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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 196


Issue 196 August 18, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2016 by Crack the Spine


Cover Art

“Big Yawn” 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 Genelle Chaconas The Lara Bind Lauren Charles Kell

The Old House

Before a Sickness

Kevin Richard White Punchline of the Year

Tige Ashton DeCoster

Pop’s Pistol Palace and Men’s Club

Mary-Anne Nelligan Panda

Ryan Dilbert

Born Chris Shane

Bethany W. Pope

Cabbage


Genelle Chaconas The Bind

You know enough about yourself to know your spine bends it can lurch snap and span rabid strength or coil back to a gentle apex of balance a tenuous sequences of disjoints and misalignments you know enough to feel the shrill torque how a rope can be worn away inch by fibrous inch how much friction a wrist can take how burns never deter you how much an inch of freedom is you know enough about yourself to know an inch an impossible sliver a risk close enough not close enough is all you could ever need.


Charles Kell

Before a Sickness I can see a mouth open in a hole under the doorknob. Its wet lips and tongue make a circular motion calling silently for me to come and let it in. Trapped in a bed the size of a knife’s edge with a tube running from my body, I lie and wait while now the mouth-shape begins to make sucking noises, tongue caressing the wooden splinters around the hole. I watch my whole being float above me for a second before I remember it’s not me, just a body alone in the darkness of a room, with only a wet open mouth to keep it company.


Kevin Richard White Punchline of the Year

How the fuck did we think we were going to get so lucky? You say, the finality clear as hell in your shaking speech. Don’t talk, I said. Keep the blood in you. I look back through the rearview and you nod, a sleepy one, hair slick with sweat, eyes half-open but they say it all: we’re a pair of fucking idiots. This is how it is now. This is your bleeding hand in mine, in this moment of all-ugly wonder. You’re muttering the most fucked up prayers of our time, hymns of a sort that won’t bring light to this black. It’s still morning and we’re driving the beaten-down Rambler at full speed due north past the shit-ass, three-quarter-dead trees. You’re probably not going to last much longer. But it’s worth a shot to go this way. This is how we wanted this bullshit, though. We wanted to die with the whole world following and watching, sniffing out asses, in love with the chase on the trail. I can give you is my hand and a quote from a poem or two and you’re screeching like you have no reason to live. I keep telling you do, but the words die mid-air. I’ve never seen a better person than you. I’ve never seen anyone who knew how to give a look that could melt the stars other than you. But of course, you’re the one that has taken the fall instead of me. You’re the one having your final say while I’m stunned speechless, weaving again and again over the double yellow line, fighting to keep the few precious bits of this shitty day from going under.


I looked over at the front seat. The gun, the torn bag. The punchline of the year. This is the cause of our derailment. I had to chuckle, though, despite the events. Where else would I rather be than right here, wandering? Where else could we do what we’re doing right now? I heard you try to speak again, but you just wound up laughing. You laughed for a solid thirty seconds and I couldn’t help but laugh too. What’s so funny? I said. You squeezed my hand hard and forced yourself to a sitting position. I could smell all the blood and I knew full well that I would never be able to get this out of my head, out of anywhere. You leaned forward and brought your head between the two front seats, right next to my shoulder. We both stared ahead at the piss-ugly horizon, a slight gray film coating all ahead of us, with just a few spots of rain dive bombing from the sky. Nothing, you said, and you coughed a little. I just wanted to see where we’re going. I don’t really know, I said. Well, you said after a pause, then I guess I just oughta die then. There was a silence, longer than I cared for. But you laughed even harder and I gripped the wheel tighter, knowing there was a reason, but too tired to search for it.


Tige Ashton DeCoster

Pop’s Pistol Palace and Men’s Club a drossy seedy rat-trap of a dress-up girl on the pole with a gassed up kind of hippie get-up prances on the boards and moves for lonely faces she dances to the Ace of Base and Basie mash-ups spreads her pale chicken legs when on her back curves her spine and launches ping pong balls look you ancient bougies perching here ‘til dusk arms on sticky seat-backs albatross fingers curving water circles on the bar’s shellac from your soda-pop pay your babsie for her fleshy petal kisses dollar bills the tens the twenties Grants Franklins Jacksons all the robber barons’ thumbprint faces wadded popcorn on the stage then go home to fumble with your wives’ bodies on your sofas hold them close take their heels in your hand


put their toes near your mouths and pop those wormies in knuckle by knuckle ‘till they pop love taste swallow grip the lilies by their petals ‘till they spill their lovely oils that is when the light that is when the stars that’s when every sense you have becomes liquid taste the sea salts and the pop rocks the alkalis and the iron from your split lips


