Crack the Spine - Issue 94

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Crack the Spine Literary magazine

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Issue Ninety-Four December 18, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine

Jerri Benson Operation Explosive Freedom

Rich Ives


An Immigration Ceremony

Tania Moore Off the Curb

Namkyu Oh Notes on Fear

Samuel Buckley The Sunny Day November Blues

Vicki Iorio A Keeper

Michael R. Lane UFOs and God

Holly Day Things I’ve Been Told

Jerri Benson Operation Explosive Freedom

You, Dumpster Dave, stand on the wet deck of your rusted-out tug like you have every morning since you bought the piece of crap four months ago at auction. Its interior is gutted out, but it floats. Doesn’t leak like the abandoned tent you were living in by the fish hatchery. It’s not raining, but it will be soon. You can tell by the steady slap of waves thumping the port side of the ship. The wind is strong and the air thick with moss, sea, and your own body odor. Every two weeks you take a shower at the laundromat. It’s a quarter for five minutes. You only spend a quarter. Some say you’re a cheap bastard, but you like the term, thrifty. Disability checks only go so far. It’s Wednesday. After your shower you’ll see Homo Harry. You select a few animal carvings you’ve been working on from your growing collection to trade him for weed. You mount your ten-speed, made of three different ten-speeds and dwarf it with your tall frame. Zipping up your Army issue combat jacket you slip the hood over your tattooed head. Bald since you were 19, the black and yellow smiley face on the back of your skull seemed like a good idea at the time. The recruiter didn’t care, he had a quota to fill, but your drill sergeant hated the tattoo. He said it was a target for the insurgents to shoot at. And it was. Shot you in the head while you were trying to save one of those Afghan kids from getting run over by a Fiat on a dirt road. Lost your marbles, that’s how you ended in Ketchikan, Alaska, a year and a half ago, spilt right out of your head. What really happened is that you found yourself hitchhiking from a homeless shelter in Monterey, California to Bremerton, Washington. An old guy at the shelter said you couldn’t die until you’ve seen Southeast Alaska. You watched the ferries for three weeks until you finally bought a ticket. With the front tire wobbling on your bike, you start your six-mile trek into town. That bitch who owns the ice cream shop backed her SUV into you last week. She zipped down her window and handed you a ten dollar bill, giggled a little and said, “Sorry, didn’t see ya.” You wanted to tell her to fuck off, but couldn’t. You haven’t spoken since you were shot. The doctor said physically you’d be okay. Some memory loss, two numb fingers on your left hand, a lazy eyelid on the same side, you can’t taste most foods, and sometimes your body doesn’t listen to your brain, but other than that, okay. They blamed your disability on PTSD. They blamed everything on PTSD. You just know when you go to make shapes of words with your

mouth nothing comes out. So you stopped making shapes and just kept quiet. This doesn’t stop people from talking to you. The bike makes a slapping noise as your sasquatch-size feet push it forward. Sprays of water splash up your ass as you hunch over the handlebars. The sideways rain stings as it hits your face. Barely missing a long line of slugs on the side of the road you try to keep your head down and push on. To your left are steep spruce mountains so thick you can’t see more than three feet into them. On your right, the Tongass Narrows, a stretch of water between the main island and Gravina–the island where the airport is located. The water is black and deep and just wide enough for ferries, cruise ships, and float planes to fill up all the empty spaces. You like living on the Narrows. You like to watch the confusion without being a part of it. You like to watch the orcas migrate through in small packs. You like being alone. Five miles later you round the bend and can see the town of Ketchikan. The houses sit moldy on stilts to the left. Businesses are all on the right, on the docks. You pedal past the grocery store where you price your own food and the mall, with more empty store fronts than full. It’s the beginning of tourist season and swarms of foreigners and fat white old people descend from the cruise ships in green and black slickers sold on the docks for seventy-five dollars a pop. They walk up and down the two-mile stretch of road through town. They point and take pictures of the bald eagles hovering over the cannery. They point and take pictures of the ten totem poles south of town. They point and take pictures of everything, even you. You hate their middle-class-ness. The way they dress alike in khaki’s and overpriced outdoor gear. The way their binoculars bulge at their necks under their slickers. The bored looks on their faces when they realize that they have seen everything to look at in Ketchikan and it looks the same as all the towns they’ve stopped at in Southeast Alaska. You wish you could stuff them all into the cannery grinders where the fish carcasses get chewed up and dumped into the sea. One by one their mundane blood and guts would fill up under the docks. Grind their bodies up. That’s what you want to do. You mostly hate the tourists because of the sheer depth of them. You hate that you have to be near them, to ride through them. Getting off your bike to navigate the hordes of people, your head down, you hear their conversations. “I can’t believe this place doesn’t have a Starbucks.” “Do you think it ever stops raining?” “These birds are boring. When are we going to see a bear?” “This is the longest trip I’ve ever been outside of the United States.” “Our guide in Sitka told us Bigfoot migrates to Ketchikan every spring.”

“I think Bigfoot just walked by us.” “Did you smell that guy?” “Like rotten starfish and old tennis shoes.” You don’t realize they are now talking about you. A small blonde girl in a white fur coat, fur hat and gloves skips by you. She seems to float above the sidewalk as she maneuvers between the tourists. She seems familiar, but you know you’ve never seen her. You wonder why she’s dressed that way, it’s raining, but it has to be 65 degrees. She glides off the edge of the sidewalk a few feet in front of you and lands in the road face down into a puddle of water. Someone behind you yells a name, but you don’t hear the name clearly, you’re not even sure if they are yelling her name. No one reaches for the small girl. No one stops to look at her. You look at her and her rain soaked coat; you realize it’s not made of fur, instead—feathers. The bike doesn’t have a kickstand so with one hand you balance it and with the other you take a hold of her back and lift her onto the sidewalk. She’s matted with street mud from head to toe. She stares up at you. Her pupils grow larger. Sometimes you see your reflection in windows and you look like an animal whose fur has been rubbed the wrong way. Your skin feels that way right now. Like someone has rubbed you backwards. The small blonde girl doesn’t run away or scream. She lets you steady her. You walk away quickly. You park your bike in front of the laundromat. People stare up at you. Why wouldn’t they, it’s not like they see a guy like you every day. Especially without your hood on, your bald tattooed head almost skims the top of the storefront awnings. The glass door to the laundromat is open. You smell the clean pungent scent of detergent and dirty ash trays before you enter the building. You head straight for the showers. Undressing quickly, you dig out the scraps of soap from your coat pocket and the quarter from your pants. The quarter plinks as it goes through the machine and comes back out the change tray. You do this five more times. Fucking machine’s broken again. You slam it with the palm of your hand and try once more. The quarter clinks in the tray. You give up, put your clothes on, and put the quarter back in your pocket. In the laundromat part of the laundromat, an old woman sits in a blue plastic chair and snores a steady hum. You reach into your pocket and pull out the quarter for your shower. You put it into the dryer in front of the old lady hoping it’s her load. You can see the clothes are still wet as you press start. In the moment it feels like the right thing to do. Later you’ll wish you hadn’t. Sometimes your body won’t move and sometimes it betrays you. “Fucking Afghanistan,” you chant in your head. You turn to leave and see The Girl. You remember the first time you saw her as you rode your bike by the baseball fields on the way to the dump. She was sitting alone on the edge of the covered stadium in a

short skirt. Her hair was pink then, purple now, or maybe it’s blue. You sat on your bike under the seats and stared up at her black panties. You liked the way they bunched up at her crotch as she moved to the music blasting from her earbuds. She doesn’t know you watch her every chance you get, or that you sometimes hide by the wood shed in her back yard and hope to see a glimpse of her behind the closed curtains. She doesn’t know you exist. You lean against a washer across the room pretending to read the paper and watch her as she goes from rubbing the dark stubble on her legs back to twirling her long ponytail. She’s reading a book, but you can’t tell what it is from across the room. You think it must be a classic horror novel or something in science fiction, because that’s the kind of girl you want her to be— the kind of girl that reads the same books as you—the kind of girl who dreams of another land because she feels alone in this one—the kind of girl that might like to spend a few hours with you, but only a few. You’d like to take The Girl for a ride on one of the dryers. Lick the tops of her big tits as they jiggle. What you really want to do is take her back to your boat and bang the shit out of her. Pinch her nipples really hard. You think she’s a screamer. You like to imagine her screaming. She looks up from her book over at you, or maybe through you. Looking away quickly you stumble over the old lady’s plastic hamper and rush towards the door, but the old lady is awake and standing in the way trying to get the coin machine to take her dollar bill. You try to maneuver around her huge ass and the long line of dryers, but neither will budge. You want to knock her over and run, but you wait patiently, staring at your feet until she’s done.

You bike four blocks to the only store on the old district docks. The Trading Company sells overpriced fishing equipment and clothing to the tourists in the main part of the store. In the basement they’re more like a mini Home Depot. You find great shit in their dumpsters. You head to the back of the store and see The Nazi is sitting on the back step smoking a cigarette in his mustard color work vest. He knows you will be there on Wednesdays. He’s always smoking on the back steps when you arrive. He’s called The Nazi, because he’s short, has a mustache, and says racist things. But you think his mustache looks less like Hitler’s and more like a porn star’s. You don’t know his real name, so you think of him as The Nazi as well. The Nazi thinks you’re his friend. That’s what he thinks. You want to tell him to fuck off when he starts talking, but you just stand there and listen, angry. “Davy boy, how the hell are you,” The Nazi says flicking the cigarette into the wet dumpster. You hope it is wet enough in there that it doesn’t burn something good.

