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Dear readers; I don’t even know if there are any of you out there, save the ones who have contributed to this first issue. If there are, I am humbled to be in front of your eyes. To the contributors of this project: I thank you immensely from the bottom of my heart, as this is a dream realized for me. In creating Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, I wanted to create a space for artists to share their dreams in the same way that I now am sharing mine. The only way I have come to know myself is through my art, whether or not someone sees it. As an artist, the opportunities for publication are plentiful, but so are the people who send their work out into the world. Even the best of us—due to myriad reasons—don’t always receive the acceptance letters we frequently deserve. H&H is a home for the work of anyone. We read everything, and we evaluate everything, and the pieces that get selected are done so by instinct. If you are working with fire, with passion, and with hope, we see you. We aim to further your voice. The theme of this inaugural issue is Lost and Found. The pieces herein are bound together by the truth of discovery; whether that is discovery of oneself, or discovery of oneself being lost. I have discovered myself to be lost quite a few times in my life, and there is much beauty in it. Regardless of good experiences or bad, getting lost allows and provides the inspiration to create more, to thrive, and to ultimately find myself again. No matter how far I stray or how long I stay gone, I can always trace my art back to myself. In addition to the writers and artists who gave their hard-built horseshoes to this little hand grenade of mine, I’d like to thank and acknowledge those who worked with me on this project, and on so many other things:


Derek Anthony Welte, whose remarkable ability to translate my scattered thoughts into a cohesive, gorgeous bouquet of design elements still has me floored. Zoe Guttenplan, and Jasmine Farrell, whose discerning eyes helped me comb through hundreds of submissions when I realized just how big of an undertaking this “small” side project was actually going to be. And all the other writers and artists out there who submitted their work to me through this process, and whose work I wish I could have also taken. Know that I have loved reading your work, and hope you’ll let me read it again soon.

Melanie H. Brown Artistic Director | Founder Horseshoes & Hand Grenades


JACQUESE ARMSTRONG

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Jacquese Armstrong is a Poet/Writer residing in Central New Jersey. Her first poetry chapbook, dance of the shadows, was released last June by GFT Press. She has been published in For Harriet, A Gathering of the Tribes, The Rising Phoenix Review and Ourselves/Black among others.

CIARA BARSOTTI

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Ciara Barsotti lives in Williamsburg, CA

JOHN BEBOUT

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John Bebout is a scientist seeking truth through poetry.

ACE BOGGESS

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Ace Boggess is author of three books of poetry, most recently Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016). His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

SARAH BUTLER

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Sarah Butler is a mixed media artist based in Ithaca, NY. Her work is inspired by how people react and grow from our surrounding environments, the natural, the built, and the societal. This can range from how identity is shaped by cultural ideals, to the ways in which the natural environment impacts the human psyche, to bold and blunt reactions to U.S. politics. Sarah received her BA in Environmental Studies and Studio Art from Ithaca College in 2015; and has participated in group shows in Washington, DC, Ithaca, NY, and Amsterdam, Netherlands, as well as solo exhibitions in Ithaca, NY.

VANESSA COMPTON

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Vanessa Compton grew up in the rural Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and has been a collage artist for the past decade.


JENNA CORNELL

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Jenna Cornell has an MA in English/Creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She is an Adjunct English Professor at Lakeland University and involved in radio broadcasting with Cumulus Media. Her poems have been published in several print and online publications, including Mirrored Voices: Best Modern Poets (Vol 4), Sheepshead Review, Blaze Vox, and Northern Lights Journal. She published her first collection of poems Fantastic Illusions of Life, Love, the Birds, and the Bees in 2015. Jenna's most recent short story, 'Mastering the Fine Art of Time Management', was published in The Remembered Arts Journal in 2017.

TRISTAN DURST

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When not writing, Tristan Durst supports herself as a nanny, which means her days are filled with bodily fluids and rejection letters. Find her writing in Ghost City Press and the Dime Show Review. Or don't. This bio is not the boss of you.

AYA ELIZABETH

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Aya Elizabeth is an artist, bookseller, and poet living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Konch Magazine, Typishly, The Write Launch, Up The Staircase Quarterly, Habitat Magazine, Delmarva Review, The Same, Twyckenham Notes, and Bluestem.

S. HARGRAVE

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S. Hargrave is one half of a Canadian writing team. With a degree in psychology from Queen's University, her work focuses on the complexities of the human psyche and the various ways in which one person can affect another.

HENDRICK HOEPELMAN Hendrick Hoepelman was born and lives in New York City.

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GABRIEL HORTON

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Gabriel Horton graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School with a Master of Divinity, and, before that, from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religious studies. Gabriel lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with partner, Nancy, and dog, Watney.

SHAYMA IDRIS

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Shayma Idris is a freelance photographer and a dentist by profession. With the help of her mobile phone camera, she keeps on documenting her everyday life. She is an “Everyday Cairo” contributor and “Everyday Khartoum,” two projects inspired by Everyday Africa and an independent photographer.

JURY S. JUDGE

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Jury S. Judge is an internationally published cartoonist, writer, and artist whose artwork has been widely published in literary magazines such as, 'Dodging The Rain,' 'South 85 Journal,' 'Boston Accent,' and 'Timber.'

KAPIL KACHRU

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Writer in the making. Based in Boston. Has previously published a story in a Dutch graphic design journal. It desperately needs to be rewritten.

DANIEL LORING KEATING

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Daniel Loring Keating grew up in post-Industrial New England, where he earned a BA in Creative Writing from Chester College of New England. He has recently obtained his MFA in Creative Writing at the California College of the Arts, where he was the Managing Editor of Eleven Eleven Journal. His work has previously been published in Strange Fictions, the Cerurove, Obra/Artifact, and the Hungry Chimera.

RACHEL MAMBACH Rachel Mambach lives and makes art on the Jersey shore.

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SHANA MONTROSE

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Shana Montrose has a BA from Smith College in Government, an MA from Georgetown in Latin American Studies, and an MPH from Harvard in Public Health. She is a Denver native and has lived on the east coast as well as abroad in Oxford, England; Oaxaca, Mexico; and Montevideo, Uruguay. She has taken various courses at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado. In addition to writing poetry, she dances Argentine tango with her husband.

CHANCELLOR PAGE

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Chancellor Page was born on an Army base in Newport News, Virginia. He has lived in Heidelberg, Bushwick, Los Angeles, Providence, Austin, Dallas and Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of UT Austin, where he studied English and Philosophy. He trained with Dennis Congdon, Michael Young, Duane Slick and Donna Bruton at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he received an MFA in Painting and Printmaking. Chancellor's work investigates why we forget, what we choose to remember, and how we reconcile, reconstruct and retranslate personal and collective loss.

MICHAEL PESANT

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina by the narrowest of margins, Michael Pesant lives, works, and writes in Asheville.

CATHRYN PICCIRILLO

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Cathryn Piccirillo’s fiction and creative nonfiction has appeared in a number of regional publications including Donut Factory, Owl Hollow Press's PICK YOUR POISON anthology, The Remington Review, and Mothers Always Write. She is also a freelance journalist who regularly writes about fine food and parenting—two things rarely related—in Charlotte, NC. Her free time is spent reading, drinking cider beer, and wrangling two precocious kids.

RICKY RAY

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Born in Florida, educated at Columbia University, Ricky Ray is the author of Fealty (Eyewear, 2018) and the editor of Rascal: a Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art. His recent work appears in The American Scholar, Fugue, The Matador Review, Amaryllis and One. His awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Fortnight Poetry Prize, and the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, three cats and a Labradetter; their bed, like any good home of the heart, is frequently overcrowded.


ANDREW RIHN

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Andrew Rihn is a writer of essays, poems, and scholarly articles. He is the author of several chapbooks, including America Pops and Fizzes (sunnyoutside press) and The Rust Belt MRI (Pudding House). Most recently, he co-authored, along with his wife, the writer Donora A. Rihn, the chapbook The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: An Election Cycle (Moria Books/ Locofo Chaps). Together, they live in Portage Lakes, OH with their two rescue dogs.

DAWN RYAN

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Dawn Ryan has been writing fiction since she was an undergrad at Brandeis University where she received the Andrew Grossbardt Award for her creative writing thesis. She later attended Rutgers University’s Newark campus MFA program in creative writing. Her stories have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, and American Short Fiction where Rick Moody selected her story as the winner of their annual short story contest. She has also published at a number of online journals. She is currently a public school teacher in Jersey City, NJ.

JAMES SEALS

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James earned his MFA in Fiction at Southern New Hampshire University. His stories have been published in Amoskeag Journal, Forge Journal, Rio Grande Review and others. He also has published an essay and numerous poems. James' stories "White, Like You" (’13) and an excerpt, "Turned His Eyes Away" ('14), from his novel American Value won SNHU’s graduate writing contest. SNHU's MFA faculty awarded James' masters' thesis, American Value, the Lynn H. Safford Book Prize.

PAMELA STEMBERG

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Pamela Stemberg has an MFA in creative non-fiction from CCNY and currently teaches English Composition at several CUNY schools.

C.M. TOLLEFSON

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C. M. Tollefson is a poet and musician living in Portland, Or. He co-runs the poetry journal Cathexis Northwest Press. He writes as a way of grasping the intangible and making sense out of overwhelming stimulus. His work may so far be found in Anapest, The Esthetic Apostle and The Bridge. He harbors a strong distaste for describing himself.


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ANIMALIS Ricky Ray

for Rosmarie Waldrop

I woke up this morning feeling fur, asked myself what I was dreaming. A certain silkiness to the touch denied dog, felt feline even if the skin underneath was human. My tongue went to my teeth but they felt like my old nubs. I took a breath and my nostrils whistled their usual deviations. Arched my back, and that felt too good for a spine so ruptured and wrong, so I put off the mirror, put off the inevitable collapse into person, walked back towards the darkness, told the mind to be quiet—shhh, we're asking Egyptian slits what it takes to awaken claws in the fingers, to restore the tail as rightful rudder, to call us back to the animal we never left. The answer I got was a hiss and a purr, a hum in the belly that played along the body like a reconfiguration of the ribs. A reminder: to stay low, remember all fours, feet that know the earth and never wonder how to walk it; to sniff first and listen hard,

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haunches coiled with instinct when prey can be felt ahead in the bushes; to swallow with neither guilt nor glee, just one life consumed, and then, if luck stays with us, another; to chew grass when something spoils and the stomach needs to be purged; to chew cornhusk for no reason other than it's good and bears repeating, and remembering in the limbs, where many things are remembered: the trees of old properties, mice holes of apartments; the kittens who went walking and never returned; the smell of dumpsters and oceans that could break this nose open; the feel of sunlight in the desert where once we were gods, parting the sands as our footsteps left water, unafraid of our shadows, unafraid of our powers, unafraid of the earth’s insistence that we live nine times to protect her heart.

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GIRL RECRUIT Shana Montrose

I met God last year. It doesn’t matter that I’m a girl. I’ve never built a bomb before. But no matter. God will move my hands. Bright yellow and white and burning. It doesn’t matter where my bomb showers. It doesn’t matter which bodies shatter. My bomb will bring those souls to light. My boyfriend says my hands are steady. He possesses me. Makes me powerful. In a world where I don’t matter. I might have mattered. Had I been on a winning team. Or prom queen. This matter of the world.

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It is not yours. Nor mine. It is but God’s. And if God wills it: I will burst open the sky. The heavens will swallow your matter. And my matter whole. All the matter in the universe. Transformed by my hand. My tiny girl fingers. My precision and fission. Splitting open the chest to repair the heart. So something matters.

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THE FLY Dawn Ryan There’s a fly in my room. She is no ordinary fly. I say this because she has been buzzing around my room for more than a month now, and I know from the internet that flies don’t normally live so long. What’s more surprising about this fly is that she doesn’t seem to need food or water. I long ago stopped eating in bed, in hopes the fly would starve, or at least get so hungry she’d leave my room in search of nourishment. This never happened. I keep my bedroom door open when I’m home, and yet she chooses not to go scouting. Now it’s been over three weeks since the fly hasn’t had access to food or water. Another thing about the fly that drives me crazy is that she always wants to know what I’m doing. Sometime during the first week of our bunking together, I decided to give up trying to swat her. She was so quick and agile, capture was impossible. I said, “live and let live,” but the fly never lets me be. She’s always flying around my head, reading over my shoulder, staring. Some mornings I’ll even awaken to feel her perched on the tip of my nose, like she’s grandstanding atop a mountain peak. Like she’s conquered me. I should also mention that this fly, this common house fly, is oddly beautiful. Her beauty is hard to describe, but comparatively speaking, she’s much better looking than me, and yes, occasionally I find myself perversely jealous of her charms. It occurred to me around month two, when the life span of this fly had become phenomenal, awesome, that there was something remarkably familiar about her presence. I couldn’t think of whom or what she reminded me, but her effect on me was undoubtedly familiar.

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In an attempt at full disclosure, I will admit that I haven’t been able to masturbate in my bedroom since the fly arrived, or rather I tried once, but the fly hovered over my right knee for the more interesting part. And when I was finished, I had the strangest feeling that she was judging me. Now all onanistic relief is done standing in the shower, which, for this lady, isn’t particularly easy, but I’ve grown adept. And yes, of course I’ve said to myself, “she’s just a fly, flies don’t judge. They don’t even think. Why let her manipulate my behavior?” But my relationship with the fly had long stopped being reasonable. This fly judges. This fly thinks. This fly is a master of manipulation. And what’s even more disturbing, this fly knows me, knows me in a way that makes masturbating in front of her taboo. When I first acknowledged this terrible, incestuous feeling, it triggered a childhood memory. I was an only child to a single mother. We lived sparingly in a small, one-bedroom, government subsidized apartment. We shared the one bed in the one bedroom. I must have been pre-latent, perhaps in the anal or genital stage, and I was having strong sexual urges that kept me in the bathroom far longer than necessary. One Saturday morning, I woke before my mother did, while it was still dark. I remember creeping into the living room and splaying my naked little body on the love seat. I spent the greater part of the morning fondling my various erogenous zones, zones particular to a child, places for which I no longer have any use. During an eyebrow-belly button combination something came over me; a sinking, dreadful feeling and I called out for my mother. She answered from behind me and my heart dropped. During the night, without my knowledge, she had moved from the bed to the sofa perpendicular to the loveseat. She was buried under a lump of blankets, and she was a petite woman who could easily vanish under covers. I hadn’t taken the necessary precautions to notice her. She’d slept there, but I knew, from my sick feeling, that she had merely been pretending sleep, that she’d been awake for some time, watching me. This was the eighties, and

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people, especially women of my mother’s generation, had taken up new philosophies on childhood sexuality. Chances are my mother was caught off guard and didn’t want to shame me in the way she’d been shamed as a girl. She said nothing, and I said nothing, wrapping my nude body in the quilt at the top of the couch. Not long after, I found Our Bodies, Ourselves sitting, unacknowledged, on our small kitchen table. I knew the book was for me, and I cherished it, hid it among my most valued toys, and studied it closely with sweaty fingers. But I never shook the feeling that my mother was always watching me, or that she was somehow proprietor of my sexuality. Her new-age methods had failed. By not shaming me, she had invented a new and just as damaging breed of shame. The fly in my room manages to rekindle these childhood worries. Her big vacant bug eyes reflect my twisted image. Her nonchalant trajectories, from dresser to bookshelf to TV set, are rife with narcissism. And her vague but continuous interest in me is a constant puzzle, a thing that painstakingly highlights our differences, while demanding I try harder. I know what you’re thinking: this woman believes the fly in her room is her dead mother, just like every other wacko with a dead mother thinks that their cat or dog is their parent come back. Well, I’m sorry for being such a harried cliché, but there’s just no other way to explain it. I’ve never been particularly spiritual, or even superstitious. At any other period of my life, if you’d asked me if I believed in reincarnation, I’d politely, graciously, say no. This fly is a different story though. I’d gladly cop to insanity, or some kind of temporary, fly-specific psychosis, but knowing I’m nuts doesn’t make the mother-fly go away. And no one can argue that this fly, this three-month-old miracle musca domestica, isn’t special, even if it isn’t my mother reincarnated. I should also mention that I’m not completely convinced this fly is my mother. I don’t go through my day truly believing that my mother’s soul is trapped in the fragile body of a bug. It’s more of a suspicion, a suspicion that seems validated constantly by the

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fly’s hauntingly recognizable behavior. The most telling and frustrating example happened just a few weeks ago. I had a boyfriend, had being the operative word. His name was Tom. We met shortly after my mother passed away through an online dating site that matches people based on complex personality profiles. I was a cautious/pragmatist and Tom was a protector/provider. We were together for close to a year, and I was starting to think that he might be the one. I even had fantasies of him and me giving video testimonials of our successful union for the site’s television commercials. I knew right away, he’d say. It was love at first sight, I’d reply; and we’d kiss on camera in the tender, flippant way two compassionate soul-mates kiss. Not overly boastful, for the sake of the general public, who haven’t managed to pair off so happily, but affectionate enough so that everyone knew we belonged to each other. We’d be a model twosome. No such luck. Just as in earlier years, when my high school boyfriend referred to my mom as a hottie, and I could no longer look him in the eyes without feeling nauseous, the fly got in the way of my true happiness. Back then, when I was a teen, my mother, in her defense, was going through a strange period. She had cut ties with her family, who, admittedly, are a large and awful group of people. Her mother had birthed eleven children, and my mother, being single and a sponge on the system, was the black sheep. At the time, my mother had wanted to take some courses and become a reflexologist, which, in her family’s defense, they rightfully considered a fake occupation. She asked her most successful brother for a loan to pay for the training, but he refused. Instead, she received a barrage of phone calls from her parents and siblings, telling her to get her act together, but denying any economic support. My mother responded by writing a mass letter, and sending it to everyone in her family, indicting them as, “a vast, godless empire, always on the verge of collapse,

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forever reveling in each other’s demise, intent on bringing [her] down to [their] level.” No one responded. Their silence hurt her deeply, though she denied it. For the year that followed, my mother, isolated and alone except for me, shamelessly sought the attention of men. She began staying out late, exercising, dabbling in vegetarianism, and dressing inappropriately for her age. I’d given her ample warning. I’d told her my boyfriend would be coming home with me after track practice so we could study for a chemistry test. I’d hoped that she would find something to do and let the two of us have the apartment to ourselves. I was the kind of girl a mother could trust with such responsibilities. I’d lost all fascination with sex at this point in my development, or rather I feared sex. I was convinced that even masturbation could cause a venereal disease. What if I hadn’t washed my hands thoroughly? What if my index finger was infected with syphilis or herpes simplex 2? I guess these were the intended lessons of state sanctioned sex ed. My mother had even begun referring to me as a prude, and playfully asking where I’d come from. Certainly not from her. My mother hadn’t found anything else to do that day; in fact, she made her presence abundantly known. It was the dead of winter, but my mother wore a mini-skirt and a spaghetti strapped tank, which, given the slightest shift of her torso, flirtatiously revealed her midriff. (The fly, too, has a way of accidently presenting.) My mother served us snacks and drinks, and sat next to my boyfriend on the couch, asking questions with over-zealous interest. It was quite obvious that, despite himself, he was taken with her. I never introduced a boyfriend to my mother ever again, and for a while, when I was in college, she entertained the idea that I was a lesbian. This provided her an odd kind of glee and excitement, as if she herself were rebelling against the hegemony, her family.

