The Emerson Review
The Emerson Review Spring 2018 Vol. 47
The Emerson Review is an annual literary journal by undergraduate students at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. All genres of original, unpublished writing and visual art will be considered for publication. The reading period for the 2018 issue ran from August 1st 2017 through February 1st 2018. All submissions are handled anonymously. Materials can be submitted to The Emerson Review through our online submission manager, http://emersonreview.submittable.com. Complete guidelines can be found on our website. General questions and comments should be sent to email@example.com. http://pages.emerson.edu/organizations/emerson_review Design by Sam Kiss. Front cover: “Identities” by Anni Wilson. Printed by Shawmut Communcations Group. ©2018 The Emerson Review
Christina Sargent Managing Editor
Janii Yazon Assistant Managing Editor
Talia Santopadre Head Fiction Editor
Alison Bellarosa Assistant Fiction Editor
Megan Michaud Head Poetry Editor
Brittany Adames Victoria Bazar Lily Doolin Owen Elphick Isabel Filippone Rebecca Johnson Maysoon Khan Edna Lopez-Rodriguez Emily McNeiece Juan Molina Victor Morrison Kate Obedzinski Liana Rotunno Allison Sambucini Alana Scartozzi
Assistant Poetry Editor
Johanna Stiefler Johnson
Head Nonfiction Editor
Lily Doolin Owen Elphick Mark MacNeil Victor Morrison Liana Rotunno
Megan Seyler Treasurer
Malik Selle Head Designer
Contents Stillborn by Gabriel Furshong.........................................................1 A-nu-yi by Melinda Ruth..................................................................2 longing for the oceans by Anna Martin.........................2 Luckpusher by Jared Lipof...............................................................3 Ancient Family by Avi-Yona Israel................................................8 the red hill by Rebecca Pyle..........................................................8 Rape as character development, or when i became a plot point by Jenny Rossi.......................................9 I Would Call This Migration, But I Have No Wings by Caroline Chavatel.......................................................10 Slurpee by Robert Sumner................................................................11 My pregnant mother craves orange juice by Luther Kissam.....................................................................................16 Fun Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio #8: Compete in Antrim Park's Long-Distance Swim Competitions by Maddie Woda......................................17 Fun Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio #19: Attend Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral by Maddie Woda.....................................................................................18 Undercurrent by Gloria Keeley...................................................19
what the time is by Alex Duensing..........................................19 Earplugs by Josh Rank...................................................................20 reclaim: son of a field negro by Desmond Beach......29 born suspect by Mark Ali...........................................................30 fleet intoxication of flowers by Elizabeth Sunflower.............................................................................37 wake by Tracy Pitts...........................................................................37 Attic of the Skull by Natalie Homer....................................38 How to Gorge by Krystin Santos..................................................39 A Weed is Not Defined by Christopher T. Keaveney............41 home by Mali Fischer...........................................................................41 From Her Diary by Lisa Brognano..............................................42 as dawn breaks by Jeni De La O...............................................43 Fresh ii by David RodrĂguez..............................................................43 In the Courtyard by Blake Campbell......................................44 Childless madonna by Fierce Sonia........................................45 setting a House on Fire by Julia Eagleton......................46
Stillborn by Gabriel Furshong An elderberry fell from a branch bled briefly in the sun and sank below the snow The bright stain like a tiny burst of purple smoke against a dead-white sky brought to mind a baby boy whose ways were described defiantly in a letter written for his funeral
I know you it read even though we never met
because I knew your mother because I knew your father
They say he lay quite still after the birth on her chest until his breathing stopped he who never grew too heavy he who never bled
A-nu-yi by Melinda Ruth
longing for the oceans | Anna Martin
You told me we are Tsa-la-gi-yi as if it were maxim, as if we werenâ€™t slammed into one camp, one label, used to strip us of an identity forged through sage, tears, and sweat: a-nis-gi-na. Now, a blood test can tell you how much of something you are, but how do you measure one half of the moonlight streaking silver through your hair, or the ultisol tingle of your skin? Of stories told to the rattle of shell shakers, elk whistles, and deerskin heartbeats; from your E-ni-si, to your E-do-daâ€Ś to you? CheeChee, little princess, E-li-si, words long on our tongues.
Luckpusher by Jared Lipof You want to get rich quick in this country, you’ve got to put in the hours. Me, I won over a hundred thousand bucks on a game show. Forty-four minutes of airtime, that’s over two-grand a minute. Yours truly, quick as you please. Six months later, after taxes and expenses, there was about fifty grand left in the bank, and while I was plotting my next move, the radio station announced a contest. Every morning they’d read a serial number on the air and if you had a one-dollar bill that matched it, you’d win thirty grand. For Joe Lunchbox, the odds were astronomical. But with fifty thousand chances to win every day, my odds got a little friendlier. When I tried to withdraw fifty grand in ones I was met with all manner of deflections. Bank tellers just wanted to make it through their eight hours with minimum fanfare, as if counting and wrapping and lifting two-pound stacks was akin to slaying the Hydra. Workaday chumps took cover behind standard operating procedures, the key term of course being standard, which yours truly is far from. You need a deep lineup of dance moves if you want to dodge the lariat of regular employment as long as I have. The teller at my branch sang a lonesome ballad about daily withdrawal limits, but when I called him on it he switched keys and said the bill counter was on the fritz and then, finally, he encored with a number about how he’d have to summon a manager for complicated transactions of this magnitude and the manager was of course tied up with some kind of horseshit. All bureaucratic double-speak that even somebody with steps like me couldn’t shimmy past, so I just took out as many singles as he agreed to count and got the rest in hundreds and made change elsewhere. Fifty grand in crisp ones could be arranged neatly in eighteen twelve-inch stacks. But since mine came from uncountable cash registers and waiters’ aprons and grease-stained pockets of gas station attendants, these bills were anything but crisp. By the second week it looked like a mound of raked leaves that blew from one side of the living room to the other as we read each bill. My wife complained about
the mess and I told her she could complain all she wanted the day she went out to LA and came back three days later with so much cash it looked like yard work. Imagine that, complaining about money! Every morning WEBN would read the serial number and off we’d go, fifty thousand bills to cross-reference and one whole day to do it. Teresa was easily distracted. “Can’t we just invest it?” she said. “In the bank it made interest, at least.” “Pfft. Chump change. Get back to work.” “What about the stock market?” “In the stock market you can always lose. No guarantees there. Worst-case sce-
nario here, we don’t win the contest. But we still have the money. Best-case, we win thirty grand. That’s a sixty percent return on investment and zero risk.” “You know, the serial number starts with a letter.” “I have eyes.” “We could get rid of a lot of extra work if we separate them into stacks by letter. Then when they announce today’s number we only have to go through one stack.” “Get. Back. To. Work,” I said. “I know what I’m doing.” But instead Teresa looked out the big bay window. It was already twilight again, another day gone by, and my wife just shook her head at the icicles along the roofline and the snow on the lawn and festive lights the pageant of idiot neighbors hung across every goddamn square inch of their houses across the street. “My husband,” she said. “The wizard who cracked a goddamn game show.” The show was called Luckpusher. There was a round with questions and a round with a big board with eighteen screens of randomly changing images and a buzzer you slapped to freeze it. You don’t need to hear all the details. Basically, you tried to rack up as much money as you could without landing on a Blammo. Around this time, Jim Henson’s influence was all over the place and the Blammo was a bright blue cartoon muppet-like devil in a cape, or maybe goblin would be a better word, and if you landed on a Blammo, he took all your cash and sent you back to zero. So the trick was not landing on a Blammo and, after a year of videotaping the show and watching episodes over and over again on multiple TVs with multiple VCRs simultaneously, I discovered that the board’s random sequence wasn’t random at all. Ferocious observation allowed me to detect the pattern. I took a bus out to LA, nailed the audition, walked onstage and dodged Blammos all day long. Most anybody had ever won on that show was twelve, fifteen grand. When I finally called it off––me, not them––I had over a hundred. My winning streak was so long they had to make two episodes out of it. A dollar bill’s serial number is one letter (A through L) followed by eight digits followed by another letter. It takes, at most, five seconds to read it carefully. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. You see where this is headed. Even with two people splitting the man-hours evenly––which Teresa and I most certainly were not––we’d still be eleven hours short of the time we needed to read every bill. Once the DJ read tomorrow’s serial number you were shit out of luck for today. I decided to throw Teresa a bone. “Look,” I said. “Your idea about sorting all these bills into stacks by letter is actually a pretty good one.” “You know,” she said. “We probably shouldn’t keep all this money out here in the living room, what with all these windows and the sliding glass door.” “Breathe easy. One thing at a time. Start sorting.”
At this point, when they read each morning’s serial number, most of our daily chore was eliminated. With sorted stacks it should have taken of us three hours to whisk through the bills that started with that day’s letter. But between bathroom breaks and smoke breaks and snack breaks and Teresa’s never-ending distractions about what else we could do with the money––with our lives––it practically took as long as a bona fide job, and the whole point was to avoid one of those. Plus, whenever we took out petty cash for daily expenses like food and cigarettes and Teresa’s boxes of white zin, each withdrawal was fraught with second-guessing. Any dollar bill we spent could’ve been a winner, retroactively. We’d never know. Off it would be in some store’s cash register, only to be handed back out as change to some schlemiel, who’d spend it at some other store, who’d break a five for somebody else, who’d use it in a Coke machine, and now the big-ticket single would be lost forever in the pistons of the city’s thrusting commerce. I just closed my eyes and grabbed a handful and tried not to think about it. Back when I was studying Luckpusher episodes Teresa would shake her head and ask what kind of loser gets fired from an ice cream truck. Four episodes would be playing at the same time, with me staring at a spot that was somehow none of them. Watching the big board in quadruplicate, I’d enter another state of being, like a Tibetan monk, and it turned the volume down on Teresa’s critiques. Time passed at a different rate for me and when I got up to stretch it would be dark out and she’d be in bed. But then look who cracked the code. Look who had the last laugh. The guy with the hundred Gs. Teresa blew out some air and checked another bill to see if it was a winner. “How does the radio station know the serial numbers?” She’d come up with any reason not to work. “What do you mean?” I said. “What, did the Treasury Department give them a list?” “Can you talk and read numbers at the same time?” “I’m saying: what if they’re just reading random serial numbers they made up? What if they’re all duds?” “They can’t do it that way. They’ve got standards and practices.” “Fine,” she said. “But even if the serial numbers are legit, that bill is bound to be anywhere in the country except Dayton goddamned Ohio.” “Listen. I think I know what I’m doing. I won a hundred grand on TV.” “Yeah, by cheating.” “Cheating? Is counting cards cheating?” “The casinos seem to think so.” “Fuck the casinos!” Teresa leaned back like I’d taken a swing, which I hadn’t. “The odds are already stacked in the casino’s favor! Walk in there with a talent that makes you uniquely qualified to win at cards and the casino gets to ban you? For being too good at the game they deal?”
