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Crack the Spine

Issue forty-Four

Crack The Spine Issue Forty-Four October 30, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack the Spine

Contents Jill Calvet Cleanser John Harper Clown Now Josh deLacy Running Bahareh I Am a Zebra With No Stripes Joyce Chong Deconstruction Brandon Stettenbez Script Error Mark J. Mitchell Still Life With Headache

Cover Art “Old Works� by Christine Catalano An English Lit major in college, Christine slipped into publishing by becoming the artist that had been lurking inside all along. She worked happily in graphics for many years. Now liberated from daily deadlines, she loads more ebooks than she can possibly read into her iPad, keeps her cats contented and tries to tempt her muse with camera, Photoshop, and the occasional poem. Some of her artwork has been published in Fiction at Work, the San Pedro River Review, Crack the Spine, and Mused.

Jill Calvet Cleanser

After an uneventful 15 hour flight the plane plummeted through a greenish hole in the clouds. Squeezing the worn narrow armrests, eyes glued to the tiny oval of quiet sky visible through the window, I felt the familiar urge to lick the top of a Comet cleanser can. I don’t know what’s in Comet, but I guess it's like when dogs instinctively eat grass because they feel sick. The gritty metallic tang of the neon-green powder soothed me. I looked up the contents once in a chemistry book but couldn't make heads or tails of it. The first time I stole a lick off the top of a can of Comet I was about 8. It just smelled so clean and the powder was such a pretty green, exactly like my Lik-M-Aid. I got a little jolt out of it and then felt strangely calm. I never tried more than a lick, only the bit that was left on the top after my mom had sprinkled it on the sink and only when I felt anxious. But the turbulence stopped as abruptly as it had started and the plane landed just fine in Fukuoka, the nearest big city to tiny Kurume, Japan. I had survived the flight without any help from Comet. Fine, but now I had to consider how to handle my four brand new XXL Samsonites that were bloating up the plane’s belly. There's this size problem, you see. I have never been a beanpole but I learned in Banzai! Adventures in Language training that my perfectly average size 10-12 butt was unheard of in Japan. I had to pack enough clothes to last me until the end of my one year contract, mostly tweedy skirts and scratchy nylons because working females weren’t allowed to wear pants. Walking down the gangway it hit me how much I really was on my own now, even more so than when my retard of a boyfriend dumped me. My family thought I was insane to go live in Japan when I couldn’t speak, let alone read, a word of Japanese. What’s more, it was to teach “your own language, for God’s sake” (my sister the tax lawyer’s comment). “I’ve got news for you,” my dad said, “the Japs are anti-Semitic and don’t they wanna take over the world? I give you your usual month at trying something new and then you'll come running back home.” My mom was worried because she’d heard that all the guys there had “such tiny schlongs.” As I stared at the TV hanging over the baggage carrousel I thought, I'm really here, all alone without Comet, in a strange land with strange people. I had even sold my beloved red Geo Storm. But after graduating with a BA in psychology, no one was exactly beating down my door with job offers, and

the pay at Banzai! was pretty good. Bush’s monkey face flashed on the screen. God I hoped Clinton would kick his ass in the upcoming election. At least he’d be nicer to look at for the next four years. The carrousel started to move with a loud squeak and soon my four monstrosities were calmly but inexorably making their way towards me. I struggled to get them all at once but I only pulled off two, deposited them on my cart and watched, helpless, as the other two slid right on by. The next time around a small porter wearing a white face mask popped up out of nowhere and helped me with whitegloved hands to load up the rest. I exited customs with my groaning cart, barely able to see over the top of my suitcases, and spotted a young woman dressed in a navy blue skirt, blazer, and blouse holding a sign with Shain H. and Banzai! Adventures in Language printed on it. I guess Jane must not be a common Japanese name. She didn’t even attempt Hymieblatt, just H. She had a pleasant enough moon face though that reminded me of Frosty the Snowman. This must be Tomoko, the head manager of Kurume Banzai!. While bowing and introducing herself she stole a fearful glance at my luggage cart. Straining and grunting, we managed to each take two rolling suitcases, all the more difficult for Tomoko seeing as she's wearing five inch pumps and a tight skirt. We walked out of the air conditioned oasis that is the airport into the sticky furnace of southern Japan in June at the beginning of rainy season. A smell of wet everything assaulted my nose. With help from the driver we boarded a bus and made the one hour trip from Fukuoka to Kurume in silence. I was all sweaty and exhausted and Tomoko spoke hardly any English. Not much to see out the window either as it was evening. The bus finally stopped with a lurch that woke me up in front of an enormous white statue picked out of the night sky by 5 large spotlights. It was easily 12 stories high. What looked like either oversized butterflies or bats swooped in and out of the beams of light. “Tomoko, what’s that?” “Daibutsu.” “Huh?” Long, long pause. I was about to give up on an answer when “Beeeg Buddha” came out of her mouth. I later discovered that you can climb up the beeeg Buddha, just like the Statue of Liberty. Tomoko and I half-rolled, half-dragged my luggage the few blocks that separated the bus stop from my new dwelling, scratching the hell out of my brand new suitcases in the process. After crossing some train tracks, we stopped in front of a squat five story brick building. We went in and got on an elevator not much bigger than a coffin. Surrounded by the wounded suitcases in such a small space, I