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I never delivered on her Sapphic dreams, and I could tell she was a little disappointed. Truth be told, there weren’t too many men to write home about, and Tom, the man I’d hoped to marry, was the only long-term, serious relationship I’d ever really had. I’d made a point of taking it slow with Tom, though we had become sexually intimate. Still, I insisted we have our overnights at his place, knowing I was unable to conjure any true romantic feelings in my bedroom. Ironically though, a week arose when Tom’s building was being fumigated. He was a true gentleman, and never asked to stay with me, which compelled me to offer. Things were good that first day. We made dinner and cuddled in front of the TV. I felt great, domestic; but this sort of intimacy was new to me, and though it was wonderful, being my mother’s daughter, I couldn’t help but experience short bouts of anxiety over our relationship. I was intellectually torn. I knew that what Tom and I had was right. We looked and acted like a normal couple does on television; however, the philosophy of my upbringing buzzed in the back of my mind. I was raised to believe that this acceptable, hetero-centric behavior was part of a large, insidious social disease, the cornerstone of everything wrong with the world. I felt guilty for enjoying Tom’s touch. Wanting to feel small, meek, secure in a man’s arms is a fundamental sickness of the female mind, something we should guard against, or so my mother taught me. Also, I was, am, still a bit of a prude. This too, spoke to my mental weakness. I should freely embrace the basic joys of my body, and by not doing so I was perpetuating the myth and mindset that the white, female form is a pristine vessel, a thing whose virtue must be defended. This myth, I remember my mother telling me, was especially terrible for black people’s psychology, and she refused to be part of the problem. I managed to avoid having sex with Tom in my apartment that first night, without any real effort. We were both fairly exhausted, but the fly still ogled me from my nightstand, making me feel ooky and weird. Every time Tom nudged his chest against

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my back and wrapped his arm around my waist, I revisited those years when I’d shared a bed with my mother. We’d wake up spooning, having joined unconsciously, like two lonely gerbils left in a dark cage. This is how they live in Peru, my mother would say. The second night was not so easy. It was Saturday, and Tom and I had spent a leisurely day together. We attended a Spin class in the morning, followed by a matinee of the most recent Wes Anderson film. Tom revered Anderson’s blithe wit, and vibrant, sentimental set designs. I found comfort in his use of the same actors from previous films. I’ve never really paid attention to the plots, though Tom told me they are deceptively simple; meaning, I believe, that they are very complex. Tom had one of those man-crushes. Perhaps it was our feeling of physical fitness, or the nude Natalie Portman scenes—whatever it was, Tom was uncharacteristically virile. I tried confining our affections to my small sofa in the living room, but the lack of space, and my lack of daring allowed only the most awkward attempts at foreplay. I tried to be cool and disinterested, but I’m generally the kind of woman who needs to be coaxed into sex. My reserved apathy didn’t dissuade Tom’s advances, but rather encouraged him. I had to think fast. “I’m on my period,” I uttered shamefully, just as Tom was gearing to lure me into the bedroom. Tom had been cupping and baby-talking to my breasts, an act I found especially erotic. He looked up from my chest, puzzled. “Didn’t you just finish?” “It came back,” I said. “It can come back?” “Things like that happen when you’re on the pill.”

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“Oh,” Tom said. I’d lied, and I’m pretty sure Tom suspected as much, but he was a gentle and understanding man who would never bully me into a confession. However, during the night his embraces were particularly violent and jerking, and though I know he didn’t mean to, he caused a small bruise on my lower back. I would have had trouble sleeping anyway. The fly was conspicuously absent, filling the empty space of my bedroom with heavy foreboding. I knew she was spying from somewhere, critiquing me. And I know it was probably just an aural hallucination, but I swear I could hear her tsking me from above, from wherever she had managed to hide. The following morning was a different story. The fly was out in full force. I awoke to find Tom with the rolled up arts section of the Times, laughing and swatting futilely while the fly soared from one corner of the room to another. Her swat-dodging was especially graceful, as though she were teasing him, getting ever so close, then zooming away. “I wouldn’t worry too much about that fly,” I said. “She’s been buzzing around my room for a while now. I think she’s about to go naturally.” “She?” Tom asked. “How can you tell?” “Well, isn’t it obvious,” I said. Tom laughed in his toothy, knowing way. His laugh could make every utterance seem smarter, every joke funnier, like he understood things on a much higher level. Deeper implications tend to be lost on me, but Tom’s presence made me feel that I, too, was in the know.

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Tom hopped back into bed, and the two of us attempted to do the crossword together, but the fly wouldn’t quit with her histrionics. She loopdi-looped around the room in a way that I’m certain was meant to be enticing; perhaps a fly version of a lap dance. The dance had the rhythm, the ins and outs, that quite deliberately tapped into our cellular knowledge of animal sexuality. Tom couldn’t take his eyes off of her. “I’ve never seen a fly vie for so much attention,” Tom said. For a second, I thought Tom understood. “I know,” I said. “She’s the bane of my existence.” “I don’t know,” Tom mused. “She’s neat. It’s like she has the personality of a cat.” “I wouldn’t give her that much credit.” I grunted. Tom just kept staring, mesmerized. He was clearly smitten. Their flirtation didn’t end there. I left the bed to take a shower. I could hear Tom in the kitchen, frying something up. My earlier insecurities faded with the sounds of him preparing breakfast. What a guy, I said to myself. I have nothing to worry about. I dried, dressed, and walked into my kitchen, where I saw Tom hunched over a plate of eggs and the newspaper. He set a plate out for me too, and placed a paper towel over it to trap the heat. I was beaming with appreciation. I took the seat beside him and kissed his cheek, thanking him, but Tom was oddly inattentive. I realized why when I looked down at his hands, resting on the tabletop. There she sat, on his left index finger, contented. “Watch this,” Tom said. He raised his hand gently, two or three inches, and the fly, like a trained circus act, flew onto his other index finger. Tom did the same thing

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with his other hand, and then again, to prove it wasn’t a fluke. “This fly is a genius,” he said. “Ehh,” I replied, forking my eggs. I’d lost my appetite. I should also mention that this was the first time the fly, to my knowledge, had ever left my bedroom. I had previously held a certain level of respect for her, for not violating the other spaces of my home, but this unspoken trust was now broken. She clearly did what she pleased, without any thought of me. “A fly has never let me get this close before,” Tom confided. “They’re really not as gross as we think. I mean, look at the coloring. It’s quite beautiful.” Tom tried raising the fly to my eye-level, but she took off, flying back to my bedroom. “She must not like you,” Tom chided. He didn’t even notice the pained expression on my face. The workweek was a little easier for me. She still managed to distract Tom, though; resting on his knee during Jeopardy, performing tricks and air shows, gingerly batting around his frame. “You know they sustain themselves on shit?” I joked. “Eww,” Tom cringed. “Don’t say that about her.” His reaction made me feel like I’d become uppity. This wasn’t the only time Tom condescended to me. By Wednesday he’d begun carrying on one-sided, fake conversations with the fly. Their talks had started as a clever way to pay me compliments. “Oh, doesn’t my lady look gorgeous this morning,” he’d ask the fly. “You know, I think you’re right,” he’d say. “She does bear a strong resemblance to a young Grace Kelley.” It was sweet, and I didn’t mind so much, but the conversations soon took a cruel turn. The two of them began making inside jokes. I’d ask what was so funny and Tom would pat me on the head. “Next time, Honey,” he’d say, or, “you really had to be there.” It was belittling, and Tom appeared

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completely clueless to my emotional state. He seemed blissful even, as though he could live like this, with me, forever. I couldn’t. By Friday night I realized I couldn’t go on any longer. I’d suffered a week of Tom’s amorous chatter, and the sight and sound of him, even his smell, was wearing on me. His tight, nighttime embraces felt like a stranglehold, and I often awakened so hot I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore, particularly when it was dark. I woke up that Friday night in an especially acute existential fugue. Tom’s touch, my pillow, the air—nothing felt right. A darting sensation shot through me, and I wanted to flee, but there was nowhere to go. I lay still, my eyes open. The fly was on my nightstand, but I deliberately ignored her, refusing to bridge the tension between us. I’m not sure if I was dreaming, or if I was the one who, in fact, spoke, but I heard a voice crystal clear, breaking the silence. “I really like him,” the voice said. “I’m sure you do,” I blurted, angrily. The next morning, I told Tom I needed some space. He believed me. Compassionately, without question, he left my apartment. The fumigation period was over, and my request seemed innocuous enough. He called later that night, but I didn’t answer. He left a few messages, and by Thursday he sounded confused and desperate, but I didn’t know how to explain myself. I eventually sent a cold and crazy email, to which he replied, though I never read his response. I blocked him from my email account after that. I assume he got the point. What could I have said? “You failed my test, buddy. You allowed yourself to be seduced by my dead mother, the fly.” Perhaps my email was worse though. I was cryptic, writing something about how he’d hurt me in an “elusive, untenable, irreparable way.” He must feel awful, never knowing what he did. In retrospect, I see he did nothing wrong. A man can’t really have romantic feelings for a fly; but I knew, had he ever met my real mother, the same couldn’t be said. I don’t

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believe I’ll ever meet a man my mother couldn’t seduce. This knowledge frightens and saddens me in ways I’ll never be able to articulate. I must confess something now. My mother grew ill and eventually died of a virus she’d contracted from blood transfusions she needed after my birth. It was the eighties, before hospitals tested blood banks the way they do now. The virus lay dormant inside her for many years, until I was in my early twenties, and she in her early fifties. I know it seems late in the story to share this detail, and I know I’m not truly to blame, but I’ve always felt a level of morally-masochistic responsibility. I share it now because, though my mother never deliberately burdened me with guilt, her large, awful family did. I’ve never made much of an effort to see her family, though I’ve maintained loose and amicable relations. I imagined I was remaining aloof out of loyalty to my mother, but I was feeling especially lonely and vulnerable after Tom and I broke up. I found myself rsvp-ing to an E-vite to the bridal shower of one of my fifty-seven cousins. It was a summer barbeque affair at one of my aunts’ houses and I was asked to bring potato salad. I made my potato salad with the utmost care and brought three large vats so there’d be enough for everybody. I arrived and discovered that the party already had an ample supply of potato salad, courtesy of my eighty-year-old, preternaturally spritely, grandmother. “Oh, Sweety, I thought I called,” my grandmother said. “I decided to go ahead and make the potato salad.” My mother would have flipped. That’s just like her, my mother would have said. Rest assured, this was no accident. “That’s ok, Nana,” I said. “We’ll have extra.”

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My grandmother gave me a disturbed and displeased look, as if she’d hoped I’d discard my potato salad, make it disappear altogether. “Don’t worry about it, Sweety,” my grandmother said. “I’ll take care of it.” My potato salad was never seen or heard from again. I would have let the potato salad thing roll off my back, but this was only the beginning of my mother’s family’s passive-aggressive abuse. I wandered outside and sat silently at one of the half-dozen fold-out tables scattered throughout the yard. My mother’s family had always made me feel shy and uncomfortable. They had the ability to render me mute. I had a memory, then, of a similar gathering some twenty years ago, clinging to my mother’s arm while Nana questioned loudly, in front of all my cousins, whether anyone else thought it was strange that I was so silent, whether I might be retarded. Everyone laughed except for me, which only validated my grandmother’s concerns. Eventually, one by one, various relatives came to my fold-out table to greet me. It was as though they were all of the same mind, part of some cult-y collective, because I had nearly identical conversations with each of them. “It’s so nice you could make it,” they’d say. “None of us were expecting you.” The first few times I heard this, I thought nothing of it. Around the tenth time, it felt a little like an insult. Finally, it felt more like a polite way of asking me to leave. Then, compassionately, “I’m not sure if I got a chance to tell you at the wake. But we are so sorry for your loss.” “I know it was hard on everyone,” became my response.

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Some of my less sadistic relatives would leave it at that. Some would try pulling at the heartstrings, adding something like, “You were her pride and joy.” More often than not, I was told time and time again, “None of us believe it was your fault.” The more I heard this declaration, the more vicious it became. The wording was so textually rich, and implied so much. It could be your fault, the words implied, and we’ve weighed the facts, and decided it’s not. They said, we’ve discussed this, and we don’t believe the facts, therefore someone was being dishonest, potentially your mother. They said, we are not culpable of wrongdoing; we are the objective observers, and you stand apart from us. These words swelled and buzzed in my mind. I was about to get nice and worked up, but my least favorite and sleaziest uncle approached me. I assumed he’d come to spew the party line, but he just stood in front of me, staring creepily. I tried to wear a playful, welcoming expression, but my uncle didn’t react. He just kept staring, sort of squinting and hunched. I was about to speak, or release a nervous laugh, when my uncle, without warning, whacked the side of my head. “Got it!” he said. “Jesus Christ!” I shouted. He bobbed his big clumsy body in satisfaction and, in a racially insensitive and not so clever parody of Mr. Miyagi, said, “Sorry, Daniel-son. I must be one with fly, become fly. Only then can fly be conquered.” “It was a fly?” I asked. “Actually,” he said. “I think it was a mosquito.” He smeared his hand on my arm, made a face, and walked away. I know this is a leap, and he’s not sophisticated enough for such a nuanced slight, but I couldn’t help but think of how mosquitoes can carry contaminated blood and infect someone with encephalitis. I know it’s an incredibly self-

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centered way of viewing things, but it seemed the theme of my cousin’s bridal shower was based on how I killed my mother. I stood and said my good-byes. The relatives sang, in choral unity, “Oh, so soon?” “Gotta work,” I said, grimacing, trying to appear disappointed. “We understand.” I can’t lie. When I got home, I cried my eyes out. I washed the dishes. I cried. I did the laundry. I cried. I steamed asparagus and practically collapsed with emotion. I’m not sure if I was sad or intensely frustrated, but the tears and sobs kept coming with or without my understanding why. I took a shower, and lathered up meticulously, shaved, exfoliated, cried. I brushed my teeth, blow-dried, whimpered. I’d exhausted myself by the end of the night. I crawled into bed and tried to watch some cartoons on the cartoon channel. Oddly, I never once thought of my mother. During all that weeping, all I thought about was weeping. The thought of her only came to me when I stopped. I suddenly longed for the bristly scratches of her stubbled legs against my young, sensitive skin; and I realized, indeed, I was frustrated, and a little turned on. The fly had been in hiding. Waiting, perhaps, for the waterworks to end. I hadn’t thought much about her either, until I spotted her on my comforter. An orange octopus on television argued with his purple father, while the fly sheepishly walked toward me from the foot of my bed. We watched each other. I could tell she was up to something, but she wanted to make sure I was game. My mother had used similar ways of testing consensus without speaking; manipulating my actions, so that it at least felt like I’d made my own choice. I put my hand out, palm up, sensing that this was what the fly wanted. The fly gently crawled onto the tip of my ring finger, down its length, past the callused ridge of my grip, and directly into the soft middle of my hand. She was offering herself

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to me. My uncle’s words repeated in my mind, be one, become, conquer. I had no intention of killing her. I slowly, gently brought my fingers to a point, making the shape of a tulip with my hand. We didn’t budge. And when I slept that night, and then awoke in the dark, confused and alone, one of us said, with the most earnest sentimentality: “Nothing can replace you.”

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BARRAGE John Bebout I. Steel rain sweeps across the ruined landscape. ‘Stay down!’ I scream. I sense—I know—he wants to run. Death lumbers towards us with heavy steps. Each step closer than the last. Inexorable. I say one prayer over and over: Make it stop! From the corner of my vision, I see Jonesy erupt from the earth. I turn to watch him run. No rifle. No helmet. Then a flash brighter than the sun. II. I am lying in my mother’s garden, nostrils full of damp earth. My head in the lap of white daisies. Quiet. I open my eyes to a cobalt sky. But it is no more than a sweet dream. My hearing returns. The war returns. Fear and chaos crash down on me again. Make it stop! III. When it finally quiets, men stagger from their holes. Returned from the dead. Shocked and apprehensive. We check ourselves for blood, for missing fingers and limbs. I walk to Jonesy’s foxhole. His rifle leans against the wall aimed at God. His helmet tipped, full of mud. Dinner for worms. IV. I fall to my knees and cry. Once I start, I cannot stop. I cry for Jonesy. I cry for the sheer madness of it all. And I cry for the softness of my youth, petrifying even as the tears are still running down my cheeks.

