GUEST EDITORS Kevin Burdette received a Masterâ€™s degree in Vocal Performance from the Julliard School and is a bass who will be returning to the Metropolitan Opera this fall in The Nose. Shannon Caley is a community college student, focusing on bringing eco-friendly innovations into everyday living. Natalia Cortez Burdette received a law degree from the University of Michigan and is the associate general counsel at Teach for America in New York. Patty Dann is the author of three novels, STARFISH (forthcoming), SWEET & CRAZY, and MERMAIDS, which was made into a movie, starring Cher, Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci. She currently teaches at the West Side YMCA in NYC. Cate Norian holds a BA in photography from Brooks Institute of Photography, a BA in political science from Kenyon College, and is a photo editor and photographer currently working in Los Angeles. FOUNDERS Vanessa Jimenez Gabb Crissy Van Meter ASSISTANT EDITOR Jessica Gray
FICTION Not the First Time | Joshua Keefe | 5 Lisa and Jack | Barbara Nishimoto | 9 UHF | Todd Covalcine | 14 Stopover | Monica Macansantos | 21 All Boy | Travis McDonald | 38
POETRY the ouroroboric lines of communication | Michael Naghten Shanks | 46 Room on Fire | Lindsay Daigle | 47 Sonnet | Anthony Opal | 49 like a piano I once saw at the Palmer House | Jim Warner | 50 The Music Behind Them | Lenny DellaRocca | 51
Not the First Time | Joshua Keefe
I saw it coming. I know I wasn’t the only one either, because I heard a scream right before it happened, right before the crowd-silencing thud. And then, after that thunk, or what have you, the silence broke open and then there was a cascade of screaming that rolled over the park. I swear the wind picked up, the trees shivered. It was everywhere. But right before that, there was a different kind of human noise. I guess you could call it a shriek. Or a targeted yell with an intended recipient. It was wordless, only air ablaze, it was a warning noise, base and primal, language’s antecedent, the lung as muscle, trying to grab and pull trajectories and alter Euclidean fate, bludgeoning another into attention and situational awareness. Trying to stop what was about to happen by force of breath. I don’t know if that ever works. I am answering your question. Listen. We were in the park, I remember I had just taken a shower and shaved and the fall wind chilled my bare chin. I was wearing a red sweater she bought me and accused me of never wearing. I was desperate for her forgiveness. We were speaking in very somber tones. We lowered our voices when we said certain things, as if anyone around was capable of hearing or caring. She brought the dog; we had a dumb springer spaniel at the time, and we both patted and stroked it very lovingly, buying time when we ran out of things to say to each other. I was watching this kid. He was there with his dad. The Dad looked like he was in his thirties but he was already gray, one of those Steve Martin types. In spite of the fall air he was wearing cargo shorts and sandals with all the straps that are supposed to make the sandals “active.” He was tossing a tennis ball to the kid, and the kid could catch, and he could throw, and he couldn’t have been older than seven, eight years old. Dad was rolling him grounders and he was doing it too softly at first; they were dying in the park grass. But after the first couple he started throwing them harder, and they might take a bad hop and get by the kid, who had what looked like a green plastic baseball glove, but he got in front of most of them. And when he fielded them cleanly, he threw it back in a way that I could tell shocked and delighted Dad, who had the gray soul patch and the logoless baseball cap of a graphic designer or a high school drama coach. Whereas the Dad brought the ball back to his ear to throw it, the kid took the ball from his glove and let his arm swing through its full range of motion before turning his hips, effortlessly transferring the little weight he had underneath his GAP
sweatshirt, and firing the ball back at his old man. He was a natural athlete (I think he even twirled his way into a major league crow hop during one of his longest throws). I stroked the dog and nodded, scared of my chance to reply to what was being said to me. “Watch this kid,” I told her. “I know. Sorry. I’m listening. But seriously, just watch him. Look how graceful he is. It’s amazing.” Then the Mom approached them. She put down a younger boy who had brown curls pooling at the base of his bike helmet, and he ran toward his older brother with the kneeless gait of a toddler. Mom kissed the Dad, and she put on a glove of her own. She had short hair and thick hips that funneled upward into a small torso. “Maybe she’s the athlete,” I told my wife. “It’s definitely not coming from Dad.” The younger one yelled as he ran after the ball, and it was its own kind of yell, the yell of a child announcing his presence to the world, the true example of which always seems devoid of self-consciousness, which is a quality that disappears with diapers: that ability to broadcast your presence and make everyone aware of you in a guileless way, to draw attention without stealing it from others or using it to hide from yourself. He yelled and he got the ball and I remember being disappointed. It meant fewer repetitions for the athlete I wanted to see, the future shortstop for whoever had the money to spend fifteen years from now. The younger brother stomped after the ball in yellow rain boots that were incongruent with the brittle leaves that were occasionally cycloning throughout the park. “Throw it at me hard,” the older one yelled as he watched his brother hold the ball in a throwing position, soaking up parental encouragement, and then dropping it behind him as he pushed his wristless arm toward his parents. “I know you love me,” she said. “But you think that’s enough.” I watched her eyes when she said this, I focused on the black stillness of her pupils and tried to ignore the yellow flash of the ball that seemed to pass from the outside of one of her ears to the outside of the other. I wanted to give her an answer, something real, I wanted to prove it was a mistake and I regretted it, and I felt like the only way to do that was to hold her gaze like I never intended on letting go. But the ball kept flying away from her face, and the kid stopped running and I looked to see why. Yes, I did regret it. Doesn’t mean I’m going to regret this. It’s different now. Let me finish. Suddenly there was a third child, a little girl who was following the ball towards the park’s borders, darting between two giant oaks, one of which supported the mother’s bike, her denim capris prancing toward the ball. 6
“I got it,” she said, practically singing. Then I heard the scream, the warning scream, the targeted scream, the one directed at the nexus point, trying to destroy the geometric inevitability of the girl and the Buick meeting there. And then there were the other screams, the yells, the shrieks, the mass casualty devices, the napalm scorched sound waves, the “British are coming” alarms that sent men and women running, as if motion is the same as action. Our spaniel started barking. I was running like the rest. An old man got out of the Buick. He had white hair and a gold watch. “She ran right in front, I didn’t see,” he said to everyone at once. “I didn’t see. I didn’t see. I didn’t see. She ran…” I remember hearing that as I looked at the girl on the ground. She was out cold. It was an old man, I remember thinking, they drive so slow, and by a park. I pulled a woman with dreads off the man as she battered his chest with her metal-spiraled wrists. Then the wailing started. The howling. The kind of noise that has no object, no subject, it exists only to drown itself, the sound people make when they want to empty themselves into the world and diffuse themselves into nothing. She was the mother. She had to be. There was a Doctor. We were told not to move her. The ambulance came quickly. I held my wife in my arms. She cried and cried. The family and the shortstop were gone. Had he seen? “What the fuck is happening?” she sobbed. “What the fuck? What the fuck?” You know how Eskimos have 300 words for snow? I wonder who the people are who have the most words for screaming, the people who are most adapted to the intricacies of human shock and sorrow. Who are they? How many words for howl, shriek, wail do they have? Although maybe the people most used to suffering don’t scream at all. We made dinner at home after that. Silent pasta from a half-empty box. And after that we made love. She was pregnant within the year. That girl died, I remember that clearly, it was in the papers, on the news. I’m not sure we would’ve stuck it out if it weren’t for that. I don’t think she would’ve forgiven me. That girl may have saved us. She might be the reason that my daughter is here now, alive, still terrified of streets. She looks both ways when crossing a hallway. Her mother made her that way.
I wonder about the crow-hopping boy, I wonder what he saw, wonder if he feels guilty about the throw that got by him. I like to think he’s playing semi-pro ball right now, knowing his window has closed and that he will have to find a life now, put away childish things and all of that. I imagine that the team he plays for takes a bus across three states to play their final game of the season, and he knows this might be it, that he has ridden his talent as far as it will go, an old man at 23. I like to imagine the bus breaking down somewhere, nowhere, and it’s the middle of a moonless night. A few of the players rub their eyes and squint as the interior lights come on. Some keep sleeping. But the boy can’t sleep, he can’t stop thinking that this will be it, tomorrow will be last time he will hear the crowd’s noise coalesce for him, the rest of his life he will be just another instrument, a horse throat and set of chapped hands moving in and out of harmony with the greater volume. And he goes down the stairs and out of the bus, and he watches the driver investigate with his useless bit of light. After a minute or two, without a word to anyone, he goes and he stands in the middle of the black silent river of the highway, next to a sharp a curve, and he throws a ball high into the air. He loses sight of it almost immediately, but he catches as it comes down and he throws it high again. And the cars come, but their high beams and honks always arrive in time for him to get out of the way. He doesn’t think about the little girl at all. But I know he could be doing anything, and I know it’s ridiculous that he’d be playing baseball. He’s probably digging himself out from a landslide of college debt, thinking about how to define his personal brand, spending his days in front of a computer screen, trying to string ones and zeros into attention and money, 140 characters at a time. He might even remember that day. So to answer your question, no. You are not my first. Is that what you wanted to hear?
BIO: Josh is from Maine and currently resides in Brooklyn.