started tallying up the number of scratches on them and how much time I'd have to spend camouflaging the damage and didn’t even notice what floor we stopped on. Once the luggage was set down and had taken over the sunken area reserved for shoes at the entrance of the apartment, I could focus on checking out my new company-provided pad. Parquet covered the floor except in the bedroom where it was tatami mat. In a closet near the front door was a rolled-up futon mattress not much thicker than the blankets stacked on top of it. In front of me was a minuscule kitchen and a slightly bigger dining/living room with a low wooden table surrounded by thick brown cushions. The table was called a kotatsu, I had learned in Banzai! Training, and it had an electric heater attached to its underside. You were supposed to put a blanket over the table and sit under it to warm up, something I didn't see myself needing anytime soon with the heat outside. A small plastic pink and turquoise boxy thing that looked like a toy sat outside on a mini-balcony. “Wash machine,” Tomoko said. Last stop: the bathroom, which was truly a bath room, meaning only for bathing– the toilet had a separate room. It was a “unit” bathroom molded from a single piece of mud brown plastic. A small deep square tub with a brand new orange plastic stool and bucket in it. The shower head swiveled around to double as a faucet in the sink. I had been prepared for the bathing process: scrub like crazy outside the tub with soap, rinse all soap off with water from the bucket while sitting on stool then soak in the tub. All that here in barely 3 square feet. And, Banzai! had neglected to mention that the stool was teeny tiny compared to the perfectly average Western butt that must then also squeeze into the teeny tiny tub. But wait, that wasn't all: soon after opening the window to let in some fresh air a high-pitched clanging filled the apartment, completely drowning out the soothing shhh shhh shhh shhhhhhhhh of the summer cicadas. The clanging was followed by a screaming whoooooooosh that caused the whole building to tremble. “What the hell was that?” I said when the ringing in my ears stopped. “Train,” Tomoko said after a slightly shorter pause than before. “Stop at midnight.” Super. That meant keeping the window shut most of the stifling time. After purchasing a huge fan, I would sit by my closed window at night. There wasn’t much to do. I didn’t have a TV, meaning that I was deprived of Japanese game shows where people do things like sniff armpits and farts to guess what the person ate. At least, that's what Evelyn, the other American teacher I work with, told me. And she should know, she's lived here for half a decade.

But as luck would have it, I was to be the spectator of a real live show. The apartment directly across the narrow street from me had a large window with two red velvet curtains pulled across it. Around 10:30 each evening the curtains flew open and in a dim light a male body appeared with only a pair of nylon shorts clinging to a muscled behind and ran through a what looked like a series of karate moves. At first, I thought he didn't notice me across the black alleyway, half hidden by my curtains. But after a few days I realized that the room had a bit more light and the moves had become more theatrical. One more day and he had added a few Michael Jackson crotch grabs. Sitting on the cushion next to my kotatsu the next day, drinking my morning coffee, I wondered where this could be leading. Did I really want to know? I was almost grateful that I'd have to stay late at Banzai! that night. I worked from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., starting home by myself around 9:15. But because of a V.I.P. demo lesson, I probably wouldn’t be finished before 10:30 that night. I was discovering first-hand that nightmarish working hours in Japan weren’t a myth. In fact, it was even later when I got out of the school. The cicadas were the only ones to welcome me in the deserted street, but I had heard how safe Japan was in general and a small town like Kurume even more so which meant that I thought nothing about walking home alone. My school was in the center of town right next to a rice paddy about a 10 minute walk from my apartment. The humid air was pregnant with a vanilla smell mixed with rotting vegetation. I was already picturing myself in front of my fan and my window with a big glass of iced oolong tea when a sound like a thousand squealing pigs pulled me out of my reverie. I pulled up short in front of lowered barriers while a train whizzed past, feeling the hot wind it stirred up on my face. The decaying vanilla smell was temporarily replaced by one of tar. It was rainy season, meaning full-on stickiness. My legs were protesting being caged in their nylon prison. The sweat trapped in the fabric where my thighs rubbed together was coaxing painful red bumps out of hiding. For a second I seriously considered ripping off my nylons right then and there. After the train tracks my apartment building was just in front of me across the street so I picked up the pace. I only noticed the shape heading towards me when it passed under a street lamp a few feet away from the building’s entrance. Instinctively, I drew back. It was a man in an open raincoat wearing a baseball cap, his head down and his hand inside his coat near his pants. Before I registered exactly what was going on, he had shot his load at my feet, getting some slimy whitish goo on my nylons. I started to laugh. I mean, I’ve lived in big cities my whole life and I’ve never been so much as

