University of Baltimore
The life of our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as though in an atmosphere of the marvelous; but we do not notice it. -Charles Baudelaire
Welter, an annual literary journal, is published by the School of Communications Design at the University of Baltimore 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201.
Don Clark Jr.
Fiction Editor: The editors thank the College of Arts and Sciences for supporting this issue of Welter.
Arts Editor: “Untitled” cover image courtesy of Barry Buchanan. Cityscape type face courtesy of Edward Taylor.
Address inquiries to the University of Baltimore, care of Welter. Visit http://welter.ubalt.edu for guidelines.
Printed in the U.S.A. ©2013 University of Baltimore School of Communications Design.
Layout & Design:
Associate Editors: Aarzu Ahmed
Dear Readers, Beneath the cacophony of city life flows a vibrant current of creativity. The ebb and flow of people living, loving, and struggling in a common space manifest itself in the words and images that emerge from it. The city and its art are inseperable. While creating thie issue of Welter, we took these reverberations into ourselves, breathed in the mixture of chaos and inspiration, and held it within us. The result was an issue we feel embodies the spirit or our city ... and all cities. We hope you feel the same. Enjoy. The Editors
contents / fiction
Jen McConnell / Sex Addict Rehab: Confessional / 7
Nate Fitzgerald / A Series of Horrendous First Dates / 19
Nancy Murray / The Hair of the Dog / 9
Ashley Volta / Homecoming / 27
Michael B. Tager / En Vino Veritas / 14
Danielle Ariano / Withholding / 35
Judith Krummeck / Molto Agitato / 22
Sarah Rayman / Bed, Bath and Beyond / 40
Ashley Phelps / Permanence / 30
Elizabeth Paige / Childhood / 50
Amanda Gilleland / The Girl / 38
Kandace Strain / Clifton Ave / 51
T.R. Healy / Audibles / 47
Ashley Payne / Thomas Hardy is an Asshole / 56
Roger Market / King Henry on a Porch Swing / 52
Anastasia Baronovskaya / Tangerines and Champagne / 59
Edwin Guerrero / Excerpt from: Applied Feminism / 53
Lynette James / Out of Desperation / 63
Jessica Welch / Ease Instead / 75
Emily Rich / A Monitored Heart / 70
Christopher Warman / A Chekhov Romance / 78
Steve Mantanle / The House of the Hanged Woman / 82
Beth Hawbaker / My Trouble-Making Little Sister / 89
Andrew Palumbo / Recovery / 92
/ arts Solomon Scott / Cat and Mouse / 12 Janet Butler / Slippers and Shoes / 29 Shea Wishard / Fighter / 45
Thao Nguyen / Things Carried / 6
Rachel Wooley / Micah / 77
Jim Rayman / Liberty / 13
Barry Buchanan / Untitled / 96
Jessica Dotson / I Dress Up My Sadness / 18
Z. Alan Ginsberg / The First Last Time / 21
contents John J. Trause / Unnatural Reflections on a Green Pepper / 24
John Hayes / Ellenâ€™s Lawn / 81
Elizabeth Paige / I saw the devil one day / 25
Brittany Cagle / Grandpaâ€™s Quarters / 84
Kerrin Smith / Medusa / 26
Marion Winik / Rondeau for my Lab Results / 85
Charlene Faison / Being Alone / 29
Rachel Wooley / Blue Planet / 86
Kyle Hemmings / Power Line / 34
Courtney Birst / Wishing on Falling Stars / 87
John Benes / Songbirds Lament (How I Became Moon-Killer) / 37
Sharea Harris / Love Story / 88
Brooke Bognanni / Late August / 39
J. Marie Darden / Water from the Moon / 90
Jessica Welch / Corporate Boy Blues / 45
Henry Mortimer / Letter: How Is It With You? / 91
Saralyn Lyons / Bitch is the New Black / 55
Alyse Richmond / Spinning / 94
Joan Prusky Glass / The Way We Were / 57 Anna Slesinksi / Waking / 58 Tobi Cogswell / Transubstantiation / 61 Mark DeCarteret / b actor in a movie / 62 Abdu Ali / Dissolution / 66 Tracy Gnadinger / Dried Fruit / 67 Michael Zuluaf / Untitled / 68 Lauren Campbell / Cybil, Now / 69 Claire T. Feild / Rays / 73 Paul Walsh / The Call / 74 John Abbot / Monday Morning / 77
Things Carried Thao Nguyen
i. Something massive can be made through fingers and pencils. So many times, I watched a street artist feel through paper to find each shadow that hides in a woman’s face, things too often lost in the world. The people that pass through on the way to a bus stop at the corner of Charles Street— Who was that man with the dark brown hat? Perhaps his eyes could trace over me like feelers on an insect, and in an instant, all of the chances of finding this person are gone, and now, sitting on a bench, a wave of probability. ii. “What the hell is she doing here?” At this point, my original purpose seems to have been pushed into my pocket, and I stand there, looking like a fool as I scramble to get enough change for bus fare. iii. Figure out the directions, Lean on your hands on your knees and try to memorize these codes. You’ll need them later (they’re written in red ink,
the only pen you had at the time, on a torn off bit of folded paper). It’ll be simple. It’ll be all you need. It’ll take you there. iv. Don’t even remember the name of the stop, but all I remember is how I got off and searched for your face. v.
I’m still looking.
Sex Addict Rehab: Confessional Jen McConnell
I can’t resist a Republican. Maybe it’s the uniform. Something about that blue, buttondown Oxford shirt with crisp, flat-front khakis. Drives me crazy. It started in college. I’d be with the crowd protesting table grapes or the latest war and a group of Young Republicans would walk by with their conservative smirks, excellent posture, and 3.8 GPAs. The Republican girls on campus irritated me with their privilege and virginity sewn right into their sorority sweatshirts. But the boys—the tighter the coil, the bigger the turn-on. They could wear the uniform with penny loafers or Chuck Taylors. It didn’t matter. It was all so much catnip. The boys would call us liberal hippies and other epitaphs as they walked by, thinking they could hurt our feelings. But their eyes would linger, a bit too long, on our low-cut blouses and tanned legs, freed from the prim trousers that their steady girlfriends wore. I made it my mission to take as many as I could.
wasn’t wearing a bra and made sure Chip noticed. And then I caught him. He blushed instantly, stammering how he was late to class. I rested my hand on his. “You’re cute,” I said, and let him go. I watched his dorm three nights in a row, marking the time his roommate left to study at the library. On the fourth night, I pounced. He was surprised to see me standing in his doorway with a plate of brownies, apologizing for bumping into him. He remained surprised while I undressed both of us and relieved him of his virginity. I suppose I should feel bad that he was a virgin and that when he waved to me across the quad the next day I pretended not to see him. But I didn’t feel bad. He would go on, I knew, to do the exact same thing to some girl on campus that he hadn’t yet met. Me? I was just getting warmed up. By the time college was over, I had sexual relations with most of the Young Republican leadership team.
* The first one was easy enough. Child’s play. His name was Chip. Of course. It was cruel, really, picking on a sophomore but I needed practice before moving up to the big fish. I made my move in the food court, bumping into Chip as he was walking alone. That was key. He had to first be separated from the pack. “I’m so sorry,” I said as we bent over to pick up our books. I
* Don’t get me wrong, I had my share of liberal lovers, too. Progressives are great. They are polite and go down on you because they like it, they believe women should be pleased, too, or both. Republicans, if they go down at all, are terrible at it, so I didn’t encourage it, which was fine with them. On average, the boys in blue lasted eight to ten minutes.
Liberal boys: HOURS. Which, while awesome, could also be exhausting. Not once did a liberal guy pursue sex while I was having my period. One mention of that time of the month, and the hands were up—“say no more”—and we cuddled. Maybe I threw in a blow job. Republicans, though, shut down any protest. In the shower, lights off, was just as good to them. As long as everything was cleaned up as soon as possible, they were good to go. And absolutely no cuddling. My only gripe, really, with liberals and hippies was that they are too skinny by far. All that vegan eating and green tea lattes. After a while there is nothing left. Once after sex, a guy put on my jeans by mistake and was able to zip them up. I kicked him out and feasted on heavyset Republicans for weeks. I loved that feeling of weight on me, sometimes to the point where I couldn’t breathe. I was envious of how much space a man could take up and scorned the grown men who still looked like boys. * My biggest conquest was a city councilman. You’d know his name if I said it. But he’s more moderate now. I take the credit for that. I’d gone to a rally for a Democrat candidate who talked about this guy. Right-winger all the way: anti-gay, anti-women, antisocial services. So I went to one of his town hall meeting to plan my attack. He made it easy. A few weeks later he came into the coffee shop where I was working. I caught him staring at my chest. Didn’t take long after that. *
The more conservative they were, the more they turned me on. It wasn’t just the hypocrisy. Those that pounded on lecterns about the sanctity of marriage were most likely to have affairs. Those that decried same sex marriage were always the kinkiest. It was the power. Twenty minutes alone and I could get one to break every belief he said he held dear. There was always a moment, right before they guy came, I would look into his eyes and see the fear. The fear of the intensity of that moment—the overwhelming pleasure, the naked emotion, the fleeting truth of being alive. It was that moment. That’s why I did it over and over. If just one guy changed because they saw that truth—if one less gay man was beaten, if a woman was promoted instead of a man, if his next girlfriend got a fair deal in bed—then it was worth it. The chances were slim, I knew, but I had to keep going. I owed it to my sisters out there in the world.
The Hair of the Dog Nancy Murray
Havershams is the kind of place where the freaks of the world gather to feel normal; a windowless pub with wood paneling, vinyl booths, and lights so dim that ugly ladies who left their glasses in their bags could pretend the men were giving them the love eye. The bartenders were usually all business because they hated their jobs, their lives and probably their customers, too. The unspoken code was that, no matter how loony the other folks seemed to be, you act like it was nothing out of the ordinary. For 17 years I went there three or four nights a week. I sat in the same red, vinyl seat at the bar – the one with the split in the middle that’s been partially repaired with black duct tape. It was the only seat that wasn’t right in front of reflective glass or a mirrored bar sign. I had no interest in staring at the face of my worst enemy night after night. Every bartender in the place knew what I drank – scotch on the rocks – and they had it waiting without a word before I reached my seat. It felt good for a moment, like maybe I belonged somewhere after all but I always made the same critical mistake. I took one drink too many and it turned the happy effects of the alcohol into the secret whistle that calls the dogs of depression, growling and panting, to the edges of my mind. Those dark old dogs were approaching on the night that the skinny guy with the tattoo cut in. He parked his bony ass on the stool right next to me like he was determined to cause trouble. He’d been in the bar before; usually sitting in the darkest corner booth with his back to the wall. His eyes were a mix between
shifty and demented. He never bothered anyone before that night and I guess it was just my luck he had it out for me. He turned the stool so that his whole body faced me square on and his tiny black eyes bore into the side of my face like laser beams. I hunched down and studied my cracked, stubby fingers as they wrapped themselves around my chipped rocks glass and I pretended not to notice him. “I know you think I’m crazy” he said and then waited for an answer that didn’t come. “I know you think I’m on drugs or something.” I have to admit, he had me there. His black hair was cut at odd angles and his skin was the color of a cue ball. He wore tight fitting, black clothes with holes in them and his nails were painted black. If he wasn’t on drugs then I wasn’t drinking. “I don’t care what you do.” I said- my voice cracking from lack of practice. “Except when you come up on me and interrupt a perfectly good drink. Go back to your corner, kid.” “It’s time we had a little talk.” He said. His voice was highpitched and raspy like a cartoon character. It was obvious he had rehearsed that line but it didn’t go exactly as he had planned. “What do you want from me?” I asked. “Dude, I’ve been asking myself that forever.” “Is that right?” I nearly growled at him. “Well, DUDE, I’m asking now.” I turned to face him. He was sitting straight as a pole and his face was so close to me that it looked like he was going to try to
eat my head. “What the fuck do you want from me?” I didn’t notice that my hands were trembling but he did. His eyes stopped twitching and focused on mine directly. “You know about me, don’t you?” he asked. I felt the heat rush up into my face like a wildfire in a timber tent. “The only thing I know about you” I said, “is that you are killing my buzz. Go home kid.” * The first time I saw him he was standing just under the window of my second story apartment on Cedar Street. I was practicing what my therapist called Centering the Gravity. She thought that was a very clever name but she wasn’t at all surprised when I didn’t share in her enthusiasm. The point of the exercise was to meditate on my serious outlook and to see if I couldn’t find some middle place between wanting to kill someone and wanting do die. My name is Dale Albert Laubner and I am 54 years old. I lost my job as a master plumber on the same day that I lost my driving privileges. People don’t often bring their broken toilets to you so driving is a necessary tool of the trade. The deal was that if I wanted to stay out of jail I had to agree to therapy, sobriety and public transportation. The latter wasn’t a problem because without work I had nowhere to go but across the alleyway to Havershams and, since I never intended to stop going there, I gave extra effort to my weekly meetings in counseling. Kathy McCormack was a behavioral therapist who nodded and smiled like a born-again Christian. Nothing I said ever changed the expression on her face and nothing she said every changed the expression on mine. But I did what she told me.
I was to spend 10 minutes every day in front of the window with my journal writing down every damn thing I see. I expect the idea was that soon I would stop seeing the mangy stray dogs chewing on rat-infested trash or the broken windows covered with graffiti tagged, quarter inch plywood and, instead, I would start to notice how the light playfully reflected the colors of the rooftops. I was making my list for the day when I realize that I had written down burned-out goth freak the day before and the day before that as well. I put my notebook down and paid closer attention. He was looking right up at my window. When he saw that I was looking back he practically ran down the alleyway. * The tears were a surprise. He didn’t look the type. Oh there were criers in that place every night of the week and there’s definitely a type. The criers were all soft and dressed like they’re getting ready for bed or something. This guy was sharp and pointy. He looked like the shoot-first-talk-later kind of guy but, instead he had his face in his hands and was blubbering like a baby girl. I didn’t know what else to do so I nodded for the dead-faced bartender to bring me another drink. “I didn’t kill her.” He said and it felt like my heart might have missed a beat or two. All I wanted in the world was to get away from this kid but I couldn’t move a muscle. He straightened up again and looked at me with his black eyes glaring and tears welling up and spilling over his long dark lashes. The sight of it made my stomach lurch and made me want to well up a bit myself. “Jesus.” I said. “You’re just a kid. Go home. Your Mama is probably worried about you.” “Don’t do that!” he spat and slapped the drink from my hand.
We both rose to our feet and the bartender took a step toward us. “Don’t act like you didn’t know. EVERYONE knew!” All eyes in the bar were pointed in our direction now. “Keep your voice down.” I said and I slowly lowered myself back into my seat. “It was all over the news!” He shouted and raised his arms up over his head in a V. “Pregnant woman delivers after fatal car crash! You must have seen it. It aired for weeks. They were hoping the father would come forward but you never did.” “ME?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Holy Shit, Kid. You got things all wrong.” I was on my feet and fumbling for my wallet. “You aren’t even curious? You don’t even wonder what happened to me?” “Look, Kid –“I said. “That’s a terrible story and I’m sorry you got a problem but it’s nothing to do with me. I’m not the guy you think I am. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “I hired someone.” he said as I practically ran for the door. Then he shouted it a second time as I pushed my way out into the parking lot. I ran around the corner to where the dumpster was because I felt like I was going to be sick. The dumpster smelled of rotting flesh and dirty socks which didn’t help my situation at all. A ratty looking dog paused in the dark to look at me as I wretched my guts up. When there was nothing left I sat against the wall with my face against the brick. I must have been way drunker than I thought because for no reason at all I started to cry – a grown man in a public parking lot crying like a baby next to a pile of his own sick. How’s that for a mess to find yourself in? I wanted to go home but I was a little wobbly. I thought, maybe a drink might help; you know…hair of the dog and all. I just needed
something to get me up and running but there was no way I was ever going to go into Havershams again. So I walked up the street and slipped into this place. I’ve been coming here ever since. * You know, I do remember that story- the one about the accident. Everyone was talking about it when it happened but it’s got nothing to do with me. I’ve only been with one woman in my entire life and she left me on account I was a worthless drunk. I’ll remember that day as long as I live. It happened about 17 years ago, give or take. She was more beautiful than a sculpture in a museum and her every word came out like poetry. I never did know what she saw in me so I guess I wasn’t surprised when I came home stinking of Jamesons and found her sitting on one of our beat up kitchen chairs. She was never awake when I came home so I knew something was something this night. She looked at me with her black eyes filled with so much sorry it nearly brought me to my knees. She told me that she loved me. She said that. But then she said she couldn’t stay with me. She said I was no kind of man to raise a family with and if she stayed with me she was afraid I would change her into something she couldn’t stand. Well, I’ll tell you that’s a thing to hear. She stood up and walked right past me. I didn’t move or say a word. She paused in the doorway and looked back at me just one more time with her tiny black eyes, the long dark lashes wet with tears and then she walked out the door. I never felt so much pressure in my chest as that night and, to be honest, it’s never really gone away. I never saw her again or heard a thing about her – like she was a dream that never really happened. I think about that kid sometimes. I feel bad for him, you know? Not knowing who your father is and all but whoever fingered
me as the guy just didnâ€™t have his facts straight. I never had a kid. Iâ€™m not the kind of man a woman would do that with.
Cat and Mouse by Solomon Scott
Jim Rayman A young boy becomes a young man; Yearning for independence, He does what he can. Joining the military, Hoping to win, Thinking it’s the beginning When it’s really the end. A place of seclusion Away from it all, He’s not building a future; He’s building a wall. The higher it gets, The smaller he seems. Before he knows it, He’s given up on all of his dreams. For this place has but one thing in mind: The taking of one’s liberty and creating One of their kind.