Lisa and Jack | Barbara Nishimoto Lisa and Jack were driving west. “We’re just going to roam,” Jack had said. They’d packed the telescope, but then learned from the locals that this was the monsoon season; and so it became their routine to drive through the day and then at night hole up in a shabby motel and watch TV and drink. Mornings were best because the front seat was shaded and cool. Jack played his CDs or slept, and sometimes he joked about how ugly and empty and flat everything was. Or sometimes he would make up a story about someone from the town they’d just left. Jack always made them sound friendly and curious, and Lisa laughed because she loved this part of the drive and knew that Jack knew that, too. But by afternoon the sun filled the car, and the glare hurt her eyes. “Are you all right? Do you want to stop?” This was always the same, too. “No, it’s too early to stop.” “At the next exit then?” Once, after being out on the road for a week Jack had said, “I forget. How many times do I ask before we get to stop?” For some reason that had delighted her and later at night in the restaurant or bar or back in their room she would lean close to him and say, “How many more times?” Jack would cover her hands with his, squeeze her fingers to keep them from moving. “Behave yourself now. Behave yourself.” But Jack was smiling; she heard it in his voice. Outside Albuquerque one afternoon they hit road construction. This was always worse in the afternoons. “Relax,” Jack said. He patted her thigh, cupped the back of her neck. But it was too close, too hot, and too slow. “I can’t stand it,” her mother used to say. “I can’t breathe.” Once when she was very young Lisa and her sister had ridden the city bus with their mother. It was summer, and the bus was stuffy and crowded. At one of the transfer stops the driver got off and began talking to another man. Lisa’s mother began to doze as she often did. She had a habit of talking in her sleep, and Lisa remembered thinking that if she could just squirm a bit she might wake her. There were people standing all around, and the railings smelled like coins, and her mother’s warm flesh pressed against her. “Hot,” her mother sighed and rolled her shoulder to free her arm. She wiped her brow, dropped her hand to her lap. She stared at Lisa and for that moment seemed not to recognize her. Then she leaned forward, tried to rap her fist against the window. The blow was feeble and just glanced the pane. “Driver-san.” Her voice was phlegmy. Someone snickered. “Driver-san.” In the next instant she was fully awake, and she slapped the glass with each syllable. “Driver-san.” At the time Lisa and her sister flinched, embarrassed to have attention called to them. But later, 9
when they were adults, they laughed and repeated the story to each other, certain it held some vital clue to their mother’s strength. “Driver-san.” The construction detoured them off the interstate onto a two-lane blacktop. Graders and dump trucks churned up soft grey dust. They were passing mailboxes now. Rural routes. Back from the road were low wooden houses almost covered by brush. And then came the small businesses: single pump gas stations and mom and pop grocery stores advertising cold sandwiches and packaged goods. Finally there were small paved lots and the first of the strip malls. Jack pulled into one with a laundromat and grocery store and Thai restaurant. He parked the car, pulled the keys, leaned across her to get his wallet from the glovebox. It was part of his routine. A glance into the rearview mirror, one more check of the car’s gear. He opened his door, and then turned back to her, “What are you doing? Are you coming?” And then he was smiling, too. “What? What is it?” “Do you see me?” “Stop it,” he pushed her gently, but he was chuckling now. “Stop.” Inside the Thai restaurant it was cool and dark and silent. A middle-aged white man sat behind the cash register. He was pot-bellied and unshaven and wore an old man’s sleeveless T- shirt. “I lost my damn power early this morning, and all’s I got is what we can fix on the grill.” He bumped around the register and guided them to a table by the windows. “A good ole boy,” Jack said. “I bet his wife is Thai,” Lisa whispered. “What would Bear say?” Bear was a somber gentle dog they’d had long ago when it seemed that every year they were in a different job in a new state. It was when they made the effort to meet their neighbors and coworkers. Jack was good at this; they both had been. Long stretches of conversation in line at the store, or over dinners, or across the backyard fence. Everybody’s sweet dreams. At night in bed Lisa and Jack would talk about those dreams and their own, and somehow everything, the words, their shape and sound, more poignant hanging in the dark. “Oh,” Jack would sigh, “Bear would say it was sad. It’s sad, Dad.” Lisa glanced at Jack; he was staring out the window. It was pleasant in the restaurant; there was only the natural light, and most everything was draped in soft shadows. 10
“Where do you think we’ll stop?” Lisa asked. Jack shrugged, “Taos? Really anywhere we want.” He looked at her and smiled. “What?” Lisa grinned. He tried to leer, and Lisa laughed. Another couple came into the restaurant. They were healthy looking and handsome and moved with an easy grace. The owner led them past Lisa and Jack. “This is fine,” the man said. “This is fine. Right here is fine.” Their chairs scraped as they sat down; the man sighed. “What do you want? What do you feel like having?” The woman’s voice was too soft to be heard. “Listen, I had this dish once,” the man said. His voice was loud as though he were addressing all of them. “It was sweet. Sweet like candy, but it was fried. I don’t know the name. You have anything like that? And we want those spicy noodles. Yeah? We definitely want that. Chicken, I think. Spring rolls. Pork.” The man was chuckling, “We want a feast.” “Listen, I don’t have any power. They cut off my power this morning.” “Then bring us what you can,” the man interrupted. “We’ll take whatever you have. Anything.” The woman unfolded a napkin, smoothed it in her lap. She had narrow shoulders and perfect posture. “I think she’ll be fine.” With her fingertips she smoothed the top border of the paper placemat, then stopped, tilted her head and smiled at the man. “I think she was just having fun.” The man placed one hand flat against the table and turned sideways, crossed his legs. The table shook slightly beneath the pressure; the silverware rattled. “You know, let me tell you something.” He turned to face her, leaned across the table. “This is what I don’t like about you.” His voice was low but clear. “You never really say anything.” The woman was still for a moment and then leaned towards him as though they might kiss. The man drew back slowly; he looked around the restaurant for a moment then stood. He walked passed Lisa and Jack, brushed the edge of their table. It seemed odd for him to be so close. The scent of him, the fabric of his clothes, his cigarettes. The woman remained at the table, put her slender hands in her lap. Then 11
she rose, too, and walked across the restaurant and out the door. Jack, his head still lowered, glanced at the woman as she passed, “Someone’s in trouble.” Outside the couple stood together side by side in the narrow shade of the awning. They lit cigarettes and smoked. After a while the man turned and stepped around the woman and came back into the restaurant. She pivoted and followed. Their order was waiting, and when they sat they began to serve themselves and then eat, each with that undistracted, fully absorbed way people in restaurants or buses or movie theaters always have when they believe they are totally alone. Jack exhaled a small sigh, “Oh.” She reached across the table and touched his hand. He did not look up from his plate, but his fingers wrapped around hers. It was Lisa’s turn to drive, and she wished for an afternoon rain, a thunderstorm, even hail. She wanted the dark clouds to pile up and take the glare from the windshield. There would be the heavy, wet smell of it, and in all the noise and wind the car would be this quiet, dry place. But the sky was clear, the white light bounced off the windows of the other cars as they drove through the slow crawl of Albuquerque’s rush hour. They followed the signs for the state road that led north through the desert to Santa Fe. “At last,” Jack said. “This is it. Ah. Bear would say, ‘We made it, Dad. We made it.’” Lisa smiled, rubbed her hand down Jack’s arm. It was a two-lane blacktop that rose and fell with the desert’s undulations, and it would have been fun to drive if not for the long line of cars. “What is that?” She looked out at the desert. The sun was lower, and the scrubby brush and rocks were rounded and dark with shadow. “It’s beautiful.” Lisa was speaking so softly she knew Jack couldn’t hear. “I wish I knew the names.” A geology professor had casually sorted through a handful of stones he’d picked up at the dig site where the class met; he rattled off their origins as he let the stones sift through his fingers like water. Impressive. She had been amazed and envious. “Bullshit,” Jack had said when he heard the story. She had smiled and laughed, too. “He made it all up. How would you know?” She had always loved this, turning things like pebbles to reveal a different side. 12
“How would I know?” And Jack said, “What? What did you say?” “How would I know the names?” Jack said, “Oh.” He tapped her hand. “The names.” Then the line of cars began to slow and when the road crested Lisa could see miles of brake lights ahead, and in the rearview a line of glittering headlights. No other cars were passing them going south. “Damn,” Jack said. “Here we go. I knew it was too good to be true.” Traffic stopped, and then the cars in front began to turn off their engines, and Lisa did the same. The moon was large on the horizon; the sky was violet. “Clear night,” Lisa said. “Just your luck.” They rolled down the windows; the air was soft and cool. Lisa sighed, slid down across the seat and rested her head in Jack’s lap. She could smell the sweat and the soapy scent of his cotton clothes. Through the windshield she saw a faint gleam. “A star.” “Sagittarius,” Jack said. They had thought heading south they would be low enough to see the constellation, but the rolling land prevented it. She smiled; her lips were very dry. “No.” “It is. It’s Sagittarius.” The engine ticked, and then she heard the muffled slam of car doors. Voices, murmuring and low. “What’s going on?” she whispered. “Can you tell?” She felt his body move, and she knew he was shaking his head. “There’s no telling.” She heard footsteps and then saw the profiles and backs of heads as people walked past the car. Adults. Men. “Where are they going?” “I don’t think they know.” His fingers absently ticked against her shoulder. “An accident?” “Probably.” He shifted, drew a deep breath and sighed. “Come on.” Lisa turned her head; she heard deep voices and then laughter. She imagined them as young men, their voices the banter as she pictured them tossing a white ball like another small moon against the darkening sky. “What if we’re stuck like this?” Lisa closed her eyes and smiled. “Wouldn't that be fun?”
BIO: Barbara was born in Chicago and now lives in Nashville, TN.
UHF | Todd Covalcine At a red light, Mike pushed in the car lighter and pulled the emergency brake. He slipped the full ashtray from its slot, opened his car door, leaned out and knocked the butts on the pavement. The lighter popped. He fit the ashtray in place and lit his cigarette. A long light, he leaned over the steering wheel looking up at the sky. It was the bluest sky he had ever seen and he waved his hand at the smoke beneath the windshield to get a better look. Rolling the window down, he stuck his head out. No clouds, no sun, just water blue. They have a special name for blue like this. The light turned. The car behind Mike honked. Pulling his head in, he pressed the gas. The car lurched. He released the brake and by this time the car behind him was laying on the horn. Mike moved through the intersection and when the car passed him on the side, the other driver gave Mike the finger. Mike pulled the car into the driveway, turned off the engine and stared at the house a long time before lighting another cigarette and pulling the keys from the ignition. A bag of garbage sat on the porch just outside the front door. Inside, the house smelled of lemons. In the kitchen, the chairs were overturned on top of the table and the rugs were rolled in the hallway. A mop dried in a bucket in the corner. The sweeper stood in the doorway of the den still plugged into the wall, the carpet clean and roughed like brushstrokes on canvas. Carol sat on the floor, her legs folded underneath her, a cigarette burning in an ashtray beside her. The picture on the television screen was creamy and chipped and she was turning the UHF knob carefully. “What’s wrong with the TV?” Mike said. Carol started, almost overturning the ashtray, catching her cigarette with both hands to spare the carpet. “Christamighty, Mike!” “What’s wrong with the TV?” “Nothing’s wrong with the television. What’s the idea of sneaking up on me?” “Who’s sneaking up?” Mike said. “I just asked what’s wrong with the TV. Why are you on the floor?” “Well, you should’ve said something when you came into the house,” she said. “Let a person know you’re there.”
