Harry Cheadle is an associate editor at VICE Magazine and a graduate of the creative writing program at Pratt Institute. Paige Hart works in investment management and holds an MBA from USC’s Marshall School of Business. Amelia Jane Nierenberg is a high school junior at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a fiction reader for The Adroit Journal, and the fiction editor and co-founder of the Fieldston literary magazine, The Icebox. Gina Park is currently creating innovative sweaters for the Heritage department at Forever21. Rider Strong is an actor and filmmaker, best known for his roles on Boy Meets World and in Cabin Fever, and is co-host and founder of the books podcast Literary Disco.
FOUNDERS Vanessa Jimenez Gabb Crissy Van Meter
ASSISTANT EDITOR Jessica Gray
The King of Pigeon Forge | KAYLA RAE WHITAKER | 6 Matagorda | TYLER CORBRIDGE | 19 Tomorrow Promises | ALICIA LAWRENCE | 21 My Desdemona| MAGGIE WOLFF PETERSON | 25 The Post | SEAN CONWAY | 28
POETRY Not Tonight | CASSANDRA DALLET | 47 ORES | BENJAMIN NORRIS | 48 Jumping Buses | DUSTIN LUKE NELSON | 50 Exit Strategy on a Wednesday Night: | PATTIE FLINT | 51 The Reiki | MERRIDAWN DUCKLER | 52
Good things happen over guacamole. We can’t believe it was a year ago, in a Mexican restaurant on Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn, that we met to discuss the beginnings of what is now 5/Q. As writers, we knew we loved the idea of having our work published. We also knew how frustrating that process could be. As aspiring publishers, we wanted to try something different. We wanted to include new voices in an editorial dialogue and produce a literary publication that could, in turn, somehow be the people’s. We hope we’ve accomplished something close to this and are humbled and energized every day by your positive and supportive responses to this project. All different communities of readers and writers are out there. Let’s continue to help bring them together. Stay tuned, C+V
The King of Pigeon Forge KAYLA RAE WHITAKER
I pull the Thursday/Friday/Saturday shift at the Giggle Shack on the Parkway by Elvis Emporium and Wayne’s Western Wear (Kid’s Boots 19.95/Ask About Our Spurs) and across from Clearview Baptist, its glittering fifteen-foot cross visible from Sevierville. I’m having a smoke outside, waiting for the seven o’clock, and I see a married couple pull out of Pancake Den. You can tell they’re married. Their faces have each assumed the essence of the other like putty to newsprint. They’re severely obese and in motorized scooters, his and hers Rascals, steering and holding hands at the same time. Before I toss my smoke on the ground, I give it a sensuous little smooch on its filter and think Goddamn, baby, I’m gonna miss you so hard, you’ll be everywhere but you’ll never be mine again. As Bethany informed me that morning, this is day seven on the Seminex. My last as a smoker. Six fifty-five. Showtime. I plaster on a smile, crank open the door. I hear MC Goofy Gary ask the crowd if they’re ready for some good clean family humor. I’m pretty sure I want to die. * My lead-in at the club tonight is Tonk. Tonk’s new, goes to bible study with Jimmy, the owner’s daughter or something, which is how he got stage time. His preacher came to the set last week. Just sort of hung around the periphery like he was worried someone might see him, then threw a very ministerial fit afterward, brow bent, hands laced together, speaking in tones of shame-inducing quiet. Evidently, the problem lay in Tonk’s toilet humor. Lots of poop jokes, more than a handful of fart gags (and those sounding
suspiciously derivative- I always remind myself to go through some old Jeff Foxworthy tapes to see how directly they’ve been lifted). “Lewdness walks a thin line, Brother Baggott,” the minister told him. Tonk argued, dressed in overalls and a John Deere capbecause that’s his thing, wearing farm gear onstage- “Well now, I figger the Lord made the human body sacred. And iddint discussing its intricacies tribute and praise to Him?” The minister actually looked like Tonk gave him food for thought. What the fuck. This guy’s two steps away from Unitarianism. I felt like saying this to Tonk. But it would have been mean. Not funny-mean. Just mean-mean. I’m hunched over a Bud Light when Tonk thumps me on the shoulder. “Good one tonight.” “Thanks.” “You look a mite down in the mug, brother.” He sits next to me. “Oh yeah?” “Ye-ees.” He motions to Danny, the bartender, for a pop. Danny growls at him. “What’s troubling you? Folks cain’t laugh at a sad man, you know.” “Oh, I know, Tonk. I know.” He slurps his coke, gives a soft, closed-mouth burp. “Well, come on, then.” I flick my hand. “Lady problems,” I say finally. “Oh Lord,” he says. “Brother, I cain’t help ye, but I shore can sympathize with ye.” Claps me on the shoulder again and waddles away. “Pray over it,” he calls to me. Danny leans in. “You know what I say.” “What.” “Just give er a punch in the cooter.” He heer heers. “Wow.”
“What.” “Nothing.” “Well, fuck ye if ye don’t like it.” Danny gives me the evil eye until I stand up and take it to the back. “You sucked tonight,” he calls out. The door slams closed. I’m thirty this year. I can feel my life closing in, loopholes cinching. Before now, I could always see an emergency window of departure, a place from which I could slip out of obligation and into the beyond. Getting up on stage used to be the hope vehicle, something I could count on for some life ventilation. A carefully-crafted dumppool for dreaming, musing, the out-there-Technicolor-border-of-the-mind-shit I’ve always done a secret dance with. Then I was asked to pull it back a little;;some mamaws from Kentucky were offended by a highfalutin joke about Enron some years back. I obliged, thinking somewhere, sometime, when I was finally recognized, I could retell the story in interviews of how I did standup in Jesus’s Republican Disneyland and was actually asked to censor myself, imagine that. But redemption is no longer a foregone conclusion. I feel milked of something essential up there. Even the reception from the bumpkins is lukewarm. I wouldn’t want to listen to me, either. I have a weeping hunger under my breastbone stronger than ever and sometimes I wonder if anything will ever quiet it. And was it my imagination, or did they seriously sound like they were warming up to that toolbox Tonk tonight? * Bethany and I order Kung Pao Chicken from Leo’s Cluck n Run and eat it off a china set her mamaw left her. “For my wedding,” she says darkly, but perks up when I show her my Seminex refill. “Last day,” I tell her, and she does this happy little squee and scrunches her shoulders.