In Vino Veritas Michael B. Tager
“Never trust a man who doesn’t drink,” my father told me the night he pronounced me a man. He’d had one beer and was already slurring his words. Until now, I’d thought he didn’t drink at all. I’d finished a watered-down vodka-and-ginger ale and was eyeing the beer my father had thrust at me. It was my 15th birthday. “I’m a girl, Pop,” I said, holding the bitter-smelling, unwelcoming can of Pabst. I tugged on my ponytail. We were quite a sight, I’m sure: a slight blond girl in a black hoodie over pink pajamas and her huge, bald, red-faced father sitting together at the scarred bar. Ivan’s was a neighborhood place; just a long, narrow room with a row of stools, a jukebox in one corner near two black women, a scattering of mismatched tables. Everyone knew everyone. It was … unusual to see a girl my age at Ivan’s, but not totally out-of-place. Ivan’s is still there, from what I hear. “If I knew how to make you a woman, I would.” He signaled the bartender. “Shots this time, Mickey,” he yelled in his booming foreman’s voice. The old man behind the bar nodded, his long gray hair waving. I hoped none got in our drinks. “You’re old enough to realize, Casey; the world ain’t gonna treat you like the lady you are. It’s gonna call you a chick but expect you to act like a man.” The shots arrived and my father gave a curt nod to my full beer, untouched. He pushed one of them to me. “Take it like this,” he said, and tilted his head back. I did my best to mimic.
“Good man,” he said, laughing and pounding my back until I stopped coughing. “There’s truth in this,” he said, holding his beer. “It shows the world how we act and what our demons are. It shows who you are when your defenses – when your walls are down.” My father laughed and took a long gulp. I followed suit: it tasted better than I expected. “This is how you stare out into the dark. And it stares right back.” He stopped for breath. I asked what he meant. “You know me, right Case?” I said I did. “Who am I?” “My … pop?” He grinned, hooked a finger to his cheek and pulled. I saw the holes on the left side of his mouth where his teeth should have been: the upper teeth from the incisor back to the molar were gone. He let his cheek snap back with a spray of spittle. “Bullshit. That’s only part of who I am and it ain’t the biggest.” He pointed at his mouth. “You know how I lost those?” “Yeah, in the army, right?” I took another sip of beer and it tasted kind of good. I looked forward to the next taste. “That’s what I told you, and what I tell everyone. And it’s true, but only kind of. I lost these teeth cause I told two big ol’ colored MPs that Marvin Gaye was a dumbass jungle bunny.” He slammed his empty beer down and turned to me. He arched one eyebrow and motioned to my beer. I steeled myself, tipped my head back and drank it all. A trickle leaked from my lips. He ordered two more and I stifled a belch. He continued. “You’d never have known that without me being drunk right here. But that piece of shit is part of me, part of most people, just the part we hide under masks.” The beer arrived and Mickey looked at my dad with crinkled eyes. “Only one of us is a father, Mickey, and you sure as shit aren’t mine,”
he said, slapping a fifty dollar bill down on the bar. Mickey frowned and took it, left the beer. We drank in silence, my sips transitioning to healthy gulps and my dad staring; he seemed angry. He kept looking at me and opening his mouth, then closing it again. “I ain’t quite there yet, Case. Maybe in a bit.” He put his head back and finished the beer in one go. He lurched to his feet and to the jukebox. He pulled some change out of his pocket and picked through the pile, pennies cascading to the floor. He looked out of one eye, trying to decipher it all. He punched some numbers and a slow song filled the room. I didn’t recognize it, but the few other patrons paid attention, especially when my father climbed on a chair. His voice was rough velvet. “Oooooh, what’s going on?” The two black women in the corner clapped their hands; my father smiled at them, bowed, continued. While my father was singing, I finished my beer and wondered just who this man was. He looked like my father, but the things he said and did… When he returned, there were two more beers waiting and we both grabbed one. I gulped, greedy now, until I felt my dad’s eyes. They bored into me, sad and exhilarant all at once. He shook his head and I put the beer down. “Time to go,” he said. “But we ain’t done yet.” The Crease was a shady dive down the street from Ivan’s. The floor was strewn with peanut shells and everyone smoked openly, despite the ordinance. It got closed down a few years later. After we got there, my father pulled up a bar stool,
motioned to me and took a deep breath. “I wanted your mom to know about me, too.” It took me a moment to find the thread of conversation through the pleasant fog in my brain. My dad seemed ready to resume, as if there had been no interruption. “About the dark?” I asked as I waved the bartender over. My dad growled in agreement and surveyed the place. I joined his long look. Here, the few patrons hardly paid attention to us. The hard-used redhead behind the bar didn’t blink when I ordered for the two of us. My father was reeling in his seat, but was still game. I was bombed but didn’t know it. I just knew the odd euphoria was a feeling I wanted more of. After the red-head dropped off our beers in dirty pint glasses, my dad continued, “When I decided I wanted your mother to be my wife, I got her shitfaced. Got each other’s demons out into the light to shake hands.” He belched. “I’d tell you about your mother’s – you’re a man now, you can take it – but that’s her business.” He signaled for two more drinks. “And if I’m not around when your brother becomes a man, well that’s your business.” I shook my head. “What are you talking about?” Through the dim haze, I was surprised to hear my voice. It was husky and thick. “He’s 10.” My father looked at me with red-rimmed eyes. “What, you think I’m going to be here forever?” I shook my head, but he continued. “You don’t know your asshole from your elbow.” He laughed and I laughed too. “I’m just kidding.” He took a long drink. “My dad was a drinker. That’s why I don’t touch the stuff.” He looked at the beer in his hand, shrugged and said, “Normally, anyway. But I ain’t going to tell you about all that,
even drunk; that kind of nonsense wouldn’t do anyone good.” He quieted and I waited for him to continue. I tried to think about what my mother would tell me if we got drunk together. The thoughts swirled around, wouldn’t connect. “But he did one good thing for me. When I graduated high school, he took me out, got me good and drunk.” He laughed again. “He said he wanted to make me a man.” “Did he?” I asked. He nodded “Afterwards, he told me his story, then beat the hell out of me in the parking lot behind Ivan’s. He told me life was one big sucker-punch and I better get used to it.” My father held up his big scarred fist, knuckles gnarled and sunburned. “Think you can take me?” I held the pint glass to my flushed cheek to pause for time. I didn’t answer, but my face said everything. “I’m just joking, though it ain’t funny,” he said. “I ain’t my father. But he was right about some stuff;.that’s why I’m thankful I got to teach you a few things.” Twisting the gold wedding band on his thick finger, his face dropped. He missed mom, I knew. “I want you to promise that you’ll be there if I’m not. And that you’ll do the same when it’s time.” “Time for what?” “You’ll know when it’s time, dummy. Haven’t you been listening?” He pushed over a shot I hadn’t seen him order. “Take that. It’s time to take you over the edge.” He put his down easily. I struggled with mine and felt my stomach turn. I looked at my dad in panic. He smiled and patted my hand. “Hold on a little longer. I know you well enough to know you can hang on. Am I right?” “I guess so.” “Your mother was supposed to do this, you know.” I shook
my head, but he didn’t see. He flipped open his wallet and left some cash. “She was going to make a woman out of you. I don’t know how to do that.” He stood and grabbed my hand. I was going to vomit, I knew. He knew too. “Come on, we’ll go see your mother. The one more stop.” I wish I remembered more than just flashes – my dad yelling at some men; us dodging thrown stones, me heaving into a bush, my dad rubbing my back. There’s a distinct memory of my father looking down at the ground that held my mother and telling me, “It won’t be long, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. ” Everything else is just pieces. When I came back to myself, we were a mile from home, by the bay. That late at night, it was just us, a 20oz bottle of Boones Farm, the sea and the rusted red Beetle we were using as a park bench. “See that?” he asked, pointing to the water. I said yes. “That’s what I wanted you to see.” I only saw water and clouds. “It’s huge out there and it’s cold and it doesn’t care anything at all about you.” He handed me the bottle and I took a big gulp that was sickly sweet and coated my teeth in sugary film. I gagged when I handed it back. “You can’t trust it, ‘cause it’ll spit you out.” “I guess so, Pop …” I disagreed, thought it was beautiful like a painting. I didn’t want to argue, but something must have shown in my voice. “You have something else to say?” “I don’t know.” I thought for a second and then blurted it out. I didn’t much care, was feeling reckless, barely coherent. “It just looks pretty.” I coughed on the last word and started giggling. I could just see my father’s outline in the moonlight. I thought
I saw him smile, but it could have been anything. He didn’t respond, but he put his hand on my shoulder and left it there. He finished the bottle in one swallow and threw it into the waves. “C’mon, let’s get home.” These days, instead of visiting my father, I go to the sea and sit where that red Beetle used to be. Someone finally hauled it away shortly after I took my brother there and told him that he was a man. That night he heard about never trusting men who don’t drink and about demons in the dark, but not a word about our father’s demons. Those weren’t my stories to tell.
I Dress Up My Sadness Jessica Dotson
I’m not saying I don’t have a sad bone, I’m saying, Look how beautiful mine is. I have rouged its cheeks and dressed it in the loveliest shade of pink and I hug it so tightly at night. We lay our sadnesses head to toe, head to toe, and it’s enough to stretch the distance. Your heart has a deep and wide trench around it and my sadness fills it like rain so that I may swim across. The weather never thinks about us. There are lives we save by drowning and there are lives we save by living. The rain doesn’t know your name. My sadness has parted porcelain lips, little round “O” of a mouth, all zeros and silence. I lay it on the shelf between the vulture’s plucked feather and cottontail rabbit’s skull.
A Series of Horrendous First Dates Nathaniel Fitzgerald
Where are all the Decent Men? Well, they Certainly Aren’t Found Online.… Paul His profile said: five-feet-seven. In person, definitely five-feet-two. Comparatively, I resembled an obese ogre. His graduate school began in January. My criminal trial began that month. Needless to say, timing was off. Andrew Worrisome Facebook pictures of medieval reenactments. Posed a major source of concern. Decided to meet Robin Hood anyway. Upon meeting, he seemed relatively cute. Aside from the Edward Cullen hairstyle. His clinical OBSESSION with Harry Potter. He worked as a fitness instructor. Devoted to a pure, organic diet. Didn’t mention my gluttonous cookie binges. Chris “Let’s kiss outside Chik-Fil-A,” He texted prior to having met. “I’m sorry! I was totally kidding!”
“Did you think I was kidding?” Sureeee he was. We met anyway. “Hideous bowl cut” came to mind. He practically called the fucking police. Oh my God. Someone said “faggot.” He spoke about his father’s suicide. To a perfect stranger over pizza. Ty He showed up an hour late. He barely spoke upon sitting down. I couldn’t stand the palpable silences. The gazes anywhere but my direction. “So, I saw you’re a musician?” “Yeah, I also study mortuary science.” Anxiety attack: a creepy, fucking MORTICIAN? I considered bolting to my car. He worked at a funeral home. He cooked wings in the crematory. He wanted to “cuddle and kiss,” Wanted to avoid a premature obituary. We now call him Jeffrey Dahmer. Mike He was really into alien movies. He rocked transition lenses in public.
Light-up sneakers circa ’95. Those white jeans left an image. We spent time at the zoo. I critiqued the monkeys’ hideous butts. “We share genetic material with monkeys.” He droned, monotonously in encyclopedic defense. Thanks, Bill Nye the Science Guy. Alex “Are you giving me a ride? Or should we just meet there?” “I’ll meet you there,” I replied. Let me just pick up STRANGERS. Hopefully they’ll stab me to death. “I’m WEALLY, WEALLY, WEALLY fucking high.” One of his very first utterances. He had an especially prominent lisp. Hobbies included drinking, smoking, and snorting. Last I heard, he’s in rehab. Kyle His profile said he transferred schools. This was now his fifth one. Well, that’s something that we share. I met him in Arundel Mills. Despite getting lost for forty minutes. He seemed to have some potential. Minus his crooked, uncircumcised, knobby penis. Resembled Gonzo’s nose from The Muppets.
The First Last Time Z. Alan Ginsberg
The first time I met you We did not actually meet. You were camouflaged in stop signs I was colorblind, walking Into your intersections. We hid from your past loves Poorly. I regretted the popcorn continually shoveled Into my mouth On dark nights We talked colors, And held up, Out, and on to each other. We always climbed over each Otherâ€™s mountains With palm sweat silence. It was always the first time dancing. It was never anything less Than sloppy.
Molto Agitato Judith Krummeck
She stands in the dark listening to her heart pounding in her ears. The beating at the base of her throat is so loud she She stands in the dark listening to her heart pounding in her ears. The beating at the base of her throat is so loud she wonders if anyone else can hear it. She has felt nervous in the past, but this feels closer to panic. She’s afraid that the slender neck of her violin will slip through her clammy fingers, so she moves the instrument from her left hand to her right, and wipes her palm along her thigh. Her mind is a jumble of notes and snatches of melody that she will have to play in just a few minutes. Will she even know where to begin? She closes her eyes and tries to focus on the solo violin’s opening phrase; the lyrical, folk-like melody that floats above the undulating orchestral accompaniment. This seems to steady her nerves a bit, and she hangs onto that phrase as she practices the Yoga breathing exercise she has learned – in to the count of four, hold to the count of seven, out to the count of eight, in to the count of four, hold to the count…. Suddenly the stage door opens, and a shaft of light jumps across the floor in front of her. She catches a glimpse of the whole orchestra seated on the stage, waiting. “Here we go,” says the conductor behind her, and she feels his hand in the small of her back. She steps forward, through the door, and on to the stage. There’s a rush of light, and then a crush of sound as the audience begins to applaud. As she walks towards the podium she looks down and sees the toes of her shoes appearing and disappearing
in the supple folds of her long gown – the borrowed gown that was FedExed to the concert hall by her old music professor this afternoon. She herself only arrived this morning. Yesterday, she was still on the West Coast, quietly and methodically learning the job she’s taken as a stopgap, assembling the musicians’ concert folders in the music library of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Her professor tracked her down there to tell her that the soloist who was scheduled to play Stanford’s D Major Violin Concerto had whooping cough, and he’d canceled. The orchestra had to scramble because very few violinists have this unfamiliar concerto in their repertoire. She happened to have played it for her Masters recital, and so her name had come up. But that recital was eighteen months ago now! It isn’t under her fingers in the way it was then. She’d studied the score again on the red-eye flight over to the East Coast this morning, and she’d had a rushed rehearsal this afternoon, but she feels nowhere near ready to play the piece. What on earth had made her jump at the chance when her professor called? When she reaches the podium, she bows stiffly next to the conductor, and then there’s an awkward little jostling as he tries to move around behind her. As he steps up onto the podium, she remembers the stage etiquette, and she extends her hand to the concertmaster, who half rises in his seat to shake her hand. His hand feels warm, and she realizes how chilled she is. She turns to the oboe player to get an A to tune her violin, even though she’s just tuned it backstage. She wants to do something – anything – to delay the moment when she has to begin playing. She turns again and looks down at the audience. Their faces are all tilted up expectantly towards her, and suddenly the image of little birds waiting to be fed by their mother pops into
her mind. She has to fight a giggle that threatens to rise up. Oh, God, what is she doing here? The orchestra has settled down, the audience is hushed, and the conductor is waiting on the podium for her to give him the signal that she is ready to begin. Everything hinges on her at this moment. What would happen if she turned to the conductor and said, “Actually, sorry, but I just can’t do this”? What would be worse – to walk off the stage and ruin any chances of a career, or make a mess of the performance and ruin any chances of a career? She feels as if those are the only two options available to her. And she’s already experienced the second option. She can’t stop the image of her professional debut from forcing its way into her mind. She literally has nightmares about her memory lapse in the middle of the Turkish Rondo of Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto. She can never forget the slow motion groping for the notes – like the slow motion of a car accident – and the conductor shooting her a stricken look. Somehow, they got back on track and stumbled to the end of the concerto. Somehow, she managed to take a bow while the audience clapped tepidly. Then she walked off the stage to her dressing room, and just sat staring at her ashen face in the mirror until the tears slowly came, and wouldn’t stop. As she looks down at the expectant faces of the audience, she thinks suddenly of Rachmaninov. He managed to get over the devastating loss of self-confidence when his First Symphony was panned, and came back to write his brilliant Second Piano Concerto. Her darting mind lands next on Leonard Bernstein, and how he stepped in with a few hours’ notice to substitute for the ailing Bruno Walter at Carnegie Hall, launching his conducting career. Surely it’s the understudy’s dream to “go on”
when a star is indisposed. She runs her hand down her thigh once again, takes an uneven breath, tightens the frog on her bow, and finally meets the conductor’s eye. She nods. He gives a half smile, turns to the orchestra, and lifts his baton. She watches him as he gives the downbeat. She runs her hand down her thigh once again, takes an uneven breath, tightens the frog on her bow, and finally meets the conductor’s eye. She nods. He gives a half smile, turns to the orchestra, and lifts his baton. She watches him as he gives the downbeat.
Unnatural Reflections on a Green Pepper John Trause
In humid jungles south of here, By native birth you did appear And first were plucked by Aztec hand, Ancient race. My gem! My crispy capsule green! My passion for you— too obscene To ever verbalize this way. Ripe. Pick. Crunch. Ceraceous skin and puckering flesh, An outer shell, an inner mesh, A Gothic structure in a pod, Sacred heart. Refreshing is your piquant taste, Though bitter are the seeds encased In your virescent uterus, Cool and crisp.