She raised the cigarette to her lips and Mike pulled his out of his mouth. He looked around for another ashtray. He knocked the ash off into his cupped palm and held it. “Why are you home?” she said. “I left work early.” Carol blinked and the cigarette grew hot in Mike’s hand. “Are you done with the sweeper?” Carol looked at the sweeper in front of Mike; the tip of her cigarette glowed redder and she nodded. He returned the cigarette to his mouth, reached down and yanked on the cord. Carol said, “You shouldn’t pull on the cord so far from the wall.” Mike shrugged. He walked down the hall to the bathroom and tipped the ash into the sink. After running water over his hands, he lifted the lid of the toilet and dropped the cigarette into the bowl. From the den, Carol called to him. He flushed the toilet, looking out the little window over the seat. Back in the hall, wrapping the cord, he shoved the plug end in among the coils and jerked the sweeper off its wheels with one hand. “Did you say something when I was in the bathroom?” “No,” Carol said, turning off the television. Carol heated up the leftover pizza and they ate in the kitchen off paper plates and drank soda with ice out of glasses. Mike pulled at the crust with his teeth and Carol watched the bubbles rise in her glass as she ate. “I got honked at today,” Mike said. Carol ran a finger through the wet on her glass. “Driving to work?” she said. “This afternoon. Driving home.” Carol tilted her glass. The ice bobbed in the soda. “Some people,” she said. Mike wrapped the leftover pizza in foil and Carol dropped both plates in the bin. She dumped the ice from their glasses in the sink and Mike fit the leftovers in the refrigerator. Carol put the soda bottle next to the pizza. When she left the kitchen, Mike moved the soda bottle from the right side of the shelf to the left. After dinner Mike stayed in the garage. He kept a little refrigerator under the workbench and a radio on the shelf next to jelly jars filled with odd screws and nails. 15
He trapped a block of walnut in the vice and turned a screw into it. Sitting on a stool, Mike drank beer and adjusted the dial of the radio. Later, he locked up the garage and stepped through the kitchen. A light burned over the sink. At the far end of the darkened hallway a blue light from the television glowed in the doorway to the den. Mike called down the hall. “Night.” He waited and then brushed his teeth in the bathroom and turned out the light. The next day, Mike had his lunch in the park near the fountain. He bought a hotdog and a soda from a deli near the corner and sat on a bench. A young woman with a white puppy lay on a blanket reading from a novel. The puppy chewed on its leash and beat at the grass with its paws. At some point it stood up and barked at a leaf and when the young woman called its name it barked at her. The hotdog was good, with relish and onions and mustard, and Mike wished he had bought some chips and a bottle of beer. “Beautiful puppy,” Mike called over. “What type of dog is that?” The young woman looked at Mike through her dark sunglasses. Then she turned to the dog. “What are you reading?” She raised the front of the book and Mike squinted to read the title. “Any good?” The young woman tilted her head and Mike raised his soda. She lowered the book and returned to reading. Mike drank his soda, watching the water in the fountain bounce and splash. A beer would’ve gone nice with that hotdog. Half an hour later a man joined the woman on the blanket. She closed her book and kissed the man. The puppy attacked his hand. What a good little monster. Mike took the rest of the day off and spent it at a bookstore drinking coffee. * * * Carol fried bacon and eggs and put them on buttered toast with lettuce. Mike sat at the kitchen table watching his neighbor through the window carry the trashcans to the curb. Carol served the sandwiches on paper plates and they drank the last of the soda. Mike liked his yolk to be runny. He liked to dab his bread in the yolk as he finished his sandwich. Carol always broke the yolk in the pan and fried it with the whites. “We should get a dog,” Mike said, watching through the window. 16
Carol made a noise with her nose as she ate. Mike’s neighbor was sweeping out his garage, a tattoo on his arm partially covered by his shirtsleeve. “Have you ever wanted to read a book?” Carol held her sandwich away from her face and said, “What?” “Have you ever thought: that’s a book everyone should read, I’m going to read that?” Mike looked into Carol’s eyes as they moved from side to side. They were brown with green flecks. He had never noticed the green before. She pushed the last of her sandwich into her mouth. Her teeth clicked. “What do you want to read?” egg and lettuce on her lips. “I don’t know,” he said. Carol dropped her plate in the bin and set her glass in the sink. A few moments later, Mike finished his sandwich. He set his glass in the sink with her glass and the two glasses from the night before. In the garage that evening turning screws into the piece of walnut, he decided Thor was a good name for a dog. During the night Mike used the toilet and when he was done he walked into the kitchen. The light glowed over the sink and he stared at the four glasses under the faucet. After a moment he reached into the cabinet for another glass. He filled it halfway with water and drank it slowly. When it was empty the glass went in the sink with the other four. In the bedroom doorway Mike stopped. As his eyes adjusted he could make out Carol’s dark shape waiting at the end of the hallway. Her voice said, “I fell asleep in front of the television.” “What were you watching?” She hunched in the darkness, wavering slightly. After a moment, Mike lay on the bed and waited for her to move in the hall. Mike got little sleep and Carol stared at the wall all night. In the morning a yellow tooth of sunlight cut through the window and Mike rose before the alarm clock rang and Carol turned it off so that it wouldn’t. He ate breakfast at a small place he passed each day on his way to work. They had outdoor tables under white umbrellas and every time he drove by Mike was sure they served fresh-squeezed orange juice. This was his first time there and when he took a table outside he asked the waiter. No, the orange juice was not fresh-squeezed. 17
French toast was their specialty and Mike ordered it with whipped cream and strawberries. He read the newspaper and when the waiter asked if he wanted more coffee Mike said please. Mike folded his hands on the edge of the table. People walked by, looking through shop windows. This must be how they eat breakfast in French villages. Mike called work and took the day off. He went downtown and visited a tattoo parlor. He looked at samples on the walls of tigers and sharks and dragons; monkeys and Chinese symbols, skulls and naked women. Birds and flowers were for girls. In the end he decided he wasn’t ready for a tattoo. He bought a new hat instead. A fedora. He drove out to a shooting range and stood behind the counter to rent a pistol. He thought at first a .22 and then remembered some of the detective shows he had watched as a kid. The snub-nosed .38 looked like it could really bark. Shame they didn’t have a Luger. Under the counter were Glocks and Walthers, and on the wall Smith & Wesson’s. The .9mm’s and .357’s caught his eye. Then he saw the .44 Magnum. The clerk handed Mike a box of shells, a target and a headset. Walking past the other shooters, Mike took a spot at one end of the gallery. He affixed his target to the line and pressed the button that sent the target down the range. Mike loaded the .44, holding each bullet between his fingers, slowly slipping them into the cylinder. He expected them to feel cold and hard, but instead they felt like buttons. He held the pistol at the end of a stiff arm, one hand bracing the hand that held it. He thought, squeeze, and breathed and down the line came a rolling rain of pops and in the range before him a dark figure waited. Mike’s hands weren’t very steady and then his elbow and shoulder relaxed. He squeezed and the target jerked and he squeezed again, again, again, again, again and then he set the pistol down. Mike shook out his arms and shoulders and flexed his fingers. The shooter in the slot next to Mike leaned over and gave him a thumbs-up. Mike wanted to tell the man that it was his first time. He pulled the fedora down on his head and spent the box of shells. Later that day, Mike had an ice cream. Then he went to the bookstore where he bought a Russian novel. Mike couldn’t pronounce the author’s name but at least the book was heavy. He tried to read the first chapter, giving up a few pages in. He was happy to have the book sitting out in front of him on the table beside his fedora and an espresso. To smoke a cigarette at the table would be great right now. His mouth still tasted sweet from the ice cream. Cerulean. That was it. 18
In the garage Mike laid the Russian novel on the shelf beside the radio and pulled a nail from a jar. He hammered the target to the garage wall and stood back to look at it. The hammer weighed heavy and good in his hand and he pushed the fedora back on his head. After a moment he took a deep breath, returned the hammer to the workbench and dropped the fedora over the piece of walnut held in the vice. Mike stood the Russian novel on end, between the jars of nails and screws so that he could read the spine. He almost called out for Thor. He came in through the kitchen and grabbed a glass from the cabinet. Filling it with water from the faucet, he leaned against the counter. The light was still on over the sink and there were the glasses: three from last night, two from the night before, one more from today. Beside them a package of hotdogs lay defrosting. Television sounds came from down the hall. Mike held the glass to his lips but did not drink. There was the glass in his hand and the glasses in the sink and one more in the cabinet. Only one glass left and the hotdogs in the sink under the light. “Carol.” Mike walked down the hall. “Carol.” She sat on the floor in front of the television turning the UHF dial on the set. A voice came through the speakers though the screen was fuzzy, a woman complaining. After a moment of silence the woman responded to something that did not come through the television. Carol rested back on her palms. Still looking at the television screen she said, “What, Mike?” “We’re running out of glasses.” “Wash the ones in the sink.” Standing in the doorway Mike held up the glass. The one-sided conversation on the television ended and Carol began to adjust the knob again. “Do you want me to fix the hotdogs?” Mike said. “Do you know how?” She found a teenage boy talking about a party he had gone to the night before. Mike sat on the arm of the couch. Carol lit a cigarette from the pack atop the television. The teenager had felt up someone else’s girlfriend at the party and now wanted to call her. “Isn’t that the Miller kid?” “Sounds like him,” Carol said. “Every other word is a profanity.” 19
“Didn’t you cuss like that when you were his age?” “I don’t remember,” Mike said. The ash on Carol’s cigarette grew an inch long and she pulled an ashtray off an end table. “How are we getting this?” Mike said. “I found it on the high end of the UHF. Television is picking up cellphones or cordless phones or something.” She said, “I used to cuss like that when I was a teenager.” “It makes him sound unintelligent,” Mike said. “I thought it made me sound cool.” When the Miller kid finished talking static filled the speakers. Carol stubbed out her cigarette. She stared at her bare feet falling apart, coming together. The static buzz scratched at Mike’s ears. He felt as if he had fallen in a well. He wanted to run away and was afraid to move and did not know what to do with the glass of water in his hand. “I almost got a tattoo today,” he said. “I bought a hat instead. I’ll never wear it again. I bought a book I’ll never read. I named a dog I don’t have. I’m a joke. All I do is pretend. The other day I saw the bluest sky I have ever seen and I come home and it’s like seeing it from the bottom of a well! I’m afraid of myself, Carol! Goddamn! Godgoddamn!” Carol switched off the television as Mike was talking. The screen fell black but for one tiny dot of light burning in the center. She was thinking of the Miller kid, how his hair bleached in the summer sun and fell over his eyes. She remembered those parties, lips like smoke and pillows, and nervous hands pulling at her clothes. Boys like that, smooth and lean, she could thrum like a guitar string. Somewhere Mike was saying, “I know how to cook hotdogs, Carol” and the dot on the screen burned and burned then flared and was gone. She liked that.
BIO: Todd is a student at George Mason University's creative writing program.