flashed. I stopped laughing when the man lifted his head with a grunt to look at me. It was my karatechopping neighbor. I hurried past him, ducking my head, fishing in the pocket of my skirt for my keys and sliding them in between my fingers. I ran up the stairs in my building instead of waiting for the elevator. Once inside my apartment I double bolted the door, clawed the curtains shut and, wishing for a whole can of Comet, wondered what to do. I couldn't call Tomoko, she wouldn't understand anything, especially on the phone. I felt strange calling up Evelyn, whom I barely knew, but said to myself, screw it, maybe the fact I didn't know her that well was exactly what would allow me to tell her. As the phone rang I tried to breathe deeply to slow down my heart. I closed my eyes, opened them, looked down and saw drying white gook on my calf. Still holding the phone, I rolled off my nylons trying to avoid said spot, scrunched them into a ball and threw them under the kotatsu. “Hello!” a husky out-of-breath voice finally said. I couldn't help thinking that her voice contrasted so sharply with her dowdy appearance. “Evelyn! Omigod, you’ll never guess what just happened. This guy, my neighbor, you remember I told you about him and his karate shows. Well, on my way home tonight, I guess he was waiting for me and he, uh… he…” “He flashed you, didn’t he?” she asked, with excited interest. “Worse!” I shrieked. “Worse?” “Yeah, um, he, you know, went further with the flashing. He, well, how can I put this, he terminated his business on my pumps.» “But, he didn't actually touch you, did he?” “No, no, thank God.” “I didn't think so.” “You don't sound that surprised, Evelyn.” “Well, no, actually, I'm not,” she said, “ but you don’t have to worry. The men are rather squirrelly here when it comes to sex, especially where foreign women are concerned, and especially when they are blond and blue eyed. But they rarely act upon it. That is, not with any kind of contact with you. It always stays confined to them. Believe it or not there aren't many cases of rape in Japan.” “But... stuff like this happens sorta… regularly? To foreigners? And they think we like this, like maybe we'll go out and grab some sushi with them after?” I was calmer now, but wondering what kind of warped world I’d stepped into. Banzai! training definitely hadn't covered this.

“I don't know, it’s never happened to me personally, but he sure grabbed his sushi!” “Evelyn!” And we both burst out laughing. “But seriously,” Evelyn continued, “I have heard of foreign women being flashed,. Going, um, further than that, I don’t know. You’ve seen the mangas, haven’t you?” “The what?” “Yes, maybe not, seeing as you’ve only been here a short time. Mangas are these big thick books that you’ll see people, well, mostly men, reading everywhere. They’re like comic books, except a lot are X-rated. They depict all kinds of things, often kinky, but sometimes strange and disturbing, often with foreign women. It’s like some way of living out taboo situations, I guess.” “I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them yet.” “Yes, well, it’s disconcerting standing behind a man on a train reading one of these things full of women with big googly eyes tied up and being raped with toilet plungers and oversized squid tentacles and such.” Evelyn went on to tell me that she had even seen vending machines in plain sight selling what were supposed to be used schoolgirl panties for sniffing or whatever else. “Where do they get the panties from?” was the only thing I could think of to say. “I think schoolgirls sell them for pocket money. Call it panty money.” A pretty open acceptance of deviant behavior, the psych major in me thought. The flip side of the strait-laced Japanese stereotype. “Are you going to be okay? Do you want me to come over?” I didn't really feel like seeing anybody, so I told her I was better now and was planning on going right to bed. But lying there on my lumpy futon, listening to the cicadas and feeling the last trains of the night shake the building, I couldn't stop thinking about what could push Japanese men to these extreme behaviors and why there weren't more violent sexual crimes. Maybe mangas and panty machines were really a way to exorcise dangerous impulses? But how crazy, I thought, flashing foreigners like it's some kind of rite of passage. I got up and went to my curtained window and peeked out of the corner. The streetlamps were still on, showing the curtains shut tight in karate man's darkened apartment. The next morning I hurried to Banzai!, and without explanation, demanded that Tomoko find me a new apartment across town. She raised her eyebrows a bit then picked up the phone to call the head office in Fukuoka. So much for sexy karate man. Still, I couldn't help wondering if I would ever find out first-hand if Mom was right. I didn’t get a good look at his “schlong” that night, it was just too dark.

