Crack the Spine - Issue 195

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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 195

Issue 195 July 27, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2016 by Crack the Spine

Cover Art

“Rockers, Red Porch” by Christopher Woods Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. His published works include a novel, “The Dream Patch,” a prose collection, “Under a Riverbed Sky,” and a book of stage monologues for actors, “Heart Speak.” HIs short fiction has appeared in many journals including The Southern Review, New Orleans Review and Glimmer Train. He conducts private creative writing workshops in Houston. His photography can be seen in his gallery.

CONTENTS Jody Azzouni Table Tapping Lauren Lara Rebecca O’Bern

The Old House


Katherine Vondy

The Birthday: A Celebration in Two Parts

Robert Thimmesh Siblings

Catherine Moore

Off the Burnt

Dan Wiencek

The Air of the Room

Jacob Little


Jody Azzouni Table Tapping

She’s tapping the table like she’s playing a piano, like she knows how to play a piano. Musician? I ask, hoping to start a conversation that’ll go somewhere. And then she looks up blankly, and I realize she’s probably autistic. Or worse. Hey nice day, that’s what I say next. And she looks at me blank until I smile and she smiles too. Hey, you’re getting it, I say, and I’m nodding my head up and down. She’s nodding her had up and down too. And still grinning. It’s a shame. Because she’s got such a pretty face. Actually, she’s what you’d call drop-dead gorgeous. So I’m kind of imitating get-out-of-your-seat movements. Trying to get that across. Because there doesn’t seem to be anyone around at the moment but us. And maybe she’ll do it. Leave with me, I mean. And then these other people show up. Relatives, I guess. Or keepers. They’re staring at me funny like I’m up to no good. Or planning something. Hey, I say (really upbeat, really cheerful, really innocent), just having a conversation here. And I can hear her imitating my tone of voice exactly but with noises—not even words. Like she’s agreeing or she’s happy. Or something. And they keep staring at me. Real meanlike, actually. Like I’ve done something.

Rebecca O’Bern Fireflies

Horseshoe. It’s a ringer. There is always too much time scooped out between seeing the family. Fourth of July, a nephew nearly my age sparks a marshmallow on the cinderblock fire pit as we laugh over Yuengling and Grandma’s macaroni salad. Oh, how she would drive the girls in her hunting truck!—too fast on those Allegheny roads— no guard rails, up-down-up-down, no seatbelts, and her backyard glider summer-sleeps, cradled in a blanket of fireflies:

disappearing, reappearing, like our memories of her, mocking us like little gods.

Katherine Vondy

The Birthday: A Celebration in Two Parts 1.

Something Very Different Indeed It is Ramona’s birthday. She’s taken a chance on the weather and has reserved the outdoor patio of a nearby bar for the night, but it turns out to have been a good gamble and now she sits at a small table next to a rickety trellis as the cloudless sky shimmers from light gray into brilliant black. The new age is thirty-four, an unremarkable number in every way. Jackie returns from inside with a bottle of chardonnay and two glasses. “To get us started,” she says as she pours, then holds up her drink for celebratory clinking. “May this be the best year yet.” “Thank you,” says Ramona, and takes a sip. It is just past eight o’clock, which means that people should start trickling into the bar soon, all the friends Ramona has made in the seven months she’s lived in San Diego. Friends is a loose term for the motley assortment of acquaintances she’s collected, but birthdays are not the time to worry about semantics. Friends. For now she will count them as such, though the truth is that she has not achieved confidant-like levels of closeness with anyone in this new city. Even Jackie is only a goodhearted coworker who’s decided to take on the role of Ramona’s best pal, at least for the night, offering herself as designated driver and buying a whole bottle of wine to get the festivities started. It is one of the cheaper bottles on the menu, but Ramona is appreciative nonetheless. Brian and Joel, also coworkers, are the next to arrive. Ramona has had only minimal interactions with them, but they’re not the kind of men who exercise restraint in accepting invitations to occasions where alcohol will be available.