Stopover | Monica Macansantos When Cathy’s plane began its descent into Austin, Texas, she lifted the shade of her window and peered outside. From where she sat, the city streets trickled from the downtown area to the sparsely populated fringes of the dustbowl below. A vein of water wound its way through the city grid, appearing and disappearing as the base of her window bobbed up and down beside her. As the plane tilted to its left side, a bell tower emerged into view, and the trees and brick buildings that surrounded it seemed to reinforce its genteel authority. She imagined Evangeline biking to class under those trees, her wavy hair streaming behind her, the way it did in those tin-framed, open-air jeepneys they rode together to class in their sprawling college campus in Manila. She and Evangeline had both been English majors in college, and when they graduated, Evangeline took a teaching job at an agricultural college near the foothills of Mount Makiling, while Cathy left the Philippines with her family to begin a new life in the suburbs of San Francisco. She wasn’t even “Cathy” back when Evangeline knew her, and when Evangeline called her by the name “Katrina” on the phone, she felt her old life tightening around her like an ill-fitting dress she had outgrown. She hadn’t intentionally cast away her old name, or her memories of the old country, during her three years in America. Like scales she had shed, she had hardly been aware that some of her old habits had fallen away from her repertoire. This wasn’t her hometown, but as she walked up the tarmac and into the small, glass-paneled airport, she felt as though this were a sort of homecoming, and she pictured Evangeline being awed by her accent, as well as the ease with which she dealt with Americans. She hadn’t been back to the old country since she had left, and this was the next best thing to coming home—meeting a character of her past whom she could overwhelm with her knowledge of America. One of the fringe benefits she enjoyed as a check-in girl for American Airlines were free flights to any town with an airport in the United States. She took advantage of this to explore her adopted country, and she posted pictures of her trips to New York and the other big cities on Facebook religiously. She followed every “like”, every admiring remark about her success in this land that everyone back home called “the land of the free”. It came to a point where she needed to get on a plane to hear their comments in her head: for only by doing this could she remind herself of the freedom she now possessed. When Evangeline messaged her, telling her that she was moving to Austin, Texas for graduate school, Cathy looked forward to having a couch to sleep on in a town she had only read about in in-flight magazines. Evangeline was probably as 21
bewildered as she had been when she first arrived in America, but Cathy was sure she was smart enough to navigate the town, or at least to know how to buy a couch from a local thrift store. Cathy could take care of the other parts of this trip, like coaxing Evangeline to a bar, or teaching her how to flirt with American boys. “Plane just landed,” Cathy typed into her phone, her boot heels neatly clicking against the grooves of the airport escalator. “You can pick me up now.” “All right. I texted you my address. You can rent a car or take a shuttle to my place,” Evangeline replied. “What? You don’t have a car?” Cathy texted back, alarmed. “I said so in my email. Car rental companies near the exit. Sorry,” was Evangeline’s reply. Sighing, Cathy pushed her phone into her jeans pocket and made her way through the crowd of families, students, and returning servicemen, in khaki boots and camouflage uniforms, who stepped aside as she passed without making eye contact with her. She felt as though she were walking through a forest of towering bodies that were too indifferent to do her harm. She approached the Avis counter and fell in line, right behind a family of Indians and a bespectacled old man in a gray suit and a battered briefcase. The crowd that had gathered around the baggage carousels thinned out, and she watched on as families in summer clothing entered the airport and let out excited screams when spotting their uniformed sons who lumbered towards them. Her friend was too poor to extend the same welcome to her, and when the uniformed teenager behind the Avis counter handed her a bill, she realized she didn’t have enough money saved up for this trip to be as mobile as she wanted to be. Upon Evangeline’s suggestion, she reserved a seat on an airport shuttle, and she shared a ride with a quiet Asian girl who peered, near-sightedly, into her iPhone, and two middle-aged women in jeans and T-shirts who chattered about a bridal shower as they clasped their newly bought cowboy hats to their bellies. The houses they passed on their way to the city were just as seedy as the one-storey, clapboard bungalows that surrounded her apartment building on the outskirts of San Francisco. Outside her shuttle window, mothers pushed strollers across the street as small children grasped the hems of their worn, thrift store skirts, while men in baseball caps and baggy pants walked by the roadside, ignoring vehicles that barreled past them. A twin-sized mattress and box spring peeked from the mouth of a dumpster that faced the road, and she remembered the futon mattress she and her boyfriend had retrieved outside a vacant lot near her apartment building just months before. It creaked under them during their make-out sessions, and her boyfriend complained that it was giving 22
him back problems whenever he slept over, but the two-hundred dollars she had saved was enough to pay for a two-night stay at an airport hotel in one of those sleepy Midwestern towns whose names she didn’t bother to remember. Money passed through her fingers like water, and again, and she was back to scrimping. The shuttle that bore her to her friend’s apartment was like a sealed capsule with its windows rolled up, shielding its passengers from the grayness that spread itself before them like the stale pages of an unread book. After skirting past the university and entering a quieter neighborhood of oak trees and clapboard houses nestled behind flower bushes and evenly mown lawns, the shuttle pulled into a parking space in front of a gray, benign-looking apartment building with arched entrances and a pair of curved staircases that wound their way from a raised platform on the first floor to the right and left sides of the second floor. She dialed Evangeline’s number, and a door on the second floor opened. Evangeline stepped outside, holding her phone to her ear, and when she spotted Cathy at the foot of the stairs leading to her floor, she flipped her phone shut, smiled, and waved. In America, Cathy had learned the habit of spreading her arms as a friend approached, and Evangeline whispered, “I missed you so much!” into her ear as they hugged. The touch of Evangeline’s palm against her back awakened memories of long ago, when Evangeline brushed Cathy’s arm teasingly whenever Cathy asked her to explain Derrida’s definition of différance to her, as though gleefully surprised that anyone she considered her friend could find such easy concepts so difficult to understand. Evangeline never lacked friends despite spending hours in the library, and when she did socialize with the likes of Cathy, it was with a lighthearted friendliness that she guarded her secrets of success. She was a favorite of the professors, a perpetual guardian and dispenser of answers when no one else in the classroom was bright enough to follow a professor’s train of thought. The tidiness with which Evangeline conducted her own life befuddled Cathy: she had left her hometown in the northern provinces to study in Manila, locked herself up in her dorm room to study, and despite her shyness with boys, had defied her classmates’ expectations by dating the President of the Student Government. Her life, it seemed, had been carefully planned out: even two years of teaching in a sleepy agricultural town south of Manila seemed to have gotten her places. Evangeline grasped her shoulders, pulled back, and inspected her. “You’ve gained weight!” she said, in Tagalog. Cathy was sure she would’ve felt insulted if Evangeline said the same thing in English, but in their native tongue, it was a common greeting. Evangeline knew just how to tell a friend the embarrassing truth. 23
“At least I’m gaining some weight. You’ve remained a stick since we graduated,” she said. “You know me. I jog everyday, for lack of a vice,” Evangeline said, letting go of Cathy’s shoulders. “I made adobo for dinner, by the way. My dad’s version.” She turned, and led Cathy upstairs. “Great. That’s one less meal to spend for,” Cathy said, pulling at the straps of her backpack. “This country’s crazy. You have to swipe your card for every move you make. That’s what I miss about the Philippines.” “I know. Back home, you can laze around and expect a relative to send you money from abroad.” Evangeline turned, and gave Cathy a hard look of reproach. “Well, not everybody,” Cathy said, forcing a smile. Evangeline’s face softened. Cathy was amused by her friend’s sternness, a habit acquired, Cathy joked to herself, from having to deal with minds that weren’t as sharp as hers. “I see what you mean. My aunt thinks I’m making enough to save up for a house back home. If ever she knew how expensive it is to live here.” They had reached the door of her apartment, and Evangeline turned the knob, pushed it open, and stood aside to let Cathy pass. “My futon was delivered a week ago. Just in time for your visit.” Cathy spotted the black futon pushed to the right side of the living room, behind a chocolate brown coffee table with a growing stack of magazines. The entire living room bathed in the afternoon sunlight that shone through the room’s floor-to-ceiling window. Cathy would’ve been hesitant to sign a lease for an apartment with such a large window, but when one lived in such gentrified surroundings, one’s instincts weren’t sharpened by the constant threat of break-ins. She felt a pang of envy as she paced around the apartment and spotted a large, hardwood desk beside the futon couch, and a bookcase pushed against the wall that marked the end of the living room. It would’ve been the perfect writing space for her: a room with a view, offering enough space for the mind to wander. She took off her backpack, set it down on the floor, and approached Evangeline’s desk. “This is a beautiful desk,” she said, running her fingers along its varnished surface and closing her eyes. “Forty dollars, from a poet who was moving to Chicago,” Evangeline said, leaning against the wall dividing the living room from the kitchen. “It’s cherrywood.” 24
“I wouldn’t even have made the distinction,” Cathy said. “Poetry used to be written at that desk. It’s a desk meant for you, not for me,” Evangeline said, and she laughed, as though wanting to ease Cathy back into the past, back into the ill-fitting dress. “I just have enough space in my apartment for a futon and a coffee table,” Cathy said, sinking into the futon and pulling her backpack towards her feet. “So your coffee table doubles as your writing desk?” Evangeline asked. “As a reading desk, it does.” Cathy unzipped her backpack and peered into it, feeling Evangeline’s eyes following every twitch on her face. “I miss reading your stories,” Evangeline said, retreating behind the kitchen wall. Cathy pulled out from her backpack the library books she had brought with her, and set them on the coffee table. Both were due in two weeks: H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, and Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. It was an odd pairing, but there was no need for her to follow any syllabus or thematic grouping, now that she was out of school. She was educating herself, not enslaving herself to any institution, or order. The smell of soy sauce and bay leaves wafted into the living room, and a wave of memories washed away the antiseptic calmness of the present, revealing the comforting confusion of her past. She was in her grandmother’s house in the old country, sitting on a bamboo bench as her grandmother puttered about in her stone kitchen. Her grandmother’s adobo smelled sweeter, more acrid. America, back then, stood for everything her adulthood meant to her: an unrealized vastness into which her parents, after getting their visa petitions approved, would initiate her. She was in college by this time, and she was telling her grandmother, who was ladling the pork and chicken stew into a bowl, that she wanted to be a writer, maybe a journalist. “But before you leave, you should learn how to cook our food,” her grandmother said, setting down the bowl on a linoleum-covered bamboo table and inviting her to eat. “In America, you’ll have food on the table all the time. But unless you learn how to cook our food, you’ll never be able to feed that belly.” The first adobo she made, when she had moved out of her parents’ house, was too bland to awaken memories of her grandmother’s cooking. She gave up on her first try, and now subsisted on a diet of TV dinners and canned chili. As long as she kept her stomach filled, she could keep her longing for the past at bay. A more skilled cook like Evangeline, on the other hand, could afford to be oblivious to the longings she awakened in her friend.
