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Stephen Paul M iller is the author of several books of poetry and prose and is Professor of English at St. John’s University. Fernando Perez III is a writer and Major League Baseball player (currently on sabbatical), working on his first novel. Jasmin Rosario is currently working as a Volunteer Manager for CFY, a national educational nonprofit organization. Cheryl W ilson works in fashion as a freelance consultant for Limited Brands. Tiphanie Yanique is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist. She is a professor in the MFA School of Writing at the New School. [FOUNDERS] Vanessa Gabb Crissy Van Meter [INTERN] Jessica Gray [WEBSITE ADMINISTRATION] Matthias Czerwonka


Five Quarterly | Issue No. 2

ISSUE No. 2 To Mediocrity | Paul Hostovsky [3] It began to burn | Jaylee Alde [4] The brown beatnik tomes | Danny Simmons [10] Progress | Michelle Matthees [13] Hold On, Hold On | Leesa Cross-Smith [14] The Mouth Knows | Brent Lucia [20] How to Become a Perfect Living Statue | Matthew Kabik [23] Elegy for the Unborn | Sara Dailey [32] Ghost Skin | Braydon Beaulieu [33] The Earl of Beaumont | Nicole Wolverton [37]

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To Mediocrity | Paul Hostovsky I know you’re here somewhere hugging your guitar on a subway platform behind my eyes, the old duct-taped case holding together, open at your feet, empty except for the two crumpled bills you threw in yourself like a couple of tentative hand-claps that have failed to ignite any applause. You have been here for some time, keeping time with your one ratty sneaker in this place where excellence is trains running on time, and new books coming out thunderously and often. I can feel it worrying the blow-away papers congregating in your untidy corner where you stand and sway, kissing your harmonica. Plainly you’re in love with your own breath, your own heartbeat, your own voice. And I want nothing to do with that song. I just want to step into my excellent train, smart new book under my arm, hear the doors swish shut behind me, and leave you and your crooning earnest face behind my face behind.

[BIO]: Paul is the author of four books of poetry.

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It began to burn | Jaylee Alde Paulino was 8 when he was first mistaken for the devil. 10 when it happened again. At 11, in the jungle, surrounded by buzzing things and burning wood, he saw a woman dressed in the black ash of a burnt crucifix, screaming in bible tongue. “I just wanted my skin reattached,” she said. Paulino watched it all. Joy was a stout woman. She carried robust legs, a swimmer’s back, skin leathered with patches of discolor, and hair that was never bothered with. She was built for daily labor. She arrived one summer from the Philippines, the land of her birth. “A country that is both brutal and gorgeous” was how Joy once described it. “Like a butterfly knife,” she said. “It is like the slow motion bullet through a rapist’s heart,” she said. “It is the science of a thunderstorm,” she said. That place, her home, the Philippines, was built from poverty and maintained with ghost stories. You clean, you carve, you cook, you eat, you pray, you clean, you pray- this was her life. She was never meant for abundance. It was too much. Her hands became idle. The ghost stories became flesh. Her prayers became nightmares. It all started that summer. The first meeting was uneventful; the rest of it was not. “Hi, you my new mom?” “Yes.” “OK. Bye.” Paulino once asked the father what happened to the other mom. He said, “I forgot how to love her.” That evening, her first, Joy cooked fish and rice. She ate with her left hand. She drank water after every third bite. She sat with one leg down, the other one up, with her knee pressed against her chest. Paulino noticed. Sitting across from her at the dinner table he thought her knee looked like a broken fat fist. He didn’t know why, it just did. He kept watching. How she chomped away at the rice. How she pulled fish bones from her teeth. How she sat there eating with her hair tied back, loose strands sprouting like hiccups. How it made her look electric. Joy was a thunderbolt wrapped in skin, he thought. One day she caught him watching her. It felt like a hand pressed over his mouth. “How come you never smile, or frown, or anything? Just blank. You are always blank. Except your eyes,” Joy asked Paulino. 4


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“I don’t know.” Joy would always stare at him. Her eyes squinted like knife wounds. It made Paulino’s heart feel like a million hummingbirds were locked in his chest. It was like this for a year. He watched and so did she. When Paulino’s dog died, Joy wondered why the boy didn’t cry or express any sort of grief. This frightened her, but she never said anything. They barely spoke after that. They lived in a house, never a home. The space between Paulino and Joy was an empty highway littered with used furniture and blank walls. It was all uneventful until the father lost another job and had to move where the work was. Everything became tense. Nobody handled it well. She erupted in Los Angeles. “The devil is near,” she said. They had been there almost a week, staying in a North Hollywood apartment the size of a fist. They’d sold all the furniture to help pay their first month’s rent and security deposit. The family ate standing up or sitting on the floor with their backs to the wall. The father was gone most of the time looking for work. Sometimes he would return late at night holding a two-legged chair or a sweaty blanket stinking of mildew or sometimes, if Paulino was lucky, an action figure not missing too many parts. This was his life and Paulino was happy with it. He liked the empty quiet. Paulino was 8 the first time it happened. He remembered eggs were frying that morning. He remembered the smoke licking the fake-wood paneling above the stove. He remembered how the popping grease in the skillet sounded like a standing ovation. A great way to start his morning, he thought. Joy was cooking. Joy said she didn’t know what happened next, except that something inside her broke. To Paulino, it was like a vicious tide. It arrived without warning, without any sirens. It left their shore with bits and pieces of them, leaving only debris. She was not in control, he thought. She later told the doctors it was God who did it, a mean God with heavy hands. She tried to pray that morning. She really tried, she said. But no one ever answered. That morning, Joy turned towards Paulino. He was dressed for school looking down at his shoes. He stared at his laces, embarrassed that he was the only kid in his class who tied his shoes with the rabbit ears method. She started to mumble, her empty eyes never leaving Paulino, and then that mumble grew into a mean growl. Paulino looked up from his shoes and

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was smacked by her stare. He stood attentive like prey. The empty space between them swayed. “You are the devil.” His knees locked. His heartbeat left bruises on the inside of his ribcage. “You are the devil.” His eyes widened as if she stepped on his neck. She gripped something behind her. “You are the devil.” They were alone in that apartment. She was screaming at him. Joy stared at Paulino, her right hand firmly tucked at the small of her back. She continued to scream the phrase over and over again until it was just a frenzy of sound and snarling teeth. Paulino ran towards the door. She ran after him. The knife rose like a paint stroke. The eggs began to burn. Joy stayed in the hospital for 6 weeks. Before she got out, Paulino asked the father if she was still going to live with them, he replied, “A boy needs a mother.” Paulino was 10 when they lived in the small town of Bremerton, Washington. The father burned his bridges in California and hugged the coast north with the family until he found something to stop for. Paulino walked home alone from Central Kitsap Elementary every day, always happy when it wasn’t raining. They lived in the last house on a dead-end street. Blackberries grew in the backyard. Nothing grew inside. He walked in the house in the afternoon and dropped his canvas school bag in the thin hallway. He heard the sound of static dancing in the other room and followed it. Joy was there, splayed on the couch like a fat shadow, head tilted towards the hallway. She stared at him as he crept forward. It made his teeth scream. Her eyes were not hers. Her eyes were stolen from a Los Angeles kitchen. He remembered them. The doctors lied. It was in that moment, a rare sunny afternoon in Washington, that he knew that heaven had again fallen from the skies like a hit and run. God was back. “What’s wrong, mom?” “God cut off my legs because of you. It hurts. It hurts.”