They offer her birthday high-fives and make polite small talk about the office; it grows less polite as the levels of their beverages sink lower and lower. After their arrival is Laura’s, the older sister of Ramona’s college roommate, and Laura’s husband, whose name Ramona either does not catch or does not remember. Then Patty, an awkward woman who Ramona frequently sees at her neighborhood yoga classes. Patty is a thin, nervous person who is terrible at yoga and terrible at having conversations, but at least the second thing is made less uncomfortable by the martini Ramona is now sucking down, having graduated from chardonnay to stronger drinks. Eventually she foists Patty off on Richard, an uptight man from an online matchmaking site who turned out to be a dating dud, but who is acceptable as a lower-tier party guest, and sits down at a table with Marcus and Bill. Marcus and Bill are two men Ramona recalls only vaguely from high school, but right now she is experiencing the weird phenomenon of feeling an inexplicable kinship with near-strangers. It is a phenomenon that rarely occurs without the presence of alcohol, but that makes it no less enjoyable. She is at a pleasing level of intoxication, and the birthday party is exceeding her expectations. It is almost ten o’clock when Ramona glances up and sees Christopher lingering on the outskirts of the party. His familiar light brown eyes and familiar dark brown hair are a surprising sight. She’d invited him out of habit, but hadn’t expected him to come all the way down from Los Angeles on a weeknight. Four years ago things would have been different. Back then they’d hung out almost every weekend and had delighted in long, energetic phone conversations about sports and literature and burgers. But it’s been almost a year since Ramona last saw him; he didn’t come to her farewell party. Now he is here.

Without bothering to excuse herself from the conversation with Marcus and Bill, Ramona stands and makes her way to Christopher. She is stunned at the sincerity of the grin that materializes on her face; when she’d imagined this scenario, she’d steeled herself for the moment when she’d have to force a smile. It is curious now to discover that she feels such genuine pleasure to see him. Whatever faint undertones of regret may linger in the archives of her memory have been rendered powerless by the chardonnay and the martinis. “What are you doing all the way down here?” she says as she hugs him and he hugs back. “It’s a weeknight!” “It’s your birthday,” he says. “I didn’t know you were going to come. It’s such a long drive!” “It’s not that bad,” Christopher answers, shrugging. “Sometimes it takes just as long just to get across LA. As you well know.” “Now there’s something I don’t miss.” Insulting LA traffic is a boring, unoriginal thing to say, but Christopher still chuckles. “So you’re liking San Diego?” “Absolutely. Work is good. The apartment is good. Everything’s pretty good.” “I’m glad.” “And what about for you? Everything’s good?” Ramona asks. “The same. Always jumping back and forth between a few different projects but overall keeping a pretty steady stream of work going.” “And you aren’t going stir-crazy from spending so much time alone at home?” “Well, you know how I feel about regular social interaction. I could take it or leave it. Mostly I leave it.” “Always the reclusive writer.”

“That’s me. Such a stereotype.” “Indeed,” she responds. Their conversation is banal and Ramona knows that the transcript of it would be tedious and free of literary nuance. But in person there is something more to it, something breathing and sparkling. Something that makes every phrase sound musical and timeless. It’s as if they’ve been transported inside a snow globe, and the quiet air around them is luminous with floating glitter. It feels like the old times, but more poignant, because it has been so long since it felt like this. “Where’s Jess?” she asks Christopher quickly, before any bittersweet sentiments can overwhelm her. “She had to work late. She really wanted to come.” “That’s too bad.” “Yeah, she says happy birthday.” “Tell her thank you.” An idle thought passes through Ramona’s mind: this is the first time she has seen Christopher without Jess in three years. “How is the wedding planning going?” she asks him. “It’s coming along,” he says, but doesn’t elaborate. Ramona is grateful. His relationship is old news by now and causes only the smallest of minor irritations, but Ramona still doesn’t relish being inundated with the details. Christopher looks at her martini glass, which has somehow become empty since she’s been talking to him. “Can I get you another drink?” he asks. “Sure,” she says.

He disappears and Ramona turns back to the rest of her party guests. The snow-globe effect evaporates. She steps up next to Jackie and Jackie puts her arm around Ramona as if they are lifelong friends and not just a work buddies. The camaraderie feels authentic, and the thought that maybe, someday, this Ramona-and-Jackie-arelifelong-friends-thing could turn from a hypothetical situation in to an actuality is a refreshing one. Surely there is more to be gained from focusing on the possibilities of the future than on the missed opportunities of the past. “Here’s the birthday girl!” Jackie exclaims, and Joel enthusiastically – if a touch arbitrarily - adds, “Many happy returns!” “What were you guys talking about?” Ramona asks, making an effort to slide into their conversation. Brian rolls his eyes and says, “Sutter.” Sutter is a new hire – even newer than Ramona – who has managed to alienate the entire office in the space of only a month, and the list of complaints against him is long and hilarious as it is enumerated with great zeal by Jackie and Brian and Joel for Ramona’s entertainment. And Ramona’s face looks like a listening face, but the truth is that tomorrow morning she will not remember any of their words. Instead her attention drifts as she tries to get a steadier grasp on that hazy, lurking memory that her conversation with Christopher has summoned, and that she is attempting to disregard. Despite her best efforts, she cannot prevent her mind from flashing back. It had been a short space of time – no more than a few weeks – when attraction had done the old invisible-ink trick and had faded tentatively into sight between Ramona and Christopher. Though the time had been short, it had