Jill Calvet is a writer/artist living in Normandy, France. She worked as a manager at Hot Dog on a Stick to put herself through the University of Washington in Seattle and earned a BA in Psychology, followed by a Master's at the Sorbonne (unfortunately, Hot Dog on a Stick doesn't exist in France). She has lived in Japan and has had poems published in international lit magazines. She is currently participating in various art projects in France.

John Harper Clown Now

looking for the whole face i’m so identified with; for some resolution toward approaching that ultimate hint of who i am, in the paint— i feel saddened by this sumptuous body of wisdom, that i’ll have to get going with, to death, by the basic sentence of life, moving and moving— relaxing and then yearning, relaxing and then burning— my face is a collection of faint, ivory stars— it’s taken years, feeling and behaving as a silent center-piece, for me to really seek myself

out from the audience of abundant ears and eyes, waiting, tied together, me and my clown, for the one moment’s triumph of a true stare through human eyes—

John Harper is a graduate of the Writer’s Workshop at Iowa, and has published his poetry in literary journals like Diagram, Mid-American Poetry Review, Cutbank, Spinning Jenny and Zoland Poetry. He was a book finalist with Four Way Books, and has a chapbook called "Peek-A-Boo Terrain.”

Josh deLacy Running

My long runs always start at my grandfather’s nursing home. They end, depending on the day, fifteen or twenty or more miles later at the nature preserve parking lot across the street. I visit my grandfather every Thursday after work. I change into athletic clothes and drive to the nature preserve and, despite the mud and risk of a break-in, I park there instead of in the nursing home’s immaculate lot. Today, I meet my grandfather in the lounge. The mostly-empty tables, basket of sugar-free cookies, and pots of decaf coffee and hot water match the room’s pervasive stench of age. I try to ignore the derelict man in the corner with his large-print book and oxygen tank. A muted TV on the wall broadcasts golf to an absent audience. “Codarama,” my grandfather says, shaking his head and grinning. Although we’ve met all but a handful of Thursdays for the past three years, he always seems pleasantly surprised to see me. And despite the sanitized air and bland decorations, I can’t help but smile in return. On my seventh birthday, Grampa introduced me to fishing, and later he showed me how much better hiking could be than that first soggy trip with my father. I came to my grandfather for advice about my first girlfriend, and at every track meet from middle school to college, I knew he would be watching from the stands. “It’s good to see you, Grampa,” I say. I pick a seat that puts my back to the man with the oxygen tank. His rumble-coughs remind me how far we are from lakes and hiking trails. “Things are as exciting as always here,” my grandfather says. “We all went skydiving yesterday and then a gorgeous gal bought me a drink.” My grandfather hasn’t been able to drink for years, so I smile and ignore his play for sympathy. “I’m going up Mount Rainer this weekend,” I say. He raises his thick eyebrows, long-since turned white, and I realize I reminded him of yet another activity he can no longer do. But he did it once, so I focus on the past. “You climbed that one, didn’t you?”