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Vanessa Compton

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COLORS ON THE PAPER Gabriel Horton

She wants us gone. Strong and fierce, a hyena stamping a ring around fallen prey. The Hyena does not want us here. My brothers and me and my father and – and the one holding me. My tetta! Tetta! Tetta purrs low songs and rocks me against her belly, singing all the secrets the others used to know. I squeal. I love Tetta! My mouth drops open. I watch her eyes, waiting. Her eyes are my teachers. Their amber-green glimmer guides my own gaze. Their endless depth teaches me wisdom beyond words. We understand each other. No one else does. They used to, before they learned the words. But they forgot. When she talks, they call it gibberish. When I talk, they smile and mimic the sounds back to me. They think we do not understand. But I know what their words mean. And I know the truth their eyes speak when their words lie. Tetta’s eyes swell with pity, straying through the room like lazy street dogs that rummaged for food behind the Brown House. When she finds my brothers sitting next to each other at the table, Tetta smiles. I offer a giggle. Samir, hearing me, leaps from his seat. His wild elbow knocks a half-eaten chunk of baguette on the floor as he springs over to tickle me. Sometimes I think Samir likes running and laughing and tickling more than eating.

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Allam, his twin, ignores us. He ignores everyone, head bent like a grazing goat over the book in his lap. He chews his cud: Bite, chew, chew, chew, swallow, chew. I follow Tetta’s eyes to the giant man beside Allam. They call him Robert, but when he’s not listening, the Grey Woman puts her hand over her mouth and whispers, “Trophy Husband.” He has shiny teeth like milk in glass bottles but a silly smile. He is all smile, one giant grin from ear to ear. He reminds me of the oaf who lived next door to the Brown House. The Brown House is far away now. I remember the smell of spices and the lazy street dogs and the warmth of Her breast in the sunlight. The oaf used to walk into our home and smile and smile and smile until She gave him a plate of pinched kibbehs, dripping with lamb and pomegranate juice to take home to his sisters. The Giant Smile at the table grins like the oaf, chewing his bread with his mouth open. The Hyena, sitting next to him, scowls. The Hyena won’t look at my father, even though he sits just around the table-corner from her. When their knees bump, she scoots her chair away, elbowing the Giant Smile in the ribs. My father pretends not to notice. I flash my father gleaming eyes and give him a big love-cry. He says he will save us. He thinks he did not keep Her safe – that it’s his fault She’s gone. But he will keep us safe now. He says no one will come for us ever again. No one with guns and no one with papers. Guns and papers. Always we run from guns and papers. Across the table sit the Grey People. The wrinkles around their eyes scrunch up when Tetta falls asleep and they take turns holding me. The Grey Man has long hair pulled back in a ponytail. I catch it in my fingers when the Grey Woman sneaks up behind him. She has short hair and tight lips but a love-smile. When the Grey Man and the Grey Woman touch hands, I see my father holding Her hand, when we were all together still at the Brown House. That was Before. Before

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is what is not anymore and After is what is not yet and Now is all the time. My tetta taught me that. In the Before, we left Her in the ground beside my jeddo. Jeddo used to be Her father and used to kiss Tetta on the lips, but now he is in the ground. He was in the ground first, then She went into the ground. I look up at my tetta, and she murmurs back at me, rocking me like the sling on my father’s chest when we ran across the river in the nighttime. I pull on her lip and she talks not-gibberish and we both smile. She gives me a love-wink, and I giggle. Samir laughs and runs back to his seat. “I don’t know what you were thinking.” The Hyena talks to the Grey Woman like my father is not here. “They can’t stay. Do you have any idea what this would do to my campaign if it got out? That my parents are hiding a family of – I wouldn’t make it past the primary. I mean, Christ, Mom. Did you think about me – about us – for one second?” That’s what her words say, but they mean: I am afraid. I see it in her eyes. So does Tetta. We know. We understand. “Pass the stuffing, would you please, Haidar?” The Grey Woman smiles at my father. When he hands her the square, glass plate, she takes his hand and squeezes it in both of hers. “We’re so glad to have you, Haidar. All of you. I hope you know that.” She darkens her eyes at the Hyena. They say: Please stop. “Right, of course.” The Hyena gives an ugly laugh. “Judge Norfolk the Merciful to the rescue. Fighting for the rights of the immigrant and outcast. Saving the little people. Never mind if it’s legal.”

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“You’re only here until tomorrow, Jennifer. Can we just enjoy a nice meal? This has nothing to do with you, anyway.” “Has nothing – my God, Mom. We come home for Thanksgiving only to find you’ve taken in some stray family from God-knows-where to stay with you for – how long, Mom? Have you even thought of that? How long can you keep them here?” My father finishes chewing and clears his throat. The Hyena ignores him, prey too weak to chase. “We will go to Canada,” he says. He stares at the Hyena until she raises her glare from her plate and meets his gaze. “We do not want to trouble your parents. We will not stay long. Only until – we will not stay long.” “I hear Canada’s nice!” Says the Giant Smile. The Hyena kicks him. I find Tetta’s eyes again. It’s coming. I hate the feeling. All hot and wet and slop. I can’t help myself. I begin to cry. Tetta holds me up close to her face, sniffs, and then chuckles at my father, holding me out toward the table. He begins to stand, but the Grey Woman stops him. “Please, Haidar, finish your meal. I don’t get to change many diapers, after all.” She looks at her daughter, but this time I do not understand. The Hyena glares back: Why do you hurt me? In the bedroom, once I’m laid out on the soft cloth and the Grey Woman begins her soft work with her soft hands, the Hyena enters the room. She does not look at me. She stands with her arms crossed and her back to the bed. “Mom, we need to talk about this. I’m running against a lunatic in the primary. If there’s any dirt, he’ll dig it up. And in Colorado Springs, trust me – this is dirt. It’s not

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Maine out there, you know. They catch one whiff that I’m soft on immigration and that’s the end of it. It’s bad enough that you and Dad are Democrats from the Northeast.” She glances at me, and for a moment her eyes soften. She turns back to the Grey Woman. “Do you even know where these people are from?” “They’re refugees. Not officially, of course. Not with a president who doesn’t know the difference between Kuwait and Qatar. But they’re refugees all the same.” She closes her eyes and breathes out slowly. “Syria. They’re from Syria. They left when his wife died. All things you could have learned by asking him.” She wraps up my dirty diaper and walks it to the trashcan in the bathroom. She stops in the doorway on her way back. “They killed her, Jennifer. The wife. I don’t know which group exactly, but she was caught in the crossfire. He had enough money and connections to cross the border into Turkey and buy their way onto a flight to Mexico three months ago. I guess the Mexican authorities don’t check passports as carefully. They’ve been trying to get up to Canada ever since.” “Syria?” The Hyena says. Her eyes swim up to the clouds. “Are they –” She falls silent. The Grey Woman throws up her hands. “Yes, Jennifer. Yes, they are Muslim. As if the grandmother’s hijab didn’t give it away. I’m sorry to inconvenience you. God forbid their faith complicate your campaign.” She wipes me one last time, and then wraps me in a new diaper. I give her a love-coo. “It’s not – I don’t care about their religion. You know that. But why are they staying with you so long? Why not go on to Canada already?”

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The Grey Woman lifts me up to her shoulder and rocks me. I tug on her ear like I used to tug on Hers. She gives me a love-kiss on the cheek. “It’s the grandmother,” she says. “Haidar doesn’t think she can make it the last stretch to Canada. The crossing from Mexico nearly killed her. They found us through an old friend of Pastor Mary’s once they made it to Arizona. Someone Mary knew in seminary. Gave them a car, our church’s address and enough money for gas, then sent them on their way. Pastor Mary came to us because she knew we had the space, what with the house sitting empty all the time.” “Christ, it’s like the Underground Railroad,” says the Hyena. Her eyes land on me, and she almost smiles. “Mom, I get that we disagree. That’s fine. But for once, I need you to please put me first – to put your daughter ahead of your need to save everybody. Someone else in the church can take them, I’m sure.” The Grey Woman’s shoulders tense under my cheek, and she squeezes me close to her. The skin on her neck is tough but soft. I press my lips into it. “Some things are bigger than you, Jen. Bigger than me. We have a chance to make a difference here. Do you know how rare that is? In twenty-seven years as a judge I never had an opportunity like this – to help turn a family’s life around for the better. So, for once, I’m asking you to think about someone besides yourself.” She spins like the dust-wind outside the Brown House and walks me back to the dining room. I fall asleep with my lips still stuck to her tough-soft skin.

When I wake up, I lay curled in the crook of Tetta’s elbow once more. Firelight dances in her eyes, a flickering reflection on glassy globes. She tries to smile, but she is tired.

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Hello, my child, she tells me with her quiet not-gibberish and her ancient eyes. The journey is almost over. Just a little farther, and then we’ll be home. Home. When my father talks of home, he means the Brown House. Not Samir. Samir says America is his home – that he will become a famous actor and grow rich and buy us all donuts for the rest of our lives. Allam rolls his eyes but says nothing. Sometimes, late at night, Allam picks me up and holds me close and tells me what he really thinks: that home is with Her. But Tetta has lived long enough to know that home does not stay in one place. It moves around like clouds and dancing women, she says. She tickles my nose and says that is my home. She pinches my cheek and says “home.” She pokes me in my belly. Home. Sometimes I think Tetta might be crazy after all. I turn my head from her tired eyes. The fire flashes hot beside us. The Grey Man sits at his stool behind the white paper, peering at us over thick glasses. He splashes colors all over the paper and turns them into stories. He told my father he is splashing our story onto the paper. Every day one of us sits while he paints us onto the white paper. First Samir, then Allam, then my father. Only Tetta and I get to sit together. We all sit on our own, but on the white paper we are all together. The Hyena strolls in clutching her glass of red juice and stands behind the Grey Man, watching him. “It’s good, Dad,” she says. The Giant Smile enters behind her, loudly chewing a chunk of bread in his cheeks. She looks at us on the white paper, but she does not look at us in the chair by the fire. “I didn’t know you were painting again.”

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“I’ve been waiting for the right story.” The Grey Man clucks his tongue and splashes red onto the white paper. I wonder if the red is the fire or the fabric around Tetta’s head. “Right, I forgot.” The Hyena rolls her eyes like the wheels on the old car that drove us away from the Brown House. “Every painting is a story.” “If done well,” says the Grey Man, peering at us past the white paper. “It’s all in the eyes. That’s why the Mona Lisa is the Mona Lisa, you know. Everyone thinks it’s the smile, but they’re aiming too low. Her eyes tell a story. Isn’t that right, little Munira?” “I saw the Mona Lisa once!” Says the Giant Smile, spilling breadcrumbs from his lips onto the floor. He strides past the Grey Man’s paper and leans over us, tickling my neck. A crumb falls onto my belly. When I squirm, Tetta reaches out and smacks his hand away. “Robert, you’re in the way.” The Hyena paces around the white paper and tugs the Giant Smile over to the fire. She nods at Tetta and then looks at me. For the first time, she does not look away. “Munira,” she says. She stretches her hand out as if to touch my head but pulls it back. “Beautiful name, isn’t it?” Says the Grey Man from behind his white paper. “Haidar tells me it means illuminator. Her mother named her.” “And the grandmother? She doesn’t speak English?” I speak the language of a land far older than your longest-dead ancestors, Tetta says. She looks down at me but she’s talking to the Hyena. Our language holds more wisdom than your gravel words could ever contain. “Haidar can’t understand her either,” says the Grey Man, smiling over the white paper at us. “Only his wife could. She speaks an old dialect, from before Arabic took over. She was some kind of medicine woman or something.”

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The Hyena’s eyes open wide. She crosses her arms and steps backward, near the fire. Tetta smiles. Don’t worry, she says. I won’t turn you into anything too slimy. I giggle, and she tickles my belly. “Dad, do you at least get where I’m coming from? Do you see how this whole situation might affect our future – mine and Robert’s, I mean?” The Grey Man sighs. He sets down his color-splasher and strokes the fuzzy hair on his cheeks. “It sounds like they’re coming after you hard in the primary,” he says. “That’s surprising, isn’t it? For the national committee to get involved in a campaign for the state house?” “You know what they did in the last television ad?” Says the Hyena. “They showed a picture of me with donkey ears and said it was time to run out the ‘donkey in elephant’s clothing.’ Unbelievable. I single-handedly defeated the gun control bill last term, and now they call me a liberal.” My head teeters backwards to watch her, half her face glowing from the firelight and the other half in shadow. Her upside-down eyes say, What if I’m not good enough? “I’m sorry, Jen.” The Grey Man picks up the color-splasher. “I see how this might look to your opponents. Especially given the anti-immigrant sentiment in your party right now.” His face disappears behind the white paper as he leans close and dabs some green onto it. “Okay…?” The hyena woman taps her finger on the glass of red juice. The Giant Smile turns around to play with a row of metal balls hanging by threads over the fireplace. He pulls one ball up and lets go. Tack! It collides with the rest of the balls and the ball at the end of the row leaps, soaring into the air and returning with a tack! I clap my hands and squeal. Tack!

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Watch this, says my Tetta, leaning over and whispering gibberish in my ear. We will learn what kind of people these are. I murmur and tug at the skin of her neck. It seems drier than normal. “Politics – ” The Grey Man pauses and waves his color-splasher in the air. “Politics isn’t as important right now as – as this.” He points to the white paper. “That’s what Mom said. That I need to stop thinking about myself for once. Forget two years in the Peace Corps. Forget starting a non-profit for homeless, single mothers. I’m the selfish one. Right.” But when she looks at the Grey Man, her eyes ask a question: Am I not good enough for you? Tack! Tack! The Grey Man breathes out his nose and sets down the color-splasher. “Come around here,” he says. When the Hyena doesn’t move, he waves with his hand. “Come look at this.” She rolls her eyes, takes a sip of the red juice and drifts over to him. The Giant Smile, still hypnotized by the Tack! Tack! of the silver balls, doesn’t notice. “What do you see?” He means us. The colors of my family all splashed on the white paper. “I don’t know. I see a family, Dad. Is that what you want to hear? I get it – they’re just a family trying to get somewhere safe. And aren’t Republicans supposed to be about family values? Is that it?”

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“No, no,” he says. He points to a spot on the white paper. “Look at this man’s eyes. Look at the story he tells with them.” Your father, says my Tetta, nodding. You listen close now. I try to nod, but my head rolls sideways like slippery rain off the roof of the Brown House. Tack! Tack! As the Hyena considers the colors on the white paper, her own eyes soften. Maybe it’s the red juice, but she looks less like a hyena over her prey than a hyena watching cubs sleep. After a long silence, she speaks: “He’s trying to find his home.” The Grey Man looks surprised. He reaches his arm around the Hyena’s waist, squeezing her in the soft place above her hips. I used to play on the soft place above Her hips. “His story isn’t over yet,” says the Grey Man. “We know the beginning and we know the middle, but where will it end? I don’t think your mother and I have much choice in the matter. We’re just bit characters, one stop along the way.” He stands up and turns, resting his hands on the Hyena’s shoulders. “Your mother and I love you, Jen. And we will do whatever we can to help you. But in this story, right now, with these people – ” He motions first to the white paper, then over to me and my tetta sitting in the chair. “We just want to play our part the best we can.”

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The room is quiet now, except for the crackles and snaps from the fire. Even the Tack! Tack! of the silver balls has stopped. My eyes feel heavy. Tetta’s head hangs down on her chest. She breathes onto my face the thick scent of coffee and a forgotten world. My eyes begin to close. When all is dark and the fire pops loud, the Hyena finally speaks. “You’ll do whatever you can,” she says. Her voice sounds like cold night. “Except tell them to leave.” The Grey Man starts to speak, but no words come. Footsteps wither away, and I join Tetta in the world of dreams. Slurp, slurp, slurp. I can see Her in the darkness. Her soft, dark skin presses against my lips. Her bright, green eyes watch me. She is here. I reach out my hands, but when I open my eyes She is gone. I suck on the bottle, frantic to summon Her back to me. But She is not here. She is in the ground. I look past the bottle to my father, holding it loose and staring at nothing far away. He does not look at me anymore, not since we left the Brown House. We stand in the hallway near the back door. I feel the kiss of cold air from outside. “Her name is Munira?” The Hyena. I turn my head, but the bottle threatens to slip from my lips. I watch my father instead. His eyes harden. He nods. “I’m sorry about before,” she says. “At the dinner table. I was – it was inappropriate.” My father nods again.

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“What part of Syria are you from?” My father sighs. “Idlib.” “That’s near Turkey, right? Northwestern part of Syria?” My father’s eyes say: I am surprised. “I studied Middle-Eastern politics in college. Wrote my thesis on how the U.S. keeps blundering its way into cultures we don’t understand. Not that I understand them either. All I did was write a paper.” Her voice trails off. “Listen. We need to talk about you staying here with my parents. I’m not sure it’s the best idea.” My father’s eyes flash like the sun on the white wings we flew over the ocean. “I’m concerned for you. I’m not sure it’s safe for you to stay here.” My father raises an eyebrow, a lone bird floating over us into the clouds. “You see, if anyone were to find out – if someone alerted the authorities and Immigration came for you, then even my parents – even I – couldn’t protect you. They would hold you in a cell, they would separate your family. God knows what might happen to – to your mother-in-law. Or your daughter. They would have to send you all back to Syria, in the end.” I see my father’s upper lip tremble. I stop sucking the bottle. His eyes say: I want to smash things. When he speaks, his voice hangs low like the grey sky before thunderclouds. “You would threaten my family?” He says. He does not look at the Hyena but somewhere beyond her.

