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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 199


Issue 199 September 14, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2016 by Crack the Spine


CONTENTS El

Resonance 0.1

Lauren Lara

Chelsea Laine Wells Grit

The Old House

Michael Bartelt

Possibilities in a Pitcher’s Duel

Anne Goodwin Dancing White

James G. Platt

My Shades of Red

Adam Van Winkle Funeral Dance

Claire Kortyna

Into the Wind


El

Resonance 0.1 No, don't tell me this vignette is finally over the violence of the city culminating in smoke plumed buildings architectural spectres looming over steel skeletons broken cement corpses linger under floorboards face burning, letters fall onto the blank pages our horizon painted in gasoline transparency whispers of bleeding villas do you remember the outline of rectangles


before the rain of debris? Fingers lacing over unfolding scenes. The story ends with lines on the page simplicity of carvings in the tree trunk wax overwhelms the flames. The saccharine taste of decay sinking teeth like ships in a burning harbor oil spilling out of veins I forgot the word destruction was another of your names as you described how intoxicating smiles were when lit by the lens flare of tomorrow of the day that never came.


Chelsea Laine Wells Grit

It was summer and the house breathed light and air like a lung. Every window gaped fully open, white curtains bellied out and the screens sagged, stretched and exhausted, diluting the desert sun that pressed in from all sides. Kristen lay on Jane’s queen-sized bed like a starfish. They had pulled the blankets and pillows from the guest room and the extras from the hall closets loaded it all on Jane’s sagging mattress. Jane, returning with two final throw pillows, tossed them across the bed, boosted herself onto the edge, and carefully rubbed the soles of her feet against each other. “Grit,” Jane said to Kristen, who was watching her. “There’s grit on all the floors no matter how much my mom sweeps. If I get it in the sheets she’ll kill me. She says it’s the bane of her existence to live in the godforsaken desert. She says that to my dad all the time.” Jane rolled her shoulders; the too-small turquoise bikini she’d borrowed from Kristen had dried stiffly and bit into her skin around her ribcage. Kristen’s bathing suit was wadded inside-out on the hardwood floor. She wore an old off-white silk robe of Jane’s with nothing underneath it. “My mom doesn’t even notice the grit,” Kristen said. Jane stretched alongside her, her arms and legs flung out. Her ankle rested against Kristen’s, a point of contact that seemed to leap inside her though they were still. “She just says New Mexico is quieter than Texas and there’s less cowboy bullshit.”


Jane laughed, from her chest. As always there was a brief spark of awe inside her at Kristen’s comfort with words Jane had never said aloud. “If I had this robe I would wear it all the time," Kristen said then, stroking the silk along her own thigh like a cat. “You can have it," Jane said, and looked sidelong at Kristen. Their birthdays were exactly seven days apart. Kristen had turned thirteen three days ago. Jane was straining towards her own birthday with all the frantic energy of a dog unwillingly leashed. “Maybe we’ll share it," Kristen said. She picked up the ends of the robe’s sash and trailed them onto Jane’s bare stomach. “I’m sorry my house is so boring," Jane said. Even after two months of inseparability she still felt a need to constantly entertain Kristen, who had arrested Jane’s unwavering attention from the very day she had moved into the neighborhood, at the excruciating end of the school year. All summer, to her mother's percolating disapproval, Jane had neglected the kids she had grown up with at their church in favor of Kristen. Kristen was smarter and more daring and she didn’t know Jane the same way everyone else did. Jane felt wide awake with Kristen in a way she never had, and somehow like she was rooted more deeply into herself, breathing truer and easier, inhabiting her body authentically and with less of the timid doubt that defined her.


"It’s better than my house," Kristen said, and rolled onto her side. She poked Jane’s belly button. "You’ve got an outie," she said. "I know, I hate it." "Why?" "I don’t know. Because nobody has outies." "That’s good," Kristen said, in a way that made this seem obvious. Kristen was always pointing out things that Jane felt she should have known all along. Her mouth shut and she blushed. Kristen passed her hand over the top of Jane’s head, the soft bristle of hair there. "We’re growing in," Kristen said, and smiled. She touched her own shorn scalp. Two weeks ago they had shaved their heads in Kristen’s bathtub with her brother’s clippers, just because it was hot outside. Jane would never forget the feeling of the dry tub on her bare feet and the clippers in Kristen’s steady hands scraping across her scalp, hair sliding down along her shoulders and arms like water, and her heart racing with the unspoken disobedience of it. Girls were supposed to have hair. To not have hair, it was a flag she had raised recklessly, impulsively, without completely understanding why. Kristen’s family reacted with eye rolls or not at all, but when Jane got home that night her mother gripped her face by the jaw hard enough to bruise and turned her head sharply one way and then the other, disapproval hissing from between her teeth like a punctured tire. Even though she’d been sentenced to her room for the next