If Eden’s fruit, forbidden them, Had been a pepper— perfect gem, The primordial parents would have sinned
By themselves. No need for any Satan-snake Their faithfulness to God to shake Would have existed, had you been Verboten. O sinful fruit, you tempt me too, But I already lust for you: I, captive to a capsicum, Must confess.
I saw the devil one day Elizabeth Paige
I saw the devil one day, Or at least I think it was him. Who else appears from nowhere And watches you while you walk? The devil wore a suit and tie And he had long fingers. They moved quickly, Almost too fast to see. I didn’t know who he was And I was hypnotized. What did he want, With little old me? Alas I’ll never forget When he looked into my eyes. I held his gaze for a minute Until I turned and ran away. No one believes me And that’s perfectly okay Because deep down inside I know I saw the devil that day.
Medusa Kerrin Smith
I wish I could stop
out of a jaw. You imagine the pattern
quietly sipping my drink
of the cuts on your fingers
while I listen to hate
that will scab tomorrow and the
across the bar, while my
soreness your breasts will get
heart sinks from the iron ore
from their jolting upon impact.
in my blood. In my head,
This is good-
I don’t want to be angry, I just want to be anger.
when your fist hits a face it’s not like hitting a pillow
I am silent, sinking, saying
like your therapist told you to try
to lose some of your fury.
The skin cushions
Sip your whiskey.”
for only a moment till you feel it squeeze so hard against teeth you’d think your knuckles were wearing molar rings; you’d think you’d punch a bracelet
Homecoming Ashley Volta
I stare out the grease-stained window and my gaze creeps upward. The sun just sits there like a gaping wound, unaware and uncaring of its effects. Hot and yellow with infection with rays oozing over the sky burning my skin through the glass. “Why are you still here?” Rachel asks. I sit frozen in the booth seat with my eyes fixed on the cracks and rips in the pseudo fabric that covers them. I feel like that pseudo fabric, once shiny and sturdy, now ruptured with my contents peeking out. “I don’t know, just feel weird,” I reply as I look down and play with the knotted mass of dark hair that I plopped on top of my head before my shift. I have been working at this restaurant since I moved to Baltimore four years ago to live with my boyfriend Joe. My last tables left about an hour ago and when I sat down to count my money; I just never got back up. I can start to smell myself, smells of fried fats and buttery delights glazed all over my black uniform. “Is he home yet?” she asks while hovering over me. “Yea, his parents dropped him off earlier.” “Then get out of here!” she urges as she eyes the table I am sitting at. I get the feeling she is more concerned with me taking up her table than with my fear of going home.
14 days ago, Joe left for Williamsburg, Virginia. Williamsburg Treatment Center for Addiction to be specific. Now he is sitting at home waiting for me and I am sitting here waiting for my brain to signal my muscles in my legs to move, to get up and go. I think about him sitting in our house, just sitting there taking up space, like the damn sun. It is about two days after Joe left for treatment and I am cleaning the house. I walk around throwing away rolled up post-it notes. Hidden in drawers or just left out for anyone to see, they are mostly hot pink or construction cone orange. I remember Joe saying one day, “I guess I found a use for the postits mom gave us.” He is so nonchalant about it. I walk to my car, dazed and hot. It is hot for April and the heat swirls around me taunting my congested head. I have a cold and the newly birthed pollen is making it worse. The drive is quiet; I do not even turn on the radio. I want to stay numb and ambivalent. I just keep my eyes on the road and my steering wheel. Road. Steering wheel. Road. Steering wheel. When I first started working at the restaurant, I used to give this guy Jason a ride home even though I had to drive past my own house in order to get him there. One night, I am driving Jason home and as we pass my house, I notice my street lined with cars. “He better not be having a party,” I say to Jason as he just looks at me sympathetically. I drop Jason off and make my way back home. Once I hit my street, I realize those cars were not there for a party. They are a mixture of undercover cop cars and regular police cruisers. The lights of the flashlights move
frantically creating zigzag patterns on my front lawn. I know why they are here but feign ignorance and innocence when your typical NARC officer, chip on the shoulder and all tries to bully me. They found what they were looking for because Joe was already in custody and gone so I just want them to leave me alone. I tell the officer to go “fuck himself.” I can barely believe it as it shoots out of my mouth. It was in that moment I realize this was not just Joe’s reality, but mine as well. I was in this and instead of taking the red flag and running far away, I followed him into a world of dark figures and blind corners. I will stay in that darkness for many years indulging him and his vices. But first I will clean up the house the officers tore apart, putting one drawer back at a time. I turn the corner onto on my street and my house is the second house on the right. I can already see the top of Joe’s head, his black coarse hair casting a glint around his head from the sunlight. Almost like a halo. Joe is sitting on the stoop and Lola is beside him, panting and looking happy. Lola was only 6 weeks old when she came to be our first dog together. Lola was part of a litter of puppies scheduled to be euthanized before my friend, Katie, rescued them from the shelter they were at. Lola is a handful, and she loves to steal our food off the coffee table where we eat dinner sometimes. Joe snorts his drugs off the coffee table and I remind him to make sure to finish before Lola can get to it. It is like reminding a child to finish his dinner. This is my routine along with righting Joe’s wrongs and then settling for the scraps of life. So grateful
for these scraps, I am, much like Lola is after we feed her from our dinner. Joe is wearing a white t-shirt and black gym shorts. He is smiling. Even from my car, his body looks fuller but his movements are more effortless. I get out of my car and I watch Joe put Lola back in the house and come back out to give me his full attention. He keeps smiling and we hug. The once void hollows of his cheeks are now plump and fill the nook of my neck. “Maybe things can change,” I think to myself. His smell is the same, a mixture of sweat, designer cologne and Newport’s. “Maybe things cannot change,” my memory chimes in. His body feels warm and familiar but foreign at the same time. It is as if I am on a blind date, not sure who this person is and whether or not I like them. There is awkwardness in the way we move together now and I do not look at him too long because he is a stranger and you are not supposed to stare at strangers. “Hey, I missed you,” he said looking down at me. “Yea, me too,” I whisper back sneaking another peek up at him. “Let’s go inside, it’s hot out here,” he said as he opened the front door. I follow him inside and close the door extra tight behind me.
Being Alone Charlene Faison
Being alone is a feeling of being lost. Being alone is being merchandise, without a price. Being alone is being sad. Being alone is a sense of creativity, no longer gone mad. Being is an unnecessary thing. Being alone is a finger without a ring.
Slippers and Shoes by Janet Butler
Permanence Ashley Phelps
It’s early, but Baia has already slipped from her warm bed without waking her husband, checked on her dying father, and poured herself a third mug of coffee when she admits there are things she will simply never un-see. They hang over her like stalactites, sporadically dripping memories that bleed into her thoughts. Memories like the sparrow with broken wings she found dying in a gutter, the glint of the sun on the shiny toes of her Mary Janes that she stared at as the boy down the street fondled her left breast, or the blue haze blossoming under the skin of her first born. There is one particular moment that floods her most frequently, haunts her. It smudges her thoughts now, as she sits at her kitchen table watching the waves through the window; reaching, stretching, only to lose themselves to the sand. It was just after Baia’s twelfth birthday and her grandmother had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Baia had taken the news and folded it away somewhere, not wanting to talk about it. Her father, however, wanted to endlessly explain and discuss, with a hushed voice and soft touches, what was happening to her grandmother. “Are you sure you don’t have any questions, Baia-cakes? It’s ok to be confused or curious.” He looked at her through his eyelashes, trying to appear more interested in his roast beef than her facial expressions. Her grandmother wouldn’t stop recognizing her own husband for months, but everyone was waiting for the storm
to descend, looking over their shoulders, up at the sky. Baia’s father kept looking at her, became increasingly curious about what was going on in her head. He would capture her in his arms as she tried to pass him, squeeze her as though he might feel something she wasn’t saying hiding under her skin. “No, Daddy, no questions,” Baia said with a tight smile. Baia doesn’t remember learning about death, but feels she always knew her grandmother would die someday. Now, this disease meant her grandmother would die alone. Not physically, but mentally; a stranger surrounded by blank faces of family and friends made unrecognizable by a strange collapse of her brain. Her father’s eyes were still on her as she picked up her fork. His staring made her feel strange, like he was waiting for something. Baia stabbed a hunk of meat on her plate, the shape of her father in periphery, waiting for her to do something. “Can I be done?” Baia dropped her fork and turned her face sharply to her mother, keeping her father out of sight. Her mother nodded, but before Baia could escape, her father caught her with a question. “You know I’m always here, right, Baia?” His voice wasn’t as clear as she expected. She looked at him. She hadn’t noticed how tired his eyes looked, the faded, stretched rims. The gray hair spreading from his temples seemed new too, and the deep lines pulling around his mouth. She swallowed hard and nodded and even his grin looked tired. Baia blinks and the curves of the waves sharpen again. She lifts herself from the hard wooden chair, mug in hand, and turns her back to the window. When her father was diagnosed with cancer, almost a year ago, sitting on the sterile paper of an examination table, she
reached out to take his hand and he looked at her with that tired, questioning stare. It made her feel strange then, too. Baia walks to the counter and splashes the rest of her coffee into the sink. She rinses the mug absent-mindedly, not really seeing the mug or the water, mostly still seeing her father’s staring eyes. Something in her chest knots up, hard and painful, and another moment pushes her father’s eyes away. It was after her grandmother’s funeral and she had finally broken away from the dark shrouded strangers that kept hugging her and stroking her hair, telling her how pretty she was. She wanted to find her mother, but as Baia entered the kitchen she saw her father at the counter. His back was dark and wide against the floral tiled backsplash and he was looking into the sink. A grin snuck onto her face and she took wide, quiet steps toward him, balancing on her toes so the heels of her shoes wouldn’t click on the tile. She bent her knees as she got closer, ready to pounce and yell ‘Boo!’ But, she heard him sniffing, making weird noises, and settled her weight back onto her heels. Her grin shriveled. Baia had never seen her father cry before. She reached out to the thick material of his suit jacket and tugged at his elbow. “Daddy?” she squeaked. Her face went hot. He took a quick breath, wiped a hand over his shadowy cheeks. Maybe she should have backed quietly out of the kitchen. “What is it, Baia-cakes?” he said, something watery dragging down his syllables. “Do you know where Mom is?” Baia bounced on the side of shoes, nervous and sick to her stomach. He pressed his
thumb and forefinger against his eyes, scrunched up his face. Something frosted over in her chest and thudded against her ribs. “Are you ok, Dad?” Her voice dropped and she placed a hand on his broad forearm. “Oh, yeah, I’m peachy. I’m a peach!” he said, artificial sunlight in every word. He looked down at her with a tight, slanted smile. His features looked strained in the fluorescent light. “I haven’t seen Mom, Baia-cakes. Did you look in the den?” His eyes were watery and their rims were red, but he held that tight smile, tried to put some wattage behind it. She tried to return the favor. Icy tendrils stretched from that cold thing in her chest, worked their way through her arms. She felt a bit shaky and her mouth started to open, but shut itself again. What was floating in her belly that she just couldn’t find the proper way to curl her lips and tongue around? “I’m sure I’ll find her.” She finally said, but couldn’t look away from him. She squeezed his arm and his eyes pooled. She had nightmares later of her father crying and his tears filling her mouth and burning her throat with salty tanginess and she felt like she would drown. Baia turns the faucet off and watches water swirl down the drain. The memory settles heavily in her belly and she wishes, once again, that she hadn’t seen her father in the kitchen, hadn’t seen the hurt, or confusion, or whatever it was in his eyes. Her throat is tight as she walks back to the table. She settles back into her seat, a ghost of warmth still clinging to it, and looks out to the waves still stretching and falling into the sand. The ceiling creaks, then the hallway groans, and she sighs.
It’s her husband, coming down for his coffee. Baia shrugs her shoulders, rolls them up and back, tries to stretch away the stiffness locked there. She should shower, get ready for the day. She should check on her father again. The kitchen door wheezes open behind her. “What’s shaking, hot stuff?” Eddie says, his slippers slapping against the tiles as he walks to the coffee machine. His bright voice irritates her. Baia wonders if he even notices the pulsing emptiness of the house, if he gets a creeping feeling when he passes the rooms where their children used to sleep, the room with her father inside. Baia feels the empty rooms at the top of the stairs like open, bloodless wounds. Eddie never seems to notice. She pulls her robe tighter across her chest. Eddie saunters over and slides his mug noisily across the tabletop. Baia feels a sharp pulse in her temple as he settles into the chair across from her. She looks back at the waves. “That good of a morning, huh?” he asks and she looks at him. His hair, sandy when she fell in love with him, stands in silver shocks at the back of his head. On some other day she would have grinned and leaned across the table to kiss the taste of coffee from his lips. She wonders if her father’s nurse will be on time today. “I think I’m going to ask the nurse to give Dad a sponge bath today.” she says, looking past Eddie’s shoulder. “He’d like that.” He smirks and she knows he’s making a joke, like her father is some pervert wagging his eyebrows at pretty nurses, pinching their rears as they pass by. Baia clenches her jaw. “Or maybe you should do it. He might feel embarrassed with
the nurse.” Baia laces her fingers together and squeezes until the flesh around her knuckles turns pale. Eddie nods slowly, no smirk. She looks back to the waves. She hears Eddie fumble with something and when he sighs she smells harsh and earthy tobacco. Her eyes snap to him, the angry glowing cigarette between his lips. Her hands hurt from squeezing them so tightly. She shoots from her seat, the chair scuttles back a few inches. “Put that damned thing out!” She slams her palms against the tabletop. Eddie drops the cigarette into his coffee, waves a hand to dissipate the cloud hanging between them. Baia watches a tendril of smoke snake over the rim of the mug, her arms are shaky. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I wasn’t thinking.” He tries to reach for her hand but she crosses her arms. She closes her eyes, exhales slowly, trying to work the tight ache from her throat. “I just forgot for a moment.” he says. She looks at him and his eyes are asking her not to cry. His hands are still on the table, reaching for her. His pleading eyes make her angry. She doesn’t want to cry, but it starts before she can swallow it down. Eddie is next to her now, pulling her close, folding her into his chest. Her arms hang limp at her sides, but she presses her ear to his chest to hear the thump of his heart. She wishes it were another day, another month, so she could kiss him and they could go down to the waves, let the salt wash their bodies. She takes a deep breath. Eddie smells like stale cigarettes and the strange tang of medical supplies. It makes her feel sick. “I should check on Daddy.” she says, moving away from him. “I wish you’d talk to me.” He tries to hold onto her wrist but
she pulls away. She looks at him and almost feels it would be easy to let everything fall out, to tell him about the nightmares, the panic she feels passing those empty rooms upstairs, the fear that the chemicals and tumors will fry whatever is left of her father before she knows what to say. She rubs the sleeve of her robe under her eyes. “Please, Baia.” Eddie’s voice is so soft it fills Baia with something warm, but his face is anxious and she thinks of her father again. She walks away from Eddie, out the door to the hallway then up the stairs, past the doors that open to empty rooms, to the guest room at the end of the hall. She nudges the door open with her foot. It smells odd, sterile and musty at once, nothing like her home. The bed, cradling her father, sits at a jutting angle from the door, facing the window. She sees the spotty skin wrinkled against his skull, his closed purple eyelids. She watches his chest rise and fall a few times before finally releasing a breath she didn’t know she was holding. She is still crying, her arms are still shaking and she wishes Eddie could understand. “I want to forget, too.” she says, barely a whisper, but loud enough to feel it in her bones.
Power Line Kyle Hemmings
When we were young, we played tricks on old women who claimed they had claws & pincers & pock-marked daughters with raven-fierce eyes. We shoplifted Lucky Charms & cut our teeth on the blue-Tang edge of night. As ravenous adults with hard headaches, our bodies burnt out on 3d rate hotel mattresses, deficient of spring & foam & form. We bounced back & jumped from buildings. Under a sodium street light, you made me into a wisp. From then on, I could only dream in back seats of two-door cars, sub-woofers silenced. At clubs, we made public love with wobble and rubber knee. I loved you in undisclosed corners of the city. Someone said this island will someday sink under the weight of so many love addicts, Richard Simmons aerobic-exercise flunkies. After they arrested you for shoplifting hearts in vivo, I pressed my lips to frozen metal just to prove that winter could not pierce me. I was wrong. I tightwalked across telephone lines just to hear the echoes of my old conversations with you. A high-wire hope. Then the click, the fall. The soul-less cell phone. My broken body, discharged of all electricity, remote from myself.