been vibrant. She remembers the strange math in which their casual happyhour drinks and intermittent procrastinatory email exchanges had suddenly seemed to add up to something more than friendship. At first there had been a nebulous, hesitant, extra beat of the heart when they sat next to each other, then several isolated incidents of self-conscious, adolescent flirtation. She had found an excuse to sit in his lap at some short-chaired house party; he had, one night, held her hand. The recollection of those clumsy moments is equal parts embarrassing and lovely. Their unrealized romance was not the reason Ramona had moved to San Diego, but it was painful enough to have made leaving Los Angeles an appealing option. When the job opportunity had arisen, she hadn’t hesitated. She laughs with Jackie and Brian and Joel, though the subject of their laughter has evaded her. The patio has grown crowded and loud. Then Christopher is back from the bar; he steps into the circle of Ramona’s coworkers, next to her, and he places an overflowing martini into her hands. It sloshes a bit over the rim. “Oops, sorry!” Christopher says. “No worries - not your fault,” Ramona reassures him. “What?” Christopher asks, leaning closer. The bar has reached the volume level that makes conversation at a normal speaking voice difficult. “It’s not your fault,” Ramona says, louder. When her words echo back to her inside her head, they take on a new meaning, and she chuckles a wry little laugh. “Is something funny?” Christopher asks. Funny is the wrong word to describe the thought she just had, which is that when she says ‘it’s not Christopher’s fault’ she’s not really talking about the jostling of her birthday martini. What

she’s actually thinking of is the morning four years ago when she’d woken up still feeling bowled over by the simple joy of having spent an evening with her fingers interlaced with Christopher’s, giddy to discover what would happen the next time they saw each other. It had been the morning of the day that Christopher would meet Jess for the first time. There had been no more handholding with Ramona. Not exactly funny. Ramona touches Chris’s arm. “I have to tell you something,” she says, her voice serious. “What’s that?” It is nothing out of the ordinary, a night like this. Ramona is not the only person who has ever stood on the sidelines, watching as someone she once thought she might come to love moved forward without her. She looks at the other faces on the patio. These are the people who have a place in her future. The weeks will pass and she will become comfortable with them, with Jackie and Brian and Joel, with Laura and her nameless husband; even Patty – who seems to be, miraculously, hitting it off with Richard the dud will start to claim a certain tender place in Ramona’s heart. Ramona will share more experiences with each of them, one by one, building memory on top of memory, until she will find it hard to believe that she’s ever had a birthday party without them. They will grow to fill the empty spaces left by the ones who have drifted away. Ramona leans close to Christopher. “Sometimes the traffic is bad in San Diego, too,” she says. For a second Christopher’s face is completely blank. Then the light comes back on behind his eyes.

“I knew it couldn’t be perfect down here,” he says, and they laugh together, to show that they are still friends, even it is a sadly diluted version of the friendship they used to have. It is the kind of friendship in which they will celebrate one another’s birthdays and perhaps they will see each other at occasional dinner parties, and the sight of him will make her glad, and the sight of her will do the same for him, but they will never say anything about that short time in the past when it had seemed like they were on the precipice of something very different indeed. 2. Small Enough to be Ignored Without Consequence It is Ramona’s birthday. Christopher has been deliberating about whether he should go to the party for weeks, ever since he received her mass email invitation. San Diego is no quick jaunt from Los Angeles. If he is honest with himself – and he tries to be honest with himself, and everyone – he and Ramona have not been close for quite some time. There is a particular ratio that defines the relationship between the quality of a friendship and the amount of effort one is reasonably expected to invest in it. It is possible that Ramona’s friendship no longer merits a four-hour – maybe more – round trip. Christopher paces in the lobby of Jess’s office building. She is a habitually late person, which is probably her most irritating trait. He has lucked out, because as far as annoying habits go, there are many far worse than a general lack of timeliness. It is a small complaint in the face of Jess’s wit, her athleticism, her shiny coal-black hair. Jess is, by everyone’s account, including his own, a keeper. The elevator doors slide open and Jess dashes out. “Hi!” she says. “I’m starving!” “Me too,” he says. “Do you want to go to that Indian place on Santa Monica?”