What I liked about Bethany in the beginning was how truly batshit crazy she was below that good girl clogger veneer. Trained at Johnson City from age eight, national circuit performer five times and counting, she is a master of onstage Appalachian ladyhood: humble, not too happy, now, and plenty of chest. But she’s a bona fide beast. Takes all that latent aggression to bed with her. She can ride for hours like nobody’s business, those clogging muscles flexing dark and sweet as she humps, whispering absolute filth in my ear. Once, we started fucking in the middle of a fight. Screeching at each other one minute, and the next, tugging off her panties to take a nibble, her gasping my name into the wall. I pick up the last Crab Rangoon when she says, “I wanna get married.” Were this a movie, the Rangoon would shoot out of my fingers and land somewhere hilarious, perched on its little fried legs. But I’m so tired I just let it fall and hit the plate with a clink. “Huh?” “Let’s get married.” “Um. Why?” Her shoulders slump. “Gee. I feel so wanted right now.” “Come on. That’s not what I mean and you know it. I mean, why now?” It’s just us,” she says. “We’ve been together six years. Six years is like forever. You know Bryce and Karen? They’re getting married in June. They’ve only been dating two years.” I’ve met Bryce and Karen. Karen’s a pushy shrew. Owns one of those shops that sells those poofy fuckjob dresses with lace and crinoline for pageant girls. If universal
justice exists, a tribe of sociopathic Shirley Temples will hunt her down and put the boots to her. Bryce is an electrician at Dollywood with a dead look in his eyes. “We’re not Bryce and Karen,” I say. “Do you want to be Bryce and Karen?” “No. I want to be us. Just engaged like them.” “You don’t want to be engaged like them.” “How do you know?” “Bryce is miserable. He radiates misery.” “He always looks like that. He’s happy on the inside.” “No one’s happy on the inside.” She huffs. I see brown roots at her temples, fingernails chewed to the bloody quick. It feels like this in our house a good seventy percent of the time; I have a toy she wants, and instead of giving it to her like I should, I don’t, can’t. Something sick and satisfying inside me makes itself complete whenever I see her jump and return to the ground emptyhanded. I know I’m an asshole. I would change it if I could. “I’m getting the feeling we’ve had this discussion before.” “What the hell is your point,” she says. “Now is not the time. Okay? I can’t provide for us.” “I provide for me,” she says, “I provide for us.” And it’s true. I just barely throw in for rent. The furniture, the bed, most of the staples in the fridge. Courtesy of those monster calf muscles. “It doesn’t work like that,” I say. “Enough of that and you will start to resent it. Trust me.” “ So what are we supposed to do. Wait until you get on Letterman?” I stiffen. Make myself not look at the Crab Rangoon.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “ I just mean, what’s going to change?” “I’m working on a new album of stuff,” I tell her. “And I’ll thank you to not tear down what I do. You see me ripping on clogging?” “You used to have an act about it. You called yourself Clumsy Clogging Claudette and jumped up and down onstage.” She’s got me there. Almost broke this guy’s toe once and had to quit the routine. “I’m here,” I say. “Isn’t that enough?” She picks up the plates. I grab the crab Rangoon before she takes it. “Is that the best you can do?” she says. The kitchen door swings shut. * My dad was also a comedian, but we’re the only two in the family. We are Buckeyederivative, from Dayton. Grandpop was chief litigator for a coal company that, prior to 1975, enslaved half of East Tennessee. Scrip and gun thugs and secret Communist infiltration and all that. Dad was the fuckup son, the one too distracted for law school. Grandpop was stabbed walking out of his office and Dad made a joke at the wake about Ohio State offering a seminar on hillbilly knifery alongside civil procedure. No one laughed. His career was born. He met Mom at a bar in Gatlinburg and we stayed after she left for parts unknown. Dollywood had just opened. The place became a boom town. He performed at the city’s first comedy club while managing a souvenir shop during the day. A family-friendly show timed to follow the early bird special at Bob Evans, sprinkled with mother-in-law jokes, light-hearted jabs at politicians. It was the 80s. There was a place for him. Dad always made me feel better after the really hard nights. To do standup is to endure constant jabs to the groin of your ego, relentless psychic asskickings. You never
become used to it; bombing your set never becomes less painful. You simply learn to more easily locate a suite of things to eat, drink, fuck, and mull over that will soothe the sting of a roomful of people hating your guts or, worse, dismissing this thing into which you’ve poured hours of time and thought and heart. This is a job for the unyielding; you won’t survive otherwise. Dad told me comedy was like administering laxative to rock-hard guts. Tight, uncomfortable, the mass does not want to budge, but eventually, there is movement. And once it starts, it doesn’t stop. The achievement of momentum is harder than its maintenance. And where we are, we have to strike a delicate balance between doing the job and doing our actual work. If you want your artistry, you have to be delicate, a real light stepper. It’s the Bible belt. Audiences here want to leave with bland approval. It was a real nice show. Not too blue, you know. Even in the face of failure, Dad got up onstage every night. Chasing the dragon. Death defying. He was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer Bill Hicks had and kept going onstage until he was too scary to look at. Practice, he maintained, never got old. There was momentum yet to be achieved. A nice way to feel, I imagine. * I’m awakened in the night by the glowing window. Not the condo lot lights, but something brighter that lures me outside in my boxers, my bare feet slimy in the dew. My father occurs to me. He’s close by. The hairs on my arms crackle to life. Something in me cracks open. I am compelled to run the slope behind the complex, a grand stretch of green tapering off into the woods. I run fast, yelling, feeling my legs work, vaguely aware that I’m
high, that something’s happening, and not caring. I run to him. There is no end there is no end there is no Back inside, sweaty and grass streaked and pretty sure there’s a tick on the back of my neck, I float to the ceiling to watch myself sprawl. Where were you, says Bethany. There is no end there is no end there is no What are you talking about. The sleepwalking. No more moving through it. Try again. You’re scaring me. Just stop it. I watch myself do a little kick. I’m clogging on my back. Tee hee. Stop, she says, I mean it. Kick ball heel. Ball heel turn. The light eclipses us both. * Next morning. I get up, throw up, and head to work feeling crappy. A note from Bethany on the counter saying we need to talk, and to call the doctor because the Seminex is doing something to me. Ig-nore. But in the car, I look at the insert that came with my prescription: insomnia abnormal dreams hallucinations bradyphrenia. Bradyphrenia, I think. What a beautiful name. There’s a float to my body now, and I like it. There is no longer a barrier between the tickertape parade in my head and what floats from my mouth, just a place from which the bad feeling is pinched off. My spine stretches, disappears. Think funny and you’ll be funny, my little hombre. Can’t remember the majority of tonight’s show after. No aim, no agenda, just me dicking around onstage: a few choice words on Bethany’s blossoming
varicose veins, the essential suckiness of any Ford post 1985, dogs fucking, pizza pie. Vaguely remember using a half-empty water bottle as a pantomime dick and humping the air around the stage, defeated, before it occurs to me that I ripped this bit off Robin Williams. Ever have one of those days where you wake up and a neon glowing pageant Satan is dribbling electric spit into your ear and whispering for you to burn down your apartment complex? Thanks, folks! Enjoy your stay in our own little Sodom and Gomorrah of the Middle South. Try the pancakes! I get home and Bethany’s in glasses, no makeup, goop on her hair, screeching about something I said last night and about the fact that the sink’s piled with her mamaw’s dirty china, china I have flecked and smeared with Kung Pao Chicken and dried Frosted Flakes and bits of pot pie. I must be the culprit; she does not eat Frosted Flakes, she does not eat pot pie. I have no recollection of this. What are you talking about, she hollers. You aren’t making any sense. You’re not making sense either. You have no respect for my belongings, mamaw gave me those on her deathbed. Well, that’s stunningly manipulative. God you are so mean spirited, that’s all it is from you, all the time. Calling me names. I didn’t call you anything. You called me manipulative. You just did. I wish I had a tape recorder sometimes. “That’s it,” I tell her. “You want the dishes clean?” I gather it all up: pots, plates, teacups, the goddamn egg perch, and I put it all in a garbage bag and she says, “What are you doing?” “Doing the dishes.” And I run out into the yard, her screeching and pulling my sleeve, and I’ve got the lighter fluid and she goes, “No no no don’t you dare,” and I dump the bag and spray it all with lighter fluid and drop a match from a Giggle Shack book and
those dishes go up in flames, and I’m on my knees in front of the blaze doing Jimi Hendrix fire-beckoning motions, and for the first time since I quit smoking, I achieve perfect peace. Bethany runs back to the apartment. I hear crashes and screams and she’s destroying the living room- ripping couch cushions, slinging pictures to the floor, crunching Precious Moments figurines with her feet. She squeezes a crystal vase into pieces. Blood runs down her forearms. Seeing it drip snaps me out of something. “Bethany.” I reach for her. She spits in my face and screams. Runs into the bedroom. Goes for the records. “No,” I say, running for her. She turns to me and snaps a Bob Newhart record in half, and I grab her and she falls into me and this is the us we’ve been destined to become all along. * Jimmy tells me, “Tonight you’re leadin Tonk in.” “What? He’s my lead-in. What the hell. He’s only been here like two weeks.” Jimmy holds up his hands. “Relax. We’re just tryin it out. Ain’t nothin wrong with stickin around to see how he operates, though. He’s a crowd pleaser. Real natural.” This just takes the fuckin beans out of me. So even though the only place to go is back to the apartment, that’s exactly what I do. Maybe a good boyfriend would stay. But a smart boyfriend bolts. I am nothing if not the cerebral type. While Bethany’s out, I put my standup albums, my laptop, some clothes into a duffle bag. Dad’s watch, the last of my Seminex. Pack of Camels just in case. She returns with her mom. Her hands are bandaged all to hell. Her mother sees her in, then gives me the evil eye on the way out, stopping only to say, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” “Where’s that lovely mother of yours going,” I ask her.