“Sometimes I forget you can’t talk you mute bastard,” The Nazi says as he smoothes his mustache between thumb and finger. You know he doesn’t forget. He just likes to call you a mute bastard. “I bet you have some real good stories, too.” He doesn’t know the half of it. He doesn’t know that it’s best for him you can’t talk and your body won’t move. “Have you ever thought of getting rid of that tattoo? Well, I know a guy if you want to cover that thing. Maybe cover it with a bull’s-eye, the scar on the outside ring, put an arrow there instead. Dude, that would be totally cool, an arrow, some real injun shit,” the Nazi says. He says a lot more, but you stop listening to him. Instead you watch his lips move and pretend he’s the one that can’t make sounds. You will your body to move, but it’s frozen in front of the Nazi while he tells you the story about fucking the girl with one arm under the heat lamps on a ferry to Metlakatla. You’ve heard the story before. You’ve heard all his stories before. The Nazi said once he fucked The Girl. You don’t think she’d fuck him. The Nazi looks at his watch, “Well, got to get back to work. Sure would be nice to have the government pay my way. Get what you can from them you mute bastard.” You’re relieved. Now you can rummage through the garbage. Thirty minutes later you leave with some wall board you find underneath a stack of wooden crates. There’s no room for the crates on your bike cart. The one you built using a six foot aluminum ladder you found floating by the old pulp mill. Maybe you will come back for the crates later in the week. The traffic is stopped on the street while they wait for three school buses full of Saudi tourists try to back out of the boardwalk onto Main Street. You weave through parked vehicles, their windshield wipers slapping back and forth. They blend into one sound. They are like helicopter blades as they cut through air. You rest your bike up against the back of a bench in front of the Totem bar. No one will steal it, or your trailer full of wall board, not if they know it’s yours. Homo Harry is at the Totem Bar on Wednesdays. He sells weed on Wednesdays. A middle-aged woman wearing a t-shirt with a skunk on it shuffles her way towards you. She passes under your arm as you hold open the heavy wood door. You notice her shirt says, “I’m a Little Stinker,” she nods at you and says “thanks.” The woman doesn’t seem to smell bad, maybe a little like booze, but you can’t tell if that’s her or the inside of the bar. Stuffed dead things line the walls of the Totem. A badger with a patch across his right eye, the hind end of a moose, a mule deer with wear spots, and a walrus oosik polished and mounted on a plaque that reads, You Only Wished You Were This Hung.

There are salmon runners arguing over a baseball game on ESPN. They’re doing shots of tequila at the back table by the bathroom. Three natives sit quietly at the bar and drink two-dollar whiskeys. Homo Harry is by the door in front of the bar’s only window. He doesn’t try to hide his business from anyone. You hear the cops in town buy their weed from him. He grows the best shit in town. He’s talking to Mel, the bartender. You hear words like sciatica and blood pressure. “Hey, Dave! Over here buddy.” Homo Harry waves at you like you might miss him in the crowd. No one calls him Homo Harry to his face. Like The Nazi, you think of him as Homo Harry because that’s what everyone else calls him. As if he was the only homosexual in town. In the late 70s Homo Harry was a cook at a fishing camp on Prince of Wales Island. He gave blow jobs for ten dollars. That’s what you heard. You think even non-gay guys will take a blow job from another man, it’s not gay, it’s just your dick being sucked. It’s only gay if you’re the one doing the sucking. You pull out the chair as he takes a sip of wine. Your knees raise the table. Homo Harry dribbles a little on his long grey beard, but doesn’t notice. You wonder if the red liquid will leave a stain. You wonder if anything lives in his beard. You wonder if birds live in there. Homo Harry digs into the front pocket of his slick track suit and slides a bag of weed across the table to you. “Watcha got for me today Dave? You know you’re the only one of my customers that doesn’t pay in cash. But you got talent Dave. A real craftsman. Do you know how much those stupid tourists spend on your carvings? Man, you should really sell your stuff directly to them. You could make a bundle. Buy all the weed you could want. I feel sorry for you, Dave. You can’t talk and you’re one scary looking fucker. I wouldn’t take trade from just anyone, you know.” Ignoring Homo Harry’s self-righteous pity, you take the seal intricately carved out of a scrap of marble from your pocket. You don’t carve to make money. You do it when you don’t know what else to do with your hands. You do it when you don’t know what to do with thoughts in your head. The ones that make you want to grind up tourists for real. You know it will get you some weed for a week, or two. You know it will keep you focused on repairing your boat, so you can travel someplace out of the rain. “Groovy,” Homo Harry says rubbing the smooth edges of the marble across his fingers. You get up to leave. “Hey, I’m having a party two Fridays from now. You should stop by, socialize a little. Can’t be good, a man spending all that time on his own,” he says to your back. You wave over your head at him. You’ve heard some freaky shit goes down at those parties, like heroin induced orgies and Dungeon and Dragons. Besides, parties are claustrophobic.

After three days of masturbating on your boat while thinking about The Girl, your dick hurts. The more it throbs, the more you want to stroke it. You smoke so much weed your lungs burn and you keep dreaming that dream where you’re cornered on a city street and a pack of wild house cats tear at your skin, but you don’t bleed, you just have gaping holes, holes so big everyone can see right through you. The boat needs work. The wall boards need to go up. You hope you have enough to make a bedroom, and a small kitchen area. You’ve been sleeping inside the metal shell of the tug between old blankets that some ladies from the native lodge brought you as a “boat warming present.” The small shipyard is usually good for old engine parts you can steal. Also, your propane tank for the heater is empty, someone else is bound to have more propane in their tank than yours. Instead you decide to masturbate again. Then try and get some sleep—try not to dream about the cats. In the last ten days you’ve left the tug twice. Once for the propane, the other time for The Girl. You stood behind her shed and watched shadows as they crossed in front of the thin red curtains. The first time you saw her house you couldn’t believe she lived there. The white trim, the rose bushes, the porch swing were too ordinary. You wanted to bust down the door and save her, but felt a soft hand comforting your own. The small blonde girl in the white feathered coat stood beside you until you could leave The Girl alone. A large piece of driftwood gets caught up in your anchor line, so you carve a school of salmon out of it— each one an exact duplicate of the other. You line them up on the floor behind the other carvings you haven’t given to Homo Harry yet. There are ten eagles made out of the marble, all in different stages of flight. There are halibuts and whales and otters and deer and moose. The one you like best is the one you carved out of a white plastic tube. It’s the only person, a girl with wings. Not angel wings, wings like a hawk. She looks sad with her large expressionless eyes, her wide lips turned down at the corners. You like her sad face the best. You ran out of weed a few days ago and your cock is raw. People come and go from the small shipyard, but not many, and not often. When someone comes by, you hide underneath the rim of your boat. You like being alone, the solitude is calming. You see them, but as long as they don’t see you, you do not exist. Not existing is a state you strive for, not existing is the freedom you give yourself. You’re pissing off the starboard side of the ship when you hear a car crunch the gravel drive as it pulls up to your slip. The Nazi’s Chevy truck with the 12” lift and the bumper sticker that reads, My truck just burnt all the gas your hybrid saved, comes to an abrupt stop. The Nazi jumps down from the truck, your

mind starts to duck and hide, but your body stands there holding your dick in its hand and gives a nod to The Nazi as he swings his legs onto the deck of your boat. “Dude, you look like shit,” says The Nazi, as you zip up your pants. “This piece of shit tug looks like shit,” The Nazi laughs, like saying shit twice is fucking hilarious. “You smell like shit, too.” The Nazi frowns at you because you’re grinning and your grin looks more like sneer. “Dude, when was the last time you got off this fucking boat?” The Nazi waits for an answer even though he knows he will not get one. “Come on, dude. I’m here to take you to Homo Harry’s party. Someone I think you will really like will be there.” You don’t really like anyone, but you guess The Nazi wouldn’t know this about you. “The Professor is grilling.” You wonder if anyone in this fucking town has a normal name. In your opinion The Professor, the guy who runs the auction house, is a huge douche bag, but the only thing you’ve eaten in the last three days is a can of black olives and a piece of moldy American cheese. “Let’s get you cleaned up and go.” But you don’t want to leave the boat. You never really want to leave the boat except maybe to watch The Girl. You search your pocket and find the scraps of soap still in there. At the surprise of The Nazi you strip your clothes off and jump into the Narrows. At the surprise of your own actions you rub the bits of soap on your body then climb back into the boat. Your body has decided to go with The Nazi.

Homo Harry’s place is only three miles down the beach from your slip. The Nazi and you could have walked. Instead, he parks his truck off the side of the road and the two of you head down one hundred and twelve wet wooden steps. You know. You counted them. Ketchikan is full of wooden steps. Some of the marked roads are nothing but steps. Homo Harry’s home is less of a home and more of a small hunting cabin. The Professor is cooking on a grill from the front deck. There are empty meat packages on the floor around him. You smell charred flesh. You know it will taste burnt. Burnt is the one flavor you can still taste. The rain’s blowing in The Professor’s face as he turns the meat. His hair hangs wet past his shoulders and he wears a jacket like yours, but he was never in the military. He’s married to that twat who owns the ice cream shop. She doesn’t know that once The Professor gets drunk, Homo Harry will suck his cock for free. That’s at least what you hear. “Almost done,” The Professor says flipping what you think used to be a piece of steak. “Looks like it was done about an hour ago,” replies The Nazi.