My grandfather’s smile flickers, but then he sighs and leans back in his chair. “Oh, yes,” he begins. I’ve heard this story before, but each time he remembers and forgets different details, and each time I get a clearer picture of what really happened. My grandfather is still imposing despite his age, three inches taller than me when he can stand straight. His face is broad and weathered from ancient sunburns and more-recent wrinkles, and his hands are thick with the remnants of old calluses. When he finishes his mountaineering story, before I can respond or ask for more details, he asks if Katy and I have any plans. “Not yet,” I say. “I barely have enough time to date her, let alone marry her. She’s a pretty girl, though.” I wink to humor him. “You can always make time for what matters,” he says. “It’s nice, having someone when you’re old.” My grandmother died between their fiftieth anniversary and my grandfather’s admittance to the nursing home, almost exactly halfway between the two events. She had arthritis, too, and for hours they would sit in matching armchairs and watch college football. “I’ve been trying to piece it together,” I say, “but I can’t figure out when exactly you lived in Idaho. When was it?” My grandfather clears his throat and frowns. “I need a cup of coffee to think that far back,” he says. I push my chair away from the table and start to stand, but my grandfather motions for me to stay. He pulls himself to his feet and shuffles on arthritic legs to the refreshment counter. My grandparents on my father’s side have arthritis, too. “Our family affliction,” my grandmother used to say before she died. A woman in a faded blue robe totters into the lounge, her hair gray and knotted. I’m surprised her frail body can support the cloth. “Dorian,” she breathes, as if my grandfather was the home’s most redeeming feature. “Is this your grandson?” My grandfather leaves his still-empty cup on the counter and guides the woman to our table, oblivious to my silent protests. “Rhonda,” he says, “this is Cody, the runner. He visits me every week. Do you remember him?” “No,” says Rhonda. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Gordy.” “Cody,” I correct her. I’ve met Rhonda several times before. I shake her tiny hand and pull out a chair for her. We all sit and I try to avoid her dazed eyes and crumpled face. “Cody’s the athlete in our family,” my grandfather says. “He ran cross country and track for his college, and now he does marathons.” My grandfather speaks slower and clearer for Rhonda.

“That’s good,” Rhonda says. “What grade are you in, Gordy?” I purse my lips and glance at the oversized wall clock. “Cody graduated,” my grandfather explains. “He’s working as a mechanical engineer, now.” Rhonda makes a clucking sound with her ragged lips. “I always thought kids should stay in school. Goodness knows we did.” She raises her eyebrows and makes a condescending face. “Cody, what times are you running now for your marathons?” my grandfather asks. “About three hours,” I say. “I had a personal best in the Seattle marathon—“ “I never liked running much,” Rhonda says. I fold my hands. My grandfather apologizes with his eyes and a fleeting frown. “You used to be quite a runner, though,” she tells my grandfather. “Here and there,” he says. “Never seriously.” “Always so modest, Dorian.” Rhonda lays a wiry hand on his arm. “Your grandpa was phenomenal in his day, Gordy. I grew up with him, you know.” Her breath reeks. I smile and stare past her, out the lounge windows that are too huge for any house. A constant reminder that these residents are incapable of independent living. That, no matter how much I protest, my grandfather is incapable of independent living. “He and my brother used to hike and fish every weekend, and I would always cook all the fish they brought back—isn’t that right, Dorian?” The lounge looks out onto close-clipped grass and scrubbed cement paths. This is the only view my grandfather ever sees. His bedroom faces the same ordered flowerbeds and manicured saplings. My grandfather indulges Rhonda with a smile. “I remember one time we came back and you were out, probably with friends or some boy, and Thomas and I tried cooking the fish up ourselves—your mother threw a fit over the pans we ruined.” He laughs, deep booms like his hymn-singing that used to make people in the pew ahead turn around. “If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t even know what good fish tastes like.” Rhonda grins and blushes, flooding her pale cheeks with garish red. When she starts to speak again, I hold my breath. Past the nursing home’s grounds lies the edge of the nature preserve, too far and too untamed for Rhonda or the man with the oxygen tank. “Grampa, I can’t stay long today,” I lie. Rhonda is in the midst of a sentence, but I keep talking. “I need to get things ready for Rainier.”

