EDITORS' NOTE For reasons too obvious to go into here, starting an online literary magazine is like setting up a BDSM scene. We sent our love and trust into the world, and hoped it would respond in kind. We were lucky enough to get some real freaky shit, with heart. Enjoy, and we'll see you again in another 90 days. Love, Graham & Katie
TABLE OF CONTENTS Cath Barton, Expectations … 4 Tyler Garant, Hippo Meat … 12 Nick Kocz, Hemingway and Fitzgerald … 20 Molly McGillicuddy, A Day … 36 Justin Mitchell, Outside … 50 Barbara Neu, A Stork Story … 72 Michael Noon, Reservoir Tip … 88
Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny, Wales (sheep country!), where she writes, sings, gardens, walks and generally enjoys herself.
Hannah: Today I woke up and felt, as if for the first time, the warmth of the sun on my eyelids. It was such a good feeling. Everything’s going to be fine. No more doubts. I stretched out my hand – there was a still-warm depression in the bed that Tim had slipped out of maybe ten minutes earlier. The sinking feeling started but I stopped it. I was not going to feel sad. Too much to feel good about now. Change the thought. That’s what the doctor told me I had to do. “It’s very simple,” she said. I was busy looking at her purple shoes at the time, so she had to repeat it. “It’s very simple – change the thought and you change the feeling.” I tried it on the purple shoes. Want them. Don’t want them. Only it wasn’t true. I still wanted them... Funnily enough, it was working now, though. I changed “Why didn’t Tim wake me to say good-bye?” to “What a considerate husband, letting me sleep on”. I cozied back down in the bed. It was just lovely, and now that I know what I know, something to make the most of. I was having a dream about birds getting into a sack to look at the lambs. Several birds, but they weren’t aggressive. They were just looking, in an interested sort of way. When
the phone woke me. Jean: I’ve been so worried about Hannah. She lives out there in the back of beyond with only sheep for neighbours, and Tim’s out all day. It would drive me crazy and, to tell you the truth, it was driving her crazy. She had to go into hospital – I haven’t told many people that, and anyway she’s so much better now. I rang her this morning and she was even what you might call bubbly. She was burbling a bit, it’s true, something about birds in a dream. But she was definitely bright, her old sweet self again, and it fairly cheered me up. We’re meeting for lunch tomorrow. You know, if the weather carries on like this we could even sit outside in the sunshine. Tim: I concentrated on keeping two cars' distance behind the one in front of me this morning. All the way down the dual carriageway to Newport. Then the same on the motorway. Focus, focus. Kept repeating that to myself like a sort of mantra. Isn’t that what you call it? Anyway, it helped to keep out the thoughts. The ones I really don’t want to
have about Hannah and the sheep. Hannah: Mum rang. She’s taking me out for lunch tomorrow. She says we can sit outside. That’ll be nice. Well, that’s what I said to her. I don’t know what it’ll feel like. I’m practising the thought – it’ll be nice. I had breakfast. Yes, really I did. Well, half a piece of toast. Then I went out into the garden and sat on the bench outside the kitchen window. To see what it felt like, given that they’re in the field next to our garden. It was perfectly fine. There were purple crocuses out. I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on my eyelids. Like when I woke up this morning. It was really, really good. I opened my eyes. A sheep was looking at me over the garden wall. And the phone was ringing again. Jean: Do you know, it’s a funny thing. I rang Hannah back before lunch, just to check whether I should buy her some more of that nice lemon curd, and there was no answer. Perhaps she’d gone for a little walk. The doctor does encourage that, and what with the weather being so nice
today I shouldn’t be surprised if she’d taken herself out. It’ll do her no end of good, build up her strength, and I know I shouldn’t worry, though I do, her being on her own so much. The irony is that the house is surrounded by sheep, but you can’t talk to sheep, can you? I’m going to get the lemon curd anyway. A lovely lady in the market, name of Margaret, makes it. Hannah says she has it on her toast, which sounds a funny idea, but I’ve tried it and actually it’s remarkably tasty. Perhaps I’ll pop round with it later, but then again perhaps I’d better not. I did promise that I wouldn’t interfere. Tim: I was first in the office. Thought I would be. Hoped so, to be honest with you. Made some coffee. Strong, hot coffee without milk. Hannah likes lots of milk. Even while she wouldn’t eat, she drank milk. She doesn’t like cow’s milk though. Drinks sheep’s. Can’t stomach it myself. It’s the thought of where it’s come from. Sixty-two e-mails. Would you believe it. Overnight. Mostly junk, they were. One from Martin, asking if I’d seen the lambing programme on TV this week. Something about how he thought it was filmed near where we live. Me and
Hannah. I wrote back and said I hadn’t. Thanks for the mail, Martin. Thanks for nothing. Hannah: I couldn’t answer the phone. The sheep had a blue mark on its back. That means it’s going to have twins. It’s how they mark them. An orange mark for one, a blue mark for twins, and two blue marks for triplets. Then they feed up the ones with blue marks. I know ‘cos I saw the TV programme. And the way they scan them and look at the pictures. Just like they do in the hospital. Not the one I was in. The other one, where I’ll be going soon. To find out how many I’m going to have. One, two or three. Jean: I couldn’t settle to anything so I drove into town and went and bought the lemon curd from Margaret. I bought two jars, one for me and one for Hannah, and then I went and had a pancake and a hot chocolate in town, at that new place down the bottom end. You should try it, it’s been done out quite well and the pancake was delicious, though the coffee machine’s awfully noisy. I do have to admit that in a funny way it helped actually, because the noise outside stops
you hearing the noise inside your head and there are things I don’t want to think about. Tim: I rang Hannah, just to check on her. She said she was fine, perfectly fine. Said she’d been sitting in the garden. And that there were crocuses out. Didn’t mention the sheep. Hannah: I’m having my scan on Friday. I’m going to find out how many lambs I’m going to have. I’ll ring Tim straight away and tell him. Mum too. They’re both going to be so happy for me.
Tyler Garant is from Philadelphia. He has recently finished his first novel--and found no literary agents to represent the work, not surprisingly. He currently attends Temple University.
I’m willing to bet you’ve never tried hippo? Well you should get on that. We’re only on this hippo-populated earth for so long. I first had the chance of eating hippo in a rather bizarre way. No kidding. It was all thanks to my wicked stepmother. First I had to see a Chinese man on 11th street, in a tiny alley full of smoke ducts. I said, “Shouldn’t you be African or something?” He said, “Shouldn’t you be African or someting?” He tried to swindle me. I didn’t know what hippo went for, but I was fairly sure he was trying to swindle me. Why wouldn’t he try to swindle me if I had no idea what hippo went for? No kidding. When I laughed at his price he told me that hippo meat allows you to see your true nature. I said, “Huh?” I asked the Chinese man what he thought my true nature might be, exactly —an idiot or something? He said, “No. You penny-pinching.” I told the Chinese man that his true nature was probably cheating people. We met at the middle. The hippo meat was not for me. Swear to God. It was for my stepmother. And my stepmother is mean, if you haven’t heard the screaming near Rittenhouse. When my stepmother screams for something, believe you me, you buy
that something from a Chinese man in an alley, or else you do the dishes or vacuum or what have you. For the record, I didn’t know why in hell she wanted hippo meat, except that she was very depressed and had once been in Africa with the Peace Corps where the hippos actually lived back in her own roaring twenties, which now, at fifty, had become more like her wheezing kitties. Well. My stepmother was something of a hippo herself those days, but don’t tell her I said so. If you want anything from the underground market, not drug-wise, but exotic-food-wise, you should visit a Chinese restaurant, specifically the Chinese restaurant in the alley of 11th Street, Chinatown, Philadelphia. That’s where I got my hippo meat from. It was wrapped in brown paper. I asked what part of the hippo it was. The Chinese man said it was the best part. I said so long as it wasn’t the cock. Once I got back into the main part of town, of course I unwrapped the hippo and had myself a look. Wow. The meat was purple. Swear to God. I said cool. I said ewww. Hippo meat tastes good, though. No kidding. Just ask any African. But, please, make sure the African is an African-African. And, also, make sure you don’t ask a fat black lady if she ate a hippo.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how to prepare a hippo for consumption. Can you blame me? I usually eat at Taco Bell for Pete’s sake. So I had to leave all that to my stepmother, which meant I might not get any hippo. I wanted to eat the hippo on account of the “see your true self” bit of the sales pitch. I was looking for any sort of cheap high back then. (So would you, living with my stepmother. No kidding.) But do you believe it? My stepmother was reluctant to give me any of the hippo. I mean, what a hippo! What a heifer! Finally, she slipped me a few pieces, like a dog, on account of my successfully fetching the damned parcel for her. And that is how I know that hippo meat is delicious. I didn’t see any bit of my “true self” though. It’s probably because I didn’t eat enough. Well. I hoped my stepmother was seeing nothing but “penny- pinching!” It turns out my stepmother did want hippo because of her severe depression. But it turns out she was severely depressed over her weight. (Naturally. My God, she looked like a hippo.) And it turns out, bump-pa-da-da, that hippo meat increases metabolism at a ridiculously dramatic rate for whole weeks at a time! Holy Cow! How does something this incredible not go mainstream? It must be laws, laws, laws, just like it is with pot. Oh, well. That is what old
Chinese men and alleys are for. I was no Paris Hilton myself, you know. I have purchased and eaten hippo meat many times since. I have even learned how to prepare it: like everything else really, fried with either Frank’s Hot Sauce or ketchup or cheese or, yum, all three. Well, well. My stepmother and I are regular Paris Hiltons now! Just ask my dad. And we are all in better moods. Well, eventually I got the idea to poison my stepmother. I got the idea half from Snow White and half from the time I was eating fries and my stepmother told me I was eating too much non-hippo flesh and now resembled a hippo. Ha ha ha. She had gotten rather full of herself once her ribs started showing. My, my, she was a snot. A brat! And she was only jealous of my age, really. My father said so. He said he was jealous of my age too. I said why can’t you both be jealous of another twenty-year-old’s age. If only there were a food that reversed aging. No kidding. I thought maybe I should start trying platypus or something. I was sure the Chinese man could have gotten some platypus for me. Instead I asked the Chinese man for the most poisonous food he had. He said what do I look like. I said he looked like a skinny old Chinese man. He said why