“Fuck you man,” The Professor says. “Yea, fuck you too,” The Nazi replies, punching The Professor in the shoulder. “I see you brought the dummy.” “He’s mute, you stupid fucker, not deaf.” Fuck the both of you, you think. In the front room Homo Harry sits in a beige Barcalounger. Next to his chair is a stack of Readers Digest and Cooking Light magazines. He’s got a brown drink in his hand and he’s talking to the guy that works at the bank your disability check goes to every month and another guy who owns the only rental car company in town. They’re discussing mortgage rates. You move over to the small group standing around The Nazi. You recognize the Merchant Marine with the fake Irish accent and the fat guy is the dean of students from the community college. You think the guy with the big nose is an accountant, or maybe a bookkeeper for a tourist company, and the tall guy manages the plumbing store. You don’t know their nicknames, or their real names for that matter. The Nazi is telling a story about some “Jew girl” he fucked last week. You don’t think he gets the irony of his story. The conversation moves to politics quickly. You can’t think of a more boring topic, but the Merchant Marine cracks a joke about the current president so you try to smile. You don’t know why. Nothing he says is remotely funny, but you don’t know what else to do. You head through a narrow hallway to the back of the house where Homo Harry points and says, “The party favors are that way.” The Girl sits by herself on top of the kitchen counter swinging her legs back and forth. You like that she’s always showing her legs even though it rains almost every day. You also like that she doesn’t shave and she’s usually alone or at least a few feet from everyone else. A pathetic salad sits next to her. On the other counter there are various bottles of whiskey, rum, and vodka. In a metal tub at her feet there’s beer and ice. Normally you would just get a glass of water. Booze makes you angry, but you don’t want to look like a pussy in front of The Girl, so you grab a beer. “Hey, you’re that guy who bikes around town with that long ass trailer?” You can’t believe she has noticed, but you don’t hear the tone in her voice. The one that suggests she’s making fun of you. “The guy that was staring at my tits in the laundromat a few weeks ago,” The Girl stares down at her boobs and jiggles them a little for you. “You like to stare at me, don’t you Dumpster Dave.” You don’t know what she means now. Does she know that you go to her house? How does she know your name? You like how she says it real slow.

“Don’t get embarrassed, Dumpster Dave. I like that you stare at me. Why don’t you tell me what you would like to do to me, Dumpster Dave? Oh, that’s right. You don’t speak, do you?” You desperately want to say something to her, something to impress her, but as usual your brain and your body fail to communicate. “Don’t be mean to the mute bastard, Jen,” The Nazi says behind you. She jumps off the counter and goes to The Nazi. He slaps her ass and whispers something in her ear and she looks back at you and giggles. “Do you want to come watch, Dumpster Dave,” The Girl, Jen, asks you playfully. “Fuck that noise,” The Nazi says. “But you can have her next.” She slaps him across the face, but not hard enough to make a mark. They disappear into a room down the hallway. You think it must be a bedroom. You follow them and stand in front of the door. It’s cracked a little, but too dark to see anything. You hear soft moans. The Girl giggles again. You think you hear the Nazi say something, but it comes out mumbled. You think he must be talking into her soft skin. The crowd in the living room gets louder so you move closer to the door. Your foot kicks it a little and it creaks. The Nazi and The Girl don’t hear you, but you see them on the edge of the bed, she’s naked, his pants are around his ankles. In the shadows her face is distorted. To you she looks scared. “What the fuck are you doing!” “Let him go you freak, he can’t breathe!” A beer bottle from the night stand pops as the glass shatters on the wood floor. Your arms cover your head. For a few seconds you can’t move until your long legs finally take you to the front of the house. “Watch it man,” The Professor says when you slam into him at the door. You take a swing at him and miss by at least a foot over his head. You aim lower for the next one. The Professor doesn’t move. The Professor doesn’t have to move. You don’t even come close. The Professor stares at you. Everyone at the party is staring at you, but it’s like they all have twins, it’s like they have all multiplied. You want to kill him. You want to kill them all. You reach towards your belt where you used to keep your 9mm, but it’s not there. Your brain knows it’s not there, but your body has forgotten. The Army took it away from you when you were discharged. The people at the party stare at you, but now they are just eyes. Their bodies are gone. Floating eyes stare at you and they all look the same and are all the same color brown. You wonder if you are now just eyes, so you pat at your chest, but it seems to still be there. You pat at your thighs, they are there as well. You run your hand over your head and feel the scar from the bullet wound. You think that the scar makes you different. That’s why your body is still there. You leave Homo Harry’s feeling eyes on your back as you

walk out the door. You head towards the beach and start walking home. At least you are moving in the direction you think is home. The farther away from the house you get—the farther away from the eyes, the better you start to feel.

Back on your boat, the sound of water slapping the tug makes you sleepy. The owl you are carving looks more like a seagull. You try to close your eyes and hear the hissing of the cats, but instead of a pack of cats hissing, it’s more like one large cat hissing loudly. And they’re not cats, they are eyes with claws. You don’t hear the explosion. It’s more like you feel it, the compression of air particles. Dust mixes with water. Your skin’s burning, but also wet and cold. Your ears are ringing, but you hear a voice yelling, “Help’s coming. Hold on.” Another voice is yelling, “Leave her soldier. She’s not worth it.” First you see stars and the night sky and then the hot sun is in your face. You’re not sure what happened, but you think you’re naked. You feel naked, but it was the uniforms that drew you to the recruiter’s office that day. You liked that everyone else would be dressed the same as you. There’s something moving in the corner of your eye. Go with your instincts and shoot it. It’s plastic and floating. You’re floating beside it. You can’t stop once your body is in motion. It’s like your hovering above the sand. You grab for the girl and it feels like you’re flying. The round pierces your helmet, slides past skin and muscle before it smashes into your skull. It travels through connective tissue as it rips through your frontal lobe. The kid isn’t as lucky as you. A second bullet enters her chest and lacerates her heart. You smell her blood. You smell burnt skin. The white plastic girl with the wings floats on top of your open palm. “Help is coming Dave. Hold on man.” You feel your body moving, but you’re not the one moving it. “My name’s not Dave,” you think you say. “It’s okay, soldier. Stay still. Help is on the way.” “Do you know where you are, Dave? Do you know what happened to your boat?” “My name’s not Dave.” “Just keep breathing man. Fuck, Dave. Just keep breathing.” “My name is not Dave. It’s Matt.” There’s a pink colored man above you. His face looks confused. “No. No. Your name is Dave. It’s okay, just lay still.” You stare up at the man. You don’t know what else to say. The words form on your lips, but no sounds come out again.

Six weeks later, a doctor writes something on a metal clipboard, he says, “You were lucky you landed in the cold water. The burns would have been worse otherwise.” He also says something about your propane heater, or was it the IED that made your boat explode. You can’t remember, but you nod at the doctor to show you agree with what he’s saying. When he leaves the room, you remove the needle and red sticky circles attached to wires from your body. There are clothes in the closet, you don’t think they’re yours, but you put them on anyways. There’s a bike leaning up against the front of the hospital. The frame is bent so you try to straighten it out as best as you can. You slip your hood over your bandaged head and adjust the gauze wrapped around both hands. You pedal and your knees push into your bruised ribs. The bike feels smaller. The first thing to do is stop by the lumber store to see if there are some scraps to build a shelter. Then go to the Totem and buy some weed from Homo Harry. You wonder if it’s Wednesday. You hope its Wednesday. Maybe you will watch the ferries for a while, or ride around until you find The Girl. Instead of heading towards town you bike up the mountain. Stopping where the road ends and the rain forest begins you enjoy the quiet before you start your long walk through the trees. A quarter mile in you see the small blonde girl. There’s a blood stain on her chest that you didn’t notice before. She waits for you to get close then turns and heads deeper into the thick evergreens and musky decay of rotting underbrush. She leads you away from the town, the tourist, and the other people you’ve accidently accumulated in your life. You follow behind her floating in the rain, safely tethered to the back of her feathered coat.

a lump with legs I’m in hiding in liquor stores and recycling centers I think I’ve stepped on the mountain’s foot an accident is my homecoming there’s another world in that bottle straw sandals thatch roof invisible needles fortune and misfortune don’t need to fight they’re from the same hole in the cellar me I’d prefer to be in love with a dry post

Rich Ives An Immigration Ceremony

my flight leaves no footprints I’ll have a small mystical coffee please the world is not still and I remain just as quiet I’ve loaded the boar try shooting flies with that the sound a fat stone makes flying through a bamboo forest and the clouds all scurry home to their moonlit hut but mule ate the donkey’s hat (what do you think of that you fat turd on the mistaken pathway you pebble of thorn) my neighbor too was a twig with a floppy hat that looks like it’s supposed to shade you when you garden my neighbor doesn’t garden

on the way home to the cave the old man’s ancient eyebrows doing pushups on his chin how soft the wise grass is when you’re ready to feed it under the outer covering the inner covering opens the hollow core of the paulownia shuttles tiny little buckets from the wooden well a great weasel of light slips under the door there’s only one hut for this world to live in sit with your mind far away then enter I hung my mouth on a peg I went looking one bush filled seven houses with naked blossoms one monkey picked the tender tea leaves

It was a windy June day, and clumps of clouds churned across the sky as Gwendolyn stepped out of Gleason’s Fish with halibut for dinner. She glanced upward, the leaves on the trees hassled into a shimmying frenzy, and she failed to recognize that she had dawdled to a halt in the middle of the street until the honking horn of a Range Rover reminded her. Gwendolyn hopped up onto the curb and proceeded down the hill to her car, which was parked in the town center of Merrimacon-the-Hudson. As she rummaged in her purse for her keys, a particularly virulent gust of wind clamped her skirt to her thighs, and in that moment she saw, in the heart shaped leaves of a linden tree, what appeared to be a myriad of tiny, clenched fists, or were they faces? There were dozens of them, hundreds, the entire tree crawling with otherworldly life. No. This is not real. Clutching her handbag, Gwendolyn leaned against the sun-baked enamel of her Pepper

Tania Moore Off the Curb White Mini Cooper. The clear coat, she whispered—the words a kind of mantra—would offer scratch-resistant protection. Microscopic ceramic particles in the paint, the dealer had explained, hardened in the shop oven for a forty percent improvement in paint gloss compared to traditional clear coats. She clicked open the door with sweaty palms. A short time later, her nerves steadied by the drive home, Gwendolyn was putting broccoli on to steam when the back door slammed, and Gus entered the kitchen, lacrosse stick in hand. “Perfect timing,” Gwendolyn said. “Do you want to change and we’ll eat?” “I’ll be right down,” Gus said, heading into the hallway and taking the stairs two at a time. “And tell Bram dinner’s ready,” she called after him. “I’m here,” Bram said,

appearing in the doorway. He was sixteen and as tall as his older brother, but more slender, with fine, straight brown hair like Gwendolyn. “Could you help set the table?” she asked. “I was thinking maybe inside tonight. It looks like rain.” “It isn’t raining,” Bram said. “It’s just windy.” Gwendolyn shrugged as Bram carried napkins and utensils out to the patio. Wide brick steps led down to the lawn, and the sun had dipped behind the cedars, the basin of day full to overflowing, puddles of light spilling over the table as they ate. No matter how precipitously the branches bowed in the wind, though, Gwendolyn resisted the temptation to look at them. Instead she watched her children’s faces, tethered by the sound of their voices.