“That’s why the game show banned you.” “Exactly my point! I’m too good at their game to be allowed to play it.” “Anybody can cheat. Cheating doesn’t make you special.” I went into the kitchen and threw a chair into the refrigerator and came back out. Teresa was used to my outbursts by then. She just yawned and pointed at the dollar bills everywhere. “Another day we lost.” “Not winning is not the same as losing,” I said. “If you say so. I’m going to get ready for the Wilsons’ Christmas party.” That game show host tried to get me to stop more than once. When I had fifty, sixty, eighty grand lit up on my podium’s scoreboard he begged me to stop pushing my luck. Statistically speaking––that is, if you didn’t know the board like I did––you’d hit a Blammo every six spins. On top of which I had to camouflage the fact that my advanced brain was dialed into the big board’s frequency and make it look like I was just some ordinary schmuck, slapping the buzzer at random. By the time I hit eighty-five grand the producers were in the control room shitting their pants. But I knew they wouldn’t come out and stop me because they taped in front of a live studio audience. Stopping me would be tantamount to admitting that the randomizer that controlled the board was anything but. I had them by the nutsack and I told the host I’d stop pushing my luck when I damn well wanted to because he didn’t know that I knew that luck had nothing to do with it. The Christmas party was a bust. Kermit Wilson with his accountant’s paycheck and his fancy loafers made googly eyes at Teresa all night and Teresa, pleased as punch in the torrent of flirtation, got so hammered she had to be poured into the car for the ride home and when we got back the sliding glass door was smashed agape and all the money was gone. All the hard work I put in. The man-hours of intense prayerlike observation on the living room couch. The three long days on a Greyhound bus that stank of piss. Avoiding eye contact with other passengers until I had to inflict eye contact as a means of deflection. Sleeping on the bus and staying up all night at stations to duck motel costs. The fifty-nine-cent button-down I wore to the audition, a strategically frugal investment that paid dividends out the ass three days later. All of it vaporized in the time it took Teresa to knock back two bottles of white zin. Whoever robbed us had been pretty damn thorough. Not a stray bill lingered. Fifty thousand ones would’ve required some planning. Bags. Maybe an accomplice. And also, it occurred to me, as I listened to Teresa snoring fumes in the bedroom, advance knowledge that nobody would be home. The baseball bat I kept in the front closet in case of emergencies reduced three of the TVs and all four VCRs to shrapnel. The end table next to the living room couch turned the big bay window into a twinkling ice storm. When it was all pretty
much out of my system I yanked a door off a kitchen cabinet and made a piñata out of a lamp just because. After pawning the one unbroken TV and selling my car and getting back what little deposit was left on the house we rented, Teresa and I parted ways. I could never prove it was an inside job, but I heard she bought a new Buick Riviera a few months later, and now she’s living up in Huber Heights with a goddamn bank manager, of all people. The world slaps my nuts as a hobby but I just shimmy on past it like Travolta on a lit-up dance floor. With about twelve hundred bucks to my name I took a bus down to New Orleans, where locals skirt the state gambling prohibitions by building casinos out on the river. I landed in the Big Easy three days ago and I’ve been counting cards ever since. I’ve got it down now, just the right balance of yawning and meaningless small talk and fake sipping from complimentary cocktails to throw everybody off the scent of my eagle-eyed scrutiny. Teresa thought counting cards involved literally memorizing the deck as it was dealt, as if only autistic savants could manage it. You don’t actually count cards, you keep count of your advantage. Right now I’m at +9 with three decks left to go, so I can reasonably bet two times my unit. The casinos can call it cheating if they want, but the whole thing is strategy and brainpower, same as anything else. I throw down two hundred and tell the dealer to hit me. I’ll turn a grand into five in an afternoon. I’ll never work a realjob because a real job is a chump’s game, even though I’ve found it damn near impossible to sidestep the treachery of buffoons in my daily quest for income. The dealer doesn’t deal, he just looks at a spot behind me and maybe he nods, I can’t tell. “I said hit me, chump.” A firm hand comes to rest on my shoulder and squeezes.
Ancient Family by Avi-Yona Israel God tilted the frame to the right, and it was good. “It’s crooked.” Mother Nature’s long flowing hair trailed behind her voice as she walked past the living room and up the stairs without a passing glance. The earth stood still. “You didn’t even see it.” A gnarled root broke through the carpet, snapped past God’s foot, and glanced ever so slightly past the photo frame, tilting it a centimeter further to the right. It returned to the ground as quickly as it came. A soft wind wound slowly down the stairs and passed over God’s ears.
The red hill | Rebecca Pyle
“Now it’s good.”
Rape as Character Development, or when I became a plot point by Jenni Rossi You know, I only do it to grow you, the character—it’s not personal it’s just very effective, actually maybe historical, yeah—historical Have you learned enough? Have you grown? Because if not, I can do it again and again and again—I can make your face every woman’s face and just, you know, grow you—until you are a better, stronger version of yourself, just a little more complicated. I hate to say you were asking for it, you needed to be broken before you could be strong, so just let me break you and remember, I’m doing this for you. For the story, for the reader. For me. Keep watching, this scene really makes it. I don’t do this for fun, you know.
I would call this migration, but i have no wings
by Caroline Chavetel In a hotel lobby, more new things. I wear these shoes black and dirty dancing out into trafficked streets. You walk the rug colorless, order a fourteen-dollar-gin&tonic, ask a lady if she has a light. She hands you old matches and you join me outside in the night. In this worn abyss, nothing noteworthy. I carry my shoes or they carry me. We canâ€™t help it, shuffling by skyscrapers with golden names.
Slurpee by Robert Sumner “My tank is gonna shoot,” Steve Emmerich says as he pushes a toy tank forward. A gargling cannon noise explodes from his pre-pubescent mouth. His fingertip traces a shot from the tank barrel to a toy truck. He flips the truck over and dumps five plastic soldiers onto the floor. “Yer soldiers never miss,” Michael Augustine says. “That’s unrealistic.” “Of course they never miss. Why would I have them miss? That’s stupid.” The front door creaks shut below them. Steve hears his mother’s muffled voice say something. Light, rapid footsteps launch up the stairs. Definitely not his mother. The footsteps turn toward his room. “You guys’ll never believe what I saw on my way over,” says Albion Winfrey, a boy of about the same age, who enters the room and plops down next to them. “Shut up,” Steve says in a cold monotone. “My infantry is about to attack.” “I know, but I’ve got to...” “No one cares about the turtle that crawled across the path or whatever it is this time.” “I like turtles,” Mike says. “I saw a snapping turtle last summer. I tried to get it to bite a branch...” “But it bit yer hand instead and you had a black bruise for a few days. You already told us. B-F-D.” “Gamera is a turtle,” says Albion. “He can fly around with jets that shoot out when he pulls his feet in.” “My dad says ‘Gamera’ means ‘turtle’ in Japanese,” Mike says proudly. “So he’s a turtle named Turtle.” “Yer dad doesn’t speak Japanese,” Steve says. “I didn’t say he did. He just...” “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yer dad’s stupid.” When Steve tried to discuss with Mr. Augustine the military strategies he’d learned in a book called Famous Generals he’d stolen from his school library, the old idiot tried to convince him that those were tactics, not strategies. He always tries to act like he knows better just because he’s an adult and a naval officer, but when Steve asked him what he thought of Hannibal’s battle plan at Zama, he confused him with the cannibal guy on TV. So stupid. Albion fidgets. “On my way over there was...” “There was what? Someone washing their station wagon? Mowing his lawn? Who gives a shit?” Steve re-positions a few of his plastic soldiers. “There was a guy lying in a ditch.” “Oh, wow. A guy in a ditch. Yer such a conversationalist. So what? There’s bums lying all over the sidewalks in the city.” “He was bleeding.” “Really?” Mike asks, his eyes wide with sudden interest. “Was he dead?”
“I dunno. I didn’t check.” “No way,” Steve says with his lip curled up like a cobra about to strike. “Yer just trying to ruin our game because yer lame parents made you go to church while we got to play.” “No, really. I think he got hit by a car. I was exploring those new houses they’re building and then I heard a ‘thwack’ really loud and then an El Camino peeled out.” “Awesome!” Mike is almost bouncing out of sitting cross-legged. “Where is he?” “Only trashy people drive El Caminos,” Steve says. When a purple El Camino with a dragon painted on its hood and a black air freshener with a white bunny head dangling from the mirror pulled into a spot his dad had been waiting for in the parking lot of a grocery store, his dad’s knuckles lost their rosy blush as he squeezed the wheel like it was an insurgent’s neck and growled, assholes like that are ruining this country. The three boys step around the plastic soldiers arrayed across the carpet to avoid disturbing the positions during their temporary truce. They run out the door of Steve’s home before his mom can ask where they’re going. They run along a sidewalk in their neighborhood and out past a construction site toward what Steve hopes will be a macabre delight. He suspects that Albion just made the whole thing up, but the prospect of seeing some human road kill is too tempting not to go. They slow to a walk when a severely injured man lying in a ditch comes into view, blood spurted all over his cheeks, his arms and legs twisted in yogic positions. For a moment, Steve imagines running home to tell his mom. He sees all the adults he knows praising him for his heroism. The mayor of Fairfax would give a speech about how great he is. They might even have a parade for him, and that beautiful reporter from the local news who has red hair and a body like Rogue’s in that one issue where she wears a bikini after raiding SHIELD headquarters would interview him and pat him on the head and tell him what a handsome boy he is; except his dad would not. His dad would be disappointed that he helped a dirty hippie who is nothing but a parasite and should be put on an island with all the other scum so they could only steal from each other. If you ever turn into someone like him, I won’t be able to show my face at Langley again, his dad once said about a hitchhiking hippie by the side of the road. Steve picks up a piece of gravel, winds up like a pitcher and throws it at the man’s head. It bounces off his back with no reaction. “Don’t,” Albion says. “That’s mean.” “I just want to see if he moves,” Steve says in his most reassuring tone. They approach to within a few feet. Steve picks up a stick and pokes the man like he’s a pile of charcoal at the end of a cookout. A gurgle, a bloody bubbling. The boys jump back. “He’s still alive,” says Albion. “Duh, obviously,” says Steve. “Please.” The man moves one of his arms. “Help.” His gasping speech reminds Steve of William Wallace when he was being tortured near the end of Braveheart. Steve thought it was cool when Wallace halluci-
nated his dead wife in the crowd just before he got decapitated, though it would’ve been better if she’d been naked. His dad told him that boys who grow long hair are degenerates, but William Wallace grew his long and he was a powerful hero. Wallace didn’t have a mustache, though. This guy is wearing a flannel shirt, not like the tunic Wallace wore, and Wallace wore a skirt but he still looked tougher than this skinny guy in jeans. Also, Wallace would never have worn those ugly Converse All Stars. It’s hard to tell from the man’s apparel, but Steve is now certain that this guy is a degenerate. If he were one of the good guys he would’ve been able to dodge the car when it swerved. Heroes don’t end up in ditches begging for help from kids. “He wants us to help,” Mike says. “So?” Steve snaps back. “Are you a doctor?” “Please.” The man moves his arm again. “Call an ambulance.” Steve steps forward. “How much?” “Huh?” “How much will you pay us?” The man groans and closes his eyes. He spits out blood and re-opens his eyes. “Twenty dollars. In my wallet.” “Where’s your wallet?” “We can get our parents to call,” Albion says. “He doesn’t need to pay us.” “Back pocket,” the man says. Steve pulls a wallet out of the man’s back pocket, opens it and produces a twenty-dollar bill. “Awesome.” He puts the bill in his pocket, drops the wallet on the man’s wrenched back, and runs off. “We’ll be right back with the ambulance,” Albion tells the man and runs after Mike and Steve. Steve flips through a comic book near the entrance of a 7-Eleven. Mike stares longingly at the racks of candy bars. Albion watches Steve. “Shouldn’t we call now?” “This new issue is cool,” Steve says. “Storm Shatter rebels against Carnage Commander at his mountaintop fortress. I knew this would happen.” Mike looks over Steve’s shoulder. “I love it when Carnage Commander uses his Carnage Cannon.” “That guy’s still there,” Albion says. “You said you would call.” “I’m getting this.” Steve picks out three more comic books and bundles them under his armpit. “And a few more.” Steve walks over to the nacho stand. “I’m hungry.” He picks up a tray of tortilla chips and pumps liquid cheese all over them. “Put some ground beef on it too,” Mike says. “Of course,” Steve says with an extravagant eye roll. “And jalapeños.” “Get your own. We’ve got twenty dollars to play with.” Mike grabs a tray of chips and assembles his nachos. Albion paces nervously. “I still think...” Steve walks over to the counter. “I’m thirsty.” The other two follow. “Can I help you?” asks Meatloaf, a sad sack, who eyes them warily from between droopy eyelids. His fat belly juts out, probably from sneaking too many
microwaveable burritos when his Korean boss isn’t looking (the boys call the boss “Hey Buddy” because whenever they loiter, he always says, hey, buddy, you gonna buy something?). “Yeah, Meatloaf, you can help us.” Steve places his nachos on the counter triumphantly, like when Storm Shatter presented Carnage Commander with G.I. Jerome’s head on a platter. “Don’t call me that.” “Why not? That’s what you are.” Mike tosses a bunch of candy bars on the counter. “That’s not nice,” Meatloaf says in a moan that sums up his failure to wrench any pleasure out of this miserable world. Some people are just hopeless losers. Steve’s dad told him there’s nothing you can do to help them. From the moment they’re born they start losing. It’s like when their German Shepherd gave birth to a litter of puppies and one of the scrawnier puppies died after a few days. He felt sad at first, but it’s just part of nature, his dad assured him. Some people are like that, too. God creates some people strong and a lot of other people weak; the weak ones are there for the benefit of the strong. It’s like when wolves prey on deer. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just nature. “Gimme a grape Slurpee,” Steve says in a commanding tone he learned from watching war movies. “A large.” Someday he might be President, or at least a CEO. He doesn’t remember what “CEO” means, but his dad always says it like it’s totally hot shit. Meatloaf turns to the Slurpee machine churning behind him. Steve also knows from war movies that sometimes a leader should be generous with his troops. “What flavors do you guys want?” Soon they’re eating their candy and slurping their Slurpees around the side of the store. “When we’re done, can we call an ambulance?” Albion pleads. “I bet that guy’s still there.” “Oh, yeah,” Mike says. Someday his friends are going to have to learn that life sometimes requires a bit of hard-headedness. Albion, especially. When summer started and Mosby Woods Elementary let out for another glorious vacation, the beginning of fourth grade a threat so distant it might as well have been in the afterlife, Steve’s first day of freedom was ruined when Albion showed up at the Emmerichs’ front door with a big turtle in his hands. They’re common in the pond down the street, but it’s always exciting to see one up close—at least for a few minutes, until he tired of Albion sitting there leaning his head on his hand, watching the turtle do nothing. “This is boring,” Steve said and picked up the turtle, which immediately retracted its head and legs into its green and yellow shell. “What do you think it’s supposed to do?” Albion asked. “Fly, Gamera!” Steve hurled it into the cul-de-sac. It hit the pavement with a loud crunch. “Why did you do that?” Tears were already streaming down Albion’s cheeks from his hazel eyes as he ran out to retrieve his little broken friend. He was just as whiny when-
ever Steve shot birds in his backyard with his dad’s pellet gun. “If yer not gonna eat the meat, why shoot them?” Albion would whine. “Because it’s fun, dipshit,” Steve would reply. His dad didn’t give a shit, so why should he? Steve takes another big bite, chews, and stares into the distance. At the age of eight he’s already figured out that he understands the world better than most people do; even most adults seem pretty clueless. They flail like a bird with a broken wing. Too emotional. His gift could add something to the world, improve it a bit. His mother told him not to be selfish. If stupid people could be shown the truth more clearly, they could become stronger like him. Maybe they don’t have to be like the deer. His noble purpose unfolds before him: maybe some of them can learn to be wolves. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out some coins. “I only have thirty-six cents left.” “The pay phone only costs twenty-five,” Albion says. Steve puts the coins back in his pocket. He finishes his candy bar and chases it with a swig of slurpee. “A single play on Pac-Man costs twenty-five.” “Awesome,” Mike shouts. “I love that game!” “But you promised him,” Albion says with a hint of tears welling. “No, I didn’t,” Steve says, his jaw clenched firmly. “We should call,” Mike says, suddenly serious. “We can get more quarters and play later.” A turtle waddles out of the nearby woods. “Each game is three lives.” Steve pulls the quarter back out and holds it up. “I’ll play the first one and any bonus lives if you losers manage to get that far. You can play the other two.” “I want the second life,” Mike says. “Well?” Steve turns to Albion. “Do you want the third one or do you want Mike to play it for you?” The turtle lowers itself to the ground and retracts into its shell.
