthony Anne Anthony photographs nearly anything that catches her eye. Never go on a walk with her or you’ll never finish. Michael Cocchiarale Michael Cocchiarale is the author of “Still Time” (Fomite, 2015), a collection of short and shorter stories. Here Is Ware, a novella, was serialized in NovellaT in the summer of 2014. Joan Colby Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, etc. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 16 books including Selected Poems” from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and “Ribcage” from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize.Colby is also a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Kentucky Review. TS Hidalgo TS Hidalgo (43) holds a BBA (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), a MBA (IE Business School), a Master in Creative Writing (Hotel Kafka) and a Certificate in Arts Administration (New York University). His works have been published
in magazines like Otoliths, By&By, Poems-For-All, Clementine or The Unrorean, and has been winner of prizes like Criaturas feroces (Editorial Destino), AIDA Books and Pandora Magazine in short story or finalist at Festival Eñe in novel. He has developed his career in finance and stockmarket. Kathie Jacobson Kathie Jacobson’s work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Necessary Fiction, Driftwood Press, Twisted Vine, Sassafras, andHermeneutic Chaos Literary Reviews. Her fiction has appeared as a Long Form Pick of the Week. She lives and writes in Oakland, California. Kara Bright Kilgore Kara Bright Kilgore is a writer from the wilds of Georgia. Her short fiction has been featured in the 2007 Georgia Literary Festival and The Crossroads Writer’s Conference of 2010. Her work has been published by Colored Chalk Literary Magazine, Port Cities Review, Down in the Dirt Magazine, The 11th Hour, The Fall Line Review, and Pressure Press. She is currently at work on her first novel. Nathan Willis Nathan Willis is a writer from Ohio. His stories have previously appeared in Across The Margin, 99 Pine Street and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He was also a finalist for Glimmer Train‘s Short Story Award for New Writers. His website is www.nathan-willis.com and he can be found on Twitter @nathan1280
Scott Wordsman Scott Wordsman holds an MFA from William Paterson University, where he is now a professor of English. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Main Street Rag, Slipstream, Maudlin House, Spry, and others. He edits for Map Literary and lives in Jersey City.
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Published on Jul 7, 2016