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Crack the Spine Issue seventy-six

Crack the Spine Issue Seventy-Six August 14, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine

Contents Rochelle Jewel Shapiro The Sticky Grid Danny Earl Simmons What If Keith James Good Things Michael Dwayne Smith There Are Angels Michel Collins So a Cougar Walks Into a Waffle House Christina Marie Glessner In a Ghost City, a Crosswalk Signal Chirps Shaun McMichael Actor Singer Model Voice Chad Anderson Because

Cover Art “No Grandpa, I Won’t Turn Off the Fucking Light” by Brett Stout Brett Stout is a 33-year-old artist and writer. He is a high school dropout and former construction worker turned college graduate and Paramedic. He creates art while mainly hung-over from a small cramped apartment in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro The Sticky Grid

The little girl felt her mother’s sorrow ooze into the kitchen like batter along the rim of the waffle iron, palest ochre blackened at the burnt edges against the silver metal. The girl knew that her mother’s pin-curled head often filled with memories of her own mother glaring at her with apple seed eyes, telling her, “You’re selfish, rotten.” But how could sorrow exist with the warm syrup welling in the waffle’s tiny squares set out on knockoff Delft? Wasn’t sorrow like gnats swirling in humid air that bit you and flew up your nose? How could sorrow be there with morning fresh-squeezed orange juice, its glistening pulp, only a pit or two bobbing in the glass? Wasn’t sorrow supposed to stalk in at night like a hissing cat, back arched? Or was that anger with its pointed teeth, spiny tongue, and drilling blue eyes?

The girl told her mother three knock-knock jokes, but her mother didn’t smile. While the girl licked the syrup welling in the waffle’s square pools, she thought of the sparrow that once flew into the open window, darting to each ceiling corner. When she tried to coax it out, it throbbed as it flew, bashing itself against the pane again and again.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) was nominated for the Ribelow Award and her newest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook) was finalist in the Indie 2013 Awards. She’s published essays in the New York Times (Lives), Newsweek, and won the Brandon Memorial Award for an essay in Negative Capability. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Stand, Inkwell Magazine, Poet Lore, Compass Rose, Controlled Burn, The Griffin, Lost Angeles Review, The Atlanta Review, Moment. Her poem, Second Story Porch, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Shapiro is a psychic who also teaches writing at UCLA Extension.

Danny Earl Simmons What If It’s a coyote howl against a Bloody Mary moon; panting awake wet from the shivering ache of a nightmare in which you'd found contentment; a cold stroll in the dark as footsteps not your own gain ground; black-sooted bricks, phallic within the smoky smolder of everything lost; dipping your toe into cobalt blue and hoping for a few moonlit ripples. It’s bumping into her, stammering at the green in her eyes, reminding her of your name.

Danny Earl Simmons is an Oregonian and a proud graduate of Corvallis High School. He is a friend of the Linn-Benton Community College Poetry Club and an active member of Albany Civic Theater. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals such as Naugatuck River Review, Off the Coast, Shadow Road Quarterly, Grey Sparrow, and Verse Wisconsin.

Keith James Good Things

“You like blues?” “No.” Aside from a couple texts and a phone call they were strangers. Garrett West and Rebecca Pierce sat in silence for fifteen minutes listening to Bob Dylan’s episode on “Folksinger’s Choice” before Garrett asked that question. Garrett wasn’t sure that he liked the album, but with it on he never missed. Now he found himself holding a shrug while finding the Pause button on his laptop. Rebecca’s lips pursed and her black-rimmed eyes crawled around Garrett’s studio apartment. There were no decorations, nothing to gather about this Southern California boy wandering out to the frontier. Other girls broke this silence by asking him that. Why here? Isn’t it beautiful in Cali? He would let out a modest laugh. The weather’s nice, but the people aren’t, he’d say every time. They’d laugh and he’d find a way to make it over to the corner of his bed they were sitting. He only needed them to start speaking. After that he could nod and repeat the right words at the right time. Girls say they want a boy who listens, but Garrett knew they couldn’t live without a boy who barely kept an interest. Rebecca didn’t ask, though. She didn’t offer anything. Aside from the springs of blonde curls, she left herself unavailable. She clicked her electric-blue heels with a high back against each other. “Can I smoke?” Rebecca asked. “Sure, outside.” She sighed. He sighed, too, as if it would make things easier if they were both annoyed at the same thing. It’s cool to be distant, Garrett. It’s cool to hate things. Tell her she’s boring and walk out, Garrett thought. Of your own apartment? He watched the muscle in her smooth jaw flex. She was the only one so far that looked like her profile. All the girls in this town found a way to make their cameras get them in shape. They’d show up at the door looking like fun house mirrors of themselves. Garrett would sigh like the skinny thing on his bed and he’d watch the country-loving fat girls’ hearts tear a bit. It was always easy. But Rebecca looked good in person and was bored with him instead. Maybe other guys like a chase, but if Garrett could just take that thing in the blue heels he would.

