Crack the Spine - Issue 194

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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 194

Issue 194 July 13, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2016 by Crack the Spine

Cover Art

“Stone + Water + Time� by Christine Catalano Christine, a onetime graphic designer, likes to take photographs and play with them on the computer. She dedicates her work to her muse, in the hope that he continues to inspire her.

CONTENTS Matt Dugan Obstruction in Spring Lauren Lara Kathleen Brewin Lewis

The Old House


Richard Weaver The Maybe Baby

Mahesh Nair Alert, Alert

James Brush

Nicky Rose Driving South

John Leo

Bestiary: Texas

Michael Proctor

Silent Gray Skies

Matt Dugan

Obstruction in Spring

Circle dazzling the sight Obstructing an oncoming figure; like chalked ghosts walking on conveyor belts. Grey morbid canvas bleeding colours – A mustard blue, where clouds seep below human eye-line. Drafted on glass squares of Spring – dusty smears, Winter’s skin shredded on window; like pin pricked air pockets splayed on a transparent canvas.

Kathleen Brewin Lewis Tear-Down

Chris Dorsett gazed over the old Taylor place like a man in love. The arc of yellow daffodils that had cropped up on the hill out front dazzled him, as did the cardinal he saw fly into the branches of one of the many old-growth magnolia trees on the property. The clothesline out back, the black rocking chairs on the wide porch, the dark green shutters that framed every paned window gave him the contented feeling that someone had come before and prepared a place for him. Inside the house, he was impressed by the window seat on the stair landing, the sturdiness of the whitewashed kitchen cabinets, the artistry of the gray stone fireplace. The hardwood floors were buckled a bit in places, but they were solid and shone with warmth. Once or twice he had simply gotten down on his knees and stroked them. Just three weeks ago, the old Taylor place had become the new Dorsett place. Chris and his wife Lorna had bought this prime piece of real estate in one of the nicer neighborhoods in town with the intent of tearing it down. For this reason, they hadn’t really looked that closely at the house and outbuildings before they purchased them, just at the lot itself. They’d gotten a surveyor and an architect to visit the site and draw up the plans for their dream house – the place they planned to raise children, entertain clients, throw big, talk-of-the-town parties. He’d worried about being the first black couple in an established white neighborhood, but everyone he’d met so far had been friendly. One of the women who lived down the street had come by with a bottle of wine and a loaf

of homemade bread during the first week, and a guy named Patterson had ridden by and rolled down his car window to shake hands and introduce himself. Two little girls rang the doorbell yesterday to ask if they had any children. “Not yet,” Chris said, “But by the time we do, I think you young ladies will be just the right age to babysit.” The girls had grinned, nodded their heads excitedly, and cut their eyes at each other. He imagined it was probably their first job offer. The Dorsetts had bought the old white clapboard house because it stood on a two-acre rise and looked down on the neighborhood. This property was all that remained of the farm that was parceled out to develop Country Cove Estates twenty-five years ago. Old Mr. Taylor, a widower, had lived there until two years ago, when his daughter had to put him in a nursing home. He had died in January, and the Dorsetts had bought the property as soon as it went on the market. They planned to live in the old house until Chris got his end-of-the year bonus from the financial consulting firm where he worked, then they’d start building a five-bedroom, five-bath brick house in front of it. As soon as the new house was completed, they’d be tearing down the old one. They’d put a pool where the Taylor house had been. “Oh, shit!” Lorna had exclaimed as they’d knocked down the cobwebs on the front porch with a broom they’d found around back. “This’ll be interesting,” she said, as she opened the door to the old gas stove, rolled her eyes, and sighed heavily. But other than some dust and the cobwebs, everything about the empty house was immaculate. Then Chris discovered the workshop, about 300 feet back behind the main house.

The workshop looked like a cottage, nestled next to the dogwood trees and azalea bushes, but when Chris opened the door, he was amazed to see two long handmade wooden tables, a well-organized work bench, and walls covered with every type of tool or implement you could imagine. On one wall were antique farming tools: old plows and rusty scythes and what looked like a collection of metal rug beaters. On another were lawn care items, rakes, clippers, and shovels, as well as an old-fashioned lawn edger. And on a third wall were smaller tools, shears, scissors, and different sized hammers and pliers, each of them on its own hook or nail. The work bench was lined with half-pint Mason jars, all labeled with the size of the nails or screws they held. There was even an old green bottle full of buttons. Mr. Taylor’s daughter had mentioned something about leaving her dad’s tools behind, just in case, he, Chris, was interested in them. “If you’re not, just call me,” she said, “And I’ll come back and haul ‘em out of there.” But he was interested in them. He was fascinated. He wanted to know what each of them was for, wanted to feel the heft of them in his own hands. All around him he was discovering evidence of competence and care and orderliness—and it pleased him. Chris had never seen anything like this place. He had grown up with his mom and little brother in the projects in Detroit, gone off to college and played football at Howard in DC, attended MBA school at Wharton in Philadelphia – all big cities. He hadn’t spent a lot of time in the countryside anywhere. Hadn’t lived somewhere that had benefitted from a man’s skillful labor. Lorna, on the other hand, was from LA - Lower Alabama. They’d met at Howard, then she’d attended law school at Temple while he was at Wharton. She’d taken him home to meet her parents and “see where she came from,” but