my pregnant mother craves orange juice
by Luther Kissam She sends my father to the store across town for orange juice. He starts up their sedan, the dash clock reads 2:30AM. The buzz of the Krogerâ€™s overhead lights and the dull glances from janitors on graveyard shifts remind him he needs sleep. In the juice aisle there is no juice, only his bloodshot eyes reflecting off the glass sliding doors. He buys the biggest bag of oranges he can find, and drives through every red light on his way home. There, he peels oranges until his fingers stick together, the sweet mist staining his favorite blue jeans. He cups the peeled orange slices in his hands, squeezes his palms together to catch the juice in a glass. When he finishes, the peels collect in the blue netted bags at the bottom of the trash can, his cuticles burn from the acid. He only has half a glass of juice to show for his efforts, but he puts on a smile and climbs the stairs. He opens their bedroom door. My mother sprawls across the bed, snoring softly. He sets the glass on the nightstand, and creeps back down the stairs to brew his morning coffee.
Fun Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio #8: Compete in Antrim Park's Long Distance Swim Competitions
by Maddie Woda I was terrified of my high school swim coach. Hippolyta with broader shoulders and chlorine-bleached hair, she required sets the Amazons would balk at and her sympathy, genuine and thick and wet, only made us cringe, pool water dripping from our hair onto her smart leather Dockers. She stood at three inches over my father, and could hold a jungle cat, a fully-grown woman, at least twenty kickboards in her wingspan. She was more like a plane than a bird, more like a bird than a woman. We called her queen and complained openly when she whistled at us from the deck, forefingers and teeth, sharp as a sealâ€™s bark. Her son, Herculean and handsome, slept his way through our team, but her eyes were too fogged with a lifetime of dense natatorium steam to notice the pattern of hickeys peeking out of necklines and hip cutouts on our racing suits, repetitive as a trademark. We all agreed that the boy needed new moves even as he swept through our ranks like wildfire. A maternal warrior and we too her offspring, she would destroy anyone who crossed us, flora or fauna or foe, and ten years out of the pool we still see her flashing eyes and rangy limbs when someone raises a hand against usâ€” no longer a school of fish, we break like the surface of the water and pray for her strength, muscles encouraging muscles and the way she made her flight look like fight.
Fun Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio #19: Attend Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral
by Maddie Woda The baby is howling and I need a breath of fresh air. These walls have ears, these walls have ears; it stinks of lifesavers and wintergreen and old, crushed Kleenex. Piety smells of laundry and new dirt and bananas, just ripe enough for bread. I think my mama told me that, back when we still called her mama. I think my grandmama told me that, back when she still could instruct her esophagus to swallow. The altar boys are dropping like flies, dropping like flies. Itâ€™s too hot in here to swaddle.
undercurrent by Gloria Keeley from the bed seaweed dripped from her limbs salt-licked for succor the hook, pried from her throat dropped atop whitecaps the grey waves slashed the sand scales fell from her sides; pieces of moon on the sea
What the time is | Alex Duensing
knifed from throat to tail fin her spine gently lifted from center after death shells on stretch of beach resound the oceanâ€™s roar against her whiteness, her grace
Earplugs by Josh Rank The phones didn’t really ring. They weren’t really phones, when you got right down to it. It was a room full of people wearing headsets and clicking away on their computers between calls. Some days were busy, calls coming in back-to-back. More often, no one was having troubles, leaving the lines open and allowing coworkers the opportunity to look at the person next to them and say: “We’re going to a bar tonight for Susan’s birthday.” John looked at the man sitting at the computer next to him, mid-twenties, sloppily tucked-in t-shirt, uncombed hair. His name was Ben. The familiar flash of nervousness pulsed through John’s body, as tended to happen when he realized a sentence was directed at him. “I, uh—” John put his hands under his thighs and looked toward the ceiling just above his coworker’s head. How many excuses had he used up to this point? How many times had he repeated them? Luckily, his headset beeped and a message window appeared on his screen. John held up a finger to the uncombed man sitting next to him. “Thank you for calling Zinc, this is John, how can I help you?” Ride-sharing apps had demolished the taxi service, but that didn’t mean there weren’t occasional hiccups. People will always have problems with people, and that’s where John and his coworkers came in. The days were filled with assuaging fear, agreeing with gripes, and at its base, bolstering self-esteem. Mostly, he offered credits for free rides until the caller calmed down. Six more calls and three more awkward conversations later, John clicked the Pause button on his computer monitor and stood up. Ben groaned as he stretched and again looked to John. “I’m going to get you to get a burger with me one of these days,” he said with a smile. John shrugged and kept his eyes on the floor. His heart was racing. He wanted nothing more than to open the plastic grocery bag sitting in the refrigerator in the break room and eat quietly in the corner. “Alright, I know. Same thing every day.” Ben gave John a light pat on the shoulder, which sent another shockwave of ice through his body. He wasn’t used to physical contact, no matter how brief or casual. John walked down the aisle, past the rows of computers, until he reached the gymnasium-style doors with a horizontal bar across the middle. He had seen too many people lick Cheeto dust from their fingers and grasp the bar on their way to the bathroom. At best, he would time out his exit with another person. At worst, he would back into it and exit the room looking behind him like a bank robber covering the guards on his way out. The door began to swing open before this became an issue. “Hey John,” Susan said as she opened the door with her foot. She held a box in her hands and smiled that beautiful smile over the top of it. She had only worked
there for a month, but was already one of the stars. He mumbled a hello and tried to catch the door before it shut behind her. She didn’t move far enough out of the way. “I know it’s kinda dumb to bring your own birthday cake, but that’s the world we live in. If you like stuff that doesn’t suck, it’ll be in the break room. Hurry before Andy eats it all.” A middle finger shot up from behind a monitor four rows back. John didn’t have trouble avoiding the door as the stampede followed the box of cake. He sighed as he watched the break room, normally empty due to the plethora of restaurants surrounding their building, fill up. He opened the refrigerator and grabbed the lunch he put together even though he was fifteen minutes late that morning. “John? Everyone likes vanilla.” He turned around and saw that award-winning smile. She held a paper plate with a slice of cake to him. “I, uh—” He nodded his head toward the plastic bag hanging from his hand. “People say vanilla is boring because they think of it as plain. But it’s not plain. It’s vanilla and vanilla is delicious.” John knew she was right. He looked at the cake and swallowed the saliva building in his mouth. He shook his head. “I better not,” he said. He walked out of the break room, took the elevator downstairs, and ate his lunch standing up because the only bench he could see was at the bus stop. The afternoon slid by as awkwardly as his reentry to the workspace. His coworkers were unflinchingly kind no matter how many times he refused their offers. The hydraulic of his rolling chair squeaked when he sat down and Andy gave him a brief nod of recognition. John wished he could have asked him how his lunch was. Or offered to take him out after work. Or simply patted him on the shoulder as he walked past, but his muscles froze in reaction to his brain’s requests. The afternoon sun finally started to peek through the small window behind John, which at this time of year meant it was about time to go home. He finished his last call—someone had lost their wallet in the car—and logged out of the company’s system. He followed a tall woman he had never spoken to in order to avoid the door’s bar when, again, Susan came through the opposite side. “Hey, Becky! Oh and John. Good. Listen, it sounds like Gary and the guys are dragging me out to Duke’s up the road for a pitcher or twenty of beer. I promise I’ll only ask you to sing the birthday song ten or fifteen times. You in?” The woman in front of John seemed to be nodding her head, while he scrambled for an excuse. “John?” Susan gave him her full attention, and it made him feel like he was melting. “I, uh—” He glanced around the office and hoped for an earthquake, or a terrorist attack, or a meteor impact, but the only rumbling was beneath his ribcage. “I gotta water my plants.” If she weren’t looking him in the face, he would have bit
a hole in his tongue. “Oh.” She almost laughed and then her smile faded a few degrees. “Okay, John.” “Have fun,” he said quickly and then dodged around her like a running back and caught the slowly closing door with his foot. Twenty minutes later, the doorknob to his one-bedroom apartment felt colder than usual. He fell into his nightly habit of kicking himself for the wrong words that seemed to form themselves. He ate a simple dinner of baked chicken breast with instant mashed potatoes and a glass of water, and watched the sunlight fade from the walls. He could hear his neighbors nearly all the time. They weren’t loud. The walls were paper thin. He didn’t mind. The illusion of company was nice and he didn’t have to worry about them waking him up in the middle of the night. The earplugs took care of that. Bugs had always been a source of anxiety. It only took one scene in a TV show a few years before where a centipede crawled into a sleeping character’s ear to ensure John would be late to work at least a few times a week. Luckily his manager seemed to have soft spot for him, and rarely appeared angry when John would scramble in fifteen minutes or half an hour after his scheduled time. As soon as the dishes were done and the sun was almost gone, he walked to the cabinet and shook a few sleeping pills into his palm. He tossed the empty bottle into the trashcan in the bathroom. He studied the blue label and made a mental note to avoid it the next time he went to the store. A few years of experimenting with various brands had brought his tolerance to indefensible levels. He swallowed the pills with a sip of water and started rolling the earplugs between his thumb and forefinger as he walked into his bedroom. The sun had set, but the sky remained a vague orange above the horizon. Each morning started with a grasp at the notebook next to his bed. He scribbled frantically with his pen to race the fading memory of his dreams. Lucid dreaming had taken a while to get used to, but there were tricks. The main problem after realizing you were in a dream was to keep your excitement in check and avoid waking yourself up. But again, it just took practice. As soon as he chronicled the dreamscapes and alternate realities where he could look people in the eye and speak without his mouth’s filter, he would look at the clock and see if he had woken up before or after his alarm. The ear plugs made the alarm mostly pointless, but he felt the need to at least try. Failing after an attempt was different than deciding to fail beforehand. Today, as will occasionally happen, he woke up early and took the time to make a breakfast before putting together his lunch. The office was mostly quiet, a little more serene, when he showed up on time. This morning, the sky was clear but the sunshine had yet to fully take hold of the atmosphere. He sat down at his computer and flicked it on. A few minutes later, Ben sat down next to him. “You missed it, man.” John had a few theories as to why his coworkers were unendingly inclusive. Most were based on the abused puppy scenario. John’s uncle promised his children a dog one Christmas, but waited until finding “the perfect one.” This probably meant any