He ran a slight hand through his mop of brown curly hair that made girls around here think everyone from San Diego was born five minutes from the beach. Rebecca looked over with a blank expression. It was like watching another car meet the threshold of a terrific pile-up. She was cold and calm, but her hands were locked tight on the oversized purse hanging from her shoulder. If Garrett thought about that purse for a second longer he could have noticed it made her look a bit older, and like a string from a wool sweater, he could have noticed everything about her was older than it should be. *** Rebecca didn’t think about him too much. What he did, sure. What he did took up most of her thoughts. But that dying tree of a body, the cratered face; it was just a vessel for bad things. Bad things skip from men to men like colds in the winter. Ain’t a promise more foolish than a man who claims he’ll always be good to you. Joe Shoemaker would herd Rebecca’s mama into the bedroom they shared and lock the door. He’d tell Rebecca to go outside or something, they’d just be talking. Rebecca would hold on to her mama’s soft legs and ask her for anything that might keep her out of that room. Her mama would bend down and play with her hair. She could feel hands tremble against her skull as she was told mama wouldn’t be gone long. Joe’s got a secret for me, baby. If you’re good and go outside, maybe I’ll tell you, she’d say. Rebecca moved her mouth to make a smile, and with a hidden sigh, her mama would walk into the room and Joe closed the door behind them. Rebecca would sit with her back softly against the door and listen for things. Mama worked as a nurse and would come home with stories about patients making a fuss, knocking her around a bit. One hit me so hard my eye swollen shut, she’d say. Rebecca would pull on a little blonde curl, making sure she didn’t meet eyes with Joe, squeezing his thumb on a cigarette butt being flattened on an ashtray. He was leaned up against a fridge with nothing posted on it. When it was just Rebecca and her mama there were a couple pictures, a few phone numbers. But to Rebecca, one day her mama went to the casino at Fort Hall, came home with Joe, and everything on the fridge disappeared. Joe wants you to have this dollar so you could go get some candy at the store. Isn’t that nice, mama’d say. Joe would hang his eyes on Rebecca and nod slowly. Before she left their trailer in Chubbuck, she’d put the dollar with the other ones in a shoebox under her bed. …

Lord, them magazines right. Kids today ain’t like they used to be. Billy Okafour thought this to himself as he sat in the same plastic chair he took from a wedding reception in ’89 that was now in his Pocatello office in a clothing store nobody bought clothes at. It was two blocks off the entrance of Benton Street just under the bridge where the Union Pacific would come through and shake the buildings. There was no parking outside. Wild dogs would corner people walking by and growl at them for food. After the dogs, homeless folks would do the same thing. Little girl--maybe fifteen?--sat on the other chair stolen from that wedding. Billy took a swig from a two liter Crush bottle and tried to not look surprised. Her head was cocked to the side; her eyes were wide, more bright than those the blond curls touching the edge of her shoulders. She looked scared a bit. But she knew where she was. In between them was what she asked for: .44 Magnum. Three bullets. Billy set the Crush down. He didn’t want to ask her how she found this place. It was a dumb question; you don’t find this place. Someone tells you about it. He didn’t want to know who told her. He didn’t want to know what his customers did with what he gave them. If the cops ever found this place he liked knowing that he didn’t have any other secrets to hide. He cleared his throat, which brought Rebecca’s eyes to his attention. Billy leaned back in the chair, briefly looked around at the clothes that covered anyone’s sightline into the window. Afrika Bambatta was wobbling a speaker on a desk behind him. “You break your piggy bank for this?” Billy said. Rebecca looked at him up and down, quietly challenging every bit of him. Billy tucked his little smile to bed. Rebecca dropped a shoebox next to him, unfolded the top lid keeping the box closed, and began counting four years’ worth of one dollar bills. *** Maybe that floppy haired boy is nice, she thought. She could hear him through the bathroom door. After he stopped the music he left, mumbling. He’s trying to be nice. She wasn’t used to hearing music with things like this. To Rebecca they didn’t go with one another. Music was nice. She also never talked to a college boy like him. If her mama every found out she was in a college boy’s house she would have been bent over and spanked her until both of them hurt. Maybe one day, she’ll know this was all… What if he was nice? She stared at the door while feeling the cold metal in her purse. He’ll tell you he loves you every night until he has to leave this town. And he ain’t gonna take you. Rebecca’s mind was cut off by Garrett’s phone going off. Rebecca leaned over just enough to see the screen. Girls names. Lots of pictures. Where are you Gary? I miss you.