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She says nothing. I hear a strange sound from her throat, like breaths coming too quickly. “You would alert the authorities?” “No, I – Christ, I’m sorry,” she says, finally. “No, I’m not going to call the authorities. No one’s going to call anyone. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that. I’m just – You don’t know how this looks. I can’t expect you to understand. It’s all very complicated.” My father squints his eyes, and then he relaxes them. He nods. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “Christ.” A long silence. I slurp again on the bottle. “Do you have children?” My father asks. I don’t hear the Hyena’s answer. “Did you want children?” “We had other priorities. We thought about adopting. But between Robert’s traveling and my campaigns, endless nowadays – besides, politics is no place to raise kids.” My father nods again. “My wife, she did not want children. Strange, in our city, but she was always different from others. Then the twins came, the first year we married. They brought life into the home – each in their own way. But two were enough. No more. And then, six years later, we find out – well, you see.” He raises me up. “And she’s beautiful,” says the Hyena. My father nods, not looking at me. “What was your wife’s name?”

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My father’s eyes fall down from the sky. For the first time in a long time, our eyes meet. “Lulua,” he whispers. “Lulua,” the Hyena repeats. “Beautiful.” “Like a pearl,” my father says. Suddenly his eyes don’t end inside his head but stretch into the deep beyond, miles and miles across the ocean. “My mom says she died in the war. I’m so sorry.” My father huffs air out his nose. His eyes glare like the angry sun. “There is no war in Syria,” he says. “In war, there is one side and there is the other. They fight, soldiers die, and one side wins. In Syria, there are only guns and more guns and no one wins and the ones who die are the ones who stand in the way.” The Hyena says nothing. I suck on my bottle, closing my eyes as the sweet milk coats my tongue. “They called themselves the – the Syrian Free Army, I believe, in English. A rebel group. They were not bad people. They kept out the – what do you call it in America? The Islamic State?” He sneers and shakes his head. “They are no Muslims. They submit to no god. My wife, she helped the rebels, brought food to their camp outside the city.” “Is that how she died? Someone attacked the camp?” My father shakes his head. “She was walking back, alone. I told her never to – ” His voice falters. “She always took a friend, but then she forgot something – a basket of clean clothes. I saw it sitting there when she left. I almost ran after her to bring it.” His eyes falls into the endless depth and, in a blink, he is gone. “I’m so sorry,” says the Hyena. Her voice breaks.

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“They did not just kill her. They – I did not know her when they brought me the body. I told them it was someone else. I told them my Lulua was still out at the camp. This woman was not my wife. But she – ” My father’s eyes now burn red. I feel the warmth from the Hyena as she moves close to us. Her face rises over mine, her red, wet cheeks glistening from the white light overhead. She rests a hand on my father’s shoulder. The touch brings him back from across the ocean. He raises his eyes up to meet hers. “She won’t live long,” He says. “Maisa, I mean. We are waiting for her to pass, and then we will be gone. A few months, at the most.” I see the Hyena nod, like what my father said makes any sense. But it does not make sense. Maisa is my tetta. Where would Tetta go? She is not going anywhere. We walk away from the cold air of the back door, down a long hallway to the room with the fire and the white paper and my tetta, still asleep in her chair, chin on her chest. The fire dies down to embers. The red fabric around her head grows darker in the fading light. I squeal at her, but her eyes stay closed. I reach my hands out, but the bottle stops me. I have to finish all the milk. My father is wrong about Tetta. She lives forever, long into the Before and long into the After. When I look up at my father, his eyes are gone again back to the Brown House. I wonder if he is at home now, in his head. I close my eyes and see Her again, but She is hazy and faded, like the sun through thick fog on wet mornings outside the Grey People’s house. I remember my Tetta’s crooked finger tickling me, and I think maybe she is wrong when she says home is in my belly. I burp. I hear my brothers fighting loud in the kitchen, stomping and shouting. So long as I am with them, and with my father, and we are together, all colors on the paper, then maybe I am home.

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Chancellor Page

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THE SCANDALOUS SAGA OF SCORPION FISH Kapil Kachru Scorpion Fish has never been accused of being pretty. Its rust red head is covered in warts and whiskers and the whole thing, mouth flap to tail fin, would fit snugly in a size nine men’s shoebox. It arrived without ceremony, twitching on a platter placed by a plump chef on the sushi bar, shortly after the Pacific Ocean swallowed the sentimental summer sun. A few minutes later, the main dish is breathing hard and surveying the scene with defiant, bulging eyes, cold lips curled, pouting murderously. The chef’s dressed from head to toe in plump, white clothes. There’s a disproportionately small white cap on his head. He puts on a pair of thin, transparent gloves and picks up an opaque white plastic bottle from the counter, which has been fashioned from a monolithic piece of translucent glass at great expense. He squeezes the triangular white nozzle into the fish’s gaping mouth. It recoils violently, like a large muscle agitated by electricity. The chef is taken aback. His plump hand trembles. Some drops of colorless liquid fall on the exorbitant white counter. On cue, two severely less plump fellows, also clad in white, approach the chef from both sides. One of them is carrying a miniature grill and two bonsai Bunsen burners. His companion shows up sharpening two long slender knives. With two sleek,

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sudden movements he extracts slim, but substantial, fillets from either side of Scorpion Fish. It gasps and shudders. The knife artist picks up his handiwork with deft motion, deposits it on the grill, and bows. His companion bows back and proceeds to flip the filets frequently over a silent, metallic blue flame. Again, the plump chef squeezes the bottle generously down Scorpion Fish’s throat. Its depleted insides recoil from the colorless liquid coursing through its recently carved reddish-pink flesh. Its heart is pounding. Its lips are flapping. It takes a deep breath and leaps off the platter. The plump chef’s pencil thin eyebrows arch so high they knock off his hat. He looks like he’s going to faint at any moment. The Grill Artist quickly picks up what’s left of Scorpion Fish off the floor and places it back on the platter. With swift, poetic gestures, he chops the filets on the grill. He scoops up the seared flesh on a wide blade and places it besides Scorpion Fish’s fiercely breathing carcass. The plump chef garnishes it with something green and delicate. The Knife Artist chops up a radish with the fury of a fanatic whose beliefs have been threatened. He pierces Scorpion Fish with wooden toothpicks and anchors them with discs of radish. The presentation is almost complete. The plump chef sprinkles the final garnishing. Scorpion Fish heaves its tail with an inaudible prehistoric battle cry and slaps radish and flower petals off the platter. It turns its head twenty-two point five degrees and glares at the waiter who up to this point has kept a suspicious distance from the scene. The waiter takes a step back. The plump chef is visibly shaken. He reaches for a porcelain cup on the counter and squeezes the opaque plastic bottle into it. He mutters something Japanese as he raises the cup to his plump, quivering lips.

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There’s an Executive Producer at the sushi bar sipping an exquisite blend of sake and champagne, unfazed by the unfolding drama. To diffuse the tension, he picks up a grilled piece of Scorpion Fish calmly with his chopsticks and devours it with the effortless elegance of an aristocratic vampire. The waiter takes another step back. Executive Producer wipes his mouth with an embroidered napkin and smiles as he compliments the chef and his crew. They bow uncomfortably. Somebody must have tipped off the host of Table 12 that his main course refuses to die. He appears around the corner suddenly. ‘Skip the fish,’ he says in an optimistic, authoritarian voice that belongs on TV, ‘and move on to dessert. Everybody’s stuffed anyway.’ If he’s concerned, he’s not showing it. A proper pro. Chef mops his forehead with a small white towel. Executive Producer returns to reading his phone. The plump chef signals sideways with his plump eyes, and the Grill Artist whisks away the twitching platter. Having taken the time to digest his dinner and reading material, with an espresso and a cigarillo afterwards, at least twenty feet from an open door, Executive Producer takes his leave of the upscale sushi joint. He walks along the wide, open avenue, polished smooth by the Santa Monica breeze, past over-lit galleries expertly crammed with every conceivable gold-gilded object money can buy. Past the Segway showroom and parked Maseratis, lying there lifeless and intriguing, like metallic Komodo dragons in the shade. A city bus stops with a grunt at the corner, in front of his hotel. An employee gets off, dressed for the night shift. She smiles before disappearing behind the eightfoot hedgerow. Executive Producer follows. A man at the door holds it open for him. ‘Seen my film yet?,’ he asks, full of rejection, sarcasm and hope. Executive Producer

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hasn’t and doesn’t plan to anytime soon. An attractive young lady at the front desk greets him. He pokes his head into the lobby bar, and elects to turn in early for a change. He emerges a few hours later, shortly after midnight, dressed for a premiere. ‘Shall I call a limo, sir?,’ the man at the door asks cheerfully, trying to conceal his surprise. Executive Producer walks right by without acknowledging him and strolls straight out of the front gate. He walks across the wide boulevard and traffic lights, past the island chicken shack, down the hill and towards the beach. Unable to contain his curiosity the doorman follows at a distance. Executive Producer takes his time crossing the vast expanse of reclaimed beach. His handcrafted leather shoes were not made for this. He trudges on, resolutely, eyes fixed ahead. The ocean churns and gargles massive rhythmic mouthfuls of salty water. director doorman can’t keep up any more. He’s out of breath and calls out to Executive Producer as he stumbles in the sand. His words flap helplessly like tattered flags in the wind. He falls to his knees. Nobody can reach Executive Producer now. Shallow foamy water laps his expensive Italian feet. He continues at the same steady unhurried pace, wading through the growing waves, unfazed. They break around him and over him. Soon he’s bobbing in and out of the water like an unhinged buoy. The ocean churns and gurgles in the dark. The moon’s the color of Hepatitis C. The next morning Director Doorman is on TV. ‘Good thing I followed him,’ he tells the early morning talk show host, ‘I saw everything.’ He looks Camera 3 straight in its unblinking electronic eye. ‘I’m a filmmaker,’ he says with a primitive reptilian gleam in his warm-blooded irises, ‘and I’m going to explore this subject intimately in my upcoming documentary.’

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TYSON VS. SIMS Andrew Rihn Jul 19, 1985 Mid-Hudson Civic Center, Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.

There is no footage of this fight. What is obvious: to call this a blackout. The nights I don’t remember. It’s dangerous to hang out in this neighborhood alone, says Mike Tyson, pointing to his head. Remember. I used to wake up after a long night, head spinning, knuckles bleeding. Frustrated and alone, I would punch things: walls, stop signs, even trees. It wants to kill everything, says Mike Tyson. It wants to kill me, too. And so I listen, remember. This is the covenant we make, the desert and the sea. This is the footage that makes everything possible.

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TERRA NULLIUS C.M. Tollefson They say that on Venus you can walk without obstruction and keep the sunset forever falling before you; Imagine that—the broken egg cooking for as long as you’d like it to. So I thought, what the hell, I’ll go and see it, bought myself a one way ticket. Funny how vacations take—same as suicide— so much time to prepare for; you’ve got to pack the bags just right, pick out the perfect socks, plan a goodbye

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party you won’t show up to— and, of course, you must spend the weeks before departing pretending you’re coming back. And it all arrives too soon, with so much left to do, when they strap you inside a rocket and sneeze you off the Earth. One quick god-bless-you and then the world goes back to doing whatever it was doing. You spend your whole life thinking you know dark; You don’t— I didn’t look back at the Earth ‘til I was a little passed the moon— Distance, it seems, makes a facsimile of the thing— and I was startled to learn I would miss small words

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like meadow and mountain when all I saw was ocean. Here’s a (little) known fact: the planets make music. I assume they do this out of boredom. I was bored for three months. I got most of my reading done. I hummed a lot. My arrival was turbulent; how a butterfly expects to uncocoon easily. It was like a dream, there was no surface but I walked anyway. I tell you this: What they say is true, the sun sets along with you. But let me tell you another thing: As long as you are able, keep walking; Keep walking;

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Ciara Barsotti

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COULD YOU Daniel Loring Keating

On winds I once floated Near to the sky, the clouds Where I could rise Above where I lay Towards the ever-setting moon And live absolved - Brendan Locarno I hurry through the door without knocking – the resident patient, Brendan Locarno, couldn't have answered anyway, since he's completely paralyzed. I'm here to take dictation from him for credit for one of my poetry grad-school classes. The clock says it's three thirty-two – I'm a couple of minutes late, oops. I pull one of the chairs in his hospital room up to the side of his bed and sit down, laying my bag down beside me. It's a nice bed, really squishy and without all the dials and digital displays on other hospital beds. It's the kind they give permanent patients, because I guess Brendan is never going to so much as twitch his pinky finger again, or do much of anything besides roll his eyes, which is the only way he can communicate now. The cards we use for dictation are leaning against Brendan's bedside table. I pick them up. “Hello, Brendan,” I say, smiling as big a smile as I can manage at the man in the bed. He'd probably be pretty cute if he wasn't, you know, completely paralyzed – he's got big brown eyes and it looks like he's fairly muscular still under the thin blue hospital gown he wears. Huh. Still has muscles. He must have been a beast before whatever

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happened, you know, happened. "What do you want to write today?" I ask, picking up the subject card and folding my legs. On the subject card are a bunch of boxes, with things like "Poem" and "Story" and "Message" written in them. I show the card to Brendan and move my finger over each box until he rolls his eyes upwards twice to indicate what he wants to write today. He wants to write a message today. I nod and put that card down. I take out a notebook and a pen from my bag and grip the alphabet card in my left hand. The thing's pretty big - about the size of a skateboard, I guess - so it took some practice when I first started to hold it up with one hand and write with the other. The alphabet card works just like the subject card - I move my finger over each letter of the alphabet and if Brendan wants me to write that letter down, he rolls his eyes twice, and I write down the letter and we start over. There's little boxes for "space," for word breaks, and "enter," for line breaks. If I make it through the whole alphabet twice without him rolling his eyes it means he wants me to read what I've got back to him. I use my pencil to point to the letters and watch for Brendan's eye rolls. Like I said, I've done this a gajillion times now, so it's kind of second nature. As my pencil drifts over the page, my mind drifts away from Brendan to the night before.

I now struggle for that absolution Away from me it floats As distant as Earth to moon As unattainable as the clouds To the ants that lay Unable to rise - Brendan Locarno

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C I'm thinking about this guy named Trent. We'd met at an essay-writing seminar about a week back and he'd thought he’d been all smooth and dashing, quoting DH Lawrence and talking about "the power of female pleasure." We’ve all dated that guy at least once, right? But his voice was smooth as hot cocoa and his body was just gorgeous, at least what I could see of it under his black turtle-neck and lowrider jeans and sandals. O I'd been ready to jump his bones right there after about ten minutes of listening to the sound of his voice - baritone, low enough to be manly but high enough to be saucy - and watching that smooth, smooth belly of his rise and fall as he breathed. I might have gone for it right then, invited him back to my apartment and everything, but he said he already had plans - with his mother, which meant he was going to fuck another girl, but he asked if I wanted to meet him for coffee later in the week and it wasn't like I was looking for marriage from this beautiful boy, so I said yes. U I met Trent last night at the local café, this little hole in the wall called Martin's Fine Beans, which serves a bunch of java and does small poetry readings and stuff like that. Kind of a cliche place with its unpainted brick walls and its long cafe counter with a pastry display underneath and it’s big, shiny, old-fashioned (excuse me, "OldeFashioned," have to be chic about it) coffee makers, but I like it there just fine. L He was wearing this smooth gray suit and his black hair was slicked back. When he smiled, ooh, I was counting back to the last time I'd gotten laid in minutes. But I

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didn't want him to know that and think I was a slut and get all turned off so I said hello, how are you? All nonchalant, like it didn't really matter. D We went up to the counter and ordered. I got a half-caf latte and he ordered, wouldn't you guess, a hot chocolate. He paid and the barista smiled at him and I thought, this one's mine tonight, bitch. And everything was going so well, right? Space I'd have already risen From this bed, absolved Of the crimes I'd laid And floated Upon, now clouds In shapes that glow like the moon - Brendan Locarno So we sat down and I asked him what sorts of things he was into, right? And he mentioned DH Lawrence again, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I read in some undergrad survey class and had kind of liked because it was fiery but it had seemed kind of long and drawn out, too - which, of course, I didn't tell him, because it was obviously his favorite book or something and hello, way to spoil the mood, telling a guy you were bored by his favorite book. Which is about sex, no less, which might make him think that I'd be bored by having sex with him, which was totally not what I was looking to tell him right then. Y

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What I did tell him was that I was into a lot of contemporary poets, like Jan Beatty and Sharon Olds, poets who write about real stuff, you know? Real fucking, but I didn't say that because, like I said, didn't want him to think I was a slut or something. I was into that free stuff, that "throw-off-all-your-clothes-and-drive-seventy-miles-an-hourin-a-convertible-with-the-wind-in-your-hair" sort of stuff, really liberationist, but not in some stuffy academic way. O He told me that he totally got that, that he'd read one of Olds' collections during an undergraduate course in poetry and that he'd loved it and that he'd love to see her read live. I thought, this guy's not so bad, maybe I should give him a second date if things keep going so well. How many guys, even guys that you meet at writing seminars, know and like Sharon Olds? U And then he said that he'd really always liked Robert Frost's poetry and I thought, okay, here we go, and he made a reference about two paths in a wood and how he always tried to take the one less traveled by, and I nodded in agreement and at least he was still hot. Space In the sky, like the moon I now rise Light as clouds With feeling absolute On which I might float On which I might lay - Brendan Locarno

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So we finished our drinks and he asked if I'd like to take a walk with him, out around campus, and I said sure, I'd love to, because I've only been going to this school for a year and a half now and it's not like I haven't already seen the entire campus several times. L He stuck out his arm for me to hold as we walked and I took it and he asked me if I'd ever been in love. I told him I didn't know. He told me that he didn't believe in love - only in pleasure, and as he said the word pleasure I felt the muscles in his arm ripple and so I agreed. O I asked him if he wanted to come back to my apartment. He said yes. V We got there and we were barely in the door before he kissed me and I started removing his clothes. He started removing mine, which I'd made easy on him by wearing a blouse with big, round buttons and jeans without a belt. His shirt got stuck halfway down and he reached down and ripped his own shirt and I half-watched one of the buttons hit the floor with a tiny little smack and roll under my coffee table. E And we were both naked a minute later and we stumbled over to my couch, still half kissing, still feeling each other up, and I'd been right about that body - absolutely gorgeous, toned, a bit of hair but he wasn't The Beast or anything, and his dick wasn't enormous but wasn't tiny either and I figured all that crap he'd spouted about "pleasure" would probably be worth something anyway. Space

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A strange concept, lay Perhaps, under a sparkling moon Or in the same sense as floating Weightless, preparing to rise Knowing absolutely We will reach the clouds - Brendan Locarno And we got down on the couch and we were still kissing and then he was bending me over, into his lap, and it was a little uncomfortable but I went with it because the whole take-charge thing is such a turn-on for guys, and anyway I figured this guy might return the favor, you know? M So I put him in my mouth and he started moaning, and he started caressing my back because I was bent over on my knees with my face in his lap, and after a minute he started shuddering and I started to back off and ask him if he was okay but he just said keep going and started rubbing my hair instead, so I kept going and a second later he came in my mouth. E He wasn't even embarrassed, but he did leave a few minutes later, after assuring me that he'd call me. I rinsed out my mouth (with vodka) and put on some PJs and called my friend Trish who'd had a guy come in her mouth without asking a few months before, and she told me, girl, men are pigs, don't go down on them if you don't know they won't leave you hanging. Question mark.