“You must be thirsty. Would you like some tea?” Evangeline asked, emerging from the kitchen with a wooden spoon in her hand. “Do you have beer in your fridge?” Cathy placed The History of Love on her lap, and opened it to a random page. “Oh, I don’t keep alcohol in my house.” Evangeline’s cheerfulness only served to fan her disappointment. “For real?” “I just can’t drink alone.” “The only liquids I drink are alcohol. And water.” “I’ll get you a glass of water, then.” Evangeline disappeared behind the wall, opened her fridge and cupboards, and reemerged with a glass of cold water. Placing the glass on the coffee table, she looked at the book in Cathy’s lap, and asked, “What are you reading?” “The History of Love. I was just looking at a random page. Haven’t really started yet.” “Oh, that’s such a good book,” Evangeline said. Then, straightening herself, she said, “I’d like to see one of your stories in print, someday.” “That wouldn’t happen.” Cathy bit her lip. “Sure it will. This is America.” “I don’t have time to write these days,” Cathy said, snapping her book shut and returning it to the coffee table. “There are just too many good books to read.” “Don’t you remember Dr. Cruz comparing my failed attempts at writing with your polished prose?” Evangeline was behaving like a mother this time, and it seemed as though she took joy in dispensing kindness to her less fortunate friend. “Why write, if there are so many good books to read?” Cathy asked. “I don’t know. You were just so good at it. I still remember that story you wrote about two blind men.” “I’ve been doing some living, too, you know.” For how could she justify her own laziness to Evangeline? Life rolled on, whether Cathy liked it or not, and she had other pressing concerns to deal with, like rent, bills, and coworker ex-boyfriends who nagged her with handwritten letters filled with misspellings and grammatical errors. She didn’t see any reason to be choosy—it was bad enough that her coworkers had turned her bookishness into a running joke, and she chose to laugh along with them rather than alienate her new friends. After all, it was the ones who had never been to college who treated her as though she were one of them—the college-educated among them behaved as though they were too good to be hauling suitcases onto 26
conveyor belts and working alongside new immigrants like she. Traveling allowed her to forget the less savory details of her life, but the sheets of stationery she left blank on the writing desks in the rooms where she slept reminded her of a larger emptiness she preferred not to face. Evangeline withdrew again behind the kitchen wall, and reemerged after a few minutes with a bowl of steaming hot adobo, which she set on the dining table. Like Cathy’s grandmother, Evangeline nodded at her, and said, “There’s no pork in here, just lean, skinless chicken breasts. I also made salad.” On the table, she set two embroidered placemats, on which she placed two matching floral plates. Cathy sometimes suspected that Evangeline’s orderliness was a tic meant to disguise a hidden chaos. But Evangeline executed these gestures with so much ease, as though this weren’t a mask, but the foundation on which her life had been built. It seemed, at this point in their friendship, that Cathy had to give her friend a cleaner justification of her failure to accomplish her goals, since cleanliness seemed to be the only language Evangeline was capable of comprehending. Cathy suspected that Evangeline saw life as a series of signposts pointing one to a sought goal, and that every wrong turn one made was the result of one’s own miscalculations. Over dinner, she told Evangeline that she had sent her resume to fifty newspapers upon arriving in America, and that only one of them asked her for a writing sample, after which she was informed that the position for which she applied had been filled. “Then you could’ve applied to fifty more places,” Evangeline said, as though her mind were immune to reason. “Vangie, you don’t get it, do you? I needed a job. I couldn’t get one at a newspaper. Americans don’t like our English.” This conversation was exhausting her, and she leaned back in her chair and pushed away her food. “That’s not true. Look at me. I got into an American graduate school with my Filipino English.” She groaned. “But I’m not you.” Evangeline nodded, and in her silence, she seemed to give Cathy her halfhearted assent. But then, Evangeline said, “I’ll edit you. Send your essays to me.” She met Cathy’s stunned gaze with a reassuring look. “You could always write travel articles. If I were you, I’d take advantage of those free trips. And then you could send me your drafts, and I could line-edit them.” Evangeline placed a feta cheese-powdered leaf in her mouth, and chewed.
After a few seconds of silence, Evangeline swallowed and said, “Oh come on, don’t be offended. Everyone knows you’re the better writer. You just said that Americans don’t like our English. Sometimes, it’s just a question of nuance.” “And you’re the expert on nuance.” “Well, I got into grad school here. Maybe they thought I could learn something.” “Vangie, you’re making me want to get drunk.” Evangeline smiled. “Is that the real reason why you came here?” “You just read my mind. I have to get drunk. Dead drunk.” “Plastered, you mean?” Cathy sighed. “Yeah, whatever. And you have to get drunk with me too.” A look of nervousness passed over Evangeline’s face, and it amused Cathy to see her façade of calm goodness crumble. Cathy put her hand over Evangeline and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll watch out for you. You have to trust me.” “After tonight, you’re gonna thank me for not having a car.” “Tama.” As Evangeline ran water over the dirty dishes and pots, Cathy took out the dresses she had brought and draped them on Evangeline’s futon. Apparently, it wasn’t too difficult for her to gain the upper hand. While there were things that Evangeline was better at doing, there were things she had yet to learn, and to turn her into a willing pupil, Cathy would first have to expose her ignorance. “I’m glad you came. I’ve been feeling lonely ever since I arrived here,” Evangeline said. “Don’t you have friends here?” Cathy asked, staring at her dresses, wondering which one her friend was willing to wear. “I get along well with my classmates, but you know how white people are. They’re more comfy when dealing with their own kind.” “You mean most of your classmates are white?” “You could say that.” “Now that would make me very uncomfortable.” “Don’t you work with white people?” “Just white passengers, and they can be so stuck-up sometimes.” Cathy picked up the fuchsia-and-black striped tube dress from its sleeves, and carried it to the dining area, where she turned to face Evangeline. “Now, what do you think of this?” Cathy asked, draping it on her chest. Evangeline stared at it at said, “Very daring. Very Latin.” 28
“You’re wearing it,” Cathy said, and threw it at Evangeline. Evangeline was too surprised to let it fall to the floor, and after catching it, she held it before her, her face registering a faint disgust. “We’re probably the same size. I have another dress on the futon, if you don’t like that one.” Evangeline walked to the living room, and raised an eyebrow when she saw the neon green one-shoulder dress spread on her futon, like a mislaid piece of merchandise. “I can’t wear that one either,” she said. “Unless you have something better to wear.” Evangeline lowered her eyes, and it dawned on Cathy that it wasn’t modesty that made Evangeline hesitate. Cathy had bought both dresses at Ross, the only place where it didn’t pain her to part with her money, and the brightness of these dresses now flashed at her embarrassingly. They had both been brave choices, but her bravery could have been a result of her carelessness, or her simple lack of taste. She covered up her embarrassment with a laugh and said, “Oh, come on. This isn’t the Philippines. No one’s gonna go after you for being slutty.” She knew Evangeline was embarrassed to admit to her own lack of experience in these matters, and Evangeline giggled. “Oh, what the hell. This means I’ll really have to get drunk.” Evangeline withdrew to her bedroom, draping the fuchsia and black tube dress on her arm. She chose to ignore the hint of disappointment in Evangeline’s voice, taking solace in her prediction that she’d outshine Evangeline later that night. “I’ll do your make-up too,” Cathy yelled, with relish. “After all, you said you’d edit me!” This wasn’t Cathy’s town, and she stood out in the bar-going crowd of Sixth Street: the faces of the doormen lit up when they saw her, as though hungry for variety after watching blonde after blonde walk past them. When she flashed them her California driver’s license, they’d joke about knowing that she wasn’t “from around these parts” as they offered her a crooked arm that she gladly took as they escorted her into their music-filled bars. Evangeline trailed behind her, taking her Texas ID card from her clutch purse and returning the doormen’s patronizing smiles. “Oh my God, I think the drummer just gave me the eye,” Cathy said, as they carried their drinks to a table near the stage. “How do you notice all these things?” Evangeline yelled above the music. “You don’t go out a lot, do you,” Cathy yelled back, stirring her chocolate whiskey. 29
She felt hungry after they had visited four bars, and they found a Mexican restaurant after walking down several blocks. After they had settled into their leatherette seats and given the waitress their orders, Cathy watched her friend from across the table. Evangeline radiated a carefree, alcoholic energy from her seat, and she leaned forward, blinking and laughing before she spoke. “There’s this guy I met. His name’s David,” Evangeline said. “And he’s making you all giggly,” Cathy said, nodding at the waitress as a bowl of chips and salsa was set before them. “I know. He’s not my type, but I’m beginning to like him.” “Sounds promising.” She pulled a chip from the pile, dipped it in salsa, and popped it in her mouth, giving Cathy a mute, prodding look. “A classmate introduced us at a party. He’s a PhD student in Anthropology.” “Wow,” Cathy said, her mouth full. Swallowing, she said, “At least you get to meet smart guys here. That’s what I miss about college, you know? Talking to people about books, meeting smart guys.” “Hello, you could always go back to school here. You’d qualify for federal aid.” Cathy smirked. “I don’t know. I’m too lazy to go back to school.” “I don’t believe you,” Evangeline said, drunkenly slapping the air between them with her palm. “You, with your cum laude.” Cathy rolled her eyes. “I didn’t work for that. Besides, all the forced writing we did in college made me want to quit school for good.” “Forced or not, you were good at it.” Service at this restaurant was quick, she noted. A plate of quesadillas was placed in front of her, and Evangeline stared in horror at her brownie a la mode. “The newspapers I applied to didn’t think so.” She picked up her fork and knife, and sliced off a neat corner from her quesadilla. She put it in her mouth, and munched evasively. “But you could still write while doing your airport gig. Maintain a blog or something.” “Yeah. And then you’d edit me.” Cathy stared at the abundance of food on her plate, wondering why no one else in this country seemed to take notice of this habitual overindulgence. Food was so plentiful in this country, one didn’t have to strive for anything else. “This is a lot of brownie,” Evangeline said. “You’re still not used to the portions here?” Cathy asked. “How can I? They always serve us too much food.” 30
“You say that, because you’re used to eating much less.” “But this is too much.” “I said, it’s too much for you, because you’re used to eating much less.” She liked the pathetic look on Evangeline’s face, and how much it seemed like an admission of cluelessness. “Come on, eat up. You look like a hungry African child. And tell me more about David.” Evangeline laughed, and dipped her spoon into the scoop of vanilla ice cream. “Well, he’s a blond, blue-eyed Texan who’s writing a dissertation about Indian culture. He has an adorable drawl. He’s really smart, too.” “So, he’s a white guy.” “Yeah.” Evangeline paused, and gave Cathy a doubtful look. “Do you have some beef with white guys?” Cathy pursed her lips, then said, “Not really. It’s just that I’ve never dated a white guy.” Evangeline was incredulous. “You mean, out of all the guys you told me abut over the phone and on facebook—“ “The guys I’ve dated so far are either coworkers or friends of coworkers, and none of those people are white.” She flipped through the laminated beverage list on their table. “But I’m okay with that. Latinos and Black guys are great in bed.” She ran her fingers through her hair, giggled, and said, “Did I tell you yet about the guy I’m sleeping with right now? Well, you’ve probably heard by now the myth about black guys and their, well, size. It’s true, for this guy at least. And his endurance, my God! It chafes after awhile, you know!” Evangeline smiled. “You, girl, have to go on birth control soon. As in soon. Because that white boy of yours is gonna ask for it, soon.” Evangeline dug into her brownie. “He already did. But I told him I’m not ready.” “That’s not the only thing you should be worried about. White guys suck in bed.” Evangeline narrowed her eyes. “How do you know that?” “You’ll know, when you sleep with your white boy.” If Cathy could ever convince herself to write a story about that night, she’d probably mention how she took Evangeline home after her friend had nearly passed out on the sidewalk in front of the fifth bar they had gone to; she’d admit that she had known that Evangeline wasn’t used to marathon drinking, but that Evangeline didn’t seem to mind. 31