although her family’s concrete block house was neat and comfortable, the land around it was hard red clay, covered in spindly pine trees and wiregrass. They were married in Philadelphia, then moved to Atlanta where they’d both been offered good jobs. Lorna was sleek and sophisticated, the kind of wife you liked to show off. And she had big plans for them as a couple: certain kinds of cars, certain kinds of clothes, certain kinds of friends--a certain kind of house. That night, after they’d made love and were about to fall asleep, he whispered in her ear, “I love this place.” “What place?” she whispered back. “This one. This house, this land. The easy feeling I’ve had since we moved here. I don’t want to tear it down anymore.” She sat up straight in the bed and turned on the bedside lamp. “What?” he said, “Why not?” And he shielded his eyes from the light. “Oh, no, Mister,” she said. “We made a deal. We bought this house to tear it down. We are building a new house here, we are building a new house.” “Settle down,” he said, “we’ll talk about it another time.” “No,” she said, “this is the end of that discussion.” The next day was Saturday. Chris went downstairs first to make the coffee. When Lorna came down, she was dressed to go to the gym. “Hey,” she said flatly, and turned her cheek to the side for him to kiss. “Look,” he said, “I want to talk about this some more.” “Well, I don’t,” she replied, picking up her purse. But before walking out the door, she turned to him. “Chris. My great-granddaddy was a sharecropper, my granddaddy grew peanuts, and my daddy cleaned the equipment in a peanut processing plant. I’ve been determined to get as far away from the farm, the fields, the crops, and

the country as I can. I married you because you were a city boy, because I thought we had the same ideas about the kind of life we wanted. I am not living in some old white man’s farmhouse for the rest of my life, planting tomatoes and collard greens and corn in the back yard. I got no fantasies like that. We are sticking to the plan, you hear me? We are sticking to the plan!” She slammed the back door. When she backed out of the garage, she cut the BMW too sharply and hit the recycle bin, which made a cracking sound. Then she drove off. Chris picked the bin up and carried it to the workshop. He sat it upside down on one of the tables and examined the damage. He turned to the wall of tools and found what he was looking for: a dusty roll of black duct tape on a nail beside some coils of wire. He kept looking until he found a pair of redhandled kitchen scissors, then he cut and pasted the tape on the cracks in the bin to hold it together. He walked out of the workshop and sat down slowly on an old garden bench that had been placed beside a concrete birdbath. He had to think about all this. He pretty much let Lorna have her way about everything, but this time they’d have to work out a compromise. He’d make a proposal to her when she came back: They wouldn’t tear the house down, but they would renovate it. They would keep the stone fireplace, the window seat, the porch, and the wooden floors, and the workshop would stay exactly as it was. Lorna could rip out and change the kitchen any way she wanted to, and the bathrooms and the whole upstairs could be completely done over. But he didn’t want any of the old trees cut down. Chris would give her time to consider the proposal, get used to the idea. He hoped that the longer they lived here, the more she’d come to appreciate the spirit and the bones of this decent place. He walked over to a bush loaded with

dark pink camellias. With the scissors still in his hand, he cut three of them, then went into the house and set them floating in a blue and white bowl he’d filled halfway with water. He placed the bowl carefully on the kitchen table and poured himself another cup of coffee. Then he sat down to wait for Lorna’s return.

Richard Weaver The Maybe Baby

The Maybe Baby will be a masterpiece of conceptual art, so say Father Baby Gravy and Mother Caviar. One day. Some day. If the future whelp-by date doesn’t expire on his squigglers or her future cytoblast, Maybe Baby will be better than test tubes or turkey basters. Maybe Baby will be copyrighted. A one off. A one of a kind. A wonderwork like the horn of Almathea with designer genes by Dior. Implantation by Dr. Seuss. Arms by Armani. Unmatched feet by Blahnik. If long legs for leotards are envisioned, Dolce & Gabbana are now yours. Or Gucci for the streamline look, if leather is, how you say, needed. And Chanel for that new-born smell. Prada is better than nada any day. Donna Karan brings karma from the birth canal to the runway. Breasts are best by Versace. Hard-learned advice: To Jimmy Choo, say Noo Noo Noo. Likewise, Calvin Klein, decline. Germ-line: After the egg is released, its future in the Fallopian tube will be measured, bisected, resected and re-engineered in less than the normal 24 hours date-wait for the single lucky burrowing uber-sperm to have its way in the only way that matters. (Gone are the days of 100 to 300 million sperm being released in a single Olympic ejaculation). The lucky egg will never disintegrate or be reabsorbed by the host body. Other options, outside possibilities are not acceptable. As is and will be as it must be. No competition