The metal in Rebecca’s hand got warm as she came down with a verdict. She opened up her legs and put on a smile for Garrett to come back to. Men come with a sickness. Ain’t no man safe from it. She leaned over to his laptop and clicked on the first song she could find, and whatever it would be, it would be loud. *** When Joe stumbled into her room and threw himself down on the corner of her bed, Rebecca knew what was coming. He let it drag, though. He rocked the cold glass of water he just poured from the sink. Outside was a dead winter that made the pipes push water with bits of ice still floating in it. Joe went out for the night, but now he was back in Rebecca’s room with a film of sweat on. He took a sip from the glass, making sure the water went down his throat loud enough for her to hear. “I’m gonna be marryin’ your mama.” He said. Rebecca gripped the pillow she placed on her stomach. She knew that he didn’t need to hear her agree. He stopped himself, and went to his glass again. The room was dark; the posters Rebecca hung up to keep everything looking normal were only dark shadows now. Joe grabbed one of her toes, lightly squeezing it. He cracked a wide enough smile to let a tooth out and hang on his lower lip. Rebecca could smell the sour warmth of his breath taking over the room. “Your mama is gonna be my property. And as you’re hers…” The smile got wider. Rebecca looked up from the little pillow in her hands and met his gaze with eleven years’ worth of disdain. Her top lip wilted in and died. She looked at his uneven pupils that seemed to block out any of the white in his eyes. Joe’s shoulders calmed. He licked his lips. For four years after this night—almost every night— Rebecca knew that this was Joe getting ready for something. “We’re gonna fix that look, shug.” *** One dollar bills? You got to be… Billy knew better than to think that. Money was money. Nobody was walking around with four hundred in all ones if they ain’t up to no good, he thought. She’s probably one of those strippers off Yellowstone and don’t like her boss none too much. Wouldn’t be the first time one of them came in for him. He looked at her again. Big blue eyes stuck on a hand cannon. She was a baby. And those arms couldn’t keep her on a pole for two seconds. “You know how to use this thing?” “I’ve seen it done in some movies.” She said. He didn’t notice that was the first thing she said, except for when she came in (Are you the gun man?). Billy laughed a bit. “Them movies ain’t gonna teach you nothin’. If you end up using this thing you’re gonna pull that hammer back—not right now—you know how to load it?” She didn’t say anything and went back to staring at the gun. Billy figured this might be a