“NA meeting.” “Ever consider a twelve-step program yourself?” “You’re disgusting.” “Little harsh.” She thrusts her weird, boxing-gloved hands at me. “Look what you did.” “You did that to yourself. You did this whole thing to yourself. I’m tired of fighting.” She staggers toward me, bandages spotting pink, pawing my jacket sleeve, my shoulders. “Please don’t leave,” she begs. “I’ll quit it, I promise. I’ll let you smoke again. Whatever you want.” “You won’t. You know you won’t.” “I’ll do anything,” she says. “I’ll do whatever you want.” “Please stop.” “Anything.” I take her shoulders and gently move her aside. “Please don’t,” she whispers. I shut the door. * I’m at the Giggle Shack next night and Jimmy asks me if I’m ready to come back to work. I say yes, sorry, of course. He says, you open for Tonk. I say fine. And a guy from one of the coasts pulls up in a BMW (little understated for the agent I’ve been envisioning all these years, but whatever, still all shiny and shit). And he makes a beeline for stupid goddamned Tonk, guzzling coke at the bar with his minister, who’s started showing up for every set calling himself Tonk’s advisor. The news makes the rounds before Tonk’s even onstage: he’s been signed and asked aboard the Redneck
Doods Comedy Tour, right alongside Unabashed Racist and Flannel-sporting Illiterate Plumber. Tonk, who has no flair, no imagination. Tonk who bleeds whatever is the opposite of panache. Gravy. Probably. I do a quick accounting of my life: no girlfriend, no family, very nearly no job. But what I do have: a car. A little money. The desire to defy death. I float to the ceiling and watch myself glide to the stage, mount it like I’m making love to it. This is infinite. This is ditching your shirt and letting the gods feel your boobies. Giving the dead the chance to speak. Try again. My tongue is a bird that flies around the room. The words are a stream, one and unbreakable. Is it the Seminex? Is it Dad? It is rapture, and it is hope. I will remember nothing later except nervous titters, then silence. Land on a bestiality joke, nail it. Let the mic drop and give off a wave of feedback so Tonk and the preacher and the agent wince and scrunch their shoulders. A lady at the front table bursts into tears, openly crumpling. Her husband lifts himself from the table and breathes, “Why you little son of a bitch.” Jimmy is by the door, mouth as straight a line as I’ve ever seen. “Ell aye tar,” I tell him. Warm outside. The early summer crowd will come soon, those who can take a weekend in May, come with the kids in June, good Christian highschoolers trying to swindle beer out of Danny. Fat families giggling at men are from Mars women are from Venus jokes, you know you’re a redneck when jokes, jokes they laugh at because they are known things with the warmth of the known. The parking lot’s empty in the light of Grace Baptist. The interstate is five minutes away.
I feel the presence in the backseat two minutes too late; the rise of a body on super calves from the bucket set, the looping of the rope across my neck, bandaged hands gripping the ends, and Bethany’s voice in my ear, tightening her grip as she tells me to drive.
Originally from East Kentucky, Kayla has an MFA in fiction writing from New York University and is currently at work on a novel about raging alcoholic lady cartoonists.
Matagorda TYLER CORBRIDGE
This is East Texas, and East Texas is flat. Here, in Matagorda, flat land butts up against flat ocean. The joke goes that if you stand on a can of soup, and if you squint your eyes just right, you’ll see the back of your head. I used to let my brain chew on that joke pretty often as a kid, when I had no way of understanding it, and I’d only repeat it around younger kids, or the kids that had just moved in, or anybody who I knew wouldn’t get it any more than I did. I used to say it when we played kick the can outside the Lucky Stars gas station on Main, balancing one foot on the upright can I’d shout, “I can see the back of my head!” and a few others would try it and claim that they could see it too while the rest stood there, mystified, too scared to try because what if they didn’t see it? And then what if they did? We were the kids who lived in houses that were built on the ground: small houses, a couple rooms to each one, and small porches, only big enough for one chair, a spittoon, and a single, handsome, potted Aloe Vera plant. Our houses would be the first to go. The others, built on stilts, might survive. This was when everyone was still talking about Allison. Our parents would start sentences with “Ever since Allison came through...” or “Back before Allison...” and everything was measured in time against that one storm. Before Allison it would have been Alicia, and before Alicia it was Claudette, all the way back to the Great Storm of 1900. Stories from the storms were muddled with stories from the Bible; they were stories so flooded in mystery and lore, walking such a fine line between truth and fiction, told sometimes in reverence, sometimes in warning, it were as though the world began its second act with the Great Storm—like Noah’s flood happened here at the Gulf of Mexico just a few hundred yards from our front door. We used to run up and down Matagorda beach, dodging defunct jellyfish that sank into the sand like spilt, blue lava, and before going home we’d stop to watch the bay as the sun made a dash past that perfect line that splits grey ocean from lavender sky, and the clouds would be exposed, if only for a minute, as enormous and menacing by those final volleys of light and the approaching dark that chased the light away. Those were the clouds we knew. They were unpitying, even sinful. We watched them, and they watched us, and from time to time there would come a low, prophetic mumbling from their guts and we’d walk home those nights with Allison on our minds and God at our heels. One night, as we sat on the beach with our families and watched my first storm sail inland, the Gulf breathed heavier than usual. Our parents spoke obsequiously, remembering suddenly how lightning flashes pink when clouds are black, and green when they are blue. The sky swirled and met at an epicenter, like a peppermint, and then it transformed into a bright green color that lit up the clouds and looked more like seawater than air. I sat up
straight with my face parallel to the sky, and felt for a brief moment that if I didn’t grab hold of something fast I would fall upward into its shining green waves and drown.
Tyler is a poet and writer of flash fiction who lives in Provo, Utah.
Tomorrow Promises ALICIA LAWRENCE I used to find robins’ eggs. They were paper thin, faintly spotted shells, Easter blue and frayed around the edges where they had been pressed by needle sharp beaks and had then crinkled open. The half-caps fit neatly over my curious fingers, the brittle outer shells would flake to expose a transparent gauze skin beneath. I found them in parks, at the base of trees, forgotten amongst a medley of bark chips and pinecones and moss. Or I would find them in the dirt pockets between reeds of tall grass at the edges of untended fields. They were objects worthy of wonder made from living things, and painted brighter than the colours in any box of paints or pencil crayons. They were bright enough to draw my attention away from rainbow-hued candy, from dimestore jewelry, from the scratched and worn black dots painted onto the unblinking eyes of my stuffed toys. These frail eggshells were a small sea, a small sky, the casing that had held a world inside.