dog he could get for free, and in this case, he got what he paid for. The dog was a beautiful two-year-old beagle named Allie, but no one could account for the first two years. She had been found on the side of the road after a frenzied foot chase. Allie wasn’t aggressive, but she wasn’t particularly friendly, either. She spent most of her time running from room to room, avoiding groups of people, and shaking in a corner when she couldn’t. Her heartbreaking feebleness had an endearing quality to it, and people couldn’t help but to root for her. Any show of affection, no matter how tiny, was celebrated. He was the office’s Allie, and couldn’t decide if that was okay with him. “I think we sang happy birthday about fifty times.” Ben flicked on his computer and leaned back in his chair. “I almost pulled a you and slept through my alarm today.” John nodded and put on his headset. The calls didn’t really get going until an hour or so into the shift, but as soon as you clicked the Active button, you were open for business. Luckily, his screen lit up before Ben could make any more small talk. “Thank you for calling Zinc, this is John, how can I help you?” Talking on the phone all day might seem like a strange fit for someone unable to hold a conversation, but the disconnect between the physical and verbal shielded him from any discomfort. He enjoyed helping people. He didn’t often get the chance outside of a dream. The unseen person on the other end of the line posed no threat to him because of the detachment inherent in the device. There was no risk. Only reward. The difficult part was navigating interpersonal relationships in the office without coming across like a callous jerk. He was happier on calls. Nine hours later, John walked along the aisles of the pharmacy section of a local grocery store. He scanned the various boxes and bottles for something he had yet to try. Something new. Stronger. A few nights before, he awoke to the sound of his neighbor having a sneezing fit. An interrupted night of sleep was unacceptable. The thought of the lost dreams tormented him. He picked up a name brand box to compare it with that of a knockoff when he heard a voice behind him. “Is that why you’re late to work all the time?” John turned around and saw Ben holding a plastic grocery basket. He had a two liter bottle of soda with a loaf of bread perched awkwardly on top. “Not enough sleep?” asked Ben. John looked between Ben and the pills and attempted a nervous laugh. It sounded like he was clearing his throat. “Listen, come here.” Ben took a couple steps forward until they were close enough to smell each other’s breath. “That stuff is no good. My little brother got his wisdom teeth taken out last week, but his stomach can’t handle the medication they gave him. So, y’know, I was bored and took one and oh man. Knocked me out.” John nodded. “If you wanna get some good sack time, this is the stuff. Not that—” his eyes dropped to the box in John’s hand “—not that stuff. Plus, whatever it did to my
brother, it did to me too. Stomach issues, if you know what I mean.” He waved a hand behind him and arched an eyebrow. “Oh,” said John. “I’ve got it out in my car if you want to give it a try. I’m not going to do anything with it. Might as well save a couple bucks on those things, right?” “It, it helped you sleep?” asked John. “Out cold. Not only that, but holy shit did I have some crazy dreams.” John stuck the boxes back on the shelf. “Okay.” He followed Ben through the checkout lane like a child that would be on time-out as soon as he returned home. Quiet. Eyes to the ground. But soon they were outside next to Ben’s green pickup truck. He pulled the handle and dug a little orange bottle out from the storage compartment on the door. “Here you go.” Ben tossed them with an exaggerated arch to John, who surprised himself by catching it. He quickly stuck the illicit rattle into his pocket. “Get yourself a good night of sleep. Maybe I’ll even see you on time again.” Ben laughed as he hopped into his truck. John walked quickly to his car and headed home. Once there, he set the bottle next to the sink in the bathroom and furiously washed his hands. He closed his eyes and breathed in the medicinal smell of the soap. He imagined his mother’s voice in the other room, shook his head, and opened his eyes. He looked to the label as water splashed down the drain. Vicodin. 5/325. He had no idea what that meant. He dried off his hands but left the faucet running. He put three pills into his palm and tossed them into his mouth. He scooped water from the faucet and drank it. He calmly walked around his apartment as if in a dream. They didn’t knock him out like the other pills, but instead guided him to a more relaxed mindset conducive to rest. He fell asleep two hours later. The alarm had been ringing for fifteen minutes by the time John grasped for the notebook next to his bed. Once he finished scribbling his notes, he popped out the ear plugs and turned off the shrieking alarm. Ben was right. The dreams had been wild and intricate. John wrote a few more sentences and finally got up. He hadn’t reached his goal of at least nine hours of sleep, but that goal seemed negotiable, given the way the new pills made him feel. He once read that Carl Jung believed dreams provide messages about lost parts of ourselves that needed to be reintegrated. Well, with these new pills, he felt as if he had found them. John knew it was just as false as when he was asleep on his pillow, but the appearance of growth was almost as good as the real thing. He tossed another couple pills in his mouth and noticed he was going to be at least a half hour late for work. He spent the next fifteen minutes making himself a nice breakfast before getting dressed. The office was alive. Voices commingled to become a wordless hum, chairs squeaked, and the click of the keyboards washed over John as he walked through the push doors of the call center. He was forty-five minutes late, but his heart rate remained as slow as if he were waiting out a commercial break. “Going for a new record today?” asked Ben, as John relaxed into his chair. “Almost an hour.”
John glanced over and shrugged. The fluorescent lighting above felt softer. He looked down at his hands. “You okay, John?” He leaned a little closer. “Did those pills help you out at all last night?” John looked up from his hands and almost smiled. “Do you know anything about lucid dreaming?” Ben crossed his arms and regarded John like you might a houseplant that asked you for water. “There are tricks. Things that are different in dreams that you can learn to recognize. One is that your hands don’t look right. They’re often bigger and malformed.” “You know, I think that is the most sentences I’ve heard you say in a row in all of the two years we’ve been working here.” John looked at the computer screen coming to life in front of him. “And text. Clocks. The part of your brain used in sleeping is different from the part that interprets information, so clocks don’t look right. If you get into the habit of checking these things throughout the day, eventually you’ll find a time when it’s off. Then you know you’re the other.” “The other?” “The other you.” John leaned forward and logged into the system. “I think you’re the other you right now,” Ben said with a laugh. “It’s Thursday. Two dollar drinks at Duke’s tonight. Do you think the other you will actually come get a drink with us after work?” John put on his headphones and was immediately greeted with the beep of an incoming call. He turned his head to Ben before clicking the Connect button. He shrugged and said, “Why not?” The bar was a few blocks from the office. Everyone walked down the sidewalk in a group like students on a field trip. The sun had another hour or so before it would set, and John hadn’t taken any Vicodin since lunch. The fog was starting to wear thin and he was getting sweaty. “Can you believe it?” Ben said to another coworker who John had made the effort to not remember. He slapped John on the shoulder. “The mouse man himself. Finally hanging with the plebeians.” “The what?” asked John. They paused at an intersection to wait for the light to change. “Oh, uh.” Ben looked at the man next to him and flashed an uneven smile that was mostly bottom lip. “You know, you don’t really talk much. Mice are quiet. It doesn’t have anything to do with the rodent part. More the tendency not to talk because—” “Because you choose your words carefully,” filled in the other man. John thought maybe he should start remembering him. The light turned green, and the group of eight or nine people started through the crosswalk. Susan led the way. A few minutes later, John followed the crowd down a flight of stairs off the right side of the sidewalk to the bar entrance below. A bored-looking bouncer sat on a bar stool and neglected to check anybody’s ID as they walked past him. The
TVs were muted, but playing local news broadcasts. A couple people played pool toward the back of the bar. Neglected dartboards lined the wall near the jukebox, and the bar stools along the bar were empty until their crew filled most of them. The bartender smiled and greeted a few of them by name, and soon Ben walked over to John with two glasses of beer. “Cheers,” he said. They clinked glasses. John set his down and walked into the small bathroom where he popped three more pills into his mouth. His hands looked old and wrinkly in the dim bathroom light, but they were unmistakably his own. Three deep breaths and he walked back into the bar. “Hey John! Here!” Ben held out a tiny, clear glass with what turned out to be whiskey inside. John, not wanting to be rude, accepted the shot and let it burn its way down his throat. He wiped his mouth and tried to smile as his eyes started watering. Ben and a couple other people let out a whoop and ordered more beers. It was unclear exactly how much time had passed by the time John saw Susan speaking with a man at the opposite end of the bar. It was long enough for the pills to join hands with the alcohol and strangle John’s mind. Maybe an hour. He was lightheaded and when he tried to check his watch, he was unable to read the numbers. His training kicked in. He straightened out his posture. He looked again to the end of the bar. Susan wasn’t smiling. That was the first thing he noticed. Her eyebrows were low and her jaw was rigid as if frozen mid-bite. The man’s back was to John, so the only thing he could gather from his body language was that he was big. Finally, she started to walk away. The man grabbed her arm. She paused. John moved. “Hey!” John said loudly, but not quite a yell. The man didn’t turn around. John stepped between Susan and the man and tried to slap his arm off of her. He looked into the man’s face and saw a slight smirk grow across his jaw. Just then, the whiskey from before burped its way back into John’s throat, causing his chest to seize, resembling a cough. A small piece of saliva from the back of his mouth rode the wave of air from his chest and hit the man on the chin. His eyes grew wide. “John, what are you doing?” he heard Susan say behind him. Then everything went white. He found himself on the floor with everyone around him yelling. The big man was being walked backwards, away from the bar, by two coworkers who grabbed each of his arms. John felt a hand on his elbow as Ben helped him up. “What the hell was that?” he said, laughing. “I need some air,” said John as he pushed through the crowd and walked up the stairs to the sidewalk. The sun was gone, but a faint glow still hung in the air. His cheekbone was fiery hot, even through the painkillers and the alcohol-soaked fog. He thought about taking a couple more pills, but heard a voice behind him before he could reach into his pocket. “John? What the hell?” It was Susan. She walked up the stairs and stood in front of him as he leaned against the guardrail. He knew it wasn’t a dream, but the unreality of the situation mixed with the buzz let him pretend it was.