week - Kristen sneaking in at night and out the next morning - it had been worth it. Jane smiled back at Kristen, at her simple boyish face and the white gold of her hair. Kristen sat up suddenly and fumbled for the pocket of the silk robe. “You know what my dad used to do?" she asked. "He’s crazy. Not really crazy, even though my mom says that’s why they got divorced, but funny crazy." She extracted a tube of Walgreens lipstick they’d lifted from Walgreens the day before, a dark cotton candy color, and applied it carefully to her lips. Something about her shaved head, her lanky body under the drape of the robe, her careful focus as she spread the lipstick onto her bottom lip made Jane almost dizzy, as though the room had just revolved once on its axis. Kristen held the lipstick between her index and middle finger like a cigarette and lifted it to show Jane. "He would actually put on lipstick - like, my mom’s lipstick, and then he would do this." She rubbed her lips together and darted her head down to Jane’s stomach, pressed her open mouth to Jane’s skin, and pushed out all the air in her lungs. Jane jackknifed against the sudden, harsh tickle of it, shrieking, and grasped Kristen’s head with both hands. There was a moment of struggle, legs kicking, Jane curling up like a worm with Kristen at her center, pillows tumbling off the bed. Then Kristen disentangled herself and smiled. "He’s crazy," she said, "right?"


"My dad would never do anything like that," Jane said. She relaxed and her body fell flat. "My dad was always doing stuff like that," Kristen said. She settled onto her elbows and looked back down at Jane’s stomach. "I got lipstick all over you," she said. "See, that’s the point. He always used red when he did it to us. But his lip prints were all smashed, they weren’t pretty. Mine are pretty," she said, and she lowered her mouth back to Jane’s body. Carefully, she pressed her lips to one side of Jane’s outie bellybutton and held herself there. Jane went very still. Something in the room tensed and fell silent, as though the outside world had stopped mid-step, mid-fight, mid-fall. Jane swallowed. Kristen was suddenly motionless and then she exhaled, gently this time. The bright heat of it poured out like water onto Jane’s stomach, rolling down her side to her lower back and into the elastic waistband of her bathing suit bottom. She watched the gradual fall of Kristen’s shoulder blades and her neatly serrated spine. Her bones were prominent under the silk robe, drawn tight as skin. Kristen raised her head to look at the mark she had made and Jane stayed frozen. Her heartbeat was everything, and Kristen’s head hovering over her stomach, and the proximity of their bodies sprawled at right angles to one another. Kristen shifted her eyes without moving her head and looked at Jane and Jane looked back because she could not make her eyes move away. She felt again that slow, rolling dizziness but this time it was like she and Kristen were rotating on some shared axis and the room around them was stationary.


Next to the bed the curtain bellied out with a breeze unfelt by either girl, it was just the enormous inconsequential outside world breathing its endless circular breath, and Kristen lowered her head again. Jane’s arms rose to rest on her pillow in a loose, broken arc, like a fallen ballerina. She felt Kristen’s mouth open and the momentary glance of teeth, lower this time, so that half of her exhaled heat soaked into the shiny fabric of Jane’s bathing suit. Jane could smell the elastic of it and the chlorine and the sweat that had dried there leaving her bleached and salt-sticky. The thought that she should take it off so there was nothing between body and mouth, tongue to tender skin, flickered through her mind and then away before she could consider it fully. They didn’t speak. There was a mutual movement, a shifting further apart and then back together so that they were one long line of girl, simple and skinny and hairless. Kristen’s head bobbed up for a moment between Jane’s legs and then lowered again. Her arms were crossed under her, her fingertips light and still against the backs of Jane’s knees. Jane moved one arm down to her mouth and bit her own skin. She had never done anything like this. She had never fully thought about anything like this, although there had been moments with Kristen in the community center swimming pool and the bathtub when they shaved their heads and the dark attic during desert thunderstorms and the way they were always touching in some small way, arm to arm, ankle to ankle, head to shoulder, front to back as they slept, when Jane felt something like a string fastened deep inside the bottommost hollow of her stomach pulling her in the direction of Kristen.


Kristen’s mouth opened as wide as possible, she unhinged her jaw like a snake, and she moved that dark, wet space onto the seamed place in Jane’s bathing suit that stretched between the very inside of her thighs. Jane quaked inwardly, that string yanked at its mooring, and she sucked hard and stinging on the skin of her arm. Kristen breathed out so slowly that Jane felt that she would never stop, that her lungs had expanded and filled her from throat to ankle with that saturated steam-heat that was dampening Jane’s bathing suit and screwing her eyes closed in an entirely involuntary way. Across the room the door opened. The girls tore themselves apart. Jane met her mother’s blank eyes and her body curled like an injured animal’s, cringing and tensed. Kristen flew to the side of the bed by the window and twisted the curtains around herself. Dust spiraled in the air, flung from the white material. Jane took in her mother’s stone-set face, her hair pinned sharply back, her arms covered in long-sleeves despite the warm air of the house. At the ends of the sleeves her hands were gathered into tight fists. The dead-flat determination in her eyes was familiar to Jane. The fists were also familiar. Annette crossed the room with firm steps. She grasped Jane’s upper arm in her hand, arranging her fingers carefully before applying the force that it took to yank her from the bed.