is needed. No exertion required. Even the endgame of chromosomes competition is moot. Birl. Goy. It will be both and more perhaps. For the nervous parents there is the perfect heritable gift: An ink pen with an iridescent sperm and color-complementary ovum floating in a reservoir of invisible ink for all to see. Your name and first name of willing spouse of indeterminate sex emboldened etched in neon on the nib. No need to talk of zygotes and mitochondria, or the agonies of long division and diversions again etcetera without a calculator. When Maybe Baby’s cells have gathered and are proud enough to be introduced as embryo to the uterine lining, only then will the real fun begin.

Mahesh Nair Alert, Alert

She spotted HOT BAGELS from a distance - its name board red-blinked all its letters except S. S for Samaira, she thought, devoid of the flicker. This fluttering Hot Bagel store in Manhattan, Friday morning, mirrored the office goers who hastened through the chill of October wind. Economics mandated this rush, like a piece of donut - drove gulls to target it, bringing people of all faiths and nationalities together in the city marching, to seek a better life; the smell of concrete besting that of sweat. Some feet away from the store on 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, she opened the courier app on her phone to look at the items the customer had ordered: four-dozen plain bagels and six pounds of cream cheese. Four dozen? Not four? No! When the job alert had buzzed her phone - the sound a shrill wail - she’d accepted it thinking it was four. If she hadn’t accepted, another courier in the vicinity might have as it was left to who touched Accept first on the screen. First-come-first-serve. The thought of four dozen whipped her like a lash, slowing her down; her legs went frail unclear about the next steps. Heartbeat fast; the moment came to a cul-de-sac; Hot Bagel, a frozen red. Then when she glanced around, everyone was a courier: the sound of a new job alerting them all and they - with phones in hands, eyes fixed on screens, eager to accept it first - pushed their elbows back in slow-mo, generating lift, then punched Accept, using their favorite finger, in that single swing. They let

out a collective creak after that, snapping Samaira out, and into the screech of a fire truck that crossed 8th Avenue. She clasped her phone hard, let the forefinger of her right hand draw an arch in the air and, tapping the screen once she repeated the arch motion. Her grandfather had drawn many such arches back in Dhaka, which meant a decision was on the cusp of being taken. She slackened her clutch and relaxed her finger. It was her second job for the delivery company and an early reassign, she was told at the orientation a week ago, wouldn’t be impressive. The drop-off location was a short distance away on the 45th between 10th and 11th. The delivery would credit her around $5; then the emphatic hope that if a lithe girl like her carried a heavy breakfast to a corporate office, feeding at least thirty people, she could attract a hefty tip. Fifty-two minutes to go on the app. She was now outside the store. First in line from outside, she peeked inside through the glass door. It swarmed with people - some gesticulated, some laughed, some wiped sweat from forehead: all visuals of muteness. She slid her phone into her shoulder bag and opened the door to a blaring sound, as cacophonous as in a fish market she’d seen in Dhaka. The market was a den of noise smelling pungent ammonialike, where mattresses of ice offered fish and the people surrounding them the temperature to tolerate a humid July. Deep, slimy mud filled the cracks in the roads, on either side of which were fishmongers in stained banyans and lungis manning their stalls. Her grandfather had drawn an arch in the air as he ran on this road to his home, followed by a group of men brandishing sticks and swords; the fear of death had numbed the pain in his ankles and knees. Inside, Samaira stood tight between the door and a big-boned man in front of her. She removed her hood, flicked the phone out and texted Shane, the

customer, that the delivery might be delayed. The line to the payment resembled a clevis in which people moved straight, placed their orders at a counter, u-turned to pass the glass shelves filled with bagels and cheese, and paid at the checkout which was three steps from where she was. But the line advanced lazily like bulls dragged a cart after a meal...the uninterrupted chatter was nothing short of a bellow...the anger of wait released in whispered curses. The burly man turned around and said, “Very crowded.” “Yes,” she said. “What do you think of these couriers?” he pointed at two at the checkout, “They slow things down. Big bags, big orders.” “I am courier too.” “Oh.” He felt his mustache. ‘Paid well?” “Don’t know yet. Customer pays delivery fee plus service charge.” Her phone received a text message; a ‘No worries’ from Shane. She looked up at the man and continued, “If they rate me bad plus my average rating drop, no work on the platform.” The queue gathered speed, then slowed. He proceeded to place his order. Then, as he u-turned, almost facing her, he asked, “What do you think of suicide bombers?” Amid the noise and haste, she felt her stomach growl as it was her turn to place the order. The smell of fresh bagels clobbered her senses, adding to her nausea; she only had a cup of coffee in the morning. The Wahaabi extremists had beheaded Shah, crowning his head on a clevis, making it face a mirror: his eyes partly opened and tongue hung out. Shah hadn’t realized that his blog - that called on the majority followers of Sufiinspired Islam to defeat religious fanatics attempting to establish a Sharia state