good time to give the money back and kick her out. Let her be a kid some. But there was something about the way she spoke that made him feel funny. The way those blue eyes could keep a gaze. He had a couple nieces and nephews around her age. They’d wander off and tell you about dreams. This girl didn’t have dreams. Only plans. Billy would also be the first to say he wasn’t no CSI guy, but he knew that blood turned a bit orange after it’s been washed a few times. Hard to get out. Right under that soft chin on the high collar of what should have been a Sunday dress Billy saw that telling color. He pulled his chair close to her, popped the switch to free the cylinder and told her that the bullets go in like this, unless she wanted to blow her little hand off. He forced himself to keep a little distance, letting her hold the gun while he pointed at the parts. *** Garrett was in front of his bathroom mirror seeing what was wrong. He didn’t see anything off. He looked perfect. She’s the problem. If she could find anything better in this sad town she would be wherever it was. But she’s here. What she’s being is ungrateful. Apart from bone structure, that hick on his bed was no better than the rest. You’ve seen cherry blossoms in Japan. She’d be lucky to see an Inand-Out. Garrett ran his hand through his thick hair as he watched himself in the mirror. Garrett opened his bathroom door. Allison Kraus and John Prine were singing a duet with the volume turned up. Rebecca was facing him with her legs open, exposing a hot pink thong. She was smiling, thank God. “I never thought you’d come back.” It came out of Rebecca’s mouth ten years too early. It had scratch and silk. “Aren’t you going to sit?” She asked. “We could talk first.” “I think you’re a smart enough boy to do both.” Garrett sat on the bed like it was a pail of rusted nails. Rebecca made herself look soft and safe; she touched him lightly on the bicep with the hand that wasn’t dropping the purse away from his sight. “On second thought Garrett, you talk too much. Why don’t you grab that light and let’s do something else.” Sometime between him jogging to the light switch next to the front door and back to his twin bed, Rebecca managed to pull the gun from her purse and find Garrett’s head in total darkness. *** Before Rebecca got to her room she rested her hand on her mama’s door. The noises she heard earlier would come back again. No amount of hate could make any of what happened a couple hours feel normal. But that cold part of her heart kept her legs feeling light, and the killing machine at her side not too heavy.

Her mama was sweet, though. Mama was delicate and the sounds would be too much if she didn’t know. Part of Rebecca wanted to open the door and play with her hair as she knelt beside her bed. Mama, I’m gonna fix everything tonight. All Rebecca got out was a whisper that didn’t go past the paint on the thick door. She was in her bed now hugging the pillow like she always did before Joe would come home. One headlight from Joe’s Ford F-150 pressed against her back. Rebecca took one small arm off the pillow and reached under her sheets for the gun. She could hear Joe stumble into the kitchen and flip the handle to the tap; water hit the glass and changed pitch as the level rose until it came to a stop. Joe’s feet began to move. Rebecca Pierce clicked the round into place just like Billy in Pocatello taught her, and waited. *** Something forced Billy out of a protocol that kept him safe for more than twenty years. Her sitting in that chair made him think about growing up the one black kid within 50 miles. Ain’t nothing black about that little girl—she made it look like Chubbuck didn’t have no sunlight—but those restless blue eyes could as well been the dark brown ones on a younger Billy Okafour just after getting hit with sticks by the white boys all recess. They’d tell him his Nigerian parents talked funny. Teachers would laugh and shake their heads. Sometimes things didn’t try to be good. But now he might be hearing sirens and have to consider their distance. He was fiddling with the radio a bit, hoping he could get it out of being between two stations. He trained his ear on a Johnny Cash cover of a Soundgarden song he used to hear at the bars out in town. It made his shoulders tense like a younger man. “What’re you gonna do with a thing like that?” Just outside, a sixteen-wheeler let out a dull sound as it shifted lanes. No horns honked, no tires screeched. It was seamless, methodical. Rebecca’s pale cheeks puffed out a bit as her head sunk. The blonde curls bounced then set. Her eyes focused on the barrel.

Keith James is an undergraduate student at Idaho State University. According to strangers, he enjoys hiking, painting, and volunteering at soup kitchens. According to friends and family, he is a liar. Keith does not believe in ghosts, but prefers to be in a dead sprint when the lights are off in the hallway. This is his first time writing for Crack the Spine.

Michael Dwayne Smith There Are Angels There are angels who might come or might not Rains shine and keep the body turning Winds dark between the bed, the street, birdless sky I’m a soldier at war with secrets and happiness I’ve been up and down all night We’re a couple quite unlike ourselves We drove back to Desert Moon Motel together There are angels who speak and some dumb Light has tedious work ahead today Shadows leave us to continental breakfast drinkies I’m tipsy Jesus and should stop right here I save waitresses with Irish coffee and cigarettes We’re a couple of runny eggs, over easy We surround ourselves with bacon fat and hash

There are angels idling in pickups in parking lots as the Mexican maid makes cheap beds with chaffed hands and marriages make their excuses I’m at war, so unlike the desert tortoise I’ve turned them on their backs in tender sun We’re already crowded with ruined light We won’t coax sleeping birds from our throats There are numb-skulled angels pulling their hell-bent squeaky trucks out and onto forgotten highways There are angels who might come or might not

Michael Dwayne Smith is a California desert native and graduate of the creative writing program at U.C. Riverside. He’s the poetry editor at Cease, Cows Literary Journal and has been a professor since long after the cows came home. His work has won both the Hinderaker Prize for poetry and the Polonsky Prize for fiction; poems and stories appear in journals like burntdistrict, Word Riot, decomP, >kill author, Heavy Feather Review, Monkeybicycle, and The Cortland Review. He lives near a ghost town with his wife and rescued animals.