Jane’s limbs spidered out and she tried to regain balance. Her knee cracked heavily against the edge of the bedside table. Jane felt it distantly, as though underwater. There was no other sound outside the chaos of her own body - her heart, her breathing gone as light and thready as a dying bird’s. She had the distant impression that Kristen had hardened like glass. Jane doubted she was breathing at all. Annette turned, wordless, her spine arrow-straight, and hauled Jane behind her without looking, like pulling a wagon. Jane stumbled, her heels hitting the floor hard. The silence between them was physical as weight. It poured out to fill the house. They reached the bathroom at the end of the hall. Annette flipped on the light and swung Jane inside. Jane staggered and caught herself against the edge of the sink. Annette shouldered past her and fit the stopper into the bathtub drain. She spun both the hot and cold water handles as far as they would go and water thundered against the porcelain. Then she straightened and looked at Jane. "Take that off," she said, pointing at the bathing suit. And she left the bathroom, shutting the door quietly behind her. Jane stared unseeing into the silver mirror reflecting blank white tile. Her arm smarted hot where her mother gripped her. The too-small bathing suit cut hard into her ribs. But the lingering sensation of Kristen buzzed higher and clearer than anything. She was a jangled hum of physical sensitivity, a cloud of bees surging inside her skin. Kristen’s body against hers, the silk of the robe, the heat


of Kristen’s mouth, as the world around them ebbed like a wave inhaling. She stood with her eyes blind and inward and sucked at the memory of Kristen like hard candy. Savoring something whose disappearance was imminent. The bathroom door opened and closed and Jane felt the hard presence of her mother like heat. She focused her eyes straight into her mother’s calm stare. They were less than a foot apart. Jane could smell the detergent in her mother’s dress. "I told you to take that off," Annette said. Jane did not move, and her mother did not move. The water crawled slowly higher behind them. Finally Jane bent her arms behind her back and found the plastic clasp. Her fingers fumbled and then released it. The relief of pressure made Jane breathe deeply, expanding her ribcage. Annette never wavered from Jane’s eyes. She was stone-still until Jane had removed both parts of her bathing suit and stood as straight as she could muster, naked. Annette gripped Jane by her upper arms, short fingernails biting skin, and turned her towards the bathtub. Jane went rigid. She knew that she would not fight back because there was no chance of winning, but she refused to submit. There had been many of these silent castigations, many incidents of her mother’s controlling strength applied wordlessly, the reprimand burning in her eyes. Jane always cried and apologized just to relieve the pressure of that awful vacuum of quiet. This time, though, she kept her mouth closed and her body stiff. Something deeper was at stake - some test of will that could define who Jane was or who she wasn’t. So she said nothing.


Annette forced Jane forward with short, sharp bursts of strength. Jane’s shins hit the edge of the bathtub. She sensed Annette's eyes hot on the back of her neck. The skin was paler there where her hair used to hang, she and Kristen had looked at it with hand mirrors. She thought about her clean ginger brown hair drifting to the grimy floor of Kristen's house and knew her mother was seeing this too, the waste and lawlessness of it, and she shoved Jane forward so hard that Jane lost her balance entirely. She smacked her palms against the white tile wall and lurched into the bathtub to avoid falling. Her feet skidded against the porcelain. Annette pushed her down into the cool water, still low but rising. Her tailbone connected hard, scraping against the precisely placed rubber daisies meant to keep people from slipping. She bent her legs and folded them close to her chest. With both hands cupped she covered her breasts; they were tender, the nipples swollen. Her forehead lolled against her kneecap. The smell of her own summer sweat and the bleach her mother had used to clean the bathroom was strong within the close curl of her body. She closed her eyes to block out the florescent light and the agitated water leaping silver against spotless white. The last thing she saw was the way the water beaded on Kristen’s lipstick prints, the greasepaint texture of them. They would have to be scrubbed off. Annette reached past Jane for the soap, a thick, white bar with no fragrance. She plunged it into the water and then slapped it onto Jane’s back so hard that Jane swallowed a small cry. Annette rose onto her knees for leverage and ground the corner of the bar into the prominent knobs of her daughter’s spine. Her


thumbnail dug into Jane’s skin where it was curled around the edge of the soap and still Jane made no noise. With practiced focus, Jane moved her consciousness from her own head into her mother's, into the patterns of judgment and blunt resistance she knew so well. Annette scrubbed harder. Jane felt her thinking of Kristen. She felt her closing up, as though against a smell, at the idea of Kristen's rabbit-breeding family, her galloping voice, her wide-open laugh that sounded through the off the walls like ricochet. Annette scrubbed harder. Jane felt the idea of herself as she had been last spring, suspended in her mother's mind still and inanimate like something caught in amber. Quiet and solitary, curled at the end of the couch with a book. Her brown hair tucked behind her ears. Predictable. Obedient. And then suddenly, as though possessed, on her back underneath the neighbor girl’s mouth. She scrubbed harder. Jane’s body rocked stiffly with the effort of it. Annette’s sleeve was drenched. The water rose higher, creeping up the hidden front of Jane’s body. It was less than lukewarm, almost cool, but Jane was too stiff to shake. Annette's fingernails pressed into the gold skin of Jane’s back striped with white where her bathing suit hit. Jane saw in her mind Kristen's bathing suit wadded on the floor by the bed, inside-out it was peeled off so fast. And then ephemeral as an unsteady flame because she could barely stand to look as it happened, the image of Kristen's naked body stepping out of the suit casual like it meant nothing to bare yourself, and then shrugging into the robe in profile with her shorn head tilted down, her body cord-lean and easily graceful as liquid pouring straight down, nearly curveless but pliable, sun-burnished skin