Their laughter stops and Rhonda struggles to her feet. “You two go on,” she says. “I don’t want to use up your visit with my rambling.” She shuffles away, forgetting to grab whatever drink or snack had lured her to the lounge. We watch her leave, tottering on legs that somehow seem sturdier than my grandfather’s. He clears his throat. “You know, Cody,” he says, “there’s more to a person than just her years.” This is the closest my grandfather has come to reprimanding me since our hiking trip days. I stiffen, and I think Grampa notices. “How about I tell you a new story before I leave,” he says, his voice softer. “One you haven’t heard before.” I’ve heard all my grandfather’s stories. “I’d love that,” I say. “Do you remember when I spent three days at the lake with just a tarp, fishing gear, and a few bottles of water?” It’s one of his better stories. In his senior year of college, he once skipped three days of class to go fishing. No one knew he had left, and his housemates called the police on the second day. They organized a search party and notified his family. My grandmother, who was then his fiancé, was “inconsolable. Absolutely inconsolable.” But my grandfather came home on his own while everyone was out looking for him. He went to his room and fell asleep, and it wasn’t until that morning that his housemates realized he was safe. They found him at the kitchen table with a bowl of oatmeal and a newspaper. He had just needed time to think about life, he told them. I asked him once when I was younger what he thought about during those three days, but he winked and whispered, “Love. Beautiful, helpless love.” I don’t remember any further explanation, and I never pursued it again. Love was awkward then and too personal later. “I remember,” I say. “That’s good,” my grandfather says. “The real story will take less telling, then.” My grandfather starts to speak, but then he hesitates and frowns. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I… need to collect myself.” My grandfather closes his eyes and bites his lip. Once, he opens his mouth as if to start, but then closes it and resumes his silence. I start to wonder if I he’s having some sort of stroke, but he takes a deep breath and focuses on some point above my head. “I grew up with really just two friends: Jay and Thomas,” he says. He speaks slowly and deliberately, as if inspecting each word. “Thomas was Rhonda’s older brother. She was right in what she said earlier—we fished whenever we could. During my last year in college, the two of them planned a

fishing trip up to Canada, but I was in the middle of applying for jobs and studying for exams, so the two of them went alone.” My grandfather sets his hands on the table as if unsure where to place them. He curls his swollen knuckles into loose fists. “They crashed on the drive home. Jay and Thomas. No one is sure what happened, but it was dark and raining and they collided with another car.” My grandfather hesitates between each sentence. At each pause, I expect him to abort the story. “Jay and the other driver died on impact. Thomas went to the hospital in critical condition. Paralyzed from the waist down. As soon as I heard, I came home for Jay’s funeral.” The man with the oxygen tank unleashes a string of hacking coughs. My grandfather waits for the noise to subside, then closes his eyes and resumes his story. “I visited Thomas in the hospital after the funeral. I had heard he was paralyzed, but I didn’t expect the rest. His face was torn up and he was blind in one eye, and he had broken a few ribs. We could tell he wasn’t himself, but it wasn’t until later that they discovered the brain damage. “I didn’t stay with him long, Cody—I had to leave. I told everyone I was going back to school, but after driving for half an hour, I turned around and went to my parents’ house. I knew they would both be at work. The spare key was still on top of the porch light and I let myself in, grabbed my fishing gear, and left. I drove up to our lake. The one I always visited with Thomas and Jay.” A bald and hunched man enters the lounge. But my grandfather is mesmerized by his own story, and he keeps telling his secrets. “I had a tarp and a few bottles of water in my truck and a lighter in my pocket. I hadn’t thought about how long I would stay, but when dusk came, I wasn’t ready to leave. So I built a fire and cooked the fish I had caught, and then I wrapped myself in the tarp and slept in the passenger seat. It was miserable.” My grandfather laughs, but it is dry and cracked and does not boom. “The next day I finally got around to thinking.” My grandfather shakes his head. The motion is barely noticeable. “I was angry with Thomas. Mad at him. Jay had died and gone, and I was left with all our good and sad and happy memories. But Thomas just broke. “I knew he was going to destroy our past. He was pathetic. Helpless. But I was his friend, and I knew I would have to stick with him, with this broken shadow of Thomas.” My grandfather falls silent. The hunched man had left, leaving the lounge again to the two of us and the Oxygen Tank Man. Grampa opens his eyes. “I hated him for it,” he says. His gaze drops. “And I hated myself for hating him.”

