Crack the Spine Literary magazine
Crack the Spine Literary magazine Issue Eighty-Seven October 30, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine
This issue of Crack the Spine is generously sponsored by Outskirts Press
Beth Nelson The Man on the Bridge Carol Bell Continuum Jane Whittington Packages Brian Alan Ellis So Long Shakespeare Victoria Peterson-Hilleque Walking to Meet Dorothy Alyce Lomax Game Theory Aidan Badinger The Widget Farmers Angela Allan Uppity Goats
Beth Nelson The Man on the Bridge I’m beginning the third layer of my watercolor painting. This is the aquamarine layer, over a crimson red spread across yellow. The order doesn’t matter; this is just the way it goes today. The sun is hot, so between layers I lie back on a bed of ivy and ruminate. Obsess perhaps, or so says Wally. Wally likes to stand above me, watch my blonde hair spread out like a forest of kelp in the sea. When I obsess, he says, my lenses move back and forth under my closed eyelids like the pendulums of grandfather clocks. I’m painting the floodwaters gushing below the Third Avenue Bridge. My morning has burned away like so much kindling, even in this saturated place. The bridge is not crossable. Pounding waves erode the abutment, the piers no longer stable. I should have crossed much earlier, days before, but I lingered on this side too long. I can see now a man breaking through the barriers set to stop traffic. He’s forced the yellow girder aside, climbed through. He hauls a parcel from the other side, something lopsided and bumpy wrapped in a golden tarp. He’s walking backwards, pulling the bundle by the plaited rope woven through grommets. I drizzle water over the lower third of my painting, more on the left than the right. I want to blend the colors. An orange haze creeps up the paper. Little veins emerge, moving against gravity. They intersect with the aquamarine and form brief horizontal lines, a code of some sort. On my palette, I mix burnt sienna with copious amounts of water, then fill my size 8 blunt round brush. The paint has a will of its own. I roll the paint back and forth, tilting the paper from side to side, careful not to cross into the space I’ve left empty in the center. I consider filling the void with the absurd little man crossing the bridge. He’s sheared the rope on jagged rocks that had washed onto the bridge when the creek crested. He struggles to hold his load together. Every knot he ties unravels. Wally must be wondering by now where I’ve gone off to. My cell phone has been dead two days and my picnic basket contains only cellophane and onions. The floodwaters are dark with rage, cursing against the creekbank. Too thick with sludge to drink. Yesterday, I saw a cow floating by with a red bandana tied around her neck. Her big round eyes pleaded with me to free her from the current. I have three sheets left on my watercolor block. This includes the painting in progress. My father tells me the best paper is cold pressed. Each year he sends me nine twenty-page blocks of 140 lb
Arches. I tell him every year I will not be painting one-hundred-eighty pieces. He says I set limits before I begin and that has always been my problem. My father knows no limits. There’s an incessant prickle crawling down the right side of my back, reaching past my hip and crossing over my belly. Wally has warned me about daydreaming on ivy. The poison kind may appear innocent at times. Perhaps urushiol has invaded. The oil pervades, attaches without warning. I pull a blade from my bamboo brush-mat and scale the detritus of my contaminated flesh away. I notice the man on the bridge is losing his patience. He’s begun tossing his belongings into the water. It’s still raining upcreek. Just eight miles away, a torrent of water falls. People continue to sump pump basements and drive through water too deep. Firefighters risk their lives to pull men, women and children—sometimes dogs—from waters intentionally violated. The death count climbs. Houses wash away. Water rises at the drycleaners, causing dirty laundry to fill the streets. I admire the effect of burnt sienna on the page. Cast iron gray clouds obscure the sun, making the drying process tedious. The distance across is growing larger for the man on the bridge. He’s shed all the wares he can tolerate and pulled what’s left of his rope taut. Already tainted, I lie back on the ivy and rest. I wake to a bilious rumbling, the noise, the earthy smell, moving layers of soil seeping out from under the place where I’d slept, spilling into the creek. I reach for my brushes and block, but they escape into the waters. I roll over and do a pushup into a stand, scamper higher, the shoreline disappearing. A wall of water advances from the north, a creek too high. The face of the man on the bridge goes white. He’s frozen in time just a moment, then bends to grab the rope. I shout, but the roaring water blunts my voice, “Just leave it! Run! Just leave it all behind!” The water so fast, the words too late. The man, along with my bed of ivy, has washed away. Nothing I came with remains. The bridge has shifted, tipping upcreek, providing for me a nearperfect view of its deck. The burden of the man on the bridge has slid to the edge, hovers over the creek, the weight lugging it overboard with a great splash. I climb further up the hill. There’s a playground two blocks down, close to the school, just past the rose gardens. I remember seeing a drinking fountain somewhere, somewhere near the teeter-totters.