Maybe she’d describe how Evangeline’s laughter buzzed in her ears like flies’ wings as when she had asked Evangeline for her address, and how she watched the lights of downtown Austin illuminate the interior of their cab with its indulgent, wasteful glow. Evangeline had sobered up when they had gotten home, and they helped each other fold out her futon couch, laughing when they realized that they couldn’t figure out how they had done it when they futon finally gave in to their pushing. If words fractured a friendship, alcohol healed it, and she wished it were possible to drown in the ambercolored recklessness of that night forever. But with sunrise came the unwanted resurfacing of the mind, and she awakened to a bright throbbing in her head, and a dismal awareness of her surroundings. As she turned, her sheets rustled—she hadn’t remembered Evangeline spreading these sheets, and the detailed attentiveness of her friend vexed her as her eyes fell on the drawn blinds of the living room window. The sputtering of cooking oil and the smell of brewed coffee and fried eggs reminded her of the calm domesticity that Evangeline was apt to return to, after what was probably, for her, a temporary relapse. Cathy wanted to remain in bed the entire day, and felt too conscious of how the rhythm of her body was out of sync with the rhythm of her surroundings. She sat up, and glanced at the clock near the kitchen. It was nine in the morning. Evangeline peeked at her from behind the kitchen wall. “Did I wake you up?” she asked. “You did,” Cathy grumbled, scratching her head. Evangeline laughed. “I just got hungry, so I made coffee and fried eggs. I made some for you too, in case you woke up.” Cathy stretched, and smiled. “Oh, I don’t eat breakfast.” Evangeline politely raised a hand, and rushed back to the kitchen. “Sorry, the eggs might burn. My God, Kat. I’d faint I didn’t have breakfast,” she said from behind the wall. “Besides, we have a long day ahead of us. You’ll need the energy for walking.” “Right. We’re going to walk,” Cathy moaned, getting up and walking to the bathroom. Her head continued to throb as they walked around the university, and when they passed the bell tower on which the words, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” was inscribed, she remembered that she had left her camera in California. She hadn’t taken pictures ever since she had arrived, and there would be no evidence of her trip here, aside from a few lingering memories that would probably disappear under the pile of worries and drunken nights in the strange cities she’d visit 32
after this trip. For what was worth remembering in Austin? All she wanted to take with her was the freedom she felt the night before when music and lights swelled around her, eliminating the need for conversation. She complained about the heat and the dust, and fanned herself furiously with her baseball cap when Evangeline tried to appease her by pointing at a statue or an empty expanse of grass. Her surroundings did not pull her in, the way the bars of Austin did. In the clear light of day, these stucco buildings impressed her with their aloofness, and Evangeline’s familiarity with these surroundings spoke of a sense of entitlement she could afford to be gleefully oblivious to. “The travel guide mentions a Zilker Park and Barton Springs. Do we get to see those places too?” Cathy asked, as they crossed another drearily bright avenue of paved walks and fenced-in islands of shrubbery. “Miss, you fly back to San Francisco this afternoon. We don’t have enough time, and I don’t have a car to drive you around.” “I totally forgot about that.” Evangeline had a weary look on her face when she paused and turned to look at Cathy. “Thanks for reminding me.” “Gosh, how touchy you are.” “Kat, I’m trying my best.” Cathy held both her hands up in mock surrender, and said, “Okay, fine, whatever. Take me wherever you can take me.” They had lunch at a pizza parlor near campus, and afterwards they waited for a bus that would take them downtown. After ten minutes of waiting and fanning herself, she said, “If you had a car, we wouldn’t be waiting this long.” “If you had rented a car, you wouldn’t be waiting this long,” Evangeline shot back. A bearded, red-faced man sat at the foot of a traffic sign, clutching a heavy, battered knapsack to his chest, pulling the collar of his filthy hoodie to his chin as though to take shelter inside his own clothing. Upon catching Cathy’s eye, he smiled, and whistled. It wasn’t just his scruffiness that frightened her, but also the cheeriness with which he immersed himself in his own stench while singling her out. Why was it so difficult, in this country, to snuff out desire in men who had nothing? Cathy looked away, and folded her arms across her chest, eyeing the cars that sped past her, envious of the distances they could go. A grackle swooped down on
her, opening its pointed beak to release a crackling screech, and she ducked and screamed. The red-faced man cackled, asked for change. A blue metro bus finally came into view, and when its door swung open, Evangeline brushed past her as she boarded the platform, inserted a few bills, collected their tickets, and handed one to Cathy without saying a word. Cathy followed Evangeline into the bus, and Evangeline turned her head away as Cathy planted herself in the seat beside her. Nothing Cathy did, it seemed, could bruise Evangeline’s calculated calm—even her anger was performed with care, as though she had practiced these gestures before, in the event of a quarrel. Cathy knew that what Evangeline wanted from her was an apology, but this was something Cathy wouldn’t give to her that easily. If Cathy were to be honest with herself, she’d admit that it was an apology from Evangeline that would quell her own anger—an apology for accepting this shoddy life and forcing it upon her. Cathy gazed above Evangeline’s head, at the scenes that rolled past Evangeline like pictures in a View-Master toy. She wanted to see something different in this town, something that would astonish her. Although the dome of the State Capitol Building impressed her with its rosy massiveness, many of the things she saw were familiar to her: the churches, the parking garages, the chain restaurants of the downtown area, the abundance of cars on the road. This was all Evangeline was capable of showing her in this musty-smelling bus. Evangeline’s spartan lifestyle reminded Cathy of her own shoddy apartment and the cheap clothes she was forced to wear, and she was exasperated by the way in which Evangeline compensated for her present poverty with an optimism that Cathy didn’t share. Evangeline was convinced she knew where her life was going—she had told Cathy that her dream was to be an academic, and Cathy imagined her surrounding herself with people who shared her naïveté of the world at large. It was these people who could afford to snub the modest American Dream of material comforts, a dream that was less delusional, and easier for Cathy to embrace. It required little from her, aside from optimism in the freedoms she already had. There was one desire she found easy to fulfill in this sprawling country, and it was the weightlessness she felt as she traveled across America by plane. But then she had to touch the ground, in cities that were beginning to look increasingly alike, whose scrubbed cleanliness only served to remind her of the closer affinities she shared with the polluted, monsoon-drenched streets of Manila. “I’m sorry if I can’t drive you around,” Evangeline said in a hard, sarcastic voice.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Cathy said, feeling the dryness of her throat. When they had crossed a bridge and reached an eclectic row of one-storey shops, Evangeline pulled the window string beside her, and Cathy stepped aside and followed her lead as they got down the bus. She took Cathy to a curiosity shop called Uncommon Objects, and Cathy noticed the abundance of doll heads and framed photographs of white, blushing babies. She looked at their price tags, and gasped at the quoted figures. “You can just imagine how much money we’d make if we raided our houses back in the Philippines and sold off all the worthless junk our grandmothers kept,” she said. “Nobody sells their heirlooms back home. Family property is family property,” Evangeline said, staring at a Victorian baby doll in a mottled gingham dress. “Imagine how creepy it would be if that white baby stared at me from my wall,” Cathy said, pointing at another baby picture. “Pretend she was your daughter in your past life. Maybe that would help.” Cathy grinned. “If I could get away with it,” she said between her teeth. In another corner of the store, a narrow-waisted, Victorian-style lace dress hung inside an open wooden closet, and Cathy stood on tiptoe as she took it down. She draped the bust over her chest, allowing the skirt to brush the floor. “I’d love to wear this for Halloween, but I’m too short. The skirt would drag behind me.” “It’s trail behind you, not drag behind you.” There was a slight, mocking lilt in Evangeline’s voice, and Evangeline raised an eyebrow, as though impatient. “Whatever,” Cathy said, returning the dress to the closet. She turned and made her way to the door, without waiting for Evangeline to catch up. “You’re the one doing the dragging, not the skirt,” Evangeline said, following Cathy through the aisles of the store. As Cathy pushed the glass door open with her side, she took out her cellphone, logged onto Yelp, and when she caught a signal, checked into the store. “What were you doing that for?” Evangeline asked, when they had stepped outside. “Just checking into this store on Yelp,” Cathy said. “It’s too weird not to be reviewed by me.” “You write Yelp reviews?” Evangeline asked, amused. “It’s my new hobby.” She slipped her cellphone into her faux leather purse and, with a quick, purposeful gesture, zipped her purse shut. The walked down the street, 35
and when Evangeline spotted a bookstore, she pulled open the glass door and held it as Cathy entered. Evangeline seemed to know what she wanted, for she gravitated immediately towards a bookcase near the shop window, pulling out books written by Susan Sontag, Michel Foucault, French philosophers who wrote in a style that seemed, when Cathy had been in college with Evangeline, to be intentionally hermetic. The tactfulness with which Evangeline kept mum about the books she read or the ideas she had encountered, was, for Cathy, vaguely condescending. Cathy wandered around the bookstore, reading blurbs of graphic novels, avoiding the thick, hardbound books, ambassadors of a lost era when readers like she weren’t too impatient to bypass the challenge of a prolonged read, when they could impose upon themselves a stasis that promised few rewards. As she stood before a bookshelf near the back of the store, looking at a softbound copy of The Great Gatsby, Evangeline sneaked behind her. “And who reads these Yelp reviews?” Evangeline asked, her sarcasm couched in her sickly-sweet voice. “People who could use my opinions about these stores,” she said. “At least there’s some use in what I write.” She looked at the cover of the book Evangeline was clutching to her chest, and said, “Not everyone’s smart enough to waste their time reading useless Lacanian theories.” Evangeline smiled. “If you put your intelligence to good use a little more, you wouldn’t be stuck writing Yelp reviews.” “I’m intelligent enough to know what’s useful,” Cathy said, brushing past her and making for the shop’s front door. She hadn’t realized, until she had stepped into the fresh outdoor air, that she needed Evangeline to find her way back to the apartment, where she had left her things. She wished she had predicted this moment, so that she could have left Evangeline’s apartment with all her things on her back, but how could one be capable of preparing for disorder, when it was in one’s nature to create it? She watched Evangeline through the window of the store, paying for the book she had found, smiling at the cashier as she received her change. It was impossible to knock down the windowpane that separated the two of them without hurting Evangeline. Evangeline was hurt, she could tell, but the windowpane had not been broken. Evangeline pushed the shop door open, clutching her bagged purchase, and gave Cathy an icy look. A group of women twice their size in combat boots and baby doll dresses passed between the two of them. If Cathy looked just like them, she could’ve merged with their 36
pack, instead of confronting the anger of the person who was, in this town, her single friend. “We’re going home,” Evangeline said, pointing at the bus stop at the other side of the road. Back in the apartment, Evangeline called a cab service as Cathy packed her bag, and when her taxi arrived, Evangeline gave her a final, perfunctory hug. “I’m sorry if I was rude to you. We’re still friends, aren’t we?” “Of course.” In America, the word friend meant anything. “I wish you happiness in whatever you choose to do. I’m not bullshitting, Kat. I mean it.” “Thanks for the sincerity,” Cathy said, breaking away from Evangeline’s stiff embrace. If this scene were taking place in Manila, she would’ve been walking towards her cab amidst car honks, wailing babies, lines of dripping laundry, and the footsteps and laughter of passersby. In their homeland, there were too many noises, smells, and sights to distract them from the silence of inevitable partings. It took a trip to America for them to realize that they had parted long ago. On the plane back to San Francisco, she closed her eyes as the ground released her into the weightlessness of the Austin sky. There was no need for her to look out the window—she had seen it all, and sought only release from the heaviness she had begun to feel when she parted with Evangeline. It used to be that she brought a notebook with her whenever she went on a trip, so that she could unburden herself on paper during long flights such as these. But in her effort to travel light, she discarded the things she had no use for, and after a few more trips, her notebook, like many of her previous necessities, had lost its use. Maybe it was this weightlessness of mind that she truly wanted, for only indifference could truly extinguish her longings. She’d have to will this indifference, for now. Sooner or later, it would come to her naturally. She’d be like a bird taking flight. BIO: Monica received a BA in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines and an MFA in Writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas in 2013.