Withholding Danielle Ariano
I arrive home midday on Christmas Eve one year. My sister greets me at the front door with a hug. She is thirty-one years old today. I haven’t even had a chance to wish her a happy birthday when I hear her say it. “I tried to kill myself last night.” My body stiffens. My hands are still wrapped around my luggage, and suddenly they are gripping the plastic handle so hard that my nails go white from the pressure. I want to leave. I want to turn around and return to Baltimore, where I live with my partner and our dogs, where I have a life devoid of this constant craziness. I don’t ask, but my sister tells me the story anyway. There was an argument with my parents; nasty words were exchanged. She wanted to be dead, so she came downstairs into my parents’ bedroom with a belt around her neck. Those are the basic details. I do not know what to say. “I’m sorry.” I manage. I even make a joke, a sarcastic remark about having a happy birthday. It is not funny, but we both laugh. I go upstairs where I find my mother wrapping Christmas gifts. For the first time I can remember, she looks old. Tired, worn. I kiss her hello. We hug and she begins crying on my shoulder. She launches into her own account of the previous night. The argument was over drugs. My mother has been monitoring my sister’s prescriptions, doling them out on a daily
basis so that my sister does not abuse them. She hides the drugs in the laundry basket, under the kitchen sink, in her purse. She has so many spots that she often loses track of where she has put them. Most days, if my sister wants the drugs she finds them. But last night she could not. She grew angry and desperate when our mother refused to reveal the newest hiding place. She demanded them, shouting and yelling. Our father heard the two of them arguing and came up to intervene. “Get out,” he said firmly to my sister, pointing to the door. My sister left their room, but returned moments later with a belt strapped around her neck, tightening it as she entered. Stunned, my parents watched as her face changed colors–red to purple until my mother surrendered. “I’ll give you the drugs,” she screamed while my father moved to unstrap the belt from his daughter’s neck. I listen to my mother’s voice as she recounts the story. I can see the whole scene unfolding. I even see things that my mother doesn’t mention—the pink nightgown that she wears to bed, the latest book that she is reading on the floor beside her, my father’s face red with anger. My mother sobs on my shoulder. I put my hands on her back and squeeze. She tells me that, as long as she lives, she will carry with her the image of her daughter with a belt around her neck, eyes bulged, lips purple. The next day, by some compulsion, I seek out the belt and find it hanging inside of the closet where my mother keeps her cleaning supplies. It is black. I remember that detail, the color, seeming like something important when I heard the story. I run my fingers over the leather, the stitching, touch the shiny silver buckle.
I am disappointed by its appearance. Up until this moment, I believed that the objects of death would bear such an obvious and grand appearance that they could somehow be earmarked and kept out of reach of those we deemed suicidal or unstable, but this belt is so utterly ordinary. It is not frightening or powerful. It hangs next to a red feather duster in a closet stocked with dust rags that smell of pine scent. I imagine my mother placing the belt there, draping it carefully on the metal hook and then shutting the closet door. Pushing it tight. Making sure that the latch clicked in the jamb.
Songbirds Lament (How I Became Moon-Killer) John Benes
No one loves beauty like I do Waiting for the night will kill you. Like waiting for her might kill you. Might take the moon and shatter it. Rub its powder off on your jeans and think: I see that moon, too. Saw it every night we were together. Envied it its closeness to you and killed it in my sleep. They called me moon killer, and I was. Strong enough to collide in wind and second hunger. For what I have done the people will begrudge me my curls. For what I have done you will only remember what it feels like to touch.
Amanda Gilleland There’s a girl, a young woman, standing on the beach in Cape Hatteras. She’s wearing a pale yellow bikini and feeling a little bit afraid of the way her body feels in it: exposed. She knows that she will not always feel this way; eventually she will be fully clothed, back home, summer will be over. The fear isn’t quite uncomfortable, just present, and so she does her best to acknowledge the feeling and then forget it. She spreads her towel on the beach, the wind blows the corners in and so she buries each one beneath a small sandcastle. There are some boys, young men, playing volleyball not far from her. This is why she had been afraid, not because she knew them or felt any particular attraction towards them (she didn’t want anything from them) she simply felt their pack-like presence, group curiosity. Or un-curiosity. Through the fuzzy heat she feels as though they are looking at her, rating her, transmitting noiseless signals amongst themselves, invisibly poking elbows in rib cages, folding over with the unsteady hoots of laughter that only young men can have.
Late August Brooke Bognanni
For Elizabeth Bishop
Summer: the crackling Gold-leaf eye of the carp Reeled in for this night’s supper— How it pulled The line tight In its swimming away— Then flapped in futile flight On the planks of this wooden dock, Until Still against the humid chirping Of crickets; Unflinching against the ice-lined chest Where the eye now holds a temporary gaze— Its final days A fixed memory of the rush of water against the gill, Or of the reflection of lightening Cracking the dark surface; The rain falling harder than before Over the waning golden season.
Bed, Bath and Beyond Sarah Rayman
My friends were mixing cheap liquor with Mountain Dew and playing beer pong in Jeremy Sullivan’s basement. I was trapped at Bed, Bath & Beyond, ringing up the one person in Baltimore who felt the need to exchange a cartload of bathroom accessories for a two hundred dollar duvet cover at 9:59 on a Friday night. “Hold on now,” the hefty woman said as she rifled through her giant leather purse. She smelled like White Diamonds and hairspray. There was a smudge of bright pink lipstick on her tooth. “I know I’ve got one of those twenty percent off coupons in here somewhere.” Pieces of gum, crumpled receipts, used tissues and sunglasses swished around in her purse. She unzipped secret compartments and rummaged through her wallet. I knew her kind. They linger in the store long after the ten minutes ‘til close warning is announced. They return boxes of Keurig coffee packages after using their favorite flavors. They smuggle bath rugs and towel warmers in the bottom of their carts or baby strollers and feign innocence when the alarm goes off. They hold up black Friday lines searching for ten dollar off coupons that they know damn well they used on their last visit. “I know it’s in here,” she insisted. “I remember cutting it out of the magazine this morning…” “That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll just scan one from earlier.” “Oh really? Could you?” Her shifty brown eyes revealed that she’d been expecting this from the moment she began her well-rehearsed coupon
hunt. She was one faulty return away from winding up on our Code Red sheet. We had a list of repeat offenders stashed at each register—people that went store to store returning coffeemakers they didn’t pay for, demanding cash back for gift card purchases and running their store credit through the roof. We were supposed to page the manager on duty if someone from the list appeared in our line. I finished ringing up Crazy Coupon Lady and locked the sliding door behind her. She was our last customer and I was in a hurry to begin my weekend. My boyfriend, Brad was out buying an eighth of what his idiot drug dealer referred to as “Sour Diesel.” His drug dealer was a rich Italian kid that went to our high school and spoke as if he’d never grasped a single English grammar rule in his entire life. He sold weed and mushrooms out of his father’s basement. His name was Mauricio, but he insisted people call him Dank. After Brad bought the weed, he’d be headed to the party without me. All I could think about was what spray-tanned skanks would be there, asking to hit his blunt, giggling when he made a joke or recited a moronic line from a Will Ferrell movie. It took a six pack of Coors Light and a cigarillo of Sour Diesel to make Brad bubbly and sociable. He was naturally shy and awkward. Whenever we went out to get pizza with friends or spent an afternoon at my aunt’s house, he’d avoid eye contact and keep stoically silent, opting to tweet lyrics from rap songs on his iPhone or update his Facebook status rather than make conversation with the people surrounding him. The other cashiers were meandering around the store, finding sly corners to text and eat bags of chips where the manager couldn’t see. At the end of the night, we each had different re-
sponsibilities for closing the store. The manager would highlight employees’ names in various colors on the clipboard. Pink meant sweep the store, blue meant clean the bathrooms, yellow meant fold the towel section and purple meant vacuum the vestibule. I lucked out with towel-folding duty, but finished early and decided to start other chores in hopes of getting out of work as soon as possible. The other employees didn’t seem as concerned about salvaging their Friday night. The book keeper, Maggie—a middle aged woman that smelled like cats and drank green tea from a plastic water bottle—looked like she had a riveting night ahead of her reading a Nora Roberts novel and watching Days of Our Lives recordings. Christian, the closeted homosexual in charge of bridal registries, was never in a rush to get home. His obnoxious wife called the store at least four times a day to nag him. “Christian, you have a call on line one. Christian, line one.” I’d find myself paging him over the loudspeaker several times a day. He’d trudge to the front of the store, exhale loudly and roll his eyes as I handed him the phone. “Hi, honey,” he’d say sweetly into the phone, all the while wagging his middle finger in the air or sticking his tongue out while pretending to choke himself. His wife was always calling to complain about something their satanic three-year-old had done, or micromanage his work schedule and the pit stops he’d be making on his way home. Whenever the store wasn’t busy and I had down-time to straighten the end caps, Christian would find me and vent about his life. He’d stand like a girl with his hand on his hip, rubbing his temple as he recalled his latest marital woe in an exaggerated flamboyant tenor. “Jacey colored all over the walls with oil pastels,” he’d once
told me. “I asked her what the heck she was doing while he had the time to paint a freakin’ wall mural the size of the Taj Mahal. Now she says we have to go back to marriage counseling. Apparently, I’m not sensitive enough to her feelings.” I could tell the leashed collar his wife kept around his neck was rapidly turning into a noose. It would only be a matter of time before Christian had a full-blown mental breakdown. Val, the store slut and head cashier, spent our shifts babbling incessantly about her boy troubles and asking me to block her from the manager’s view so she could sext her lovers. Dave, the manager on duty that night, was the type of guy that wore form fitting t-shirts and flexed his muscles every chance he got. He loved the sound of his own voice and held unnecessary nightly meetings just to gush about how much he could bench press. He was about as interesting as An Inconvenient Truth. Sometimes he’d corner me on my way to the break room and appear as if he had an important matter to discuss. “Sarah, come here a sec,” he’d say. “What’s up?” “Did you get your tickets yet?” “What tickets?” I’d ask. His face would crack into a smile as he held his arms out and kissed his contracting biceps. “To the gun show,” he’d bark. None of these people had lives. They were a cult of misfits that thrived on the daily drama and politics of Bed, Bath & Beyond. They needed to be there. I, on the other hand, had a life. At the time, I thought I needed to be monitoring Brad in a smoke-filled basement that smelled like overpriced marijuana, Cool Ranch Doritos and girls with tongue rings that wore far too much fruity body spray. I thought I needed to be massaging his
shoulders and kissing his neck, anything to keep his attention. The truth was I needed to be far, far away from Bed, Bath and Beyond and from any kind of nineteen-year-old Neanderthal that had alternating names for the same exact marijuana Mauricio had been growing in his backyard since Junior High. One week it was Sour Diesel; the next it was Afghan Kush; the next it was Hydroponic Pussy. Looking back, I have trouble recalling what I ever saw in Brad. In the beginning, I was attracted to his violet eyes and dimply smile. He liked my hip-length hair and colorful personality. Brad didn’t have opinions and feelings and grand aspirations for the future pouring out of him like I did. He was a simple, quiet guy and it made me feel special that he reserved his rare moments of emotion for me. There was a moment in time—it may have been weeks; it may have been months—that Brad and I were crazy about each other. I spent years holding onto that moment. On my eighteenth birthday, he showed up to my family’s cookout two hours late and gave me a ten dollar gift card to Ritas. On our second Valentine’s Day together, he brought me a pack of Raisinettes and a balloon from Dollar Tree, before heading off to snowboard with his friends at Round Top. Brad was the kind of guy that cared more about washing and waxing his Subaru WRX than what my father thought of him. Back at Bed, Bath and Beyond, I felt like the only sane one in the infirmary, except for Liam. Liam was a stocker working his way through grad school. He looked like Paul Walker and smelled like aftershave. I’d spend my shifts watching him lift heavy things and fantasize about the two of us escaping to the main office. I imagined running my bony fingers through his shaggy black hair and letting him kiss me on the man-
ager’s desk. Liam was the only form of civilized life left on our deranged Bed, Bath & Beyond planet. He and I found common ground on laughing at the villagers’ insanity and discussing all the great books I had to look forward to reading in college. “Who cleaned the bathrooms?” Dave asked that night, flexing his muscles as he charged down the hall. Dave was the kind of guy that spent hours at the gym, but had never stepped a foot in a library. If you had a problem at the register and Dave was the manager on duty, you knew not to page him to fix it. He would only make the problem worse. He’d grunt and push all the wrong buttons until the entire system froze up. Dave reminded me of Barney Rubble. I looked around our circle waiting for Val to say something. Her name was highlighted in blue to clean the bathrooms and although I’d started the job for her in hopes of making it to the party before Brad was too stoned to whisper cheap compliments in my ear, I didn’t finishing cleaning it. Someone had really done a number on stall three. Some sick, tribal animal that evidently ate a boat load of bad curry the night before, soiled all over the floor and toilet, and didn’t bother to flush. Val wasn’t saying anything. Dave walked over to the clipboard seeking an answer. “Val?” he questioned, scratching his balding head. “I thought Sarah did it,” Val answered. “She had the mops out.” He looked to me for an explanation. “Well, yeah I started to clean it, but it wasn’t my job,” I defended. “You left the bathroom like that?” “It wasn’t my job. I had the towel section.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Dave said, crinkling his brow and cracking his knuckles. “You started the bathroom and didn’t clean any of the shit in stall three?” Lima snorted and laughed. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks. Why was I being interrogated instead of Val? “It wasn’t my job,” I repeated, glaring at Val who’d completely thrown me under the bus. I was so done with her and all of her sob stories—the time her boyfriend gave her chlamydia, the time she couldn’t choose between Moron One and Moron Two, the time she had a massive cold sore outbreak and I covered for her on my day off. She was dead in my book. “Go clean it up,” Dave instructed, his tone rather hostile. Is this a joke? I thought to myself. I looked at him like he had seven heads. “You’re going to clean it up,” Dave demanded, his face flushing red. “No…I’m not,” I maintained. “That’s disgusting.” “Clean it up,” he yelled, pointing toward the bathroom. Something was severely wrong. He was quickly shifting from the typical power-abusing ogre I’d come to know and loathe, to a complete madman. The veins in his neck and forehead were bulging out. “None of us are leaving this building until she flushes that toilet.” He charged toward me with his finger pointed in my face. Liam stepped between us. “Come on, Dave it’s not a big deal. I’ll go clean it up right now,” he offered. “Don’t move another inch!” Dave yelled as Liam walked toward the bathroom. He turned his eyes back to me.
“You flush that toilet or you’re fired.” I looked around the store, wondering if this was real life. “Flush the toilet!” he scolded. I turned and walked toward the door to leave. He charged after me, but Liam intervened and stopped him in time for me to get out. The following morning I received half a dozen panicked phone calls from the main store manager, Carl. He left messages on my cellphone saying it was urgent and that he’d like to clear up the matter. After talking it over with my parents, I returned Carl’s phone calls and filled him in on the story he’d already heard from Val, Christian and Liam. He apologized profusely, assured me that Dave didn’t have the authority to fire me and said I still had my job. He asked if it would be alright if someone higher up in the company called me to ask a few questions. They were worried about me taking them to court. I decided not to go back to Bed, Bath & Beyond or pursue any legal action. I’d had enough crazy coupon ladies for a lifetime. The world of retail was not for me and as it turned out, neither was the world of basements that smelled like That 70’s Show and boys that had very little chance of ever developing into men. I didn’t need Bed, Bath and Beyond and I didn’t need Brad. I had three rambunctious little cousins that got so excited when I spent a Friday night with them watching 7th Heaven reruns and making microwaved smores, that they’d roll around on the couch wrestling with each other, fighting over who got to sit beside me. I had a grand mom that baked my favorite peanut butter chip cookies and sat around the kitchen table with me, long after everyone had gone to sleep, telling
stories about when she was a young girl and moved to Florida. I had a patient uncle who would take me out early on Saturday mornings and attempt to teach me how to drive and parallel park. Sometimes I’d drive so slow that he’d take me to an abandoned parking lot and force me to do donuts at fifty miles an hour, just so I wouldn’t be scared to go a normal speed, anymore. I had an aunt that knew how to be an older sister, a best friend and a mom all at once. We’d spend the weekends running errands and talking about everything from what I wanted to study in college, to how come only certain girls could pull of things like skinny jeans and red lipstick, to why losing a first love hurts so bad that a piece of you never fully recovers. The summer I left Bed, Bath and Beyond I found something I hadn’t known I’d been searching for all along. I found friendship and comfort in my family and a bond that would get me through the hardest of times, and beyond.
Corporate Boy Blues Jessica Welch
He wants to work with his hands, build up gardens like his grandfathers, tend houses and their hinges; he wants to make something out of time. He wants to find what every man wants to find, a thing to hold, another thing to mold, and a modicum of peace to show for his time.
Fighter by Shea Wishard
Audibles T.R. Healy
His head inclined, his shoulders curved in as if supporting a packed duffel bag, Stokes moved slowly along the buckled sidewalk. So slowly, he thought, he could have been at the beach struggling through ankle-deep sand. He almost seemed in a trance, scarcely noticing any of the people who passed him. It was a crisp autumn afternoon but he wasn’t wearing a jacket, only a baggy cardigan sweater whose sleeves were much too long for his arms and nearly covered his knuckles which still bled a little from all the pounding he did against his bedroom door. Moments later, just after he entered another crosswalk, a scuffed football bounced in front of him and he looked up and saw a boy of about nine chasing after it. He started to walk past the ball then hesitated and picked it up and spread his fingers across the laces. “That’s mine, mister,” the boy cried out, a little short of breath. He nodded but didn’t hand him the ball. “You a pretty good receiver, are you?” “I’m all right I guess.” “Well, let’s see how good you are,” he said, casually spinning the ball in his hands. “Why don’t you run over to that Buick that’s parked in front of the fire hydrant and do a curl in.” “Now?” “Whenever you’re ready.” At once, the boy spun around and sprinted toward the car, his
head weaving from side to side, and, just seconds before he got there, Stokes threw the ball. It felt good, rolling smoothly off of his index and middle fingers, and as soon as the boy turned, the ball was there. He barely had to stretch at all when he caught it and pulled it against his chest. Stokes smiled with satisfaction as he watched the youngster run back to the three other boys he was playing with in the middle of the street. Almost wished he could join them but doubted if he would be welcomed. * Right on the money, he thought of his throw, stepping past a mailbox. It hit the kid in the numbers. And no one could have thrown a tighter spiral, not even Butch Reese. * He looked at his watch and was surprised it was already past four. He had been walking nearly twenty minutes but still was not ready to return to his apartment where he was afraid he would hear on his answering machine that he had lost another bet. So far, today, he had lost four of five football games he had wagered on, and he knew he didn’t have the money to cover all his losses. And there were still three more games left to play, and with the way his luck was running he reckoned he’d probably lose all of them. “Son of a bitch!” he shouted, startling himself, and immediately looked up to see if anyone heard him. And sure enough a woman raking leaves across the street turned around and glared at him with disapproval. My luck, he thought, striding past her. My goddamn luck. *
Once again, as he approached another corner, he found himself looking around to see if any other boys were playing football in the street. He was still a little surprised how accurate and strong his arm was when he threw the deep pass to that boy a few minutes ago and was curious if he could do it again. Maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised, not after all the hours he spent, as a kid, throwing a football through the treadless snow tire his father hung from a limb of the oak tree in their backyard. “Throw your shoulders when you throw,” he remembered his father telling him time and again, “otherwise the ball will wobble like a wounded duck.” He might not be very consistent when it came to making successful bets but he still could throw a decent pass. It was really the only thing he was accomplished at, as a youngster, and, maybe, even as an adult. His release was a tad slow at times but his accuracy was spot on, his throwing hand following through as if he were trying to shake the hand of his receiver. * “Hey, watch where you’re walking!” a bicyclist barked as he churned past Stokes. “You watch it!” he shouted back, amazed his left elbow wasn’t hit by the reckless cyclist. Instantly he raised his arm as if still holding a football and threw it toward the cyclist, sure the imaginary ball would strike him in the back of his neck. He smiled, remembering once in high school drilling a bully in the ear who was picking on a kid half his size. The jerk dropped to his knees as if whacked with a two-by-four.