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“No he didn’t. You, you can walk.” “He won’t allow it. I let the devil in my house. It hurts. Stop it. It hurts. You are the devil.” “Please stop saying that, I’m going to help you. Please. I’ll call the hospital.” Joy exploded to her feet and stomped towards Paulino. She stopped inches away and stared down at him, so close her blouse tickled his nose. So close, he heard the drum in her chest. “No, they want to hurt me too. You want to hurt me. Why do you want to hurt me?” “Please.” She started to cry so hard it felt like mud. Paulino stood there and watched while her tears pooled at his feet. He quietly walked to the phone, dialed, and whispered into it, “help, help, help, help, help, help, help, help.” Until someone did. That night, when the war song of sirens faded, Paulino went to his fake aunt’s house 6 blocks away and slept. The next day everyone at school asked if Paulino’s mom was crazy. “She’s lonely,” was what he would say all over the playground. “No wants to talk to her, only God does and only when he’s angry.” He stayed at the fake aunt’s house until his father showed up 6 days later. Paulino once asked the father why he was always gone and the father replied, “You have to learn how to take care of yourself because one day I won’t come back.” Paulino was 11 when the marriage between Joy and the father dissolved like small promises. She had to go back to the land of butterfly knives. The father could no longer afford the maintenance of Joy. The family flew to the Philippines to give her back to her land, her family. “She can’t do it on her own,” the doctors said. Her last episode in Bremerton lasted forever. Paulino hated that idea. He wanted to stay behind. The idea of flying with her, with nowhere to run, shook him into a panic. “It’s the least we can do. She took good care of you the time she was here. And it’ll be good to see where you’re from,” the father said.

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Their flight was uneventful; the rest of it wasn’t. In the Philippines, Paulino heard coughing motorbikes everywhere. He saw cars decorated like exclamation marks. He felt the heat everywhere. It hugged him like an old coat. Men and women with skin like soft dirt, bent over and working, always working, were everywhere. He watched it all. He never saw anything like it. They drove past the noisy cities and settled into a soft lull through the country side. It took them 4 hours to make it to Joy’s home. The entire drive she stared at the ceiling of the jeepney, smiling and sobbing, clenching and unclenching her rose embroidered dress. The first thing he saw as he entered the village of Iriga was the dogs. He thought they looked like walking ribs. He watched as they snuck in and around trashcans and thick brush. Then he watched the kids, kicking an empty bottle down the street; he saw how they looked like a laughing whirlwind. The smell of burning wood was everywhere. The smell of fresh cut meat was everywhere. The smell of prayer candles was everywhere. The sound of Joy sobbing stopped. Paulino looked up and met her stare. The father left right away and Paulino was dumped with Joy’s brother, the Uncle. He took Paulino to a small shack, not far from the gravel entrance to the house, where he had seen an older woman take Joy earlier. A single pig that was still not fat enough for the cull slept near the doorway. Inside the shack, surrounded by her family and local priests, Joy laid on a skinny straw mat on the ground. She was covered in sweat and shook like a slow rumble seizure. The tip of a small wood crucifix, burning in a priest’s hand, floated above her. Paulino was told to leave. “She is not ready to see him.” They walked to the back of the house. The Uncle looked down and smiled at Paulino while pointing to 10 or so chickens stacked separately in cages. “I train them to be brave and vicious. I make them love me so much they want to die for me. Come, I’ll show you while they fix your mom.” Paulino nodded and followed. “Do you want to see how I make them love me?” said the Uncle. “Yes.” So much so, it almost made Paulino smile. The uncle unlocked a bent and rusted cage. He flirted two hands into the opened door and pulled out a chicken that looked like a rainbow smacked it. He softly kissed the head while stroking its soft back feathers. He whispered gentle things to it. Paulino watched carefully. With such a slick grace, the uncle placed small gloves on the chicken’s feet without it noticing. 8


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“Without the gloves the cocks will use their bone spur to slit each other’s throats.” The Uncle told Paulino to grab another chicken from a cage. Paulino nervously stuck his hands in and felt soft pecks that scared him and caused him to snap his arms back out. The chicken jumped out and ran towards the Uncle who quickly snatched it with his free arm. “Here. Hold him tight.” The Uncle told Paulino to swing the chickens at each other. He said this makes them feel hate for the other one. “Only with men and chickens is it so easy to make them hate each other,” he said. The chickens began to snap and kick. Their feathers swelled. They squealed and squawked. Their eyes became insults. Frenzy was built. At the height, they released the chickens. Paulino saw nothing but noise and blood. Afterwards, Paulino went to the shack to see Joy. From the door, smoke seeped out like black silk. He silently walked in. Joy was vibrating. Her face covered in crosses written in black ash. The priest chanted. She kept screaming that God was burning her face. Her back buckled. Their eyes met. Paulino’s toes ground into the dirt. She began to wail. He started to cry without tears. “Devil,” she kept saying. “Devil.” Paulino, a long time later, once asked the father if they would ever see Joy again. He replied, “Who?” The last remains of the bully sun dug into Paulino’s neck. He was alone late that afternoon, still at Joy’s family’s house. The father was supposed to pick him up hours ago. He sat there in their dirt yard staring at the chickens, waiting for him, the father. No one was around. He walked toward the cages and took a chicken out. Make them love me, he thought. Paulino grabbed the smallest one. An eye was pecked out. The eyelid was stuck together with wet thick pus. Its neck feathers had large patches missing, exposing scabs and skin. That ugly bird looked like he had lost a few but never gave up. He liked that thought. He held that chicken tight to his sunken chest, a big fat hug from a small boy. He softly kissed the head. He carefully ran his soft hands across the remaining feathers. He whispered gentle things to it. He said, “I love you. I won’t leave you. Please. Please, love me back.” And with such slick grace he quietly put the gloves over the killing spurs. He kissed the chicken’s ugly head one last time and then slowly snapped its neck. [BIO]: Jaylee lives in Los Angeles.