“Perfect.” She rests her hand on his arm as they walk outside and stroll down the street. The weather is impeccable and the glimpses he catches of their reflection in storefront windows are of an extraordinarily agreeable couple. How calmly things fall into place, when the timing is right. The waiter seats them at a corner table. They order. He asks Jess how her morning is going, she answers, he responds, she asks about his morning, he reciprocates with his own account. It is exactly the way conversations are supposed to transpire. Then an insignificant, imperfect thing happens. Jess is talking about how her nonstop computer use is undoubtedly a major contributor to her worsening eyesight, and says: “it’s really a problem for those of us who work all day.” “I work all day,” Christopher says. “In an office,” Jess clarifies, but what she is really clarifying is the fact that Christopher’s freelance writing jobs have never really struck her as an actual career, even though his yearly income is almost identical to hers. “Oh, come on,” Christopher says. “I didn’t mean that you don’t work,” she protests. They’ve already had this conversation multiple times, and Christopher finds it more and more difficult to believe her each time. She smiles at him and he smiles back, but something in him questions the sincerity of her expression. It is then that the decision is made. “I forgot to tell you,” he says, “I’ve got to go down to San Diego tonight. It’s Ramona’s birthday.” “Oh, fun! It’s been a pretty busy day, but I’ll see if I can get out a little early and join you.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He doesn’t mean for his voice to sound the way it does, but his sharp tone is just one of the many things that have come to pass without him meaning them to. Jess is quiet for the rest of the meal. He is relieved when lunch comes to an end and she disappears back into her office building. Later, as he drives down the 5, Christopher is soothed by the highway drone and the calmness of the night sky. The hours in his car pass effortlessly. When he turns a corner and sees the designated bar it seems that he has found his destination without even trying. He locates a parking spot a few blocks away, then snakes his way through the crowd inside until he reaches the back of the room and the door to the outside patio. People mill about the small exterior space, congregating around little wrought-iron tables and standing in animated groups of three or four, and he doesn’t recognize any of them except for Ramona, with her familiar dark brown eyes and her familiar light brown hair. She is sitting with two men and all three of them are laughing like they go way, way back. But when she looks up her eyes meet his, and he can tell that regardless of what the other two men are saying, she no longer hears them. She stands up and her smile takes on a different dimension. There had been, he remembers as she approaches him, those few strange weeks, weeks that Christopher never quite figured out how to categorize; and because he cannot name them, he tends not to think about them. But now it is impossible not to think about them, as he and Ramona chat and catch up, discussing the most mundane things. They haven’t talked like this for a very long time, and it strikes him that it has also coincidentally been years since the two of them have been involved in a conversation that did not also

include Jess. Conversations are a tricky beast to tame and sometimes Christopher forgets that actual satisfaction can come from them. He is not a talkative man, so the times that he enjoys casual verbal exchanges are less frequent for him than he expects they are for others. He remembers that talking with Ramona has always been enjoyable. Ramona’s glass is empty and birthday party etiquette requires him to do the gallant thing and refill it. He excuses himself and waits at the bar to make his order. The thoughts that aggregate in his mind are poorly-organized and perplexing. There is an image of his hand clasped together with Ramona’s that somehow seems like a still from a movie, not a picture from his actual life. There is the likeness of himself and Jess in the storefront windows, and no matter how much he concentrates, he can’t make that picture become anything other than a translucent reflection. There is the soaring sensation of how it felt to speed down the freeway, leaving Los Angeles and his fiancée behind, at least temporarily. He tries to put the puzzle pieces of all these disparate elements together into a complete picture. Then it hits him: perhaps he should not marry Jess. Decisions this important require absolute certainty, and there is a tiny quavering part of him that wonders if his future would be somehow brighter if it were spent with Ramona. There is no denying the magic of their conversations. The bartender hands him Ramona’s martini and the beer he’s ordered for himself. He pays up and returns to the patio. Ramona is surrounded by the members of her new life. He steps up and hands over the martini. “Oops,” he says, noticing that some of it has spilled. She says something, but he can’t hear her over the din of the crowd.