shocked white where the bathing suit touched her, the slight upward tip of her nose and her mouth parted and wet at the bottom lip, and her eyes almost iridescent with their strange amber cast cutting quick and true to catch Jane watching and there was a wordless understanding there, a deliberateness, a soft cockiness that bloomed open inside Jane strong as something physically displacing her, like a hand, opening her - and it was as though the feeling leaped electric from her brain to Annette's, and Annette drew blood. Jane hunched forward, soap stinging the inside of her, and a hard satisfaction thudded in the beat of her heart. Mark me , she thought. The water was nearly to the top. Annette reached past Jane and spun the knobs to stop it. The silence was immediate and immense. Jane’s breathing filled everything, amplified in the curve of her body. She felt Annette watch her for a moment, deciding. Then she wrapped one hand around Jane’s stiff shoulder, the other over the top of Jane’s knee, and began to pry her apart. Jane struggled. Her eyes squinted against the water that splashed up onto her face, into her nose. She resisted Annette’s wrenching strength as long as she could, and then she let go. She splayed out flat in the confines of the tub, exhausted, her head dipping briefly under the surface. The silence there was different from the silence in the bathroom, it was thicker, a substance that rushed in and left no room for thought or resistance. She came up only when she had to.


Annette scoured Jane with the soap underwater. She started with the pink smear on her stomach, pushing down until Jane went breathless against the pressure, and then moved up her ribcage, past the dent dug there by the bathing suit top, to her breasts. Jane bolted upright the second the corner of the bar came into contact with them. They ached, she winced at the slightest touch. It was growing pains, the girls' gym teacher told them, an idea that distantly dismayed Jane. The thought of growing something there. Jane folded her shoulders inward, crossing her arms above them, her eyes sealed closed. She did not want to see her mother. She did not want the white light of the bathroom or the angles of her body. She wanted to turn inside out. Annette drew a sharp breath through her nose and Jane braced again. This was a test of wills and Annette would win, but not with Jane's consent. She would take it by force. Annette pried her arms apart and jerked one above her head and rubbed the bar of soap flat down Jane's breast. Jane spasmed in on herself like something ripped from its shell. She made the first and only sound, a deep, scraping groan, and then she bit her lips together, hard, and focused on the stinging scratches down her back. Annette washed her breasts until she was satisfied and then went back to the lipstick marks. Jane hovered her arms over the throbbing and opened her eyes without wiping the water from her lashes. The light was harsh and beads of water broke as she blinked, fragmenting like a colorless kaleidescope, burning, but she made no move to wipe it away. In the edge of her vision she saw the long, hard thrust of her mother’s jaw, the thin lips almost invisible with tension and will, the wisps of hair escaping their pins. She thought about her mother sudden in the


doorway of her room, her stare drilled straight into Jane. What unnerved her the most was the way her mother’s expression had not changed at all, not a flicker of surprise, as though all along she had known something dark and unspoken about Jane that Jane herself had not. Her mother pulled apart her legs, rough and impersonal, the same way she treated an uncooked chicken or a wayward root in the garden, and scrubbed there. The roughness of touch pushed Jane past some internal barrier and she went cut-nerve dead. A pall descended over this part of her body, of herself, that would change the way she felt about it for years. Jane’s eyes closed again. When Annette was satisfied that every soiled part of Jane had been stripped clean, she rocked back on her heels and dropped the soap into the bathtub. Jane was half submerged, her ears underwater. She heard the slow, hollow impact of the soap against the porcelain. She watched her mother’s red-knuckled hands as she braced herself on the side of the tub and stood. Her skirt was creased where she had been kneeling. Annette opened a cabinet and extracted a folded white towel. Without looking at Jane, she dropped the towel on the closed toilet lid and left the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. Jane floated there for a moment with her eyes closed. Her lashes grazed the surface of the water. She skidded her fingertips along the side of the bathtub for the rubbery noise they made. She thought about her mother’s hands prying her open and apart, and how that part of herself that had never before meant much of anything was now laden with strangeness. She thought of Kristen in her own