Michel Collins So a Cougar Walks Into a Waffle House An Essay

It hit me as we flew by Larry Bird Country on I-65 heading north for Indianapolis. Blaring John Mellencamp’s Small Town about a half hour outside of Seymour I realized how ridiculous it was for three people born and raised in a city (though I’m sure there are plenty that would say Indy is barely a village) to lament their pride and joy over a small town they had never lived in, nor would die in. Yet I couldn’t get over feeling some unnatural connection to the song. I couldn’t quite place it for a while until it occurred to me that people go to Waffle Houses for the same reason they listen to John Mellencamp, because it’s real. Or at least feels that way. Two of my friends and I were coming back from a week long camping trip along the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Just hours beforehand we had been searching for a local diner to eat at in one of the small towns we passed on our way through to Louisville. It seems every town from Stearns to Evansville is required to have at least one bait shop and Dollar General, but more lenient on the diner quota. Sometime before Lexington and heading east, we settled for a Waffle House before hitting the interstate. For those who have yet to experience a Waffle House (though I find that hard to imagine if you have traveled anywhere in the South or Midwest as it is the third biggest chain seen off every interstate highway behind McDonalds and Subway), I can best describe it as a Disneyesque version of what we are told 50’s diners were like. There’s booth and bar seating overlooking the open grill that fills the air with hash browns and bacon grease. Its physical size and aesthetic appearance seem to blatantly mimic Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. The food is always neither terrible nor great, but stuck in some limbo state in-between. Like most other 24 hour joints that serve breakfast at any time it seems to attract the same demographic of third shift workers, cultural hipsters, and truckers. Like most corporate franchises each Waffle House sports the same floor plan, same menus, same coffee mugs, same uniforms, same signs in the bathroom, and even the same way their bacon seems to curl. While at the same time Waffle House sells the aesthetic that each individual Waffle House is unique and one of a kind. It’s not whither Waffle Houses are authentic or inauthentic (as it is clearly marketed and accepted as an inauthentic attempt to recreate some preconceived vision of what a real diner is), but why people are attracted to these clearly manifested attempts at authenticity.

The question of authenticity is hardly a new one, and I’m making no attempts to challenge Nietzsche or Kierkegaard. However I find the question of authenticity far more interesting in smaller more specific avenues of American culture than in broader forms like religion. American culture seems obsessed at attempting to replicate authenticity to almost uncanny valley like proportions. So why does it create a sense of irrational fear and repulsion in things like dolls and CGI movies (Polar Express), but creates a sense of comfort in places like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? It’s the same reason Marty McFly freaked out when he realized he was in the same diner as his dad. Up to that point in Back to the Future Marty was in a dream like sense of disbelief about traveling back in time to the 50’s. He was still able to hold on to a sense of reality (like Leonardo with his spinning top in Inception) by seeing familiar things he could rationalize with like the Hill Valley Square, cars, and cups of plain black coffee. However seeing his teenage dad ripped him out of his dream like state into realizing the reality of his situation. This is why you don’t freak out when walking about Hogsmeade, because you see trashcans full of unmagical waste and feel the Floridian sun (or possibly because you realize the universe was created by a very posh English woman). Everyone familiar with the Uncanny Valley Theory gets that there’s a certain arc of reality we agree upon and wink at each other as a society as being authentically inauthentic (John Mellencamp, Waffle Houses, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter fit into this category). We find comfort in these things we all know collectively to be wholly inauthentic, yet give us a sense of connection to another world or time. I can’t help think about this every time I see a middle aged white guy wearing a Magic Johnson throwback jersey or when I try to slide out one of those fake drawers that have a handle but don’t actually open. It’s the same feeling I got when I looked over and noticed the jukebox in the Waffle House to be CD filled with a digital touch screen. So why do we hear people complain about the inauthenticity of places like Chinese buffets and Olive Gardens? Both promote a similar inauthentic authenticity through marketing (I believe Olive Garden still uses the slogan: when you’re here, you’re family, clearly advocating the big all-encompassing Italian families that never really eat at Olive Garden) and décor (traditional Chinese music and art being displayed heavily in every buffet I have eaten at). For some reason we draw lines at what we agree upon to be acceptably inauthentic and unacceptably inauthentic. When my visiting family from Denver came into town one time, we asked them which they would rather eat at, Olive Garden or Steak and Shake. I remember them choosing Steak and Shake by a landslide on the grounds that it was real place to eat. I thought it was due to there being no Steak and Shakes in Colorado at the time. Though now I look back at it as Olive Garden breaking some unwritten cultural authenticity rule.