would I serve poisonous food at a restaurant. I told him it wasn’t for any restaurant. And he laughed. And I laughed. And a lightning bolt sounded. Hurray! He gave me some monkey brains that looked like chicken. I’d have preferred if the monkey brains looked like a cupcake, but there’s only so much a Chinese man can do (his words, not mine). My stepmother liked chicken anyways. Of course she did. She ate hippos for God’s sake. She would eat anything. Everything was going according to plan. I waited for the night when she would ask me to cook. It was usually the Tuesday when we didn’t order out. I got nervous when it was a Wednesday night instead. I cursed Boston Market for screwing me over the night before (cravings are cravings). I made real chicken for my dad and me, and monkey brains for my stepmother. I hummed Lil Wayne while stirring. I listened to the sizzle in the pans like it was the sweat on my forehead. Ha ha. I was a little nervous about poisoning somebody for the first time. My stepmother walked into the kitchen at one point and told me that she didn’t want no chicken unless it was from the Colonel himself. Well. I told her that there were only two dinner
choices tonight: take it or leave it. She sipped her vanilla hippo smoothie and walked away. She was wearing my jeans! I served my dad and stepmother in front of the TV. Everything was like normal, like ugly normal, ha, but soon my stepmother would collapse choking with her veins all orange and her eyes bulging and her false nails digging into her throat. Well, well. And then everything would be perfect! My dad was sick of her, anyways. He wouldn’t admit it, of course, but he was flat sick of her — even if she was no longer as fat as a hippo, I’m telling you he was sick of her. Plus, I was sick of her. I mean, hello, she was a fraud for one thing. Like when she came back from Africa in her twenties all skinny and everybody thought it was because she’d been starving with the locals but really she’d been stuffing her face with tenyear-old-on-Mountain-Dew-metabolism-inducing hippo meat. Well, well, well. Metabolize this, bitch. Almost at once, she dropped her hippo shake which spilled light purple on the pink rug. Ha! She drinks hippo shakes with every meal for health purposes. But I bet she wasn’t feeling so healthy then! However… she wasn't falling
on top of the purple stain. Which was troubling. I kept waiting for her to fall on the stain. My dad, meanwhile, was looking back and forth, back and forth, from me to her, the two skinny lovely ladies of his life, back and forth, back and forth. He said we should have gotten McDonald’s, we should have just gotten the chicken from McDonald’s, oh why didn’t we just get the McChicken Patty from McDonald’s, McDonald’s, McDonald’s, over and over again. But my stepmother only stared straight, not like normal, at the TV, but past the TV. I tried to look as naturally concerned as possible, which was easy since I was concerned why she hadn’t dropped dead yet. I squeezed my fingers into my palms. I raised my eyebrows. I tried to swallow. I re-ponied my hair. I said “Stepmom? Stepmom?” I blotted the hippo stain. I kept watching my stepmom. And then her eyes blinked. And then her lips contracted. And then her hands shook until her nails started tapping on the TV tray. And then she spoke. She said: “I see my true nature.”
Nick Kocz's short stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Hobart (online), Mid-American Review, and The Normal School. He is an Associate Editor for Keyhole and is completing a novel.
Hemingway and Fitzgerald Drinking on La Rue Delambre -20-
"This tough talk is not really characteristic of me-- it's the influence of All The Sad Young Men Without Women..." F. Scott Fitzgerald, in a letter to Ernest Hemingway, December 1927 You are Scott Fitzgerald and this phantasmagoria into which you’ve entered bears little resemblance to actual life. Ernie’s a silver pug with tobacco-stained teeth and black hangdog eyes, a reprehensible shedder who leaves behind strands of fur on your carpet, on your brocaded divan, and on the flouncy velvet pillows upon which Zelda, your wife, once rested her head. He has been known to leap upon you with unfathomable affection, but more often he frightens you with a menacing growl. An acclaimed master of sparse, evocative dialogue, in person he’s not much of a speaker. When you ask if he wants to go out for a drink, he barks, “Rr-rhat?” But he’s excited, for nothing perks the ears of this pooch as much as the prospect of a stiff drink. He’s panting, his pink tongue hanging from his mouth and exuding a bad case of doggie breath. Despite being forever linked in the annals of American Literature, you haven’t spent much quality time with him lately.
And for good reason: he’s a self-serving lout. Disparaging you to your mutual publisher in 1949, he wrote, “But what a lovely writer Scott was, within his ignorance and lack of education, and his adoration of the rich. He should have been a spaniel.” Now, in what must be a case of divine retribution, Ernie’s the dog—and you, his master. You fetch that old Princeton sweater you’ve held on to as a reminder of your golden-boy youth and clasp a leash on Ernie’s studded collar. He runs to the door, woofing. He’s excited, wagging his short tail, and within minutes he’s dragging you across the bright-lights-big-city boulevards that appeal to those who aspire to your alcohol-sozzled brilliance. The brisk autumn chill pinkens your cheeks and you’re startled to see your breath hovering before you, a rare sign of hale hardiness issuing from your tubercular lungs. All is right tonight on La Rue Delambre. Chestnuts roast in the antiquated carts of Parisian street vendors. Dramatic changes have taken place since you first prowled these bars. Neon martini glasses now flash from the surrounding barroom windows. Ernie barks giddily. In this shared booze pursuit, you run your fingers through the coarse hairs behind his ears. “Rrr-ruff!” You step into the bar that advertises the most expensive
Happy Hour prices. The lighting is dim and purple, requiring time for your eyes to adjust, but what strikes you immediately are the women. Your wife is off cavorting with a French aviator, renewing an on-again/off-again affair that vexes you. Though Zelda’s a whack job, you miss her. You are lonely, and vulnerable to misbehavior. Women’s fashions have become much more revealing. In your day, it was risqué for women to display an unclothed shoulder. Now, the women wear satin camisoles. Just staring at them heats your pulse. But men’s fashions have also changed. You feel out of place in this sea of black denim and tee shirts. When did white flannels and wingtips go out of style? The bartender sports two shiny nose studs and a shoulderlength black ponytail, but luckily some things never change: he leans over the zinc bar and asks, “What’s your poison?” To which you respond, “Bring me a pitcher of your most expensive pale ale, barkeep.” When the beer comes, Ernie plunges his head into the glass pitcher. Pale ale sloshes over the bar and onto the floor, creating slippery conditions. You grab hold of a stool, steadying yourself. While Ernie guzzles mightily, a crowd forms around him, the air thickening with their cigarette smoke. People shake his paw and slap him on the back, all of them wanting to be his buddy. It’s the Spuds McKenzie phenomenon in action, everyone loving the
dog that can drink responsibly. Whenever he pulls his snout from the pitcher, someone high-fives him. Manly consumption of alcohol has long been one of his primary skills. Though he slurps two-thirds of the pitcher, he’s not even tipsy. Suds lodge in the fine fur around his nose, which he lashes with his ridiculously long pink tongue. “Va-roofy roofie woof woof woof!” Excitement is in the air. Because all roads lead back to memories of your youth, you are reminded of your Princeton days. Though alcohol was forbidden on campus, you were no stranger to the saloons along Nassau Street. On weekends, you fled to Trenton for the night clubs and burlesque shows. Your empty glasses were stacked in front of you on cloth-covered tables, your natty evening gloves spread on your lap. You and your classmates were a bunch of undergraduates trying out first cigars and exchanging glances with the townie girls at the other side of the bar. You remember the Oh-Oh-Oh Flamingoes! drinking songs, the tall pitchers of flat, lifeless pale ale that you gulped as fast as you could, and the cries of astonishment from all who witnessed your drinking acumen. “Dude,” Mister Ponytail says, bar towel in hand. Beads of perspiration roll onto his nose studs, glistening them. You can not understand this new generation of the younger generation,
what with their passion for tattoos and piercings. “You need a refill?” Ernie is twirling on his hind legs, pirouetting, amusing a complement of new friends with his doggie tricks. None of them are paying any attention to you. “Want to see something funny?” you ask the bartender. “Sure,” he says, laying down the towel. His eyes narrow upon you. “What’cha got?” You plunk your face into Ernie’s beer pitcher, certain that this feat will again thrust you into the center of this party’s merriment, but soon there’s the realization that you’re physiologically disadvantaged. Unlike a dog’s muzzle, a man’s face is not well-suited for the demands of a typical pilsner pitcher. The pitcher does not detach when you lift your head. You’re stuck. Cool beer fizzes up your nostrils and trickles down your collar. “That’s just wrong,” the bartender says, but you’re unsure if he’s complaining about the spillage or the fact that you’ve got your head buried up your pitcher. The crowd that applauded your dog’s exploits turns mean. Someone runs to fetch the bouncer. You’re gasping for breath. There is no way to remove this thing from your head. People are laughing at you, admittedly not an uncommon experience, but
still, it stings. Your dog howls unsympathetically. In 1928, Ernie was short of cash when news of his father’s shotgun suicide reached him. You were the first person he called and immediately you wired money to the nearest train station so that he could be with his family in that time of tragedy. “Help me,” you gasp, unsure if he can hear you through the glass. Ernie’s ears twitch, attentive to your muffled pleas. “The test of a first-rate intelligence,” you wrote in your most influential essay, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Whatever his faults, he is a dog with a disciplined respect for duty. He springs to his paws and lunges at you, thudding his snout into the chest of your crimson Princeton sweater. The two of you topple over a stool and onto the terrazzo floor. It is the most brutal thing he has done to you since he eviscerated you in the pages of Esquire in 1936. Maybe you lose consciousness for a moment because, when you get up, the bar seems brighter and louder than you remember. You want to scream at him—Bad Boy! Heel! —but then it hits you: no longer are you face-deep in a beer pitcher. The pitcher lies on the floor, cracked in at least three places. You
brace yourself against the zinc bar, your dignity restored. “Hey asshole,” the bartender yells. He snatches his towel and snaps it at your wrist, grazing it. “That broken pitcher’s going to cost you an extra twenty bucks.” “That’s Mister Asshole to you,” you say, thumping your chest. You’ve still got your pride and, thank God, a whole wad of cash to back it up. You fling some of it at him. Perhaps you should justify your eccentricities by re-affirming that the rich are very different from schmoes like him. But, hey, it’s best to be gracious at moments like this. Two hotties are eying you from suede chairs at their corner table, one brunette and the other with Zelda’s dark honey-blonde hair cut flapper-short. They’re dressed like aspiring parvenus, girls from the other side of the river most likely, appareled in solid colors like how they must think well-off people of their generation dress, their faces done up with Maybelline, burnished steel hoops hanging from their ear lobes, the brunette in black spandex tights and a purple crushed velvet jacket with wide lapels over a white knit top. Purple is also the color of the blonde’s babydoll dress, spaghetti straps looping over her tan shoulders, her arms loosely concealed by a slight, almosttranslucent black sweater. “Good evening,” you say to these unchaperoned ladies.