Beth Nelsonâ€™s writing has been published in American Literary Review and Camera Arts Magazine. She has had the privilege of attending artist residencies at Jentel, near Sheridan, Wyoming; The Hill House, near Mancelona, Michigan; and Brush Creek Ranch, near Saratoga, Wyoming, where she also served as Interim Director in the winter of 2013. In 1995, she served as an Associate Fiction Editor for Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Beth was recently accepted into The Book Project, an innovative program developed by The Lighthouse Writers Workshop Literary Center, Denver, Colorado, to assist dedicated writers in completing and publishing manuscripts. Sheâ€™s trekked in Nepal, gone on photo safari in Kenya, and tramped the backwoods of New Zealand. She and her husband David once lived as expatriates in Saudi Arabia, and later, parented a foster child. Today she resides in Centennial, Colorado and continues to work on her short story collection, "Rurality."
Carol Bell Continuum Did Ludwig van Beethoven dream he was a music critic whose impatience insisted, The crescendo is impertinent and must be allowed to growl in full force, never to be muted like the song of a sparrow? Did Nathanial Hawthorne dream of crawling inside word-houses full of nuances and guilt? Did his eyes seek the deepest darkness exposing both history and hope? Did Gustave Moreau paint his dreams? And if he did, did he whisper, I will live forever in a world of intricate ideas, designs, and colors? Did Sigmund Freud dream while sleeping on a park bench, where icy snow gathered around his body? Was he mumbling,
I understand, I understand? Did Albert Einstein dream the death of time as he rode in a continuum while repeating, Time is nothing like the tiny steps we take when we believe in the linear? Did James Baldwin identify with hungry sparrows, houses designed with words and darkened windows, dreams, and the forever color of snow-cold yearnings, ideas, and designs? Did he understand the fear of sleeping in the cupped hands of tomorrow while recognizing the death of time? Did he dream of wearing a white suit, a white shirt, and a bloodied heart?
After studying biology and chemistry at the University of Colorado, Carol Bell worked for many years as a pharmaceutical chemist. Once retired, she chose to abandon her life of analysis, gas chromatographs and titrations to live on a hay ranch on the Western Slope of Colorado where she could focus on writing poetry, short stories and non-fiction. She studied at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado where she earned a degree in English. She has studied with Colette Inez, Christopher Merrill, Amy Irvine, Dr. Barry Laga, and Craig Childs. Her work has appeared in Amarillo Bay, Bayou, The Broome Review, California Quarterly, Cape Rock, Forge, Mobius, Pilgrimage Magazine, RiverSedge, Soundings East, Studio One, and Talking River among others. Her first non-fiction book, "Soldier # 37483425; Memories of WWII," will be available in book stores soon.
Jane Whittington Packages The afternoon is almost silent. The analog clock ticks on the table Beside me. The black kitten I call Blue breathes in sleep, a circle of silk Close to my leg on the couch. My fingers tap the keys of my laptop computer. My cellphone sounds its jangled clang. There is no pleasant tone one might choose. But I don’t hate it today. Not so much. And it’s Comcast, my Internet service provider. The caller reads from a script. I’m not stupid. I put her on speaker. I endure. She’s a speed talker, a bowling ball of words Spun against interruption: The forty-two Dollar package I have will, in twenty days, Increase, wizard-like, in value And will cost fifty-two dollars. But, what luck! They will throw in higher speed wireless, Three months of HBO and a phone. And this new package and price won’t change For six months, when it will inflate to
A sixty-nine dollar package that will last A second six months before the cost rises to Over a hundred dollars, and this is the moment At which the ball hits the pins. I tell her I don’t have a package. I have wireless, only, And I do not want cable or HBO at any cost, and I don’t want
A phone since, clearly, I already have one. But I’m wrong, she says. My package of only wireless Will cost more in three months than her new Package will cost in six months and so, she says-And this is when the deadwood is raked From the far end of the lane—that going with the new package Is a no brainer. I answer, quietly because I don’t want To wake the kitten, that she’s wrong. It is a brainer. I tell her I will discontinue the service I have Rather than—and my voice rises here—pay Seventy dollars more for the same service, And she says that’s fine, in her voice a lilt of pity at my loss, And she hangs up. She knows, smug little person, That I will have to call Comcast and argue and they will win And I will pay. Absurdly, though I know her job is boring And might not pay enough for her to buy any package, I hate her. I think of my no-longer husband, On the phone with these people, how I heard him
Make deals and decisions and I didn’t listen. How, through a decade of marriage, We had wireless and cable and phones, And I don’t know how to do this because he did it. And not so absurdly, because he didn’t explain a single thing Before he left me in search of a better package, Maybe just a better deal, I hate him, too.