“Billy got Lyme disease,” he said. She looked behind her as if he was speaking to someone else before turning back. “What?” “He didn’t die or anything. But she clamped down.” “John, what are you talking about?” “My mother. She blamed herself, but it was just nature, y’know?” He let out a deep breath. “He was older than me, so she tried to do better with her youngest. Nothing was going to hurt her baby. Homeschooling. Anti-bacterial soap. You ever meet a dog that was never taken to the dog park?” Susan looked at him with wide eyes and eyebrows nearly reaching her hairline. She shrugged. “They don’t know how to play with other dogs. Call it socialization. You learn it young.” He sighed again. “I guess I never got to go to the dog park. Stupid Lyme disease.” “John, I think you just need a good night’s sleep.” He chuckled. “That’s all I ever need. In fact, I thought I already was.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and the bottle of pills rattled. “What’s that?” she asked. “Hmm?” He looked at her briefly before pulling out the little orange bottle. “Did you take those tonight?” He nodded. “Jesus, John.” Her voice softened and the pitch went up a bit. She sniffed, even though it wasn’t that cold. “Do you need to get some help?” He pushed himself off the rail and stuck the bottle back into his pocket. “The only thing I need is a cab home.” “Give me your phone.” He did. She pulled up the app they worked for and clicked the Home button for the destination. Three minutes later, a car pulled up. “Get some rest,” she said. “And maybe throw those things away.” He nodded and climbed into the back of the car. For the first time in years, John didn’t reach for the notebook when he woke up. Not because of laziness or the absence of the will to do so, but because he had nothing to report. After returning home the previous night, he had fumbled his key into the door lock, flipped off his shoes, and fell into bed before he could put in his earplugs or set his alarm. His slumber had been one of restoration, not exploration. He had done enough of that before he went to bed. He peeled himself from his mattress and debated calling in sick. While it was true he didn’t feel well, he also didn’t want to face his coworkers. Shame flashed through him at every memory he conjured. The courage to make the call eluded him, so he put himself together and called another ride to work. His car sat neglected in the parking garage from the day before. He paused outside of the push doors of the office and almost turned around,
imagining the awkward glances and jokes made at his expense. It had been a while since he made a fool of himself and the humiliation was almost tangible. The calm of the previous day greatly contrasted the rapid heartbeat and shaky hands that welcomed him to this workday. He briefly wished he hadn’t left the bottle of pills in his bathroom cabinet at home. “Well there he is.” Ben came up from behind him and pushed open the door. As if drawn through by Ben’s momentum, John followed. “How’s the face feeling, Tyson?” Sore. Red. Puffy. John was so focused on his growing anxiety that he was almost able to ignore his sore cheekbone. “It’s fine.” “Well, I gotta say, that was worth the two-year wait.” Ben sat at his computer and turned it on. John did the same. “I’m sorry.” Ben turned toward him. “For what? Things happen, man.” John lost himself for the next few hours in his work, refusing to look around the room even between calls. He didn’t let himself use the bathroom until lunch break finally came. He waited an extra few minutes for everyone to leave before he first relieved himself, then walked into the break room where a light spattering of applause greeted him. He paused in the doorway. “Hey, alright, man. Take a seat.” One of the guys that came to the bar with their group stood up and directed John into his chair. “Thank you,” said a woman from the next table. “It’s nice to know we have another one on our side.” John looked at his hands, which were the same size as always. The clock read 12:18. “Here you go, everyone,” Susan said as she walked through the door. She held a white cardboard box in her hands and set it on the table on the opposite side of the room from John. “And let me just say again, finally, with you here, thank you to John for helping me with a, well, enthusiastic suitor last night.” The group of five other people offered their thanks and congratulations before they started pulling pizza-style slices of the giant cookie Susan had brought in with her. The gallery settled into their seats to eat their treats, along with whatever other food they had available to them. Susan sat next to John, who had yet to grab his lunch from the refrigerator. “What’s going on?” he whispered. “Why are they all cheering me for acting like a big jerk?” “Well,” Susan glanced around and leaned in. “That big guy isn’t around, so what’s the harm in telling people he was harassing me?” “Was he?” “Oh, no. Actually, he was just double-checking what drink he was going to buy me.” She smirked, but held back a laugh. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” “Don’t be. It’s fine. So, maybe you didn’t get taken to the dog park, or whatever, when you were younger. I get that. But it’s not like they’ve all been closed down for the last twenty years.” She nodded toward the white box. “Why don’t you go get
reclaim: son of a field negro | Desmond Beach
some cookie?â€? He thought back to three minutes before, when everyone was digging in the box with their bare hands. The same hands that had touched the door handle, and the chairs, and God knew what else since the last time they were washed. â€œGo on,â€? she said again. John looked to the box and back at her. She was smiling now. A beautiful, encouraging smile that was so pure and genuine, it felt like it had to be a dream. He thought back to his notebook, and all of the notes of the perfect version of himself. The dream version. Not as an escape, but more an exploration into the possibilities wrapped within him that only needed to be recognized to be tapped. His chair made a light squeaking sound on the linoleum floor as he stood. He walked over to the box, reached in with his normal-sized hand, and pulled out a triangle of the giant chocolate chip cookie. He looked back to the table where Susan watched him, still smiling. He lifted the cookie and took a bite from the end, with no napkin, and in front of everybody in the room.
born suspect by Mark Ali I am a born suspect, a man conceived by conceit. I am supposed to be nothing more than mere plot device, cutting room fodder for the scariest movie green lit. My rites of passage have been engineered by excoriating circumstances systemically codified since day one. I may be preaching to the choir, but see, I am a veteran of creative suffering. My whole existence heretofore has been predicated on abilities to nail jump shots, avoid cops, and duck stray gunshots. Maasai lion-hunting and Hamar bull-jumping sound safer than growing up black and male in these here United States. I don’t have the luxury of turning twenty-one; I had to make it here. Ta-da! Of course, I’ve been educated by movies, music, and the barbershop to pour one out on the curb for the homie who ain’t there, because, assuredly, someone who should be isn’t, either locked up or stretched out; their life compromised or cut short. The celebratory toast is somber. Each year the circle gets smaller, thoughts more sober, the continuum of loss spinning like a roulette wheel in the game show of life. Heavy-hearted black mothers thank the Lord their sons are still breathing one year after the previous passes by. Society wants to encroach on my mind a shackled consciousness, program me into believing a beginning is an end game, which is a whopper I can’t afford to buy. I knock on wood anyway, though. My born day falls on New Years. My golden birthday, the one where your actual age and day of birth coincide creating a total eclipse, was the first one I ever had. Go figure. Pretty much since then, personal anniversaries have come and gone without much pomp or circumstance, streamers, balloons or yellow cake. I am the holiday seasons’ orphan. When my mother was around, even Kwanzaa received more attention than the day of my birth, the kinara’s red and green candles flickering flames mocked me like raspberrying tongues, the black one in the middle flipping me the bird. Moms was so focused on being pro-black, she forget to be pro-son. “Habari Gani,” she would ask, the customary greeting during the Afrocentric holiday. On the last day of Kwanzaa, like today is, I would be expected to answer “Imani.” Faith, the seventh principle of Nguzo Saba, is lost on me; I’m having a hard time harvesting the spirit. I don’t know what the good news is, so how could I respond to the question affirmatively? I’ve received a revelation making my twenty-first graver than it should have been. My circle has become smaller. No resolutions this year, at 1:49 in the morning on the opening day of 1993, I am wide-awake contemplating life expectancy. Mulling over why the satisfaction of reaching twenty-one is more pressing than existing beyond it. I don’t agree with the thinking but I understand the thought process of why marginalized people celebrate the mundane as the magnificent. When fighting for your humanity, battling psychosis so you can keep your natural mind, the organic progression of coming-
of-age becomes millstones rather than milestones. Dawn is my lifeline, assisting my sanity. She’s letting me crash her pad between semesters. I’m on leave from the plantation I never imagined an athletic scholarship would be. It’s been no free ride, and Dawn understands being a college athlete, too. Her game, volleyball, is a fall sport, mine, basketball, is winter. The lights are switched off in her crib; the Times Square ball’s been dropped, the fireworks have fizzled, Dick Clark’s checked out, the boob tube’s blank, and I am lying on the floor, unable to count sheep or cop z’s. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep whenever I return to Oakland, difficult to rest peacefully when I come back to The Bay. I feel poles apart. I’m home but not at home, all points in-between and beyond viewed through the lens developed as a resident of port cities. My passport is locally stamped. Dawn’s apartment is small like most college students living on their own are. One bedroom. Hers is selectively furnished, sharply decorated. She’s living beneath her means. Smart cookie. I have yet to master the art of paying myself first like my grandmother preached. But Grams, who stepped in when my moms stepped out, would be pleased I have finally mastered the art of standing on my square without apologizing for standing up. A promise kept. The bathroom’s slightly bigger than an airplane’s lavatory. The mirror captured my sleep deprivation like an instant Polaroid, bleary eyes pairing fashionably well with the weary face staring back at me, the head jutting out from the university issued t-shirt I am outfitted in. The toilet flushed moments ago is whistling, wheezing. I jiggled the handle, hoping to hasten the flapper’s seal. Don’t want to disturb Dawn’s sleep. On the coffee table sits corner store bought bubbly and coasted half-empty plastic champagne flutes. A bowl of potpourri is the centerpiece; the smell of spring imbues the space. My beeper is on the end table by the cordless phone’s base, the receiver on the loveseat’s arm. There is no hangover to overcome, just duress to process, neither Dawn nor I could have anticipated when I answered the call. A friend has fallen. Unfortunately, I am intimately acquainted with sudden deaths. So much so, they are not shocking but surefire. I know time’s fleeting fickleness. I understand its’ fluidity can hit tsunami swift. This morning’s paper will have a splash page, the centerfold revealing the faces of each dropped body over the past year. The faces will be overwhelmingly male, black, and young. It has become a tradition the Trib established years ago when crack cocaine began shaking this earthquake state like “the big one” seismologists prognosticate and Hollywood makes blockbusters about, both science and fiction prophesying California as the next Atlantis. The aftershocks of this era I’ve grown up in have doubled the murder rates of people I played kickball with, blew spit bubbles at, fought for the empty rewards of gold stars and scratch-n-sniff stickers. “Habari Gani, Warren,” I ask myself. On the front page of the paper, a headline will say something alliterative about drug wars and collateral damage. The article will redirect the reader to an
insert laid out like a homicide yearbook, the mug of every life taken staring back with static faces. How their bucket was kicked will replace snarky senior quotes. Birthday horoscope be damned, a sick curiosity will not lead me downtown to De Lauer’s newsstand to purchase the paper to see if someone I know has died in the past year because I already know the answer to the pop quiz. A loss of dubious distinction is pulling me towards a harbor that can no longer be the safe haven it once was. While quick deaths are not anomalies where I’m from, this one hits home; it is not another face in the crowd, nor a casualty of war journalists will callously misreport. I’m no math major, but I know how per capita works; Oakland’s murder rate is fourth highest in the country; the average is mean. My friend is a statistic. I stare at the popcorn ceiling. Moonlight flickers. It bounces off the rocky crevices, growing bigger and smaller as darkness tides toward daybreak. Outside, cars whoosh back and forth on the nearby freeway. A ship’s horn blows softly, flitting through the atmosphere above the sounds sealing pavement, unbound by gravity to terrain slicker than wet. The rain is steady but not driving. Meteorologist describes this precipitation as a sheet, not a cover. The foghorn’s low steady tone is a gentle song. When I was younger, it lulled me into the fantasy of high hopes, but now, when I can sleep, my dreams are lucid, pragmatic. The same song won’t let me rest the same way anymore. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Tires screech, dogs bark, and shots hang in the air like a djembe struck on the edges by cracked hands, drumming unrest. The metronome of my heart beats at normal tick, no syncopation in my pulse. I am so used to a weapon’s mindless reverie, I can tell the discharges are ghosts, shots registering too many blocks over to flinch for. I find equanimity is key to surviving precarious times. No police ‘copters chopping. No ambulance sirens wailing. No black and whites flashing reds and blues. No alarm sounds. Circumspection makes one wait for a clue to act. The theme deafening: some losses are expected. That’s the true crime. The gun’s percussion is a downbeat riffing against the cascading rain’s natural jazz. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop.
Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. The faucet in Dawn’s bathroom leaks slowly. The fired shots from around the way ring rapidly. My consciousness cannot be compromised. In these moments it’s hard to discern past from present, the now from what’s next. A theory: life is comprised of finite moments lived in a binary world of one’s black, another’s white, the gray matter congealed. No wiggle room in calcified noggins. Those fired shots are embedded in my skull. They reverberate in my ears. Can’t shake them loose. The toilet’s waters are resting now, as Dawn is, and though I am still, my mind, like the dribbling faucet, methodically races. I imagine the drops are blood dripping from the body I hope hasn’t lost its life yet; blood I wish would have the chance to run a longer course rather than drain needlessly, without circumstance or pomp. “Wish in one hand, spit in the other,” Grams always said. “See which fills faster.” Someone somewhere is slumped on grass a dog has shat upon. Somewhere someone is facedown in the dew the early edition of the day’s newspaper will be tossed, the world’s cares bound by rubber bands, wrapped around coupons and advertisements. Somehow, someway, the trinity of carelessness, recklessness, and aimlessness have conspired in striking down, who I am certain, is another young black man, whom I’ll christen Josh. Someone somewhere played god, delivered judgment, confused wrath for redemption, forgot about salvation. This is the world baiting me, the undercurrent hounding me, the pathological limitations meant to drive me batty. Josh is dead. No, he met his demise. Yes, demise is better than dead. Yes, Josh met his demise swims about the brain better, instead of saying what can safely be said: homeboy got clapped. Not trying to blaspheme, just speak truth. Trying to dignify the downfall of a young man who had yet to fully develop. Make sense of the unjust. Josh has to be humanized. My breathless friend was a Josh-type. Joshes use words like “conversate” when talking to young ladies they refer to as “females;” they say “irregardless” when making a point to cats they don’t consider their “niggas.” Joshes can’t hold water or liquor. They are tough guys with raw nerves. They hound skirts and chase dead presidents. By the time puberty rolls around, they are already men in their houses. If their daddies haven’t ducked out, they slap box their sons so their boys’ hearts don’t “pump Kool-Aid.” Joshes put everything on their mommas, swear on unborn children. At an early age, they see manhood defined by crotch grabbing; hear cerebral matters described as soft tissue. Joshes are hard. They are products of their environment because the American way is social experimentation; the hypothesis based on pseudoscience. Regardless, loss of life is tragic. Joshes’ Achilles’ heel is the vindication of their manhood. Even though I am not a Josh, I can empathize because, I too am public enemy number one, persona non grata. The point of tragedy, as far as I understand it through my studies, ex-
perienced it through my travels, is to evolve, not mourn. There is still a future for Joshes, even if it’s only in memory; if they are remembered right and exact, they can live on. Grief should be brief. The leaking faucet is water torture. I imagine the sink pooling blood like the patchy lawn Josh has expired on. Dawn, my host, is good at drawing boundaries. We are close, more than friends, kissing cousins. More lingers. A simple look becomes a gaze. A cordial hug becomes an embrace. We have been tiptoeing around each other for years. She’s the neighborhood girl every guy wants to date, but since she won’t let anyone close the distance, Dawn is the block’s “little sis.” Her ability to play dominoes and refusal to talk in platitudes endears her to shit-talkers, straight shooters, and even tight-lipped fools like myself. Since my grandmother passed on, Dawn is the person I go to when I don’t want punches pulled. I can’t afford to lose any more friends, especially confidants. Around midnight, sitting next to my hostess, I channel Richie Cunningham, begin the yawn/stretch/hug move, but lacking the temerity to complete the play, there will be no Fats Domino lyrics sung; I can’t afford to score. “Birthday Boy,” Dawn told me. “You must be tired.” No thrill. “This couch is for sitting, not for sleeping.” No Blueberry Hill. “You’re right,” I said. “Hardwood is better for the back.” 9-1-1 beeps interrupted our hemming and hawing. Now, as I work out the crick in my neck, I smile at the thought of Dawn’s nickname for me, one earned honestly, an inside joke that began as a riddle. I was captured in the background of a birthday party pick when Dawn turned eight. Before we knew each other we had already met. The popcorn ceiling is beginning to look like cottage cheese. The raindrops blotting the windows can’t muffle the thought of ringing bullets. I hear stirring but no sirens. I listen for Dawn’s footsteps to soften the carpeted floor of her bedroom after the pistol’s concerto; she, like me, doesn’t move or make a peep because she, like me, has heard these instruments before. Gunshots are part of Oakland’s soundtrack, the score that’s mood music for the cinema playing out before me. Dawn is able to sleep through threats she most likely will never have to endure. Her thing is objectification. Mine is fitting the description. We are both tussling for a sense of ourselves, grappling with stigmata of stilted associations. I am hanging onto the sound of the ship in the distance. I imagine Josh has a mother who holds onto the bible as if it’s a lifesaver. She’ll call her pastor with the grave news because white Jesus ain’t answered her why pleas. The black reverend is an intercessor. As I think about it, I am sure Josh’s mother’s pastor is a resourceful type, a good preacher with a full flock, who has the softening of tragedy mastered so well his performance at the New Year’s Day service will look off the cuff, heartfelt, right down to the removing of his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose, readjusting his clerical collar. Anguish is a surefire winner.
Josh’s mother’s pastor sells hope, but he also serves common folk the dignity they suffer for. He will get the word then deliver it. He will use Josh as a symbol for those who have been brainwashed to glorify everything in excess but old age. Josh deserves that, along with his own headline in the news. Josh’s life is good copy. I hope he makes the late editions’ front-page, drive time’s first block. For Josh’s mother’s sake, I hope her boy is not buried between the advice column and funny pages. For Josh’s mother’s sake, I hope her child is not sandwiched between weather and traffic. A crease of light comes from Dawn’s bedroom. Josh’s mother’s pastor will draw on First Corinthians, redefining death. “Death is swallowed up in victory!!!” Josh’s mother’s pastor will draw on First Corinthians, taunting death. “O death, where is thy victory!?!” Josh’s mother’s pastor will draw on First Corinthians, belittling death. “O death, where is thy sting!?!” For a moment Josh’s mother, who has had to be a father, too, has to go to a special reserve to find the strength. She will feel a pang of relief sitting in the wooden church pew the morning of her mourning. An epiphany will wash over her like the rain baptizing Dawn’s building, cleansing the streets where blood runs to sewers. Josh’s mother will lose her wherewithal for just a squinch, will cry out to her Lord, “Hallelujah!” She knows society wants to rape her daughters, but, thankfully, she has no more sons to be preyed upon. Josh’s mother is tired. Josh’s mother’s pastor will wipe his brow with a monogrammed handkerchief, relieve his constipated face, rest his glasses on the pulpit, and begin speaking in tongues. Other parishioners will catch the Holy Spirit too, the reverend, never missing a beat, will lay hands on a tambourine. The choir will move in concert, sway in time, belting out “Wade in the Water.” The bedroom door closes; the sliver of light gone. Dawn walks into the living room, spreads a comforter on the floor next to me. She lays a pillow at the head of the makeshift bed, the single becoming a double. Like her feet, her face is bare. Dawn is wearing gray thermals, her hair is in a ponytail; the pulled back tresses reveal the warmth of her skin. We have twin complexions. Sometimes, when our deceased friend was joshing around, he called Dawn “redbone,” me “pretty boy” because I have “good hair.” Even in the muted darkness, she has radiance. Dawn says I see people inside out, but now, her eyes are the ones dead set. The only pretense in her adornment is the satin pillow she has tossed down, a luxury more function than form. Despite the prospects of another death, she is hell-bent on preserving the moisture in her hair. Dawn lies down, nudges me to roll over. I oblige. We are under the same cover now, her front side rests against my back. Soap is her perfume. Her knees draw my knees up. We are spoons resting, nestled like we’ve played house before. Dawn’s right hand finds mine. We lace fingers, rest hands, arms across my ribs, lie in the silence of our coupled breathing, our chests rising and falling rhythmically. Woo-woo-woo, the black and whites flash reds and blues.
Whoop-whoop-whoop, the police ‘copter chops overhead. Whoot-whoot-whoot, the ambulance is wailing. Rain splatters all around. “Warren,” Dawn says. Her voice is like dessert before dinner. Knowing what is, I imagine what could be, and save myself from putting a size thirteen in the kisser remembering her liberal use of “finger quotes.” Dawn doesn’t wait for my response, instead of whispering sweet nothings, offers me food for thought. “You have to deliver the eulogy.” “Why me?” “Why not you?” Dawn turns me over as she rises to get up, taking the cover with her. I watch her make way in the gray light, following the contour of her body in the shadows to the love seat, where she sits down, pats the cushion. I accept the invitation, taking comfort in the seat offered. Dawn hands me a champagne flute. We click glasses to a wordless toast, a suspicion that’s no longer suspect: my personal anniversary was never meant to be mine, and mine alone. “He self-destructed,” I say. I take a sip of the dry brut wishing it were liquid courage. We set the glasses back on the coasters. Dawn spreads the cover across us. She nuzzles the crown of her head into the crook of my neck, makes my chest her home. Her legs are drawn up behind her as she lies against me. My left elbow sits on the armrest. I place the cordless phone in its cradle. My right arm wraps around Dawn’s side. I hold on to the waistband of her hugging thermal bottoms. In the distance, I hear a foghorn murmuring. It cuts through the ruckus outside Dawn’s crib. “Can’t be the end of his story,” she says. Kwanzaa comes back to mind. Think of the communitarian philosophy beyond the holiday’s creation, an essential ideology for an uprooted people who are dying to get beyond stereotypical roles cast upon them. I have been looking cock-eyed at something I should’ve seen sideways. My focus was off. The answer to today’s’ question is that good news lies in faith’s conviction, a gospel I need to spread because it has to be heard. Despite my apprehension, I need to be resolute. Can’t bite my tongue. Dawn’s my captive audience. I begin telling her how I made it here so I can find the words to express why our friend didn’t.
fleet intoxication of flowers by Luther Kissam So often you give it up easy: nectar yielded to bee from flower. He is not the bee, this is not that poem, you are not that flower. To yield is the key and love is the vector. On sad days, he is spent, lank, but limpid. You are the nectar and he is the flower. He gives you up, reformed collector. You bend to this; you yield. No, you bend to love, yield to love, he is love, love is the flower. The parameters of this poem, its directive, restrict transcendence. It must not always be you yielding, while he gives up, somewhere a flower.
wake | Tracy Pitts
You are not you, neglected. He is not him, rejecting. All around the world shadows, yous and hes, meet and love and yield; give in to the fleet intoxication of flowers.
Attic of the skull by Natalie Homer As children, we thought the old milk door was for fairies. And the willowâ€”on its east side, a withered face in the bark. Finding wild strawberries was a novelty then, and still is, though they are tiny and tart. The garage we called a treasure room, climbing and tunneling through the junk, discovering a stained-glass lamp, one empty wing of a dollhouse, a beaded doorway. At some point, knowledge replaces faith and is called maturity. What lesson is there to learn when every day the dog tunnels closer to escape until he is gone completely? Today: one emerald earring down the drain and the daffodils rippled like wet paper.
how to gorge by Krystin Santos It is a human right: to eat. Begin with this idea, stir in your own unique level of laziness. Begin with moving 600 miles from home. Months and months before moving to this place, allow the stress to consume your diet. Allow applications for jobs and apartments to consume your hypothalamus; quiet the request for hunger. Drop a quick forty pounds, the thinnest you’ve been (and probably will be, if we’re being honest). Look at yourself and see the bone structure underneath flesh. Feel the shoulder caps underneath your palms, run fingertips around in circles over the curved humerus. Look as if you’re almost ill—almost being the key word. Actually move those 600 miles. Feel the stress bubbling and boiling right between the skin and bone of your chest. Let the stress consume you in any way you know how. Here are a few suggestions to get you through: lay on the couch for hours, no, make it days (to the point where you dream of bed sores coating your legs—or the day when you’d have so little to do that this would be possible); eat everything bad for you that you’ve been restricting yourself from—double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s, ketchup only; Taco Bell five-dollar boxes (multiple nights a week, with as many mild packets the drive thru will give you); fluffernutters back to back (toasted—feel that fluff warm and oozing out the sides of almost-burnt bread down your hand, past your wrist. Lick it); bags and bags of Sour Patch Kids. Rack up fast food and gas station receipts, stuff them somewhere in your car you can’t see. It’s important to not let them remind you what you’re eating. Do this until you feel your presence. With every step you take, feel the jiggles and the fat that spills from jeans. Write on white boards and be conscious of the fat that jiggles from your arm. Feel your body push against your clothes. Outgrow the fattest of your fat jeans. Eat some more. See your family for the first time after moving, listen to them stumble over words—“Here’s my…big girl.” Listen later as your mom tries to convince you that your dad just meant older, more mature. Tell yourself you’ll eat better. Tell this to yourself every day. For months. Fuck it, for a year. Just keep on, keepin’ on. Get a gym membership, just for some extra flavor. A few conversation pieces to have with your family and friends who are talking about going low carb, sugar free, vegan, dairy free, and gluten free. Listen while you see how fast you can stomach two double cheeseburgers. Tell them work’s going great. Start eating better—by better, mean that you’re going to cook. Cook comfort foods—stress bake, your new favorite. Chicken potpies. Sweet chili and honey cornbread. Meatballs slow-cooked in a Crockpot until the meat almost crumbles. Coffee cake. Taco Tuesdays that last five days—hey, leftovers do make damn good burrito bowls. Listen to coworkers smell and ask about your lunches; “Is that… homemade chicken pot pie? How did you do that?” Mouth full, let the leftover taste soak into your tongue. Take pictures with your friends. See their slim bodies next to yours as you feel
the double chin pressing into your face, as you view the picture. Watch them get sick and vomit in bar bathroom stalls after taking one sip from your frozen piña colada. “I haven’t had sugar or gluten in six months.” Ask them “What even is gluten?” as you down dollar shots of you don’t even know what. “It’s pretty much in everything. You feel fine?” “Yeah, but I’m also a piece of shit.” Ask if they want some pizza. Watch their drunk snack be hard boiled eggs. Try not to gag. Promise yourself you’ll start eating better. Feel your belt have to be moved one more notch.