“What?” he asks, taking another step towards her. Their bodies are inches apart. “It’s not your fault,” she says, which is not the sentence he was expecting. He is taken aback by the strange humor in her eyes. He tries to figure out what that look is all about. “Is something funny?” “I have to tell you something.” When her fingers brush his arm a jarring current runs straight into his guts. Just hours ago he felt the unremarkable sensation of Jess’s hand on his elbow. The contrast makes everything clear. He is certain that circumstances at some point in the past conspired to lead him away from Ramona, from the life they could have had together. Her face is a mirror of the same belief: things were meant to be different. But there is still time to set things right. “What’s that?” he asks, the feelings going rosy inside him, like a sunrise. The time is now. Ramona’s lips are by his cheek. She says: “Sometimes the traffic is bad in San Diego, too.” She takes her hand away from his arm. If the moment before was a sunrise, this moment is a quiet, starless darkness. That thrill that had been rising inside Christopher for the last few hours, ever since he got into his car and aimed it out of LA, melts. Suddenly he is ashamed to have been so cavalier in his readiness to abandon Jess. He wishes to be a man who is strong, and noble, and steadfast, and he is disappointed to realize that he’d been willing to forfeit all those things so easily. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees two of Ramona’s new friends – a skinny, eager woman, and a bearded man in a polo shirt – staring longingly into each

other’s eyes. In their expression he recognizes the echo of a look he had long ago shared with Ramona. Yes, there had been a time of possibility, but it is firmly in the past. He misses Jess, and wishes she were standing here next to him. He says something offhand and unmemorable to Ramona, something that really means those days are gone, for better or worse. And if there are any traces of ruefulness in either of their hearts, they are small enough to be ignored without consequence.

Robert Thimmesh Siblings

Doyouremember the hot hammock day yourbrother honeyedyourhair with your dog's desert and you soakedyournight pillow withtearsof trepidation whenhesaid mom was notreturning fromher lakesidevacation? Doyouremember your pimpledyear whenyoutiedyourbrother's tongue in a blue ribbon knot and your acid reply that burnedhisego throughthekitchen floor as he hoisted his white flag's farewell tothehoneyedpranksand muscularmisdeeds?

Doyou rememberthe summernighthewalkedyou home fromyourmidnightjob andsurprised yourfearsoftheghostly house? Doyouremember thetruce declared whichdescendedintodetente and hefinally mumbled "I love you" whilerushingoutthedoor? Youstumbledonthestep a tear inyour eye, asyour "I love you too" raced after him.

Catherine Moore Off the Burnt

Along a mud-choked sinkhole lies the old dirt road where there is not a house, or hardly a room, in which someone has not died. Its compacted red clay is the only artery around that spring-fed sink known as Burnt Springs. It was folk’s path for carting home the newly born and for carrying out the deceased. The county had come through labeling things and erected a sign “Road to Burnt Springs End.” The locals called it The Burnt, or occasionally, sentimentally, ‘ole Burnt,’ when they were three mash mason-jars in. If you didn’t spend your life in a house along this route then you spent it Off the Burnt. And to those who lived off, the people of the Burnt were living in high cotton, with their truck repair shop, reliable electricity for air conditioning, and a Masonic Lodge. On or off, this was a place with little hope of getting out. There were some who vied a move to Veto or Bug Tussle, but Burnt Springs was about the only Alabama attraction they’ll ever see. Despite stories from Cooter William’s recollection of the Nehi Bottling Company 64-foot building once known as the World's Largest Bottle, the sideshows built by the roaring twenties quickly fizzled through the state leaving behind rural relics. Cooter conceded the Bottle was left to ash and ruin. In short, there wasn’t much to see within a day’s drive. Even though Burnt Springs had no official town line it was generally agreed that it ended at the pale treeless hill, beyond the pale was where no one wants to go. No shadows, is the reason I suspect. Like a phantom of a place. Folks left this earthen bluff to giving holes for wasps and snakes, and everything you’d want to shoo off. One person who lived off past the treeless hill was Trashcan