house, under her bed or high up on a closet shelf like a chased cat, her fingertips pressed to her closed mouth. Finally Jane stood and water streamed from the hollows of her body like a sunken ship. She wrapped the towel, rough from bleaching, around herself like a cape. The house was silent when she stepped out of the bathroom. She walked the length of the hall on tiptoe, her wet feet picking up grit and leaving behind dark half-prints. A series of framed family photographs hung evenly spaced along the wall. As she walked, Jane watched herself grow up – her hair first the cotton fuzz of a baby, then sprouting from pigtails, then pulled awkwardly to one side. Her smile stretched wide and thin in each picture, her shoulders squared under the decorative sleeves of some cheap, stiff dress. And her parents arranged rigid behind her, like cardboard cutouts, the same every year. Her expressionless father in button-down shirts and ties of sedate patterns, and her mother in something high-necked and plain, her mouth barely consenting to a tight, dry smile. Her eyes were flat as a shark’s. They bore point-blank through the polished glass of each frame straight into Jane’s face. Jane shivered and moved on. When she reached her room, she stopped and peeked inside. The bed was still burdened with all of the blankets and pillows, some trailing down onto the floor where Jane had been dragged. The window and the screen were now open, the curtain caught up on a mound of comforter. Jane knew that Kristen had escaped


that way, leaping with cat grace to the ground and melting away like she'd never been there. Her bathing suit was also gone, and the silk robe. Jane continued to the end of the hall and looked cautiously into the living room. Her mother sat on the couch, her spine so tight it arched. On her lap was a shirt of Jane’s father’s. She was sewing on a button. Jane watched her, holding her breath. She knew her mother was different from the other mothers – older, greyer, more reserved. She watched the parents of her friends, amazed at the way they touched their children with such casual tenderness, the way they laughed out loud and slouched and sat in groups on the porch at night in the low glow and orange sting of a Citronella candle with sweating cans and bottles in their loose hands while the children ran wild inside. Jane longed for that kind of easy freedom. Annette pulled the thread tight. She picked up a pair of sewing scissors from the polished wood end table next to the couch and snicked them closed over the thread a few inches above the buttonhole. In the light from the window they shone as bright and spotless as a mirror. Jane let her gaze crawl over the room – the couches squared off against each other, the identical end tables, the small, blurred, almost subjectless landscape paintings on each wall. Everything lined up symmetrically and punished to a perfect cleanliness under the merciless strength of Annette’s hands. Jane stepped around the corner into her mother's line of sight, still wrapped in the towel, and stood with her feet curled and cupped sideways against each other like monkey paws. Annette did not look up. Jane watched her tie a knot in


the thread with quick, deft movements of her fingers. Then she picked up the scissors again and cut the remaining thread short. “Are you dry?” Annette asked. She folded together all of the thread ends and tucked them into her dress pocket. Jane met her own eyes in the large antique mirror across the room. She examined her pale hair cut close to the curve of her skull, and the puffiness of her face even though she had not cried. Her shoulders were narrow and hunched under the towel. Her body was lost in the drape of it. She could have been anything. “Mostly,” she said. Annette shook out the shirt, snapping the cloth, and held it up in front of her. “Did you let out the bathwater?” she asked. "I don’t remember,” Jane said. “I suggest you do it,” Annette said. She began folding the shirt on her lap, smoothing it with the flat of her hand. “And scrub the ring it leaves once it’s drained out.” Jane waited to see if there was anything more. Inside she felt beaten flat, like trampled grass. Her resistance had been neatly snapped and discarded and she just wanted everything to be over. Annette concentrated on the shirt, quiet,


there was nothing more. Jane let out a soft breath of relief and turned away from her mother. She padded back down the hallway, placing her feet carefully over the wet prints she had left before. The bathwater was grey and still, opaque with soap. Jane knelt next to the tub, one hand holding the towel, and pulled the stopper. The drain gurgled like a slit throat. Jane watched the water sink. Her mind returned to Kristen in her own dark, dirty house, lost in shadowed rooms among the nests of unwashed laundry and the blaring din of the television. Jane wondered whether it was possible to never again see someone who lived next door to you. She wondered what exactly it was that she wanted but could not quite force her mind to that point. Not yet. With a washcloth in one hand, clumsily, Jane balanced over the empty bathtub and swiped at the ring of exhausted lather until it was gone. Then she wrung out the cloth, folded it, and hung it precisely over the faucet. She left the bathroom without looking back. The air in her room was still. She climbed onto the edge of her bed and rubbed the soles of her feet together until all of the grit had fallen. Grit was everywhere, the inconvenient ever-presence of it a nuisance. It had to be controlled, like Jane. Be ever conscious of yourself and the friction you cause. Struggle to remain unknown and trouble free and neatly contained. Bloody nothing, make no messes. I do not want to feel you in the house. Jane swung her body onto the bed and felt the tube of Walgreens cotton-candy lipstick under her hip. With two fingers she fished it out and held it like a cigarette, just as Kristen had. After a long moment, she clutched it in her fist and


scooted across the bed. Her mind was blank, stretched thin. Exhaustion rose inside her like a sigh not yet sighed. She curled into a ball in front of the open window and adjusted the curtain so that it was around her like a canopy. Her body settled into a grounding soreness – the scratches along her back, the bruises down her spine and on her knee, the swollen tenderness of her breasts. Her skin smarted tight from the harsh soap, but she was clean. After a while, without any conscious thought, she uncapped the lipstick, twirled it up, and sank her teeth into the soft dense of it. It went down whole, swarming her nose with the taste of clay and oil, the sense of chlorine and skin and hot elastic and dark hot space of open mouth, and she imagined pink streaking the inside of her slow and deliberate as a fingernail marking deeper than water or soap could reach. Then she recapped it, cradled it in her hand, and trained her gaze beyond the confines of her life to the house next door. Just six or so feet away, paint peeling, windows gaping screenless like broken-jawed mouths, a different universe. Jane blinked and strained her eyes into the shadows. No one was in sight. It was dark inside the room directly across from Jane's window, as though no one lived there, as though no one ever had.