“I’m the greatest novelist who ever lived.” You detect disbelief in the girls’ faces. One of the girls takes a drag from her cigarette. “Funny, you don’t look like J. K. Rowling.” You have no idea what to make of this comment, but you persist, undaunted. Ernie is uncharacteristically shy after you introduce him. All he can do is let his tongue hang from his mouth. No doubt he’s thinking up something macho or witty to say but it’s embarrassing, this prolonged silence of waiting for him to speak. He bends over and licks himself. Raising their plucked eyebrows, the girls gasp. “That’s nasty.” “Shall I recite some Keats?” you ask, eager to rescue the situation by drawing the girls’ attention away from Ernie. The girls giggle. “Who’s Keats?” “Who’s Keats?” To you, this generation that was born so many decades after your fatal 1940 heart attack seems so vapid, resistant to any art form that can’t be accessed on an iPod or Gameboy. “Why, only the greatest of the English Romantic poets. That’s who!” The girls exchange glances. The blonde is drinking a pale frothy cocktail from a glass that’s shaped like a lava lamp. It’s the kind of fruity drink that might be called a pineappletini. Her face
is both pink and gold, glazed over with a tanning salon tan, her skin glowing bright and perfect. She is more beautiful than any girl you’ve met since Zelda, and you hope that she’s interested in you. She shifts her glass from one hand to the other. “You guys are gay, aren’t you?” “Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay. Right?” the brunette quickly adds. Ernie growls. He does not take kindly to questions about his manhood. Soon after meeting him in 1925, Zelda pegged him as “a pansy with hair on his chest.” This was at the Dingo Bar, where you were celebrating yet again the unbearably ecstatic reviews being written about your new book, The Great Gatsby. You had a reputation as an extravagant tipper. Two garçons rushed about in wine-stained white aprons trying to impress you with the service they lavished upon your table, but, when they overheard Zelda’s accusation, they refused to refill Ernie’s glass with the champagne you purchased. To this day, Ernie has not forgiven her. “You’ve got a mean dog,” the blonde says. “We’re not gay.” The brunette laughs. Her perfume suggests gardenias, the scent of which seizes you with a pang of remembrance for the breezy night many moons ago when you pinned an example of
that flower in Zelda’s hair while sitting beneath a vine-covered trellis in a Montgomery garden. You were young and in love and you can never forget that you were once young and in love. Now, your attention is both here in this dim, smoke-ridden bar on bar on La Rue Delambre and back beneath that trellis staring into Zelda’s eyes, beating against a current of longing, seeing both worlds for what they are: dreams that can never be recaptured. The brunette surprises you with a suggestive wink. Tilting her chin towards her blonde friend, she lowers her voice to a whisper that you can barely hear in the din of this establishment. “Someone’s gaydar is not working properly.” “Huh?” “Never mind,” the blonde says. She has long, slender fingers that taper to fine pink points at their nails and she wags the longest at Ernie, scolding him. “He doesn’t have rabies, does he?” And then, “Can one of you dudes buy me another drink?” So you find yourself buying drinks for these two thirsty and petite members of the new generation of the younger generation. The girls dig you; you have the gift of gab, a sparkling eloquence that is so crucial in establishing relationships with the opposite sex. You tell them about your freshman try-out for the Princeton football team that was going so splendidly, you returning punts
and zigzagging up the gridiron until—horrors!—you twisted an ankle, sidelining your chance to make the team. They listen intently, giggling at all the right places, aflutter with your every boast. “But why didn’t you try out again the next year?” the blonde asks, reaching across the table to touch your hand with her splendidly long fingers. “You know, when your ankle healed?” You look into her gold-flecked blue eyes, eyes that are not so dissimilar to Zelda’s, and sigh. “Some things never heal.” Ernie, who prides himself on the accuracy of his built-in bullshit detector, howls. The girls, however, pay him no attention. They take pity on you. The blonde shudders. “You are so right.” An alcohol-induced sadness falls over the brunette’s face, the type of maudlin sadness that you know so well from personal experience. She sinks back into her suede chair and cradles her elbows in either hand, caressing the crushed velvet sleeves of her purple jacket. “You poor, poor man. I too once had something that broke.” The way she says it, batting her eyes at you, you know that it’s time to make your move. “Look at all this money in my pocket,” you say, dumping wads of currency onto the table. Henry Kissinger be damned, but
it’s your belief that a conspicuous flash of cash is the ultimate aphrodisiac. You finger one of the hundred-dollar bills, massaging it until it is stiff and straight. The girls titter, their cheeks blushing beneath their layers of Maybelline. Pleasure animates their eyes and you feel suddenly audacious yet purposeful in a way that you haven’t felt for many years. “Go ahead: touch it.” And touch the girls do. The blonde lets her fingers traipse over the engraved portrait of Benjamin Franklin, while the brunette turns her attention to you, tousling her hair and whispering in your ear. The ear is the most sensitive organ, registering the heat of her breath and the urgency of her pleas to see more... more... more. You suggest that maybe it would be a good idea to get moving and the girls signal their assent with swift nods. The victor belongs to the spoils, which is not so regrettable when the spoils are as willing as these two women. Ernie, who has no moral prohibition against accepting your castoffs, wags his tail. “Shall we catch a cab to my apartment?” you ask. As they’re gathering their coats, Ernie decides it’s time to make his move. He jumps on the blonde’s leg and starts humping. No, you tell him. THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO MOUNT THEM! In the throes of passion, Ernie fails to obey
your command. The women are aghast. The one who is not being assaulted, the brunette, hurls ole’ Ernie off her friend’s stained leg. Ernie lands with a thump on one of the suede chairs. You look up and notice that people have gathered around your table, curious gawkers responding to the disturbance. Ernie appears lifeless, his pink tongue handing from his mouth, but then he jerks to attention, a sad blue clarity coming over his eyes. His nose looks cold and dry, like a shriveled piece of black rubber. He hops off the chair, tail lowered between his legs, and slinks away through the thick crowd. “You okay?” you ask the blonde, who is smoothing out the wrinkles in her purple babydoll dress. Traces of Ernie’s silver fur have been shed onto it and when she runs her hand over the moist slick that Ernie deposited on her knee, she grimaces. “Come on,” the brunette says, grabbing the blonde’s arm and pulling her through the crowd. “We’re leaving.” You call after them, begging in vain for their phone numbers. Neither of the girls so much as turns around. They walk out of the bar, leaving you alone at their table with no idea when you will again experience the scent of gardenias or sit so close to a blonde with plucked eyebrows. People take to the dance floor in front of you, grinding into each other as a fog machine billows puffy knee-level clouds around them. Can’t
anyone simply Charleston anymore? You take a cocktail napkin and wipe the lipstick off the rims of the lava lamp glasses, emptying the pineappletinis into your mouth, and gag on the sugary bite. Hours later, you find Ernie cowering in the empty recesses of the bar’s back room. When he sees you, he has this big-eyed mournful look. He crouches up on his hind legs, lowers his front paws, and whimpers. Of course he’s an uncouth cad but you don’t chide him out—he is, after all, one of the burdens you’ll carry with you through the ages. You tell him there’ll be other girls and soon you’re back at the zinc bar, barking it up with all the other sad young men without women.