Mary-Anne Nelligan Panda

Panda knew there was an invisible bird at the base of her neck. It was why her head hung so low. She knew this bird would peck and peck against the corners of her eyes. It would make her cry. Panda wondered if she could ever make someone happy as she shoved a plastic toy turtle in her hoodie pocket. It wasn’t worth anything, but she liked turtles. The little girl’s room was painted blue and had stuffed animals perched on a mermaid themed bed set. The room was warm and it felt like a memory she almost had as a kid. Dizzy, she felt dizzy, too. “Panda, come here,” Lars called. It was a nice home. The couple was rich, but the decorations were simple. Family portraits lined the hallway. When she was little, her father owned a house much smaller than the one she was standing in before the bank had swallowed it whole. Back when she didn’t go by Panda. She stopped and glanced at the son in the family photograph. She tried to think of a more attractive person, but no one came to mind. She let out a low whistle and tapped the photograph twice with her gloved hand. Lars was in the dining room and had already taken off his fake cable service jacket. She tried not to stare at his bald head and the sweat stain down the line of his back. Panda felt a pull to kiss him, even though she no longer loved him. Habits were comforting like that. “Don’t bother with the silverware,” she said. “Got it. Check the wife’s jewelry,” he replied.


“We came for the rocks,” she said. “You can keep what you find,” he said. Panda never kept jewelry, but she would give the prettiest ones to Birdy. When Panda made it up the stairs, she spent a minute trying to switch off the AC, despite the hot and sticky day. The family was away on a long summer vacation, so their electric bill was going to be high. Rich people never thought about the air conditioning. They were in the home of a Geology professor at the university that Panda attended. The connection made her nervous, but she couldn’t withhold the information from Lars. The professor had a small but “crazy expensive” stash of geodes, according to a Facebook post from a stranger who hadn’t set his profile to ‘private.’ “Did you see how hot the son was?” Birdy asked from around the corner. “Sure did,” Panda said. Birdy was Lars’ ex-girlfriend. So was Panda, since last Tuesday. Birdy was her best friend. There was no other way around it. They were much better together than Lars was with either of them. Friday evenings were spent either at a roller rink or at the bowling alley Birdy’s mother owned. On her way to the master bedroom, Panda slapped Birdy’s butt for good luck. Originally, Panda had fallen into her current hobby as a way to pay off her student debt, but she stayed to help her father. He had no house and no retirement savings. Often, she felt guilty about being a dance major and whenever she danced, her feet felt clumsy like two buoys pulling in opposite directions. As she stood in the master bed room, she knew that no sex happened in it. It felt lonely. She quickly scanned the wife’s jewelry and nabbed a couple of rings that would only go for a few hundred each. There was a worn


looking rose gold ring set with a circle of small diamonds which Panda left behind because she imagined that particular one would be a favorite. Well, she liked it the best anyway. Panda whistled and waited until Birdy whistled back. Birdy was in the husband’s office. Panda knew nothing about geodes but Birdy did, after watching some YouTube videos and reading through some online forums over the course of several weeks and shots of espresso. “What about this one?” Panda asked Birdy while looking at a large and lumpy geode. “No. The outside of the rock itself adds too much weight. Besides, I want to leave him with some,” said Birdy. “That’s a nice thought, Birdy,” said Panda. Birdy had already swaddled several medium sized rocks with towels. They sat in large tool boxes on the floor of the office. The professor was probably a nice guy. Panda took a moment to close her eyes and send a little wish into the universe that would give him more sexy times with his wife. The sound of a toilet flushing made Panda pee her pants a little because Lars wouldn’t have used the bathroom no matter how small his bladder was. A thumping sound followed by the noise of small objects dropping to the floor sent Panda and Birdy reaching for each other. Panda didn’t want to move but she found her legs running to climb the stairs anyway and her hands mapping along the walls toward Lars and the noises that made the inside of her mouth dry. Fear came first for Panda while watching Lars struggle with a young boy who didn’t look older than sixteen. On the floor of the son’s room, Lars was yelling what sounded like shit. “Shit,” Panda said walking towards them.