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I see amongst clouds Content, laying Having reached absolution In the eyes of the moon I have risen And away we have floated - Brendan Locarno I make it all the way through the alphabet twice and Brendan doesn't indicate another letter. I pick up the notebook and read, "Could you love me?" He stares at me, his eyes so rigid they shake. I think of my absolution amongst clouds In which floating and laying are one And under the moon, I once again rise - Brendan Locarno

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Rachel Mambach

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THE COWARD’S WAY Aya Elizabeth

Let’s do each other in like collapsing firewood. I would blow out the ashes like it was dandelions in a field on fire. In the fireplace, nothing is scarred, everything leaves in just the way it was supposed to. No trains, no letters, no sorrow. And soft words are not always certain or kind, why else would we hear about so many cradles going out to sea? I’m ready to be the phoenix that you missed seeing rise, the steak carved by samurai sword, the horizon trading in its blade to quench its thirst for daylight. Let’s dissolve into the evening like fractals from lemon trees. Let it come easy, or slow, let wreckage become undone completely. Daylight never breaks, only bandages itself over night. My nomad. Taped to comets until I want him back again. He does, and now I can feel his ribs in my back, his heartbeat in my hand. No barrier but skin, no bridge but heart. I left the fireplace and walked straight into the tides of his arms.

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A SERIES OF ALMOSTS S. Hargrave

I was almost a twin. That would be where it started, literally at my first breath. The one I took in behind my sister’s corpse and that was full of my mother’s tears. I would assume that she had some tears for my dead sister and me then, even if afterward there weren’t any. She left me in the arms of my grandmother in suburbia when I was one and took off into the sunset and a series of Corvettes driven by dirt bags. I say ‘series’ because I’m assuming that’s what she’s still doing — if she’s not dead yet. If she is, well, it’s not like I can even remember what she looked and she has a series of dirt bags to mourn her. Anyway, that was the start. This is the end. A truck stop somewhere in the very north of upstate New York where the border looms in sporadic road signs. I don’t know where exactly I am because I’ve ignored most of those road signs. It was a struggle enough to drive through the wobbling asphalt line that my tears transformed the road into. The truck stop isn’t one of those new ones with white tile and fluorescent lights. It’s dark and cavern-like — sporting the brown flooring of the seventies and the fake plants and pastels of the decade after it. All the same, the wall of curved windows hugging the edge of the dining room and crawling halfway up the sloped ceiling is nice. I appreciate the fractured warm sunlight on my face and the warmed shadows forming a gentle yet stark grid. It’s almost comforting — just like the cup of coffee I buy from the fast food place is almost warm.

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Almost. My fingers wrap around the paper cup tighter. That word had haunted me my entire life. I’d almost gotten into the right school, and, yes, I am talking about the Ivy League. But instead I’d gotten my second, distant choice somewhere far away. So I’d thrown up my hands and stayed where I was. I’d almost gotten the right job too. I’d worked and practiced and driven to the city for that job interview. I’d gone to a second interview with two others and the job had went to one of those two. Should they keep my name on file? No, thanks, I wouldn’t be staying in the city. I’d rather drive back home. To my almost good friends. The ones I knew I deserved and who folded me into their complacency and their schemes. I didn’t have the courage or the dreams to extract myself. Every time I had a dream it ended in an almost, the chain of scars biting deeper than any that could ever settle on my skin, pulling every time I moved too much. Tearing at the thoughts of new dreams. That led me to my newest almost. I almost did the right thing. I almost said no to the ride in the truck. I almost told him that he was too drunk to drive. I almost said it wasn’t fine when asked if it was. But I didn’t. Now he and two kids are dead, and I saw it, and I’m running north because I’ve heard it’s prettier there. People live further apart and that means less of them around to judge all my shortcomings.

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I take a sip of lukewarm coffee, my eyes out the window at the forests near the highway, wishing I could somehow disappear into them. That’s why I don’t notice her until she’s already set down her own lukewarm coffee and her hands rest on the back of the old wood chair across from mine. “Can I sit here?” Her voice is my voice yet not my voice. It’s strong and doesn’t waiver until it hits a tone. It’s not mistakable or vague. It just is. “Yes,” I reply, though I’m not sure why. It’s probably because when I gaze into her face, she looks like she could either be my dead twin or my mirror. The woman is a bit less pale than I am and she looks a bit less tired. But that isn’t hard, so I’m pretty sure that compared to average she would still be described as tired and pale. She’s wearing an expensive suit that sits artfully on a small frame just like mine. That suit would have nothing to do with my dirty jeans and button-up if they were people that had to share the same stretch of sidewalk. The woman sits down a bit awkwardly, but she wraps her fingers around the paper cup the same way I do. She takes a deep breath at the same time as me. “You’re me,” I say without the adornment of astonishment because this is a fact I can feel in my bones and there’s no time to be surprised about it. My grandmother once told me about the magic that can happen at crossroads and, though that wasn’t literally where I sat, I thought a truck stop was close enough. “I’m you,” the woman said, just as unsurprised. “But I went to that school and got that job and stopped talking to assholes. I’m just going back to the city from my winter cottage.”

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“That’s the difference between us. You got everything you wanted — you didn’t almost get them. And that’s what makes you happier than I am.” I’m bitter. The taste of failure acrid in my mouth, pushing aside the coffee. The woman shakes her head. “Maybe a part of me is happier because I don’t regret leaving town and my friends aren’t assholes and I didn’t watch three people die, but I’m not happy. Success made me scared. Scared of dreaming. Scared of losing it all.” That makes sense. I nod, but it’s into my coffee cup. It’s not easy to hear that the problem is you and not what fate and poor decisions has bestowed on your shoulders. It was a lot to chew, swallow, and digest. Especially alongside the acrid bitterness. “What do we do?” I whisper. I start to cry and so does she, tears glinting in the pieces of gridlocked sunshine. “We fix it, and we start dreaming and hoping. We stop making ourselves unhappy. We also stop running. That’s about it.” “You make it sound so simple.” “It’s not — but I know you can do it because I know I can.” For a second, the woman managed a smile through the tears. Then she gets up and — as I watch — walks away behind the low wall and around the corner to where the fast food restaurant is. It takes me that minute to find my legs and run after her. But she’s gone, like I knew she would be. All that’s left now is the crossroads and the chain of almosts and what the hell I’m going to do. How I’m not going to stop short this time.

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I don’t bother to go back for my coffee; I just go to my car and turn it around. I start driving south; I stop running. I start dreaming and start wondering how to chase those dreams and stop being afraid of the almosts. Of just brushing the things I want with my fingertips. Because no one dreams about almosts.

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SERIOUS MOONLIGHT Jenna Cornell

Let me tremble like a flower in the moonlight. Open my petals slowly. Reveal my vulnerability in your luminescent grasp. Fall down upon the soft carpet of grass in the garden of the gods. Eros would be envious of your prowess Aphrodite jealous of your skill. And I, I am a Psyche searching for my love to whom I am bound for eternity. Are you my love? Your serious moonlight seduces me. Shackles my heart to you. Relinquishes my soul and all that is in it. Like a butterfly I wrap my wings around you. Kiss your soft lips.

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Gaze into majestic eyes. Succumb to love's lustful caress. In this garden of the gods under the moonlight I lose myself with no desire to return.

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THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS Ace Boggess

Centroproduzione SpA, 1961

Why is a man in a loincloth the hero? Unarmed, what’s he to do against city weapons like the weight of light & the weight of heat? Except—wait—he only came to gloat about disaster no one can prevent brought on by men of faith in Science. This is the story of Atlantis with its moral that it’s better to be ignorant & die smiling in a place of dirt.

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Shayma Idris

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AGGRESSIVE DELUSIONAL AFTERMATH (THE B SIDE) Jacquese Armstrong i’m growing tired… on the ground now the sweltering sun at dusk powers poetic prose the falling apple never touches dirt even newton is perplexed (i bought your affections on credit card/maxed out & now i’m paying in infinitesimal emotional increments) my mind hazy like gauze over melon the shell is not hard enough (you invade the squishy insides daily) my love for music turns on me like a zombie lusting after the fresh blood and succulent meat of a long-lost friend (my insides grow pale) the laughter has turned like milk for months

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in the back of a fridge constantly on the fritz (sometimes you have to fake closure) my heart will never be stone but crying is an inadequate response to non-verbal equity that banks its emotions on dime-like energies. i am sorry. sorry for the raucous girly flirty display of a fashionably dressed mannequin called endearment. sorry for the constant interruptions with a faucet of ideas i thought were cool. sorry for so many things that are irrational numbers in a second-grade mathematics book. (can you guess who is who?) blind brown baritone seeks awesome combination of wealth and gesticulated boney accoutrement none of which i have‌i have to laugh.

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INCOMPETENT Cathryn Piccirillo The sky was bruised purple the day Caro and Bill set out to scatter the ashes of their stillborn son. Caro stared at the clouds from the vanity in her childhood bedroom. She lightly rubbed her chest, trying to massage the bowtie of anxiety that formed there as she memorized the cloud’s exact hue. To Caro, the baby felt West Virginian. She wanted to give him roots in the rich mountain soil. Selfishly, she also needed a resting place where she would always return. Caro slowly laced up a pair of tan hiking boots, allowing the supple leather tops to cut into her calves. The mirror on the wall highlighted her swollen face, one she didn’t recognize. Her cheeks were round and full. The cheeks of a chubby newborn. Her hair hung in distressed strands. At the beginning of each pregnancy it would thicken, coming in full and rich. Then, as her body turned against her it would fall out in heavy clumps that stopped the drain. Bill, her husband, dressed beside her, his back curved as he slipped a thick pair of jeans over his hips. Bill’s smooth skin and full head of ash blond hair were unfazed despite the death of their child. Despite the two miscarriages prior. Caro slid a bellyband around her waist, the rolls of fat above her uterus preventing her from buttoning the top button. She smoothed the stray wisps of hair into a ponytail and, lifting her shirt, strummed the lines that stained her stomach like coffee spilled down a Carrera countertop. Bill patted her forearm, rubbing an intersection of blue-green veins. “Ready?” he asked.

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Bill looked strong and confident. He was willing to move forward, one foot in front of the other. Caro begrudged that but she nodded solemnly, happy to follow his lead. Caro’s mother was sitting on the porch, her white hair twisted into a low bun. She held thick needles that manipulated yarn in what Caro assumed was a baby blanket. Her mother had knitted two others, giving them away following each loss. This one was nearly completed with triangular rows of alternating blue and cream stitches. Bill carried a small shoebox, their child’s cremated body. Caro’s arms were noticeably empty. Her mother stood, wrapping Caro in an awkward hug. “God takes care of his children,” she said. Caro tried not to roll her eyes. She pivoted, facing her house. Every time she came home, it felt a little smaller, more compact. She wondered if she was Alice in Wonderland. If she had swallowed a vial of potion that made her too big, too fast. The paint on the clapboard siding was chipped and weathered. The floorboards on the porch groaned under her weight. Four beautiful quarter horses stood in the pasture to her right, a dilapidated fence made of warped wood kept them from running away. A few friendly waddling ducklings nearly got squished under their hooves. “Should I come with you all?” her mother asked. “Maybe it should just be us,” Caro said. Some part of her wanted to do it alone. Another didn’t want to scatter the ashes at all. A light rain started, tip-tapping against the tin roof. The rain smelled musky, like the earth. Her mother repositioned herself in the rocking chair, the knitting needles clapping together in a steady one-two rhythm. “It’s raining,” Bill said, staring hard at the sky as he stated the obvious.

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“I think it should be raining,” Caro said. Caro thought of the day her son was born, the day he died. The sun had broken through the blinds, an intrusive beam shaking her awake. Just as she was starting to enjoy the view, Caro was stunned by a cramp. It was a feeling remnant of her period. Her back and hips and rib cage and chest bunched and throbbed. Blood slipped through her underwear, a steady line of red. The bed was wet with her blood and sweat and Bill woke, disgusted. His hands were coated in liquid and the acrylic smell of the baby dying attacked both of them. “Jesus,” Bill said, rolling to the edge of the bed, away from the mess. “Jesus, Caro. Get up. Go to the bathroom. Something’s wrong.” His voice sounded both manic and abrasive. It broke through the pain, startling her. Caro didn’t move. For a while, she just lay in the mess until she felt light-headed while Bill consulted the Internet, the baby books. Then, she stood and slowly shuffled to the bathroom, unsteady and shaking and barely able to lift her feet. She heard Bill call the doctor. “Should we come immediately?” Bill asked. Caro listened to him pace a succinct circle around the bedroom as she rested on the bathroom tiles. She couldn’t crawl into the fetal position, the baby bump blocking the path. She wanted to though. Moments like this were fetal position worthy. Bill came into the bathroom without knocking. She could see that he had stripped their bed. He spooned Caro, pressing a firm palm on her temple. “His name was Jack,” she told him as he gawked at her shattered frame. “I know we hadn’t talked about it, but that’s what I wanted to call him.”

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Caro felt an urgent need to push. A leaden weight pressuring her abdomen. More blood came out and Caro instinctively sensed her child wasn’t far behind. His weight bore down on her rectum and she had to calm herself, practicing the breathing from birth class, so that the message was clear. No baby, no real baby, would be the aftereffect of the pain. “I like that name,” Bill said. Caro wanted to scream and cry. She wanted to rip her skin from the bone and walk around as a collective of muscles and bones and blood and organs and cells. Anything but herself. “Want me to call your mom?” Bill offered. He sat too close to her, breathing her air. A sense of claustrophobia attacked her. “No,” Caro replied, unwilling in that moment to pray. The doctor didn’t call it a miscarriage. He called it fetal demise due to an incompetent cervix. The baby died tangled and trapped and choked within Caro’s womb. In the hospital, they inserted a twelve-inch needle into Caro’s spine. Iciness flowed through her veins, and the cramps became an uncomfortable tingle against her abdomen. The doctors told her when to push. The delivery took longer because the baby couldn’t help, couldn’t wriggle and worm his way out. Bill waited outside. Caro arched her back slightly. The nurse counted to ten each time she pushed, her voice a sweet whisper into the bone behind Caro’s ear. When they lifted the child from her, there was no scream. The cord was wrapped so tightly around his throat that he was light purple. His ears were tiny conch shells and his lips were plump and full. Bill came in and Caro handed the doctor her cell phone.

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“Do you mind?” she asked, her throat sore from the medication and outright exhaustion. The doctor washed his hands thoroughly, soaping his forearms. He took a picture of the three of them, one of the first Caro had been in where someone didn’t instruct her to smile or say cheese. In the days following, Caro thought of nothing but her dead son. She fixated on Jack as she was Cloroxing the sheets. When she mopped the floor. She took showers, long and scalding baths, where she scrubbed every inch of herself but she still didn’t feel clean. She prayed. She just wanted the pain to be surgically removed.