All Boy | Travis McDonald Freddy lay on the bed and imagined his body was a system of wires, linking data cables to processors, disk drives to memory, the power supply, the cooling fan, whatever else was in there, all leading to that great motherboard called his brain. He imagined his eyes as TV screens and his hands as clamps securely fastened to the ends of two robotic arms controlled by some unknown creature. Maybe his parents controlled him. Maybe his teachers at school. Could be they were just acting like his parents. Maybe his real parents were scientists in a laboratory somewhere creating duplicates of him by the dozens, boys with sparsely freckled skin and curly brown hair that could not be tamed by humanoid curl products. Maybe he was the prototype and his scientist-parents loved him best of all and would someday come to save him from the parents he had now, from the kids at school. He imagined a whole army of Freddys. At night they would sleep behind his house in the hollowed-out trunks in the woods. By day they would rise from their dank beds and do his bidding. He saw them storming the playground, ten at a time, kicking over soccer cones and toppling the monkey bars with their bionic limbs. He watched them cram through the cafeteria door and decimate the line for Tuesday Taco Special, grinning as they reaped the spoils of their victory. He giggled as all the parents sat in the auditorium waiting for the Holiday play to begin. But what happened when the curtains were drawn? What did they see there? The army of Freddys decked-out in full holiday regalia. He could imagine it all so vividly. The girls in his gym class cowering in the hallway when thousands of Freddy-eyes were cast upon them. Mr. Mulvane, the principal, awarding the army of Freddys with the blue ribbon at the science fair. The next time Craig Douglas called him â€œwiener-hugger,â€? a million Freddys would surround his BMX and tell him to make tracks until he ran out of tracks to make. He did the big villain laugh he copied from one of his favorite cartoons and rolled onto his knees. Who would dare to defy an army of Freddys? Only a fool, he answered. He looked out the bedroom window. There was fake-mom in the garden, practicing her meditation on a bamboo mat. Her eyes were closed and her mouth was parted slightly, her bottom lip sucked in and quivering. Had fake-mom always meditated? Freddy thought about it and remembered that she started after fake-nana died. It confused Freddy at first, but fake-mom said it was normal; that it helped her heal. Fake-mom was sad for a while, but now she was better. Human emotions were so
strange. How strange it was to be sad for a while and then act like nothing ever happened. His motherboard tried to evaluate these emotions but came up negative. He saw fake-mom, but where was fake-dad? His processors told him that fakedad was probably in the garage whittling another fake sword out of driftwood. Fakedad was a medieval re-enactor, something Freddy used to think was pretty cool until Craig Douglas said that only fairies and grown-up virgins did that kind of stuff. He was pretty sure fake-dad wasn’t a virgin. He was pretty sure that if fake-dad was a virgin then there would be no Freddy. Freddy thought about this, then went to his closet to rummage around. When he found what he was looking for, he took it off the shelf and sat crosslegged on the small carpet. It was an old shoebox with a piece of tape across the lid that said “Freddy’s Stuff” in big black letters. He flipped off the lid and took out a few items, scattering them across the room. What he was really looking for was at the bottom. He pulled it out of the box and flattened it across the floor. With his eyesensors he scanned the paper, testing it for fingerprint analysis and document authenticity: Fredrick Bowen Born: December 6, 1999 St. Elizabeth’s Hospital: Brighton, MA Parents: Richard and Elizabeth Bowen There were other names his processors didn’t recognize. Then a sensor beeped and zoomed in on something. The seal on the corner was peeling. He scratched at it with his robotic finger. A forgery, his motherboard told him. But the seal held on pretty good. It was strange to think that he’d been born in another century. Maybe someday he would be the last living person to be born then. He could tell all the future children about the good old days, what it was like growing up without tele-transportation devices, cortex-computers, and solar-powered space crafts. He’d be a celebrity and wherever he went people would say: That’s the oldest guy in the world. Do you believe how strong he looks for his age? He’s really some kind of a miracle, isn’t he? We should congratulate him on a life well done. And when they did, Freddy would thank them using some outdated expression and they would all laugh, not at him, but with him. They would laugh because even though it sounded funny, it was still a part of their history. When times were tough, even in the future, humans needed to remember how far they’d come. And that’s what future-Freddy would be there for. He put the papers back in the box and the box up on the shelf. He was tired. What a shame to be tired, he thought. There was still so much light left in the day. 39
Outside, the sun was a big yellow rim above the neighborhood. Birds squatted on the power lines, pecking their beaks mechanically. Wind shook a tree beside his window and jangled nuts across the gutters. He watched the clouds move through the sky like great big gobs of television snow. Freddy brought his fist to his mouth and yawned. What does a robot-boy do when he’s tired? He lay on the carpet and stared up at the ceiling. If his scientist-parents were there all they’d have to do was give him a little boost to recharge his batteries. They’d look at him and say, Prototype #1, looks like your juices are a little low. How about some pep in your step? Freddy would accept and they’d plug the wire into his hidden portal and in seconds he’d be better. All his fake-parents ever did was give him fruit when he was tired. He wasn’t allowed to have sugar in the house or drinks with caffeine. That’s why when Steve Deminico came over after school last month he didn’t stay very long. That’s why whenever any of the kids from school came over they didn’t stay very long. That and Freddy wasn’t allowed to have video games or sports equipment either. It could be real boring without anyone his age to hang out with and nothing to do around the house. Freddy’s processors clicked through a series of programs, making whirring sounds from inside his chest. The wires sent his motherboard information from the memory banks and flashed the images across his eye-screens. How interesting, he thought. Had he forgotten about this scenario completely? The pixels blurred, then came together. Freddy scanned the memory for signs of corruption. It seemed reliable. 2012-01-16. Freddy, Steve Deminico, and Arthur Kline are standing in a snowcovered field. It’s a park beside school where the boys often play. The basketball court is rendered obsolete by snow and ice, same for the baseball field and tennis court. The boys shape handfuls of snow into hard balls and throw them at one another. They hide behind trees, under snow banks, between the dugouts and the fence. This is a war. None of the boys seem to be winning. There do not seem to be any particular rules. Freddy climbs on top of the dugout and waits for Arthur to walk directly underneath. He has a pile of ice-hard snowballs beside him. A winter branch bobs, dumping a branch full of snow onto the ground. Freddy watches the snow descend. Then he sees Arthur stumble into his line of fire. He walks directly into Freddy’s crosshairs. Freddy unloads. Snowballs crush Arthur from every angle. He tries to run but slips on the snow. Freddy continues until his armaments are gone, until he sees a blossoming of dark red blood. He hops down from the dugout. Arthur is crying. Arthur is not a robot-boy. The scenario fades from the screen and Freddy is shown a different image. It’s fake-mom and fake-dad hauling the computer out of his room. They’re dumping his 40
video game system in the trash. His DVDs are placed in a box and tucked away in the attic. He hears a lecture about how disappointed they are in him, how they can’t believe he could be so reckless. Then he sees himself sitting at the breakfast table eating oat bran and reading an old copy of The Robots of Dawn. How can a robot-boy survive on oat bran and old books alone? Fake-mom was downstairs now. He could hear her footsteps across the linoleum floor, the strange sucking sound of the refrigerator opening, the tinkling of the pressure-regulated faucet turned to on. He wasn’t hungry, robot-boys didn’t get hungry, but he knew dinner would be soon. Then fake-mom and fake-dad would ask him all about his week and what homework he had to do and if he was getting along better with the kids at school. There was no way he could sit through that without a little battery recharge. His motherboard clicked through a series of possible solutions. The wires sent the information from the motherboard to the sensors and projected each scenario onto the screen. His processors flipped through a series of possible outcomes. He observed each one, weighed the options, and filed them away into his memory bank. Then he got up from the floor and opened the closet. Inside, he took a flannel shirt off its hanger, twirled it around his finger, and tossed it to the floor. He took the hanger off the rack, and did the same with another that held a pair of jeans. He laid both hangers on the bed, turned his setting to stealth mode, and crept downstairs. When he got to the bottom, he leaned into the kitchen. Fake-mom’s back was to him and he could hear her humming a song while she cleaned the dishes. Freddy’s sensors scanned her image reflected in the window above the sink. She looked so tired. Fake-mom was not a robot-woman, he could tell. The lines in her face were so deep and indelible. She looked like she’d aged ten years since breakfast. Her lips were dry around the edges, revealing small cracks underneath. Did fake-mom always look this old? Freddy checked his memory banks for confirmation. Nothing popped up. He felt his motor slow to a painful whir. Fake-mom was getting older while he was staying the same age. His robot limbs felt heavy. His processors flipped through a series of scenarios, showing him what it would be like when fake-mom was old and Freddy was still a robot-boy. He saw her old human body lying in bed like fake-nana, grasping for a glass of water. He saw himself beside her, his motors humming, his emoto-processors producing replicated tears that rolled down his cheeks. There was an awful kick in his system. Then fake-mom turned around and Freddy hid behind the doorway.