A little past nine that evening, Gwendolyn was emptying the dishwasher when Frank came

home, dropped his briefcase by the front door and walked down the hallway. “Another late night,” she said. “The client called at five o’clock with changes that he wanted for tomorrow. What a jerk.” He shook his head and opened the refrigerator. Pulling out his plate, he peered at the fogged over plastic. “What’s this?” “Halibut.” “Looks good. Thanks, hon.” He slid the plate into the microwave and spread the New York Times on the counter. “How are the boys?” he asked, glancing over the front page. “Is Bram ready for his chemistry final?” “I think so. Why don’t you go say hi when you’re done.” “I will. Everything else alright?” Gwendolyn watched as he ate, his gaze skimming an article, and she decided to wait to see how long it would take for him to notice that she hadn’t answered. In his khakis and button down

shirt, his feet bare with a tuft of dark hair on each toe, he reminded Gwendolyn of a satyr dressed as a man, or a hobbit, better suited to padding swiftly over the forest floor. “Gwendolyn? How was your day?” “It was . . . fine.” He turned back to the paper.




Gwendolyn was outside painting lanterns of different shapes and sizes for the party planning business that she had started when Frank had been out of work. She held her breath, spraypainted a batch, and then stepped back to let the aerosol cloud of white settle. After a few rounds she turned to discover Bram watching her. “What are you doing?” he asked, his shoulder weighted down by his backpack. “Making magic,” she grinned. “It’s for the Lindzer wedding.” “Looks like a lot of work.”

“Imagine what I’d do if I had a daughter. Not that I won’t help you with your wedding. If you want.” “I have no plans to get married any time soon, mom.” “Well that’s a good thing, Bram, because I kind-of have my hands full right now anyway.” Bram smiled, and as Gwendolyn watched him go, a tiny fissure tore beneath her ribcage, the fine white thread of a scar, crows’ feet on the surface of her heart. In two months Gus would leave for college, and a year later, Bram. She absentmindedly shook the can of spray paint and glanced over at the plum tree, its burgundy leaves infused with the sun’s rays. As she watched, the variegated light within the tree morphed with surprising rapidity, becoming almost gelatinous, with a pinkish, oily sheen as the spaces between the leaves resolved themselves into clusters of mobile, jabbering faces. Catching her breath, the paint can fell to Gwendolyn’s side. Tentatively, she took a step towards the

diminutive faces, their voices crackling like plastic wrappers. She peered at the tiny noses and ears on their hairless heads, the creatures’ expressions fluctuating quickly, at turns querulous or fierce, astonished or mirthful. Inching nearer, she tried to detect the color of their deep set eyes, or whether or not they had any teeth, but when she was still ten feet away the faces froze, and the staticky sound of their talking ceased. “Who are you?” Gwendolyn whispered. She glanced towards the house, worried that Bram might hear, but neither his room nor the kitchen was within earshot. “I won’t hurt you,” she continued, her own voice sounding foolish to her ears. “Are you real? Or am I crazy?” A tinkling, like bells. Laughter? “Who else can see you? Are you everywhere, in every tree, or are you a kind of spirit that inhabits different trees at different times?” The faces were dancing, now, quivering, the

sound like wind through dried leaves, unlike any language she could discern but so loud that Gwendolyn looked up and down the street, certain that someone would hear and come out of their house to see what the commotion was, but the sidewalks remained empty, each house set back from the road on a half acre lot. She took another step towards the branches. The faces were the size of large crabapples, and squished as they were, it was difficult to distinguish their features, but when she was still four or five feet away their movements fizzled, then evaporated completely. “Wait!” Gwendolyn cried. “Come back . . . please?” “Mom? Mom!” “What, Bram?” she yelled in the direction of the house. “When will dinner be ready?” Gwendolyn glanced at her unfinished work. “I’m coming in now!” She turned back to the tree, but all she saw was leaves, and with a flush of annoyance she

dragged her tarp back into the garage and hurried inside.





Gwendolyn were transplanting one of the Japanese maple saplings that sprouted each year beneath the tree in the corner of the back yard. “Look at the leaves,” Frank said as he laid a green slip on his palm. “They have five digits, just like us.” Gwendolyn laughed and glanced at him curiously. “Maybe they talk to each other,” she said. Frank bent down to loosen the sapling. Together they lifted it from the ground and carried it to the front yard. “I think she’ll like it here,” Gwendolyn said as she poured mulch around the base of the seedling. “Yeah, it looks good,” Frank said, perusing their yard. They had moved into the house when Gus and Bram were toddlers, having no idea that it would take twelve years to save

up enough money to replace the drafty windows and the outdated electrical system. The renovation had been almost complete when the economy had collapsed, and Frank had spent the next eight months out of work. When he had finally found a job at a boutique firm in the city, his salary a fraction of what it had been, and with a boss nearly half his age, Frank had considered himself lucky. The financial uncertainty, though, had given Gwendolyn the push she had

needed to start her party planning business, and luckily there were apparently still people in and around Merrimac with enough money to pay for their children’s weddings or their own retirement parties. “Alright,” Frank said, wiping his brow. “Are you happy with your tree?” “Yes I am. What shall we call her? Betsy, Lucretia?” Frank snorted. “How about Plant?” “You’re just pretending to be a grouch,” Gwendolyn said, putting her arm around him. “Besides, why is it my tree? You always make it seem as though the yard has nothing to do with you.” “Is that why I’m out here right now? What I like is doing something with you.” Gwendolyn squeezed his shoulder, feeling the solid weight of him. At fifty, Frank was still in great shape. “If Gus and I are going to go to the gym before dinner, though, I’d better get going,” Frank said. “Is Bram going too?”

“Sure, yeah.” Gwendolyn noticed his slight hesitation, but it wasn’t, she thought, that Frank favored Gus, not exactly. It was more that he simply found it easier to be with Gus. The two of them talked about sports and played fantasy football together, whereas Bram was more interested in obscure, complicated technology that Gwendolyn, also, had a hard time following. Maybe, she thought, when Gus was away at college it would give Bram and his father a chance to spend a little more time together. “Do you want to help water the tree before you go?” she asked. Frank glanced at his watch, and she felt his gesture like a drop in barometric pressure; in a minute he would be gone. “Something strange happened to me this week,” she said in a rush. “What do you mean?” “I know this sounds ridiculous, but I think maybe I was hallucinating.”

“What?” He laughed. “Magic lanterns, trees with names; you weren’t hallucinating, honey. You just need to get out of the house more.” “Excuse me?” “I didn’t mean that. You know I didn’t mean that. Gwen –” She hated it when he called her Gwen, a name he only used when he was trying to placate her. “We had a nice afternoon,” he said. “Do you want to ruin everything because of one thoughtless comment?” He stared at her with his slate blue eyes, his dark hair speckled with gray; her handsome husband. “I don’t want to ruin anything, Frank.” She kneeled down and scooped the mulch into a ring around the trunk, creating a basin to hold the water. “And you’re right,” she said carefully. “If you want to get back in time for dinner, you’d better go.” She stood, her expression neutral, a smooth surface for him to slip away on. After Frank and Gus had left, Gwendolyn stopped by the plum

tree beside the garage. It was a windless day, the russet leaves tranquil in the afternoon light. She stared at the branches, willing the faces to appear, but the leaves remained still. What’s going to happen, she whispered, when Gus and Bram leave, and it’s just Frank and me? She closed her eyes, then opened them again. As she walked away the light, in her periphery, liquefied, becoming viscous and thick. Gwendolyn whipped around as

residue remained.

She found herself checking the

the faces, once again, filled the tree. They were everywhere, like a hive seething with honeybees, each face perfectly formed and distinct and yet part of a larger whole. The energy they emitted was overwhelming. Impulsively she ran towards them, reaching out her hand to touch their skin or feel the imprint of their tiny teeth around her finger. As soon as she was within grasp, though, the faces melted away. Gwendolyn brushed her hand over the bark, but no

tree several times a day. She couldn’t figure out a pattern to the faces’ appearance, but if more than twenty-four hours went by without their materializing she became distracted, finding it difficult to focus on her work. One rainy Monday, after not having seen them all weekend, she trekked in and out of the house every few hours, a band tightening around her heart each time she found the leaves glistening but unchanged. Finally the next morning, loaded down with groceries, Gwendolyn glanced up and the faces were there. She didn’t dare set down her bags as she stood enthralled, the dips and lulls of the creatures’ babble filling her with bemusement, but with something else as well, something almost like joy. When eventually they vanished, Gwendolyn continued into the house, and as she stacked the peanut butter in the cabinet and organized the milk in

the refrigerator her sense of wellbeing lingered, as if her connection to a world vast and wonderful, a source of limitless possibility, remained. Gnawing at the edge of her consciousness, though, was the fear that inevitably this grace would fade, and when it did, she would be left feeling even more stripped and bare than before.