Now, Caro regretted all those prayer whispered hastily in hushed tones. She lamented her lack of faith as she cursed God for the damage he inflicted. She was resentful of her mother’s belief. Of Bill’s composure. Of every woman capable of maintaining a pregnancy. Midway up the mountain Caro and Bill saw two deer, a doe and fawn, their tawny fur flecked with white, eating peacefully from a cluster of wild blackberries. The fawn licked her lips and swayed beside her mother. When the deer heard Caro and Bill’s footsteps stomping the leaves underfoot, the doe nudged the fawn forward. Ever-weary of humans. Caro pulled Bill off the trail and they walked through the brush until they reached an old maple with a U-shaped branch. Caro used to sit in it as a child. Her initials were carved into the base. She hauled herself onto the seat that overlooked the mountain. The rain had nearly stopped, but water still slid down the peaks, turning dust to mud. The animals were starting to make noises around her, shuffling from their hiding places.

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Caro whispered her son’s name again. Imagined him sitting next to her in this place that she loved and deplored with equal veracity. “What do you think he would have been like?” She asked. “Do you think he would have played baseball?” “I like to think he would have been a little like you. Nose in a book. Somewhat afraid of the dark. A snuggler.” Bill inched closer to Caro, the box a fixture on his hip. “With some of me thrown in,” he said, letting out a nervous laugh. “Maybe he’d love dinosaurs and know how to make truck noises with his mouth.” Bill held his hand out and Caro climbed down from the tree. She was restless and scraped the dirt from the forest floor. All signs of the rain were gone except for the dew on the leaves and the mud. “How do you love something that isn’t real?” Caro asked. The mountains swallowed her question. She bent and picked a few dandelions. They were weeds but she’d always loved them. She rubbed the flower on Bill’s forearm until it stained his skin. Then she marked herself in the same place. Partners. Handcuffed in grief. She led him further into the woods. Finally, towards the top of the trail, Caro and Bill veered left into their favorite spot. She had taken him here when they were first dating, long before Jack or the other babies. Back when hope radiated easily from them, the gift of youth. A wide valley stretched before them with a few errant lavender plants and an old twisting oak in one corner. The tall stalks made a loud swish against her thick jeans, leaving a streak of purple fuzz. Caro took Bill’s hand, lacing their fingers together in a firm grasp. She walked to the center of the field and laid down. Caro longed for more

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of the black magic that was parenthood. She wished she had kissed the seashell ears. She wished Bill had gotten to know the way their child loved the sun, moving against Caro’s hand in the morning heat. Caro rested her hands against her stomach now and allowed the breath to fill her lungs. She smelled the mud. She felt desperately lost, constipated with fear for all the things her life hadn’t brought. She conjured the image of Jack, pondering what the other babies who’d died inside her looked like. She wiped the dirt from her hands and signaled for Bill to follow. They walked to the oak. “Here,” she said to Bill. He slowly pried the lid from the box and gently shook the ashes onto the ground. Caro took a handful. She ground her son’s remains into her palms, tattooing everything she touched with Jack. “I love you,” she said. She kissed her own hand as if it was her son’s head. It was her last act of motherhood. Her unconditional, unwavering, unfiltered love.

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THE MECHANIC Tristan Durst On the movie screen, Jason Statham pressed a gun to the young woman’s temple and held her hand over the drain. He flipped a switch, starting the garbage disposal. Jason Statham wanted something from the girl’s father. Husband? Melinda hadn’t wanted to watch this particular film, and had ignored the details out of simmering resentment. Please the woman sobbed to her father/husband. I can’t, her husband/father replied. He turned his begging to Jason Statham. Don’t do this. Don’t hurt her. Jason Statham merely sighed in exasperation, pushing the woman’s hand fully into the churn of the garbage disposal. “Why are we watching this?” Melinda asked her date, turning to face him in the darkened theater. When he didn’t answer her, she repeated the question, over and over, until she was screaming. “Why are we watching this?” Her date apologized to the other four people in the theater, having to raise his own voice to do so, given the rows of empty seats between them. He took her by the elbow and pulled her out of the theater. Melinda planted her feet beside the snack bar. “I guess that was, uh, pretty graphic,” Melinda’s date said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the theater. She nodded.

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“It’s probably, you know, over now,” he said. “So we could, like, go back.” He let his voice trail off at the end, as though he were asking a question. Melinda knew he wasn’t. Melinda twitched her head towards the bathrooms. “I’m just gonna pee. I’ll be right there.” “Yeah,” he said, immediately more cheerful. He bounced on his toes, hands in his pockets. “Cool.” He turned, scampered back towards the theater. Alone in the lobby, Melinda turned to the exit. About forty minutes later – the time, Melinda assumed, left in the movie – her date called. “So, he didn’t, like, actually put her hand in the garbage disposal,” her date explained. “It was a trick.” After a pause Melinda refused to fill, he added, “So that was, like, a cool trick.” “Yeah,” Melinda agreed. “Yeah.” Without saying goodbye, she ended the call. Her Christmas lights had still been up in February, when the light bulb in her living room burned out. Now it was October, stores already selling wrapping paper, and the Christmas lights remained the room’s only source of illumination. The tomatoes Melinda bought the morning of her date have gone bad. Though the tops are still red and plump, uniformly round, they have begun to collapse from the bottom. A red ooze is spreading across the countertop. With her wooden spoon, Melinda pushes the tomatoes across the counter and into the sink. She pushes them down the drain, as far as they will go. She recoils immediately after turning on the garbage disposal, jumps back nearly a foot, as though the mechanism could somehow pull her in as well. She did not turn on the faucet, and, despite the grinding screech, she cannot make herself extend her hand over the drain to turn the water on. With the wide end of the spoon, she flips the disposal off, then sags against the wall.

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There is a ring of seeded pulp around the drain. The whole kitchen now smells of the tomatoes’ sweet rot. Melinda’s neighbors fight at night: loudly and often. “Too fucking drunk to give head,” the man shouts. “Fucking cunt.” Melinda cannot make out the woman’s reply. Melinda prays for the fight to end. When it does, she worries her prayers have been answered in the worst possible way. She cannot fall back asleep. The quiet has an echo. Without meaning to, she walks to the kitchen. The sleeves of her pajama top are pushed up to her elbows, and her hands rest on the edge of the sink, palms up, snaking purple veins exposed. Nine months ago, in the back of a bookstore, thumbing through a self-help book about trauma, a book she was too embarrassed to buy, Melinda read these sentences: Once the worst has happened to us, we no longer have to be afraid. The worst has happened, and we survived. In late January, Melinda woke up with a man on top of and inside her. She was laid out in a parking lot, gravel digging into the backs of her thighs. Hours later, showering, she washed cigarette ash out of her hair. That can’t have been the worst thing, though, Melinda thinks. Because she is still afraid. She reaches her hand to the switch on the wall.

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Hendrick Hoepelman

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BALLAD OF RACOON KEY John Bebout

Bad juju at Racoon Key Some you sense, some you see I ventured there once A-fleeing from the sea A sailor I was, I am A lonely man, by damn So, when I heard her call To Racoon Key I swam I left my ship upon the reef And slunk to shore, a rascal, a thief I meant to steal salvation But gained no more than fated grief Forests damp and thick Biting bugs that make you sick I ventured there once And danced with the Lady Styx

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I felt her breath upon my cheek All feigned soft and meek She told me she wanted me My legs all wobbly weak But three sisters she had Not my fault they drove me mad Raven, flaxen and ginger-haired All in silken garments clad Four sisters living in five-sided houses None of them had spouses I took my advantage, I did Men are such fools, liars and louses The Lady loved me, or so she said As we lay upon her feather bed But sisters talk and gossip too And soon the Lady wanted my head

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A sailor I was, I am A lonely man, by damn But it was time to leave Racoon Key And for the mainland shore I swam Biting fishes, pecking birds and more Pursued me to the distant shore And so too her voice As she screamed and cursed and swore Lamentations and denigrations And threats of painful castration Swept across the sea Leaving little to my imagination Gasping for breath, I lay by the sea Far from Styx and sisters three Grateful to have escaped The bad juju at Racoon Key

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FEELS SO REAL Pamela Stemberg

Amber ran to the door as soon as she heard the delivery drone. The deep echoing click of a recorded stork accompanied its descent as it flapped its fake wings in what the nano bird’s designers thought was a reasonable facsimile of flight. The bird was powered, like all drones, by lightweight anti-gravity drives. Kids found the birds charming, and so storks continued to deliver the dolls, though most other flying delivery animals have been retired; including a popular blue pig with gossamer wings. The safety light changed to green and the house door lock released. Amber rushed out to see the bird with the basket in its mouth. “Down,” she commanded, but the bird didn’t move. Amber realized that it would only respond to her mother’s voice and ran inside to get her. “It’s here! It’s here!” She cried as she dashed towards her mother’s office. “Mom! It’s here,” she stopped at the open doorway clapping her hands while jumping up and down. “Someone’s excited!” Her mother, Edith stood up and put a hand on her stomach and winced, grateful she wasn’t giving birth, but aware of the sting of loss. Edith walked through the house to the landing pad while Amber skipped ahead, brown curls bouncing. “Down,” Edith commanded, and the stork’s beak opened and dropped the basket on the landing pad. “Thank you,” Edith said.

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“We thank you for your business and hope you find hours of enjoyment with your new …delivery.” The drone played the company’s message from somewhere inside its simulacrum body. Amber’s eyes opened wide as the incongruous message played. Edith thought she was going to run away, but her curiosity overcame the shock and she went to the bird open-handed and petted its feathered head and neck. “Thank you,” Edith said again expecting the blinking red light to signal that they should go inside to wait for the drone’s departure, but the bird sat on the landing pad. Edith wondered if she should kick it to get it moving, but then she thought of Amber. “Amber, why don’t you take the basket inside?” Edith said pointing to the package the stork had dropped. “Mommy will say good-bye to the bird.” “But I wanted to see it fly away!” Amber said. “Don’t worry, you’ll hear the alarm when it’s ready to go,” Edith said. “We don’t want the egg to get cold!” Amber picked up the basket, first with one hand, and then with both hands before putting it down again. She gave the bird one last pat and it squawked, making her jump. Finally showing some signs of life Edith thought. Amber picked up the egg and carried it inside, forgetting that she wanted to watch the bird depart. “Thank you,” Edith said again. “We thank you for your business and hope you find hours of enjoyment with your new …delivery,” this time the message was followed by a flashing red light signaling immediate departure. Edith went inside and watched the bird lift into the air and fly

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away, wings moving in an awkward spasm instead of a graceful flap. Like so many things these days, it seemed on the fritz. These failing presents weren’t the fault of Amber’s father, Paul. He thought he was being a good dad; distant and dutiful as ever. He read her bedtime stories over the holo, glowing by the bed, his eyes welling up when he couldn’t tuck her in or kiss her because he was just an image, as she was to him. He sent these occasional presents to try and make up for the time and space between them. Edith’s love had only stretched so far and for so long, and then it had snapped. She thought this “doll” was as much a gift to Amber as it was to her. Even after the divorce, he was still guilty about Louise. But they would always be connected by Amber, so Edith couldn’t deny his gifts. The shiny black pod opened itself like some exotic fruit, puffed a little dry ice smoke, showed a convincing holo of some fireworks and finished with a short fanfare. Amber giggled gleefully and a holo of a cheerful woman began talking. “Congratulations, it’s a child!” she said, beaming. “And in just two short weeks you will know whether it’s a boy or a girl! You will be our next proud parent, part of the ever growing, ever loving family that is Baby Ever Real.” Inside the black egg was a onesie, laid out as if it were already occupied by a baby lying on its back. Around and beneath it were various vials, boxes, and jars marked as hazardous with several black and yellow symbols in a row. The relentlessly cheerful woman smiled her way through telling them not to get anything wrong when combining the chemicals. Like a pre-flight safety message, glossing over the prospect of something horrible. Amber fussed over every container with anticipation and glee. Edith could only hope that it would self-destruct like the others had, before its care inevitably fell to her.

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Nana the dog had been a spectacular failure. The creature had managed just an hour of proper dog “life” (tail-wagging, ball-chasing, rolling over) before it ended abruptly. After Amber had finished squealing in delight at all the ribbons she’d put in Nana’s fur, the lifelike “lab” (ha!) was still panting happily when its bright and loving eyes rolled back, then the head and finally the body had slumped like a failed soufflé before her horrified eyes. Edith had stood there also horrified, but only at all the wasted time and money that was now a steaming pile in front of her. Six months spent tediously feeding it special "dog" flakes (proprietary, essential, and of course expensive) now reduced to nonrefundable slurry. Pet Mark 2 or “Lucky” had been a black cat with white paws. It had disappeared, but a trail of brown “blood” led them to the laundry basket where it had finally died after a very determined attempt at self-consumption. With those dainty feet Amber had changed its name to “Socks,” and they had been the first parts to go. In the end, it had neither feet nor luck. Edith caught herself smiling at the thought, then chided herself because it felt mean, like a small betrayal. She didn’t honestly begrudge Amber the well-meant enjoyments Paul sent, and she didn’t want her scarred and made miserable by dead pets. She loved her fiercely. She only wanted all reminders the she had ever been Paul’s wife to disappear, but she couldn’t erase him. She wondered why she married the man in the moon in the first place. Now she was trapped, even though they were separated by millions of miles; still connected to him by his daughter and by his money. She didn’t want another child growing in this house, another part of him taking root under her roof but it did. There in its egg, an imitation human baby gradually wove

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itself together from nanites that were each smaller than bacteria, each one busy and bright, but brighter still when working together with billions of their friends. When Amber was at school Edith watched the egg, thinking that it looked wrong. It sat in Amber’s room on a table doing nothing but make fake life inside, knitting a new strange non-being into existence. She had given Amber the talk at breakfast on the second day. She had asked for eggs, but she could only bring herself to give her cereal. “I’m depending on you to look after your new toy when it’s ready.” “Mom, it’s Sophie,” said Amber. “She does have a name, you know. Or Dillon, if it’s a boy.” “It’s your job to look after it. You have to feed it so it grows, talk to it, love it, and generally treat it just as if it were a real baby.” “I will,” she said. Over the next week, the doll began to grow, but the black egg kept this business hidden, which she found was a huge relief. The thing would take shape like something coming out of a printer, assembled line by line at the microscopic level, starting at the top of the head and finishing at the soles of the feet. It would be strange to watch, so its makers had kept it hidden. The egg was in Amber’s room and one day Edith dared herself to look at it properly instead of just fussing around it, and when she did, on the seventh day, part of the egg turned transparent to reveal the doll-child’s eyes already open and watching her. After that the egg lived under a blanket.

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On the day that it was ready to come out, Amber ran to tell Edith that the egg had opened, and it was a girl, and please, please, she had to come right away and see it. She followed her to the bedroom as she knew she must and reluctantly locked eyes once more with this new ‘life’ before her. The effect was not what she had been expecting. Her breath left her. It was beautiful. She was beautiful. The realism was staggering, not just in the sheer perfection of skin and hair and eyes, but the movements too. They were uncannily perfect, little limbs jerking and twitching, perfect fingers flexing, the little gurgles and sighs that reunited Edith with those wondrous memories of her own girls’ joint arrival, a scene that time and heartache had dimmed. But now she was back there in the delivery room, exhausted in the presence of fresh life, new hope, and, yes, love. With forgotten feelings rising within her, Edith couldn’t help but scoop the little thing up and hug it to her as if it were her own. “Hello Sophie,” she said, shushing, and cooing. “Welcome to the world.” “Ewww,” Amber said, holding her nose. “Will she always smell like that?” “Well, you did,” said Edith. “In fact, even I smelt this bad, once. We all did. Life is always part poop, part joy. You should keep that in mind.” The doll was uncannily close to a human in all its functions, which was both fascinating and disconcerting. It wasn’t alive, but it could mimic life, at least until it started to fail, but that was part of life too, Edith thought. They took turns holding her, feeding her, changing her. All the usual baby stuff, but minus the crying. Paul had thoughtfully not ticked that particular box on the list of purchase options. It would have been nice too if he had left out the pooping, but she supposed that it would be good for Amber to care for something.

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“Will Sophie grow up?” Amber asked, and Edith was transported back to the moment that Louise died in her sleeping basket. Paul had left the alarm off because he was rushing for the transport to work another ten-month shift. The girls had separate baskets and they each had breathing alarms as all the baskets did. The alarms were overly sensitive and when the girls were out of their sleep baskets, the alarms were turned off lest they start screaming for no reason. But the alarms worked, and crib deaths were almost non-existent except for the occasional human error or power failure. Paul had forgotten, and Louise had faded away in the night. When Edith came in the morning she was cold to the touch. Her heart was broken, but Amber lived on and so did Edith. Edith and Paul, however, didn’t. “I don’t think so, darling. She’ll stay that size, but at least she’ll crawl around. Then one day she’ll stop working.” Her daughter’s face fell a little. Edith smoothed some stray hairs over one ear and smiled. “That’s just the way they make them. If they grew up to be like real people, there wouldn’t be any need for us, and we might not know which were real and which weren’t.” “I think I understand. But it still seems sad for Sophie that she is going to die before she can ride a bike,” said the girl. Edith hugged Amber close, partly to comfort her, but mostly to hide her own expression. Over the next few weeks, the doll became part of the family. Edith wasn’t deluding herself that Sophie was a human child, but it was hard not to feel something for this incredible toy with those eyes looking as alive as they did. Even though she knew that there was nothing behind Sophie’s eyes, the effect of being gazed at while a smile played across that gurgling happy face was eerie.