* Without question, Stokes was the most accurate passer on his high school team and often won bets with teammates on all the different targets he was able to hit. Once he even knocked a seagull out of the sky to the horror of his coach. There was never a surer bet he ever made than when he bet on the accuracy of his throwing arm. Despite his skill as a passer, he started only a couple of games in high school because the kid ahead of him, Butch Reese, was overall a better leader. He could read defensive coverages as well as any of the coaches and, if necessary, didn’t hesitate to shift into a new formation. At times, he acted like a carnival barker when he called an audible. Frantically waving his arms above his helmet, he strode up and down the line of scrimmage, stomping his feet and barking signals. “You ever have any doubts when you decide to call an audible?” he asked him one day after practice. “Doubts?” “Yeah. You ever think maybe you should’ve run the play that was called from the sidelines when the one you called didn’t work out?” Frowning, he shook his head, seemingly insulted by the question. “Never?” “So far, a lot more often than not, my audibles have worked out. Which is a pretty good average so I’ll continue to call them until the percentages turn against me.” “So far so good, in other words.” “Believe me, I don’t ever call an audible to show off and draw attention to myself. I do it to win. That’s why anyone does
anything, isn’t it?”
Stokes learned to gamble from his father who often took him when he was little to the racetrack on Saturday afternoons where he generally broke even. His father did not believe in sure bets, thought those who did were naïve, which was one reason why he seldom ever scored a big win at the track. He was content, though, pleased that he never bet more than the forty dollars he always allotted himself. He was the polar opposite of his father, always looking for sure bets, sometimes even confusing hunches with sure bets. He didn’t confine his betting to the racetrack, and, as a result, won a lot more money than his father ever did and lost more too. As if hearing only what he wanted to hear, he regarded the faintest suggestion as a prediction and immediately would place a bet. He bet on just about anything, but especially football games where he had considerable sums at stake nearly every weekend. Occasionally he made some hefty bets in college but it was not until he went to work as a real estate broker that he really started betting heavily. It wasn’t because he needed the money. His tastes were pretty modest and he earned enough as a broker to pay his rent and utility bills and to go out to dinner a couple of times a week. He gambled because of the excitement it provided him, which was similar to the rush he felt as a kid walking along the ledge of the old water tower near the railroad tracks. Any moment he knew he could lose his balance and fall over a hundred feet but he was sure that he was too cunning for that to happen. It was the same confidence he had throwing a football. And this confidence continued with his gambling and
for a while seemed validated as he came out ahead week after week. But then, to his amazement, his luck changed and his losses started to mount. Before long, he began to have trouble meeting some of his obligations and asked for loans from friends and family members. And when there was no one left to borrow from he asked the people he owed for a little patience. “Patience, you say?” Clarence, one of the first bookies he made the request to, asked incredulously. “Just a couple of days. I’ll have your money then.” The sullen man grinned tautly then, after a moment, held out his massive right hand as if to agree to his request, and Stokes extended his and immediately the bookie grabbed it and bent back his middle finger until it snapped. “I’m not in the business of offering patience, friend. That’s something you see your priest or rabbi about.” * The light mist that had been falling the past few minutes gradually turned into a downpour and, again, Stokes scolded himself for not having a hat. He bolted out of his apartment so impulsively that he didn’t think to bring one or to put on a raincoat. He knew he should return before he got drenched but he didn’t feel like it, didn’t know if he ever wanted to go back there. “Damn,” he growled, glaring at all the charcoal clouds above him. Gently he massaged the middle finger of his right hand, which often bothered him when it rained. A southpaw, he was always grateful the finger that Clarence broke wasn’t on his throwing hand but he was afraid that more than a finger would be broken this time.
* His major flaw as a gambler Stokes believed was his lack of imagination. Once he decided to place a bet on an event he was incapable of changing his mind even when circumstances warranted it. He didn’t know why, either, thought it might be because he was stubborn or superstitious but he wasn’t really sure. All he knew was that it was similar to the problem he had when he played quarterback. Where others like Butch Reese promptly made the necessary adjustments at the line of scrimmage after assessing the formation of the defense, he was reluctant to make changes and seldom called audibles. Now he wished he had, maybe he would have got a few more starts, just as he wished he could have changed some of the bets he had made the past couple of years. * At the end of the next block, above a row of identical houses, rose the water tower he had climbed so many times as a youngster. He stared at it for a long moment then turned and headed back to his apartment, the rain dripping from his sleeves. To his surprise, after a few steps, he began to mutter one of the signals he remembered calling in high school. The rain was coming down so hard that he could barely hear what he was saying so he forced himself to speak up as if back on a scrimmage line and emphatically called out “Red Right Dice Three Dice Two Red Right.” He was almost tempted then to wave his hands above his head but kept them at his sides and called the signal one more time in a voice loud enough to be heard across the street.
Childhood Elizabeth Paige
A place that once held happy memories is now as lively as a corpse. This is the place that I grew up in. The house that used to have stained glass windows is now boarded up. The room that used to house a dresser filled with my brother’s clothes is now filled with beer bottles. The bathroom doesn’t have a toilet or a sink and the kitchen is missing an oven. This is the house that I grew up in. We lived in the middle of a triangle of bars – my mother worked at one, my father worked at one, and my future stepfather worked at another. They each had drinking problems. When I was five, I would walk two blocks and go to kindergarten. When I was six, I would walk over one block, down five blocks and over another two blocks and go to first grade. We would eat Domino’s pizza for lunch. As a child, the neighborhood was a walking one. Our groceries came from Monument Street and our snacks from the corner store on McElderry Street. After our visits to Johns Hopkins, we would stop at the market and treat ourselves to cold cuts. We cannot walk the area anymore. Mr. Junior ran a laundry mat that also housed a snowball stand. He had to close them both because he kept getting robbed. The neighbors that used to watch me play have either died or ran away from homes that aren’t safe to live in anymore. The concrete sidewalks are cracked and weeds peek through, daring someone to pull them. Mrs. Helen liked to sit on her front stoop and watch the
children play. She grew too old to live alone and now resides in a nursing home, while her house sits abandoned. The older men who lived next door to me are still there because they have nowhere else to go. Their windows are covered with grates like a prison. The bars are all still there, although the employees are different now. My mother works in a hospital and my stepfather doesn’t work at all. My father’s life is a mystery. I dream of playing hopscotch in the single lane street that ran in front of our row home. I dream of shaved ice and sitting on shaded stoops to escape the heat of summer. I dream the memories I made with a brother who only lived two and a half years. I dream of his father, the man who I consider a father, who died not long after his son did. We didn’t have cable or internet or air conditioning or a car, but we had each other. Now, we are divided and barely have ourselves to rely on. I miss my childhood.
Clifton Ave Kandace Strain
There never was a dull moment when we were together. When i met her she held me close to her bosom. She nourished my mind, soul, and my body. What i didn’t know she did. She took my hand and held it as we walked along the streets of my memories. I remember summer mornings when i woke up to the smell of grits, homemade biscuits, and eggs. I would hear the laundry machine going and tv blaring the current gossip. I would come down the stairs and see her beautiful smile. That’s what i remember. Never being scared and always feeling secure when we were together. Thats what i remember. Her hugs felt like restoration. The times she would dress me and combed my hair her patience taught me. We would leave the house and she held my had along the streets of my memories. Sometimes i would get curious to this unknown world but she was there to chasten me. Her correction was brought with godly love. During services she introduced me as her favorite. She brought me to the classroom. She brought me to rehearsal. She brought me to study. And most importantly she brought me to the altar. Later that evening we would sit on the couch. I would peer out the window and wonder why. She smiled that smile of comfort to remind me again. Right there she taught me scripture. She introduced me to the word. When the sun would go down she would turn the tv off and it was time to go up. Three rooms in the house there was but I would remain in hers. I dove in her bed like it was pool full of prosperity and opportunity. She would flash that smile and
again she taught me. She taught me to pray. Not so fast she would say. She would hold my hand and together we would kneel. I would peek open my eyes! What is she doing? her face was heavenly as if there was an image of a heavenly face within the lids of her eyes. I closed mines quickly to try to imagine the same. I would climb on the top of the bed and bury myself into her bosom. Her embrace warm and nurturing, I stayed there until I wake. There was never a dull moment in our lives together. Right now i was holding her close to my bosom. Doing my best to protect her mind, body, and soul. What she didn’t know i did. I would take her hand and walk her down the streets of my memories. She would flash that smile and we together would laugh. I remember waking up to the sound of my alarm. To cease my urgency I peek in her room. She would be there sitting on the edge of her bed with the tv blasting the local gossip. I would help her dress and comb her with equal patience. We would go downstairs and there was amber bottles beside the oatmeal. The grits, eggs, and bacon now no longer apart of our lives. We ate and then I would take her hand and together we went down the street of my memories. At the church she introduced me to worship. And reintroduced me to the altar. She introduced me to healing and miracles. She peek out the window once we got home and i would remind her of scripture and there she introduced me to ministry. When the sun went down the tv went off and it was time for her to go up. Here she introduced me to mourning. As I walked down the streets of my memories it was here she introduced me to faith.
King Henry on a Porch Swing Roger Market
You and the old lady have been bumbling around the home for weeks now in silence, unable to face each other. But one night she corners you on the porch swing of your subconscious, your comfort place, and bitches at you about sex and Jersey and the day King Henry died, and how dare you ignore her? You want to get up and walk away, but you can’t. It’s your mind; she’s working in your space now. She speaks—not so much in logical, audible words as in an uncanny barrage of subconscious thoughts and complex concepts and questions, and her patented derision—about the child you didn’t want initially. About the way he had sat in his punkin seat, already holding up his own head, confidently, like a great king on his throne, and about the tiny shoes he had been wearing and the ease with which he could nap on the nape of your neck. And most of all, about how careless you had been. Oh, yes, she blames you. She speaks until you can’t stand it anymore, until, at last, words fly from your own mouth like balloons finally escaping the wrists of children. “Shut up, woman! Talking about King Henry on a porch swing won’t bring him back.” You wake up and her side of the bed is empty. The closet door is open, the light is on, and there is nothing inside.
Excerpt from: Applied Feminism Edwin Guerrero
Day I You could hear all the leaves that night. You could hear every child drinkin’ tea by the fireplace. You could hear every blow o’ breath, as all the candles in the village went to bed with the rest of us. I woke up when I heard me a mouse. Or I thought it was one of ‘em mouses. But it wasn’t no mouse—it was a child. Couldn’t’ve been older than six. She stood there at the foot o’ the bed lookin’ stiff. Lookin’ scared. She was holdin’ somethin’. Sharp and shiny in the moonlight, look’d like a needle. I was ‘bout to wake John, but I was shakin’ so hard I ain’t have to do nothin’ else. He sat up, half asleep, rubbin’ his eyes. He woke up good when he saw the child standin’ there. He stared at her, then he stared at me. His eyes was wide, his mouth was open, breathin’ heavy. Look’d like he’d just seen a witch turn back into a cat. He was waitin’ for an explanation, but I ain’t have any for him. He looked back at the child, arms reachin’ out in front of him. “C’mere,” he said. The child shook her head, slow and scared. “C’mon,” he said, “don’t be afraid now. C’mere.” The child ran into his arms, couldn’t decide between cryin’ or breathin’. John stared at me with the same face he did before. He was lovin’ and tender, but he didn’t know what to do with no child. I pulled off the covers and lit us a candle. But before the light even hit the walls...the boots came. Sounded like the men, stompin’ down the slope into the village, after a long day’s haul down in the mines. Except there
was no woman’s feet coming out onto the porch, to greet their husbands coming home. There was no children’s feet neither, runnin’ and jumpin’ only to get soot on their clothes. And it couldn’t’ve been the men, coming down the slope into village, since John was sitting right ‘ere next to me. “Wake up, woman!” John was glarin’ at me, holdin’ the child close to his chest. “Go see who that is, could be men from another village, searchin’ for the girl.” I took the candle, fixed my gown, and went for the door. Wasn’t even halfway there when I heard John hold back a scream. I turned around, just in time to see the lil’ girl scurry off past my leg and out the door, just like the mouse I thought she was before. I trembled back into the room. I dropped the candle. John was slumped on the floor, like a dead workhorse. I fell to the floor too, screamin’ and sobbin’. The neighbors was screamin’ too. Then I heard them boots again. Inside the house, shakin’ the floorboards. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. A man bigger than the trees in the village marched into the room. Darkness started creepin’ into my eyes then. Last thing they saw was the man pick up my John, throw him over his shoulder like a sack, and carry him away. Day II I came to on the floor, to the same noise I went to sleep with. Screams. They helped me remember why I was on the floor on the first place. My John. I forced myself up and ran outside. The sun was bright. Too bright for what it was shinin’ on. Every woman and child in the village, holdin’ each other... cryin’... screamin’. I wasn’t outside long enough to dust a carpet before they came and held me too, askin’ questions. “Did they take John too?”
“Did you see the child?” “You saw them go up the slope, didn’t you?” The slope. That’s all I heard ‘tween all that screamin’. My feet took off for the slope on their own, wrenchin’ my body away from the nails o’ the women. When I came to, I was at the entry to the mines. Or what it used to be. The hole in the earth the men used to climb down by rope every day wasn’t there no more. All that was there was a mound o’ dirt, and women clawin’ through it, screamin their husband’s name. I sank to the ground and started sobbin’ again. I don’t know how long I stayed there with ‘em, screamin’ at the ground, before some women came and dragged us down the slope, back into the village.
Bitch Is the New Black Saralyn Lyons
You will love me, or you will rip my lips off and beat them on the counter with a mallet. I know this because we are women, and while we battle over the nations of our relationships, we must trample hard, good earth. Do we stamp ourselves out too? In the thick of it, I can see the fires in your camp and I will whistle a tune to see if you complete it. Let a note hang over the No Manâ€™s Land between us but pick it up and sing it back before too long. Because we are women, and we will not abide our silence.
Thomas Hardy Is an Asshole Ashley Payne
Smoke swirls in the light cast from the Borders bookstore in front of us. My feet rest on the dashboard as I stare out the windshield through the haze of light grey. A cigarette sits on my lips and I slowly inhale. My eyes close briefly and then open as the smoke leaks from my mouth; it trickles and dances in the light. I wish I was weightless and could dance away on the currents of air. Maynard croons a Tool song through the speakers of the car. Ash sits in the driver’s seat. She watches the smoke, too. Lifting the Borders bag from the floor, I glimpse the strange compilation of genres and authors: David Sedaris, a redesigned Jane Austin novel, a collection of Bukowski’s poetry, some random Manga, a new sci-fi series and some romance novels. I pull one of the many books we bought out of the bag and leaf through the pages, running the tips of my fingers slowly over the black ink. Our Friday night ritual for five years. The English department at the university has dubbed us the Ashleys. You know you’re friends when you have a combined nickname. “I still can’t get over that rape scene,” I mumble to Ash. “Neither can I,” she says and laughs. “Seriously, she lies down in the leaves and in the next chapter she is pregnant.” “Thomas Hardy is an asshole,” I mutter. “I can’t help but feel for Tess. That’s some crazy shit,” Ash says while lighting another cigarette. “Just be glad you don’t have to read Jude the Obscure. Now that’s a mind fuck. I can’t handle the whole kids killing themselves bit,” I tell Ash as I take a pull of my cigarette and
watch the smoke again as it trickles out. “Literature can be cruel bitch huh?” I say and laugh. “All of these books are sending me into a depression.” “Good thing we bought some good, old-fashioned girl porn,” I say, looking down at a romance novel. “No one’s going to be raped, and in the end, everyone lives happily fucking after. A girl needs a little fucking hope,” I continue. I have more in common with Tess than the heroine of the romance novel in my hands. Unfortunately, my rape wasn’t an ambiguous lie down in the leaves. “Depressing as it is, it’s quite beautiful,” Ash says, closing her eyes. “Depressing, but beautiful.” “Yeah. It is.” I look at the ceiling of the car and watch the smoke swirl into the darkness.