Molly McGillicuddy is thrilled to accept this award for People's "50 Most Beautiful People." She would like to thank everyone who made this dream a reality. Most especially, her hair stylist, Shawna.
The next morning came, so I woke up. I was hung-over and I thought, I wish I wasn’t hung-over. The reason I was hung-over was because Jeremy came over last night and we went out to meet Carl and get drunk. Carl still had at least half a handle of Jack Daniels from a night he tried to get this hot shoe store chick drunk. He got her drunk, but he also wanted to get her laid, so when she started puking on his rug, it ruined his plan pretty much. But he did end up with a sweet new rug because the girl felt very bad about puking on the old one and gave it to him. Girls are funny like that. Carl didn’t call her again on account of her not being able to hold her liquor well, or at least long enough to get laid. So since Carl had the Jack, he said, come over and get drunk. So me and Jeremy went over and got drunk. Then we went to Avion, which is a cool bar that we go to when we want to pick up chicks. But the chicks were lame so we drank beer, then left. Irregardless of not meeting chicks, we were still very drunk so that’s why I was hung-over in the morning. I looked in my mirror and I thought, I don’t look hung-over – that’s good. Then I started feeling very poetic. So I decided to wear my green t-shirt with a picture of a woman symbol silkscreened on it, the kind they have on bathroom doors. This t-shirt is very ironic I feel. It was a little cold so I thought -37-
maybe I’d put on another shirt, but then I thought, no, this shirt makes me look alright. To tell you the truth, I really thought, this shirt makes me look hot. But that sounds more conceited so I didn’t say it. It’s important not to sound too conceited because people don’t like that. But some people can go fuck themselves, is how I feel, sometimes, but not always. Then I stood at my mirror and made my hair look all messy. My ex-girlfriend told me to style it so it looks like I don’t care. It looks better like this because some people get too concerned with looks. Then I checked my phone and had like five new text messages. One was from Brogie and it said, Live free or die! Bitch. Brogie is very ironic like this. When he is being ironic, people think it is very funny. I thought maybe he was at Mangoes, so I decided to go there. Mangoes is this very cool juice place. They also have bagels and wrap sandwiches. I like the ones with edamame. Mangoes is a cool place because very cool people hang out there. They bring their laptops and drink lattes, because Mangoes also sells coffee. And Mangoes has a lot of character. It has cement counter-tops and big aluminum stools. The floor is also cement and the tables where people can sit or work on their laptops are made of steel. Mangoes, I think, is very avant-garde which is why I like it. I was -38-
looking bored and cynical which I like to do. I hate all those perky people because I think, that’s not real. Life is hard. When the girl behind the counter asked me what I wanted, I said I wanted a portabella and roasted red pepper panini and a Berry Hula, which is a strawberry, banana, and coconut smoothie. I don’t always get mangoes in my smoothie when I go to Mangoes. I told the girl I wanted extra whey protein. She had very good hair. It was cut shaggy and extreme and was dyed that color when red goes purple. Like a pomegranate maybe. I never saw one, but I had the juice (at Mangoes) because they say it promotes your health. Health is very important because Americans are too obese. This has something to do with racism, and I don’t think people should be racist or fat. When I was waiting for my shit, that’s when I saw Brogie. He was sitting at one of the steel tables with two girls, Dana, who Carl fucked, and a girl I didn’t know. I got my drink and panini and went over. Brogie said, hey dude and I said, hey man. Then I said, hey Dana, and before I sat down I moved my chair closer to the other girl because she was good looking. Her name, as it turned out, was Pam. They were talking about the war. Dana said the war was horrible and all the troops should just get out. I thought this was a very good point. Brogie said, yeah, fuck Bush, -39-
which was also a good point. Then Pam started talking about philosophy and shit. She was talking about what her friend, who smokes a lot of pot, said about all of these very existential things. What she was saying was very deep. I like when people say deep things because not only is it good to think deeply, but because the world will be better when they do. Like, I read part of an article about child soldiers in Africa or Afghanistan, and I thought that needs to not happen, which is why more people need to think about deep stuff, so that kids don’t have guns. So I said this, and Pam nodded really long, making strong eye contact, which was very intense. And I was pretty sure she was into me. That’s why when Dana said she had to go meet a friend at Starbucks, and we got up to go, I hung back and asked Pam if she wanted to meet at Avion. She gave me her number and I entered it in my cell, gave her mine, and said I would text her later. Texting is very convenient because then you don’t have to talk with someone if you want to say something. Then I said cool, and she said cool and gave me a look, so I knew she was into me. You’d have thought so too. Then, since I had a bunch of hours to kill before I planned on texting Pam, I went for a walk and thought about maybe getting a coffee. I don’t know why I didn’t get -40-
it at Mangoes, but I didn‘t want to switch directions in the middle of the sidewalk and look stupid so I kept going. When I was walking, these three guys in baseball hats passed by and looked very lame. And I thought that they probably didn’t think too deeply since they only watched sports. It’s important to be intellectual. Like the other day I went to Barnes & Noble and got a book called Fifty of the World’s Best Short Stories. I like this book because it won’t be hard to find a story and know it’s a good one. Many of the authors in the book are very great, like Hemingway. He is a great American author. I also like the book because there are more obscure authors that I’ve never heard of, like Anton Chekhov. This way the book is not too commercial and is very good. I haven’t started it yet, but I trust it is very good. Then I passed this diner that looked like one I used to go to when I was a kid. But it wasn’t the same one. And I thought I’d go in and get coffee there because it looked old in a retro kind of way. But when I got inside it was just old, and not very cool or retro at all. The people in it were very sad seeming and it didn’t look like they’d have lattes at this place, which is what I would serve if I owned an old diner. I would make my diner very retro with shiny new chrome stools and big booths like the kind they have in movies -41-
about the 50s, and the waitresses would be on roller skates. But it wouldn’t be cheesy like you’re thinking. The waitresses would be hot and really cool. Irregardless of this place not being cool at all, I got my coffee there and walked out. And that’s when I saw Carl walking by. I said, hey man, and he said, hey dude. And then he said how he was hung-over, and I said, same. But I was feeling better. And he asked if I wanted to go to a poetry slam that night. Sometimes we like to do artsy stuff like that. As long as the people there aren’t too weird in that too artsy way that some people get and you don’t even know what they’re saying. But he said that this would be cool because he knew the girl running it. And there would be free wine. And I almost said, I’m in, because I thought, I’ll wear my new sweater that I got at this very trendy thrift store. But then I said, I can’t, I’m meeting this hot chick at Avion. And he said, cool man, she in the bone zone? And I said she was. And he said something nasty and we laughed. Then he said, later and I kept walking down through the city. I thought of going to see Jeremy, but figured if anyone would still be drunk from the night before, it would be Jeremy. So I kept walking past his place. There were three blonde girls walking in front of me, and they had nice asses. All three of them were wearing these cute short shorts, and -42-
sort of bouncing down the sidewalk. It was like a gum commercial. I thought maybe they were triplets, and was pretty stoked to have spotted three hot, blonde triplets. Then one of them turned around and I saw her face. It was pretty busted. Luckily, she turned back around, and I just pretended they were triplets and watched their asses some more until they stopped to get on the 58 bus. I kept heading up the street some more and came to the modern art museum. You know the one that has the big sculpture outside? Well, it’s the one that has this big, white curvy thing out front. It sort of looks like a big claw or a toenail sticking right out of the ground in front of the museum. I figured Pam would probably be impressed if I told her I went to a modern art museum on our date tonight, so I figured I’d go inside. Before I went in, I cranked a butt on the front steps. You always see artsy people smoking, so I figured I looked just about right smoking on the steps of the modern art museum. But then this fat cop, or some lame-ass museum guard, told me that I wasn’t allowed to smoke on the steps and had to put my cigarette out. I was going to tell him that he probably didn’t know the first thing about art, and to go screw himself. But people like him wouldn’t understand that. Some people are just ignorant. Inside, the museum was air-conditioned and quiet. I -43-