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The brown beatnik tomes | Danny Simmons I dreamed I saw Bob Dylan paying homage to an effigy of LeRoi Jones on burning Newark Streets rattling a necklace of harmonicas at passengers on slave ships roaring Down the streets of history buck dancing for loose change selling lines of poems for pittance sake. I can't take my eyes off the parade of long negro girls who've walked oceans barefoot, whales swimming between their toes / my name on hers and hers and hers angel lips/ I swoon for them muttering their lost Nubian names. I imagine them browner than America's sun can offer/ I imagine them musing for me The lost arts of burnt bronze women that carry candles for hope’s sake/ that have carried me this far to the feet of poetry. Allen Ginsberg cruising Baldwin in the romance of east village beat nights. I am fixated on those brown girls singing the gospel of my patron saint lovers illusion…the weary days that wrestle and pin me down to the mat of poet’s angst and heroin's romantic memory as she pulls Deep the burning illumination of strong reefer and in that instant our eyes unlock the doors of ragged cabs ferrying to Brooklyn and the St. Albans of my bartered youth. I have felt myself strange even then and have hidden away well my fear of belonging to this earthly mud. Here I escape into you and the wailing symbols you have written on my walls…here I rail into my longest pitch night/ The bells tolling Rhythm and blues from distant shores.

[BIO]: Danny is a painter, founder of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation , and co-creator of Def Poetry Jam.

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Progress | Michelle Matthees Like a fire road with its red sign line breaks are out of date. You’re on one now. Feel that decay. The muscles are slack in the lumberjack’s back. Oh but I’ve pointed with words in the out of the way town’s café with my blue eyes and disintegrating Carharts. Oh yes, I’ll say, it’s precious this progress between birth and death’s sunny and clean split. We used to get paid for this Robert and I, splitting wood. Hauling coal even, folding the wilderness back for her teacups’ brittle little screaming handles.

[BIO]: Michelle is a graduate of the University of Minnesota's MFA program in Creative Writing and has recently completed a book-length collection of poems.

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Hold On, Hold On | Leesa Cross-Smith My husband, Dominic, got angry the second time I ran away. Because I promised I'd never do it again and because I didn't have a reason. Because I didn't need a reason. Because because was my reason. “I'm in Nashville with Cori,” I told him. And I was. I'd left our house in Kentucky early that morning. But I didn't tell him Roscoe Pie was there, too. That was his God-given name, Roscoe Pie. The baseball player who came up to Nashville with his friend Parker James. They drove up from Austin, Texas. My best friend, Cori, lived in Nashville and she and PJ had been hooking up, whenever they could make it happen, ever since we met them in a Florida hotel bar a year before – the first time I ran away. Back when I went to Panama City Beach and Cori flew down, too. Roscoe and I kissed. I was impressed that he was willing to come all the way up from Austin a year later to hang out with a girl he'd only kissed once. But let it be said that it was a pretty dope kiss. Fireworks, the right amount of tongue and the perfect synchronization of opening/closing our warm, wet, drunk mouths. “So this is it? I'm gonna move my shit out. Or you're gonna move your shit out. It doesn't matter,” Dominic said. “It matters,” I said into the phone. I was standing in front of the Ryman Theatre, holding Cori's hand. We were both brown and bare-legged in our skirts and cowboy boots. “Nothing matters to you,” he said. I let go of Cori and held up my index finger. Hold on. Roscoe and PJ were hands-inpockets, talking about something. I turned away to get some more privacy and Cori stepped closer to them. I walked over to the grassy side where some monster black tour buses were parked. “Are you there?” I said into the phone. “Violet, this isn't fair and you know it's not. And why you act like I should put up with it is beyond me,” he said, raising his voice. He never raised his voice. My toes tingled. I wished I was pregnant with his baby. Standing there in the grass, I wished part of him was inside of me. I wanted it. I told him that. “What's wrong with you? Why would you say that?” “Because it's true.” “You wish you were pregnant?” I nodded. “You wish you were pregnant?” He asked again because he couldn't hear nods over the phone. “Kinda.” “Why, so you could leave? Run off and not tell me and take our baby too?” 14


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“No. Dominic, I love you.” “Really? Well, I'm going out tonight,” he said. “When I get back, will you get me pregnant?” I asked. “I don't know, Violet. I don't know,” he said. And that was good enough for me, it was. “If you don't feel good or it's weird, we don't have to hang out. But PJ was coming to see Cori anyway, and I wasn't gonna pass up a chance to see you,” Roscoe said. He was taller than me so he had to lean down and say it close to my ear, but it wasn't a whisper. His breath was hot on my neck and my thighs warmed, my hands started to sweat. I wiped them off on my skirt. Ok so I wanted Roscoe to get me pregnant, too. Dominic and I had had sex two days before and maybe if I had sex with Roscoe they could duke it out inside of me and see who was more determined, stronger. I wanted them both at the same time with their mouths all over me, fucking me, tearing me apart, leaving me for dead. Perfect. We could all go for breakfast together in the morning. “I feel fine,” I smiled up at him. He smelled like expensive wood and that was 60% of why I was so attracted to him. The other 40% was: his insane body, his water-green eyes and the way he said things. The way he said my name, the way he said words like 'street' and 'church' and 'okay.' And when I say insane body I mean insane, specifically in the way that I love men's bodies to look. Dom had one like it. Athletic and capable. I loved men who looked like they could do things. Fix a car, pitch a fastball, climb a tree, build a house, hold a baby. Their hands, their chests, their legs. A certain hardiness I was looking for, the absence of delicacy. I wanted them to be strong enough to hold me down but gentle-minded enough not to. I could live off of flirting with Roscoe. Eat that instead of food. We walked, holding hands and not holding hands, smiling and not smiling, laughing and not laughing, talking and not talking. He'd grab my ass and I'd grab his, but not in that how can we sneak off fast enough way, but in that I love touching you and this is enough right now way. “You've been married, right?” I asked Roscoe after we sat down across from Cori and PJ in a bar booth by the window. I looked over at them and wondered what it'd be like if we all ended up in bed together. I'd kissed Cori plenty of times and wanted to kiss her again, but I was scared to tell Dominic that stuff. He'd fixate on it and swear that I was a lesbian every time I brought Cori's name up. I didn't want to deal with it. And I'm not saying PJ was my type at all because he really wasn't, but he looked good sitting across from us, next to Cori like that. He put his elbows on the table and rested his head on his knuckles before he looked over at her, and I liked that too. My mind was all over the place, thoughts scattered like confetti on the floor, and while Roscoe answered my question, I took to sweeping everything back up. Putting it in the dustpan and shaking it out into the garbage where it would be safe and away for at least a little bit. 15