Michael Bartelt

Possibilities in a Pitcher’s Duel Yearning exactitude is manifesting in endless networks between skippers’ foxholes, starting pitcher, bullpen and batter’s box, raw speed leading off first, outfielders playing deep the clean-up batter, whose tendency toward contact and gap power bring up endless possibilities in a pitcher’s duel—1-1, bottom 7. There are familiar colors tainting the sanctity of the outfield walls, more intricate calculations taking place to ensure only a few hundred of us out of 40,000 are actually paying attention, and of those few hundred, only a couple dozen abstain from rooting for one side or the other and just see the game play out among interchangeable variables. We’re all born as Jim Leyland, but it’s impossible to manage when the false emotional resonance of flyovers, the National Anthem, God Bless America during the 7 th inning stretch, and advertisements plastered in every open space to supply grotesque salaries distract from the hard realities of a nice lead off first, foiled by a step off the rubber, an almost synchronized step out of the box, a mound-visit met with blind boos, the threat of a hit and run.

Scorecard, pencil, transistor— oblivious to crowd noise until it breaks the airwaves.


Anne Goodwin Dancing White

We pulled up by a wooden shack with a rusting Coca-Cola sign above the entrance. The driver was barely inside the ramshackle shop before they had us corralled. We were sweating without the aircon but we kept the windows closed against their cupped hands and pleading faces. Experience had taught us to feign indifference; however much we gave them, they always hustled for more. “What the …?” We’d never have expected to find a white family in this dirtpoor village, miles from civilisation. With their hair and skin a uniform tone, they looked like they’d been painted, like those human statues that stand on street corners and tantalise the kids. What were they doing here? Mother, father, a scrawny girl and boy; they hovered towards the back. With their dull faces, and flimsy rags barely shrouding their torsos, they were the runts of a community composed of the desperate. “They’re gonna fry!” Despite lathering ourselves with lotion and never stepping outside without a hat, our skin was taut from overexposure. Yet we at least had a modicum of protective pigmentation: we were the white of cream and ivory; they were chalk and milk. Was it okay to use the word albino? No-one ventured to check it out. But we started rummaging through our day packs for spare bottles of sunscreen. The fact that they seemed to expect so little of us strengthened our determination to help.


“Is it right, though, to get them dependent on this stuff? Will they be worse off when it runs out?” It was a fair point. There weren’t many other tourist buses coming this way; its exclusivity was part of the reserve’s USP. “Is it safe, when they can’t read the instructions?” Another important consideration. Even if the label were printed in Malagasy, it was unlikely they’d have the education or the eyesight to read it. Of course we never read the instructions on a bottle of sunscreen either, but that was because we’d been using it for years. What would they make of it? What if they thought it was safe to eat? “It might not be right for their skin type.” How dreadful if we triggered an allergic reaction. As an ad hoc collection of Westerners with a penchant for wildlife tourism, we had many skills between us, but no-one was an expert in dermatology. “Best not to interfere.” Without another word, six bottles of sunscreen were stuffed back in our packs. The villagers dispersed as the driver returned to the SUV. He handed round bottles of water; we gave him a round of applause. When the engine began to rumble and we felt the blast of the aircon, we gave him another. Leaving the village, the driver edged the vehicle onto the bridge. We pointed our cameras at the shallows where women scrubbed rainbow-coloured clothes and girls harvested the household’s water in rusting cans and old oil drums. If we wondered how the albinoid family got their water, we kept our curiosity to ourselves. We stowed away our cameras as the view from the window became less picturesque. Despite the bouncing of the vehicle on the rutted track, the monotonous miles of head-high sweetcorn lulled us into a doze. We knew our


accommodation at the reserve would be basic, but that didn’t stop us dreaming of hot showers. The engine stopped. “Are we there?” Elbows nudged those still drowsing. “Look!” A chorus line of small white figures leapt sideways across the dusty track, waving their arms above their heads. Such joyful abandon in those young bodies, like the nursery class at a dance school. “They’re okay!” It was only now we’d been reprieved that we could come anywhere near to acknowledging our guilt. They were okay! “Okay? Isn’t that a bit of an understatement?” It was a moment so moving we couldn’t bear to break the magic by reaching for our cameras. “How did they get here? It’s taken us hours.” “Put your glasses back on, why don’t you?” If someone had mistaken a troop of dancing lemurs for human children, the rest were too polite to draw attention to the fact. The sifakas, cute as they were, had fur and tails and, while their bodies were white, they had black faces. To confuse them would be both racist and disablist. To flag it up shaming. For we, after all, were decent people who had worked hard for this holiday. Nothing would be gained by beating ourselves up about stuff that was none of our business.