- would attract violence, leave alone death. He’d only urged that the secular fabric of the constitution be reinstated, and democracy preserved. But he lost the battle; his head was in peace, staring in disbelief. Samaira followed Islam like his grandfather did, but they were secularrationalists in Bangladesh. Two years after Shah’s death, since there was a threat to her life, she moved to the US where there was tolerance for religion. But things had changed after 9/11; dislike for Muslims increasingly psychological, worsening after San Bernardino attacks. She paid $102 at the checkout using Pex card, collected the receipt and picked four big bags: 42 bagels in three bags and three containers in fourth carrying two pounds of cream cheese each. Hauling the bags out - trailer of the burden to bear - she put them down in a corner, flipped her phone out and added the total in the app before taking and uploading a picture of the receipt. A 10% tip, around $10; 20% around $20. She began her journey, two bags in each hand, counting twenty steps at a time before she stopped and resumed again. It was her second year in Manhattan, but she found streets and avenues to be like the maze Jack chased Danny through in The Shining. This was a different chase, with 15 minutes to go, and she relied on the route map in the app. Slow moving dark clouds blocked the light of the sun. She was burning more calories than she had. Her drops of sweat, with hijab intact, soon felt stream-like as they slid down from the back of her neck, tingling her, not amusing. She reached the 45th but was still on the 8th and had two more avenues to tread. Her elbows and wrists felt distinct under excessive pressure, the excruciating pain her own, fear of failure aggravating it. She continued to lug, stopping every ten steps now. Then eight. Five. One. Reassign? Tip?

She’d hid in another room when the mayhem had unfolded; her eyes later fixed at Shah’s head which wobbled at the slightest nudge of the wind from open windows. He left her a day short of his seventieth birthday. She crouched down on the pavement between 8th and 9th, the chill cooling her sweat, giving her a chill. It was a residential stretch and people were watching; her hood not covering her hijab. A truck pulled up and two men in it smirked, at her. “Anything interesting in the bags,” one said and drove away. She heaved herself up - drew an arch in the air - grasped the handles of the bags, lifting them, and left for the drop-off. Self-assured, her gait reflected it as she toted the bags. I am secular, can explain. Measure of my truth is deductive, not sensory. Unlike in Bangladesh, where explaining this had invited wrath. At the drop-off between 10th and 11th, she registered at the front desk. The elevator took her up to the 7th and once there, she rang the bell. An old man opened the door. “Shane?” she checked. “Yes.” He goggled at the bags. “You’re strong.” As she was leaving the floor, she ended the job on the app. The delivery commission was $4.90; the tip amount was pending. What she last saw of her grandfather had stayed with her. Not the eyes that had spoken fearlessly to her or the hand that held hers firmly, or their evening walks of wisdom and reasoning, but the head that hung: dead courage; bravery that fell to religious bullying. This on-demand economy was corporate bullying, where tipping was voluntary. Samaira checked the app after ten minutes. There was something in the tip section: $70.

SEVENTY DOLLARS! No, wait. It’s $0.70. 70 cents. Walking back and waiting for another job alert, she passed by HOT BAGELS and now, that the sun was out, all of the letters looked similar, merging with the rest of the space. At least, they appeared to. And any 70 meant something she thought, looking up at her grandfather.

James Brush

Nicky Rose Driving South

Foot hard on the gas, Nicky forces back tears because she isn’t going to cry not this time and not again not with so much rain on the windshield as if everything around her is doing the crying and maybe this time she can have a few moments even as she thinks of that detective sergeant, his seen-too-much-eyes blaming her for Frank's actions, those opaque eyes narrowing and lips twisting into an efficient scowl, watching her as he holds back the curtain allowing her to see the body (headless body) redbone stump neck and nothing more, That him? the detective sergeant asks she who left home three hours before he got up so she couldn't even tell what he'd been wearing that day, Those are his clothes, she stammers in a stupefied attempt at helpfulness, I recognize the shirt, she mumbles, as the detective sergeant lets the curtain drop, no blood on it though when I bought it for him on Christmas last year, she thinks following the detective back down the hall, wondering why? why? why? why you short tempered ass, I'm sorry about last night, I'm sorry we couldn't make the game, my car broke and I needed it for tomorrow, I'm sorry if I set you off, what now, though, who wins here? the detective holds a clipboard for her to sign and trembling she obliges and looks back up at him who coldly stares at her mousy features and frumplehurried got downtown through traffic in fifteen minutes when she heard about the bank lobby and Frank's head being blown off hair and make up, why why why why? Frank, let's go on a raft trip, just us, the boys are almost grown, we could get one of those guides to take us through the Grand Canyon or go on a cruise, just you and me, me and You'll need to give a