went to the museum shop first and looked at the naked pictures in some of the art books. I don’t know why so many of the old painters bothered painting all those fat chicks. Maybe they had fat fetishes or something or maybe obesity has always been a problem. Either way, the pictures were pretty boring, so I played with the clicky-clacky silver balls that swing back and forth, and then bought a few magnets so I could put them up on my fridge and have proof for Pam that I was at the museum. Then I went to the museum café and got a Picasso, altissimo, with extra foam, which I’m pretty sure is just a large cappuccino, but I like that the museum puts a more artsy flair on things. I’d already had a coffee, but I hate walking around a museum only looking at paintings and shit. I like to at least have a cappuccino or something to hold. My favorite thing at the museum was this exhibit of these big pipes. They were metal and bolted together, and bolted to the wall, so they came out at really funky angles. They were kind of like the exposed air vent pipes on the ceiling at Mangoes. Except the ones at Mangoes are just pipes; the ones bolted up on the wall are art because they are at a museum. That also means that they have a really deep meaning too. I stood in front of them for a really long time just looking. Sometimes you have to let the art wash -44-
over you. So I stood there looking at all the beautiful art in those pipes. Then I took a sip of my Picasso and burned my tongue. That sucked. I walked around some more, letting the art wash over me. I went in a room with these big canvases with huge red X’s on them. They made a very powerful statement. I think what the artist was trying to say was probably very powerful. When I was looking at the X’s, I checked my watch, and realized I had to get back to my place to shower. I was dicking around my apartment when my phone beeped because I had a text message from Pam. It said, meet at ur place? 6? what’s the addy? I thought, cool she’s definitely into me, because usually the guy has to text the girl first for dates and stuff. I thought maybe she’ll give out tonight, so I texted back, #76 at M and 13th. c u then. I got a beer from the fridge since it was almost five anyway, and I wanted to have at least one beer before she got there. I threw some shit that was on my floor into the closet. Girls like a clean place. I think it helps your chances of getting laid. I drank three beers by the time she buzzed. She was wearing this tight shirt and I could see her bra-strap. It was black and I knew what that meant, so I smiled and gave her a beer and got another for me. She drank hers pretty fast. -45-
We were sitting on the couch and she was talking about the artificial ideas in the media. And it was very deep. And then we started making out and she was very into it, and I was psyched because usually a girl has to be more drunk than she was to kiss like that, but I didn’t stop and reached up into her shirt and unhooked her bra. The sex was real good. She wasn’t one of those real crazy screamers and she didn’t just lie there either. It was good. After, it was only like eight, so I said, do you still want to go out? I figured I should at least buy her a drink and maybe an app. And she said, yeah, and put her shirt on. When we walked in, Avion was pretty crowded. This is because, like I said, it is a very cool bar. They were playing music with a strong beat. I asked Pam what she wanted to drink. She said, surprise me, and went to save us seats at the bar. I got two Jack and Cokes, and was feeling good from the sex so I gave the bartender a good tip. I found Pam and we were just talking and looking around at some of the other people in Avion, many who were very good looking. She brought up some of her pothead friend’s deep philosophy again, and then she said, absurdity is a slut. I thought this was an edgy thing to say and I wished I’d said it. Irregardless, I was glad to be sitting with an edgy girl -46-
who was also hot. She moved closer to me in that way girls do so that your knees are touching. I put my hand on her thigh. She said, I think I’m pretty into you. She was a crazy girl. The way that girls can be crazy sometimes. So I said, you’re a goofy bitch. And I couldn’t tell if she liked that or not because she looked at me with these eyes that said, I don’t know whether or not I like that. I bought her another drink in case she didn’t like what I said. She smiled when I set her drink down so I knew it’d all be cool. I bought mojitos because I wanted her to know that I was sophisticated. I’m pretty sure she could tell. I looked a little past her and all around at the other people in the bar. Girls get interested when it looks like you’re not. I was checking out a hot girl with great legs. Then, I could feel Pam’s knee moving up and down against mine, and I knew what she was doing. We talked some more, and I told her about the book I got, Fifty of the World’s Best Short Stories. And she said it sounded very good and agreed that it was good that they put obscure authors like Anton Chekhov in because that would keep the book from being, and at the same time, we both said, lame. We both kind of laughed, and then her eyes got pretty serious. And when she leaned in close to me and I could smell -47-
her perfume, like marshmallows, and feel the black of her bra-strap throbbing up at me. The fast beats of music drummed through me, and I breathed in everything all around, the strange lights, the bartender in black, those great legs, the clear and amber-clear liquids reflecting everything. I felt it all pulsing deeper and deeper under my skin. Then she got so serious I thought I might I die, and then she said, I think I can see right into your soul. So I hit her hard in the nose with the heel of my hand because I didn‘t want anyone looking into my soul because I knew what they’d find. She made this little what-the-fuck yelp, like a little dog, more surprised than hurt. I sat there and she was standing up with her hands at her face. That’s when the table got bloody and she started crying or screaming. And inside I was feeling like a car accident that everyone was looking at. But no one was really looking at me; they were looking at Pam because she was bleeding and screaming all over the place. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t like that. I was still feeling like a car accident when I stopped hearing her scream, when the whole place started moving like it was underwater. The pulse of the music slowed and the bottles in the bar mirror were a kaleidoscope I had when I was eight. I watched some waitress come to help Pam and -48-
put ice on her face, and when Pam turned her head, slow like an owl, she looked at me like she was seeing a nightmare. The bouncers became henchmen and came for me slowly. And then I started waiting because I felt what was coming next. And while I was sitting there in this roaring hush, I realized that Pam couldn’t look into my soul because she was just like me. And to me, this was very ironic, so I laughed. And I laughed until it went hollow in my throat and it felt like a lie, or the truth; I didn’t know which was worse, and either way, it would never be untold. The truth and the lies were all mixed up. And the fact that I couldn’t tell them apart undid me. That’s when I got real sad for us.
Justin Mitchell was born and raised in Alaska. He studied at the University of Northern Colorado. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
They got into it just as the bartender served their pints. “I mean, you know there's someone out there,” he said, before he realized where it would lead. “Waiting.” “Waiting?” she said. “Yes,” he said, “he's always been waiting. He grew up waiting. He comes from one of those horrible, frozen residential neighborhoods where his neighbors were all Reaganites and had barbecues on the weekends. While most of the other kids his age were blowing up tree stumps and playing baseball, he probably wandered around wondering how he ended up trapped here, riding his bike from one end of town to another, or walking through the woods, looking for something somewhere going on. But it was just that grid of streets, rows of houses, people driving around in circles. Nothing that resembled what was in his head.” “Just some nowhere place.” “Yeah—Wisconsin, Ohio, South Dakota, Oklahoma— somewhere where there wouldn't be any choice but for him to be independent. He probably only had one or two friends, if that many. I bet he had a lot more, when he was younger.” “Why?”
“I don't know—we're all more alike than different when we're younger.” “How?” “Well, I don't know,” he said, “when I was young—I mean really young—I don't remember ever having a problem sharing what was mine, or worrying about what others thought of me. I don't recall caring how many friends I had. I assumed everyone I met was a friend. I don't recall feeling different until people began telling me how the 'real world' worked.” “And he managed to avoid this?” “In a way, yeah—I mean, I think he probably stopped being as open, but inside he is still always expecting the next person he meets to behave. People called him a late bloomer, but really he was just waiting.” “Huh,” she said. “So what does he do?” “I don't know—probably not a whole lot.” “No, I mean, what does he do for a living?” “Oh...well...I don't think that's very important to him. But I suppose he works whatever jobs require him to change himself the least—like a dishwasher, or residential counselor, or cab driver, something like that.” “Jobs requiring very little effort.”
“Yeah—because it's about the least important thing to him...all he sees in a job is something to allow him to get his work done.” “And what's his work?” “Who knows? I wish I did. Maybe he's a writer, or a painter, or maybe he records music on a tape recorder.” “And it doesn't occur to him to do anything else.” “No.” “What does he look like?” “Oh...I don't know. I bet he's a little too skinny or too fat. I bet he's pale. I bet he wears rumpled, thoroughly used, functional clothes. I bet he's always wearing a hat of some kind. I bet he carries himself with a confidence that doesn't seem to reflect his place in the world, and that's what makes people notice him.” “So people do notice him?” “Yeah. People notice. They can tell there's something more there, even if it makes them uncomfortable.” “Who does he hang out with?” “Oh...lots of people.” “Lots of people? I thought he didn't have many friends.” “Well, that was when he was young. But things change.