I remember my first visit to the playground at the elementary school. Initially enthused, I ran toward rough weather-greyed wood beams. Children filled every available space. My parents waved goodbye from a sprinting distance behind me. The bars and beams over my head made a net against the early autumn sky. As I reached for a set of metal bars, I became hesitant inside the maze of objects. I thought of how ultimately unresponsive the bars and logs and bolts and sand that composed the playground were. They moved when pushed and pulled and pressed on, but always swung
back to a static state. My steps forward across a wooden plank bridge were awkward. My hands grasped at the sting of frayed rope guides and ladders. I noticed that the other children were mostly older, and their stares were unusually silent and severe. The tall girls on the tires, hair pulled back and tidy sweaters, snickered when I passed. I looked past the playground to the field beyond, feeling lost, and a pale crystal colour of blue outstretched above me with mercilessly unanchored infiniteness. This sky was unlike the blue of the robin’s eggs. Those were a powder blue that beckoned from the serenity of the egg’s womb to the exhilaration of flight into a sky soon cozy as the feathered down that gently warmed against the robin’s skin, a sky that would wrap around the robin’s body the way a soft shawl tightened around the shoulders and stretched slightly to fit. This sky was a stranger.
Summer arrived. The kinder-garden children had transitioned through their first year, cross-legged on the cool grey classroom carpet, our circle more like a huddle, the teacher less like our parents. Sports day was intended to signal our end-of-year celebration. All of the elementary school kids were divided into teams, while flags in primary colours were used to demarcate our places to line up on the field. Each team had smaller groups, and a few of my classmates were distributed amongst each. With an older student as the leader, we moved from game to sport to competition. A cone marker on the clean lawn indicated relay with a ball, a baton, thrown in water and returned, rope on the ankles and hop, one by one, in pairs, leapfrog.
By mid-afternoon, each group returned to the coloured posts at the front of the field. We sat on the grass line up two-by-two, waiting patiently for the principle to announce the day’s winners. Our group leader hushed us, entreating us to be complacent and still by puckering her lips and pressing her hands against the air. Her eyes were wide and her expression urgent, as the principle’s indistinct words floated to us across the air in a murmuring jumble of pointed tones. The elementary school children, lined straight and facing forward in colour-coded rows, were less a sea of faces than a grid. The lawn that stretched out behind us transformed seamlessly across the fenced boundaries of the school ground into the depths of a sprawling residential suburb. All I could think was this was not freedom, that I wanted to leave. “Go quickly,” the leader advised in whispered permission, after I stood and walked to the front of the row. As I walked past the staring children, the disapproving teachers, I felt as though I was being pumped full of the same needles that had made me faint at inoculation. I escaped inside the elementary school, seeking refuge in the familiarity of my home classroom. I walked through the slick halls, mine the only footsteps.
While still in elementary school, my older brother and I would play on the carpet in the living room at home, the atmosphere comfortably languid. Tiny blocks and scattered toys were the places where I could build my world. I stacked the pieces together, but always to an equation that crumbled. I lost interest over lack of resolution. I stayed on gentle tiptoe under my stepfather’s eye, and never questioned the occasional day home from school when he would watch us play. He saw snares in dreaming on fairy dust, and it
was no wonder that the equations wouldn’t work. I explained, learned to give instructions, orders.
Barely a teen, I shared a plot of grass next to the beige siding of a housing complex with a group of classmates. Front doors faced away from the street and we rested with the forlorn backs of homes to us. This was someone’s neighbourhood, this place that was bit by cold comfort. As the others talked, I watched the sky extend above me. Clouds traced the line of my vision – I searched for the promised inclusion that had made us decide to spend the afternoon here. I heard light laughter, and sharp elbows jostled my ribs, “She’s in space!” Together, we seemed objects to one another, collecting cruelty as coin. We had already been well taught to see ourselves through others’ eyes, and too told who each of us must be. I became aware that tomorrow was not promised to me.
It was a semi-desert interior summer. Four of us sat crushed next to one another in the cab of the truck that drove us to the outskirts of town and up the off-roads, past tumbleweed and scraggly trees to where spiky yellow tall grass blanketed the otherwise barren landscape. When we climbed out of the cab to stand at the top of the hills, the solemn sky was a greying dusk. Warm air embraced our skin while the dark clouds that loomed overhead steadily overwhelmed tentatively gathering spatters of stars. We stood in a group and looked around at others standing in twos and threes next to their cars. We gazed down from the promontory at the field of urban lights in the valley
below, while the fierce wind blew our hair in tangles, and the air crackled with the strange dry shock of no rain despite lightning streaks several miles away.
Pulling my sweater around my shoulders, I thought I would never tire of the dialogue between lightning cloud and tangled bramble. I decided that this was the place where people were dreamt, this place where the landscape breathed its own form of life, where the only people in the world were the ones in before me, where anything could be told. I could have stayed until morning and hid my soul in that earth that the floor beneath my feet would always be just across from those very hills. As if two halves of an eggshell closed together to seal me inside, the soft lines of the surrounding landscape dimmed and night swallowed the horizon. I remembered that the world was not mundane.
Alicia recently graduated with an MA from the University of Victoria Department of Pacific and Asian Studies.
My Desdemona MAGGIE WOLFF PETERSON Hitler is the Elvis of psycho leadership. The tattoos on the shave-head white boys shout it loud and proud. They don’t know what the hell they’re wearing etched into their skin, what the hell it really means. As if they ever cracked a history book in their lives. But it’s bad-ass and it hurt like hell to get it, and that fuels their crazy. I stay away from them. A Complication. That’s the elegant word for something that shits up a thing that ought to be plain simple. Like your brother shouldn’t be fucking your new wife behind your back. Pretty as a daisy, she was to me, before that. Christ, I knew her since we were little kids. It was nowhere in my mind to take a knife to her face before I walked in and found them. Then I had to wreck her pretty like she wrecked mine. It’s interesting how bruises start purple, then turn green and yellow before they disappear, since blood on your shirt just coagulates and turns brown. Oh, sweetie, sweetie. My little sweetie. Of course I love you. Who wants a dog to lick their face after it eats shit? It’s not like I’m afraid of white people. I can proudly claim my own inner redneck. I don’t need to hang a gigantic Confederate flag off the front porch of my double-wide, or scratch ink into my arm to remind myself who I am. I’m just fine on a summer Saturday night with a cooler of beer in cans, and some friends and a cornhole competition in the back yard. With my girl in cutoff shorts, sitting sideways in her lawn chair next to me, with her legs over the armrest and her bare feet resting on my thigh. That’s happiness enough. I can barely stand to think about it. Anything taken out of context becomes significant because it stands alone. There’s no cushioning, nothing serving to moderate. But when you know the whole story, what stood alone as an alarming behavior is repositioned as a reasonable reaction. The punishable is reduced to the unfortunate. In other words, something anyone might have done. I was supposed to be the smart one. Him, they tracked for vo-ed, but they told me I was “college-bound.” All it took was a little bit of paying attention and reading the books on the handout. As if knowing Shakespeare matters fuck-all now.
So, my brother comes to see me, and he’s all fresh and smiling, and I haven’t had a decent haircut in months, and it wouldn’t matter anyway because my last shower wasn’t this morning. “How’s it going?” he asks me. I haven’t a clue how to answer him. Should I say it’s going well, it’s going fine? It’s going, there’s no disputing that. He’s wearing a new watch. It has faces inside its face. To tell the time in other zones while you’re following time where you’re at. The dials inset in its shiny, mother-of-pearl face are what watchmakers call “complications.” My brother wears his complications on his arm and shows two faces at once. But I’m looking swift in my orange jumpsuit and rubber shoes.
During the past 30 years, Maggie’s work has been published in The Washington Post, Newsweek and Womens’ Day magazines and The New York Times, as well as regionally and locally.