When she turned back, he went outside and made a big loop around the garage. On the far end, next to the fence, there was a small bush covered in shadow. Freddy crouched beneath it and peered into the garage. Fake-dad sat on a stool, his face hovering over a giant magnifying glass that was held up by a swivel arm. He held a dowel and a large piece of wood in his hands. With his tongue stuck into his lip, he dug into the piece of wood, shedding little brown curls everywhere. Freddy’s sensors watched him go at the wood, concentrating completely on the task. There was something different about fake-dad too. His sensors did a full diagnostic evaluation. The results were puzzling: Fake-dad’s face looked more like Freddy’s than usual. Freddy’s memory banks flashed several images onto his screen. He saw fake-dad’s narrow chin and soft green eyes next to his own. He heard his voice, deep and warm, singing to Freddy in the kitchen on a rainy morning. He heard human adults saying he would grow up to look just like fake-dad someday. His motherboard confirmed these memories and sent the information across his wires. Then his sensors found what they were looking for. The pliers. They were right next to fake-dad on the stool. But how could he get them without fake-dad yelling at him for being outside when he was supposed to be doing homework? Freddy thought he could use his telekinetic robot powers to make him drop his tools. He closed his eyes and engaged his psy-board. His internal fan began whirring, signals shuttled through the wires. His processors began firing various programs. He felt the information coursing through his system. Then he opened his eyes. Fake-dad was still at work, the tools gripped firmly in his hands. Freddy’s voice modulator almost screeched. His processors felt hot and overworked. His bionic foot was about to kick the fencepost, when he saw fake-dad dig into the wood a little too deep. His palm brushed against the grain and the dowel went flying. Freddy’s wires sent shocks of excitement to his motherboard. Fake-dad got up from his stool, shook his head, and walked to the other side of the garage. While he was crouching, Freddy crept out from behind the bush and grabbed the pliers. He slipped them into his pants pocket and made another loop around the garage. Then he went back to his room and sat on the carpet. With the pliers, he undid the hook of one hanger and curled the middle around his hand so it was in a U shape. Then he took the two ends and wrapped them around each other, twisting the ends with the pliers until they held tight. He did the same to the other hanger and slipped his hand through the middles of each where the wire made a loop. He gripped the handles and swung them around. They were pretty strong. He put the hangers down and went to his desk. In the bottom drawer, underneath a stack of 42
comic books, there was a roll of aluminum foil. He’d left it there a couple of months ago after he’d used it for a science project. His motherboard told him that it might come in handy. He was surprised fake-mom and fake-dad hadn’t noticed it was gone. He rolled out two big sheets of the foil and began wrapping them around each end of the hangers. When they were covered, Freddy placed them side-by-side on the floor and stared. They didn’t look like anything futuristic. They were crude and ugly looking. The light in his room reflected off the crumpled foil with a dim glow. Freddy’s sensors scanned over the work and confirmed that they were useful but not particularly well designed. His robot-limbs felt heavy again. The information sent across his wires slowed to a steady pulse. His motors clipped through their rotations. If he could create something so imperfect, then maybe he was somehow flawed. And if he was flawed, then he was a real boy and not a robot-boy. It was scary to feel like a real boy. Real boys could get hurt and their systems weren’t perfect at all. The feeling sent strange signals across his wires, shaking his robotic hands, and causing his emoto-processors to engage. He felt the replicated tears in his eyes. Then his motherboard reminded him about the beautiful machinations inside his system. The way every wire carried along a particular signal to a particular region. It showed him the unbelievable intricacy of it all. There was nothing out of place, nothing that wasn’t designed to fulfill its ultimate purpose and to work forever. Inside, robot-Freddy was perfection, though nobody else knew it. The sun was sinking behind the neighborhood, filling the sky with vivid reds and oranges. The hangers sat on the floor, next to the outlets, like two crummy swords. “Freddy,” fake-mom called. Freddy sat in front of the outlets staring at the empty eyeholes. “Time for dinner.” A message relayed through his system, telling him that fake-mom was calling. It confirmed fake-mom’s voice but said he still had to complete his recharge. He slipped his hands through the loops in the hangers and gripped them tight. Another message from his motherboard said to clench his teeth like the cartoon cat that was always getting zapped by electrical lines. He followed the instructions, shaking his head to loosen up the wires in his neck that felt sluggish. “Freddy,” fake-dad called. “Dinner. Come down here.” Freddy didn’t say a thing. The wires in his system wouldn’t let him speak. Whoever controlled Freddy really wanted him to recharge. His system felt like it was losing power. Then his sensors heard fake-dad’s steps on the stairs and his
processors estimated that he had only a few seconds to complete his recharge. He knew it wouldn’t even take half that long. Freddy jammed the wires in. So what does a robot-boy feel when a thousand watts of electricity course through his system? Freddy, of course, was not a robot-boy, but a boy who liked to play robot. So when he jammed the hangers into the outlet, he felt what any nine-yearold boy would feel with that much power charging through him: pain, indescribable pain, and an instinct to bear down. This was what he felt most immediately, but along with the pain came another, even more devastating, feeling that flickered somewhere deep in his system. Freddy wouldn’t be able to describe it until years later, and even then the words would often escape him, but just before the electricity entered his fingers, as he saw the sparks spitting from the outlet, and sensed that first terrible tremble of power, he felt, maybe for the first time, like his body was his own. It was strange how quickly it happened, but everything he saw that day assured him. The images of fake-mom and fake-dad flashed across his eye-screens. His fake-parents were humans, and this meant that someday they would grow old and die. Fake-mom looked so much older than she used to and fake-dad really did look a lot like Freddy. Someday Freddy would have to take care of them just like fake-mom took care of fakenana when she was sick. So who would control robot-Freddy then? Only I can control robot-Freddy, he thought. Then the electricity flowed through his system and he felt his wires untangle, the information pulsing across them disappearing. He knew the processors and emotoprocessors, the motors, the psy-board, the motherboard, and all the wires had shortcircuited and died away. He watched the current pass through his human skin, his veins, his muscles. It was incredible. There was perfection there too. The electricity lit up his body and illuminated all the intricacies of his human structure. He was scared. There was so much danger out there, so much meanness, there were so many possibilities that his mind felt flooded with the desperation of it all. It was true that someday his body would die away too, but not then, not for many years to come. Because as soon as Freddy felt his life about to escape, fake-dad had his arms wrapped around him, and was wrenching him from the floor and from the outlets, his voice, deep and warm, reminding him, “Freddy, Freddy. All boy, Freddy. Remember? All boy.” BIO: Travis is a writer from Massachusetts, currently living in the great state of Texas.
the ouroboric lines of communication | Michael Naghten Shanks
the cities talk during the nights stars shine along every axis lies commonly told only serve to distract us from the end the same way attraction keeps us going forward under the illusion we can elude the dark empty lonely if only we talk loud enough
BIO: Michael is a writer & editor from Dublin, Ireland.
Room On Fire | Lindsay Daigle I. I don't like that the queen of clubs looks like my grandmother. Future, choose, choice, child. Most Americans work for universities now, drunk off wedding china and mountain speak. The man I've been waiting for meets me in the hallway and we play cards. II. Sidewalk chalk again. Running on dark, cold nights. He sings â€œDylan Thomas was young and easyâ€? like a love poem that postscripts all-night diner-flickers. A better word for wind. It's dangerous out here. III. The man who looks like the minister is here. He's chewing napkin-cud, listens close to a dread locks lady's rough opposites. She might be his AA sponsor. She might be quizzing him on his fraternity membership knowledge, or on stained glass geometry, or whodunit board games. "What you say is confusing." What you say is crystalline, nurture is at stake. What upsets you? What did he promise that never made it to the table?
IV. Yesterday, I poisoned my eyes with talk of purgatory and library books. The day before, I raised the blinds higher so my cat could watch the seagulls. Today, my neighbor is smoking weed, and I am making shadow 47
puppets with my feet along the wall we share. Tomorrow, I will sink further into the painted ground, tell someone else the story.
(Room On Fire, The Strokes, 2003)
BIO: Lindsay received her MFA from The New School University in New York City and is currently a third year doctoral student in poetry at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, where she teaches creative writing and composition to undergraduates.
Sonnet | Anthony Opal A dribble of crazy blood from the mouth of the crazy squirrel says, “I don’t want to end up anywhere too specific.” I mean, you should see this thing, the way it holds sway over our apartment’s whole stairwell, hopping up the steps as we’re hopping down. Everyone wants to kill it, but I’ve never seen anything more rabid with duende and solitude in my life, choosing strife. At first we tried to catch it, to let it go by the Barnes and Noble. But it escaped. I think it wants to stay here in the same way that we, let’s say, want to stay here— crazy for this space that we harness in fear.
BIO: Anthony lives near Chicago and edits The Economy.
like a piano I once saw at the Palmer House | Jim Warner I keep thinking I saw this scene in a movie: a Steinway has tumbled down a flight of stairs right out of my heart and made such a delicious clatter of keys and revelation--a hasty descent to the pit of my stomach, splinters and bile collect like disbelief. I want to be so bitterly articulate but I am orphaned ivory climbing from the wreckage of this baby grand. Eyes flutter. Stars. Dizzy. Taste copper. You are still holding the bamboo spoon. Tomato sauce bubbles and punctuates. I walk past pots boiling over my name, sit on the couch. Tiny feet climbing into bed above me. Stare at a deep frozen lake of film, ice like stained glass. Iâ€™ll pour what melts down the drain, and sleep on the couch for another two weeks before packing my record collection while youâ€™re at work. BIO: Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University and is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University.
The Music Behind Them | Lenny DellaRocca Move into your children's breath beneath trees of Tuesday Vanish in the plum August of your daughter's house Birds tremble above the roof Set the forbidden ladder against the back upstairs window where years look out to sons dormant with colorful theft Place sunflowers on a red kitchen chair as a sign Invite the harp players to stand under the pear trees until evening burns the fence And when you cannot feel your hands in your lover's hair take a deep breath listen to her whisper your name if it sounds like an oboe it means you are gone if it sounds like rain you are not coming back if it sounds like windchimes you walk through the house like sad water So lean into her breath like it was shade like it was your world BIO: Lennyâ€™s book of poetry Alphabetical Disorder is available at Amazon.com.
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