A few evenings later, after the dinner dishes were washed and Bram and Gus had left the table, Gwendolyn slipped on her shoes and went outside. The backyard was shrouded in shadow. It was early July, the evenings warm as she turned on the faucet at the side of the house. She picked up the hose as a sudden movement made her turn to see a hummingbird, its wings a blur, dart over to the lilac tree and then zip away. “Maybe you weren’t real, either,” Gwendolyn muttered. She started to spray the planters on the patio when a loud rustling

made her look up to see Bram approaching from around the side of the house. “Oh!” she said. “You surprised me.” “It’s Tuesday. I brought down the garbage.” “Thanks for remembering. Guess what I just saw—a hummingbird.” “Is that who you were talking to?” “Not exactly. I was more talking to myself.” “I talk to myself a lot,” Bram said. “Do you? I’ve never heard you.” “It wouldn’t be talking to myself if you were there.” Gwendolyn chuckled. “Good point.” Giving the hose a tug, she pulled it over to the vegetable garden. “Whoa,” Bram said, looking upwards. “What are those? Are they bats?” Gwendolyn turned to where he was pointing as a series of small, dark forms darted across a navy sky. “I think they are.”

“That’s crazy. Why haven’t I seen them before?” “Maybe you needed to be out here at just this time, when it’s dark enough for the bats to come out, but still light enough to see.” They stood for a moment, gazing upward. “Did you know that a moth’s sense of smell is so acute that it can detect individual molecules?” Bram asked. “And birds can see colors over four wavelengths of light compared to human retinas, which can only detect three?” “I didn’t know that,”

Gwendolyn said. She was tempted to reach over and brush Bram’s bangs from his forehead as she might have done when he was small, but she turned on the hose instead, so the words— when you are gone, I will no longer know your thoughts in my every day—would stay inside her. Bram went inside, and Gwendolyn soon followed. She used to enjoy lingering in the yard, watching the light drain from the sky, but recently, just being outside put her on edge. If she turned her head too quickly or blinked in the sun, she might think she saw the faces fading in or out in a distant tree, but the only place she actually saw them, after that first incident in town, was the plum tree. With every day that passed she became more anxious and irritable. She snapped at Gus for leaving his lacrosse stick in the hallway, and at Frank for not putting away his clothes, simple, everyday tasks becoming shabby and dull until eventually, like a long awaited rain, the leaves would start to

tremble. The air would thicken, becoming mercurial and alive, and the tiny beings would emerge once again. As July tipped into August, though, and heat settled over the earth like a balm, the spaces between appearances grew longer. Soon several weeks had gone by without a visitation, until one day Gwendolyn found herself staring at a cookbook that she had left open on the counter, unable to make sense of the squiggly black lines of a recipe that she had made many times before. In an attempt to clear her head she gathered her cutting shears and went outside to pick a bouquet of Knockout roses and Stella de Oro daylilies from her garden. As she reached through the prickly branches, though, she was dismayed to see the leaves riddled with the rusty holes left by Japanese beetles, clumps of crabgrass blooming over the mulch. Her garden had always been a place of refuge, but even here, she thought with despair, her world had become tawdry

and frayed.





dishwasher when Frank came home. He opened the refrigerator and peered through the plastic wrap covering his dinner. “Is this chicken?” he asked. “Looks great. Is it a new recipe?” “No, Frankie. It’s not a new recipe.” “What’s in it?” “Chicken.” Frank glanced at her. “Are you alright?” “I’m fine. How are you?” “You seem kind of cranky.” Gwendolyn placed the last glass in the cabinet. “I’m just tired.” When Frank opened the paper, Gwendolyn walked down the hallway. She glanced back to where Frank stood illuminated in the kitchen doorway before opening the front door and slipping outside. The dew-damp lawn was cool against her bare feet, blades of grass sticking between her toes, and fireflies glowed like the neon pegs of the

Light Bright toy that Gus and Bram had played with as children. Banks of shadows loomed where trees had stood by day, the branches of the plum tree shining silver in the light of the rising moon. Gwendolyn paused, taking in this nighttime transformation. Where did the faces go, she wondered, when they were not here, and what would happen in the winter, when there were no leaves? Were they like cherry blossoms, erupting into bloom only to scatter like snow? It had been three weeks since Gwendolyn had seen the faces, and they were an ache inside, a constant, hollow burn. Why would you come, she whispered, only to go away? Gwendolyn approached the tree and reached through the branches as twigs scratched her face. Her heart beat rapidly, as if, she thought, she was violating a sacred space, but she didn’t care. For weeks she had waited, hoping and willing the faces to come, but they hadn’t, and Gwendolyn

feared that they were gone forever. Pressing her forehead against the bark, she squeezed shut her eyes. I’m going to stay here all night, she whispered. I’m going to stay until Frankie discovers that I’m gone, and when he comes to look for me, I’m going to hide in the tree, and he won’t see me in the dark. He’ll call me, and Gus and Bram will come out, and they won’t see me either. I’ll dissolve, just like the faces, until all that will be left will be an iridescent smudge, and the faces will take me with them, and I will be gone. The house, though, remained still. No one came to look for her, and mosquitoes started to buzz in her ear. Gwendolyn tried to see the time, but she couldn’t make out the hands of her watch in the dark. Sliding her arms down the bark, almost hoping the scratches would draw blood, she pulled herself back and turned towards the house. When she opened the door Frank was no longer haloed in the kitchen doorway. She

heard Gus’s electronic music playing too loudly from upstairs, and she continued into the bedroom. As she switched on the light she saw Frank sitting on the bed. “Frankie?” “Where were you?” he asked. “I looked for you in your study.” “I was outside.” “What were you doing?” “I visited the plum tree.” “Gwendolyn?” Caught within the cadence of his voice she heard something halting and unsure. “I see faces,” she said. “They come and go, and I haven’t seen them for a long time, and I miss them.” She started to cry, softly at first, then tears streaming down her cheeks. Frank patted the bed beside him and she sat down. “You tried to tell me, didn’t you?” he said. “And I didn’t listen.” Tears fell off her chin, and she watched them land, dark splatters on her jeans. “I’m listening now, though,” Frank said gently. When she

didn’t answer, he put his arm around her. “It’s going to be okay.” “No it’s not,” she stammered. “Nothing is okay. Everything is falling apart, and I don’t know what to do or where it’s all gone.” “Oh Gwendolyn. Nothing is falling apart. You have me, and the boys, and we love you.” “But they’re going away, Frankie. They’re leaving us, first Gus, then Bram, and then what?” “Gus and Bram aren’t going away forever. They’re only going to college. And what am I, chopped liver?” He drew back to look at her, and she could see the skin slack around his eyes, and she smiled because she knew that she looked worse. “I need a tissue.” He reached for one on the bedside table, and when he wiped her cheek she put her hand over his. For just a moment she wondered what would happen if she held on and didn’t let go.

We can think of awful things inside of our skulls. Inside yours, a spider is crawling, webs smothering the brain matter – the idea is what’s eight-legged. Its tiny hairs are younger versions of yourself tugging the dress of the hippocampus, like it was mother, asking the mind to keep the thought there and only there, for the real venom of that spider comes when you see its possibility and the anxiety painting themselves live in front of your own person.

Namkyu Oh Notes on Fear

Samuel Buckley The Sunny Day November Blues twelve bar. At least ten minutes before town. Used to take five to fire up. Up from the sofa to the door, I’m glugging down So I spread the scrap on my knee and stare, halfthe last of the half-cold coffee, right down to the empty biro hovering. Some dive-bar polka, not quite dissolved biscuit lingering at the bottom. This is how audible. I glance up: red light on, doors secured. The the days go, now. Life measured out in shirts. Why little digital asterisk on the meter creeps around; the does my energy fail me now? I’m all stretched up, driver’s breaths and gear changes are magnified rolled out, ungreased. Strung out; yeah. Leave the through the intercom. Be down to the last fifty quid. cup on the radiator ledge, drag the bass guitar out Sunset-blanched terraces and grease-box takeaways into the hallway, and lock the door three times. are flying past. Garish billboards, all leering. Flags all Done. Face the world. Eyes dart up and down the dead. Just about to work the magic, to pen the corridor and see nothing. An orange glare comes masterpiece, when the car swings around a corner through a wide window. and the pen maps out a long line on my jeans. This In the street the sky is opened out in soft-lit blue, isn’t going well. with hints of gold. Lovely day. It’s quietening down What are the others going to think, going to say? between the brick townhouses but there’s still a Why am I not keeping up my contribution? soft, broken rush and roar. Buses rumble past and Okay, okay. There’s a biro mark on the paper. cars cough along in their wake. May have been from a bump in the road, but let’s Guitar slung over shoulder, coffee-hands go. Let’s get creative. Go to the place. The creatin’ smudged on jumper, I look: the bus rumbles past. place. Take me down, yeah yeah. Taxi it is. God, can’t. Can’t even. Just...can’t. Not ‘To Bold Street, mate, the studios. Cheers.’ happening. What? As the car flies through the dead streets, time to Town’s already coming in, riding with the evening rummage for a scrap of paper: let’s bring back the surf. The streetlamps flicker into red, then to orange. old magic, let’s reignite it all again, let’s pen a minor Moments in streetlights, yeah. The coffee begins to masterpiece. Easy. Four on the floor. Or perhaps a fire off inside, rising in little soft fire-spikes up to my

‘Come on,’ I say, ‘may as well go now...’

neck, hopefully to the brain. Tea tea and coffee, helps to start the day, tea tea and coffee, get no sleep todayayay. I shuffle about; the taxi driver regards me in the rear-view mirror. Some air creeps back into atrophied muscles. The buildings are getting taller, standing out against the dimming glow. Iron trees smother the air, yeah, but with a ring they stand and stare. The neck of the bass bobs against the leg with the sway, and against the sunfaded cotton Converses. The taxi’s now fully fallen into the dark teeth of the town. The alleyway’s going to be looming out between the coffee bars at any minute now. ‘Anywhere along here will do, mate.’ I scramble the crease-lined paper back into my pocket and find a crushed banknote in there, so ancient it has a smoothed texture and faded countenance; the driver takes it with a grunt made clear over the intercom. No change, have yeh? The doors click unlocked. The clink of change percussive. ‘Cheers mate.’ ‘Cheers.’ A little gust wends its way past the shop fronts and high windows, disturbing the cooling air. People retreat either into the nice coffee shops and tea bars, all replete with rustic oak finishes and chalked menus, or they move to oily takeaways with brightlycoloured signs. They run and hide their heads. Everywhere shuffling coats moving in silver breathclouds, or with shelled hands around dying cigarettes.