The Post SEAN CONWAY
The place felt like the last station before oblivion, because it was. I hated walking in there yet I was always first, the small room baking hot like an incubator even at this early hour, stale with yesterday’s sweat, the walls scratched with graffiti, squared letters of first names as though the authors knew they sat on some precipice overlooking the end and wanted—somehow—to leave their modest legacies. We called it The Post. It had once been a small railroad station but the tracks had long been paved over. For the last few years it was used as an employment office, its structure as dilapidated and sad as its occupants. Days Work/Days Pay the hand-written cardboard sign under the window read. I’d been coming here for seven months. The young kid, Lynard, had stopped showing up after being the only other constant regular, besides myself, for probably the last two months. Then gone. I’d known exactly three things about him: that his father had named him after the band Lynard Skynard, he was from Kentucky, and—if you were to believe what he told me—his hair hadn’t grown since his identical twin brother passed away two and a half years earlier. Right away I’d known something was amiss. Never mind how young he was: no more than nineteen or twenty. Or that he was one of only a few white guys I’d see in here. He had that slouch, that hangdog look that said something wasn’t quite right with him. Not the look of a young, vibrant, has-his-whole-life-in-front-of-him whatever-you-call-it. That was missing. I’d been hooked up with him a couple times before the big racetrack job in September. We hosed Dumpsters behind a food warehouse for a couple days, and then he
was one of about a dozen guys on a job digging trenches for PVC piping at a new housing development: all older guys, forties and fifties, like myself. And one young kid running circles around us. It wasn’t until that racetrack job, high up on the roof, that I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. “Lloyd,” I said to him. “I’ve been seeing you around lately.” He pushed his hand toward me without really looking my way. “Lyn,” he said. “Lynn?” “Yeah, Lyn. Lynard.” “Leonard?” “Lynard. Like Lynard Skynard.” The racetrack was closed down while renovations were underway. Most of the horses had been shipped out somewhere. Our team worked up on the roof, pulling away layers of tar and whatever shit was underneath, rotted debris that crumbled into dust and blurred the air. By the end of the day my nose was clogged and it was in my ears and eyes. Not a fine dust but something chunkier, flakes and slivers of fiberglass or asbestos or who knew what. I left that afternoon hoping I hadn’t done any permanent damage, hoped that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning blind. The next day I brought a swim mask. I was dragging up long peels of rotting tar paper and piling them into a wheelbarrow, which Lyn then shuttled over to a plastic chute at the very edge of the roof, directly above a large Dumpster. I didn’t know why he was moving so fast. I’d barely had time to draw a couple long breaths, hands on my hips, before he was back. Every so often I would accidentally breathe out my nose and fog my mask. Lyn never really spoke, but every time he set the barrow down he took a look at me. “Keeps the shit out of my eyes,” I told him, even though he hadn’t asked.
He nodded, then turned his head away from the direction of the breeze stirring up more fiberglass shards. “You need some kind of eye wear doing this.” He shrugged this time, pushing his thumb and forefinger into the corner of his eyes. Our boss was a prick named Rison. Something-or-other Rison, just some cheap, lazy son-of-a-bitch who’d swing by The Post each morning and snatch up a crew for whatever God-awful shitshow job he needed done. Dirt cheap labor. No union. No benefits. Not even a pair of protective fucking eye wear. I looked over at him, watched him show a guy named Dave how to power wash the stripped rooftop. Rison’s shirt was off, bronzed, hard skin, one cigarette sticking from his lips, unlit, and another behind his ear. He wore a pair of plastic eyeglasses. September is no time to spend up on a black roof. Not in Florida it ain’t. You could see the heat billowing off the rooftop, and if you made the mistake of kneeling on it, or touching your bare fingers to it, you could lose skin. The first day, I took my shirt off sometime during the morning and tied it around my waist, but the hard corners of jagged, torn material left me gashed and scratched by the end of the day. Now my T-shirt hung heavy on my shoulders, weighted with sweat and sticking to my skin. “Fucking hot,” Lyn muttered during one of his wheelbarrow stops. He hadn’t spoken in what had to be hours. I was taken by surprise. “Huh?” “Nothing.” He pulled the bottom of his shirt away from his body and bent to wipe his face with it. “It’s hot.” I kept tossing shit into his wheelbarrow. “No fuck it’s hot. I keep telling you to go slow.” He shrugged and dug a Chap Stick out of his pocket.
We went downstairs to eat lunch because it was just too hot to sit on the roof with no hope of shade. I leaned my back against the cool brick of a wall, away from the sun, and flipped open a small cooler: ham sandwich, a bit soggy, a pickle wrapped in foil, a bag of goldfish crackers. I packed my own lunch these days. Lyn crouched next to me, like he usually did, but wouldn’t quite sit all the way down. He unwrapped some kind of health bar. Above, Rison kept working, just to send a message that his body didn’t need rest, or fuel. I guess we were supposed to feel too guilty to stop for lunch. The new guy was still up there too. I ate quietly for a while and kept looking at Lyn: squatted, staring off somewhere, his nut and raisin bar wrapper rustling. That’s when I asked him if he got any siblings, just because of the quiet and because with a kid named after Lynard Skynard there might be more where that came from. “Brother,” he said, the pocket of his cheek full. “Yeah?” He nodded. “Identical twin.” “Identical twin, no shit.” I took a bite of my sandwich. “What’s his name?” Lyn, I noticed, wasn’t looking off into space after all, but at a row of stables adjacent to us. They were all empty save one. In the shadows a long equine head flicked its ears and then backed into darkness. Lyn balled the wrapper in his fist. “Seger,” he told me. I caught on right away. “You mean like Bob Seger?” Lyn nodded. “Yep.” “Lyn and Seger, the twins. Unreal.” I shook my head. He wasn’t looking. “Coolest twins in town, I bet. Either of you guys musicians?”
He stood back up and pushed the wrapper into his back pocket. “No.” Then he walked away, toward the stables, and that was that.
Often on jobs like this there are enough bigmouths around that all I have to do is listen and be entertained and speak up when I want to speak up. Not this gig, though. Dave continued to puppy-dog the boss around, trying to please. Lyn hardly spoke. The days drew long, no diversion from the heat and sweat and floating debris. I needed a surgical mask, something for my mouth. A bandana at the very least. I was going home with a sore throat every night, coughing clumps into the toilet, always thirsty. “You see that game last night?” Lyn put the wheelbarrow down while I underhanded tar chunks into it. “What game?” he asked, his thin chest heaving. I’d been bent like this for hours now, my back screaming at me. Lyn waited for an answer, hands on his hips. I tossed two more pieces into the wheelbarrow. “I don’t know,” I said. The tedious hours bore on. At lunch, down on the grass in the shade, I tried again. “So this twin brother of yours. Seger,” I began. Today I packed half of a leftover cheese steak grinder, warm and melted from the sun. “You two have one of those psychic connections I read about? You know, that identical twin stuff?” Lyn crouched against the wall with his slim shoulders folded inward, hands clasped between his knees, balanced on the balls of hid feet. No lunch today. He plucked blades of grass and stared off in the direction of the stables. He shrugged. I took a bite of my sandwich. Looked at him. Looked at the stables and the one horse over there. Took another bite.
“Is that a no?” I asked. He shrugged again, still not looking at me. I noticed tiny flies pasted to the slick, sun-burnt skin of the back of his neck, little specks that I thought at first was dirt. “Naw,” he said finally. “No. He’s dead, he died.” I stopped chewing. “Oh. He did?” “Yeah.” I finished chewing and swallowed. “Oh.” He shrugged again. Still looking off at the stable. I almost told him sorry, but didn’t. I also almost asked him what happened, but decided not to. Instead I picked my grinder up and took a small bite, chewing deliberately, watching him sidelong. The horse across the way came to the stable opening and poked its head into the sun, blinking. Then, uninterested, retreated. “Actually, my hair stopped growing.” He said this so matter-of-factly, with such monotone, that I didn’t know what he was referring to. I looked across at the horse but found no answer over there. “You what now?” “The twin thing,” he said. “You asked me about the identical twin thing. My hair.” He sort of lowered his head a little and blew up at his bangs. “It hasn’t grown in two and a half years.”