I study the fake flowers decorating our table. “That’s a problem with morality, Cody. As soon as you try to break one part of it, all the rest condemns you. I couldn’t think of myself as a good person if I abandoned Thomas. So I stopped thinking of myself as good. I exiled myself from morality.” I look up and find my grandfather staring blankly past me. The tears I had dreaded are absent. “But I wasn’t ready to go back,” he says. “I was hungry and cold and thirsty, but I needed more time. I spent another night at the lake, and in the morning, Rhonda drove up. She told me about the search party. Some people thought I was a suicide, but she guessed I’d be at the lake. She told her parents she was going to catch a fish for Thomas. She found me sitting on the shore, wrapped in that blue plastic tarp. She sat down next to me and didn’t say a thing. We stayed there for hours, looking and thinking. “Finally she said—and I remember these words every day—‘I think love is appreciating something as it is, for its own sake.’ We sat there a while more, and then she left. I left the lake soon after she did and I was okay. I didn’t see her again until the next summer, and we never mentioned that day.” I try to picture my grandfather shivering and hungry on the side of some remote lake, stripped of arthritis and surgery scars, with a mess of brown hair and a still-young body. The man with the oxygen tank starts to snore. “What happened to Thomas?” I ask. “He lived for fourteen more years, brain-damaged, half-blind, trapped in a wheelchair. We never fished together again,” my grandfather says. “But he was the best man in our wedding. And when your mother was a little girl, she loved to sit on his lap and roll around the room with him.” He hesitates. “And I loved him.” Grampa again lapses silent. I listen to Oxygen Tank Man’s snores. One of the lounge’s overhead lights is burnt out, and the fake flowers cast a half-shadow. My grandfather clears his throat and pushes his chair back from the table. Its legs scrape harsh and loud across the floor. “You should get going on that Rainier trip,” he says. His voice is controlled and I venture a glimpse at his face. He has turned toward the windows, and all I can see is his back. “I should take a nap, myself,” he says. I stand up, too. Still facing away from me, my grandfather shuffles across the lounge. He moves slowly, the pain of walking visible with each step. Down the hallway. To his room. His door clicks shut behind him.

I move to the windows and look out at the nature preserve and its hidden network of trails. Miles and miles of packed dirt, of rushing past trees and bushes and finding that flood of endorphins and the satisfaction of fatigue. I have only so long to run. I turn away from the windows, to the man with the oxygen tank. His head leans to one side and his book blankets his stomach, rising and falling with his breathing. Oversized block letters proclaim the title and author, but I recognize neither. The man breathes easier in his sleep. I walk toward him and lift the book off his stomach. I fold the corner of his page and place it on his table.

Josh deLacy is a student at Calvin College. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Underground Voices and Dialogue. During the mountaineering season, he hikes and climbs in Washington's Cascade and Olympic Mountains.

Bahareh I Am a Zebra With No Stripes I notice individuals reaching into their briefcases purses wallets and pockets digging deep to find a small piece of metal called a sim card One carries his in a plastic bag He has them in them in five different colors and nationalities She carries hers in a lipstick pouch with a variety of flavors I notice as each individual changes the sim card in their phone to match the continent and land of which they’ve landed They somehow change personalities and their tone Now I imagine people must carry hundreds of those cards under their tongues changing their views and ideas with every breath and every no wind and no shine My phone has no service and I carry no alternative sim

In March 2011, in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Iranian American Bahareh bravely took the first steps forward into taking her poetry to the public eye. After successfully launching her website her poems where described by Abu Dhabi Tempo Magazine as “living in the same world we do, yet different. A world more colorful, fantastical, and surreal and yet sometimes more grey, isolated and horrific.” Bahareh has gone on to collaborate with film directors on two poetry videos, and her first public recital led to two television features on the regional cultural channel Poet TV, and the national anchor Abu Dhabi TV introducing her as “one of Abu Dhabi’s most eclectic writers”. Her popularity gained momentum and Bahareh has been asked to recite by prestigious events such as: The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, TEDX Abu Dhabi, The Emirates International Literary Festival, and the Dubomody Performing Arts Festival to name but a few. Bahareh also hosts and recites at the quarterly Poetry Show 'Speak Abu Dhabi' held at the Abu Dhabi International Theatre. Testimonials about Bahareh from reputable Authors can be found on her website:

Joyce Chong Deconstruction In the dream, she slid out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. Her hands traced the walls to keep balance. In the mirror, her reflection was blurry and unclear. When she reached out for the tap, her fingers crumbled. They turned to bone as the little pieces scattered across the counter. Some fell down the drain with a tiny echo, others clattered across the tiled floors. Her whole body became a string of beads, unstrung. Her wrist bones pooled at the bottom of the sink, the littler pieces rolled away into the sewers. She tried desperately to stop her hand from falling apart. She grabbed her barely present left with her intact right, but it caught like a disease and began falling apart, too. Her breathing felt shallow; the air became thick and slow to absorb. A pain began at the crook of her elbow as her forearm split in two. The radius pulled away from the ulna, like a dead tree cut by lightening. They crashed to the floor with a hollow echo. She screamed as she stared down at the pieces. There was the sound of static filling her ears, a calm sound and a cold breeze. She was awoken by the smell of rain seeping in through the open window. Birds twittered noisily outside as the breeze wafted in cool and damp, causing the curtains to shift and rustle. Her heart pounded. Opening her eyes slowly, she looked down at her hands, still intact. She flexed the fingers and watched the tendons and veins shift beneath skin. She climbed out of bed and crept down to the basement. His dried corpse hung stiffly from a metal hook. The face was bandaged, along with the whole body, thin and dried. She began unwrapping the hand carefully, laboriously. She savoured the technique, just as she'd enjoyed every moment of obtaining this specimen. It was her favourite one so far, but a part of her knew that as soon as David the cab driver was a month or so old, she'd need a new favourite. She spoke to the lifeless corpse gently, as if rejecting an overeager date. "Look, it's been three days since they found your taxi. I'm sorry, Travis, but you have to go now. I just need one more thing from you..."