At the end of a little alleyway the studio stands like a cracked brick box, all dulled and dead; the skate shop next door has closed down, and the night-club over the road was raided by police. Had purple walls, that place. House of fun. I remember. With light pink swirls and threadbare carpet in the entrance. The studio sits there waiting. I’ve stopped. Bass guitar stands at my side, with ancient badges on the nylon case. And you know I can’t do it. Just can’t. I think of the lads sitting and half-standing in that little room, with all of its obliterating whiteness, throwing every wrinkle, every grey, and the overhanging paunch into relief, like stage lights fixing you in their squint; I’d stand there in front of them, crooked and sundried under their glares, blank wrinkled paper in hand. Them in their knitted stripes and drainpipelegs, full black hair, acne after-shadows. Foolish pride is all I have left. You know, I can’t do it. I really can’t. And should I, for a few quid more? Should I for a few tins more of beans, for a greasy chip-shop bundle, should I? I’d be like a cut-open frog under a prodding splint, splayed out on its back, under a swarm of young eyes, and laid out bar-by-bar. You know, I can’t do it. ‘Come on,’ I say, ‘may as well. What’s the harm? This is your thing, after all. This is your thing. It’s the thing. And they’re good lads...aren’t they...? They’re good lads. Come on, you’ve been standing too long.’ A little cold creeps under the hems of my jeans, shivers up my calves, tickles my knees; the wind

rocks the bass guitar on its feet. Feel the world going round? My feet throw my weight from one to another like the pixel going from bleep to bleep in Pong, like I’ve been standing watching a quiet gig for hours on some afternoon in a hot pavilion. Here’s more songs bout death and love for ya’ll, thank yer, thank yer so much. Plucked half-tune, count in. Only my hair is shorter, more rigid, more metallic; there’s no beer, no chemicals but that cheap coffee. The air passes through the jumper and raises hairs and pimples, and my teeth start to grind and snap. There’s the studio, just there: with a little metal door standing out against the brick, with the red paint all coming up in peeling curls, and a little orange lamp overhead to glint off patches of bare metal. I didn’t even see it come on. Have I been standing here that long?

Rob and Greg have been sitting in the cafe for hours, and for the last few minutes have been watching a figure stood in the alleyway opposite. Greg is coughing and trying to work out how to use his smart-phone. Rob is swilling the last glugs of coffee around the bottom of his cup. ‘Been there a while, hasn’t he?’ Rob says. ‘So’ve we,’ Greg says. ‘But I suppose we’re not standing around in the cold. He must have been there, what, fifteen minutes now. Has he moved?’ ‘Not once,’ Rob says. ‘He turned that corner, then just stopped there dead.’

Greg has managed to lock his phone, and now fiddles with the unlock combination. ‘He’s got a guitar, look,’ Rob says. ‘What do you reckon, that he’s thinking up some masterpiece?’ ‘What...?’ Greg looks, squinting. ‘Is that what artists do, then? Stand there and think...’ ‘I was reading,’ Rob says, smiling, ‘William Wordsworth, you know, the poet...’ ‘I know who he is, lad. Even I’ve heard of him. Daffodils, and stuff.’ ‘...Sorry, I just meant...well, anyway. he used to wander round the countryside making funny noises and barking and stuff, getting the rhythm of his poems right.’ Greg stops and ponders. ‘Fair enough. So you’re thinking he’s standing there doing that then? How can you think in a place like this anyway? All this noise. Nothing here but pavements and dogshit.’ ‘Yeah, but. If you were like an artist, or sommat...’ Greg laughs. ‘If you were an artist, lad? I remember when I was at school, if you said the word artist, or the word poetry, you’d be called soft. Besides, what would you write about, towerblocks and streetlamps?’ Rob shrugs. ‘But if you were an artist, wouldn’t you make it all, poetic, and stuff?’ ‘How’d you make a streetlamp poetic, then, lad? You are a strange one. This what you do when you sell people cars, then, talk about them poetically? Or do you go off driving, and stuff? Haha. Wait til I tell Tess about this stuff your coming out with. Did you

write her love poems? Hahaha...’ ‘Never said I was. But someone has to do it, don’t they...?’ Greg glances over at the man stood in the alleyway. A couple of passers-by glance at him. ‘Doesn’t look too taxing, does it?’ Greg says. ‘D’yer reckon that’s what he does all day, then? Stands places? This is what the state forks out for, then is it. Six billion quid they spend on people like him.’ ‘Not a lot in the scheme of things...besides...’ ‘Not a lot! Six billion quid, handed over for free, while hard-working people like me and you...’ ‘I’ve been unemployed before,’ Rob says, ‘Even Tess has, and Viv next door, her husband was...’ ‘But that’s all have jobs now, don’t you...?’ ‘Well, yes...’ ‘Well, then. It’s not people like you stealing...’ ‘They spend forty odd billion on defence, you know.’ ‘So they should. Rather have a fighter plane than an artist, wouldn’t you?’

‘So, then, you reckon these are any good?’ Cedric asks, out in relief against the obliterating white walls, guitar hung around his neck. He extends a hand with a scrawl across paper in spasmodic folds; I take it with polite reverence. And there they are: the proverbs of new rock and roll, august and—

—well. What am I supposed to say to him? That these resonate with me? Whether or not a five year difference does matter when she’s fifteen? Whether or not being too drunk to notice makes it sort of okay? I look back at him, look him up and down, and look at the others—the drummer half asleep in the corner, the other guitarist slouched on the wall. All bored. So according to the proverbs of new rock and roll women are still evil, and we the LADS are generally excused. I’m shaking my head slowly. ‘What?’ Cedric says. ‘Well, what do you think?’ ‘Well...’ I say. What can I say? Says nothing to me about my life? Should I spill the beans, tell him about hiding scared behind the front door, frozen in the draught? He wouldn’t care to know, surely, nor would be care to know of stultified half-conversations with women at bars, asked again and again: ‘what did you say? What? Can’t hear you? What? Erm, no. No. What?’ Never much of a romantic. Or fallen hairs, or of hillbrows at the end of the street fading to fuzz where once they had been as vivid as anything else. There’s no great exultation to match the one seen here, of dodgy girls and wild lads off on lad’s holidays with other wild lads to pull and go round on tour. I’ve no response, nothing. Should I talk about my life being handed to me on a pink official-looking form, or set out in minus figures?

‘It’s shit,’ I say. ‘What?’ ‘I said it’s shit.’ Cedric narrows his eyes, mouth fallen in a half melted way. ‘What d’yer mean it’s shit? What’s shit about it?’ ‘It’s just shit.’ ‘Yeah, you already told me that it was shit, mate. It’s not though, mate. Look, if that’s what...’ But I’ve already turned around and stalked straight out of the room, the bass guitar following me. Haters gonna hate. I’m back out into the cold air before I even know it, stumbling down the dusty alleyway and heading for the noise and acrid smells of the road, gasping and spluttering. Turn back? No, no, not again. Can’t do it. There’s no turning back; the alleyway could have become a black hole, swallowing me like sucked-jawbreaker planet, before I escape, somehow. Run away, baby, run away. I’m on the pavement, swaying in the gathering dark. People look at me from the warmth of the coffee bar, bathed in the glow of smart-phones and laptops. I’ve made a decision, and I’m sticking to it—I’m writing my masterpiece. The masterpiece to end all others, the big one, the finale of finales.

‘Oh look,’ Rob says. ‘There he goes. He’s back out again.’ ‘Who is?’

‘The musician.’ ‘God, can’t he even do five minutes’ work? Blimey.’ ‘Maybe he’s having an artistic vision, or something...maybe that’s how it happens?’ ‘How what happens, mate? What’s gotten into you? First you take me to this sheeshy coffee place, I mean, six quid for a sandwich, ain’t it? Then all this about artists and that.’ ‘It’s just interesting,’ Rob says, watching the musician stumble up the road. ‘I think.’ ‘So you gonna pack in sales and go busking then? Haha.’ Rob almost nods. He says: ‘Played a bit of guitar myself, y’know, back in school, had a little band. I used to dream about being a big rockstar, going all over the world, and playing stadiums, and stuff. Had an Oasis haircut, and everything.’ ‘Dreams are dreams, though, aren’t they?’ Greg says. ‘They’ve a place. You move on, don’t you. Don’t you, Rob?’ Rob stares after the musician, a silhouette in the gathering navy and gold light of the street. The sky’s still clear, dimmed blue; but the stars are gone. Rob finds himself smiling: there he goes, beating his own path down the dusty streets, off on a great neverending journey to somewhere.