These days, people are coming full circle. Now he attracts people.” “They want to recapture the days when they felt more like themselves.” “Exactly. And he has something they feel they lost.” “What is it?” she asked. “I don't know,” he said, “that spark—that all the great ones have.” “The great ones?” “Yeah—the people that change the world. And I don't mean the ones who climb to the top of the pile. They're nothing. They never are. I mean the ones you can't see—the ones who are too smart to allow it.” “Well, I don't know—I think plenty of well-known writers and singers and artists have done a great deal to change the world. That's why they're well-known.” “Yes, and I agree, but they are well-known precisely because they are finished. A wide variety of people can only appreciate what is obvious. What they read, watch, and listen to has to be easily understandable. So, yes, when these new artists emerge, they might say something entirely new, but all they are doing is creating a new category. Their ability to recreate themselves—and to create any further
change—is gone. They're enclosed.” “But he isn't?” “No.” “Does he produce anything, then?” “Yeah, sure. But he never thinks about anything once he is done. It's always onto the next project.” “But doesn't any artist do that?” “No—because they want to be seen. Every artist wellknown during their lifetime has spent a great deal of time struggling to get people to notice them. But he doesn't care. He's too busy.” “Huh...he must not live very extravagantly.” “No—he lives in some decrepit house or apartment, with books, clothing, and rock albums spread everywhere, and bizarre odds and ends sticking every which-way—his home is like this explosion of information. You could trace his whole life history from it. He probably has crumpled, brittle posters on the wall, and photographs of old friends from when they were younger and happier. He hasn't quite decided where anything goes. He never will.” “But how does he keep himself stimulated?” “But that's just it—he is stimulated—constantly—by what everyone else ignores. He is constantly discovering
new levels.” “Levels?” “Yeah—I mean—most people just acquaint themselves with the part of reality that is the easiest for them to understand, and once they find it they stop searching.” “And this is a bad thing?” “Yes—because our society is made of countless levels like this, weaving in and out of each other, but never touching, which causes distrust, resentment, and hate. I mean, take for example our friends—we all come from middle class backgrounds. Most of us are white. Most of us have either gone to college or are going to college, and most of us like about the same music, books and movies. We hang out at each other's houses, and at the same bars. We all think of ourselves as individuals, but to those looking at us, we are one unit.” “Ummm...okay...” “And every day we see people who come from different levels, and we see them from outside and dismiss them because we think they're less real than we are. And they do the same for us. We stick with ours, they stick with theirs. But I'm tired of it. I've been branching out. We have these neighbors a bit up the street—in that light blue house with
the drainpipe hanging down over the porch—who are construction workers from down state who have a metal band and have shows sometimes. They just called out to me once while I was walking over to the Shell. I've started going to some of their shows, plus just coming over to hang out sometimes after I close the bookstore. They sell pot, and they have all kinds of people over all the time—yuppies working for environmental non-profits, and welfare-state types, co-operative housing kids, migrant laborers, and some straight-up rail-riding anarchists. All these different people come from their levels, and all these levels meet but never mix.” “Why not?” “I don't know—I mean, I try to get through to the people I meet over there, but I start, and about ten seconds in it becomes obvious that I can't explain who I am to them in a way that sounds real. They see someone just like hundreds of others—like all our friends and all their friends, and so on—just a type. So I think someone like him would be able to approach these people in a way that they understood as human.” “And how is that?” “Well—seeing as he never moved past the time when
we were all part of the same world—before we all slipped into our slots—he has the ability to get to the roots of people. He knows that to understand a place—a city, a town, even a neighborhood—entirely is impossible. It's the same as saying you understand the entire universe. It's not made of tiny blocks stacked side by side and stuck together with cement, despite what people try to tell you. It's like sand on a beach—when you grab a handful, you have many tiny pieces jumbled together. So if you walk around and think about categories, everywhere's going to seem the same. He understands that reality is more complex than that.” “But didn't you just say that we all start out the same, and now aren't you saying that we're all different?” “Because we've made ourselves different. Because we feel like we have to. That's what stops us.” “Does it stop you?” “Yeah—like I said, all they see is my thrift store clothes, my Converses, my messenger bag—a type.” “But aren't they just types too?” “Not to themselves.” “So what is it that he has?” “I don't know,” he said in an exasperated tone.
“Just...the ability...to see without barriers.” “Barriers like what?” she asked, a bit exasperated herself. “Well, if I knew that, there wouldn't be any need for someone like him.” “Well, I don't know,” she said, “don't you think if you can imagine him in such detail, you can imagine what he thinks?” “No,” he said, “for the same reason there can be a unified field theory even if no one knows it.” She gave him a look he felt was odd. “Aren't you being a little dramatic?” she asked. “Why? Because I'm thinking critically about the world?” “Well...I don't know...you don't seem to be thinking that critically.” “What's that supposed to mean?” “Well...don't you think that maybe you're just as cut off as they are?” “Yes,” he said, seeming exasperated again, “I thought I just said that.” “So maybe if you're just as cut off as they are you're not any more capable of knowing what the person who sees
through all of it is like.” “Maybe,” he said in a worried tone, “but I still think he's out there somewhere.” “Why 'he'?” she asked. “What?” “Why is it a him? Couldn't it be a she?” “Well—I don't know”— “Because you've talking about how outside everything this guy of yours is, and I can't help thinking how women have been looking at society from the outside since the beginning.” He shifted in his stool. “Yeah,” she said, “I can tell this makes you uncomfortable. Sorry.” “It doesn't make me uncomfortable—” “Well, you just tensed up completely, and you won't make eye contact with me, so obviously it does. But I'm sorry—you sit here and talk about all these barriers between people that are somehow impossible to break through, so you all sit behind them and watch each other. I can't help but look at all of you and think that maybe your inability to overcome your differences comes from one big thing you all have in common: you're all men, and you're programmed to
believe that you're the center of the universe, that your view of the world is the only one that is completely right, and to overcome this would mean giving that up, and none of you can handle that.” “There are women over there, too—” “Yeah, sure, women who accept your view of yourselves as a fact of life. There with their boyfriends, waiting for them to get their business over with.” “No—not true. There's this lesbian punker couple—” “Who act male, probably, don't behave too female.” “I think this is unfair.” “I figured you would.” “You just want to grind your ax. You're always doing this.” “I am not always doing this—” “Every time I try to make a point about anything, you're right there to clamp down”— “Oh please—” “You are! I can't say anything without you trying to tear it down—” “No, you just get mad when I don't agree with you— that ten to twenty percent of the time when I have a different view, you freak out, and you throw a fit like you are
now, which just proves my point.” “Whatever.” “Well, it's true. Look at yourself right now. No wonder you see these mystical barriers. You live in this little la-la-land where everything goes by your rules.” He took a fast, jerky sip of his pint. “You might be right,” he said. “I think I am,” she said. “But I don't think you understand men like you think you do. Yeah, okay, we think we have to push our view on as many people as possible. But I don't think most women are any different, especially all the quote-unquote liberated women, who are always just as aggressive as any man.” “Because they have to be! It's the only way for them to get anywhere! Not only do they have to act like men, they have to outdo them at it.” “And you really think this is unnatural for women? That women are really, by nature, less aggressive, and are forced into it?” “Yes...yes, I do.” “See, I think that's sexist. People are people. Some are assholes, some aren't. Gender has nothing to do with it.” “If that's true, then why couldn't this person just as
well be a woman?” “I don't know—I think it's unlikely.” “You are so full of shit—you just got done saying gender has nothing to do with a person's personality.” “But this is different.” “How?” “Well...I don't know,” he said, looking around. He thought for a moment, then made a low guttural sound. “Here: women are just beginning to have the same options men have always had. So they tend to believe that society as it is can work, if we just get the right people to run it. Namely women and not men. While men have been there and done that, and understand it's the structure that's the problem.” “How do you know that, though?” “See—you think that—just automatically—that's where your problem is.” “My problem?” “Yes. You don't understand how power corrupts in our culture.” “And, and you do? What power do you have? You can't even graduate from college.” “And what's stopping me? Is it because I can't, or
because I don't want to?” “Oh, please. All you do is go to shows and bars and house parties and try to get laid.” “So do you.” “Sure, but I have plans.” “What kind of plans?” “I'm—I'm going to graduate, for one thing. I've chosen a major. I go to my classes. I get good grades. While you and Greg and John just coast along because you know you can get away with it.” “And that's the only reason we do it?” “Oh—no, I don't know—yeah, I know you guys think you're so disillusioned and righteous and more real than everyone else, and that you like to sit around your house reading this sooooooo intellectual anarchist philosophy and talking about how crazy everyone else is 'cause they're not just like you, while meanwhile there's millions of people who can't afford to even go to school because of their race, their gender, or their financial situation.” “But that's what you don't get. You don't understand the sort of pressure that we've been put under our whole lives.” “Oh, please.”
“It's true. Since before we can remember, we've been told the story of our lives: we find some small problem with the system that we feel like we can fix. We work on fixing this small problem, and we succeed. We allow our personal success to become the success of the system, the only true success. But some of us sense it's deeper than that. We know it's the system as a whole that's the problem. That every success just creates new problems. That in order to create real change, we must abandon this view of us that's been shoved down our throat—that we're perfect, that there is no way we can be corrupted, that the only problem with the world is that we haven't been there to fix everything. And women have not made that step yet. They're still stuck on that—that the only problem with the world is that they haven't been around to run it yet. That same childish narcissism.” “Oh please! And sitting on your butts pretending you're like these righteous freedom fighters or something isn't narcissistic.” “That is a very close-minded view—” “What are you guys doing though? You have like all these phantom art projects that aren't going anywhere, while you eat and drink more than you need, all off student
loan money!” “We're doing things—” “How's that novel coming? The one you talk about all the time?” “Fuck off—I was writing this morning—” “I don't know, usually when I come over and you're quote-unquote writing, I find you on the Internet or pacing around your room with your guitar playing Violent Femmes songs.” “Revision is a—slow—process—” “Meanwhile Greg keeps talking about his new record that he's been working on for almost a year, and John's always organizing his records and agonizing about the setlist for his next radio show—” “He wants to go into broadcasting—” “Then why does he fail all his classes? You guys don't do anything—all you do is talk, and somehow expect that to change everything. And then you scoff at anyone who wants to actually do work.” “I don't think that's true,” he said in a withering tone. “Well fine,” she said. He took a sip of his beer, and she took one of hers. They often came to these moments. Many people do. There
are several options. She picked an unpopular one. “I just think you're rationalizing,” she said. “Your attitude of entitlement tells you the whole world should meet your criteria, and when it doesn't you just sit there, thinking you're like waiting it out or something. You're not doing anything.” “But don't you see that doing things is what got us here? For centuries, people have been doing things— making their mark on the world—until the world's this shapeless mess. Excuse us if it seems played out. And I do think the only people who see this completely are white men. Not that it won't change with time. But for now it's just how it is.” “Do you really believe that? That just because those who have been in charge have failed means that nobody else could succeed?” “I think it's unlikely.” “Well no wonder you think the world's doomed! You live in this little bubble where everything's on your terms, and since you're all out of options, of course that means everyone else must be, too. Of course! Of course there's no solution! There can't be, or else it just might mean you not calling the shots!”