Annie. In her debutante years she’d been presented at the Free Mason’s ball, and it was generally believed she’d might pluck the Peach of DeWayne County title. That is until tragedy struck. Rumor in the Burnt has it that all of her family drowned in those tannin spring-waters during an afternoon picnic. But the Sheriff couldn’t get a straight story out of anyone and his men didn’t find any unclaimed bodies in that sink. And the grief-stricken Annie, she just started wandering. Incoherent. Resistant. Aloof and unbathed, she lived off people’s garbage. Most folks didn’t mind her and might have pitched a few more nibbles in their evening trash. Annie learned to avoid the folks with trespassing sticks up their craw, but even they didn’t want the county involved neither. When Annie wasn’t wandering off or rifling through trashcans, she spent time lobbing stones into Burnt Springs. These weren’t random stones; she spent hours first collecting and aligning them at the water’s edge. Rows of large and small, browns to grays, a process like her granddad described from his childhood in Scotland. A proper built home required a proper sorting. Sometimes the children of the Burnt tried to play with her lines of stone if she’d left them over long. Then she’d grab a stick to pound against the trash can lid which she always carried with her as a shield and give chase after them. This was the only time she spoke— yelling out the names of her family in rage. The children were reminded to leave all that belonged to Annie alone. In one area of the sink, Trashcan Annie’s stones began to block the spring’s flow and the county had to come out and dredge. That’s when they found them. A paleness rising from the deep garnet color that turned brilliant in the noonbellied sun. They were the stones Annie had stolen, the ones she gave her family for keeping. Mrs. William’s jewel set and Eldred Hagan’s great-

grandmother’s engagement diamond. Not a long list, but for the Burnt it was a decade’s worth of reported theft. When the children snuck away to warn Trashcan Annie, she howled and ran off past the Burnt, past the treeless hill. Way off. The sheriff demanded his men set the dogs out after her, but the aldermen talked the deputies into an afternoon of sampling local brews at the lodge. No one had the heart to commit her directly, so the Burnt just left her alone. She was better off.

Dan Wiencek

The Air of the Room There is no smell left in the living room and that’s exactly how we like it we’ve worked for months, she and I hanging stench nets setting cockroach bombs releasing a mercury lizard to eat every last drop of poison in the place Now the room smells grey, it smells medium now when I breathe it reminds me of a long-ago winter day I don’t exactly remember, some day when

I did laundry, clipped the cat’s nails — And it leaves me furthermore with a mercury lizard roosting in my spot on the couch, eyeing me balefully, as though angry to have already run out of poison

Jacob Little Savior

[one] One day, early in the era of the Mughal Empire, Emperor Akbar asked his court what they believed to be the most “adorable” object. Many answers were given by the various scholars in the court, but none met the Emperor’s satisfaction. So the question was posed to his top advisor, Raja Birbal: what is the most precious thing on earth? Birbal answered with a demonstration. He emptied a large water tank, placed it where the Emperor and his court could see. He put a monkey and her baby in the tank. Then he ordered that water be poured in. At first, the monkeys ran back and forth, trying to get out. Then the water got too high for the little one, and its mother picked it up, held it close. She screamed. The water foamed up the walls. The court watched, enthralled, unsure of Birbal’s point. The mother held her baby up higher and higher as the water rose. The court held their breath with the mother as the liquid climbed above her mouth, her nose, her head. So, when she still held her child up and jumped in order to take a breath, the court applauded, smiling in relief as she jumped again and again to breathe. The Emperor addressed Birbal: Such sacrifice and bravery. It is your assertion then that children are the most precious objects? Birbal did not answer. He stood with arms crossed, watching the water still pouring into the tank. The water finally got so high that the mother could not jump high enough to get her face to the surface. So she placed her babe on the

floor of the tank and stood on its tiny body so she might jump a little higher, take a breath or two more. The court went silent. Birbal looked at his emperor. The self, he said, is what we prize the most, your Majesty. So it is proven. [many] As a kid, I’d watch a single ant carry his brother’s corpse east, then north, then east again. He’d run into the same barriers over and over. He kept making the same mistakes. But together, ants can farm insects and grow fungal crops. They protect plants as quid pro quo for shelter. Their architecture rivals the greatest human constructs for scale. They communicate by pheromones, leaving paths to food sources so others may follow. When following, they lay down their own scent, making the path glow brighter until there's a highway headed to dinner. Ants rely heavily on these potent chemical signals. In one experiment, a single drop of oleic acid convinced a group of ants that their companion was dead: they kept carrying him out of the colony’s way, to the graveyard, ignoring his continual kicking, his incessant resurrections. [the rest of us] I carried a book with me through the doors and halls of Pathstone Assisted Living. I used my key card to enter the Alzheimer’s hallway, made sure the door closed and locked behind me so no residents could get out. Nurses helped old