“SHEETS. PANDA. SHEETS,” Lars yelled. He was sitting on the boy like he was trying to cover a soda that was spilling over. The boys legs were flailing under the weight. When Panda pulled the unmade sheets from the bed and handed them to Lars her dizziness sloshed inside her head. She needed to throw up. She stood still and watched Lars wrap up the boy like a burrito. “Handcuffs,” Panda said, pointing to Lars’ belt. “Right,” Lars said, scrambling to cuff the boy. Panda wondered what Lars had used to muffle the boy’s mouth and hoped it wasn’t a sock. Then, Lars grabbed her hand and together they made it down the stairs back to Birdy “Birdy. Panda. Get in the van,” Lars said. Panda ducked down once she was inside the van, even though there were no windows in the back. There was a ringing in her ears because the loudness in her head couldn’t settle in the quiet of neighborhood. Birdy was in the driver’s seat. It took Lars lars two trips to collect the tool boxes. When he made it into the back of the van, he laid down next to Panda and spooned the tool boxes. “How the hell did we not know that some guy was in the house?” Lars said. A bit of his spit hit the corner of Panda’s lip, and at one point, Lars tried to pet her head, but his hands were too shaky. “You said there wouldn’t be anyone there,” Panda said to Birdy. Birdy said nothing the whole drive, despite her sniffs. Panda stayed in the corner of the van until Birdy dropped her off about two blocks from her apartment. It was already dark as she made her way past Prospect Park, then past the expensive pie shop that she had never eaten at. The whole block smelled like twelve different kinds of takeout. The smell clung to her clothes


and cuddled her back into her apartment where she refused to turn on a single light. She reached out her hands with each step, half expecting to grab a handful of the attractive son’s bicep. When she made it to the bed that she used to share with Lars, sleep did not come. Maybe someone from the neighborhood would find the boy. But he couldn’t move and he couldn’t yell out. There was probably a smelly sock in his mouth. Without meaning to Panda let out a small scream. The family’s vacation would be long. She did not want to go back. Panda’s bird came back and sat with her for long time. Despite the pecking, Panda did not cry. Nighttime was the worst, but she was too distracted to be sad and sleep the bird away. She hoped the boy wasn’t too scared. “He’s going to have to pee,” Panda said. So she called Birdy.

Lars was bald, which was a new look for him. Three months ago, he had a full head of hair. Now, the top of his head looked like an egg, a lonely egg. Last Tuesday, Panda woke up and realized that she didn’t love Lars anymore. It hadn’t been a particularly good Tuesday because her favorite bagel place had run out of ‘Everything’ bagels. She had to get the plain ones instead. It was hard dumping him because he was funny and kind. He had given her the alias Panda after finding out that her parents had immigrated from Korea. Panda had yet to understand his reasoning, but she did not have the heart to point out that Pandas originated from China. But still, he often made her smile. Then again, being with Birdy made her happy. Even after she stopped loving Lars, she would often catch herself caressing the tops of her hard-boiled eggs while they sat in the sink to cool, thinking of


him while her fingertips stroked the warm shells. The three of them made a good team despite their dating history. Panda had called Birdy, but they did not call Lars because they wanted him to snore soundly. It was around 4 am. Despite the dark, it was still hot. The house was even hotter. She felt guilty about turning off the AC. “Is someone there?” asked the boy. His voiced scared her because she shouldn’t have had to hear it, and she also wondered what happened to the sock. “We can just untie him and leave,” said Panda. “Hello?” “We can’t let him see our faces,” said Birdy. “Come on, Birdy.” Panda went up the stairs slowly. Birdy followed. “Panda. Is this a bad idea?” asked Birdy. Panda trudged on and followed the wet-sounding thumping noises. She expected to see a large jellyfish when she turned the corner of the room, but there was no jellyfish only the boy face-down on the floor. “Hi,” said Panda. “Please, I take care of the plants. Someone tied me up,” he said. “That’s awful,”said Birdy. The boy was still handcuffed and his legs were still tied despite the struggling. Panda couldn’t make out much of the stranger. He looked like a deflated blimp. His head was uncovered and squished against the floor. “Woah,” said Panda when she realized they were standing in the son’s room.


The smell of pee hit her nose. The bed was unmade and before Panda had a chance to turn around, Birdy had already thrown herself onto it, making a nest out of the leftover shirts scattered on the bed. “I know your voices. Please, I won’t say anything. You gotta untie me. I have a cat,” he said. Panda took a peek outside the window and sure enough, there were two green houses in the backyard. They were so large that she felt silly that she hadn’t noticed them before. “I’m a gardener, too,” Panda said. “Don’t move,” said Birdy, as the boy tried to look towards them. “Could you untie me?” “Do you need to pee?” asked Panda. “I already did,” “Sorry,” said Birdy as she walked to the son’s desktop and opened his iTunes. “Throw me a pillow,” said Panda to Birdy. After Birdy threw a pillow to Panda, Panda slipped the pillowcase off the pillow and placed it gently on his sweaty head. It was something he didn’t want to do, but he wouldn’t stop moving his head toward her voice. Some pretty song that Panda danced to at her last recital filled the room. When she was with Birdy there were feathers scattered across Panda’s world, but it was much more tolerable even in a hot room that smelled like pee. The sheets were damp and the air was heavy and she found it hard to look away from Birdy. “Our big guy here has a gun pointed at your head. But, I’m going to untie you,” said Panda. Panda felt so awful that her throat ached, but the words flew out without a stutter.