James G. Platt

My Shades of Red Ruby tinted words prowl along the sides of Garnet colored metaphors in places where lyrics die of shame and nouns bounce off the Crimson edges of my mind. Dark strident songs of gaudy birds parting from Carnelian beaks stream into my ears


reminding me of the cackling of titled dames, flaunting Raspberry colored diamonds and Carmine decorated inanities, slurping champagne cocktails at a gala for poor underprivileged orphans. A sea of Vermillion currents covers my aspirations in a frozen moment of


angelic smoke; with hidden fears in hand, I cross the Cerise painted river that follows me whenever the Paprika colored sun unfolds into the quickly forming morn. In my head, shapeless talons of incomprehension dig deeply into my Pomegranate


memories that are layered with regret. I fear the arrival of the Maroon mist hovering‌ hovering‌ hovering, in the soft Red glow of my unfinished story. My bones feel the chill, of the Cardinal hued past; my fading mind senses the closing of the door, the shutting of the


window, the opening of a Scarlet abyss, a hole so deep a city of absurdities could hide in it forever. I am weary of the Coral hours that bind me to the past, the Burgundy days that fall too quickly from the hurried hours of life. Where is peace for those of evaporating


years, trying to delay the dank earthen hole and cement tomb? I sense that everything is vanishing too fast as I sit with only my Magenta tainted memories to keep me company.


Adam Van Winkle Funeral Dance

Inhumation is another word for funeral but it oughtta be another word for freshman year. The dance Ike is at has turned into the sepulture he should of gone to. The mum Ike’s date wears says Homecoming apostrophe 94, but all Ike can see when he sees it is his grandfather’s obit and the sad look on his Dad’s face when Ike said he wasn’t going to the funeral. He had a date. Unbeknownst to Ike the day Ike’s dad showed up after school with the news his date wished evil on Ike with her friends in the girls locker room because Ike let slip to some buddies in the boys locker room he’d messed around with her on the school bus on the field trip. Ike Dyson is already paying for the sins of his youth with the blood of his family. The cafetorium becomes a crematorium as Ike tries to choke down powdery punch and sweats through his shirt. The lights are out. His date has abandoned him—sorry to herself she’d wished him bad but still wanting him hanged for being an ornery boy. As Ike hangs alone he hears exequies and obsequies of family over the slow dance choice. Ike Dyson feels all the worse being old enough to see he is the cause of his own funeration this night. He looks around in a sweaty and suffocated haze wondering who here will give his last rites.


Claire Kortyna Into the Wind

My best friend Daniel and I took sailing class together. We stared transfixed at the churning diagram, absorbed the interactions between wind, sail, and motion -- twisting fluidly like a gyroscope. Nautical terms salted our vocabulary: halyard, starboard, spinnaker, port. We tied foreign knots into the laces of our shoes. For several weeks we did nothing more than practice properly rigging our ships. With their sails aloft the small hulls would wriggle and squirm on the dock, itching as we were, for the water. The boats are little two-person dinghies, so we took turns skippering. Although many find it easier to master sailing with the wind at their back, Daniel and I waffled with the wind behind us. We flailed around in the water while other students glided past. Our sails luffed in shame above us, but we were unable to gather definitive grace or speed. For whatever reason we were out best, our strongest, when we sailed hard into the oncoming wind. With ropes fisted in white-knuckled hands, we’d hitch our bodies out over the side of the boat to counteract the gusts that attempted to capsize us. “Mind the boom!” I yelled each time we sharply brought the boat about. “What?” His invariable reply, just moments before it swung around to nail him in the side of the head. Unable to stop myself I’d seize up laughing while he ruefully shook off the pain and got us back on course. As we passed other boats in the water I saluted and called out a cheery, “Ahoy!” while he blushed beside me in embarrassment. I never loved him more than I did that spring, with the wind in my hair and the tiller in my hand.


The thought of capsizing terrified most of us in “Basic Sailing” class. To make us more comfortable with the possibility of “tipping ship,” each student had to practice righting a fallen boat. Our instructor toppled a dinghy not far from the docks. It was rather beautiful to watch, the capsizing: like a woman swooning, the mast drifted downward. The surrender was punctuated by a gunshot snap! - her final indignation when mast met frigid waters at last. The wreckage looked wrong and yet startlingly lovely. Limp sails rippled in the brine, boneless and carcass-like. To right a capsized boat, the sailor swims up to the centerboard, which drips a foot or so above the water, and leverages their weight atop it like they’re climbing out of a pool. This forces the boat slowly upright. When I bobbed out to the centerboard in my life-vest like a drunken apple it took several furious bouts of kicking in order to propel myself high enough out of the water to grab the damn thing. Then nothing happen. I just dangled there. I willed myself heavier, thought weighty thoughts, but the centerboard wasn't returning to the waves below. Laughing, the teacher told me I could top. He suggested that my friend and I attempt to demonstrate the two-person righting method. Daniel joined me in the water and with a seamless grace that startled us both, we rolled that ship easily back up, flopped simultaneously over the sides, and landed breathless and relieved at the bottom of the boat. Daniel and I never capsized while sailing together, but we did come close. It had been a deceptively pretty afternoon, until thick green-gray clouds curtained the sky. I’d asked Daniel if we should head back. We were further out in the bay than the other students, but they seemed unfazed. So we continued onward, forging upriver.