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“Couple years back I was, but not anymore,” he said. “I've only been married for two years,” I said as the waitress plopped big glasses of ice water onto the cardboard coasters in front of us. “And you've only run away twice,” he said, side-smiling. “Found you both times,” I said, sipping from my straw. One of my favorite things about being married to Dominic was drinking beer in bed. Usually we drank Tecate or some other spicy-light-foreign beer from a can. I didn't order one of those that night. I ordered a Stella Artois, the finest lady around – tall, green and sweating. I took a big drink and opened my menu, watched it like it was a TV screen and would move or something. Roscoe asked me what I was thinking about. “I can't stop thinking about something,” I said. “What?” He said. Leaned over. His bigger, heavier shoulder against mine. He took a drink from his beer too. PJ ordered four shots of whiskey when the waitress came back. What I couldn't stop thinking about: the weight of Roscoe's body on top of mine. If he had a splash of freckles across the top of his back or beautiful feet or wrinkly knees or if his dick was as big as Dominic's, and if it was swollen and standing up in his jeans right now in that booth next to me because I guarandamntee you if I had a dick, it would be. I was crazy horny and wanted to get drunk, so I could have sex with Roscoe without thinking about it so much. I couldn't stop thinking about how he sounded when he came. Was he quiet? Gravely and ragged like truck rumbles or country thunder? I didn't care if it would crush Dom (of course it would) or if it was adultery (of course it was.) I wanted it anyway. Maybe Dom was right. Maybe nothing mattered to me. I looked down at Roscoe's lap but everything looked normal. What did I know? He was confused and looked down too. Then he smiled over at me. “What can't you stop thinking about?” he asked and put one of his arms around my waist. The waitress came back with the shots. I squinted at him, scrunched my nose up, and told him I couldn't stop thinking about my husband. And whew that cooled things off for a minute or two until the whiskey heated it all right back up again. It was a beautiful awful secret that I had been talking to Roscoe. I'd told Cori to give PJ my number, so he'd give it to Roscoe but she wouldn't do it, so I snuck and got PJ's number from her phone and texted him myself. PJ THIS IS VIOLET TELL ROSCOE TO TEXT ME IF THAT IS SOMETHING HE WOULD MAYBE WANNA DO BECAUSE IT IS SOMETHING I WOULD LIKE FOR HIM TO DO AND YES I AM STILL MARRIED ? Ok. Cori didn't get that mad about it. I told her immediately. She said I should think about things more before I did them. She was right. But Roscoe texted me and it was so sweet, it made my rabbit-heart skip. Hey Violet look at me risking getting my ass kicked by your husband. Worth it? Worth it. 16


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I started laughing in the kitchen. Dom walked past and asked me what was so funny, and I told him nothing. When he left the house to go to work, I texted Roscoe back and it said worth it. We didn't talk a lot but sometimes in the middle of the week he'd text me and say hey and I'd text him hey back. We never called each other. And even when Dom and I had sex, which was a lot because that was something we always did well together, I never thought about Roscoe and only Roscoe. Whenever he entered my mind, it was always both him and Dom at the same time. So I didn't feel bad. I tried to give Dominic hints. “I dated three baseball players,” I said once, leaning back in my chair. I put my pen down. We had both written down the people we'd had sex with. I wanted to do this before we got married but forgot on purpose. I had separate lists for the guys I dated but didn't sleep with, guys I slept with but didn't date, and guys I wanted to sleep with, but didn't. I kept that last list on a slip of paper in my journal. I didn't show it to Dom. “You slept with three baseball players?” he asked, reaching for my pen and scribbling something out on his paper. We were at our kitchen table, our bare feet pressed against the coolness of the tile floor beneath us. The window was open and the neighbor's dog was lowhowling again, a new song of his I'd grown to love. “I slept with one baseball player. I dated three,” I corrected him. ROSCOE PIE was written on my secret list. I wrote it down twice. Once in caps and once in lower case. His name was too special to write properly. “How many people are on your list?” he asked. “Which list?” “How many lists do you have?” Dom smiled a little and stood to look over at my piece of paper, but I snatched it up and held it to my chest. “Don't cheat. I have two lists,” I said, explaining them to him. Told him I'd read the names of the people I'd actually had sex with. “Read the baseball player's name first,” he said. Dom loved baseball and couldn't help himself. “There's one baseball player, one soccer player, an actor, a drummer and a bartender.” “Ew. A drummer?” Dominic said, shaking his head. “I know, right?” “Read the baseball player's name first,” he said again. “Cooper Nichols.” “What position did he play?” Dom lifted his chin up. “Shortstop.” He thought about it for a moment before nodding quickly. “Keep going,” Dom said. And I did. Matt Clark. Andy Brown. Brent Christmas. And Welby Knight. 17


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“Dominic Ryder,” I said aloud as I wrote his name at the bottom of the list. “So...five before me,” Dominic said my number. “Your list is longer. I'm jealous,” I said. “Don't be. I used to go to a lot of music festivals, that's all,” he said, shrugging. Smiling. Cutest thing. I didn't want to leave him when he was like that. How could I? Why would I? Sunset-light and honeysuckle-wind slipping in the window. He was my man, dammit. And a good one. Look how good! He'd forgiven me for running away from him the first time and for kissing Roscoe Pie. Dominic rubbed his hand across his newly-buzzed head and I reached out for him. He leaned forward so I could pet it. So I could feel the prickles. Both Roscoe and PJ had played in the major leagues before retiring. It was easy for me to convince them to play baseball at midnight. I grabbed Roscoe's ass and we were both pretty giggly, walking down Broadway not giving a shit about anything but being together in Nashville and not giving a shit about anything. “We'll go to Walmart or something and get a bat, some gloves and a ball. Should we get two balls?” I said, widening my eyes. PJ turned around to smile at me. Told me he had a ball and a couple of gloves in his truck. Cori was holding his hand and she stopped fast and swung around like a pretty little door on a well-greased hinge. “You've got two balls back there and I've got two balls up here. We only need one baseball,” she said. And we all laughed because it was raunchy and dumb and so were we. PJ was sober enough to drive so we went to Walmart and got a bat and some beer. Drove around, found a baseball field. PJ parked the truck and we got out. I took Cori's arm and told her I needed to talk. The guys walked through the fence gate towards the diamond and we got in the back of the pickup. “I texted Dom. Told him exactly where we were,” I told her. “He's coming to Nashville? Is that what you want? Him to come here so he and Roscoe can beat the shit out of each other? Violet, what the hell are you doing?” I sat on the tailgate and she spread her legs and straddle-sat behind me, started braiding my hair. I shrugged. The field lights came on. Roscoe and PJ smiled at us from over by the fuse box, and then they started talking to each other and looking up. “I want to have sex with Roscoe in that dugout over there,” I pointed, “and after that I want Dom to come and take me home,” I said. I got goosebumps saying it. Blame it on the flooding of the field lights and how I said it and Cori, braiding my hair. Blame it on what I said. Cori was quiet. “I want a home run,” I said. Cori didn't say anything. “I want a grand slam,” I said, starting to laugh. I spread my arms. 18


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Cori's laugh back was with me, not at me. And I was glad. That laugh lifted me. When the braid was finished, we walked over to where the guys were. Roscoe lifted up his leg and pitched a super-fast ball to PJ and PJ swung and missed. Roscoe threw again and PJ knicked it. The comfort of that smack-gunshot sound. Roscoe jumped and caught the ball. I went right over to Roscoe and kissed him. Kissed him hard and he lifted me up. He sighed into my mouth and I loved it I loved it I loved it. It was the second time we'd kissed, and I thought about how I'd be just peaches just swell just fine with him on the dirty dugout bench, while I was waiting for Dom to come and save me. My husband was coming for me, hunting me. I knew it. I wanted him to. Everything I'd done and said – those were breadcrumbs. Those were the buzzing, flashing FIND ME FOLLOW ME GET ME BACK lights. “I can't stop thinking about something,” I said to Roscoe again. He grinned at me, tugged my new braid. And I thought about how maybe if Dom got there a little too early, he'd catch the end of it. He'd stand there and watch Roscoe's ass tighten and let go, my skirt hitched up somewhere by my ribcage, my brown legs and cowboy boots wilding up into the hot-breath night air. My panties pushed to the side like they were nothing. I'd say hold on, hold on to Dominic and he'd stand there and watch us panting like animals. My mouth pressed against Roscoe's ear, begging underneath that tight sky and half-moon. Maybe before he threw me over his shoulder, took me home, got me pregnant and made me a good, decent wife and mom, my husband would stand there and wait until I was finished. On the drive back home I'd feel a little bad, tell him what a good boy he was. Make promises, pat his head. Let his rough, pink tongue lick my hand.