Jane Whittington writes poetry and fiction. Her flash fiction, “Jazz and Solo,” appears in the summer 2013 issue of Black Fox Literary Magazine. One of her short stories was finalist in the 2011 Glimmer Train Fiction Open. She was finalist in the Marjorie Wilson Award for Excellence in Poetry. Her writing is anthologized in the online journal, Abalone Moon. Jane is regional organizer of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project Writers’ Night Out and Upper Valley Writers, a resource for writers in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Brian Alan Ellis So Long Shakespeare Why must you leave me in this room? It has cobwebs, I said, and there are broken bottles everywhere that can cut me if I should happen to fall on them drunkenly. Don’t be silly, you said. It’s charming—in a terribly bleak and sterile kind of way, it is. But that suits you. In fact, I wish I could live in a room like this one. But, you know, I have way too much stuff. Yes, I said, and somehow you’ve made the room emptier than it already is. Yes, you said, but you manage to fill it with something more. Something pure and tragic and beautiful. Something… poetic. You can have the damn poems, I said. Everything. Or we can set fire to them… watch them burn… together. Don’t be silly, you said, I would never. And besides, it would be too much trouble. But if it won’t keep you here, I said, my poetry is no good. Nonsense, you said. You don’t need me. You have enough to think and write about. In fact, you can probably churn out some sad immortal shit just by my leaving you here to stew. And poor Sal, you said, he doesn’t know how to write poetry. He needs me more than you do. But you—you harlot, I said. I love you. So long, Shakespeare, you said.
Brian Alan Ellis is the author of "33 Fragments of Sick-Sad Living." His fiction has also appeared in such publications as Skive, The Single Hound, Zygote in My Coffee, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, Conte, FLARE: The Flagler Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, flashquake, Spittoon, Spry, Emerge, NAP, and Atticus Review, among others. "The Mustache He’s Always Wanted but Could Never Grow," a collection of Ellis’s short stories, comes out next year. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
Victoria Peterson-Hilleque Walking to Meet Dorothy I cannot see the tumors in her lungs living silently like cauliflower florets. I cannot see the drug that slows the small cells from growing, even the ones in her curly, steel-colored hair. But she is waving at the bottom of the hill bordered by oaks, their yellow leaves hanging on as the frost plans to strip the branches bare to the bone.
Victoria Peterson-Hilleque’s poems appeared or are forthcoming in Paper Nautilus, The Montucky Review, Poppy Road Review, Our Day’s Encounter, Northern Cardinal Review, and other journals. Her books "How to Analyze the Works of Sylvia Plath" and other titles were published by ABDO Publishing Company. She’s the Poet-In-Residence at Solomon’s Porch Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she also teaches a poetry workshop.
Alyce Lomax Game Theory Antonia heard the key that matched hers tumble in the lock. She really needed to change the locks one of these days. "Why aren't you answering the phone?" Jon demanded as he entered the living room. "I'm playing Bejeweled," she answered from her vantage point on the couch, barely looking up from her phone and its virtually gem-encrusted screen. "I'm busy." "That's busy? A game? Plus, you know that's a really old game, don't you?" "Sure. It doesn't mean it isn't diverting. It doesn't mean it isn't comforting. It doesn't mean I still don't want to figure out the formula." "Formula?" he asked. "Who cares if there's a formula? It's fucking Bejeweled." Jon slammed his duffel bag down on the hardwood floor for emphasis, for honey-I'm-home attention. It had been hastily packed several weeks ago while she took their cancer-riddled dog to the vet for his final sleep, in fact, he had to have been packing it while she sobbed over Buster's stopped heart in the vet's sterile death chamber. Her acidic last words before she left the apartment had been, "You're really going to let me do this alone?" Of course he had. It had been so quiet when she returned, slack leash in hand. Exponentially quiet. No dog, no man. "What, you expect a more enthusiastic reunion?" she asked now. "Please. It gets old after a while." Antonia didn't have to look up to know what she would see: bloodshot around Jon's arctic blue eyes, weeks' worth of stubble venturing closer to being a full-blown salt-and-pepper beard, a bloated, drinkish, druggish look about him, all symptoms of binges circulating around chaos and destabilization, centered on Courtney. Jon could look at Antonia as long as he wanted and he'd miss the things he should see: dark circles, legs peppered with stubble, apathy oozing out of her pores because she was full of it, it had noplace else to go. The coffee table between them was littered with useless antidepressant prescriptions; she kept waiting for something to get better, or at least to feel better, on its own. Jon stopped waiting for a response and stomped into the kitchen. "Jesus, Toni, the trash is piling up," he called out.