women shuffle down the corridor. At a group of tables, two men grimaced at playing cards in their hands. Another man stared out the window. I passed them all, went toward the sound of a man crying: Ohwohwohwohwoh! OOhwohwohwohwohwoh! I entered a room where an old man slouched too low in a recliner, unable to lift himself into a more comfortable position. Hold on, Jim. I’m gonna grab somebody to help us out here, I told him. Excuse me, I said to a passing nurse, who didn’t seem to be able to hear Jim’s anguished voice. Can you help me with Jim? The nurse slowed, raised an eyebrow. In a sec. He went around the corner. I tried to reassure Jim. Someone’s coming. It’ll just be a minute. I knew better than to try to move him by myself at this point, having attempted it a week ago, only hurting both of us. I thought back to my conversation with my friend who’d asked me to read to Jim when she couldn’t find the time anymore: Jimmy’s blind, he can’t walk, and he’s got dementia. He can’t talk either, but he’s adorable. Really cute. I never found Jim to be cute. I just felt all his dying in the air, hissing out his pores. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to help him. I didn’t know if this would be a mercy for him or for me.

Contributors Jody Azzouni Jody Azzouni was born in Brooklyn and started writing when he was twelve. He writes philosophy, fiction, and poetry. Because he’s from the NYC area, he has no sense of direction, and no real understanding of stars and other celestial phenomena that you’re supposed to see. This explains almost everything about him. Jacob Little Jacob Little is the Managing Editor of Brevity and Profane, and is also a PhD candidate in Creative Nonfiction at Ohio University. His recent poetry and creative nonfiction is published or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Pithead Chapel, Word Riot, and Yemassee,where he won the 2015 Creative Nonfiction Award. Catherine Moore Catherine Moore is the author of “Story” (Finishing Line Press), “921b Elysian Fields Avenue (Return to Sender)” (KYStory, 2015), and “Wetlands” (dancing girl press, 2016). Her writing has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Cider Press Review, Southampton Review and in various anthologies. She won the Southeast Review’s 2014 Gearhart Poetry Prize and had work included in “The Best Small Fictions of 2015.” Catherine lives in the Nashville area where she enjoys a thriving writer’s community and was recently awarded

a MetroArts grant. Catherine earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Tampa. She is tweetable @CatPoetic. Rebecca O’Bern Rebecca O’Bern’s poetry has appeared in Blue Monday Review, Hartskill Review, South 85 Journal, Connecticut Review, and elsewhere. Her work has been awarded the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize, and she is currently an MFA candidate at Southern Connecticut State University. Robert Thimmesh Robert Thimmesh currently lives in Minneapolis , MN. Before that, Robert lived in Saint Paul , MN. Robert has been CEO of multiple companies and is an alumni of the well-established liberal arts university, Saint John’s University. He currently is a retired businessman working on his poetry, memoire, and currently has written a screenplay. He has been published multiple times inArtWord Quarterly, The Poetry Explosion Newsletter as well as Riversedge, University of Texas journal. Katherine Vondy Katherine Vondy is a writer and director whose credits span film, theater and literature. Her award-winning short film “The Broken Heart of Gnocchi Bolognese” screened at festivals worldwide and her full-length play “The Fermi Paradox” received the 2015Davey Foundation Theatre Grant. The recipient of writing residencies from Wildacres, Starry Night, the Vermont Studio Center and the HBMG Foundation/Creede Repertory Theatre, her work

has appeared recently in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Briar Cliff Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Bartleby Snopes and Cobalt Review. Christopher Woods Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. His published works include a novel, “The Dream Patch,” a prose collection, “Under a Riverbed Sky,” and a book of stage monologues for actors, “Heart Speak.” HIs short fiction has appeared in many journals including The Southern Review, New Orleans Review and Glimmer Train. He conducts private creative writing workshops in Houston. His photography can be seen in his gallery. Dan Wiencek Dan Wiencek is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and he is a regular contributor to He is currently working on his first collection of poems.

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