The Way We Were Joan Prusky Glass
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Thornton Wilder, Our Town
That summer, we set out too often to the beach like soldiers on a mission, trying to prove something (what?). Your father pulled you and your brother behind him in a little red wagon, quietly disapproving of me, a now familiar look of disdain on his solemn face. Afterwards, I hosed you down in the driveway. The smell of cold water and metal reminded me of my own childhood summers spent swimming in Cass lake, coming home at sunset to drink straight from the hose. My popsicle gleamed like the sapphire in a fairy tale, sun blocking the expressions on my parentsâ€™ faces.
too tightly in your dimpled hands, pretending to read it, writing your name over and over on the inside cover. One night I found you in bed, covered up like a doll, the copy of Our Town tucked in next to you, both of you lying side by side as though gazing at stars and whispering into the darkness: this is how we were once.
Those summer evenings you puttered around the house in pajamas, your bony, sun-kissed shoulders exposed, not yet burdened. You clutched my old copy of Our Town
Anna Slesinski I didn’t know I loved snores that shudder in the throat and chest
I am Clark Kent. When I take them off again I am someone else.
and conjure up a black bear grunting, eating jam snout-deep in the jar – gasp, cough, quietly start again.
I didn’t notice until you asked about my secret identity.
I didn’t know I love breath, thick with sleep and spices memories of last night’s dinner, dark and musty on the pillow the smell circling the room like a possessive animal. I didn’t know I loved possessive. I didn’t know I loved morning sounds. You are a rooster you crow, and shake the pillows I roll over and pretend I have not woken. I didn’t know I loved wearing glasses. Now, when I take them off the nightstand and put them on
Tangerines and Champagne Anastasia Baronovskayia Our eyes would be bright As Siberian snow in early winter. Our hearts would be warm and happy As if caramelized in Tupelo honey. A.B. It is impossible to sleep past nine in Siberia as the sun’s reflection in the snow doubles the light in the room. When his daughter was little she would knock on the door to see if he is awake. Now there is only a muffled sound of TV and water running in the kitchen. As he walks slowly past the hallway he glances at the hanging mirror reflecting a fifty-year-old unshaved man, his lip corners pointing down. Father quickly turns away. The living room smells of tangerines bought at the local market. It was his daughter’s favorite holiday treat that now brings just a fragrant smell. He hears his wife soft-shoeing her cooking dance along the kitchen floor. From year to year their way of celebrating New Year’s Eve has not changed. They do what any family in Russia does on New Year’s Eve: they turn their favorite Soviet movies on for the whole day, put champagne to chill in the fridge, and take out a can of red caviar stored a month ago, waiting to be spread over a fresh baguette. When daughter was little, she would never let her father forget that December 31st is her favorite holiday. “In the United States and Europe, they put up Christmas
trees in November,” she used to say every year. “That’s where I should live!” Father was still young and did not care much about traditions. Mother always said that he was too busy with work, so they would put up a tree on the morning of every New Year’s Eve. Now it was a habit, a way of bringing old memories back for the holidays. When daughter was little, they would spend the whole afternoon walking around downtown and looking at the holiday lights. It would be so cold that their eyelashes covered in droplets of ice. Both of them wore fur jackets, however, father never wore gloves, leaving his child totally amazed at how his hands still stayed hot in freezing Siberian cold. He would pull daughter’s scarf up to her nose. “Mother will yell at you if you catch cold,” he would say. “Mother will yell at you when she finds your gloves at home,” she would snap back. Even though he could only see her malachite green eyes, he could hear her soft laugh underneath layers of wool. Father is daydreaming as he finishes up tree decoration. Mother peaks into the living room, holding a bowl of Olivier chicken salad. “Has she called yet?” she asks, still mixing the salad as if it is extremely important not to stop cooking for a second. “I would tell you,” father says. “It’s only the 30th there.” He does not hide irritation in his voice, and she does not insist on talking. “Set the table for dinner, please!” she drops on her way back to the kitchen.
When daughter finally calls it is close to midnight, five minutes before the clock on the Kremlin tower in Moscow marks the beginning of the New Year. “Papa! Happy New Year! S Novim Godom!” Father takes a deep breath, hoping that she can sense how anxious he is to hear her voice. “Happy New Year, baby! My little princess!” He feels the little ball of ice in his throat, and presses the speaker button. “Talk!” he says to his wife. Mother puts her hand on his shoulder as she watches his eyes water. “Allo!? ” she says as if uncertain whose voice she is about to hear. “Mama! Happy New Year!” “Same to you, baby! How is the weather? Are you wearing your warm clothes?” “It’s not Siberia, Mam! It’s warm as in August in Russia.” Mother’s laugh is loud. She puts her hand to her mouth as if someone banned laughing in this household. “But they just said on the news that it is snowing in Maryland,” she says. “Oh mom!” daughter chuckles. “It’s in the mountains. Remember I went skiing to Frostburg last year?” “Yes, yes…” she mumbles. “So, what’s new?” father interrupts. “Nothing much. Tell me how are you celebrating?” “Home, as usual. Mama made your favorite French Veal—” “Papa! I told you, you two need to get out, have fun. Go to a restaurant, the Soviet times are gone, for Christ sake! There is so much more to New Year’s Eve than tangerines and champagne!”
“I know, honey, but it’s just us.” He lowers his voice, “We miss you.” First there is silence, then familiar monotonous sound of the disconnected phone. “Did she hang up?” mother whispers, staring at the muted TV, where a voiceless Russian president wishes her and her fellow citizens health and happiness in the new year. “Poor connection,” father sighs. “Too many people make international calls tonight. I just wish she had called earlier.” Mother turns up the volume as soon as the President fades out to the Kremlin clock. Father hands his wife a glass filled with bubbly and lands a kiss on her hollow cheek. When the clock strikes twelve he makes sure to announce, “Happy New Year to our family!” and gulps his champagne.
Transubstantiation Tobi Cogswell
To be hungry is to want to chew your heart out and eat it for dinner.
I am moved to have it. As bread needs saltâ€Ś
and that is my wildness for you. Slowness descends upon the languid night sky, frosting the lights with buttercream chilled to mad proportions. I watch my own hands reach for your face like time-lapse photos of opening peonies. In winter it is hardly to be believed. Lie back with me and watch the fire-smoke make eye-level thunderclouds tumbling East. I will be a ghost silhouetted against the bright, my baser metals a gleam in the alchemistâ€™s eye as I dance from the flames, unheard music thundering just below the horizon. Yes, I am hungry for your heart.
b actor in a movie Mark DeCarteret
maybe damned more by these three ill-bred tercets than adamâ€™s binary fissions that same bloody landmass halved & cussed over again where my dad is viewing what he believes to be sasquatch asking so little of any river or sun god as it suckles its young fusses over its cowlick & lack of known suffering adding to his inner secret agentâ€™s denture-tending & ungainly quadrangles the screw in the eyeglasses does not apologize, not to you nor to the lens, they
twist themselves into tiny holes they know their power miniscule, camouflaged less than forgotten they mislead us they feign unimportance lose one and bring a grown man to his knees screwing himself into the ground
Out of Desperation Lynette James
I was a 21yr. old single mom living on my own with no support system and battling constant bouts of depression. I just obtained a job in the mail room of what was then Provident Bank. $8.50 an hour was exciting since it’s more than I’d ever made in my short adult life. Finding care for my 2yr old was not easy, but after a short but extensive search I did. The provider, well informed about my situation and knowing the child-care voucher process could take up to 30 days, called me every day of the two weeks that I worked asking if the vouchers had come. Rather than wait for the vouchers I used my first and only paycheck to pay the provider for the weeks that she cared for my child. Used to being cheated by others, she was shocked by my payment. She was even more astonished when I told her that she wouldn’t have to care for my baby anymore because I quit my job and I was sorry that she didn’t trust me but all I had was my word. I went home that evening and for several hours sat shaking and crying while my baby girl sat right next to me saying, “Mommy, don’t cry”. I looked in her worried eyes with a determination that I had to do something. Still crying, I picked up the phone and called 911 and asked if they could take my daughter for me for 30 days while I got myself together. The operator, after explaining that they don’t handle those types of calls, transferred me to the department of Social Services. A representative from the Department of Social Service informed me that if they were to take my child even for 30 days I would be charged with
abandonment and there is no guarantee that I would get her back when I went to court. I was told that I would have to take her to the pediatric emergency and meet a social service representative there. Eyes filled with tears I started packing cloths for my daughter all the while telling myself that I was going to make things right for the both of us. I convinced myself that the hurt I was feeling would only be temporary. Even with all the self-talk, nothing prepared me for that moment I let my baby girl go. I caught the bus to University of Maryland Hospital. I explained my situation to the triage nurses when asked and sat in the waiting area for the social worker to arrive. I used that waiting time to hold my daughter, smell her, kiss her and talk to her like she really understood. When the worker finally arrived, it was about 2:00 am. She carried a big briefcase that seemed to be overloaded with paperwork and had a routine but caring look on her face as she sat beside me. She asked me if I was sure that this is what I wanted to do. Crying hysterically at the realization of what I was about to do, I explain to the lady that it wasn’t what I wanted to do but my options were limited. She asked about my daughter’s father and I explained that he raped me when I was pregnant and I had little to no dealings with him. My mind started drifting as she started rambling things that were already explained over the phone. I was watching her lips go through the motion but my mind was wondering what I did to deserve this predicament. I regained focus as she started to reach for my little girl whom I had strapped in her carrier. She said, “Well, this is it do you want to say your good-byes?” I held my daughter as I walked with the worker to the corridor. When I passed her
to the worker, first her eyes got wide and she scrunched her forehead; then, realizing that something wasn’t right she started screaming. I don’t know if the hallway was really that dark or if it just replays dark in my mind, but it felt as if my heart were ripping out as I watched that lady carry my baby down that long hallway to the exit. Not knowing how we were going to survive once we got back home was the only thing that kept me from running after her. After I left the hospital that morning, it took me that whole day to sulk and feel sorry for myself. The next day, I knew that time was of the essence and 30 days would be here before I knew it. When I did see my family and they asked where Tajre’ was, I just lied and said she was at a friend’s house or some other similar story to satisfy their query and not have them pry further. In my mind it wasn’t like they really cared anyway. I was able to visit with Tajre’ every week at the department and I attended required parenting classes that I actually enjoyed. We learned many beneficial skills and I earned many certificates which I was told looked good to the judge and would be helpful in getting my daughter back when the time arrived. In my young mind, I thought that I could find a job, work and have enough money saved to pay for child care and put myself ahead of the game, all within 30 days. I knew I’d get my daughter back when I went to court; I just needed to have the capacity to care for her so that I’d never have to go through this again. That was something that no class could provide. I had seen the movie “Set it Off” and stories on the news about people robbing banks by simply writing notes stating their intentions. As crazy as it may seem, that was the best solution that I could fathom to get out of my helpless
situation and be prepared for when my daughter was returned home. My brother (18 months younger than me and like my best friend was one of my few supports but was practically homeless himself) was who I called to share my idea and plead for his assistance. I told him that I was going to rent a car and that I needed him to drive the car, park outside of the bank and drive off when I returned to the car. I told him that we’d share the money and it didn’t take much convincing because he usually had my back in any situation. It was almost too easy. My homemade disguise consisted of a long haired wig, glasses and a dress. I handed the teller a note ordering her to put all the money in an envelope that I provided without any die packs and without pushing alarms because I had a gun. The teller obliged and I walked fast past the security guard, out the door behind the bank and over the little hill to my brother sitting in the car with the engine running. Jumping in the back seat and lying down, “I said it worked, drive”. I was ripping off the dress and the wig as he was driving home. We arrived home with no incidence, jumped out of the car and ran in the house. Ecstatic that we pulled it off, I dumped the envelope of money on the bed and started counting. There was about $7,500.00 which wasn’t as much as I thought, but it would help. I gave my brother a large cut but not quite half. The first thing I did was put a down payment on a red Honda Civic, the first car I owned since obtaining my license a few months earlier. I used the rest to pay bills and bought things for my little girl for when she arrived back home. A week or so went past and it was closer to the time to get my baby girl back. I put in many applications but still could not
find a job. The time finally arrived and the judge ordered my daughter back in my custody. I took her home to her new cloths, bed and stuffed animals. A few weeks later I was called for an interview and landed a job at Dunkin Donuts. I was making $6.50 an hour, but it still wasn’t enough to cover rent, car payment, food, gas and necessities. It was so easy the first time that I said I could do it one more time. I called my brother to put the plan in action but he told me no and said that he had a bad feeling about it. Determined, I begged him and told him that if he did not go with me I was going to do it myself anyway. I lured him into agreement by telling him that if he went in with me we could split everything in half. I was so comfortable with how things went the first time and I did not have anyone to watch her so I took my little girl with us but left her in the car. My brother and I, both in wigs dresses and sunglasses pulled into the bank parking lot and went in with our notes. As we finished and were heading back to the car, red smoke started coming out of the envelope my brother was carrying so he threw it down. We were heading home a few minutes later when my envelope started leaking red smoke as well. I threw the envelope out of the window and continued home. While driving there were several police cars with loud sirens heading in the opposite direction and we knew they were heading to the bank we just hit. Helicopters were circling the sky as well, but we continued home un-phased. As I made a right onto my side street and a left into the alley behind my house as to not park and be spotted in the front, I saw a dark car with tinted windows pull into the alley behind
me. I was eyeing the car out of my rearview mirror and saw it stop abruptly and a man got out of the passenger side. With his door wide open and him behind it he looked over the open door, pulled out a gun and said freeze. I thought it may have been the police but I was confused, shocked and unsure. I was also thinking that it may be someone just trying to rob us. My brother and I looked at each other but remained silent. I stepped on the accelerator and continued through the alley. Helicopters were swarming in the sky and sirens were heard from multiple directions. Now I was 100% sure they were police. There seemed to be no escaping the helicopters with each turn I made they were there. My brother said, “I am going to jump out and run and I will meet you back at the house”. It never happened. He didn’t even get out of the block before the police had him in custody. I never made it out of the block either because after my brother jumped out I continued straight but was blocked by a police car in the front who proceeded to kneel in front of my car with the familiar, “freeze” and the added, “get out of the car with your hands up”. I looked back at my baby girl in the car seat and knew what I had to do. As depressed as I was by this whole disaster, I wanted to just stay in the car and let the police shoot it up with me in it. But for the sake of that little girl who deserved no part of this, I got out of the car with my hands up as the police ran and restrained me.
Dissolution Abdu Ali
Teeth turn to sand, As I stare into your mouth. I’m waiting and waiting for the apple chunks to purge from your gut. But nothing comes but wilted booty of no worth. In that gaze, You become a limp dandy with no jazz, Hairless, armored with cotton, and gouged with thorns that grants no empathy. I can now only look to your shadow for comfort,like a typhoon looks to the moon, and like a Vulture looks to fresh skulls with eyes still intact. My sight for you has ceased. Ain’t never no coming back.
Dried Fruit Tracy Gnadinger
this dried fruit of an organ. I cave
to the poison
of mismanaged care,
blue test strips, But I survive, My tongue
enthralled by its
roller coaster persona.
coats of cannulas, I do not rejoice, My fingers
for it lives,
a parasite of me.
the needleâ€™s cold sting, My sweat masked by the odor of spilled insulin. My calves tremble with the weight,
Michael Zulauf this morning, i saw a single snowflake in the rain i wanted it to mean something maybe it was a small part of the dream i knew i had but couldn’t remember maybe it was a line from a poem about coincidence then hours passed like tea cooling then i passed penn station and thought of you i don’t know why it’s not like you ever stepped into baltimore from there it’s not like i ever waited for you there on a bench half-reading whatever book i had in my pocket
maybe i remembered my dream maybe the station looked out from its third story window, thought of snow and wanted
Cybil, Now Lauren Campbell
Here is a picture of us sledding, my white-mittened hands covering his eyes while his knuckles curled into the preface of a punch, refusing to steer. And here, a picture of us holding our cat, Ransom, in front of a naked Christmas tree. When we were first married he used to smile with all of his teeth and introduce me to everyone as “my lovely wife.” I knew things were headed south when he began presenting me at parties as “this is Cybil, now where’s the tequila?” I knew he was headed south when he put on his chaqueta and left a note for Ransom and me stuck behind a magnet on the refrigerador: he never did like snow and his other señorita was having un bebé. I tried to call him on the telephono once but he no habla
A Monitored Heart Emily Rich
About two years after I finished chemotherapy I had to be fitted with a portable heart monitor. It was just a temporary thing, to determine if tamoxifen, the drug I was taking postbreast cancer, was giving me heart palpitations. The oncologist, who I was still seeing every three months for “follow ups” gave a slight raise of her eyebrow when, in response to her question, I’d told her that maybe my heart beat felt irregular, sometimes, but it was no big deal. I think oncologists must all be a little inscrutable, walking around all day with files of information, maybe hopeful, maybe devastating for some poor cancer patient. So when I tried to take back my comment about heart palpitations, and make it into a joke about being a mother of teenagers Haha! Who wouldn’t have heart troubles, right? Her reaction was stoic, hard to read. But she told me I needed to go immediately to see a cardiologist. She would put in a call. It was a Friday afternoon, already nearing time for the kids to get home from school. “Can I wait til Monday?” I asked. She shook her head. Tamoxifen can sometimes cause dangerous blood clots, she explained. I needed to have my heart looked at right away. So already my pulse was racing. I texted Rachael, my sixteen-year-old. “Can you get Harper from school? I’m still at the doctor.” “Yeah no prob” she replied, “can I go out after?” My beautiful, talented and maddeningly adventurous
middle child had spent more of her high school years being grounded than otherwise. And though tonight she was free, it was always with a twinge of anxiety that I let that girl out of my sights. “Be home by midnight,” I replied, thumbs tapping against the Blackberry keyboard. “Thanks mom! Oh and are you okay?” “I’m fine. Just some more tests to do. Don’t worry.” It was after six by the time I got home, too late to start dinner, so when Curt got home from work a little while later, we ordered Thai food and opened a bottle of wine. “Look at this stupid thing they’re making me wear,” I said, lifting up my shirt to reveal the electrodes—six of them— affixed to my chest and ribcage, connected with black wires to a hard plastic recording device on a belt around my waist. “And look,” I continued, holding up the wallet-sized paper booklet I’d been given, “I have to keep a journal and write down any activity that ‘elevates my heart rate’.” “Well, we might just try to get your heart racing a little later tonight,” he grinned and gave my thigh a little squeeze. But we fell asleep on the couch, as usual, and shuffled off to the bedroom only after Harper emerged from the basement sometime around eleven. At midnight Rachael came in to tell us she was home and I listened as she climbed the stairs to her room. Which is when the insomnia set in. In the first place, the whole heart monitor contraption made it uncomfortable to sleep. In addition, the tamoxifenfueled hot flashes seemed to be burning that night with particular intensity.