So it’s not that Steak and Shake provides some truer form of authenticity. It’s that Steak and Shake never tells us what is authentic, real, or true. Steak and Shake lets the American cultural psyche decide for itself what is authentic and inauthentic. It’s why Bostonians loved watching Larry Bird mow his own grass. It’s why three city slickers shout John Mellencamp lyrics from the top of their lungs. And it’s why people will continue to go to Waffle House at 1 AM for an order of bacon, eggs, and hash browns (extra bacon). Only amateurs go in for the waffles.

An anthropology graduate of Indiana University Michel tends to write about the American cultural psyche. He finds archeology, barber shop culture, and the art of the donut fascinating.

Christina Marie Glessner In a Ghost City, a Crosswalk Signal Chirps driveways stop after a few feet and turn into lawns turned into forest Around the perimeter of town a highway is empty a crack splitting it wider each day Kids peer inside, leave tennis shoes lining the crack in minutes, come back to melted rubber There are some who say there is no permanence to what we do but 300 feet below a vein of coal has burned for 100 years Plumes of smoke seep out of earth stream around the old cemetery meet with fog on a cloudy day

Christina Marie Glessner received her BA in Creative Writing at Susquehanna University and is currently working on an MFA in Fiction at the University of New Mexico, preparing to defend her story collection in the spring. She is the current Managing Editor at Blue Mesa Review. This is her first publication in poetry.

Shaun McMichael Actor Singer Model Voice These were the descriptions you listed below your name on your casting card. The one you pulled out of your purse and slid across the table to me, after I’d asked you what kind of theater you’d done. This question of mine was precipitated by your admission---let’s face it, confession---about acting on the side to your office job in Marketing, the main capacity in which I know you. I don’t know why you did it. Flashed me this incongruously intimate slip. I think I saw you think better of it midway through the reflexive gesture—which would have made sense if I was an agent or a theater director. But I wasn’t. I was Brad from Sales. And this was a benefits update meeting. The card had your face on it. Looking done up and dashing as a prom queen. The reddish hue on the matte finish and your swirling hair made you look like a cream colored rose with eyes. I looked at the back and saw your full, very married, name—Melanie Shubert Hantz. And all the things you were. Actor Model Singer Voice. The attributes were all lined up together on the card. Like pop dream identities God let you pick out from the aisles of his toyland in a kind of pre-life haze. Reading them made me wish I had a similar card reading: Drop-out, Bar hopper, Hubby, Rep. My autobiography in five words. My wife said she’d read an anthology of those once, but could only remember one by Hemmingway about baby shoes for sale, never used. Your card also had your phone number on it. You saw me notice. I flipped the card over to look at your picture again. I heard you squirm a little. Shift in your wool pants. Snicker self consciously. You were laughing at yourself for bothering to show me. Maybe you were laughing at me for being voyeur enough to look again right in front of you. Now what? I thought to myself. Slide the card back and make you feel like a ditz? I didn’t feel like watching you bashfully stashing it back into your clutch. But I also didn’t feel like creeping you out by pocketing it. What’s his wife going to think if she finds that? I didn’t want to give you the satisfaction of thinking yourself a home wrecker. You’re way too sweet. Way too ordinary. I wasn’t going to let you get tickled pink. You didn’t deserve it.