[BIO]: Leesa is the co-founder and editor of Whiskey Paper. She lives in Kentucky.

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The Mouth Knows | Brent Lucia I once knew a girl dancing on the edge of a thin, white tooth. Swaying in the breath. And when her shoes broke the lips knew her day had come. The vengeance of a tongue. A forgotten swallow, for she wasn’t worth a bite.

[BIO]: Brent is currently an adjunct lecturer of English at City College of New York and the College of New Rochelle.

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How to Become a Perfect Living Statue | Matthew Kabik Step 1: Learn to talk with everything but your voice. Xavier couldn’t get Andrea’s bra off. She tried to ignore it, but it had been almost five minutes since he slipped his hand up her back and started tugging at the clips. On top of the unrehearsed and stuttering foreplay, Xavier’s breath stank of grease and marinara sauce. She couldn’t avoid the smell – the one that now must be all over her neck and lips. She wanted to tell him to go brush his teeth, but they weren’t really that sort of couple. They weren’t really any sort of couple, Andrea realized. Couples did things other than fool around and get lunch together. She’d only known him for a week and in that time discovered he couldn’t remove bras and Xavier probably wasn’t his name. “Sorry.” “Just let me get it.” “That isn’t as romantic.” “Neither is whatever you’re trying for.” “Stop that, Andrea.” “What?” “You’re being mean.” “You’re right. Sorry. Just let me do it.” “Whatever.” Andrea felt the grasping hands slip away from her. She heard Xavier push the air out of his chest and pull the blanket to his chin. “Sorry.” “Don’t be. I shouldn’t have snapped your bra.” “You didn’t do it on purpose.” “Exactly.” She avoided the argument by pulling back the heavy blinds and letting in the sun. She put her bra back on correctly and looked for the rest of her clothes. “I thought taking off bras was something boys practiced in middle school.” 23


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“I was in an all-boys Catholic school. Really wasn’t an opportunity.” “I guess not.” “I’ll practice while you’re at work. By the time you get back I’ll unclip that thing one handed.” “That’s weird. You’re weird.” “Oh, I won’t and you know it,” Xavier said. “Sure.” Andrea found her skirt under the laptop case and slid it on. “When do you work today?” “Soon,” Andrea said, though they both knew she set her own hours. “Mind if I stay here?” “I do, actually.” “Oh.” “Sorry.” “No, no that’s fine. I’ll go home, then.” Xavier stood and stretched his slim arms towards the ceiling. Andrea didn’t find him attractive. His hair was too long and he couldn’t possibly weigh more than she did, which bothered her. She’d met him at a show and he’d seemed willing enough to build a relationship off of whatever she offered. “I just thought we were at the step when I could stay over, meet your parents, that sort of thing.” “I don’t think you’d want to meet my mother. We aren’t exactly close.”

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“It wouldn’t have to be a dinner or anything – hey, I could just bump into her at one of your shows,” Xavier suggested. “She doesn’t come to my shows.” “You guys are that far apart?” “No, she’s blind. Kind of tough to enjoy a silent performance.” “Oh. Oops.” “That’s a good reaction.” “I’m sorry. I mean I’m sorry. Well, maybe something else? I could come over and make you two dinner at her house.” Andrea said “it isn’t that easy” by holding up her hand and waving it between her face and his. “I’ll call you after I’m done at work,” Andrea said. “Don’t bother. I’m heading out to work myself.” Andrea thought about kissing him but instead held open the door. “Have a good morning.” “You too.” She shut the door behind him. She locked it. She wondered if he heard her lock it and unlocked it. She wondered if she should actually go to work or just stay home. Andrea decided to braid her hair and stare at herself in the hallway mirror. She put her toes against a thin strip of blue painter’s tape ten feet from the mirror. She opened her mouth and tried to say "what are you doing" with her eyes. She pulled out the tangled brown hair behind her ears and twisted it against itself. She tried to say "Xavier, you're lying about your name," by furrowing her forehead and puffing her cheeks.

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Pulling her hair into a quick braid she looked at how it hung over her shoulder and decided to do pigtails. She said "I could never love you," by relaxing everything on her body except for a frown. She said "I don't need you" by pulling her lips tight and putting her hands on tilted hips. Andrea said a dozen other things, but the mirror got too cloudy for her to hear them. Step 2: Always acknowledge a tip, even if it's in the middle of a routine. Andrea felt the makeup coming off of her face. She had too much on, and the combination of her sweat and the sun made the silver face paint run. She'd been in the same pose for over fifteen minutes and decided this was the last time she'd ever used a sign that read "Tips wind me up!" The metallic crank on her back pinched between her shoulders, and people loved to call out when they saw her twitch or breath or blink. Next time, she'd just keep moving. The music box around her was also acting as a thermal oven. June was not the right time for this act. Only a few people paid - an elderly woman who clearly did so only out of pity, a group of school children who thankfully egged each other on, and a college student who whispered that he'd pay an extra ten dollars if she'd bend over. Andrea told him to screw himself by lifting her eyebrows and putting a hand to her mouth. He didn't get it. After he left, Andrea's only focus was on the paint running down her face. She promised herself fifty dollars before taking a break, but she guessed only thirty was in the tip box. She had just decided to go home and come back as a ventriloquist's dummy when her aunt Stephanie appeared. She was standing to Andrea's left, looking out where an audience would be if it weren't so hot. When she knew Andrea saw her, she walked to face her directly and threw a wad of bills into the tip box.