I lay in bed, watching the blades of the ceiling fan turning languidly overhead. Next to me Curt was in deep sleep, lying like a pharaoh on his back, his breath steady, measured. When I was sick and in chemo, his sleep was restless, and he would startle awake like a child, pat his hand across my belly or hip, make sure I was still there. He slept more soundly now, now that the worst was over. I didn’t want to wake him with my restlessness, so I slid off the bed and headed to the bathroom. Standing before the mirror, lit only by the dim glow of the streetlight through the window, I took a brief inventory. I was 45 years old, two years out of treatment. My hair was back, thick with loose curls now reaching to my shoulders. One breast was gone, replaced by an implant, high and pert under my pajama camisole. My skin was covered with a sheen of sweat. The first two electrodes from the heart monitor were clearly visible just below my collarbones. In a way, I blamed myself for this medical predicament I was in. My mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 56. I’d known her condition put me at risk, that genetically I was more predisposed to get the disease, and yet I’d been cavalier about getting screening. “Aren’t you supposed to get a mammogram every year?” Curt would ask. “You, know because of your mom?” “Yeah, but I’m not like my mom.” Would be my reply, thinking of her poor health choices and her decision to remain with my abusive father to the end of her life. When the kids were little and my health was fine, I had a delusional belief in my ability to control my own destiny. Make good lifestyle choices with healthy habits and strong relationships, I thought, and I would be able to steer myself and
my happy little family safely through the scary shoals of life. There is nothing like teenagers and disease that can more quickly dispel a person of such a delusion. In fact… What was that noise I just heard coming from upstairs? I paused, moved closer to the air duct leading from my bathroom to Rachael’s room. There it was again, distinctly heard, a male voice coming from upstairs—too deep to be Harper’s. Quietly, I moved into the hallway and up the narrow set of stairs that led to the kids’ rooms. As I moved up the wooden steps, the heart monitor clinging to me like a baby gibbon, I kept my ears homed in on any wayward sounds coming from Rachael’s room at the end of the hall. The soft click of a door being locked sent a surge of parental rage through me. I quickened my pace, flicked on the hall light, pounded on her door. “Rachael! Open this door this instant!” I could practically feel the valves of my heart swelling with angry rushing blood. The door opened a crack and a sliver of Rachael’s face appeared. “Hey Mom, I was just going to the bathroom, and…” “Open your door. Now.” A sigh and a sheepish look and then the door swung open to reveal Rachael standing in a tiny T-shirt and the little boy-cut pajama shorts I’d bought her in New York. Her long dark hair was tossled, her skin glowing and awake. Just beyond her, between the dresser and the shelf of basketball trophies, I could see the crouching figure of Petey
Monroe. He was dressed, thank God, jeans and a white T, his hair pushed back into the stylish swoop he always wore. The sight of him cowering only further enraged me but I managed, in a firm but controlled voice to tell him “Get out of my house. Now.” He whooshed by me, head down, and bolted for the stairs. Rachael and I remained in her doorway, her expression now hardened into defiance. “Rachael! What the hell?!” I snapped. Air moved furiously through my nostrils and my lips were pushed into a frown as I steeled myself for the Mom-and-Rachael screaming match I was certain was about to erupt. Instead I watched her expression soften, her dark eyes widen, as they landed on the electrodes poking out of my pajama top. “Oh my God Mom! What happened?” I looked down at my chest then back at my daughter. “It’s a heart monitor. The doctors want to make sure I don’t have a blood clot.” “Mom!” Now it was her turn to be accusatory. “Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you said you were ok!” Somehow her indignation warmed and pacified me-- as if my rebellious body and daughter had both been stilled right there on the blue-carpeted threshold of Rachael’s room. “I think I am ok,” I told her. “I mean, honestly, I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.” And then I added, “but I’m going to have to write about this episode in my heart rate journal.” She had no idea what I was talking about, but laughed
anyway and said, “do whatcha gotta do, Mom.” It turned out I did not have a blood clot after all. In fact, over the 72 hours of monitoring, the cardiologist could detect nothing irregular with my heart. By the time I went in for the follow up exam, the whole nighttime incident with Rachael had moved from infuriating to exasperatingly funny in my mind, and I pointed out the entry in my heart-rate journal without a tinge of embarrassment. “I had to chase a boy out of my daughter’s room at one in the morning,” I told him. The cardiologist, an older man, grey-haired, distinguished, looked down at the journal, bemused. “Well, it didn’t raise your pulse to a degree that would signal any kind of problem.” He looked up from the booklet. “I’ve raised three kids myself and been through three teenagers. You gotta be strong in here,” he tapped his chest in a way that indicated he was talking about more than just cardio function. “Gotta have a strong heart to get through it.”
Claire T. Field The sun’s rays are a woman’s fan of light she hopes will keep the man she loves entertained until she can rule his coherent emotions for her. The woman’s day is long, for hate seems to pamper all who wish to fleck a generous souvenir from its thick, salmon-colored skin, hate’s covering inappropriate for the woman finding herself seething in the shadows.
The Call Paul Walsh
The truth of it is, he is tired. A shell of a man, See-through in front of the light, Stretched thinner than his hair. His dreams gone, drifted away, Breath on a cold morning. Time has been no friend. He looks down into his palms, Paper bag gloves empty of strength. Seeing his fathers hands before him, Closer to the old man now Than the young man I knew years ago. We’d been brothers of a sort, Drinking through thick and thin, Planning the take-over of the world And conquest of countless ladies. Now he sits in a green vinyl chair Staring blankly out the window. He’d been the rising star, Showing me the ropes. Charming the dew off the dawn grass. A talker, born with the gift of gab, I rarely got a word in but didn’t mind.
Now he’s just another patient on the ward. There’d been a call, late on a Tuesday. Could I drop by, pop in, stay a while? The wife was gone, His parents long dead. The same for him a possibility. Arriving I found him vacant, lost in time. My voice echoes as I ramble out bits of our past, Looking for recognition or solace for my awkwardness. He has gone ahead, Leapt for the farther shore, Yet suspended in mid-jump. We sit, waiting together for the sound of his landing.
Ease Instead Jessica Welch
It had been over a year since he had seen Lisa. At the last funeral it had been easy. They hadn’t been together for four years, but still they sank towards each other like familiar planets, walking beside each other, sitting in the pew. He had held her hand and squeezed it whenever he felt her move. The funeral before that had been her mother’s, and she had been untouchable. Seated in the first pew with her family, all he could see was the sleek profile of her face. He had sat in the back. The grief reaching him like breakers rolling over sand. Kevin pushed the knot of his tie into place and looked in the mirror. He looked the same. His hair was longer than he wanted it to be, but he didn’t have money for a haircut. He wondered if she looked the same. If her hair was still wild with its tight curls springing in every direction. He remembered her face the last time they’d talked, when he’d kissed her. She had looked pained, like he’d slapped her instead. It wasn’t how he wanted to leave things, but the thought of kissing her one last time had been too tempting. It wouldn’t happen again. He knew that. Her texts had been friendly, but never anything more. He had learned over the years to stop bringing up the past with her, so he settled and waited for whatever interaction she was ready to have. It wasn’t like he was waiting for her. He and his current girlfriend had been together for nearly a year. Kevin found himself looking for Lisa as he walked into the synagogue alone. The huge room was filled with mourners, more than he expected, and he felt overwhelmed. He
hunted for a familiar face. The friends he grew up with, he only seemed to see them now at funerals. Strange occasions of reality punctuated by memory. And the fact: Yet another friend had killed himself. Finding the immediate family, Kevin gave his condolences and sat with his friends near the back. He left a little space beside him on the end of the bench for whenever Lisa got there. The conversation with his friends strained; they caught up as much as was appropriate at a funeral then sat awkwardly. He felt hot in his suit. He watched the people in front of him shifting in their seats and heard a little kid cooing on the other side of the aisle. Near the stage, the rabbi had the mother’s hands pressed between his own. He wondered if the rabbi was hoping physical pain might bring the tears she wasn’t crying for her son. Kevin felt a wave hit him and he cleared his throat. Too many people he knew had died in too short a time. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. Lisa gave a sullen smile and sat down in the row behind him. He realized that he hadn’t left enough room. He left just enough that her hips and her leg would’ve had to press against his. She looked beautiful, as always. Her curls were still springing. Kevin nodded hello and forced himself to turn around. The rabbi’s voice lifted over the heads of the people in front of him, a wind that blew everyone into silence. He recognized the cadence of the Hebrew prayer as something he had heard before, but he didn’t understand it. The words stopped and started in the back of the bearded rabbi’s throat and sounded like a list. He imagined it was a list of the many names of God. He wondered how it was hitting Lisa, if the weight of too many deaths had left her wounded, or if she had hardened to the feeling. He fought
the instinct to turn around and find out. It was hard watching the family. New disillusionment whitewashing their faces each stood before the casket, attempting to speak about their nephew, brother, son. Kevin remembered the most recent time he and John had hung out, watching the game at the bar, bumping elbows and cursing loudly. John had been the friend that was always available at the last minute. Kevin thought it had been John’s loyalty, but now he realized it was his loneliness. Kevin felt his eyes getting hot and he tensed his jaw for the rest of the service. After the family followed the casket outside, the pews began to empty. Kevin quietly filed out behind Lisa. In the parking lot, the sun was too bright for the occasion, like a young child, it was happily unaware that someone had died. He shielded his eyes as he looked over Lisa’s face. The last few times they had seen each other after their break-up, they either stood too close or too far. It was an awkwardness that he couldn’t pinpoint, the distance created by years, and absence, and being too much alike. This time she stood just far enough. He looked over her face. Her reddened eyes pulled at him then glanced away. “Looks like we know all the same dead people.” She looked back at him. Kevin smiled then nodded. He waited for the familiar longing, the impulse to kiss her, but felt ease instead. It was a nuance of death he wasn’t prepared for.
Monday Morning John Abbott
Those lush afternoons Of sitting in the café Watching life –the maples turning, Couples lost in each other’s eyes, The writers trying to capture How life really looks – All of it gone now With days spent At work, yet the remembrance Of youth, of ease, Can still be called back Sometimes by the scent Of bergamot or French roast, The memory of something Prepared for you And you alone.
Micah by Rachel Wooley
A Chekhov Romance Christopher Warman
Like a pathetic high school romantic, Nathan’s knees shook and palms sweat. He’d scrapped his lesson plan for today, barely able to speak steadily as he introduced this documentary he’d selected at random from the library on – what? – applications of mathematics in measuring interpersonal sociology. Whatever. He fretted over the watch that he’d picked for today, switching it from his left to his right wrist and back again, like anybody wears a watch anymore. The toe of his leather sole tapped an anxious beat that would have sent a jazz drummer into a frenzy and the sound of his ancient flip-top cell phone opening and closing was beginning to irritate his sleephungry audience. He read that same text message over and over again. ‘Seems you’ve got an admirer…’ Brian was always such a cheeky piece of shit. But every time Nathan read the last message he received on his bus ride home, his throat swelled and eyes blinked profusely: ‘Maxine was talking about you in the lounge today, heard it over lunch. Sounds like she’s all wound up for what you got bro.’ Nathan did not text him back last night or do much of anything aside from sit in the shower and hyperventilate. He didn’t sleep, rapt by this discovery; Maxine and he had always been plutonic, to some degree, but this seemed beyond possible. He’d always thought about it, what guy wouldn’t, right? There is no such thing as a non-sexual friendship across the gender divide, right? But even at his desk
at the front of the class, Nathan could not help but lust for the milky thighs and lean calves she never shied from displaying and cross his legs. Those finely manicured blood red nails that clicked against the faux wood lounge tables as she graded student’s short stories rapped against his mind and seemed to linger on his shoulder. And then, eyes bleary from a restless night and skin still pruned from an elongated morning shower, he realized it on the bus. That attraction had always been there, that romantic tension, he had always been, dare it, madly, stupidly, obscenely in love with her. All of those treasured glances over the pencil sharpener, that time when she, almost certainly, pretended not to know how to use the laminating machine, all of those laughs and smiles and casual brushes and touches. It was all too clear and now. As a monotone voice droned about statistical odds of meeting specific individual people, his heart still seemed to not beat correctly. Nathan clenched his tie, damning himself for picking that stupid fish skeleton design to wear today. He jumped out of his thoughts when the bell rang to send his students to lunch. “Um, pick some problems to do from chapter four. Just pick some, I don’t care which,” he shooed from his desk. The apathetic students rose seemingly in unison, talking about their misadventures in sex and drugs and rap music or whatever. Nathan was focused exclusively on his watch. He felt his pupils dilate and his heart quicken. He only threw up twice in the staff bathroom; that terrible, empty sort of heaving. Flushing the toilet, he hunched over the sink and stared into the basin with his head pressed against the mirror. He hit the top of his skull against his hairy
reflection in rhythmic succession. Nathan looked at himself in the mirror, a little chunk of cracker or something clinging to the crease of his mouth. His friendly features cowled and he turned the sink on full blast. He cleaned his face and brashly undid his stupid fish carcass tie, casting it away with a grunt. The clicking lock behind him snapped through the empty halls as he unlocked the door to the teacher’s lounge. He glanced around at the line of his peers waiting to use the microwave oven, casting shadows onto the walls tinged by decades of nicotine and tobacco. Maxine sat alone at a table in the far corner, eating tuna or something and reading over a student’s paper. Nathan composed himself like a drunken frat boy on the prowl, reverted to something that was sultry by some definition, and then just tried to be normal-esque. Everything about his gait was suddenly under the most intricate of analysis in his mind. The squeak of his worn leather shoes on the linoleum tile was a sound track from a cartoon and he became extraordinarily aware that his boxers were letting his unmentionables visibly bobble around too much in his pants. He flipped his hair, flipped it back, reached up and felt that it was doing that weird things that it does when he doesn’t comb it, and frantically pressed it down. He adjusted his frameless glasses several times, absolutely certain that they had to be crooked. Fortunately, Maxine did not look up until Nathan stepped into a chair, which could not have possibly been any louder. Sheepishly returning the seat to its upright position, he shuffled over to Maxine’s table and had a seat. A stupid, toothy open smile spread his face. “Hello, Maxine.” There had to be more, right? No.
“Hi, Nathan. How are you? Feisty, I’m guessing, since you’re not wearing a tie today,” she played, not looking up from her paper. Nathan could feel a sudden coldness in the lounge through the flushing of his cheeks and Maxine scribbled her pen across the paper. “Huh, oh, well, you know, I just, you know, wasn’t feeling it today. Gotta let loose sometimes.” A really good play, he thought. “Ha, well, whatever you need to do to get through statistics, we wouldn’t need another teacher suicide on the record here,” she laughed. Such dark humor roils the cockles of Nathan’s heart. “Right, yeah, good one. So yeah, hey, look, I just was wondering, I mean, you know, if you want, I was planning on going to see a movie this weekend, maybe, and I wanted to know if you would like to join me.” Nathan suddenly realized how much he was sweating and how little he was blinking and how loud he was speaking. Maxine looked up from her papers for the first time. Nathan’s leg bounced as he stared into her auburn eyes. “Oh, Nathan, thanks for inviting me, but I’m planning on going to a wedding with Aaron this weekend and, well, it’s kind of a big thing for me, if you get me,” she whispered as Aaron came over from the microwave, pulled up a chair to Maxine’s table, and said some sort of stupid greeting. “Sorry, but we could go some other time. Okay?” The flushing in Nathan’s face drained to a grey-yellow pallor. Brian had, evidently, misheard. Aaron. The fucking gym teacher. God damn. Noticing his fingers were shaking, Nathan placed his hands in his lap. In a strained chord he said, “That sounds great,
Maxine. Alright, well, I’m gonna head back to class. You two enjoy your wedding.” In what seemed to be in slow motion, Nathan stood from his chair and stepped away from Maxine’s table. True or not, it felt like every one of those sheep standing in line for the microwave stared, sniggered, and sighed about his desperate attempt. So weird, so terribly unpleasant, so very, very desperate. But Nathan barely saw them at all. His vision tunneled to the door, the knob, and, then, the empty lunchtime hallway. He closed the door behind him with a muffled click. He turned away from the door, quietly propped against it, and slowly slid until he sat on the floor, that school hallway dust clinging to the seat of his pants. He sat there, staring at a set of lockers across the hall. He took out his phone and ran through the menu to delete all of the messages in his inbox. Putting his phone away, that set of lockers had a single unit with a folded up piece of paper stuck in its little vents. Standing up from his impromptu laze, he stood before the locker breathing steadily for a moment. With some effort of finger dexterity, he pulled the love note out of the locker, pen-drawn hearts and all. He snorted as he turned it over in his fingers and stuck it in his pocket before heading back to his classroom.