“Thank you,” he said. “Do you know the family’s son?” asked Birdy. “Yeah, he’s a good guy.” When Panda patted him on the shoulder, they both flinched. Lars had the key to the handcuffs, so only the sheets were taken off. He could move his legs and maybe even stand up and walk out the front door if he wanted to. The task wouldn’t be easy, but Panda knew her and Birdy would need to leave quickly. It would give them enough time. He looked like a resourceful type. Back in middle-school, Panda had once escaped after being tied to an oak far from her troop’s campsite. Even now, the smell of marshmallows made her nauseous. She whistled and looked to Birdy. They left the room quickly, and walked out of the house onto the clean street. “Lars will be pissed,” Birdy said. “Our secret. Wanna have a sleepover?” Asked Panda. Birdy reached for Panda’s hand and held it tightly against her chest. A firework went off at the bottom of Panda’s stomach and sizzled out in the tips of her fingers. Undoubtedly, Lars would be angrier at the fact that they did something without him rather than the fact that they had untied the gardner. She knew that she was going to steal for a long time because her father was going to grow old and die inside his own house. The house would be cool in the summer and hot in the winter. She hoped the boy wouldn’t have nightmares or never want to house sit plants ever again. She squeezed the turtle in her pocket and hoped the rocks would bring a lot of money.


Ryan Dilbert

Born Chris Shane

The wrestler bought an ax from the hardware store and wandered behind his hotel in search of something to chop. Sullen, bare trees wore a skin of snow. An old man attacked his windshield with an ice scraper; cursing under his breath. During his stay in Calgary, the wrestler would become Lumberjack Erik, a logger with a love for getting into scraps. The gimmick was a standard, go-to shtick, but he would not don it without research. “I have to know what it feels like to have an ax handle callous my hand,” he told the clerk at the hardware store. The wrestler let his beard grow out to become this new man. He inserted flannel shirts into his wardrobe. He cleared out a trio of trees that convened near a wood rail fence. And soon he felt primed to be Lumberjack Erik beyond just his time in the ring. He was not a man to simply play a part, but to fuse himself to it, vines wrapped around a pergola. In the late '70s, a promoter sorely needed an evil Soviet heel to roam his territory. The wrestler inhaled the gimmick. He lived in Belarus for two months; mining potash, studying Russian in a vodka-drunk haze. “That's not necessary at all,” the promoter told him. A shaved head and a singlet adorned with a hammer and sickle was plenty. The roughnecks who populated the crowds couldn't tell a proper Russian accent from a counterfeit one. But the man then billed as Volkov the Vicious


never felt satisfied with a single layer of a character. Even when he sat in a bathtub after a steel cage match, icy water soothing his knees, he did not venture away from Volkov. He belted out the military song “Zhuravli” with tears welling in his eyes. At each stop, with each name change, the wrestler committed in the same way. During his run with the World Wrestling Federation as Michael Muck, he hopped onto passing garbage trucks and worked unpaid shifts in whatever town they traveled to. He just wanted to have an authentic trash stench cling to his being, he told those who asked. As a barbarian who fought in fur-lined boots, he subsisted on only what he could hunt with a bow and arrow. When working a Samson-inspired gimmick, he paid a local zookeeper to let him wrestle the lions at night. After the last match of his Calgary stint, his final night as the bodyslamming lumberjack, he limped up to his hotel room. His left knee throbbed. It often did. The wrestler leaned back against the headboard with a bag of ice balancing on his knee and a phone tucked between his shoulder and his ear. Miguel Cortez, Puerto Rico's top wrestling promoter, answered between swigs of beer. “You got any openings? I'd like to come work for you again,” the wrestler told him. “Who is this?” Cortez said. He almost answered “Lumberjack Erik” out of habit, but stopped short. The wrestler felt adrift, a sailor staring at a faceless compass. He was Volkov and Michael Muck and The Demolisher. He didn't say any of those names into the phone, but he didn't say his own either. He couldn't remember it. His memory


grew hazy, canopied in smoke he couldn't tear through. A falling sensation dizzied him as he fumbled for his driver's license.