As the afternoon rolls on the day almost comes to waking, with scent of sun-cream and honeysuckle

climbing the walls about the yard. The little block casts an advancing shadow, and stones are set out bright against the scattered nets of shadows. Sun, sun, here it comes. A plane lazily cuts a long white path across the blue, hull metal winking with diamond glint, vapour expanding and diffusing after it like a legacy. The paper still sits, half-propped upon a fading music mag, pen still hovering over it, as I hunch in a little nylon chair on the gravel. I even got up early, when a reddish glow broke the blue, and had the paper out on the kitchen counter. I scalded the teapot with spare water, measured out spoons of tea, sat first in the front room, then retreated to the yard. I wrote lines, working out where stresses fell with u and x over syllables, then scribbled them away. Each ink spatter contained all of nothing. Come on, I tapped, beating out rhythms on the paper with the pen. For a long time that morning there was total silence, flat calm. Not even a whisper like a prelude, no tapped count-in beat. The first roaring cars trickling by and the tea had gone cold in the chill morning air; the buses made their first charges, minute by minute, and the first called goodbyes and hurry-up yells. Who knew before how beautiful Wednesdays were? Sitting on a lay-zee afternoon. The sun lit up in the world in an unending blue dome, searing everything into definition with whitesilver glow. The haze burned off the park; even razor wire topping cracked walls became chains of

sunlight. The great daily migration sweeps right past me, and a day I’d normally spend in a white room or tapping in numbers at a desk becomes an endless, formless swell. Now to compose the masterpiece. So I sit. The breeze drops; the trees fall still. The beat slows up. Even the bass drops out. Your moment, bud. Your moment, all yours. So the pair of brand new converses, perched upon toe-worn boards, shuffled in the stage glare. The first black marks appeared on the toe cap; slight weathering to moulded pyramids. Guitar neck moist under his hand. Smoke machine stench in his nostrils and together they beat out a grinding, loping chug of noise. Dopey on drums, thumping away like a mad thing, ginger hair slicked and caked to his upper half; Jimmy on vox and sending out screaming arcs of noise with a cracked and splintered guitar. Weighed down with ancient denim jackets and multicoloured buttons. All of them, hundreds, crammed into the sweaty, slimy box, knocking off one another like atoms in a mad jig. Tonight I’m a rock n roll star. Then tissue-wrapped powder down the throat; an emaciated body, drenched in sweat, totters out into the alleyway. Party breaking. Are you freaking out. You okay. Look at him. Haha. Rising nausea. Hands are sweaty, heart is beginning to pound. Cold out. Start to walk. Work it out. Feel better. About to die. Swimming darkness. Streetlights lurid orange halfdawns on brick and concrete cubes and tarmac, stillborn phoenixes frozen writhing on half-caked sick. Not mine. Chill out. You okay, yeah. Look how

blue the sky is now. Blue hour. Not even any sun yet. Any taxis? Jimmy gives my arm a little squeeze, lighting up, grinning. Alright, mate. Just chill. Kay? Dopey slings out curses. Who has the equipment. Gazza has the equipment, mate. What a fucking gig, lad. We killed that. Just, come on, just chill. Yeah. Dopey. He got a taxi? Straight home. Yours first? Wanna go straight home. Soz. Rather go straight home. Drop me off. As the afternoon winds out slow I wonder how I wrote back then. I know I must have done, I know some of it even ended up on that EP we did. Only one we put out: bit rubbish. But what a time. Strolling about like proper lads. Same jeans one for four days. Out every night. In that blue hour we found a taxi. I remember it all clearly. The sky an amazing deep blue. Something clicked, then amazing feeling rush of serotonin like petrol from the spine to the stomach thoughts begin to race no no everything is okay oh isn’t it lovely out here oh my god what the fuck look at the beautiful sky oh we are all here together and we are all in it together we all part of one love one life one everything tiny pieces of the universe in a vast conurbation of dimensions check out that amazing sky only that colour before dawn and before night civil twilight like and you can cycle without lights til that hour is up and oh my god it’s so beautiful so amazing so amazing it’s amazing am I being a dick sorry I’m sorry Jimmy no really I’m sorry love you Jimmy you’re brilliant and so’s Dopey never fuck

with Dopey never fuck with a drummer haha we killed them tonight what a fucking gig amazing we were on fire, flameout, fire in the sky, look at that sky. Oh wait there’s taxi. There’s taxi. No taxi drought like when they change shifts twelve hour shifts I don’t even know how they do that wow how was I feeling so shit minutes ago such a tiny blink of an ear hair off a skin of dust in the full scheme of things the full ribbon of time so amazing should we get food fatty cheesy flab all over the shop or maybe another drink actually no don’t drink can’t drink never drink body can’t pass it out just go to your brain and bad times then very bad. Jimmy sorry. Dopey sorry. He’s not even, haha, Dopey’s not even. Don’t you feel bad, not a slippery slope, not, no. You know, sitting there in the sun-golden yard, I get a little pulse of something, around the torso, as if the memory-image has a kind of chemical counterpart somewhere. Like remembering a smell or a taste. Stored forever as a point of reference. Still the paper stays clean but for scribbled lines and an incidental mark made by a nick in the road. Nothing. Blazing out in silver against the sun. Burning itself into my retina. Think, think. Got to write something. Is being here sat still the key to the problem? Do you have to be on the move? Maybe. Either way, this has to be my masterpiece. I remember when we went across Europe, I spent all day and all night scribbling down lyrics and fragments on pieces of paper, on the inside covers of dog-eared novels, on folded out cereal boxes. Softly

rattled in the back of the estate car, dust sliding about under us, listening to the clank of the exhaust pipe against the metal underside. I composed and composed. I was on top of my game, all like Yeah baby, you see I’m fucking fabulous I’m a full-on mad-haired creative genius They tell me my work is marvellous And I’m like yeah, so fucking precocious Polyphiloprogenitive? Babe, I’m miraculous Words like spun like silk, damned luxurious They’re like damn, how clever? Ridiculous! But now the same terms need not apply. You’re full of it, Jimmy would say, completely full of it. Granted, you’re clever, enough. But so full of it. polyphiiiloooprodjective. What does’re bonkers. Full of it. Check this lad out, ladies, Laura, Megan...look at this crazy lad. Mad genius, thinks he is. Mad genius. Loved big words; still do. Suppose that would make me hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. Jimmy thought it made us sound pretentious, but in a good way. As the evening falls somnolent over the orangeglowing city I finally move. ‘Come on,’ I say, ‘need to go now.’ And so I do: I walk down the streets and don’t stop walking until I have crossed three neighbourhoods. Trees begin to appear; the houses get bigger, breaking from terraces and spacing out, walling themselves off. It’s weird thinking back to touring, sitting with the others in the back of a car, staring through smoky

fog at the world with a happy smile. What can I say? Still blue, and it’s already spring. I forgot. The November Blues have lingered this year, and may linger yet longer.

Rob strolls up and down the forecourt, sopping wet in the noontime glare, blinking from flashes of brilliant white against bonnets and grilles. Not a customer all day; searing hot. A glance at the watch: still hours to go before getting off for the day. Is this what life boils down to? Waiting for the final bell? And then what—watching TV all night, dropping off, waking up, crawling to work again. He is in the midst of strolling and wondering when he sees a raggedy looking bloke in a tatty jumper mincing up the road. Can’t be. Is it? Looks knackered than me. Wouldn’t have thought it possible. Maybe he’s stayed up partying, being a rock star, or whatever musicians do. Or writing lyrics. Or rehearsing. What a life. ‘Excuse me?’ The musician glances up, and then angles at finger at his own chest. Me? ‘Yeah, hi,’ Rob says. ‘I...I don’t want anything...’ ‘Oh no, it’s not that, haha. I just happened to see you yesterday. Or the day before. Yeah. On Bold Street, mate.’ ‘Oh, right. there something...?’

‘You’re a musician, right...?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘I always wanted to do all that, you know. Imagine the life. Looked great.’ Ghost of a smile. ‘Oh yeah? How come you didn’t?’ ‘Well, kids came along, I suppose. Had to settle down...’ The musician nods, half smiles. Looks down at his feet. ‘You got family, mate?’ ‘No. Nearly got married, but, uh...well. Fell through.’ A short silence. ‘Well, I guess your band gets like family...’ A wider smile, this time. Eyes a thousand miles away. ‘I suppose they did,’ the musician says. ‘I suppose so. Been a long time since I rode with them. My old band, that is, the proper band, the one I formed right out of school. I...well, nevermind. Long time ago, now.’ ‘Any hits?’ ‘No, none. Played gigs all around though. We were called, haha, Jimmy and the Jets. Haha, oh dear...’ ‘Jimmy and the Jets!’ Yes. Sweaty box gig. Packed in. Not half bad, but beer headphones on and in place. ‘Oh my God, I remember!’ The musician laughs. Rob is about to say something else—his finger is

poised, wagging—but then a question answers itself with another question. Whatever happened to them? Whatever happened to him? His mouth hangs open, then closes; his finger falls. He adjusts his name-tag. ‘Long time ago, now,’ the musician says. ‘Very long time ago.’ ‘Yeah, must have been. I’m not quite the strapping lad I was then. God, you guys were good. Only guitar band around for a while, all that shitty rave stuff.’ ‘The Roses...?’ ‘Ah yeah, the Roses. And all those airy-fairy drone bands. Space music, like. Prefer proper rock and roll me, and folk. Higher form of art.’ The musician nods. Flash of approval. ‘What’s that there?’ Rob says. Paper scrunched in palm. ‘You’re holding that for dear life.’ The musician unfurls it, and hands it over with slow, careful movements. Rob takes it, and glances at the scrawled words. ‘That’s my last song,’ the musician says. ‘I’m capping it all off with that. It’s my little masterpiece.’ Rob reads; it’s more like a faraway, crackled voice in his head than a screaming vocalist. Like a blues singer on a seventy-eight, long dead. Snatch of vocals then the band takes over for the jam. Thirties. Much to come. Or Elmore James in the fifties, believing his time ain’t long. Knowing his time ain’t long. Knowing anybody’s time ain’t long. Only one thing to wait for.