The good news was, this got him to talk some more. The days weren’t quite as deadsilent. Still pretty quiet, but not so painful. I wasn’t sure if I believed his story, about the hair. I kept looking at it, trying to somehow gauge it. It was a little shabby-looking, but maybe that was the style these days with the young guys. Still, it wasn’t two and a half
years shabby. I kept wanting to ask him if he was bullshitting me, or delusional. Kept wanting to ask how his brother died, but I didn’t. I wanted to know why a strong, smart kid like him was hanging around at The Post waiting for Rison to pick him up each morning, working for a day's pay like a shmuck. Low wage, no benefits, no security of any kind. I’d been working steadily with Rison for a while now, but this timeframe was unusual. For every job I picked up that lasted two or three or four weeks straight, there were half a dozen jobs that were for a single day’s work only, and often might have one or two days in between where I’d sit at The Post for an hour or sometimes two and not get assigned anything at all. On those days I would get a coffee and doughnut and sometimes a newspaper and walk back to the motel I was living at, The Nightingale, to spend the day waiting for the next day. Lyn stopped crouching next to me at lunch. He started to eat standing, downing his raisin bars in just a few quick bites, distracted by the horse stalls. One afternoon he noticed someone working in the stables, and so he wandered over. After that, he spent most lunches on that side. “What’s the deal with that horse?” I asked him one late afternoon, on the roof, the heat weighing down on us, sun blinding-white. For two full weeks now I’d been bent over, tearing up this roof into long, heavy shreds, piling them onto the wheelbarrow so Lyn could dump it all into the chute. Felt like purgatory. Lyn put the wheelbarrow down for me. His shirt was off, torso etched with thin scratches from the roof scraps, some dark brown and dried, others a hot, raw orange. His whole body shiny with sweat, making him almost too bright to look at. I tugged at a long, stubborn twist of roof tar, my back blaring at me to stop.
“Name’s Banner,” he told me, licking his chapped, shriveled lips. “Handsome horse, huh? Retired from the races.” I slapped a piece of roof tar into his wheelbarrow, where it let out a loud ring. “Oh.” From what little I ever saw of it, I suppose it was handsome. Had two distinct colors to it, in patches, like a cow or something—brown and white. “Looks like it’s the only one left here.” “Yeah. The guy said that most the other horses are racing at different tracks for a couple months. This one’s retired, though, like I said. Supposed to be euthanized.” “Youth and what?” “Euthanized. Put down.” He lifted the wheelbarrow handles and turned away. I had exactly fifty seconds to catch my breath, stretch my back, take a drink, whatever. We’d been working as a team for long enough now that I had it ingrained. Sometimes I’d just place my fists on my hips, lean back and close my eyes, arching my back to loosen it. And then open them again and reach for another strip of tar just as Lyn returned. Behind me I could hear Rison barking at the new guy, Dave. The delivery truck had arrived with its heavy-duty conveyor belt rising from the ground to the roof like a fire department ladder truck. From below two men loaded the belt with heavy bags of roofing. Dave was catching and stacking them here at the top. It was a bitch of a job—one I’d done a few times before—and I was glad the new guy was put on it. The math, of course, didn’t add up. If two guys were loading it from the bottom, and only one shmuck was catching them at the other end, something had to give. I looked around for Rison and found him near the stairs, pulling violently on a cigarette with a cell phone up near his face. “Let’s go, man, let’s finish this.” I threw my head back around. This was Lyn, standing behind the wheelbarrow and pushing his sweaty hair off his forehead. I’d just miscalculated the fifty-second window.
“We get paid by the hour. Not the wheelbarrow.” I reached for some crumbling chunks of tar, my back groaning in protest. By the sun it had to be around four. One more hour of this shit. And then Lyn about-faced and ran off with his back curved and taut and his arms strained. I wiped a gloved hand across my swim mask, cutting a clear streak through the asbestos dust, or whatever it was. Lyn dumped the load into the shoot, but now stood with the handles sitting forgotten from the tips of his fingers. I watched him staring off somewhere over the edge, down toward the dirt track. Hot and cold, this guy— from darting back and forth like a piston to standing there lost. Then he looked back at me. “There he goes,” he said. I could hear Rison somewhere behind me on his phone, his voice gravelly, carved with its usual stress. And Dave’s grunts, punctuated with the slap of fifty-pound roofing bags. “There who?” I said. “There what?” Next thing I knew the wheelbarrow was sitting there abandoned and Lyn was cutting across the roof, legs scissoring briskly, leaving a wake of debris cloud. “Banner,” I thought I heard him say. He picked up an empty water jug and headed for the stairs. “We need water,” he said before disappearing. I watched the steel door drift shut after him, then looked at Rison, who was oblivious, then toward the edge of the roof. I walked a few steps closer, even though I hated the edges, so I could see down into the lot below. Sure enough, a trainer or grounds worker or someone was leading the horse by the reigns in the direction of a small horse trailer with an aluminum ramp rolled out. The horse followed with an obedience and slow grace, its head sulked low, ears twitching. Lyn was right about one thing—this was a good-looking horse, patched white and brown, still muscular and strong. Would have been even better-looking, more majestic and impressive, had it been standing tall, head high
and ears pricked. The horse stepped cautiously onto the ramp, hesitating only for a moment before slipping away into the dark of the trailer with a final sweep of its tail. “What’s this about?” Rison put his phone down and lifted his arms, questioning, his chest puffed for emphasis. “You guys on break?” “Lyn went down to, uh, get water.” I backed away from the edge, returning to center. Because I’d stopped working for a moment, I couldn’t help but focus on how hot it was, the late afternoon sun low over the trees, the sky singed orange. Beneath my feet I could feel the give of the warm tar, like a cushion. “For Christ sake,” he said through gnashed teeth, “Dave get over here will ya!” Dave looked more than happy to abandon his post at the conveyor belt, wiping the back of a gloved hand across his wet, red face and coming toward us like a magnet. His bare torso was lean and sinewy, a shadow of a bruise below his ribs where he had been catching sacks of roofing material. Behind him, bags began tumbling off the end of the conveyor belt, hitting the roof with a flat and repetitive thump. Rison holstered his phone at his belt and jacked a thumb toward me. “Step in for Len, grab that wheelbarrow.” Then Rison stepped to the conveyor belt, snatching the bags and heaving them into a surprisingly neat and orderly stack, moving with a speed and fluidity Dave had surely been lacking. I gave Dave a nod hello as he bent for the wheelbarrow handles. “I think his name’s Lyn,” I called over to Rison, who either couldn’t hear me or was choosing not to. I loaded the wheelbarrow and watched Dave steer it away, taking the free seconds to wander over a few feet to take another peek to the ground, anticipating some kind of demonstration, a one-man protest, Lyn standing in front of the trailer with his hands up in a halt like that infamous Tiananmen Square protest. But that’s not what I saw. Instead, the truck was pulling away, slowly, a brown puff of dry dirt rising from the ground behind it. I
could see Lyn’s head, and an arm and leg, blocked partially by a dead tree, watching the trailer leave in quiet defeat. The empty water jug hung forgotten in his fingers. I couldn’t see any expression on his face, not from up here, but he looked somehow stuck, or lost, not sure what to do and probably not having the energy to do it anyway. Dave wasn’t the efficient worker Lyn was. He moved slower, which was fine by me, but he also looked weaker, slim shoulders lifting almost to his ears and elbows locked straight each time he tried to move the loaded wheelbarrow. He had a hard time balancing it too, sometimes taking a sudden step to the side to compensate for this lack of equilibrium. When he came back toward me, pushing the empty wheelbarrow, his face looked long, his eyes sunken. “You all right?” I asked. He licked his lower lip and blinked. “Yeah.” Behind me I could hear the steady smack of Rison stacking bags, and further away the crackle of tires driving over the rocky, dirt road. I looked to the stairwell, anticipating Lyn’s return. Not yet. Dave circled away with the wheelbarrow. I put my hands on my hips, tired and sore. The back of my neck felt sunburned. I must’ve missed it with the sunscreen. Dave had a hard time keeping a straight line, stumbling in an S, which only made more work for himself, traveling a total of about twenty feet in what should’ve been fifteen, extra strain on his muscles fighting to keep the wheelbarrow upright. If it dumped over sideways I decided I wasn’t going to help him pick it up. Maybe I would have anyway, I don’t know. At the lip of the roof he lifted the handles up with great difficulty, trying to use his thin legs, losing traction. He had no calf muscles whatsoever. The load slid from the wheelbarrow, and then he gave it a small side-to-side shake to make sure everything was out, pushing it up a little higher. Then, with two uneasy stumbles, once to the left, once to the right, he suddenly took a heavy step forward and the wheelbarrow went over end and
somersaulted off the roof. Dave, almost comically, pin wheeled his right arm and followed it. Both were gone, the roof empty, like a magic trick. I blinked once, then heard a loud, echoing boom, as if the whole Dumpster below had exploded. For some reason I looked back over my shoulder at Rison. He stacked a bag and glanced up at me, a cigarette butt poking from the corner of his mouth. “What?” he said. I kept looking at him, blinking. I couldn’t stop blinking. “What?” Then he seemed to look past me. “Where’d he go?” He shifted his focus back onto me. “Where’d that little fuck go?” He started taking steps toward me, a roofing bag toppling off the end of the conveyor and punching the roof. I was stuck, like molasses was now flowing through my veins and was having trouble fighting through gravity to get to my brain. I felt slow, unable to find speech. Now Rison was passing me. I tried to follow him with my eyes but he was a blur. “Fuck me,” he kept saying, moving even faster. “Fuck me!” More bags flopped to the roof behind us. By the time I was able to mutter, “The kid fell,” Rison passed me again and disappeared into the stairwell.