The gentle zephyr grew to a howl. It was my turn as skipper that day and I remember the burn of the mainsheet skidding across my palm, tiny fibers splintering into my ski. Readjusting my hold on the tiller, I looped the rope once more about my wrist. It tightened with a harsh yank that matched the clench of anxiety in my stomach. “Do you see anyone?” I yelled over deafening wind, squinting through the screen of my hair. It began to drizzle. Before I heard a reply the boat heaved to one side. Compensating I leaned so far out over the opposite edge that my lifevest splashed against the darkening waters below. We were flying, so fast that the light rain bit the soft skin of my cheeks. I could no longer quite see the docks, so I wrenched us about, hurling myself under the boom and across to the other side. Careening our boat gained incredible speed and slapped against the rising waves as we raced toward the docks. We were coming toward it too quickly, control maintained with fisted desperation. Teeth gritted, hands cramping, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop the boat. Anxious and squinting in the wind and rain, I pictured us crashing, hull shattered, flung upon the waves. Nearing the docks I pulled us parallel, loosed the mainsheet and hitched even further out to get us as close as possible. We rushed along its length. Wood was running out. The perpendicular walkway loomed ahead. I called Daniel’s name. He flung himself from the boat, rolling along the dock as I kept speeding by. He scrambled, lunged, and managed to just catch the back of the dinghy. Fingers tight around the cleat hitch, our velocity dragged Daniel along, great and terrible, scouring off skin under his forearms. Quickly he twisted so his legs were in front of him and braced his heels up against a dock post. The boat


slammed to a stop, yanked backward, and battered against the side of the landing. I unhooked the mainsheet and shuddered within the hull, tiller loose in a frozen grasp. Daniel still has a brush-burn scar on his right forearm.


Contributors Michael Bartelt Michael Bartelt was born in Pasadena, CA. He is a high school English teacher and basketball coach who makes poems. In his spare time, he’s a MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. His work has most recently been published in Coup d’etat, The Offbeat, Cacti Fur, and The Harpoon Review, and is forthcoming in Straight Forward. His chapbook “Poems for the Future President” was published in 2014 by Four Chambers Press. El El is a 24 year old Providence born and Mohawk blooded artist and poet. Battling chronic pain and P.T.S.D. via paint and pens, they are also contractually obligated to mention they are a vegan. Anne Goodwin Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, “Sugar and Snails,” about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill and longlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, “Underneath,” about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for publication in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 60 published short stories. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.


Claire Kortyna Claire Kortyna is a MFA candidate in the Creative Writing and Environment program at Iowa State University where she teaches English Rhetoric with a dash of Creative Writing. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment as the winner of the Home Voices Contest, in Avatar Literary Magazine and in Minitar Online Literary Magazine. James Platt James, a retired professor and octogenarian, is a pushcart and best of web nominee, and his poems were chosen for inclusion inThe 100 Best Poems of 2015 & 2014 Anthologies. He has published 3 collections of poetry, “The Silent Pond” (2012), “Ancient Rhythms,” (2014), and “LIGHT,” (2016), 3 novels, “The Ideal Society,” (2012), “The Monk” (2013), and “The Nostradamus Conspiracy,” (2015). 35 short stories, and over 890 poems. He earned his BS and MA from California State Polytechnic University, and his doctorate from BYU. His books are available on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Adam Van Winkle Adam Van Winkle was born and raised in Texoma and currently resides with his wife and two dogs on a rural route in Southern Illinois. Van Winkle is founder and editor of Cowboy Jamboree Magazine, a bi-annual online rag dedicated to western and rural stories with rough edges. His short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in places like Pithead Chapel, Dirty Chai, and The Vignette Review (forthcoming). An excerpt from his novel-in-


progress, “Abraham Anyhow,� appears in Steel Toe Review. Van Winkle was named for the oldest Cartwright son on the television series Bonanza. Chelsea Laine Wells Chelsea Laine Wells been published in PANK, Hobart, Hippocampus, Knee-Jerk, The Butter, Third Point Press, The Other Stories, wigleaf, and Heavy Feather, among others, and has work forthcoming from The Collapsar and Corium. Recently she won a 2015Best of the Net award. She is managing and fiction editor for Hypertext Magazine and founding editor of Hypernova Lit. You can find out more about her at www.chelsealainewells.com.


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Crack the Spine - Issue 199  

Literary Magazine

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