“I think your view is limited,” he said. “And I think yours is, too,” she said. “No more or less than mine,” he said. “Fine!” she said, “I guess I just don't have a problem with that.” She took a sip of her beer, then put it down in front of her and slid off her stool. “Where are you going?” he asked. “To the bathroom,” she said. She walked past him across the long, narrow room to the door on the far wall. The sounds of the other patrons' voices and laughter, the smoke from their cigarettes, and the music from the jukebox enveloping it all seemed to sweep her away to another world. He was alone. He realized he was sweating, and wiped his forehead, then looked at the sweat in his hand. His grimace tightened. He wiped his hand off on his hooded sweatshirt. He took his phone out of his pocket, checked the time, and put it back. He took another sip of his beer, then set it down a few inches to the left of where it was before. He looked at the small puddle of beer, and the reflections of the television and the neon sign it contained. He touched the puddle with his finger, and moved it around a bit, watching the
reflections bobble, break, and re-form. There were several people eying him, their expressions suggesting they were uncomfortable. He did not appear to notice them. When she came back, she had a similar look on her face. She slid back onto her stool and watched for a moment. “What are you doing?” she finally asked. He looked at her. When he saw her expression, his changed as well. “Nothing,” he said. He placed the pint glass back over the puddle. “So we heading to Dad's or what?” she asked. “I don't know. I'm a little barred out,” he said. “Are you okay?” “Yes, of course I'm okay. I just don't feel like being out.” “Well, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings—” “Oh fuck off. Don't flatter yourself. It's just—well— there's no way for me to make what I'm thinking clear to you, and I hate that. I hate the world that makes it like that. But I want to believe there is someone who can say it.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah—” “No, listen: just because I can't do it doesn't mean
there isn't something worthwhile to say. I know there is. We're all waiting for it.” “And everything will change just like that?” “No. Things are changing. Things are always changing. As we speak countless people like him are creating things that are radically changing the world. We just can't see it. We're hung up. We need direction from someone outside.” “Speak for yourself,” she said. “Oh, so you know just what's going on with the world, huh? You know, for certain, you're part of the solution?” “I do what I can,” she said. “But what we can isn't enough.” But she was busy rummaging through the messenger bag sitting on the floor below her stool. She took her phone out, checked for messages, then put it back in. She laid the bag on the bar, and reached for the rumpled and battered corduroy jacket beneath it, and put it on. “So are you coming?” she asked. “Didn't you hear me?” “Yes, but I'm tired of talking about this. Are you coming?” “Yeah, I guess,” he said. He zipped his sweatshirt.
“But doesn't that bother you?” “Apparently not,” she said. “I'm just going to get a drink with my friends and not worry about it.” “Oh—that's useful.” “Well—I don't know—I bet he would do the same.” He looked at her oddly. “Whatever,” he said, taking the last sip of the drink, and gesturing at the now-empty glasses. “Did you get these?” “Yeah,” she said. “Alright, let's go,” he said.
Barbara Neu was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio where she earned a degree in painting. Since then, she has spent most of her time overseas. She currently lives in Japan with her family.
A Stork Story -72-
It started when I bailed on my co-workers and spontaneously took a cruise to an island I had only read about in a pamphlet handed to me by a tall, blonde man on a street corner. The island had it all: beaches, forests, exotic fruit-laden drinks, and a variety of interesting bird life. It was a lot of fun until I was jolted awake in my hotel bed by a loud “TICK-TOCK” sound coming from my stomach. No matter how hard you try, it’s hard to enjoy vacation when part of your body is going postal. The doctor was nice about it, and gave me a happy pill before she reached up inside the flap of skin under my lowest left rib and pulled out an orange travel alarm clock, its face patterned with tiny blue flowers. “Yep, ticking all right. Boy, that’s loud.” “Ha-ha!” I said, totally flipped out from the pill. “So how do we get the damn thing to stop ticking? It’s driving me bonkers.” “Motherhood’s the answer. But, maybe being a visitor, you didn’t realize….” “Realize what?” “The Storks have sort of taken over everything involving the birds and the bees. You know, no babies without their permission.”
“But that’s totally fascist!” “Shhhh,” the doctor put a finger to her lips and looked up at the ceiling. So the doctor’s office was bugged. Probably every place was bugged. Human reproduction was at the mercy of the Storks, and now they had probably started a dossier on me and my clock. I was totally fucked. The doctor handed me a pamphlet. “Wonderful creatures, Storks,” she said, pointing to the ceiling. “It’s said that their movements can predict the future. If they’ve taken over here, you’ll probably just run into the same situation when you go home. My advice is, read this pamphlet and make the most of it.” “Couldn’t I just have sex with a fertile man?” “Fertile man? Here? Tricia, those days are over.” All right, cheer up, I said to myself. I opened up the pamphlet and started reading. Stork Surrogacy and You Storks, long at the forefront of the parenting and baby delivery field, are excited to bring to you, Human Beings, the opportunity to benefit from their many years of study and expertise! New research has concluded that Stork Certified Babies ™
are smarter, more attractive, and earn higher salaries than regular Human-based babies. Watch the baby grow into an adult before your very eyes, confident in the knowledge that you are reaping the benefits of generations of Stork parenting research! See the amazed reactions of all your friends and neighbors when they meet your beautiful and accomplished child! Step 1: Building Your Nest All Stork Certified Babies™ must be raised in a Stork Approved nest. Nests are to be constructed of flexible ash and willow branches and lined with moss. Nests are to be six feet high, of a conical shape, and four feet in diameter at the top (See Illustration #1). They must be balanced on the roof of a domestic Human home. Oh holy shit. Building a nest was one thing, but on whose house? Then I thought: I couldn’t possibly be the only one in this predicament. I used a nickel to buy a newspaper and sure enough, in the classifieds were lots of ads offering a “Roof Available for Rent.” I picked the cheapest one, and went in search of the house. I found the old blue foursquare house down by a
stream. It was a challenging roof for a nest. No wonder the rent was so cheap. A tall young woman with curly red hair was painting her mailbox. I introduced myself and told her my problem. Her name was Amy. “Yeah, I can actually hear your clock ticking myself,” Amy said. She wiped the back of her hand across her nose, accidentally leaving a streak of orange paint. “The problem is, I’m broke.” “Don’t worry. It would be fun having a baby around. Stay as long as you like.” Amy smiled and gestured towards the roof with her paintbrush, scattering marigold-colored droplets over both of us. “Great! Can I borrow an ax?” It took three days to cut enough branches for the nest, but the moss was easy once I found some moss-covered rocks in the stream. Soon I was perched on the house’s roof while Amy handed me the branches. After ten hours I was sunburned and covered with bloody scratches, but I had a nest. I climbed in and curled myself into a ball, pressing my hands against my thumping clock. Stars were just beginning to wink in the evening sky. Soon I’d be lying there with my baby. Tomorrow was the day.
Step 2: Picking Up Your Baby All Stork Certified Babiesâ„˘ are distributed from automats throughout your area. Babies cost $1.25, which must be paid in five quarters. Upon delivery, you will be given a Baby Care Booklet, which details Stork Certified care and feeding, and outlines the inspection process. Get ready to see a genuine human being grow before your very eyes! Who would have thought that babies could be bought at automats, and for only five quarters. These were lent to me by Amy. She gave me a hug and sent me off with a blanket for the baby. Motherhood was just a coin slot away. The Baby Automat was in a former bank building, but instead of tellers, there were automat windows. Amy and I had talked about what kind of baby I should get, if given a choice. And man, there were choices. It seemed that any type of baby could be ordered as easily as an ice-cream cone. Amy said that a dark blonde, green-eyed boy might be nice, so I wandered along the rows of windows until I found it, found him, found Larry. Five shiny quarters in my sweaty palm, I said a short
prayer to someone, maybe the Stork god, and hoped that this was the right thing to do. I slid the coins in plip-plopkerchink. Then I waited. The automat door opened and a huge bronze and black eye stared out at me. Wow, face to face with a real Stork! I tried to look like someone who could handle a baby. The Stork snapped its bill at me and thrust out a large bundle wrapped in a blue towel. The bundle was warm, heavy, mobile. Larryâ€™s green eyes looked up at me and, bless his heart, he smiled. My clock stopped ticking. The beauty of my trip home with Larry was slightly marred when I remembered my miserable track record with childhood pets, especially the Sea Monkeys. At first, it had been a spectacular success: within forty-eight hours, I had created a swarming bowlful of tiny creatures that jerked around the water in excited bursts. The Sea Monkeys got bigger, learned to do tricks, even had babies themselves and everything was great until we had to go on vacation and I left the poor creatures in the care of a clueless neighbor. The day of our return, I could see right away that something was wrong. The water was murky and shallow and there seemed to be a shadow passing to and fro across the bowl, which turned out to be the last surviving Sea Monkey,
grown to the size of a kidney bean. Cannibalism and a gruesome survival-of-the-fittest equation had produced a freakish mutant glutton, which I promptly flushed down the toilet. Hopefully, my relationship with Larry would have a happier ending. Step 3: Feeding Your Baby In accordance with Stork Law, and for the protection of the baby’s health, all Stork Certified Babies™ must be fed the authorized Stork diet ONLY. Allowable foods are: live frogs, toads, salamanders, crawfish, snakes, and small fish. Seasonal insects are also permitted. After six weeks you will be inspected by a Stork team. This team will determine if you meet Stork parenting standards. Amy and I read this part in a hurry because Larry had started to bawl his head off. We let him suck on our fingers for awhile, then decided we’d better go out to the stream and find some frogs or snakes. It turned out that Amy was a whiz at catching frogs. She soon had five of them in a bag. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say we managed to convert the frogs into something resembling baby food, and Larry ate them all up,
like a good Stork baby. For five wonderful weeks we watched Larry grow. Amy and I traded frog duty and hugging duty and took turns cleaning Larry off with moss when he took a poop (Storks don’t believe in diapers.) One gorgeous spring day rolled into the next on that beautiful island ruled by fascist birds. But spring was extra sweet with just the three of us. That is until Bishram showed up, a neighbor’s kid. One morning I opened my eyes and there he was, perched on the edge of the nest, sucking a dirty thumb, no more than six. “Hey, lady.” “Hey yourself.” “Where’d ya get that baby?” “From a machine.” “Naw, that ain’t true. My brother Aslan says they come from Awomb.” “Oh. Is that a planet in outer space?” “No, it’s something really, really gross. The man puts his peeper in the lady’s alley and then there’s this bag? With blood and stuff in it? And you mail it to a place called Awomb and two weeks later they deliver the baby.” “Don’t worry, dude. I don’t think you’ll ever have to visit Planet Awomb.”