I took the longest shower of my life that afternoon, letting the hard jets pound the top of my skull long after the hot water was gone. I kept my eyes open and blinked against the clinging drops of water. Every time I closed my eyes, even for a moment, I saw that kid fall all over again. I saw Rison and Lyn frantic and jittery with panic. I had run down the dark stairwell behind Rison, turning and turning with each new floor and hoping that it wouldn’t end, that I’d never reach the bottom. But then I was on the ground floor and there wasn’t
another turn to be made. The steel door to the bright outside was drifting closed, almost warning me to stay right where I was, but I pushed through, numb and buzzed. Rison stood on a shelf of footing protruding from the Dumpster, his hands clipped to the lip and his head leaning in. I could hear Lyn’s voice coming from inside, pleading and amplified. I looked across the way at the empty stable, a black and gray bucket next to the door, gecko lizards planted still on its side, a dirty convenience store soda cup rolling in a semicircle from a subtle breeze I couldn’t feel. “Okay,” I heard Lyn say from inside the Dumpster. “Okay, okay.” I didn’t know why he kept saying it. “Okay.” Rison stood there as motionless as the lizards. Behind him, the bottom of the yellow chute fluttered, and I traced it with my eyes back up to the roof some fifty feet. “He all right?” Rison finally asked. I stopped behind him and, realizing the swim mask was still on my face, lifted it. Without it I felt naked and unprotected and suddenly it all felt real. “He all right?” The question felt stupid as soon as it left my lips. I stepped onto a foothold and, grabbing the edge of the Dumpster, pulled myself up and looked in. The Dumpster was half full, maybe less than half, black chunks of crumbled tar, bent sheaths of torn tar paper, Dave lying broken and twisted on top of it all. The heat inside was suffocating, as if all these chunks of tar were coal embers. Lyn knelt next to him, Lyn’s knees bloody and raw, his shaggy, uncut hair wet and sweaty and sticking to his scalp. At first glance I thought that Lyn had tried to stabilize Dave by sliding a sheet of plywood underneath him, but when Dave suddenly groaned and winced and made an attempt to turn onto his side, I saw the plywood lift too, attached, and then I recognized the plywood because I had tossed it off the roof myself, holding it carefully along its two edges since it had been loaded with nails.
Rison asked again, “He all right?” and I looked over to him. Lyn made a feeble attempt to leverage the plywood off Dave’s back but it wouldn’t obey. Dave made a strange noise that sounded a little like a gurgle and a little like a squeaking door. “Call an ambulance,” I said, glancing to Rison’s phone holster. “Len, he all right?” “Hey. Boss. Call for an ambulance.”
I put on my one sports jacket after that shower and took the bus to Northwood University in West Palm Beach. Sadie knew I was coming, but she’d only had an hour or so notice, which I’d learned is the only way to get to see her. You had to corner her. “Look at you,” she said, “all clean and shiny.” We sat at a small table in a student common area, paper coffee cups in front of us. I made my mouth laugh, though it nearly pained me to do it. Pressure behind my eye sockets. Throat tight and constricted. My chest felt hollow. I didn’t know the reason I was here aside from the fact that I wanted to look at her, wanted to sit in front of her and take in her pretty face and listen to her talk and to breathe in this coffee, please, please, please anything to push away the picture of that man—that kid—moaning and writhing in the Dumpster, wheezing his last breaths. I couldn’t remember if I had come here to tell her about it. Maybe not. Maybe just to see her face. I don’t know. Either way, looking at her now, I knew I wasn’t going to say anything about it. “So what brings you here, Pop? Kind of a long ride.” She blew gently onto the surface of her coffee. I watched its ripples bounce off the wall of the cup and come back to center.
I shrugged and swallowed. “Haven’t seen you since, what, before the summer? Missed my little girl.” “Easter,” she said. I tried to sip my coffee but it was too hot. I put it back down. “Easter what?” “You haven’t seen me since Easter.” She looked down, checking her phone. “Well wait a minute, that’s not true…” I detected a slight eye roll. She slid her phone aside and looked off toward a group of students walking past the window. “No, you’re right, I guess I’m making it up.” She was probably right. Maybe I hadn’t seen her since that Easter Sunday when I’d picked her up in front of her mother’s house and gone to mass. It’d been her second time that day but she’d gone with me anyway. Chuck’s motorcycle had been in the driveway, which had soured my mood pretty quick. I don’t think I spoke to Sadie the whole time she’d been with me. “How’s your mom?” “Mom’s good. Busy.” I lifted my cup and then tried to put it back directly aligned with the ring it had left. “Chuck’s still there I take it?” Sadie frowned, looked away again. “I’m not talking to you about him.” Good, I thought. I didn’t want to talk about any of that either, truth be told. I didn’t want to talk about Diana or Chuck or the divorce after I’d been laid off from the factory. And I didn’t want to talk about how I’d blown it, how I’d been coming home late and coming home pretty lit, growing quiet and mean in those months, how I’d known for a long time that the layoffs were coming but never said anything. Just prayed that it all got better, but instead it only got worse. Or how I’d borrowed that money from Sadie so I could pay
off some of those gambling debts. Or the night when Diana found out about the loan and cried, how the two stood there, embracing, they on one side of the kitchen and me on the other, then both of them crying, then me leaving. I didn’t want to talk about any of that. I just wanted her to talk to me. To tell me something. Anything. Tell me about school. About her friends. About an essay she had to write. Something. She was still looking sidelong, people-watching, her lips pursed. She looked like her mother, always had but more so now. Diana had been about Sadie’s age when we’d met. I remember trying to ask her out, always trying to talk to her. Diana pursing her lips, looking away sidelong. “What do you want me to report when I see Mom?” Still not looking at me. Back to fingering her phone. “Want me tell her how put-together you look? Tell her about the suit jacket or whatever it is?” “What? No. What’re you talking about?” She shrugged, indifferent. “I dunno. You find any work? What do you want me to tell her?” “I don’t know. You don’t have to tell her anything…Yeah, I’m working. I’m busy.” I looked across at her. Sipped my coffee. “How’s school?” “Where you living?” She wanted me to stumble. Wanted me to fall short, maybe so she could justify her hatred of me. Something to go tell Diana. “I got a place,” I said. She frowned at this, but I couldn’t read it. Maybe she didn’t believe me. I guess, technically, she would’ve been right not to. I opened my mouth, ready to say more, ready to elaborate, to tell her how it really was for me these days, to not sugarcoat anything and just go ahead and tell her, about the work and the motel, about all of it. Wanted to tell her how much I missed her and how sorry I was and that I saw a kid get killed today and I
didn’t want to lose her the way I felt like I was losing her. But she was pursing her lips again, looking down at her coffee, sighing through her nose, and I could do nothing but watch her and marvel at how much she looked like Diana, how grown up she looked, how far away she felt to me.