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Eventually, the day came when they stopped needing to give it milk. “Today’s the day”, she told Amber. “She’s as big as she is going to get, and crawling, so no more feeding.” “Oh Nooooooo,” Amber whined. “And no more poop!” “Well that’s good,” said Amber. “But I liked warming the milk and giving her the bottle. And I don’t really mind all the washing. You get used to it.” Edith mulled it over; she could lay down the law or use the opportunity to teach Amber about responsibility. “Well, I don’t think it’s going to hurt her if you keep feeding her, but it’s not going to make her grow any more either. Still if you really want to take care of her and you promise to keep her clean, then you can.” Amber smiled and offered her hand. They shook on it like grown-ups and Edith made a mental note to tell Paul when she next spoke to him that she had earned several hundred mom points. About a month later, Amber ran to Edith, red-faced, not quite crying, but ready to burst at the wrong word. “She’s gone, I can’t find her!” Amber blurted. “She can’t have got far, don’t worry.” “Help me find her mommy, please.” And she did. They set off looking around the house together, checking in cabinets, under furniture, everywhere. When they had scoured the house from top to

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bottom twice over and still come up empty-handed, Edith began to wonder what could have happened. “What were you doing with her last? Where were you? This was the moment that the floodgates opened, and Amber began to both cry and gush her guilty explanation. “I’m sorry, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have done it, but she was really hungry and the milk didn’t make her happy anymore.” “What do you mean?” “She kept making this whining sound, like a dog.” Edith found this odd. She couldn’t remember there being anything in the instructions about this, but then there were so many that it could have been buried somewhere in amongst them. “I cradled her and walked around a bit but she still wouldn’t be quiet. I had an idea and took her down into the basement. The ventilation motors make a whirring noise and I thought they might make her sleep like when she’s in a car. That didn’t work, so I let her crawl around. She found some of the foam from an old box and she started eating it like she was hungry. I left her to go to the bathroom and when I came back she was gone!” The little girl cried. Edith hugged her and then took her gently by the shoulders. “Well, if she’s in the basement, I’m sure she’s just hiding somewhere. I’ll come with you and we can find her together,” she said then offered her hand. Amber took it, nodded, red-faced and sniffing, and they went to look.

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The basement was so large that it covered the entire footprint of the house, but because it was just storage space, the AI was only installed on the upper floors. It was shadowy, and in places there were collections of boxes, full of things they no longer used. She rarely came down here because some of Paul’s things still lived in boxes and in the past, she had occasionally caught a scent of something that reminded her of him. It could have been her imagination, but it was enough to keep her away. Amber led her mother to the collection of toy boxes where she had set the doll down. Paul had a thing about always keeping these boxes with their foam packing instead of throwing them out. He’d said it would make them easier to resell later when Amber got tired of them. The boxes got dumped down here first and then the toys followed. Consequently, there was a collection gathering dust. As they approached the pile they heard movement; just a scratching, but there was a good chance it was the little doll. The lighting was strong enough for them to see, but it was mainly gloom and shadowy. Amber seemed heartened by the rustling noise. She poked a box that lay open on its side with her toe and nodded to her mom. “Aha,” she said and knelt down. She peered in and said, “There you are!” Then screamed and scuttled backwards like a frightened spider. Edith’s heart leapt. Was it a rat? “Have you been bitten? I think it’s a rat, stay back.” She hauled Amber upright and dragged her towards the stairs. “Sophie looks wrong. She’s all wrong.” “It’s Sophie in there?” “She’s wrong,” Amber repeated.

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Edith crouched and used her phone’s flashlight to illuminate the back of the box. Sophie’s head was visible, in a pile of desiccated packing material. She looked as beautiful as ever, but then moved towards the light, shedding the pellets of foam to reveal a body with white, crablike limbs, far too many of them. Edith screamed and dropped the phone, grabbed her daughter’s hand and ran pulling her to the stairs. “Go!” She said pushing her up the stairs. “Call the police.” Edith got to the top of the stairs and pushed Amber through the door and turned. She could hear the thing skittering around on the concrete floor. Was it dangerous? Had Paul engineered this bizarre change to terrify them? No, that couldn’t be right. He would never harm Amber. She’d heard of the nano material reverting to some earlier DNA state, but what the hell was that? She’d never seen anything with that many legs. She’d heard about horrorists altering nanobots, splicing them with altered DNA, but that was rumor, a story. This thing was real. Edith didn’t know, nor did she care at this moment. Amber and Edith reached the top of the stairs but then stopped short when they heard a buzzing. Edith turned first and there in the air, the thing that had started its artificial life as Sophie hovered, insect wings humming, the milk white legs scrabbling like some hideous thing from the bottom of the sea. Amber turned as it smiled, and she screamed, eyes wide with horror. Edith pushed her into the kitchen and turned to close the door. “Mama,” the mouth said, gums bristling with tiny sharp teeth.

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THE STRANGER WHO I AM James Seals I am sick. I have a mental disorder. I have been struggling with this illness for most of my life. My disorder had gone undiagnosed until I happened upon the website Healthtopia.net (HT). One disclaimer about HT: I have been unable to identify the persons or medical professionals who run the site. But there are multiple webpages that confirm HT’s verdict of me, so I am satisfied with quoting them. I was in the mist of research for my writing group when I found out that I am sick, that I am a xenophobe. Yes, I suffer from Dictionary.com’s 2016 Word of the Year. Dictionary.com defines xenophobia as fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. I know that I am a xenophobe because HT listed seven common symptoms of xenophobia and I am inflicted by three indicators: 1. 2. 3.

Isolation from any situation where new or foreign people are anticipated to be Avoidance of various social situations may lead to interruption of daily life Low self-esteem and critical behavior towards foreign people

I tried to reject this finding of me, but as I continued to read from HT, I had no choice but to accept the fact that I am a person who feels “threatened and terror when confronted with any person from a different background.” My name is James. And I am a xenophobe.

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HT explained that there are a couple of clinical causes of xenophobia. They say that “the roots of xenophobia lie in the upbringing of a person.” They also say that traumatic experiences “associated with foreigners or people from different groups” lead to terror and hatred. HT reported that “isolation from other cultural and ethnic groups since childhood” could lead to the development of a strong learned behavior that foreigners and strangers are dangerous. I connected with these statements the moment I read them. I am of mixed ethnicity: father white, mother Filipino. Because of my military father I was isolated, as much as he could manage, from both cultural groups. My father prevented my mother from teaching my sister and me Filipino traditions and culture. But the most important cultural connection that my father blocked was us learning her language. My father refused to allow my mother to speak Tagalog in his house. He rejected the opportunity to learn a new language so he ensured that my sister and I didn’t learn those foreign words. He often announced: We speak American in this house. So we did. Over time I began to join in on my father’s jokes about my mother’s native tongue. I often said: Stop speaking those chicken words. Then I pranced about the house flapping my arms while saying: bock, bock, bock. My father and I laughed until our bellies ached. As I matured, I avoided being in the same room – usually the kitchen – as my mother and her friends. They often gathered at 4 am – well before my father’s alarm sounded – under the hum of our kitchen’s florescent, tube lights and bare white walls; like covert agents revealing national secrets. Sometimes they cried together about news from the Philippines, but no evidence of secreting could be seen by 6:00am. They talked

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in whispers and at great speed. I avoided being in the same room with my mother and her friends, as I had nothing to add to their exchanges and could not understand their foreign words. My father also tried to prevent my Filipino mother and her half-Filipino kids from attending Filipino parties or celebrations of any sort. If we did attend an event, he hawked over us, swooping down to ensure that we spoke American and ate American foods that he had forced my mother to cook: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, buttersmothered corn. He forewent touching most things – tikog slippers, San Miguel beer, Kamagong salad server – at these parties because he had deemed them strange. The only Filipino things he did touch at these get-togethers were the asses of the younger, just-arrived Filipinas. I often wondered why my small-town Indiana father had married an Asian woman. I don’t know for sure. Perhaps it was because up until 1996, Webster’s Dictionary defined Filipina as a domestic house maid, which is how my father treated her until he was caught cheating for the fourth time and my mother finally found the courage to leave him. My father had also isolated us from his people. From the ages of 2-17 we lived in Europe; far from his Indiana home. We spent no time with his mother – his father passed before I was born – his brother or sister. I have yet to meet my cousins, and I know no traditions, beliefs, or stories from his side of the family. But the most damaging thing my father did when he wasn’t home dominating – mentally and physically – my mother, sister, and me, was isolate himself from us.

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It wasn’t until the night I – 17 years old and living in Indiana – was thrown out of his home that I found out where my father had been really going at night and on weekends when I was younger. My father had joined the Masons when I was four years old. He had often announced two or three nights a week and on weekends: I have a gathering to attend. I can remember admiring him as he left, dressed in a suit and sometimes garnished with crisp, white gloves and a shiny, ceremonial sword. I smiled at him and his sword as he turned his back to me, exiting into the darkness. I can also remember – after having grown a bit – him leaving the house smelling of after-shave, and then returning late reeking of whiskey and what I now call after-sex. My battered mother had explained that my father used those “gatherings” as an opportunity to bar hop, to chase girls, and to break her heart A few years after that night, I had a conversation with my mother in her kitchen. She had moved to Oklahoma then, and her kitchen walls displayed traditional Filipino wooden spoon and fork and fish-shaped plates made from brightly-colored Capiz shells. The whole house smelled of musty white rice and soy sauce. She told me: We kept a lot from you; we knew you would be mad at your father. My mother recalled an event that took place in 1986. Muammar Gaddafi was out of control and the airplanes on the base my father had been stationed at were called upon to tame him. I had stayed up for hours with my father packing his military duffel bag, as he’d said that he been called to action. We were in his room and he told me: You wear a gas mask in times of chemical warfare.

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Then he started rubbing charcoal on my boney arms and legs to protect me from the vapor attack that he and I had conjured. I had helped him spit-polish his steeltoed boots. I helped him steam-iron creases into his military greens. He and I had broken open MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) and choked the dehydrated dinner down with fizzy soda, and then vanilla ice cream – my desired flavor. My mother told me: He didn’t go to Libya; he went to a hotel. My father had constructed this elaborate story so that he could spend time with one of his female colleagues. My sister later told me that she was the one who had happened upon them as they strolled hand-in-hand on base, not a care in the world. For years I had forgiven many of my father’s damaging words and punches. I had pedestaled him because of that night’s departure for war. There are still times today when I become emotional from flashes of that extravagant lie. According to HT I need to get a consultation for my xenophobia. They say that “if the above symptoms have been underlying since a long period” I should seek help. The symptoms have been around for most of my life. HT also says that since I avoid “social and public situations to avoid foreign people, [places, and strangers],” I need proper treatment. I consider myself to be more a loner than anything else. They say that the most effective way for me to deal with my exaggerated thoughts about foreign people or situations is to have cognitive behavioral therapy. But I don’t want to see a therapist who will wonder if I hate my father, hate white people, hate Filipinos, and such. I also don’t want to learn “different relaxing techniques to deal with these thoughts, and try to build a positive mind.” I no longer hate my father. I no longer dislike him. I in fact don’t think about him much anymore.

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I have spent many years fearing the person I see in the mirror. I fear him for not being Filipino. I fear him for not being white. I fear him because he makes me feel threatened and terror when I confront him for having no authentic background or culture or ethnicity. I have avoided social situations, which has interrupted my daily life, and that has led to my low self-esteem, and critical behavior toward the stranger who I am to myself.

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Sarah Butler

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Sarah Butler

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Sarah Butler

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WANT AGAIN TOMORROW Chapter 1 Michael Pesant

Don’t worry, I told myself, there are endless other places to go. Close those eyes, and spin the globe. Not just once, but around and around, recklessly, nearly spiraling it off the table, off its axis. Keep them closed. Extend a firm index finger, an accusatory finger, and jam it blindly into the spinning world. Suspend the Earth’s rotation at your whim. Now open them. Hold that ball in place; allow a moment to adjust to the light. When the blur recedes, follow your line of vision, down, all the way to your nicotine-stained fingertip. Where are you?

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March 4, 2005 I came to Spain to kill myself. Not literally, though I came close a few times. More aptly, I came to Spain to grieve – if grieving meant giving up the illusion that some long dead version of myself still existed. Better still, disregard all of that as just a load of bullshit psychobabble, of narrative framing, rationalization to make sense of the truth, which is that I traveled across an ocean only to fall into a beer can, drowned in the momentum of a series of bad choices, not the least of which was stealing over a thousand Euros from my employer. That Friday, the day I opened the envelopes, it’s as good a place to start as any. I don’t plan tell my whole life story, won’t bring up a bunch of sad stuff to inspire pity for me or type out a resume full of good works to balance out the stealing. Still, I should point out that something like theft on a moderately grand scale wasn’t normal for me. It would be almost ninety-nine percent accurate to say that, before the envelopes, I’d never really stolen anything. Looking back, I shouldn’t have opened any of them. That’s easy. I didn’t think of myself of a bad person. At least, I kept mentally building and rehearsing the case that I wasn’t, tallying the exhaustive list of excuses, justifications for why I couldn’t get out in front of a turn for the worse. I’d spin it around and around in my head, but regardless of how aggressively I proclaimed my decency, some part of myself sat silent and still amidst the fury, an unmovable monument to truth. Maybe no criminal ever begins with bad intentions, just an unlucky mix of opportunity and softness. You find yourself in a weakened moment and some sort of outside logic just takes over. After that, you barely feel like you’re in control, not a total

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lifeless automaton or robot, but you can’t really act, only react, and your reactions just drag you further into the dance. I came to Spain to party. I came to stay out all night until the sun came up, sleep until the afternoon, wake and do it again; to risk unwanted pregnancy and genital infection among women with a wide range of nationalities, values, and body types. I came to wander a new old continent on an itinerary of whimsy; to wake on an unfamiliar bed, or couch, or floor, and not be able to situate myself geographically until a drawn window curtain revealed a plaza, or mountaintop, or Morocco. I came to eat; to slurp rare and treasured sea creatures into my freshly cultured palate; to wash them down with plastic cups of cheap whiskey, and vomit it all later into the backseat of a taxicab. I came to disorient myself; to agitate my brain’s map with movement, substance, and foreign stimuli, an Earth-sized game of dizzy bat, and see what remained. I came to get down. That Friday afternoon though, adventure was proving beyond my purchasing power. My wallet held only twenty Euros, a Florida ID card, a debit card connected to a First Union account with a negative balance, and a credit card I didn’t quite know how to use. Travelling home from my last lesson of the day, watching the charmed natives congregating around their favorite tapas bar, I couldn’t face down a Friday night sitting by myself in the shared space of my shitty apartment watching bad Spanish television and rationing a weekend’s worth of food for 20 Euros. The beer signs adorning every bar I passed on the way to the metro beckoned, the grinning statue of King Gambrinus gripping a frosty mug of Cruzcampo mocked the very idea of temperance. How could I have come all the way out here for this? Somehow, I worked for the Academy many months before I conceived of taking the money. The last Friday of the month traditionally meant payday. For me, it only

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meant the last day to collect envelopes from my clients. The black Dell shoulder bag I carried around town, long bereft of a computer, contained four sealed envelopes full of cash, and I’d gathered three more though the course of the week that were stashed in the duffel bag under my bed. All were identical, regular white letter-size, not even security envelopes with the checkered patterned that keeps you from seeing inside. They bore the seal of and were intended for me to hand deliver to the Canterbury English Academy, 8 Calle de los Peces, Madrid, Spain. On Monday morning, in the office of the Academy’s headmaster, a meeting was set to complete the monthly ritual of handing over the fat envelopes in return for my meager pay. Back in my room, held up to the bulb of my desk lamp, I glimpsed through the envelopes colorful stacks of Euro bills, mostly blue 20’s but also the bigger outline and unmistakable orange red hue of some 50’s, along with the heft of some 1 Euro coins. I was soft, but not so soft or corrupted to be capable of stealing something only because I realized I could. I still required some conjured justification to rationalize past the basic ethical truth that stealing is wrong. Not much, but something, to overpower whatever moral muscle remained on my body. And – I earned this money. It was mine. I wrestled myself out of bed all those mornings, cotton-mouthed and dizzy; I showered and put together the closest vestige of cleanish smelling, business casualish attire available – usually a rumpled set of khakis and semi-stained dress shirt that I kept under the clever wrap of a sweater I refused to remove even in the warmest circumstances; I consumed whatever bits of my flatmate Pedro’s yogurt and stale bread I assumed would escape later inventory. Morning routines completed, I fell forward into the city streets to “teach” the 20 or so hours of private English lessons that passed for my avocation, 12 months removed from an expensive college diploma and 12,000 miles from home. I taught two kinds of students: professionals gathering mid workday in conference rooms to take advantage of their companies’ generous policy of free English

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lessons (maybe cynically in hopes of translating their acquired language skills into a new job), and children, finished with their school day but not quite ready for bed, partaking in an hour of English tutoring or glorified baby-sitting with Mr. Michael, while their parents sat in the parlor, smoking and flipping through celebrity gossip magazines. All these lessons were listed on an academy provided log that, together with my envelopes, I presented monthly to Richard Clarke, headmaster of the Canterbury English Academy. In return, I received 15 Euros per lesson tallied, cash, and no further paperwork involved, governmental or otherwise. At least 20-30 of us circulated around the city on this same circuit at any given moment, and based on my few friends still working at the Academy, almost all intuited some disparity between what we handed to Headmaster Clarke and what he handed back. That parameters of that disparity I learned, as I carefully opened the first envelope in my bedroom that day, was somewhere in the magnitude of 20 to 40 Euros per hour, depending on the type of lesson and number of students. What I didn’t foresee at that moment, as the cash slipped from envelope to my wallet, was the last and longest step in the dance of the crime spree, the one that doesn’t start until the envelopes are already open, first bills spent – I began to run. Not run away exactly, at least not at first, but from the moment when I first indulged that sense of mine, the moment the cash went from the security of the envelope to loaded barrel of my pocket, I was moving. I suppose I’d been running for a while now. Running cross-country every afternoon after high school, each step and breath lifting me away from the worries that chased me around the day. Running off the momentum of a nerdy, bookish childhood into a respectable college admissions letter, not Harvard, but no bad, a so-called public Ivy three well-sized states away from home. Running from cops when they showed up