a weed is not defined by Christopher T. Keaveney A weed is not defined by its lack of beauty or by its lack of anything, but by the where and the when and by the company it keeps. Consider the flush of green wholly unwelcome this morning in the corner of the raised bed, the wildflowersâ€™ cat spy from behind the barrow, or the creep of moss discovered along the garden path
home | Mali Fischer
that had the decency at least to serve as a motherâ€™s excuse to kneel down for a kiss on the forehead when her son least expected it.
from her diary by Lisa Brognano God didn’t explain his reasons to me about replanting that tree in the middle of the garden, at the nexus of several flowering bushes on either side, magnified by glorious blooms, petals so interlocked. What an array of beautiful plants, each clinging to the path, what lush holdovers of what could have been— Surely, Adam tells me not to blame myself for the events of that first day But before the thunder came and boomed, prior to the shake of olive trees, the coarse, grim rumble of stunned animals, howls loud enough to split the earth in two— I sensed I was being watched; of my own accord, I followed the woman past the hills and into the desert, drank when she drank, slept when she slept.
as dawn breaks by Jeni De La O
wailing through the stillness of my fears made manifest,
come blue come red
blowing through the fresh splintered hearts of palms and grass and Spanish-tiled roofs,
come blue come red
pages and pages of life everlasting, baptismal waters from which we cannot rise;
fresh II | David RodrĂguez
come blue come red
In the courtyard by Blake Campbell Shielded from winter in a hothouse of opulence, a minor Eden stretches at our feet. Glass panels overhead admit the midday January light, feeding the fiddle—no, celloheads of giant tree ferns unfurling into fronds. Pieces of antiquity —stone fish, mosaics, marble limbs— sit nakedly among new growth, a carpet of green. Come April, I tell you, nasturtium will pour from the balconies in cascades of flame. Photos aren’t permitted up there, where restored portraiture preserves the looks of another age. Here, the brightest colors come from potted orchids your hand grazes as we pass, orchids with petals like pink Rorschach ink blots on flesh-white paper, orchids with purple freckles shaped like the tiny doves that spill from a shattered sand dollar. These flowers unfold as if inked to extract, reshape, and craze the substance of the brain into symmetries, blurred but familiar, which by their very opening defy the unabating cold outside.
Childless Madonna | Fierce Sonia
setting a house on fire by Julia Eagleton There is a bonfire in my abdomen and it burns, prickling ablaze, devouring. A piling of leaves and sticks, lit for delight. A match struck, the flame is in my mind and in my palms: incineration of touch. They warm their hands over me. A skeleton is forming and it is crushing my vertebra. Eight weeks, He says, the size of a kidney bean. I squirm. I squirm because there is a leak under my sink; I squirm because the due date is the same as my final exam; I squirm because I am still on my mum’s health insurance plan. You should avoid rare or undercooked meats, unpasteurized cheese and milk, high mercury content fish such as tuna, raw shellfish, raw eggs, soft cheeses, unwashed vegetables, coffee, and obviously NO smoking and NO alcohol. I squirm at the thread now tying me to Him, my hands behind my back. DO exercise, with caution, of course. The list seems to go on and on. What I can and can’t eat, do, say. I’ll eat it all. I start to take notes, DO’s and DONT’s. I add his DONT’s to my DO’s. Oh and don’t eat shark. He gives me a wink. I add shark to the DO’s and then I also add, DO don’t eat AT ALL. There is a shark in my abdomen. The Doctor flashes his Cresta teeth.
Come back in four weeks and we’ll do another scan. But there’s something that I’ve come to ask, so I pivot with my callous bump. I gauge what is about to fall out of my mouth, size him up, put a ratio to his certificates, scan the family photographs that circus his wall. I am looking for affiliations, signs, but he doesn’t give much up. So I shy to the left and avoid eye contact as he packs away the transducer and gel. Two is too much in here. The limbs, hormones, thoughts, stacking one on top of the other. I, Him, We are now a Human Jenga. And he sees it, offering a torturous smile. Everyone who comes in here is nervous. It’s an exciting time. I mute myself, and him. There is bile in my throat and I know it’s my body attacking itself, submerging organs with alkaline fluid and salts. Masochism. I actually wanted to ask you something, To which his smile wrings and I wonder if he’s heard this before. There are rumors that some doctors still, I hesitate because I don’t know how to say it, or even if there is a word for it anymore. I know it has been removed from the Oxford English Dictionary because I tried to look it up the other day and the words skipped straight from aborning, “coming into birth”, to abortus fever, which is a bacteria causing sickness. It’s a stark exclusion, and I am the bacteria here. The concept has been completely erased from screens, paper, minds. Where do all the lost children go? I’ve heard rumors that some doctors still, you know. He turns his back now as he puts away his clamp and flings his gloves into the trash. There is no reply, perhaps he didn’t hear, perhaps he doesn’t know what you know means. And I know that I am the child in this room because I suddenly wish my mum was here to tell him exactly what I’m talking about. I can’t help you. He doesn’t turn; he won’t look at me. That will be all, see you in a few weeks, NO alcohol and NO smoking. Splinters of sweat start to form, attempted murder, they would call it. I think about telling him why, about Him, but I can feel the bile again, and my pupils are throb-
bing so much that crystals of light are coming in, piercing dew. On my way out I see that there’s a poster on the waiting room wall, and I wish I had seen it before. A small baby is being pulled out of a uterus with forceps and a clamp, limbs being pulled apart one at a time as it grasps for skin. The child is literally being crushed by tongs, a living organism; it has legs and arms and a face. Another poster shows it being sucked out of a tube and pulsed, as if pressed through a Vitamix. And it reads, LET ME LIVE and GIVE ME A VOICE TOO. It looks like a squished pomegranate. In the parking lot it finally comes up, the hatred and the fear and the bile, it stinks and it’s all over me. I have a poison inside and can’t—don’t—know how to get it out. When I get home I google my options, how to, you know, but the flashing red tape comes up and I quickly shut it down. Shit. I pull the wires out and reboot it, clearing all history, cache, and then I do it again, and again. I look back at my DO’s list, DO eat tuna DO smoke DO drink DO don’t eat AT ALL. DO don’t eat AT ALL. DO don’t eat AT ALL. I will have to starve it out. I take the vegetables from my fridge and I throw them into the trash, along with the milk and everything, except for a can of half eaten kidney beans, which I pour into a bowl and stare into, and then I squash them one by one with both my fork and my evil eye before emptying them into the toilet. I flush it. ...... In lectures I avoid The Friend, because I have a disease and I don’t want her to catch it. I don’t want her to tempt me with her fries, and most of all I don’t want her to know what is underneath, that an intruder has bed-in. My skin is crawling, so I go to a nearby bathroom and scrub it, the filth, the bacteria that is eating me from the inside out. Abortus-fever. I can’t let anybody know; I am ashamed, so I hide from her and from The Parents and from Him. And I hide from myself. It is the only thing that I cannot hide from. I throw up but nothing comes out except more of the alkaline, green and yellow, a fowl mouth, because I haven’t eaten today. Some people come and go, I let them know I’m fine and then I stick my fingers back down my throat so hard that I catch some skin on my nails and my eyes feel heavy with liquid and bile. In the mirror I look bloated and puffy, and so I return to class and hide behind my
glasses and a book, hoping no one will see me, us. The Friend keeps trying to get my attention and I pretend I am in the thick of a calculation, but in truth I am thick in my mind and my stomach. ...... Come home for Sunday lunch? She says. I wonder how I can get out of this. I am now a fugitive. Why do you keep cancelling my calls? Are you ok? Your sister will be home on Sunday too. She is a natural mother—she knows how to nurture and she will not fail it. I am not natural like her; my hair is an off yellow and my nails are a chipped red. She has called more in the last twenty-four hours than she has this month. She knows, and she wants to give it life, or save a life. I delete her messages and block her number because I have to stay focused. I feel the pains in my stomach, cramps and lethargy, and I hope it feels it too. ...... Day five now and I’ve made good progress. I’m down seven pounds, but my heartburn is on the up. I ration myself, a few nuts and pieces of fruit each day. When I get hunger pains I fill myself with water and coffee. The skin is starting to sag from my cheeks and I look gray. I am taking control of MY OWN BODY, I say to myself. My t-shirts hang off my shoulders and my jeans slip around my waist. This is what taking control of one’s body looks like. But a slight curve, an apex, is forming where my stomach was once flat. I lie on it on the hard wood floors of my apartment and hope that the autumn cold will seep into my bones and crush it, just like the fork did. ...... Day six and I’m sleeping a lot. I try not to leave the house because I’m ravenous at times, and I don’t want to slip up. I read a story about a family in Montana that mainly lives on earth energy and I stare at a tree outside my window. I meditate on hunger, but it doesn’t stop the hurt. I look for a number, someone that might be able to help. You’re burning me, I say to it. The pain is excruciating at times. I realize I need a back up plan in case this doesn’t work. I stick my finger in my navel cavern and twist. I am shrinking to meet its size; a child carrying a child. With each inch that it grows, I am losing to it. We are fighting for this territory; we are battling to inhabit this space. There is a single piece of bread in my freezer and I think about devouring it.The piece I’ve hidden from eyesight for emergencies, or for when it finally disbands. I MUST STARVE IT
OUT, I MUST STARVE IT OUT.
...... On the website for Planned Parenthood I find a number and call up for an appointment, but I don’t know what to tell the lady because there isn’t an option anymore for, you know. Birth control and emergency contraception have now also been removed, so I panic and say STDs. Anything in particular you are coming in for? Symptoms? I can hear her scratching notes, and I scratch my mind for names I once heard in sex-ed years ago. Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, um probably. I’m not sure. Not a problem, we’ll run a thorough test once you get here later today, 5PM. What did you say your name was? I hang up. The bile is back. What if they report me, what will I say? Four years, it declares online, for attempted, you know. I feel like I am being watched by it—by them. There are eyes in my stomach and on the walls and in the sky. And on screens—often on screens. I wonder where the protesters and the underground networks went. I wonder how to make contact, if they could help, but they seem to have been erased too. ...... It’s Sunday and my ribs are sticking out. That’s good, I think as I inhale a Marlboro Red. Without food I have a lot more time to think during the day, but a lot less I want to think about. I want to hide my thoughts, from them. This is a waiting game—sleeping lions. I think that if I stay still and pretend to be dead, perhaps it will give up and die too. Perhaps if I play dead The Parents will stop contacting me and let me finish this alone, but they don’t. She’s at the door and I see her red hair bobbing over the glass as she forces the bell. I return to sleeping lions, but she doesn’t go away. She knows I’m in here and she’s going to force me out. So I hide the butts and vodka and let her in. She doesn’t say anything. She just looks at me and stands exactly in the same place, as if there might be an ambush, but she doesn’t know that she’s right; there is, and it’s inside of me. So she pulls me in. What on earth are you up to?! Stupid girl, where have you gone? As she pulls at skin and hair and clothes. She’s right, I have gone, I am losing to it; it is starving me out and I am half not here anymore.
She pulls me in. I push it out. I knew something was wrong. You’ve been behaving strangely for months. She puts me in the car and drives me all the way home, preaching about “girls these days” and “models” and whatever else, but nothing that’s really relevant. I look down at this thing that is now a barrier, a wall between her and me. At home I know I will be forced to eat whatever she has prepared for lunch, and to talk about normal things while everyone pretends I’m okay. I hope they don’t see it, because now that all my clothes are so loose on my bones, it looks even larger than it did before—or maybe it’s just because it’s growing, feeding on my muscles and cartilage. I’m right. The Family does stare at me, it, us, and I look back at them with my black irises. I stare right back until they look away. They are afraid of me and what I have become; they can see the poison. I want to shout at them JUST SUCK IT OUT THEN. You’ve lost a lot of weight, they say. They are concerned about the acute angles of my hipbones and the limpness of my hair. They’re right, so I just nod while I watch The Mother slather my plate with sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, and a leg of chicken. If it makes it to week eighteen it will be a sweet potato, I think, so I immediately take my fork and strike it repeatedly until it is squashed into a pathetic pulp. To their stares I respond, I like it mashed. I wash it down, them watching for a trick. She looks at him, and I look at her and she looks at me; we are all uncomfortable in this scenario, so I excuse myself upstairs and expel my mash in the bathroom. You won’t win this. ...... We are going to test you for everything since you are not sure, but I have a few questions first. Age: 19 Last intercourse: 67 days I say, because I have been counting how many it takes to starve out a human, Marion Wallace Dunlop achieved 91 hours. Susana Bejarano of Asociación Ve-la Luz lasted 25 days. Nationality of sexual partners in the last two years: Just one, American.