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"Your mother needs to see you," she said. Andrea responded by bowing mechanically, making sure to stay down long enough that whatever expression her face was showing remained between her and the sidewalk. Her aunt helped pack up the oversized music box and walked ahead of Andrea to keep some of the eyes off of her. Andrea’s apartment was three blocks away and Aunt Stephanie didn’t say a word until they reached the elevator in Andrea’s building – and that was just to ask what floor she lived on. “You don’t have to follow me home. I’d meet you at her place,” Andrea said. “She’s not at her place,” Aunt Stephanie said. “It will just take me a few minutes to get cleaned up,” Andrea explained, throwing her keys on the living room table and walking towards the bathroom, “there is soda in the fridge if you want some.” “No, thank you.” Andrea left the bathroom door open and began to wash the silver makeup off her hands. “What are you supposed to be?” Aunt Stephanie asked – her voice had moved to the bedroom, which made Andrea frustrated. “I’m a music box toy.” “Why are you silver, then?” “Tin. I’m supposed to be tin. It looks better that way.” “I guess.” Andrea heard her aunt move back into the living room and sit on the sofa there. She looked at her hands in the sink and decided they were clean enough. Filling the basin, she splashed some water on her face to lather soap. “Your mother doesn’t have very long, as I see it, and it’s not right.”

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Andrea looked at herself in the mirror. She looked at the silver bubbles running along her cheeks and down her chin. “I said it’s not right, Andrea.” “I know it isn’t. I wish she was better.” “That isn’t what I mean,” Aunt Stephanie said, “God – what a stupid thing to say. You wish she was better. Of course you do. We all do, Andrea. You should have seen her sooner. She might not have been a good mother, but she’s a good woman.” “She was a good mother.” “Is that why you’ve never come to see her since you struck out on your own?” “What?” “A good mom would be visited by her daughter, seems to me. So either she’s a fuck-up of a mom or you’re a fuck-up of a daughter.” Andrea shut the bathroom door. She used her fingernails to tear off the layer of face paint. She didn’t want to wait for the soap to loosen it. She looked in the mirror. She looked at her fingernails pulling herself apart.

Step 3: Practice as much as you can when you're alone. Everything in the home smelled like urine. Andrea had a hard time disguising her reaction to gag, though it didn't seem like her aunt cared either way. She opened the front door and kept walking towards the kitchen, leaving Andrea to decide on her own what reaction to have. "She stopped eating solids a few days ago," her aunt called out. "Are you taking her to the hospital?" Her aunt returned with a glass of lemonade for Andrea, “Don’t see why I should." "You don't know for sure."

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"Andrea - don't be so childish. She's been dying for a while now." "I'm worried about the pain she's in." "No you're not. If you worried at all – anyway, I was given plenty of drugs to keep her numbed out." Andrea wanted to yell at her aunt but took a sip of the lemonade instead. A piece of ice ran across her lips and pulled some of the missed silver makeup with it. "I'm sorry. That wasn't how I wanted to say that." "It's true." "She's in the guest bedroom," her aunt began, pulling her hair into a ponytail before letting it fall back into place, "she's in and out most of the day - but I don't know if you'll get another chance." "Ok." "You just need to straighten some things out, Andrea. I know she wants to do that." "Ok." "Go on," her aunt said, taking the glass from Andrea's hand, "you go talk with your mother." Andrea walked down the hallway. Her feet felt mechanical. Her hand almost forgot how to open the door. The room smelled of antiseptic and old clothing. Andrea stepped past the doorframe but stayed close to the wall. Her mother's eyes were closed. Every breath sounded like a fight barely won. Andrea recognized the straight, slender nose they shared. She knew the full bottom lip and long slim arms. Andrea wondered if her mother would be happy knowing that she saw all of these things. Andrea wondered how to start. "Stephanie?" Her mother's voice startled Andrea. It froze her to the wall.

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"Stephanie?" Her mother turned her head towards the door. Her pale eyes opened. She looked like something that shouldn’t be in the room. She looked removed from it – something that was placed there by accident or bad luck. A forgotten piece to another set. "Are you in here?" Andrea did not move. Andrea wanted to tell her that she was here – that she’d be here until the end. She wanted to tell her mother that she wasn’t really running away. She wanted to hold her mother’s thin limp hand and tell her about what’s happened over the last two years. She wanted to tell her about Xavier and how his name is probably something else – who’s given that name anymore? She wanted to tell her mother that she didn’t visit because she was a bad daughter – because she thought there’d always be time. She wanted to say how she wasn’t angry that dad left them both for something else – how she didn’t blame her for it. Andrea wanted to tell her mother how wonderful she looked – how they looked like the same person and how wonderful that was. Instead, she relaxed her breath. She made her body lock. Andrea said "you do not hear me," by breathing silently through her mouth. She said "You do not hear me," again by closing her eyes. "Your daughter isn't coming to visit," Andrea said, by moving for the door only when her mother was breathing in. Andrea begged "You forgive me. I'm not here," by closing the door quietly behind once she reached the hallway. Andrea walked through the hallway and passed her aunt, who had risen from the kitchen table when she heard Andrea’s steps. She only heard the beginning of her aunt’s sentence – which stopped at “coward” once Andrea closed the front door.

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She walked the distance between Aunt Stephanie’s house and her own apartment in the city, which took longer than she expected. It took long enough for Aunt Stephanie to find out that Andrea didn’t talk to her mother. It took long enough that her aunt should have driven by Andrea walking on the sidewalk and pulled over to yell at her. When Andrea reached her apartment, she was surprised that her aunt wasn’t there waiting for her in the hallway. Andrea went into the apartment and crawled into bed. She closed her eyes and thought of her mother. She reached out her hand towards the door and called out for Stephanie. She listened for a noise – a creak or a breath or a shuffle. Andrea tried to make the face of someone who wanted so horribly to be with their daughter.

[BIO]: Matthew is a student in the Arcadia University MFA Program in Creative Writing.

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Elegy for the Unborn | Sara Dailey I. When you leave the atmosphere the black birds take flight like a panic settling in. The wind for days stutters in the eaves, curves along the gutters, a bold thing becoming familiar, and I want to make only small things. II. Where does flight go when no longer in the body? All those arcs uncharted— as if Daedalus, watching Icarus fall, sees only some gust of wind go past. Plummet is too like plume, a flutter of white feathers and falling, the down swing of a pendulum, no longer keeping time. Did Daedalus himself then want the sun, another kind of white, the bright clean burn, light chasing away sight? III. My tongue wants a word for this— amid the buzz of insect chatter the pure white pea flowers jut from small vines and the noise of my head, loose, is an illegible thing, twisting on wind, catching on its currents, breaking suddenly open into flight.