The right hand is exposed, flesh stuck stubbornly to rigid fingers. She pulls out her toolbox from a drawer in the adjacent table and begins to pick at the wrist, peeling the flesh off. She snapped the hand off with a loud crack, and began to take apart the bones. Stripping off the flesh was difficult, and usually took more time. She spent an hour alone in the basement, bleaching his bones and smoothing out each piece, laying them in place on the table. The human body was a puzzle to her, one she struggled to complete. Before Travis, she had managed to collect a clavicle, some ribs, and a femur. She noted the scratches on his metacarpals, his roughened knuckles told her what she already knew. It wasn't hard luring the alcoholic, but this had been her first victim from such a crowded public place. His hands told her he was a fighter, probably got into too much trouble at the bar. "See, David, no one will tell you these things in real life, but underneath I can see everything. I bet your kidney's a shrivelled mess." The bones boiled in a vat of water, and she fished them out carefully. "You're a bit ironic, aren't you? I bet a lot of your cabbie friends had to drive you home on weekend nights..." Eventually, exhaustion and the pressure in her bladder called her out from her work in the basement. She made her way up the stairs and found it completely dark inside, save for the far away flicker of a streetlight. She decided to take care of his body after a shower. It didn't matter now, though, because she'd gotten what she wanted. It took the cops another three weeks to find his body buried in a nearby forest. For those three weeks, she had went to work at the accounting firm, throwing around haphazard excuses about staying up late, working. Each time she caught herself inside that nightmare, she'd pull out his skeleton and fit each bone into place, like rebuilding a puzzle.

The cops caught her on a Tuesday night. She sat with the bones in her living room. They bashed down the door and she scrambled for cover. When she looked back, she found that one of the metacarpals were missing. "Where is it?" She said as she crawled across the floor, desperately fumbling. At the high security prison, they were told she was unstable and delusional, but no one believed the rumours when they saw the mild-mannered former accountant. She caught the attention of a brute, homicidal bank robber rather quickly. "Nice to meet you, Paul," she said, smiling sweetly, and took his hand in hers.

Joyce Chong studies health sciences in Ontario, Canada. Her interests include surrealist art, alternative music, and experimental poetry. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Corvus, Fiction365 and Short, Fast, and Deadly, among others.

Brandon Stettenbenz Script Error

Actors waltz in and out but the characters remain static— Till their steps, haunting floorboards Leech all warmth from home— Ceilings suddenly close assume judgment, echoes of empty spaces Multiply, amplified by confinement— Their assault funneled through hollow hallways without intended malice Regardless, these subsonics bound to physical law crack foundations, essence collapsing Into vast interior dimensions predestined by formulas, compiled pressures hidden between frantic heartbeats

Some syntax without equation, inherent arrays bonding our spirits to earth-anchored shells, redundancy condemning automata Living figures finger woven— Entropic components, entrenched between screaming walls

Brandon Stettenbenz, an Indiana University alumnus, has been published in Straylight magazine. A frequent participant in and organizer of literary events in Louisville, KY, Brandon is also the author of the literary arts blog “Keep Louisville Literary” (, @KeepLouLit). His poems explore the struggle of the individual within an increasingly profit-centric society.

Mark J. Mitchell Still Life With Headache

Pain taps like a hammer— once, twice, and then again— in my skull. Outside the moon, masked, waxes towards Easter. Somewhere cold arithmetic is dominating a pool table with soft clicks and curses. After hours mythical boys amuse themselves and I miss it, the way I miss a baseball when a strike is thrown.

Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologies Good Poems, American Places, Hunder Enough and Line Drives. His chapbook, “Three Visitors” will be published by Negative Capability Press later this year and his novels “The Magic War” and “Knight Prisoner” will be published in the coming months. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joahn Juster. Currently, he’s seeking gainful employment since poets are born and not paid.

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Crack the Spine - Issue 44  

Literary Magazine

Crack the Spine - Issue 44  

Literary Magazine