statement about his mental health, I imagine, the detective says, and we'll need to know about his assets, victim's rights you know, anything you can tell us too, you know, so we can piece it together, that'll be very helpful and Nicky watches the graysuited detective without listening as he hands her an envelope with Frank's ring, a watch, his wallet and a letter from the bank that she stuffs in her purse imagining the screams at that same bank, the Asian man—Indian? Pakistani? something, Asian, anyway—on the news, holding a little girl in a blue dress, blood caked on her face and in her matted tangled circus cotton candy hair, holding her out for the cameras and newsmen and firemen and policemen and ambulance men and army men and office men running around, ordering and yelling, all within that tiny staticy box with the coat hanger rabbit ears over the steamy grill in the diner where Nicky served greasy burgers and bitter coffee to Interstate 95 truckers from Miami to Maine and all points between and that one whose eyes film over as he watches the television newswoman talk about the downtown bank where LIVE! the shooting was going on and LIVE! the newsmen were bringing it to you and Nicky’s eyes glazing in horror and the terror of recognition when her husband’s driver's license photo appears on the screen and her boss whispering gentle reassurances that it all must be a terrible mistake as she's taking her and sitting her down when the newswoman said that my husband took that old shotgun and put it in his mouth and there's that beautiful bank girl—Angelita—with the short black hair and liquid eyes who always works on Thursday evenings when I bring in my paycheck and now, now she's dead in a sea of blood, floating free but going under and no mermaids to save her only the paramedics who swim in wearing scuba gear and flippers, swimming through depths of blood the pressure of which could crush a small butterfly into nothing and everyone in the diner gets

quiet and even the clock stops ticking and no one breathes as Nicky feels all their eyes land on her as if it were all her fault, all her fault she bought him that gun for Christmas, all my fault all my fault all my fault as if she were the only one who could walk to the television as if by changing the channel she could make it stop, but she knows no matter which channel, no matter where she looks, this damn box will always bring it here, now LIVE! from downtown, and the detective sergeant that talked to her after identifying the body asks if she would like to see the crime scene to see what had been wrought and Nicky shakes her head and asks if she could just go home and get some things so she could leave and escape this place that brought her husband and his ruined, bloody head LIVE! to her work, his head so blown apart that not even the most adept forensic neurologist shrink could ever piece back together the bits of his brain to learn what he had been thinking, what had been going through it when it all blew up and sank to the bottom of the ocean of blood in the wood paneled bank lobby where Frank had been LIVE! and then not and every minute on the road south or west or wherever she considers driving the car into the pylons or oncoming traffic or a train but she sees Hal and Alex, both almost men, in the back seat blankeyed staring and keeps driving, every minute an impossible choice to make but she keeps driving, her hands trembling on the wheel.

John Leo

Bestiary: Texas I. They told me to write about Texas, but they do not understand: some lands are actual blood. I have seen the buteo cresting a westerly wind, its pinfeathers, black knives laid for killing on a white blanket. II. Once near Corsicana, I clipped a grackle with my car. Its head wedged between my side-mirror and the antenna, its eyes like blackberry drupes. I kept driving. It watched me the whole way to Gun Barrel City, even after the body left the neck. III. There are coyotes too, llorando by the riverbed, waiting for a white housecat to offer himself up. IV. Cody tossed a firecracker into the creek at Buckhorn Park. In the rill, a nest of water vipers. The dynamite floated among their young. The snakes that survived, they left their dead. They swam upstream, trailing ribbons of red.

V. Two million bats live under the Congress Ave. Bridge. People come from as far as Laredo to watch them stream like a wound into dusk. I have slept there among them, my lips dark with juice from sucking at blackberry brambles. Two million like by an outpouring of black blood, the whole state (it used to be a country) is covered.

Michael Proctor Silent Gray Skies

The earth is humming at the perfect frequency. The carpet cradles like a wet velvet womb, licking at every itch with compassionate precision. From the inside, warmth is an emotion, a blanket of love, wrapped tight around every problem and failure. From the outside, I’m just looking at another sicko. Slumped over in a pile of useless bones and meat. Half sitting, half lying down, one knee shifts against his sleeping deadweight, inching closer to the puddle he doesn’t remember leaving on the floor. Adams or Davis or whatever-his-name-is, walks past us to clear the last room, giving me an intimate moment with this kid. I offer an apology under my breath and slap him in the face, the bare walls echoing back in agreement. Otherwise, he won’t wake up for hours, if he wakes up at all. But he doesn’t mind, just falls over and curls fetal to climb deeper into his high. Pink, palmshaped splotches start to glow on his face and his mouth falls open, the same look on the same face of every other slack-jawed junkie. I grab him by a clammy hand to pull him up, lean him against the wall. The ID in his wallet has a picture of him smiling, sober. Jeremy Reynolds. Nineteen years old now, seventeen in the picture. His good life two years expired. “Kid,” I say, the words straining in protest as I pull. “Kid, wake up. You nod like this in the wrong building and you’ll wake up to a stab wound.” He coughs, thin strings of saliva flying from his mouth, tacking to his chin. “C’mon. You gotta wake up.” I shake him by the shoulders, his arms falling limp to his sides, exposing track marks, requisite dress code for residency in