Bethany W. Pope Cabbage

We dedicated our time equally to sustenance farming (feeding cattle, harvesting hay, transforming calves into veal for the finer tables in Charleston) and decorating the campus in a way that appealed to church sponsors. We dug flower beds until our nails tore, gouged our legs pruning the rose bushes, and spent many long afternoons prying last-season’s blossoms free from the earth. Often, they hadn't been there long enough for their root-balls to uncurl from the shape of the thin plastic pots the farm-boss bought from Sams by the pallet. We ringed those stone cottages with capes of flowers, clothing corpses in bridal finery. I don't know why I stole the cabbage. I don't know why those crinkled green and purple leaves were on the roster in the first place. We tore out row after row of Indigo pansies whose velvety petals were just starting to wilt, tossing those bruised, crisp stems into bright piles, and settling round stalks of flowering kale


into the same cavities. The urge struck to slide one, softly, into my pocket. I was trying very hard to forget the image of the broken quail nest; eggs, split and bright with blood and twitching tissues, the grinning face of the blond boy I’d had a crush on until that very minute grinding the wailing mother-bird beneath his brown, third-hand boots while I shrieked for him to stop, please, stop. I planted the cabbage in the bottom half of a can of Surge and kept it hidden inside of the closet that they called my bedroom. Who knows? Maybe the residual caffeine spurred it to growth. Certainly, it did grow, strange and tall. Both the green and purple faded, like a healing bruise, until the long, straggled leaves were white as bleached bones. Altered, that plant lasted years longer than its fellows. Survival always takes its payment from your nature.


Contributors Genelle Chaconas Genelle Chaconas graduated from Naropa University with an MFA in Writing and Poetics in 2015. They identify as queer, feminist, genderfluid, an abuse survivor, post employed and proud to the core. Their first chapbook, “Fallout, Saints and Dirty Pictures” was published by little m press in 2011. Their work has been published or is forthcoming in Five 2 One, The Fem, Crab Fat Magazine, Door is a Jar, Third Wednesday, Late Peaches: An Anthology of Sacramento Poets, Primal Urge, Six Foot Swells, Medusa’s Kitchen, Brevities, WTF, and others. They hosted Red Night Poetry series in Sacramento. Tige Ashton DeCoster Poet and musician, Tige Ashton DeCoster is a native of Seattle and received his BA in creative writing from the University of Washington. Tige’s poetry has been published in Crab Creek Review, Malpais Review, Fly South, Calliope, and others. He has been a touring and recording musician for twenty years, recipient of a 2009 Fulbright scholarship, and the 2016 Joan Grayston Poetry Prize. Ryan Dilbert Ryan Dilbert is the author of “Time Crumbling like a Wet Cracker” (No Record Press). His stories have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Cease Cows and Matchbook. He writes about pro wrestling for Bleacher Report. See his best work, fiction or wrestling-related, at ryandilbert.com.


Charles Kell Charles Kell is a PhD student at The University of Rhode Island and editor of The Ocean State Review. His poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, floor_plan_journal, The Manhattanville Review, and elsewhere. He teaches in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Mary-Anne Nelligan Mary-Anne Nelligan is a editor for Five on the Fifth. Most recently, her prose poems, “Living in Salt,” and “Pillow Talk,” appear inDuende. Bethany W. Pope Bethany W. Pope is an award-winning writer. She received her PhD from Aberystwyth University’s Creative Writing program, and her MA from the University of Wales Trinity St David. She has published several collections of poetry: “A Radiance” (Cultured Llama, 2012) “Crown of Thorns,” (Oneiros Books, 2013), “The Gospel of Flies” (Writing Knights Press 2014), and “Undisturbed Circles” (Lapwing, 2014). Her collection “The Rag and Boneyard” was published this month by Indigo Dreams and her chapbook “Among The White Roots” will be released by Three Drops Press next autumn. Her first novel, “Masque,” shall be published bySeren this June. Kevin Richard White Kevin Richard White is the author of the novels “Steep Drop” and “The Face Of A Monster.” His short fiction has been previously published by Akashic Books, Tahoe Writers Works and Cactus Heart Press. He is also a contributor to the


indie music magazineManifesto Of Sound and is the head editor of Viewfinder Literary Magazine. He lives in Pennsylvania. Christopher Woods Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, “The Dream Patch,” a prose collection, “Under a Riverbed Sky” and a book of stage monologues for actors, “Heart Speak.” His work has appeared in “The Southern Review,” New England Review,” “New Orleans Review,” “Columbia,” and “Glimmer Train,” among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery. He is currently compiling a book of photography prompts for writers, “From Vision to Text.”


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Crack the Spine - Issue 196  

Literary Magazine

Crack the Spine - Issue 196  

Literary Magazine

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