Protection: No, no one was protecting me, us, no protection. Pause. Her eyes move between us, and then back to the clipboard. Pregnant: I don’t say no. I don’t know what to say so I just say, I’m just a child. And then she plunges a needle into my arm before handing me a swab. I start to feel comfortable around her, and I get the impression that she cares. I think she must be a mother too. I will tell her when I get back from the bathroom, I’ll tell her my period is late and I don’t know what to do. But when I get back she is gone, and another lady has appeared. You’re all done, we’ll send you the results in a few weeks. The bile is back, but this time there really is nothing coming up—just an insipid residue because my stomach has been running on almost empty for eleven days. Apart from a few berries here and there, a few sips of vodka, and the Marlboro Reds, which I don’t mind that much actually. I think about telling this lady anyway because what’s the worst that can happen. A few weeks is too long; it will be an apple by then. Each week I continue my ritual by bringing the respective fruit into the house and crushing it. Sometimes I stick pins into it, and sometimes I just stare at it with my evil eye, burning a hole right through it. I think I might be pregnant, I say, and I watch the words come out of my mouth and go into her ears and now I really can’t go back because more than one person knows. Should I ask her to, you know? I can’t have a baby. I say, and she absorbs everything but says nothing, and I know now that she has heard this before. Unfortunately, the physician has now gone for lunch. Would you like to wait until she comes back? I say yes and I walk to the waiting room where three more young girls cup their abdomens, hiding their pale faces and dark eyes. I just keep walking through the waiting room and through the car park and through a park and then a shopping
mall, until I realize I have been walking for a long time and my legs hurt and I have no energy to walk anymore. I lie face down in a quiet corner and put pressure on my belly, hoping that my small bones still have enough weight left in them to squash it. A mother walks over to me with a small child in a pram, and I think FUCK mums, why are they always trying to help me? Why won’t they let me starve it out or crush it? I get up quickly and walk away from her. It’s now a passion fruit, and although they are my favorite fruit, I buy one at a nearby stall and I squeeze it under my foot. That’s when I see it, a chemist, and it seems so obvious to me now. I can kill it with paracetamol, laxatives, or something stronger—cough syrup. I scour the aisles. I stop by the once contraception aisle, which just has a red sign NO LONGER STOCKING. Next to it are nappies and baby cream. I want to kick it down, to smash it to pieces and set it on fire; blister it like it has me, singed my intimacy and my thoughts. But I don’t, I walk calmly on to the chemist where I buy two packs of paracetamol and some cough syrup. I take these back to my car across the mall and park, smoking a Marlboro in the yard while I sip my Tylenol. The Friend keeps calling and leaving messages about something happening at a warehouse over on the west side, but I know He will be there. So I reply Sorry, I’ve got an infection, better steer clear for a few days. The infection is in my stomach and my mind and out there on a screen and the streets, and they are all part of it. If you set a house on fire, the squatters will flee. ~ But when I get home, she is already there. You do look sick, pretty pale. You know, you’ve lost a lot of—you. What’s the infection? Contagious? Her bangs move against her full cheeks. She’s not worried. Yes, highly. I’m toxic, see all these meds? You can come in for a drink, but I won’t be able to go anywhere. I pour her a glass of vodka and myself one too. We toast. Cheers to you getting skinny, She says, and so I reply
Yeah, cheers to that. She sips slowly, but by this stage I can sink it down, so I fill my glass up again and again. So, do you want to go to this party? She insists. He keeps asking about you, you know. I think about his head as that passion fruit, or sweet potato or kidney bean, and squashing it. Look, I told you, I’ll infect everyone. But she knocks back her drink and grabs my hand, pushing me into the beat-up station wagon her dad left her for graduation. Come on, you’re always at home these days. BORING. I’m feeling pretty light headed, so I don’t resist, and perhaps this will be a good opportunity for me to get revenge, but probably not. I hope he’s not there. Before I can jump out, she’s teasing fifth gear and a billboard flies by overhead advertising the new Shadow pram, four seater, comes free with a baby carrier. She looks about fifteen and a thick white smile is plastered on her face, but I know exactly what she’s thinking. And I know they’re watching me and my computer, and probably my cell as well. And then it rings, You came into the practice a few days ago? Yes. And I understand you have some confidential business you would like to discuss? That’s correct. Is this a trap? Please come by as soon as you can today, we’ll stay open.
Right. That’s the doctor, I say, Drop me off, I have to get back to town. The Friend tries to resist but my eyes are ringing red and my sallow skin sinks into her, so she pulls up on a curve and sends us out. ...... I knock a few more paracetamol back as I walk into the practice. This time it’s empty, except for an old woman at the desk who says nothing, but points me down a long hallway, towards the back room. I saunter by, my body giving in to the meds and the alcohol and the weight of this other that’s fighting for space and life, a parasite. It’s the same lady who was there the first time. My back is a curve, flexing under the pressure. How far along are you? I can see her thinking as she looks at it. I’m twelve weeks now and it’s starting to form fingernails, toenails, and bones, apparently. And a thin film of hair. Peach. I’m sorry honey, but we can’t do a procedure anymore. There are some places that are willing, but we can’t take that risk. There are some spots over the border where it is still legal, but you would have to move quickly because you’re almost at the limit for most countries that are still, you know. The bile, rage. IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I want to scream. IT WASN’T MY CHOICE. But I don’t. I start to cry silently, and then hysterically. She hovers around with an arm pattering over me. The only thing I can offer is a pill, but it usually has to be taken up to eight weeks, so the chances of it being effective are very slim. I have seen it work before, but not this far along. I’ll take it. I’ll take anything. You take this now, and then these in three days. Come back and see me in a week. There will be side effects: bleeding, diarrhea, infection, vomiting, nausea, cramps. Just come back if anything feels weird, okay?
As soon as I get it, I down the pill with two more paracetamols and a Marlboro Red. I take the bus home in a languid haze. In my room I take all of my clothes off and lie on my bed, putting my hand around my ribs and breasts, and hips. I try to grab at something, but it’s all limp, swallowed away. My breasts are so small now, smaller than a kumquat, which is what it was two weeks ago. I think it’s a girl because I keep on dreaming about eating cherries and I imagine that’s something a girl would want to eat. Boys don’t care about cherries. I lie and I wait. My, our body is exhausted. We are waiting for something to move. ...... When she stops by to check on me that afternoon I pause for the bite, for the devil’s tongue, but she looks at me and she wraps a blanket around me. Filling me back in, hiding the slightness of my thighs. You’re glowing. If you’re happier like this, you can be the shape you want to be, you know. As long as you’re happy. You don’t need to hide from us and stop coming home. My body is hiding itself, I want to say.
We both wait for something to move.
She doesn’t know what the weight is, but I do, because I’m carrying it, and it’s straining my back and my legs and my insides. It’s straining my conscience and my mind. I’m hungry, starving, I want to say, for my old self, for my mother, to be close again. I wonder if telling her will make it go away. Perhaps she will know how to make it go away. But perhaps she is one of them too. I don’t say anything, because I’m a murderer and if I say it out loud I will be one forever. They’ll look at me with the same eyes they did before. I’m happy. I say to her with my black irises. I imagine she can see through me, because she knows me. But, my secret now means that she doesn’t know me at all. I detach from it and I detach from her too. We are both mothers now, but I have made us aliens to creation. The innocence is no longer shared. We, three, are waiting for something to move.
...... I stopped going to class a while ago because I was starting to look suspicious, and I didn’t want to get pulled aside and found out by one of the professors. The number of cases in the news has increased. Every other week another arrest; the leader of an underground guerrilla group, or a girl. What about the men, the fathers? Most recently a fifteen-year-old, eight years for twins. They’re all watching and it’s impossible to tell who is who anymore. It’s better to stay home until it’s over and claim grave health problems, which is sort of true. I used to watch cases flicker on the news, between breakfast, eating my toast and swiping Instagram, but now I wonder, will I be on display one day soon? I look at the screen, and contemplate, is someone looking back at me? The Doctor has left me a few messages. I screen his calls and worry about our conversation and who he knows, and that he’s expecting me to come in for a check up soon. I block his number too. ...... Apparently it’s a lemon now and it has vocal chords. It’s day three of the course, so I swallow the remaining pills and wait. Tick tock. We’re both waiting now. I’m mute, but I wonder if in there she is giving a scream. Murderers, they say. You should have been protecting me. We wait. The cramps are getting worse, as if an abrasive scrub is being forced against my organs, and I feel like I might be sick, but nothing comes out because there’s really nothing inside. As I squirm I see that a few drops melt into the sheets, bright red, but they’re small and insubstantial and by the time it’s night they completely stop. My body has totally given up, given in. It’s been taken over, claimed. The flames have been stamped out and the squatter sits still. I don’t know if it is alive or dead, but it’s still there nonetheless. We are both exhausted. ..... I return. It didn’t work, some blood, but not much. She looks defeated, and I know she’s given that face before. I’m sorry. She says, The only other option you have is contacting a, you know. But I really don’t know this time.
Just call this number. They might be able to help. I’m entering the second trimester now. It’s a nectarine and if it’s still alive then its organs are formed. I feel sick to think that it’s half me and half— But it’s still a parasite of its own and I need it gone, so I dial the number. I’m given an address and instructions. DO come alone DO bring cash DO delete this number DO DON’T eat at all for eight hours before DO DON’T drink for one hour before DO DON’T drink alcohol 24 hours before
DO DON’T take Aspirin 24 hours before I—we arrive at the front door, a skeleton of myself, now, with a welt hanging from me. I have aged, we have aged together. This fight has aged us both and we are tired and weak. My elbows and cheeks are sharp like forks, like the divergent I have become, and my ankles are cawing. He looks at me, pitiful but lacking in surprise. I know he’s seen this before. I wonder if there’s a word for us, murderers. Fourteen weeks is it? You’re not the latest I’ve had walk through this door. This doesn’t look much like a doctor’s office, but he says I should call him Doctor, so I hand him the cash, my college fund for the next semester. He leads me through his home into a room with a surgical table and instruments. Sharp lighting beats down. The Stranger offers me a gown and I get up in the chair, with my legs in stirrups while he flings a bucket underneath. The table is dirty with stains, but thankfully the curtains are heavy, dim out, outside, this. And then he tugs, and I feel something pull, like she’s holding on. He didn’t say it would hurt, like your insides being turned out, like a razor scraping skin, and there’s no anesthesia. She’s digging her nails in, clawing. And then I feel it puncture. The cervix will bleed a little, nothing to worry about. I try not to look at her, but there is blood now, lots of blood, and then I see her fall into the bucket, parts of her. Smatterings of pomegranate. The bleeding may go on for a few days. You can wear this.
He hands me an adult sized nappy, and I put it on. My organs raped, I stand a child again, barely. ...... I drive home in a blur and a fever and a rawness. I can feel that there has been a dismembering of us both. I donâ€™t know where the pain is because I can feel it all over, in my eyes that are full and my ears that are humming, and in the part that is no longer there, the part thatâ€™s in a waste disposal bag. ...... She stays with me for four days. Itâ€™s just fever. She says, but I keep her near, we wait for inertia, for the bleeding to stop and the heat to dissipate. I cling to her, latch on. And without question, she stays.
Featuring: Maddie Woda ■ Mark ali ■ Jeni De La O ■ Anna Martin ■ Fierce Sonia ■ Josh Rank
Eagleton ■ Desmond Beach ■ Jared Lipof
Brognano ■ Gloria Keeley ■ Jenny
Rossi ■ Luther Kissam ■ Avi-Yona Israel ■ Caroline Chavatel ■ David Rodríguez ■ Gabriel Furshong ■ Mali Fischer ■ Tracy Pitts ■ Christopher T. Keaveney ■ Melinda Ruth ■ Robert Sumner ■ Alex Duensing ■ Natalie Homer ■ Rebecca Pyle ■ Elizabeth Sunflower
Volume 47 of The Emerson Review, published in May 2018.