[BIO]: Sara holds an MFA from Hamline University and works as a teacher and editor in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Ghost Skin | Braydon Beaulieu I strip off my clothes. They lie wrinkled on the cement floor. Does my father’s skin have so many folds and creases, valleys, walls? His voice outside my door says, Malek? I climb into my bed and cover my nakedness. Yeah, I say. Come in. In the dark, I can’t see Baba’s mouth, but I hear him ask, Where were you, Malek? What do you mean? I heard you come back inside, he says. You’re lucky your mother didn’t. Sorry. Well? Where were you, ya azar? I’m sorry, I say. I didn’t think you’d hear. I was up in Kassim’s big tree, stargazing. I can climb the maple tree in Kassim’s backyard in fourteen seconds. I can jump and roll from halfway back down if I need to, if he comes running out the patio door with a cricket bat in hand, shouting, Get the hell out of my lawn, yamshahar ya haiwan. Baba shifts, a faint outline in the shadows, and says, Spying on someone. What do you want, Malek? You want to lose your eyes? I’m not going to lose my eyes. That’s an old wives’ tale. In that tree, the leaves fold into my body, shards of copper and brass that latch into my skin and protect me from shrapnel and hot sand, cover me like the scales of a snake and hide my naked eyes from the ends of glowing orange brands used to burn out the sockets of spies. I’m safe out there, I say. And I’m not spying on anyone. He rubs his toes into the carpet and says, You’re spying on Kassim. Why would I want to spy on Kassim? Why are you in his tree? I don’t answer because my eyes are closing on their own. He shakes his head and leaves, closing the door behind him. My father has high blood pressure. The doctor says too much stress. So when we sit down to eat in the mornings we have plain oatmeal and orange juice and sliced bananas. But his blood pressure isn’t coming down. This is because his job demands so much of him and he watches too much TV. And he buys greasy fries and pizza at work. I know this because of the stains on his pants where he wipes his fingers. My mother doesn’t talk about it much, but she scrubs the dishes too hard and last Tuesday she cried for no reason. One night, while sitting up in the tree, I saw her come out and meet Kassim at the fence. They spoke for almost an hour. I could hear her saying my father’s name, and I heard her crying. Kassim hugged her. I picked at the bark of the maple.

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My father’s shadow plays on the walls and counters but his body never appears. He is a ghost, rustling through the walls of our home. I try to convince Baba to play soccer with me. But the one time he came out and ran around, he fell, and my mother came running out the patio door screaming, Bashir, Bashir, and she asked me if I was insane and asked him if he was insane, and since then I’ve only kicked the ball around the yard alone or with Emery or Jameson on the weekend. But sometimes we watch soccer on TV. Today, he comes down to breakfast and tells me he wants to talk to me before we eat. We head into the backyard. Kassim is sweeping red and gold leaves off his balcony. They spiral to the grass and nest there, intact. My father puts a hand on my shoulder. Malek, he says. Malek, I raised you much better than this. You can’t be putting your spoon in other people’s soup all the time. You are no longer to climb that tree, do you understand? You are not to go onto that man’s property. But. He holds up his hand. He says, If I catch you sneaking out again you’ll be grounded. I don’t care how old you are. No, I don’t care. And I’ll tell your mother. She’ll put you to work like you can’t even imagine. Okay. He turns and walks back inside. I cross our yard and reach over the fence, rub my fingers against the bark of the maple. Its leaves are brittle under my feet and crunch like old snakeskins. There’s a crash and a scream, and Kassim looks up at my house. I run back inside. My father lies on the kitchen floor in a puddle of orange juice and banana slices. My mother kneels beside him in the mess, shaking him, yelling his name. I want to shake him as well, wake him up, slap him if I have to, promise I’ll never climb a tree again in my life, call 911, anything. But I can only twitch my fingers and blink. I smell burning oatmeal. We bury my father today, the twentieth of October, and the mosque smells of lemon and sweat. My mother is on the other side of the barrier. She cries but doesn’t wail. Everyone keeps telling me that everything belongs to Allah, that we must all return at His will. I clasp their hands and repeat, Yislamou. All day I think, Where is Kassim? My father is shrouded in three white sheets. Three extra layers of ghost skin to cover his own. My voice joins in Salaat-ul Janaazah, and then the men take the coffin to the cemetery. The director’s staff lowers Baba into the dirt with the centipedes, and we pray as a field of crickets. All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the forest of the mind. My uncle nudges me. Feast, Malek. Hmm? Feast of the mind.

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We get home and friends and family funnel themselves into our house, opening platters of baqlawa and fruits and hummus. My friend Emery opens a meat and cheese platter and my mother whispers into his ear. He smacks his forehead, covers the platter up again, takes it out to his mother’s car. I go out into the backyard and around the house to see him. He’s crying against the passenger-side window. In the backyard, Kassim is at the fence, smoking. I’m sorry about your father, he says. Were you at the funeral? He taps his cigarette and the ashes drift down to the base of the maple tree. No, I wasn’t. I didn’t think. I wanted to stay here. Oh. I thought I missed you. Kassim takes a long pull, closing his eyes, and breathes out the smoke, slow. You going into the tree tonight? You know? Of course I damn well know, it’s my tree. He picks a piece of bark from the trunk and rolls it between his thumb and his finger. I want to reach out and do the same. Instead I ask, You don’t care? Malek, son, you’re what? Twelve? Thirteen? I’m not going to come chasing after you with a bat anymore. My tree, your tree, far’s I’m concerned. How’s your mom holding up? I shrug, rub my toes into the grass like my father does. Did. An image of him in my room the night before he died, toeing the carpet. I say, I can’t climb it anymore. Kassim flicks his cigarette into the mulch on his side of the fence. Smoke leaks from between his lips. Why not? I just, I can’t. Your father was kind. He didn’t deserve the bad things that happened to him. The way he was treated, sometimes. He loves you. Remember that. My mother calls for me from the house. Over my head, her eyes meet Kassim. She blushes. I return to the people in my home, and to platters of pineapple and grapes. Can’t sleep. I rub my cheeks and kneel up on my bed to look out the window at the dancing shadows of the maple tree. I wish I could crawl out the window and climb. A slithering sound: the patio door opening above my bedroom. My mother’s shadow extends from the house and slides across the grass. It stops at the fence, and Kassim is there. He wraps his arms around her. I jump from my bed and yank open my dresser drawers, tearing out every shirt and mismatched sock and pair of jeans and tossing it across the carpet. As if his voice is carried in from the backyard on a strong wind, I hear Kassim quote, For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. I wade through the pool of shed skins to my closet, pulling sweaters and trousers and neckties from hangers and throwing them down on the floor with the

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rest. And I lie down in the folds of it all and slowly, so slowly, sleep comes. But not before I hear my mother come back into the house. The next day, she doesn’t come out of her bedroom until nightfall. It’s already dark outside when she walks into the kitchen. She’s been crying. There are wet spots on her collar and at the bottom of her shirt, where she’s wiped her eyes. I am reading The Prophet at the table, eating a red apple. Morning, she mumbles. I take another bite of my apple. She descends to the basement to do the laundry. After some time she comes back up the stairs and asks, What happened to your room? Why are your clothes all over the place? I don’t know. She sees the book I’m reading, says, Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. Clean your room when you’re done with your apple. You’re not an animal. When I get downstairs I see that she’s changed my sheets. The blue ones must be in the wash because the white ones are on my bed. I spend the next forty-five minutes folding and hanging. When I’m done, I sit down on the floor and pick at the frayed hem of my jeans. My mother’s voice comes down the stairs. Malek, I’m going back to bed. Night. When I hear her door close upstairs, I pull the white sheets from the mattress and carry them outside. I cross the lawn barefoot and wrap the sheets around my shoulders, lie down at the fence beside the tree, just on the other side. I stare up through its branches at the black sky and wish for the blades of grass to hook into my shroud and my flesh and pull me under, while the squirrels and the crows pray Salaat-ul Janaazah. Baba and I will kick the soccer ball around and not worry about him falling. Through my new skin, I see the kitchen light turn on, then off again. There won’t be any fencemeetings tonight.