‘It’s all I could come up with,’ the musician says. ‘But, you know, I think it’s all I needed to say.’ Rob nods. Is it shit? Who could say? Perhaps. Well I got up today, sad Even though the sun was shining, I just don’t know why, why, why Why I’m on my own, I feel bad Or why I love the clouds in the sky I just don’t know why, why, why Why I got the Sunny Day Blues. Take it away, lads—

Vicki Iorio A Keeper

Because I keep a mermaid in the basement I wash her delicate sequined pink bra in the bathroom sink gingerly scrub around her clam shells with a soft toothbrush fresh out of its wrapper Because I keep a mermaid in the basement I have not done the work left me by a hurricane She is a blue flame phosphorescence, illuminating the basement in ways electricity never could Because I keep a mermaid in the basement I tell my nosy neighbors I am still waiting for FEMA when they ask about the standing water and the flickering lights Because I have named the mermaid in my basement, Jayne Mansfield I have to rethink my sexuality Jayne flips me her dorsal fin swims deep and reads drowned books learning the language they teach her I tell her I will buy a wet suit and take her back to the midnight ocean

Michael R. Lane UFOs and God

Aunt Carol was my father’s younger sister and his only sibling.

My Aunt

Carol and Uncle Mason had three children, Owen, Eden, and Cole, respectively ages eleven, eight, and five. They were our favorite cousins belonging to our favorite aunt and uncle. When my father died in military combat and my mother followed him a year later more from a shattered heart than the car accident that actually killed her, my Aunt Carol and Uncle Mason welcomed twelve-year old me and my younger sister Quinn into their home without hesitation. We were family and never felt a twinge of imposition in their care. My Uncle Mason was a serious and thoughtful man, steeped in the old fashioned Christian work ethic. My Aunt Carol had a sharp, insightful, playful wit and a vivid imagination. No one brought out Uncle Mason’s silly side faster than the love of his life. Aunt Carol would say or do something outlandish that would cause my favorite uncle to laugh out loud, often cajoling him into joining her for some hilarious skit of storytelling or into trading snappy quips with each other and we children. If laughter did not ensue from Uncle Mason, then a smile and gentle shake of his head were the minimal results of her efforts. Their dynamic was perfect. Uncle Mason was the roots and Aunt Carol was the tree, and we were the fruit that benefited from their nurturing. My favorite aunt came to believe in UFOs and aliens. She developed that belief system from her near reverence of the TV show the X-Files. The same show fostered in her an acceptance of conspiracy theories. It seemed that many of our adult conversations came to center around one of those three areas of discussion. I would attempt to steer our chat toward more mundane topics such as children, health issues, family gossip, fluff news or even the

weather. But somehow UFOs, aliens, government or corporate conspiracies seemed to win out. I had learned to stay away for the topic of religion since my dear aunt had come to believe that religion was the greatest conspiracy of all. My Aunt Carol wasn’t crazy. She simply allowed her overactive imagination at times to will out over her intelligence. I, myself, believed that UFOs and aliens were possible. The difference between me and my darling aunt were that I could care less whether they existed. My feelings were if they did - -and they were more intelligent than us -- we’d know soon enough. I wasn’t going to sit around obsessing over what they looked like, what their motives were, who already knew about them or why their existence was being kept secret from the rest of the world. Conspiracy issues were a whole other kettle of fish. Every occurrence that fell a bit outside the norm was regarded as fodder for creative speculation. Over the years, I had learned not to interject logic into these debates. Aunt Carol’s existential reasoning could extend beyond the farthest reaches of our universe. She was fully committed to whatever idea or theory we were discussing at the time. Extensively arguing with her over the matter merely frustrated her. As her health deteriorated from age related diseases, I found it best to be her sounding board. I would interject an “uh-huh, really, you don’t say, I don’t know about that, are you sure, wait a minute would you explain that again” and other such innocuous comments to convince my precious aunt that I was listening as opposed to doing something else such as keeping an eye on my children or watching TV. On occasion I had to put up a fight or Aunt Carol would get wise. If my beloved aunt was ever aware when I had mentally checked out during our otherworldly discussions she never let on. My Uncle Mason lent her a patient ear, but offered no insights or debate about her deductions or assertions. Uncle Mason accepted what Aunt Carol had to say as interesting or intriguing opinions. Down deep I believed my

choice uncle was as apathetic as I was on the subjects. He simply did not want to hurt his wife’s feelings by telling her so. My cherished aunt championed UFOs, aliens and conspiracies with her inner circle through much of her twilight years. A couple of members of our family wanted to have Aunt Carol committed because of her eccentric outlook. Being working class they called her crazy. The majority of us defended her. We made it clear that with all of her discourse Aunt Carol never harmed anyone in order to support her odd views. In other words, Aunt Carol was all talk. The majority won out. Those who argued for institutionalization were more concerned about themselves than my favorite aunt. Aunt Carol only felt comfortable discussing her far reaching beliefs with a minuscule group of family members or like-minded people. Whether that was due to a general lack of trust or simple paranoia I never learned. If word got out about Aunt Carol, those image conscious family members would have been YouTube embarrassed. Aunt Carol was not one for hospitals, doctors or regular check ups even as age demanded more maintenance and vigilance. Her suspicions about alien implants and unauthorized medical experiments made it challenging to overcome her misgivings. When she was rushed to the hospital by Uncle Mason for suffering from severe abdominal and back pains, it was cause for serious concern. When she was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer it came as a numbing shock. There was nothing the doctors could do but make her comfortable in the end. Aunt Carol wanted to die at home. She also wanted to end her life on her own terms. All of our family was gathered around her bedside on the day Aunt Carol was too have doctor assisted euthanasia. Aunt Carol told us she loved us and not to feel sorrow at her passing. She stated with conviction that she had lived a good life. Aunt Carol beamed through the pall as she spoke of how proud and happy we had made her, and that her family was the greatest blessing she had ever received.

There was no talk of UFOs, aliens or conspiracies. It was as if those unconventional themes had dissipated in importance; stowed away in a steamer trunk like toys locked away after play. Near her final moments Aunt Carol made no mention of heaven, reincarnation or past lives. My favorite aunt smiled, and with a glint in her twinkling brown eyes, she drew her last breath. It was the only time I had witnessed Uncle Mason cry. Cancer halted Aunt Carol’s steaming locomotive far too soon for any of us. While my precious aunt was a bit askew at times when it came to real life, she had a bountiful heart and a good ear when it came to people. My favorite aunt loved people -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. She had a gift for bringing a smile to the most downtrodden or opening the hearts of those who were set cold against the world. And when she passed away many of the people she touched joined our family to pay homage to her legacy. When I visit Aunt Carol’s grave it is not in mourning. I miss her. I always will. But Aunt Carol had seeded so much of who I was as a person. Many of her positive qualities shaped me into the professional and personal success I had become. If there is a God then my beloved aunt deserves a place in his kingdom. If God turns out to be the greatest hoax perpetrated against humankind, then I hope a UFO filled with compassionate aliens shuttled her off with them to a better world than ours. If they had, I could see my Aunt Carol give me a knowing smile and a clever wink with a final, “I told you so.”

Holly Day Things I’ve Been Told

in prison, they give you one coffee cup that has to last you the whole time you’re there. the coffee they serve is so thin it makes only the tiniest of stains against the white insides of the cup. you can tell how many years you’ve been behind bars by how dark the inside of your cup is. this is how prisoners identify newcomers, by how darkly stained their coffee cup is. each prisoner wears his coffee cup tied to his wrist by a thick rope, also issued by the prison tied there to protect the cup from being stolen by other prisoners who accidentally break their own cup and have to drink their coffee as a dribble twisted from a dirty sop-towel or a discarded paper strainer.

Contributors Jerri Benson Jerri Benson is a senior writing major at Boise State University. She's lived in Idaho, Alaska, Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts and Kentucky-Tennessee. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a MFA degree in Creative Writing. Samuel R. Buckley Samuel R. Buckley has been writing since he was nine, and now currently writes as a freelancer. He has had stories published in a range of magazines in the US, UK and Singapore, including Eunoia Review, The Spittoon, The Cadaverine, and others. Holly Day Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota who teaches needlepoint classes for the Minneapolis school district and writing classes at The Loft Literary Center. Her poetry has recently appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, Slant, and The Tampa Review, and she is the 2011 recipient of the Sam Ragan Poetry Prize from Barton College. Her most recent published books are "Walking Twin Cities" and "Notenlesen fßr Dummies Das Pocketbuch." Rich Ives Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Dublin Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. In 2011 he received a nomination for The Best of the Web and two nominations for both the Pushcart Prize and The Best of the Net.He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. His book of days, "Tunneling to the Moon," is currently being serialized with a work per day appearing for all of 2013 at Silenced Press.

Vicki Iorio Vicki Iorio is a native Long Islander. Her first collection of poetry, "Poems from the Dirty Couch," was published in April 2013. Michael Lane Michael has studied literature and creative writing at Point Park University, Sonoma State University and Portland State University. He’s had the honor of having short stories published in The Storyteller, African Voices Magazine, Spindrift, and Aim Magazine. He’s also the author of “Emancipation” a diverse collection of human and humane stories linked in an omnipotent way that only real life can assemble. Tania Moore Tania Moore lives and works along the mighty Hudson River, where she teaches creative writing in New York area schools. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming inQuiddity, Kestrel, The Other Journal, Sheepshead Review, the anthology Up, Do, Flash Fiction by Women Authors, and many others. She was a finalist for the 2012 Bosque Fiction Prize, and she earned her MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts, where she was the recipient of the C. Woolrich Fellowship for fiction. Namkyu Oh Namkyu Oh is a Korean-born New Jersey native. He is currently a sophomore at Princeton University, where he studies politics and creative writing.

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