Ellen’s Lawn John Hayes
Zombies mate on Ellen’s lawn. From her upstairs window she watches them with envy then races out to join them.
take her to their lair. feed her beans and steaming brain She wishes she weren’t dead.
They ignore her presence she’s dressed too well she hurries in the house grabs a tawdry dress rips some seams cuts some holes and races to her lawn. The zombies still ignore her her movements much too fast. Back in her house she drinks red wine until her voice is slurred and movements unsteady. She shambles to her lawn. Zombies take her in their arms rip off her ear gouge out an eye break off her fingers bite through her nipples
The House of the Hanged Woman Steve Mantanle
The old woman’s house. A porch that tilted like the deck of a gradually sinking ship. The roof shingles torn and loosened by storms. The crooked chimney. The painted clapboard peeling. The scabbed and flaking trim. The huge gnarled shrubs I’d been hired to prune, cutting and hacking away at them with a small rusted handsaw and a dull hatchet I found in a rickety toolshed behind the house until they no longer obscured the first-story windows, whose shades were drawn, as though it were the house of a convalescent. And inside the house, the smells. The smoldering fragrance of yellowed newspapers stacked in towering bundles in the dining room. The aroma of a bone that had slowly shed its meat, stewing for hours in a murky broth, dappled with fat, in a big iron pot on top of the stove. The sour yeasty scent of the old woman’s underwear flung over the back of a dark, overstuffed chair. The antique stink of shoe polish. She’d seen me walking past her house and called out to me, “You there! Boy! I have some yard work I want you to do.” I started by cutting the tall coarse grass behind the house, and after an hour or so she came outside, wearing a faded-print house dress, a pair of man’s shoes, and a widebrimmed straw hat, to ask me what was taking me so long. “This lawnmower of yours,” I said, “the blades need sharpening.” I took off my t-shirt and used it to wipe the sweat from my face. “Put your shirt back on,” she said.
“Do you think I could have a glass of water?” I asked. She seemed suspicious of my thirst. “Wait here,” she said. In a few minutes she came back with a tall glass half-filled with water, to which she had added a single ice cube. When I handed the glass to her, she looked at it as though, after washing it, she would keep it separate from the other glasses in her cupboard, leery of drinking from it. When I finished the yard work, she took me through the kitchen into the gloomy living room, where she unlocked a roll-top desk, looking over her shoulder as if I intended to rob her. While I waited, I glanced around the room at the dour, bulky furniture. On a table beside the chair was a brown photograph of a young man in uniform. She unsnapped a little change purse, holding it close to her body, and extracted a ten dollar bill, folded tightly into a tiny square the size of a postage stamp. It was more than I had expected. “Come back again next week,” she said. But next week, a man about my father’s age came to the door after I’d knocked on it for several minutes. “I was asleep,” he said. “What do you want?” “I’m the boy who mows her lawn,” I said. He sized me up like the man at the carnival who had tried to guess my weight. “Not anymore,” he said. “She died.” I wondered if he was her son. He looked a little like the man in the photograph. “How did she die?” I said, surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth. He looked a little surprised, too. “She hung herself,” he said. I continued standing there on the canted porch, as if waiting for him to say something else. “Does she owe you anything?” he said.
â€œNo,â€? I said. That night I dreamed of her house. All of the shades were drawn. The front door was open. I walked inside, then up the stairs to a bedroom, where I saw her hanging by a rope. Her body turned slowly, frail and sagging, naked except for the shoes. When I woke I remembered the smell of shoe polish in her house. I imagined it, dark and reddish, caked in a small flat tin. I imagined how she had dug it out, with the corner of a soft rag, rubbing it slowly into the dull, scuffed leather of the shoes that belonged to her dead husband. The shoes in which she walked feebly around the house, I imagined, to make the sound of his footsteps.
Grandpa’s Quarters Brittany Cagle
I imagine the window glass hazed in whiskey breath. Car wheel greased between bar-fry fingers. How often did the parallel yellow lines cross? Stiff back from last call, head filled with after midnight radio, a crumpled brown bag nudged in the brake pedal. Late night, ignition droned. My grandmother strained to the passenger seat with her three children crammed in back. Him, drunk on jutting the wheel seconds before the crash. Eyes returned to dashboard, to the rusted steering wheel at hand. My father tells this story, from a backseat window. Remembering shadow houses flared with strangers safe
in their homes, hissing threats and the car pointed to street-light posts, those spark glimmers moving closer, and mouth slur It ends here. These days, I try to imagine those fingers of a man I’ve only heard in stories. When I shut my eyes, it’s many years later. I can only recall those same hands—now gentle. Caressing a coin at the restaurant table where we sat. Fingers guiding mine when I first learned how to spin a quarter or draw the lines to a pointed star.
Rondeau for My Lab Results Marion Winik
It is done, I am well, the blood tests show. Viral load vanished, liver enzymes low. Platelets and neutrophils giddily soar White count, red count, hair, eye, pore My blood runs clean, my heart beats glow. I never thought I’d have to slow my hell-bent mount rode hard and low But immortality’s an illusion, nothing more It is done, I am well. Telaprevir, ribavarin, interferon, yo I’m done with those nasty drugs now, bro Living the couchbound life no more I’m off to rob a liquor store Hark ye phlebomists, hear me crow: It is done, I am well.
Blue Planet Rachel Wooley
Dead star particles fall softly like ash-grey mosquitos looking for life on her skin. The fluff of dandelions, always silent. Don’t be tricked by the wind: Earth collects what she can hold. I bury the things I can reach: glass, bone, tin, seeds. Sometimes she pushes them back up, soiled. Sometimes she shares part with me: blueberries, blue birds. Some – the stones, the leaves – she keeps in my place, and I live on, breathing blue sky. . . She waits so quietly that I might forget her if she didn’t hold me so close, reflecting in the blue of eyes and veins.
Wishing on Falling Stars Courtney Birst
I canâ€™t stop staring. This is supposed to be a time of self-reflection and yet I cannot pull my gaze from her as she brushes the tears away, tiny drops clinging to her eyelashes, glistening like wet stars. When one falls, lands fat on her cheek I make a wish.
Love Story Sharea Harris
i saw you. that cheshire grin standing on her porch one hand folded at the wrist on your ever slimming waist the other extended to the banister soft smoke dancers carried the scent of your cigarette to me. you stand old school southern cool. white sneakers thin gold chain white kangol hat i love you from that moment. I called you. shook from a dream. shook from word youâ€™d given up.
uncle, your voicemail was all full probably from all your womens uncle, I called you. to say, fight.
To My Trouble-Making Little Sister: An Apology in 11 Points Beth Hawbaker
I’m sorry Mom and Dad decided I needed a sibling fifteen years ago. If I were an only child, I wouldn’t now be suspended from school (and grounded) for that fight your best friend and boyfriend started. 2. I’m sorry I didn’t smack you harder when I found out you took my Josh Groban CD (without my permission!) and returned it all scratched to hell, so now it won’t play anymore. We’ll see how you like it when I do the same to Justin Bieber. 3. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that my favorite skirt is missing. You know which one I’m talking about. You’d better not get grass stains on it like my Mudd jeans that time you were playing tackle football with the neighbor boys. I’m sorry you’re not a fatty, then you wouldn’t be able to fit into my clothes. 4. I am not sorry that I called you a thieving little bitch when you “borrowed” my earrings. You had that coming. 5. I’m sorry that you don’t have any cool friends of your own so you always have to hang out with mine. Isn’t it bad enough I have to share my genes with you?
who was kissing him. 8. You should have been the one to shove Tiffany into the lockers. The one to break Brian’s nose. But you just stood there with wide eyes, like Mr. Fuzzybottoms when I step on his tail. So I had to do it for you. I’m sorry that I never taught you how to stand up for yourself. 9. I’m sorry Vice Principal Gates pulled me off Brian before I could blacken his other eye. 10. You’re supposed to be the tomboy of the family. How did I end up suspended for fighting while you sobbed the whole way home, my mascara leaving black rivulets on your cheeks? I’m sorry that you’re not a beautiful cryer. I’m not either. 11. So here I am now, curled up on the couch with Mr. Fuzzybottoms, watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and all I have left to be sorry for is you not sitting here next to me.
6. And while we’re on the subject, stay away from Toby. I’m sorry my boyfriend is amazing, but I will not share him with you. Back off. 7. Besides you have Brian--err, had Brian. I am sorry you caught him cheating. And that it was your best friend, Tiffany,
Water from the Moon J. Marie Darden
justice is like a faucet it’s on and off again one would never call it a constant but look for it now and then patience waits in the toilet and gets flushed away too soon but love is wet like water from the moon passion goes as the ocean slick waves that flood and flow it’s a volatile commotion that comes with an undertow… lust is equally fluid common as bug juice in june but love is more like water from the moon thrashing our glasses behind it parched even more than we think we search the world over to find it open mouths to the pipe in the sink thus we fumble the crucial link and never consult who designed it or submit to the one who defined it or gulp of this heavenly drink
truth is a lonely river rushing headlong into the sea it ripples and wanes and withers and sometimes it ceases to be sincerity’s slippery as soup is you only get what fits in a spoon and love is most like water from the moon
Letter: How Is It With You? Henry Mortimer
This morning all the birds were chirpless: a soft, soaking rain has returned, quietening the neighborhood. The weather here has been mild, with few nights worthy of lighting a fire in the hearth. But no snow or much rain, either, and that worries all of us. How is it with you? In your last letter you wrote about a hard winter with “too much illness in this small house.” I chuckled: You are old and exaggerate the problems of living on Crow’s Mountain. But that was weeks ago now, and I have not heard from you since. A full season has almost passed, with another one fast on its heels. How much longer must I wait for news of your easy-going springtime?
Andrew Palumbo A lot of people take life for granted, but some never get a second chance. In the autumn of 1999, just as the leaves were turning gold and orange, I was given a second chance. An eighteen year old organ donor in Montana was shot and killed by his best friend. Days after the murder his kidney was transported to Baltimore and surgically mounted into my lifeless nine-year-old body. This boy was still a child himself—he was only double my age and yet he saved my life. I remember waking up in a starchy white hospital bed, drowsy and drenched in sweat, the way a rowdy teenager feels after a long night of drinking. My stiff body throbbed with tremendous pain, but I couldn’t pinpoint the source of my agony. The wind from my open bedside window whipped the curtains back. The harsh breeze snapped against my raw skin and jerked me into full consciousness. I was half-naked in a thin blue medical gown wondering why they didn’t dress patients according to the weather. I was still out of it from the pain medication. My young, hazy mind could only focus on little things—the leafy green patterns splashed across the walls; the puddles welling up in my mother’s eyes; the IV plunging liquid into my neck. I wondered how the rest of the day would turn out as I drifted back to sleep. Six months prior to this day I started feeling under the weather. An overwhelming fatigue consumed my small body. I couldn’t get myself out of bed. Whenever I’d stand up, I’d immediately need to lie back down. I was constantly sweating
and my typically vigorous appetite diminished. We later learned that my body was rejecting even the healthiest foods. I could feel my body changing, but I didn’t know exactly what was happening to me. Once the doctors determined that my kidney was failing, it was one hospital visit after another. An endless stream of nurses and phlebotomists in blue scrubs and sneakers drew blood from my arms and gave me x-rays. They poked, prodded and scanned me from all angles. I got so used to tossing and turning in hospital beds and flipping through the five channels they had on their TVs that I began to forget what normal life for a nine-year-old felt like. My life before the transplant was normal; I missed normal. I missed shooting spitballs through straws in the cafeteria with my friends. I missed skateboarding after school down the sidewalks in my neighborhood. I missed my appetite and my mom’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs. The nurses changed my sheets every day. The sugary smell of fresh linen usually masked the rotten stench of hospital cafeteria food for at least an hour or two. My mom and I watched stupid soap operas and evening news on the small, square television mounted to the wall. I took a handful of bright blue pills in the morning and evening, wondering how long they planned to keep feeding me medicine that made me nauseous. One afternoon a pretty nurse in violet scrubs asked, “How are you doing, Mr. Palumbo?” “I’m doing okay,” I answered coyly.
She asked me if I’d like to take a walk. I agreed and stood up with my mother’s help. An intense pain jolted through
my abdomen. I clenched my side and rubbed my fingers over the sewn stitches. The scar on my stomach was beginning to mold the shape of a hockey stick. I slipped into my fuzzy slippers and walked into the congested hallway. As my feet pressed against the piercingly cold floor, tingles went through my spine. All the nephrologists on the floor asked about my health. I told them what my mom kept telling me: Iâ€™m going to get better very soon.
94 Iâ€™m not sure how we ended up here but it is not regrettable
shoes slide off, earrings are removed laid next to the sink starched sheets turned down I lay in bed, spinning and fascinated by shadows cast on adjacent walls. An unseen arm drapes over my side, heavy like a lead apron
like water. Now, thoughts begin swimming back to the nights I sat waiting for your car to squeal past my apartment but there is no squealing tonight
a yellow mood fills the den I inhale loudly, pushing my hair back with both palms, damp curls falling. Silver rum slides down my throat, cool and craved
Untitled by Barry Buchanan
take up less space.
Ashley Volta would rather spend time with her dogs than any human.
Jen McConnell has never been to rehab. Nancy Murray is a playwright and storyteller.
Charlene Faison is a jack of all trades hoping to master something but until then she laughs, loves and lives her life!
Jim Rayman’s philosophy on life is keep it simple.
Ashley Phelps is an Illinois transplant pursuing her M.F.A. in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program at U.B.
Michael B. Tager constantly battles multiple Dr. Mike Tagers for Google supremacy.
Kyle Hemmings has never written a story about gerbils but that’s because he was never bitten by a gerbil-muse.
Jessica Dotson has poetry elsewhere in the ether.
Danielle Ariano has lived under a rock for the past three years but she finally crawled out from underneath and thinks that it looks just fine out here.
Nathaniel Fitzgerald enjoys eating copious amounts of dessert and playing amateur therapist. Z. Alan Ginsberg says “Welcome to the dance; bring all of your left feet.” Judith Krummeck is a classical music DJ on WBJC-FM. John J. Trause said to be the secret love child of Henri Langlois and Mary Meerson (Or is it Marie Menken and Willard Maas?) Elizabeth Paige is an explorer of the universe. Kerrin Smith is usually folding herself into a corner in order
John Benes is a Barista, a Writer, and a collector of trinkets and memories. Amanda Gilleland draws much of her inspiration from the same town that Charles Manson said he would move to after his release from prison. Brooke Bognanni lives on the Eastern Shore where she often finds inspiration for her work, like her book, Morning Glories. Sarah Rayman’s writing is often inspired by her scandalous suburban adolescence.
Jessica Welch is a rider of infinite waves. T.R. Healy stories have appeared in such publications as Freight Train, Lily, Red Cedar Review, and Scarlet Sound.
Mark DeCarteret, a poet-actor, has run the alphabet. Lynette James says “Life has been my University and Experience, my most dedicated Professor.”
Kandace Strain was born free, live free, and purposed to be me!
Abdu Ali grew up on thorns of purple roses and my head was crowned in sushi rolls by Apollo.
Roger Market is the author of Life on Other Moons, a collection of short stories.
Tracy Gnadinger has been a writer longer than she’s been a Type I diabetic.
Michael Zulauf is sometimes mildly radioactive
Saralyn Lyons is a writer and crafter currently seeking a graduate degree from the University of Baltimore.
Lauren Campbell is feeling fat and sassy and ready to be released into the wild.
Ashley Payne has a cat named Nikita who is probably smarter than her owner.
Emily Rich wonders if she will run out of material now that her children are leaving the nest.
Joan Prusky Glass lives with the love of her life and three young children.
Claire T. Feild isestablishing a new genre, curio poetry.
Anna Slesinski lives in the city with her husband Brad and three-legged dog, DeeDee. Anastasia Baronovskaya is a risky Russian drunk with a quadruple-distilled American dream. Tobi Cogswell learns from poets much smarter than she is.
Paul Walsh works at the intersection of technology and education. John Abbott is a musician and writer. Christopher Warman is a hopeless romantic. John Hayes munches braised brains and flips TV channels as he waits for Ellen’s return.
Stephen Matanle submission is his first attempt at writing memoir. Brittany Cagle is in a coffee-induced state of mind while engaging in daily sword battles against students’ “to-be” verbs. Marion Winik’s ninth book, Highs in the Low Fifties, is out in June. Rachel Wooley suffers from perpetual wanderlust. Courtney Birst drinks wine (preferably red, dry and heavy). Sharea Harris: Pending Beth Hawbaker a brother, who has made an appearance in many of her stories,was not the inspiration for this one. J. Marie Darden is way too big to fit into one sentence in Welter! Henry Mortimer’s poems have appeared locally as well as other print and online publications. Andrew Palumbo is making caramel macchiatos at your local Starbucks. Alyse Richmond strives to continue publishing her work throughout the country.
The text of Welter is set in Book Antiqua. The headings of Welter are set in Myriad Pro. Myriad is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed in the 1990’s by Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly for Adobe Systems. Myriad is easily recognized due to its special “y” descender (tail), slanting “e” cut, and rounded curves. Welter was published and bound by Indigo Ink, Maryland.
Annual literary magazine published by the University of Baltimore.