“Good.” Bishram quickly became part of our team, a wicked crawdad hunter and playmate for Larry. But Amy was worried. “There’s something weird about Bishram’s family,” she whispered to me while the two boys napped in the nest. “You mean because Bishram pretty much lives with us and they don’t care?” “Well, yeah. But also I heard that Bishram’s mom is pregnant.” “I thought that was verboten.” “It is. Unless you work for the Storks.” “Which means what?” “It means Bishram’s parents are probably spies.” “So I guess we’d better be careful around Bishram.” Careful we were, until one day a miracle happened. The night before, Amy, Larry and I had sat on the front porch swing together and watched the swallows hunt for their last meal of the day. One swooped so close to my cheek that I could feel the breeze from its wings. A gang of bats joined in just as the light was falling, and I felt Amy’s leg warm beside mine as Larry fell asleep across both our laps. I followed Amy up the stairs as she carried Larry to the
nest. She had long, strong arms to carry him, each sprinkled with reddish freckles that matched her auburn hair. Her hand lingered on Larry’s head as she smoothed down his growing curls and I laid my hand on top of hers. Then as she straightened up, I ran my fingers along her soft inner arm, her freckles making tiny imaginary explosions under my fingertips. “O, my America, my new found land,” I murmured to her, dragging out a line I had read long ago in a time before I knew love. My thumb grazed her collar bone as she took me in her arms. I was then forever newly found. I awoke in the nest the next morning with full breasts and nipples leaking milk. Somehow, love for Amy and Larry had brought this to me. And, as we all know, from stories and bad country and western songs, love makes you stupid. In the morning cool, with the birds twittering in the trees, I heard Amy down in the kitchen making breakfast and smelled coffee and everything was so perfect that I broke Stork Law and thrust one of my burning nipples into Larry’s mouth. He looked up at me with his sea-glass green eyes, and I could tell that this was the single most wonderful moment of his life. The two of us were lost in nursing for an hour until I was drained dry, and then Amy came up with my coffee and found Bishram peeking over the edge of the
nest while Larry and I slept, my nipple between his tiny pink lips. The rest happened very fast: Bishram told his brother Aslan, who told his parents, the Stork spies. On the fortysecond day of my motherhood, exactly at noon, Bishram’s father came down the road with two huge Storks. The Stork Inspection Team plus one fat, hairy, obnoxious blackmailing bastard. What a trio. Amy and I were waiting in the front yard, holding hands, while she carried Larry across her chest in his sling. I had my breasts trussed up with an Ace bandage, just in case. Bishram’s father was wearing a torn, yellow undershirt and dirty trousers. He had no need to be impressive or glamorous. “Nice baby. Here’s the Storks. They come to check you out.” The Storks sauntered forward on their orange, stilty legs and stared at us. They smelled of dead fish. The female Stork crooned and gently stroked Larry with her enormous red and black beak. The male Stork flew up to inspect the nest. We could hear him crashing around on the roof. Then both Storks convened to the nearest tree where they crooned and stroked each other’s feathers for five whole
minutes before the male mounted the female in a yodeling trance. It was disturbing and weird, to say the least. “That’s the way it takes them,” explained Bishram’s father. “Sex maniacs.” He turned his horny, doggy eyes towards me. “You the mom?” “We’re both the mom.” I said. Bishram’s dad laughed, as if I were joking. “Bishram told me all about the boobies and I’m willing to make a deal. One thing you don’t know is that the Storks will ask you as a final challenge who your partner is, ‘cause that really oils their gaskets. So if you want to come down the road to my house and, you know, take a deposit from me, then we can make a deal and I won’t tell the Storks about this booby business. Plus, I got connections. If I tell them you’re my new partner, you’re a shoo-in for passing inspection.” “What if I say no?” “Then it’s your word against mine. The Storks decide who they believe.” The Storks flew down and bowed towards us. Somehow, I could hear what they were saying inside my head, even though I don’t speak Stork.
“I am Stork Bernie. This is my partner Clara. We like your nest and your baby looks happy and fat. But who is your partner?” “Amy,” I said, nodding towards her. “We love each other.” Just saying the word “love” made my breasts tingle. “Then you may keep your baby.” “Thank you,” I said, and made a deep bow to the Storks, who seemed very impressed. They ruffled their wings and stood staring at us with their big, freaky eyes. I don’t know much about Storks, but I would swear that Bernie and Clara were smiling. “What’s going on?” burst out Bishram’s dad. I think he got the drift that things weren’t going his way. “I’m staying with Amy.” “Oh yeah? This woman has been feeding her baby with her breasts. Boob milk! What do you think about that?” Bishram’s dad was yelling at the Storks, his wobbly, unshaven cheeks becoming as red as Stork wattles. The storks turned and looked at me, their eyes even wider than before. “Show us,” said Stork Bernie. If motherhood hadn’t been weird enough up to that point, it got a little weirder when I sat down on the porch
steps and pulled out my right breast. Larry took one look at it and started in with those little lip-smacking, grunting noises he always makes before nursing. Before I could get my nipple into Larry’s mouth, my breast shot a stream of milk over his head onto the front of Bishram’s father’s pants. “Ugh!” he said, and jumped back. “Fascinating,” said Stork Clara. Larry latched on and everyone watched his rhythmic suckling until he was replete and drowsy, happily nestled in the crook of my elbow. “See?” shrieked Bishram’s father, “No frogs! No snakes! It’s blasphemy!” But Bernie and Clara weren’t listening. They looked at each other, nodded, then turned to me. “Have you ever considered performing in public?” That’s how I ended up at The Stork Center for Fertility Research and Education. (Storks don’t like to use the word “zoo.”) Every day, six times a day, I sit on a bench under a tree and nurse Larry in front of a mesmerized crowd of Stork tourists. Usually the Storks are so overcome with parental love that they finish the demonstration by having crooning group sex, white feathers flying everywhere. Amy and Bishram come to visit most days. Just seeing
Amy through the chain-link fence is enough to make my knees buckle. Luckily we are allowed one conjugal visit a week, which is always wonderful--just like the first time-even if Storks Bernie and Clara usually watch us while we go at it. My exhibit has become so popular that Bernie and Clara want both Amy and I to be impregnated when Larry is weaned. “We’ll be the Boob Twins!” says Amy. Lately, visitors have been leaving little tokens of affection outside my enclosure, as if propitiating some kind of saint. Last week someone brought me a whole line of small, colorful prayer flags to bless. I kissed each one and hung them over my bench where they flutter while I nurse Larry, sounding like the wings of a thousand birds.
Michael Noon has nearly died several times from voluntary drops from third story windows, bee stings in Nicaragua, muscle cramps in deserted swimming pools, demon rum, ill-advised and outnumbered fist fights with larger men who play hockey, pneumonia, and a stabbing incident in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He has recently discovered an aptitude for skeet shooting.
Reservoir Tip -88-
Are you sure your parents won’t be back soon? When did they leave? Do they stay late at dinner, usually? Why would you think I’m stalling? Why wouldn’t I be ready? A condom? Don’t you have one? Why is it my responsibility? So you really don’t have one? What about your parents? Why is that gross? Can I check your dad’s bedside table? Won’t he have something? Why not? See, what’s that? How is he going to notice? If we put them back in the box in the right way, how will he know? Wait, don’t you want to kiss a little more first? Hey, can we leave the light on? You don’t think your dolls’ shadows are creepy? Why do you still have dolls? How should I know what they’re worth? Can you help me with your bra? Okay, how do you open the wrapper on these things?
Jeez, how do they expect a guy to put these things on? Is it on right? Is it supposed to pull on my hair like that? I think I’m ready, are you? What’s wrong? Do you want to kiss more? What can I do? Why won’t it go in? Ouch, what? Does it hurt? Is it okay? Does it feel good? Wait, can you stop moving? Can we just be very still? So, did you . . . ? No? How much longer? But didn’t you say it hurt? I’m sorry, are you okay? Was that okay? For a first time? Well, do you want to try again? Why not? But wouldn’t taking two condoms from the pack actually be less conspicuous?
A quarterly online literary magazine focusing on strange, narrative fiction.