this shithole I found him in. Part of me feels bad for slapping him. Another part wants to jam a thumb into the freshest looking spike in the crook of his elbow. His puffy eyelids seep open to just slivers, stupid little crescent moons The sclera of his left eye is bloodshot as expected, glossy life trying to peer out through a tea-stained filter. Something in the right eye catches me, holds my stare. The whites have been colored, tattooed. As if under the murky layer of film, his iris is surrounded by a lake of pale crystalline blue. The kid’s head lolls against the wall, faded sickly green paint bruised by an abandoned spackle job. He tilts his chin up, opens his eyes a little wider, aiming his singular sapphire lens at me. A smirk grows on his face, like we’re friends that haven’t seen each other in years. Like we’re catching up over coffee. “I know you,” he says. “No you don’t. You probably wouldn’t know your own mother if she were here.” “No, I do, I do. I’ve seen you before.” He struggles to swallow the cotton in his mouth. “I’ve seen you at the movies.” “Think you got the wrong guy, kid. I don’t go to the movies,” I say. The new partner struts out from the back room, grinning. “Find something, Davis?” I ask. “No, it’s all clear back there.” “What’re you smiling for then?” He straightens his face. “I’m just happy I didn’t get stabbed. And, uh, it’s Adams.” I swallow the thought of proving him wrong. “Well it’s early in the day. Aim for greatness.” The kid starts into a rapid-fire mumble. “I, I, I know you. I’ve seen you. It was

dark and there was a big screen and he gave us soda. I didn’t like the soda so much, it was bitter, but he said to drink it.” “Hey kid,” I say, snapping my fingers in front of his face, the pale-blue orb dancing left and right. “I told you, I don’t go to the movies. I’ve never seen you, you’ve never seen me, and that’s that.” “Come here. Come down here,” he says in a near whisper, waving his hand in the universal signal. He looks up and behind me, his eyes excluding Adams from our special little chat. I lean down, humor him. “You weren’t at the movies, you were in the movie. On the screen.” His breath is hot, sour, the musky smell of dirt rising from his clothes. “And you’re delusional,” I say, planting a fist in the floor to push myself back up. Adams hooks his head to the door, asking if we’re done here. Asking if it’s time to take the stairs back out to the lucid world. My young junkie friend is back to rolling his head left and right against the wall, murmurs bubbling out of his cracked lips. When I catch something coherent, Adams flinches when my knees hit the floor and I clamp a fist into the kid’s ratty mess of hair. “What’d you say? What the fuck did you just say?” My eyes meet his, the mismatched color suddenly alien, dangerous. “You’re Gray Miller. You’re drowning in death. He knows because he follows you,” he says. I blink and I’m back in that place. In that memory I’ve tried so hard to destroy. Wintery water climbing up my legs and chest as I run in, squinting back at quick glints of white reflecting off the water, the lullaby of small waves lapping against the mineral shore. A shadow, lifeless and bobbing in the lake, limbs spread out to sail the course set by the wind and current. The shadow a

former extension of myself, the body much too small to be floating there, uncared for, not in school or on a playground. The tears come, an unhealed wound filling me up again, threatening to crash over and roll down my face. I press them closed, choking that ghost, wanting the past to dry up and flake away. “I told you, kid, you don’t know me. You think you’re clever? I’m in and out of these projects everyday. A lot of you fuckups around here know my name.” “And you haven’t asked me my name,” he says. “I don’t give a shit what your name is.” I push his head into the wall and loosen my fingers from his hair, standing. “I am Gabriel.” “Sure, kid. The ID in your wallet says different.” “I have a message for you.” Jeremy Reynolds and Gabriel smile up to me. He spreads the skin around his tattooed eye with a thumb and index finger. “I found you, Gray Miller, and he asked me to give you a message if I found you.” “He?” I ask. “He is the truth, but you’ll see that soon enough.” “I can hardly wait. What’s the message?” “It’s about your head,” Gabriel says. “Do you know the Bible, detective?” “We’re done here,” I say, motioning to Adams and starting for the door when I hear shuffling. I turn back to the kid on the floor, an empty space glaring back at me. I swivel my head around the room and stop where he’s filling the space of an open window. He grips the sill, his fingers stretched into white knuckles and taut skin, perched there with all the grace and violence of an owl. “And I saw one of his heads, bleeding as if he were dying. The truth appeared