Antonia knew. Of course she knew. The trash can overfloweth with TV dinner containers, ravaged Ben & Jerry's cartons, empty bottles of cheap wine she had mercilessly drained to escape trying to figure out what bothered her more: the concept that he would come back, or the possibility that he never would. "Yeah," she said. "Once three bags are lined up in a perfect row, they'll disappear. Poof." "There's nothing in the fridge!" he bellowed. "There's your beer," she called out. "There's always your beer." He returned to the living room, plunked down heavily next to her on the well-worn couch; she flinched, pretending she had never lost concentration. "Sweetie," he said, smoothing his tone of voice although something taut vibrated beneath the surface of its low volume. "It's really dusty here." Antonia stared at her screen, touching jewels gently, frantically trading, trading, trading. "You know, the truth is, you dust, the dust comes back. You dust, the dust comes back." She gritted her teeth. "You fucking dust, and the dust fucking comes back!" She took a deep breath, touched the screen. Jewels flipped, disappeared, exploded, cascaded. "Check it out, honey, I leveled up," she announced. "I can't believe I'm saying this," he said, staggering over every word, "but don't we need to talk?" "Look, I'm just trying to figure out this game. Hey, here -- you can be the one that looks like a Chiclet. I want to be the sparkling gold jewel. I'm allowed to be the prettiest one. This is my game. She can be the ugly yellow one. I hate those yellow ones. They're just squares turned so they're diamond shaped, simple, stupid. I want to do a blitz and blow them all up." She paused. "Three things, we don't match up, no progress, eventually, there are no moves left to make. Start over, do it all again." "I don't love her," he said. "I love you." "That's some canary yellow bullshit. And even if you don't love her, you obviously need her for something." "She's gone," he said. "I've cut her out of my life." "You've said that a hundred times, and she's never gone. I've kind of noticed that over the years. She's never really gone. I don't even know which one of us is the back-up. Is it her? Is it me? I'm not sure it even matters to you." "I mean it this time," Jon said, putting his hand on her knee in that just-right way that had worked many times before. "Oh yeah, you've meant it lots of times. Nobody ever wins. None of us ever gets anywhere. You're asleep and somehow she's there in the bed with us. I watch you sleeping and wonder if you even know
who's lying next to you while you're dreaming. Does it matter, as long as there is somebody lying there next to you? You leave for a week, you come back. You leave for a month, you come back." "I was staying at Joe's. I wasn't even with her." "Do you think she even knows what a Chiclet is? She's really young, you know. Actually, maybe she should be the chiclet. Get it, chicklet?" "Could you please stop speaking in the language of this stupid-ass ancient game and talking about Chiclets?" He slammed his beer on the coffee table, disturbing the dusty inertia. "You're seriously giving me the creeps." "Excellent!" "You do know there's no actual point to that game, right?" "Oh, well no shit." Antonia laughed. "I love it when you're ironic!" When he exhaled in his special way that wordlessly expressed his exasperation with women, women, god-damn women, she added, "I don't know that there has to be a point in any of the games any of us play. Or maybe there is a point, like maybe you're the one who makes sure he's never alone, even though that means that somebody else always is alone. Maybe that's the point. I can play along or not." "You're not being normal," he said. "Can you please start acting normal?" "Of course this is normal. Games are a growth industry. People play mobile games and social games. Sometimes all it takes is the satisfaction of a click on a virtual cow. It's all about rewards. Or even just feeling like maybe, just maybe, there's a reward coming. Besides, people still play Solitaire. It's absofucking-lutely positively ancient. And what's the point in that? You play against yourself, you win or you lose, then you start over again." He sighed. "Since we're not getting anywhere, I think I'll watch the game. Where's the remote?" "It's in the drawer. The double-A's died, and the remote's your jurisdiction." She missed his absence already. Antonia's screen shook, quaked, accused her of being a loser. "No more moves," she sighed. "Plus this shit drains my battery." She got up from the couch, walked the short distance across the room towards the bedroom. "There's frozen pizza in the freezer if you're hungry. I'm going to take a nap." She added over her shoulder, "Welcome home, player." Antonia shut the door.