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at haze-filled house parties at midnight and bust whomever they could grab. Running off the tortured beer-soaked fumes of my aforementioned intellect to a BA in English, the 2.3 grade point average benevolently left off the diploma. Running the shower back home on break while I sat on the toilet smoking a bowl, water and drug both drowning out the arguing in the other room, if not the noise at least the content. Running late to a commencement address, hungover and sweaty in a powder blue gown. Running to Madrid a few months after, escaping my Benjamin Braddock moment armed with the only plan I could conjure that contained both a respectable sense of cultured adventure and zero bar to entry: “I’m going to teach English in Spain.” A Friday afternoon meant beers in the plaza or park as the crew began to assemble. I’d gotten in and out of the apartment I shared with my landlord Pedro before he awoke from his siesta and chased me with a justifiable litany of poor tenant conduct: the overdue rent, overtime showers, drunken 3am arrivals, the missing yoghurt. Mostly the rent, though. The first envelope I opened netted one hundred and sixty Euros, the fully charged amount for a weekly group course I taught in an advertising office, of which I was officially due to be paid sixty. Whetted, I choose one more at random, carefully working under the envelopes adhesive with a dull knife from Pedro’s kitchen. Another two twenty, from Clara Corchado, a teenager with better English than mine who nonetheless required biweekly “lessons.” My heart sank a bit at seeing her envelope defiled, but I bucked myself up, figuring she’d be cool with if she knew what was happening. I left most of the money in the pocket of my duffel and kept 200 in my wallet. At first, I decided only to carry 50, then 100, until somehow all 200 crept into my wallet, which I carried in my front pocket to avoid pickpockets. It had been nine months since I arrived and only now felt normal not be able to find my wallet in the back right pocket of my pants. Pedro’s piso was on the east side of the city, a massive grid of brutalist 5

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story apartment buildings named Moratalaz, or as the cleverest bit of graffiti I’d ever seen declared: Moratalost. Pedro’s was the third place I’d lived since arriving in Madrid the previous August, not counting the friends’ couches and bottom tier hostels where I’d spent a few nights in between each move. I first rented a room before I arrived, sight unseen, and found it a glorious shared apartment in the heart of the city whose 550 Euro price I could only afford for that first month. Next came a room in a huge but bizarre flat on the Calle Atocha owned by an exiled Cuban actor named Roberto who subsisted on vodka, zumo de naranja, and delusions of grandeur. Twice I awoke to find him sitting by the head of my bed in a bathrobe reading poetry. I hated to leave given the 300 Euro price and central location, but even some experiences were beyond my sense of adventure. In my haste, I discovered Pedro and Moratalaz, an arrangement that worked for us both financially but practically was starting to wear thin after six months. The trip from Pedro’s to the Prado side of the park where we gathered usually required two subway changes, but on that Friday I skipped the last leg, opting to get out at Estrella and walk the Retiro from East to West. Bright red “Madrid 2012” banners plastered almost every intersection on Avenida Menendez Pelayo, the broad avenue bordering the park, promoting the city’s campaign to host the summer Olympics. Most Madrileños I asked expressed bullishness on their chances, with a few predictable curmudgeons launching into diatribes about wasted tax money and inadequate infrastructure. The Canterbury teacher corps chattered about planned reunions for the games; most of us would be over thirty by that point, and presumably grounded in career in family, matured beyond the careless debauchery of our time abroad, i.e. ripe for drunken reunions. Personally, I couldn’t see it. On this side, the Retiro felt more a fancy courtyard than a park – with sandy paths cutting through highly manicured gardens and circling around fountains.

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Approaching from the east, I hit the back of the Alfonso monument and fabricated lake called the Estanque, the beginning of the park that, for me, felt most like a park. Around the giant statue of Alfonso on horseback, a handful of North African men juggled soccer balls or sat reading papers. The first time I ever walked through this part of the park I intercepted what I believed to be an errantly passed soccer ball and immediately found myself in a three way game of dribble and pass with some of these guys. In the moment, I experienced a rush of excitement, a ‘look at me participating in everyday Spanish life!’ joie de vivre, until the two men collapsed into me and asked in assumed English if I wanted hash. Today, I did, and without regret for reciprocating the racial profiling, nodded at a black man in a green Adidas jumpsuit who motioned me to follow just behind the monument column. For 20 of my recently pilfered Euros he handed over a piece of wax paper folded around the chocolate, a chunk of hardened tar the size of a one by two Lego brick. Most of your authenticity-seeking Madrid dwelling expatriates knew and often expounded on the naiveté of buying hash from the Africans in the Retiro (“find a Spanish dealer who has better cheaper stuff”) as the ultimate in tourist behavior, but nine months into my stay, it was still the easiest way I knew how. Back at home, I regularly bought and smoked the good stuff, but since arriving in Madrid, I possessed neither the inclination nor disposable income to find any more culturally authentic or higher quality weed. Tyler sent me a phone message before I hit the subway, “Usual spot 18:00 I bring beer.” I bought the hash feeling flush from the envelopes. Tyler also worked for the Academy, teaching only 5-10 hours a week to supplement his stipend as a semipro club rugby player. He played at Amherst and moved to Madrid at his coach’s suggestion after graduation. Our friendship centered on his willingness to be available to go do anything, at any time of day or night. Sherry sampling at 10am on a Monday? Check

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out the new Scientology Center on Sunday night? Yes and yes. Mostly, we conspired to find clever free or very cheap venues where we could get drunk and talk shit about the Academy’s administrators. On more than one occasion, I insisted we go see him play rugby and searched in vain for the addresses of stadiums we never found. Maybe it was all a lie. I never called him out on it and neither did our other friends, only talked shit about it when he wasn’t around. I arrived to find him sitting on his windbreaker over the grass down the path from the Estanque, reading a soccer newspaper and cradling a paper grocery bag on his lap. He pulled out a couple liter Mahous, and when I asked if he brought cups, Tyler waved me off and handed me a bottle. As we drank, I considered letting Tyler know about pilfering the money from the envelopes but kept it to myself. It felt too risky. I knew he wouldn’t freak or judge me but if I shocked Tyler with my behavior, I probably would have frightened myself. We drank and commented on passersby until the Mexicans, Rana and Ernie, showed up and split the last Mahou. I bummed a cigarette from Rana, rolling the open end carefully between my fingers until the tobacco spilled out onto Tyler’s soccer newspaper, which I then mixed up with hash shavings before clumsily stuffing it all back into the filtered paper. I could never tell how potent the hash I bought in Madrid was, given the subjectivity of judging intoxication and confounding effects of hard inhalation and holding in of cigarette smoke. The afternoon was approaching evening, the ‘lavender hour’ as Tyler mentioned, and the smell alone of the hash smoke seemed to imbue the park and the people around us with a new warmth. We passed the porro and as the sun went down a plan developed to hit a bar in Lavapies and nurse enough canas, tiny beers, until we felt full enough from the free accompanying tapas to resume more serious drinking. The Spanish throw around the term “bar” pretty differently than we do at home, and in Madrid bars referred not so much to nightlife spots but to diners that served a

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significant amount of alcohol. Tiny six-ounce servings of lager usually went for about a Euro and came with the barkeep’s choice of snack – maybe just a sprinkling of olives or almonds, but often cured ham, cheese, or even big hunks of tortilla (Spanish omelet) or sandwiches. The bar in Lavapies we frequented enough to request jamon serrano and big hunks of tortilla without shame, and probably the bartender knew we were likely enough to show back up at midnight with a bigger group and throw down some real money for whiskey cokes and proper food orders. We put in about an hour at the bar before we were sufficiently full of salty snacks to carry on drinking. From the bar, we stopped in at a Chinese run bodega. Our normal order was a liter carton of cheap red wine and another liter of Coca-cola, mixed together it formed calimocho - a brownish purple concoction that stained your lips, rotted your teeth, and propelled you imperiously into the night for less than a buck a liter. Still flush, I surprised everyone and sprung for a 15 Euro bottle of Dyc whiskey – the staple of cheap Spanish booze that all English-speaking foreigners coveted for its punny name. We grabbed a liter of coke and a “kit” of cups and ice and took our bounty to the plaza. The local authorities outlawed botellon (or drinking in the park) shortly before my arrival that fall but so far we hadn’t witnessed any enforcement of the law beyond signs in the bodegas decrying sales of liquor to be illegal after 10pm that were easily circumvented with minimal prodding. For the most part, our participation in botellon facilitated more casual social contact with real Spaniards than any other time we spent at bars, restaurants, or clubs. Maybe the nighttime plaza dwellers simply fell closer to my true social class at that time – Spaniards that could afford the prices of clubs and restaurants had little time for rumpled, calimocho-mouthed Americans slurring offers of free English lessons in exchange for companionship. The bottle of Dyc attracted a number of visitors at the plaza and we maintained a liberal policy of shot pouring. Neither Tyler, Rana, nor Ernie commented on my

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newfound wealth or charity. A dreadlocked graffiti artist named Chapo offered a rundown of his elicit works throughout the city, and in my burgeoning alcoholic exuberance I rattled off a Wikipedia entry worth of knowledge of American graffiti. To my disappointment, he conceded not being the author of ‘Moratalost.’ Chapo and I swapped mobile numbers in case I wanted to join him later to create some new street art. On some level I considered that a possibility. He never asked what my tag was. I was close to incapable of producing a legible signature, much less adding to the graffiti streetscape of Madrid. Rana knew two girls, Mexican and Italian, who wanted to hang out if we could get ourselves a bit uptown to Malasana. We finished our drinks. Chapo had wandered off down the plaza towards a circle of folks with hand drums, and I ran the last of the bottle over to him before the four of us headed towards a metro station. We walked up to the La Latina metro stop; passing through the neighborhood famous for its tapas bars, where I looked in on well-dressed couples and groups paying money to eat fancier versions of the free snacks served earlier with our canas. Starting down the steps of the metro station, I rifled through my pockets, finding only change from the bodega, a lighter, little hash ball, and the crumpled cellophane shell of a cigarette pack. At least six rides remained on the 10-ride pass I purchased the previous morning, and I hated to buy another so when we arrived at the turn style I looked twice in either direction and jumped it. Tyler watched me from inside the gate laughing, and for reasons unexplained, began to run as soon as I was over. All of us now laughing, we ran around the corner and onto the descending two story escalator, Rana sliding down the rail for a good 30 feet before he lost his bearings and fell over into the adjoining staircase. Close to the bottom, and nearing the platform, we heard a whistle and looked up to see two cops at the top of the escalator. I prayed for a train that didn’t arrive as they quickly ran down the escalator. The train arrived just as they

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did, though none of us hopped aboard. The cops asked everyone to see their tickets, and as I re-rifled through my pockets, careful to not resurface the hash ball, I thought maybe this time the metro card would reappear, to no avail. Maybe my heartfelt searching inspired some confidence because instead of arresting me, the cops locked eyes on my 5-euro bill and ordered me back up the escalator to the ticket machine. My three amigos, on a mission not to lose the girls, walked into the next train and let me know where I could find them in Malasana. I humped back up to the street level to buy a one-ride card. My wallet felt practically emptied, maybe a twenty and a few tens and fives, and we’d barely even started the night. How did it all slip so quickly through my fingers? I knew I’d wake up with nothing. I shoved it back into my pocket without counting what I had left, and ran the escalator back onto the platform, now sweaty and flushed. I maintained a decent enough buzz but, by then, my mouth was dry and I could smell myself: cigarette and hash smoke baked into my fingers like burnt popcorn, vague b.o., a bit of funk coming from my socks. I took a seat on the northbound Red Line, and at the next station a raucous group of foreigners entered, American girls in jeans and high heels, carrying tiny purses, and debating the merits of getting inside the nightclub too early versus stuck in line. They acted as if they’d had a bit to drink already, albeit probably not calimocho or whiskey shots at the botellon. I was long past the point of striking up a conversation with every English speaker I met, even if they were hot girls. As we rode, one of them, a tall girl with straight blonde hair, blue eyes and a red silk blouse over what looked like black leather pants, expounded on the perfect night out in Madrid. “The absolutely classic Madrid night,” she preached, half guidebook half gospel, “starts with a tapas crawl in La Latina. Preferably you get to try garlic shrimp at the

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famous place. Yes, Steph, unless you’re allergic – then you can have tortilla. And wine all the way through of course. White if you’re eating seafood. Then when you’re like almost full, not too full cause it’s a long night, you go somewhere classy for cocktails, like Museo Chicote or that rooftop place. Then, after like 3 or 4 mojitos, you hit the club but not until at least one a.m. Tonight I’m saying we do Pacha, Henry went like every night on his study abroad and said it was crazy. Super fun and packed but not with creepy people. After that, when like we can hardly even move anymore and the sun is about to come out – we go eat Churros, the donut sticks, and Chocolate at the place famous for that – San Gines.” I wanted to counter; she’d nailed it sure, but if there were something magical or classic about La Marcha, the city’s renowned all night party crawl, it couldn’t be so methodically mapped out ahead of time. A classic night out in Madrid made itself, transcending any plans gleaned from a guidebook. You just needed to just start somewhere and let things happen, ride the additive synergy between your own chaotic drunkenness and a city that’s awake and ready to receive you. A British slang phrase I’d learned from Simon popped into my head: piss artist. She’d also forgotten to mention botellon. Her friends parried with stories of recent nights out all over the European continent, bursting into laughter every few minutes at a punchline usually involving a friend named Izzy, apparently not present. “Remember at the door to Kapital? That time we waited like an hour? And we got to the front and the asshole bouncer with the stupid headset thing looked us over and said we were too ugly?” “As if!”

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“And we were all arguing with him, calling him maricon, and pointing out all the ugly people inside he already let in. And then all of the sudden Izzy farted, like really loud.” Izzy sounded wonderful; I wanted to marry her. From the moment they walked in to the subway car I could smell the girls, they were a combination of perfume, leather, and somehow, fresh air. I overheard something about senior year at Brown and felt a desire to speak up, play the name game, and move a few rows closer in to their delicious and cool cloud of familiarity. Their presence awakened some sense of tribal allegiance I didn’t realize I had been missing. My awareness of my own less desirable smell kept growing. A murmur emerged among the girls, competing with the louder talk about Izzy. The girls on either side of the tall blonde, who must have been their leader, began nudging, whispering in her ear, and nodding in my direction. They kept to a whisper but she spoke up. “Hello?” she said. “Speak English?” I froze, or stayed frozen, and felt a sudden tingling racing up my forearms and down my neck. Before I could process an answer, one of the girls piped in. “Doesn’t look like it, Stef.” “No English?”, Stef, the blonde said, her voice growing into a shout. “Please stop staring at me and my friends. It’s creepy.” I tried casually to divert my gaze from the girls, searching for something else to focus on. Looking out the window seemed an obvious choice, but the bright interior lights against the pitch-black tunnel turned the glass into mirror, every window in the

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car only offered a different angle on the same situation. Instead, I stared straight down, started to toggle through the buttons of my phone. “God,” said one of them, not Stef. “Spanish guys are so skeezy. And gross looking too.” When they exited a stop before mine, I wasn’t sure if I felt relieved, embarrassed, or sad to be out of their orbit.

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LAST CALL Ricky Ray

God coughed, and the gatekeeper groaned. The usual trickle of ascendants through God's ribs, the bars of heaven, had been drying up for centuries, and who could blame them? The animals kept becoming animals and elements, women turned into horses, men into half-decent ideas, and everyone was stripped of sorrow and suffering as blood gave earth back its salt.

You’d get a handful of bible thumpers whose fear forbade the good life in favor of sickly virtue, holes in their shoes

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and promises of hell hot as coals on their tongues, but you could count on them for a half-dead joke and a really good glass of water.

You'd get a woman who raised ten children she didn't have the sex to bear but who, in the unplanned hours on any given, could milk the neighbor's goats for chèvre, nurse a newbie, solve for x, brush five heads, inspect ten gaping mouths of dominos blackspotted by heredity and McDonalds.

There were others, in his journal the gatekeeper recorded the storied ages and ordered species that have all but been wiped from our cells, but most, even those who qualified

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to spend eternity repeating the moment when the wine kicks in, teaching Bach new ways to jam, chose not to attend.

They found heaven where they were, made it in their own deluded image, and they liked it dirty, themselves the product of dirt, an earth moonlighting as human, and this, of all things worth a half-wit's attempt at contemplation, they were just beginning to consider.

The heavenmakers, as he called them, liked their mirrors tarnished, the glass opaque, the silver flaking at the corners, antiques kept because

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they know how to reflect without buying into appearances.

And with their newfound powers the heavenmakers smoothed their wrinkles, shrunk their ankles, made breasts and bums identical twins, but left the scars, the stories of war, and over the light behind the bar— the beer dark for the meek and light for the cheap— they often hung an inappropriate remark.

Of course some idiot would come along, have too many and stir up some nonsense about offense to God, but God was not angry because God did not playact as human behavior and only simpletons thought God was anything other than the precision of is;

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as if being everything wasn't enough; as if, despite universes happening in a nanostretch of God's graces, God still had reason to be sat at a stool and pissed off, a pen low-on-ink in her three-fingered hand, crossing off names from heaven.

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Jury S. Judge

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Profile for Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Lost and Found  

The inaugural issue of literary and art magazine Horseshoes & Hand Grenades.

Lost and Found  

The inaugural issue of literary and art magazine Horseshoes & Hand Grenades.

Profile for handhmag
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