and his deadly wound was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast,” he says, then leans slightly out the window, as if to feel the breeze on his face. “We all have two heads, Gray Miller. Be careful you don’t lose the wrong one.” My eyes stay wide open, my body frozen, but he disappears anyway, no screams of regret trailing behind his fall. The air at this height, it cuts through the silence and sings a gentle wind-song, ending with the percussive thump of kid-bones and kid-organs greeting the pavement outside. Adams freezes in his own skin, blinking fast and hard to convince himself this is or isn’t real, then bolts out the door toward the stairs. At the window, I look down to the street. The kid, fifteen floors below, looks like an animal carcass on a highway. Resting, not in peace. The clapping echo of my steps fills the stairwell on the way back down to the street. Around the corner where the living became the dead, Adams looks ready to cry or quit. The pavement is hard as it ever has been, but lonelier than it was two minutes ago. A warm patch of black and red glimmers in the dull yellow of the street lamp above, where moths claim territory inside the ballast, thumping their brainless heads against the bulb.

At the door, stale warmth rolls out, reminds me that wherever I’ve been it wasn’t this place. Here is not there, this is not that, and so on, until it hurts my eyes to even try to remember. The mothering of a digital alarm clock cuts through the silence in my apartment. Instead of pictures and furniture I have dull beige walls and empty corners. I don't turn the alarm off, not even sure where the little box could be located on the physical plane. I let it chirp, halfsmiling to be in the company of something, anything, without blood or breath. Trying not to think about it, I let the clock’s pulse climb inside me. I want to

control its speed, telekinesis, think it down to a slower pace. Instead it speeds up, telling me I’ve missed the mark, deviated from the peaceful rut I was aiming for. Possibly heading for another collision. The thing is, I am getting closer to my worst self, careening downward toward my most destructive potential. Each day I wake again and breathe, the air tastes more sour. What everyone else thinks of as oxygen closes in on me, pressing and dissecting me into fewer dimensions, one insignificant molecule at a time. Because of this, I tend to avoid mirrors, except for the small one by the front door. This one is true, no filters or skewed angles to tell me a false story. It’s also just small enough to see only a sliver of my face. I can have bloodshot eyes or a trembling lip, but not both. And I don’t have to watch myself distorting and shrinking away. At least for now, this is how I survive on my way to the gritty rank bottom. If I find what I’m looking for, it will be worth the fiery crash. I put myself in front of the window to look out and watch the world go by. The streetlights are like antennae sprouted up from the concrete. I’ve wondered more than once if the city is a centipede waiting for the right time to sting me. The cars passing under them mimic beetles trudging through the dirt, forever looking for the next seed or safe burrow. Someone used to tell me these things were make-believe and silly. Cars aren’t bugs. Now I don’t have the same assurances I once did. My place to dream of beetles, that quiet comfort, is torn away when the phone rings. The voice on the other end sounds dry with exhaustion. "Where've you been, Gray?" The voice asks but doesn't really want the answer, isn't sure I can even produce a truth. "Around, I guess." I don't really know is what I mean.

"L is looking for you. I assume you knew?" "I don't think he ever stops," I say. "He's built like that." "Stops what?" The voice says, irritated, not wanting to be there. The mask I wear for this voice means I have to weigh and measure, calculate the right words. "Looking for me. You said he was trying to find me, I'm saying he never stops doing that. Why do you have to?––never mind. So you found me. Still alive." Silence. Then, “What is that beeping?” “It’s a clock, just an alarm clock,” I say. “How fast does it sound to you?” Breathing, stuttered and shallow. "Gray?" "I'm here.” "You using again?" My silence is louder than hers. "No. I haven't,” I say. “I mean not since––" "Please don't say her name," she cuts me off. “I haven’t.” “You already said that. Fine, you haven’t been using.” “No, I mean saying her name. I haven’t said it in months.” I can’t even think it is what I mean. I want to forget it all. All the names and places, the changed expression on every face I’ve ever known. I want this all to turn to dust is what I can’t say, but what I mean. The voice on the other end muffles for a moment, the talking end of the phone pressed against a palm, hiding something. The palm peels away with a scratching sound and sniffles come through. “I

have to go. Take care of yourself, Gray,” she says. “Yeah, you too.” I hold the receiver at my side and look back out to the street, the dial tone joining in with the alarm clock. Some number of passing cars later, a femme-bot voice asks me to please hang up and try my call again. The clock is left to chirp alone, until somewhere in the other room, it also stops. The darkness in the bedroom is just a collection of shadows, some darker than others, different shapes and sizes. A black something huddles against the wall, licked by faint yellow spots, sodium beams that have sifted through the thinning corners of a sheet hung over the window. When I find the light switch, the room opens up and there is a man looking back at me. He has the face of a gargoyle. Have I seen him before? I take in a quick breath to say something and the familiar bite of a needle sinks into my neck. Whatever words I might have had drown in my throat before they find air. The lights fade to a blur and there is nothing but dull, humming weight.