Alyce Lomax's work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Gargoyle, The Summerset Review, Lily, Pindeldyboz, Drunken Boat, and others, as well as the Paycock Press anthology "Gravity Dancers: Even More Fiction by Washington Area Women." By day, she writes about and analyzes stocks for investing Web site The Motley Fool, with a particular focus on socially responsible investing and occasional sense of humor. A resident of Alexandria, Va., she also contributes to social media's cat photos phenomenon, certainly does enjoy games like Bejeweled, and knits for relaxation (with a special emphasis on fashioning square and rectangular objects).
Aidan Badinger The Widget Farmers I entered a rainy rendezvous, a bleary and running coup. The pickles were rancid from negligence; I stood in the corner, pinching my nose and waiting for the act to begin. Slowly but surely the widget farmers came out to till the soil, checking the ripeness of their pocket calculators to see if the nines had filled in yet (they’re always the last digit to mature). Unsatisfied with the progress, they began to slink away. I stomped and they froze. I got a good look at them. This particular shift of agrarian laborers numbered about twenty-three. Mostly human with odd rat snouts, they seemed to be miniaturized versions of the farmers I’d known from my disavowed youth. The tallest one stood head and shoulders above the rest and wore a decorative sash that read “MAYOR”. I didn’t know whether this one had been elected or simply bullied his way to the top.
Aidan Badinger, a '12 DePauw University alum (English Writing), mainly focuses on the stream-of-consciousness writing process, which yields some of the most innovative pieces of language yet to be seen. Badinger has drawn major inspiration from Richard Brautigan and Don Van Vliet, not to mention Frank Zappa and Tom Waits. He will often tell you that he wants to write more, and he can't accept his current behavior if he doesn't have a pen in his hand. He wishes to have a voluminous life's work that ripples like the ocean.
Angela Allan Uppity Goats I live now in a sandcastle with a flaming sea monster, the kind who hasn’t come out to his parents yet. We heard chattering outside our palace the other night and wondered what it was. Monsty poked his head out the castle chimney only to spot a herd of uppity goats, walking on their hind legs like they were God’s perfect jizz. "Well, how-de-do!" said the sea monster. "Buncha livestock, puttin' on airs!" I climbed up the sea monster's neck to have myself a peer out the chimney as well. The goats did look ridiculous, but not any more so than women in high heels. "Now, Monsty," I said, "let's let the goats have their fun. Surely they’re doing no harm." The snooty ruminants didn't hear a word of our conversation. Instead they went on trotting on tip-hooves, bleating about Darwinism and whether or not a certain type of geranium turns the urine green. A few hours later I had my nightshirt on and was intending to tuck in to bed, but this I couldn't do what with the continuing fuss. Monsty let me climb up his neck so I could put my head out the chimney again and I was incensed to find the goats chugging champagne. They were sloshed—they kept staggering into palm trees. "Get your sweaty quadruped ballsacks to a couple of goddamn hammocks!" I said, but they paid me no mind. Well, those uppity kept stumbling about ‘til midnight—drunk, odorous and shamelessly erect. I figured then it was time to ask Monsty a favor. "Swipe those no-gooders off the beach with your tail," I told him. "Serves ‘em right to have a good drown." Well, Monsty hesitated a moment, as the Commandments once held sway over him, but I trusted he'd follow my orders and I wasn't let down. He swept the livestock all into the ocean where they landed with one glorious splash, and just as I expected, they couldn't swim to save their lives. I slept tolerable that night what with the sputterings of the drowning goatfolk serving as a lullaby. Funny that a sea monster could love a man like me.
Angela Allan has a B.A. and Honors in English from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She writes stories, rhyming poems, and eulogies for rabid mammals. She currently resides in Hanoi, Vietnam.
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