[BIO]: Braydon is a candidate for the PhD in English & Creative Writing at the University of Calgary.

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The Earl of Beaumont | Nicole Wolverton Mama always said I was named after the fourth Earl of Aberdeen, an English mucky muck she learned about in school, but Daddy told me the truth: I was named for some honky tonk friend of hers. Mama’s pal had been a waitress, so I suspect it was fated in the stars that I ended up slinging eggs and pancakes in a diner along the interstate. Still, I liked the idea of being named for an Earl. Maybe it meant I was destined for bigger things than Beaumont and the Lucky Strike diner. I could be one of those ladies of leisure, the kind who got her nails and hair done all the time. The kind who led an exciting life. I smoothed the collar of my uniform down and straightened the short pink skirt before heading over to my new table. Handsome guy in a tweed jacket, no tie. His fingers glided along the roughed up vinyl covering the menu. “Welcome to the Lucky Strike. What can I get for you?” I pretended I wasn’t checking out his profile – a nice straight nose and some fine lips that would have been more at home on a woman’s face. A bristle of brown scruff on his cheeks and chin took the formal look out of him. He glanced at me, mouth turning up to reveal a dimple at the corner. Eyes the color of a topaz ring Daddy bought me for Christmas once. “Good morning,” he said, squinting at my nametag. “Aberdeen. Pretty name. Any recommendations?” “Can’t say that I recommend the red eye gravy -- cookie doesn’t have the hang of that yet, but you can’t go wrong with buttermilk hotcakes. Specialty of the house, and I eat them every day for breakfast myself.” “Well, if that’s the case, I’ll take the hotcakes. And a coffee…black.” I hustled off, still thinking of that smile of his. Nice dental work – bet he had good insurance. When I got back to his table with the coffee pot, he was still grinning. I flipped the coffee up and poured. “So, Aberdeen,” he said, “what’s fun to do around here?” 37


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“Oh, well, there’s the bingo hall, and I think a new movie just came to the Cineplex. You just passing through, or you here to stay in Beaumont?” “Just passing. But I can hang out for a bit. Girl like you – maybe you might go out with me sometime.” “Could be…you play your cards right, that is.” I pressed my lips together, keeping my own smile hiding behind my teeth. Mama’s voice floated in my head: Don’t show a man you’re interested, honey – gives ‘em dumb ideas. “Well, Aberdeen from Beaumont, I’m Tony. Tony Ianelli.” “Tony Ianelli, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” And it was. Most interesting thing to happen to me in a while. This one had promise. “I’ll be out with your hotcakes in a few.” I refilled the coffee at my other tables, chit-chatting with the customers, but I kept my eye on Mr. Tony Ianelli. His long-fingered hands wrapped around the coffee cup, top lip creeping over the rim when he drank or sucking on his lower one when he didn’t. But I could feel his eyes following as I worked the room, clucking over the latest gossip. A salesman, I figured. The jacket looked expensive, and his dark hair was carefully styled. Maybe a successful one, whatever he sold. I’d have bought cow manure from him if that was his thing. I scanned the parking lot, trying to guess which car was his. Everything looked familiar but one: a cherry red sports car. Yes, he must have been doing well for himself. Married? A girlfriend? Maybe. He was smooth, and a man on the road got lonely, but that kind of relationship wasn’t for me. My best friend, Marnie, had carried on for four years with a man who had a wife. He worked for the gas company with Marnie, and she’d told me about sneaking off for sex in the supply closet, in the backseat of his mini-van, in bushes (once). It’d never sounded like fun, but Marnie insisted it was exciting. Not so thrilling when his wife had caught them in his office. It had been the talk of Beaumont for seven months until Bob Cramer got drunk and set the pizzeria on fire. “Order up!” cookie yelled.

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Five Quarterly | Issue No. 2

I balanced the plate on my arm and approached the table, putting an extra sway in my hips. The clink of porcelain on laminate filled the space, and he smiled up at me. He probably had a big house where he held fantastic parties filled with beautiful people. Barbecue pit out back and maybe a pool. Yeah, one of those big kidney-shaped ones. He picked up a fork. With hands like those, he played the piano. Or maybe painted. Yes, he was an artist. A famous one. He lived in a big city, maybe Philadelphia or Washington, DC, and he had art shows in fancy galleries when he wasn’t on the road. “Thanks, Aberdeen. This looks real good.” “Do you need anything else?” “Company, maybe. You got time to join me?” “I can hang out for a few until someone needs me.” “Good enough. You single, Aberdeen?” “I am. What about you?” “Yes, indeed. Free as a bird.” “Guess you have to be, huh? Kind of life you lead? That’s a nice car you got.” His laugh was something else – rich and full. The sound of money and excitement, I tell you. “Well, it isn’t mine.” “It’s not?” “No, this is what I do for a living, sweet thing. I deliver cars.” “Oh? Do you own a car dealership or something?” “Nothing like that. I’m an actor, but I take odd jobs like this to make money.”

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Five Quarterly | Issue No. 2

“That’s great. Have I seen you in anything? Do you work in soap operas?” Working at the diner, I didn’t get to see many shows, but Marnie taped some of them and let me watch. But an actor! How thrilling. That was just as good as being an artist. “Oh, no. I haven’t gotten any parts yet. I audition a lot. But I come close a few times. You know that commercial for the dog food, the one with the guy who takes his dog to the beach? I almost got that one.” “That’s great,” I said. “You must not get out of the city much. Auditions take up a lot of your time, right?” “The city?” “Yeah, you must live in New York or something, somewhere close to all the acting stuff.” “No, I’m from Virginia. Small town, not too different from this.” “Huh.” His eyes – not the color of that ring. No, they were just plain old brown eyes. Nothing special. “How about that date later, Aberdeen?” “I’m sorry, Tony – I got plans tonight. I have to, you know, take my grandma for groceries.” I walked away, shaking my head. So close. A guy like him – he was cute and all, but not my type. The bell over the door tinkled, and an older man shuffled through. Not old, just older. It was a lucky day: two strangers, and all in the same hour. This one had a nice-looking face… maybe he was a doctor. I bet he lived in a mansion. “Welcome to the Lucky Strike. What can I get for you?”

[BIO]: Nicole is a freelance writer and novelist living in Philadelphia. Her debut novel, The Trajectory of Dreams, will be available in March 2013 from Bitingduck Press.

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Five Quarterly | Issue No. 2

Copyright 2012 Five [Quarterly] All rights reserved fivequarterly.org

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Five [Quarterly] Issue No. 2  

5/Q Issue No. 2 featuring poetry and short fiction.

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