No light creeps in when I wake and open my eyes. The space in front of me looks black, maybe blue. The air is cold, feels empty. My arms hold stiff when I try to reach out to bat the space in front of me. Thick tape creaks against an armrest, the adhesive wanting to stay fused to my skin. My face is pointed at the floor, full of mud, synthetic vibrations buzzing through the temples. Light blues and yellows flicker over my feet. I lift my head up to where a square of rolling colors is burning into the wall across the room. In the growing light, half-circle buntings appear, dangling from the ceiling, married to curtains spilling down the walls. All of it colorless and tattered, every stitch of the room ready to die. Cushions under my legs and at my back hold me up, where the weight in my

skull and chest might otherwise suck me through the floor. An orchestra swells behind me, cellos and horns blaring a sustained parade of noise. The music makes me think of soldiers returning home from war, waving at crowds on a black and white television. The whole room sounds like victory, until it doesn’t. The loudspeakers behind me crackle and pop to their death, spitting static and white noise on the way out. I’m left with silence and the quickening beat of my heart trying to exit my chest. The screen ahead of me is looking out across a gray sky, filled with no particular wonder. A dark-green blur shifts across the camera lens and refocuses on the lazy whitecaps of a lake. The lens zooms in, the wind combing through thin, long, brown hair, the hair whipping into a face filled with bright eyes and round cheeks. Her mouth starts to move, calling out for someone, her mother or father, anyone familiar. The film is silent, but I still hear it all; the wind gusts and the tiny voice trying so hard to find survival. From the right side of the frame, a figure steps out to walk toward her, his hand reaching into a pocket. He stops and walks back toward the witnessing camera. The face of a gargoyle peers in, watching me in my theater seat. He moves his lips rapidly, then touches two fingers to his forehead and chest, then left to right across his shoulders. Father, son, unholy spirit. I’ve found the bottom. I’m ready for the crash. Amen. In the flicker of the screen a moth appears, splits itself in two, then four, until they are many. Huddled together in the glow of my past, colliding without malice. In the film, the camera is left static, framing the sky and lakeshore, the Gargoyle’s dark figure diminishing as he walks further away, approaching the girl with whipping brown hair. The swarm migrates across the theater, silhouetted against low menacing

clouds. In my ears, the beating of their wings rises in volume as they approach. They fly closer until they are directly above me, a deafening black horde. I can feel the rumbling of the mass in my teeth, in my stomach. A chill shivers through me like sickness. Each moth, one by one, begins their cellular division again and descends in formation, pouring towards the floor. I close my eyes to think it away, but open them again to find myself wrong. The noise of their beating wings pitches into a scream, a frequency well above human. As they finalize their shift, the moths shape a figure in front of me, and the vibrations slow to a silence. He stands over me, an open book in his left hand. His right opens on its way to my head, where he lays it gently into cold sweat. I look up to him and he studies the book, raising it into the flickering light of the screen. He draws in a deep breath and shapes his mouth for the words. And I am gone.

Contributors James Brush James Brush lives in Austin, TX. He is the author of “Highway Sky,” “Birds Nobody Loves,” and “A Place Without a Postcard.” He sometimes posts things online at Coyote Mercury where he keeps a full list of publications. He also edits the online literary journalGnarled Oak. Christine Catalano Christine, a onetime graphic designer, likes to take photographs and play with them on the computer. She dedicates her work to her muse, in the hope that he continues to inspire her. Matt Dugan Matt was born Bristol in the U.K. in 1971. He won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry in 2015. His poems have appeared in Five 2 One, The Journal, The Dawntreader, Roundyhouse, Ink, Sweat, And Tears, and Page and Spine. John Leo A Texas native and graduate of the University of North Texas, John Leo currently works and studies at Butler University. His writing has appeared in 2River View and NoiseMedium, with more forthcoming in Tinderbox.

Kathleen Brewin Lewis Kathleen Brewin Lewis is a Georgia writer whose poetry and prose have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, and Still: The Journal. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry, “Fluent in Rivers,” (FutureCycle Press 2014) and “July’s Thick Kingdom,” (FutureCycle Press 2015) and senior editor of Flycatcher. Mahesh Nair Mahesh studied creative fiction writing at New York University, learned acting at Lee Strasberg, and is working on his first novel, an autobiographical fiction. His work has appeared in The Bookends Review. Michael Proctor Michael Proctor was born and raised in Austin, TX where he still lives with his family and works in corporate damage control. His previous work has been published at Across the Margin, and he is currently working on his first novel. Richard Weaver Richard Weaver is an unofficial snowflake counter in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. His publications include Loch Raven Review, North American Review, Crazyhorse, 2River View, Pembroke, New England Review, and the ubiquitous Elsewhere.

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