The early sun climbing from the earth glinted off the broken glass like it usually did when the clouds were away. Even though the railroad tracks had been paved over, I still made a habit of stepping over them as though they were still there. For good luck, I guess. On the other side was The Post. I was the first one to sign in with the old timer, Paul. We mumbled hello. I yawned, poured a coffee, and stepped to the window to watch the morning traffic through the grimy glass. I’d sold my car a couple months ago to a woman who lived around here somewhere. Sometimes I’d see her drive by. The Post filled in over the next twenty minutes or so, three guys, then seven, and then nine of us, all familiar faces, some whose names I even knew. But, for the first time in weeks, no Lynard. Back outside, I stood among the smokers and watched the streets, down Palmetto toward the Nightingale Motel, across the way to Bay Drive and the bus stop Lyn sometimes used. Didn’t see him. From the west I saw Rison’s truck, its notable fog lights staring askew from the roof and C.B. antennas standing like needles, catching the sun. I ducked back inside and picked up my lunch cooler. “Check me off with Rison,” I said toward Paul. I climbed into the bed of the truck and sat myself on the bubble of the wheel well. Rison slunk out the truck and went inside, a cigarette stuck to his lower lip curling with forgotten ash. He returned a couple minutes later with two men, older than me but not by
much, both with those broken, crooked bodies that I also shared. Crumpled by work and defeat. They sat on the floor of the bed. One immediately put his head between his propped knees and seemed to go straight to sleep. The other looked at me, perhaps recognizing himself, then down at the rusted bed. Good, I thought. Then, for some reason, out loud: “Good.” Lyn. Lynard—Lynard who said his hair hadn’t grown for two and a half years. Good for him. Left this shit for the old, broken guys like us. Maybe he was off tracking down Banner, trying to save him so he could save himself. Maybe he’d just gone north, back home to Kentucky. Either way, I was glad he was gone. The guy who had been looking at me, I noticed, was staring at me again, or, more accurately, at the dusty swim mask that hung from my neck. He seemed puzzled. “You going swimmin’?” he asked, grinning at me. He was missing both front teeth. I pulled the mask up and snapped it into place over my eyes, wiping my fingers across the dusty plastic so I could see. “I wish,” I said.
Sean earned an MFA in Creative Writing in Montpellier, France and Madrid, Spain from the University of New Orleans and lives near Boston, where he is currently at work on a novel, and teaches writing, literature, and film at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Not Tonight CASSANDRA DALLET
Sometimes you look at me like I was made of cake. You think I savor the story of a good break up and I tell you it beats the shit out of being the one left. Some slices are better cut off. I’m always the first to replace the last! You should know that, before you go getting that look! I’m not a French fry and you’re out of salt! Birds are crashing the windows again drunk on dog food and grass seed from the back yard. It’s a cold new year and my cynicism has me all choked up I put it on and take it off with spiked necklaces and skinny jeans on and off banana peels on the closet floor. I don’t know how to sustain desire understand it only pertaining to men who need to be seduced lured with hooks in juicy cheek. They only give hours of their time, small pieces like appetizers taste better than the main course. And living together I just don’t know what to do with that.
Cassandra occupies Oakland, CA and writes of a counter culture childhood in Vermont and her ongoing adolescence in the San Francisco Bay Area.
ORES BENJAMIN NORRIS
We bore holes in us, as if attrition comes naturally. Water does what water does, slowly builds more layers while time comes on and throws us under inchthick crusts of residue. Slapped on fast, this way and that, varnish up our weakest points so we can’t see despite being flush against the panes – we stay sitting, smoking slowly, refining the crudeness of our gestures until we pump ourselves outside
even then, nothing can remind you of the day when our selves glinted, shiny new: hips crackle and spit, and something silver corrugates lips with not quite words slagged out in heaps.
We grow inside houses, this much is clear, yet our hair stays flat, we count the days in single strands. Reduced to a specimen, a set of samples: hours kept stock in breathing bowls, broken bones pile up with kisses, the taste of iron. My memories clamber under skies, fuming full of smashed clay pots and the days
when our mouths moved, and music came Benjamin is a poet and lecturer from Wales who currently resides in Budapest, where he lectures Indian Cultural Studies and Art History at a leading university.
Jumping Buses DUSTIN LUKE NELSON
Everyone here absolutely loves triumph and the perseverance of our intangibles and our tactiles. Our love of these things is increased when protagonists fly through the air after bombs explode or when buses take really huge jumps or when good guys fall in love or when teenagers fall in love, the kind of love that will fall apart later, but is validated now, despite what our parents and teachers and producers say, and we say we just won’t show that part now.
Dustin is a founding editor of InDigest and the host of the InDigest Reading Series and lives in Astoria, NY.
Exit Strategy on a Wednesday Night: PATTIE FLINT I don't have a good explanation for why I followed a strange man out of the bar at midnight on a Wednesday, But I did and it was good. It was good because he wrote me a poem on the back of a used napkin about how you should always eat an orange before you drink orange juice, so you can taste the difference between what is real and what is pretend. He had a birthmark, too, a weird one it took me forever to notice running through the left half of his right eyebrow, that shocked it bright white and made him look skeptical of everything. In a small way it was really, really romantic. So we ran all night and kissed four blocks from his hotel and it was warm and pink and predictable, like playing Sunday morning records six years later and remembering all the words, and then because I'm addicted to cliches I left him under a streetlight glowing like a hatch lamp;
where all the night bugs buzzed and flailed against the hard glass with little bops and pings just like the two of us; slamming little exoskeletons against a flame that loves to burn us alive; two strangers without an exit strategy.
Pattie, a Seattle native, is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in Literature and is currently an editor at Medusa's Laugh Press, specializing in hand-bound books.
The Reiki MERRIDAWN DUCKLER
therapist hit me on the back of the head with a tuning fork. I vibrated into my car, turned the radio with a tremor, then missed the fork and ended up on the old road home. Here I once had dreams of beauty, looking always up I dedicated my life to it. But only the birds listened in the shadow’s piercing, while my loneliness turned the wheel of the world away. I was still vibrating when I reached McVey. Mt Adam’s like a cubist drawing, with deep purple parabola. My teeth chit, what if I never stopped shaking in involuntary competition with martini’s, Chihuahua’s, and car dash hula? I shifted. I waved a trembling hand to some walkers, climbing the glittery road. I suddenly looked down and saw last night’s text from Jerusalem. Your sister’s doppelgänger is here, sippin tea, you wrote Got to love this town. Then all stopped. I was beauty-filled with memory. Next, the world was awake. I breathed out an old breath, my chest unbound. My heart beat with bird song, the shadow, the light, shadow, light.
Merridawn’s poems have appeared in Mississippi Mud, the anthology Portland Lights, Buddhist Poetry Review and are forthcoming from Halfway Down the Stairs.
copyright 2013 five quarterly all rights reserved fivequarterly.org @fivequarterly