So I let it sit in the middle of the table, refusing to look at you for the next half hour as we heard about our portfolios and diversified retirement plans. Meanwhile, I hatched a perfect lie to save us both. “Say,” I began. “Do you mind if I show your card to a friend whose thinking of re-doing his? His are glossy. And so. Well. L.A.” You were happy to oblige. “But they’re really nothing special. Just the Free 200 business card thing online. But once I got to designing them, I hated their free templates, so I paid the ten dollars to get the better one.” “They got you with the buy up, huh?” “Yeah, good sales right?” I remembered you coming out to the showroom once about a month ago. On some assignment. You were impressed by my field work. And honest about your lack of people experience. Which I admired. You asked me some flattering, but starry eyed questions about outcomes and about buyers. All the wrong questions in my opinion. And, like a cat distracted with a ball of yarn, you started checking your phone the minute I began talking about what we actually sell. You had a weird forehead. But I liked how thin you were and your ballet dancer’s posture. Which I know now is from your acting classes. You looked like someone existing to be seen by other people watching—me in this case. You looked back at me full on with your eyes as if waiting for me to define you. Your eyes were brown. Like my wife’s. Actor Model Singer Voice. My wife is none of these. Her card reads: Tom Boy, Laureate, Barista, Bride. If you’re living for people all the time, who are you when you’re by yourself? My wife’s the answer to this. She’s herself and no other. Regardless of who’s watching. She’s body, being, soul. And because of this, she doesn’t like more watchers than she can help and makes herself as plain as she can to ensure this. It’s limiting for sure and we’ve had more than half of our fights about it. But I was the only one to ever break through that, motivated by mystery I guess. Only I will ever know her fully. This keeps me slightly separate from everyone I meet. Including you, whoever you are. The meeting broke up. I tossed your calling card in my bag so I could shred it when I got back to the office. But I went out for a beer by myself after the meeting and didn’t make it back to the office (and shredder) that day.

I set your card out on the countertop and looked at the names of things you said you were. Things of course, you weren’t really. Things you were for a moment many years ago maybe. Things too numerous and ideal to ever pan out in this world at once. I told myself not to look at your picture again. I downed my beer. I flipped over the card and looked at your picture again. I found myself talking to you. That’s where we are now, I’m afraid. “So what else do you do?” your voice asks. “Exist,” I reply. Kind of Bogarty I know. But impossible to argue with. “Come on. Tell me. Are you a writer? You seem like a writer,” your voice asks. “I’m nothing.” I think about leaving you there at the bar. But I don’t want some stranger picking you up. Especially if that stranger was you. If by chance you were to find yourself staring back at you, it’d make you feel bad. It would also reveal my lie without my motivations of saving us from something bad. You might envision me at the bottom of a glass of beer having just had a conversation with your picture. Which would flatter no one. Flattery is our main duty to acquaintances. We leave things like contempt and vulnerability only to those who are intimate and committed to hurting and loving each other. So I put you back into the bottom of my bag. I put you there at the bottom of my bad so I can see your distant eyes occasionally. Staring up at me from the bottom of the place I go to look for things. So that in that moment, one that occurs every other day or so, I can say ‘no’ to knowing you. And in doing so, tell you who I really am. Husband. That’s the only thing on my card. For now.

Shaun McMichael lives with his wife and cat in Seattle. He teaches creative writing and zine creation to homeless youth in the U-district and runs the blog Zine Project Seattle, which features poetry and artwork from street youth in crisis. Shaun’s writing has also appeared in Scissors and Spackle and online at Pongo Publishing.

Chad Anderson Because

Because of my family history. That is to say, because I am a lot like my father. Because I consider myself a good time as is. Because when we were younger, my brother and I made each other a promise that he never kept. Because I’ve never called someone lover or friend with my hand gripped around their throat. Because I like what we said tonight and I want us to have meant it tomorrow. Because cars kill more people than guns in this country and I’ve never owned a loaded gun. Because someone has to drive you home. Because when you ask me why I don’t, I will tell you and you’ll say “Wow, I really respect you for that”. And when I ask you why you do, I won’t.

Chad Anderson is a poet and teacher from the Jersey Shore. His work has been published in The Barbershop Chronicles (Penmanship Books 2009) and Aim for the Head (Write Bloody 2011). Excerpts from his poetry have recently been quoted in The New York Times. In 2009, he coached the first National Poetry Slam team to ever consciously choose to drop out of semifinal competition.

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Crack the Spine - Issue 76  

Literary Magazine

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