N O C I L E H
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Dear Wildcats and fellow lovers of literature and art, Welcome to Helicon’s annual winter web issue! Though the glacial season has us in her gelid claws once again, we must persevere through the polar freeze as an Arctic explorer does in the belly of the ice-bound land. For the intrepid (and probably doomed) explorer, there is no destination but the horizon, and Helicon is a literary magazine for all times, climates, and mediums. Thus, for the fourth year Helicon turns with great pomp and cheek to the internet, that tortured medium, to lay down our burden, which this year includes not only music but short film as well! As we proudly enter our 31st year of publishing, backs straight and chins high, we seek to (re)discover what it means to publish art. What is a Helicon? Helicon is a type of tuba that coils over the shoulder of a musician; it is a low-frequency electromagnetic wave; it is a mountain in the Parnassus range celebrated in antiquity in Boeotia, Greece; Helicon is a small lunar impact crater in the Mare Imbrium (which means “Sea of Rains”) on the moon’s surface. Helicon is also the open door to the great poet or artist. We are ever looking for him or her; may the poet, writer, and artist of any nature never find our door shut against their ample talents. When such artists come forth, we emerge from our Ent-like solitude to celebrate their travails. In that spirit, with our new winter issue still in its infancy, we unleash the bedlam of a new submission period upon the Northwestern undergraduate population. We invite you to look at our submission info, which can be found at submit.nuhelicon.com, for more information on what we’re looking for (film! movies! plays! poetry! photography! paintings! drawings! prose! video games!). Feed us with your creative work, without which we will surely perish. We desire to print and publish the best art and literature being created at Northwestern today. We certainly could not do so without the abundant help and support we’ve found among our contributors, staff, and advisers, to whom we owe our most heartfelt thanks. Helicon was born in Mary Kinzie’s class just over three decades ago; now its spirit and tradition are fostered by our academic adviser, Garth Fowler the mighty, Garth Fowler the warrior, Associate Chair and Director of the Master’s Program in Neurobiology & Physiology. Helicon is born and reborn each year, like some sort of horribly persistent phoenix, in the bowels of Chapin Humanities College. Many thanks to the Director of the Residential College Board, Nancy Anderson, for her gracious funding and counsel. And, of course, even in the midst of this winter, in our readers we see an eternal spring. If you have any questions, comments, or compliments, you know where to reach us: email@example.com.
Your ever-lovin’ Editor in Chief, MJ Scheer
Executive Staff Editor in Chief: MJ Scheer Managing Editor: Alina Dunbar Operations Editor: Alisha Varma Editorial Board Prose Editor: Simon Han Poetry Editor: Alana Buckbee Art Editor: Matthew Kluk Assistant Art Editor: Minna Zhou Chief Designer: Mackenzie McCluer Prose Staff Russell Busse George Elkind Francis Dâ€™Hondt Corinne White Alex Bergstrom George Stoichev Poetry Staff Ben Weinstein John Rossiter Matt Zeitlin Ryan Jenkins Jen Curtis Alexandra Zaretsky Art Staff Claire Potter Rachel Lin Jasmine Jennings Irene Kearney Madeline Amos Faculty Advisor Garth Fowler
ABOUT HELICON HELICON was the brainchild of three students in Mary Kinzieâ€™s 1979 poetry sequence. Lisa Getter, Christina Calvit, and Michael Steele wanted to provide Northwestern with a regularly published literary magazine that could showcase the artistic work of the student body. Helicon began and still resides in Chapin, the Humanities Residential College, and is funded by the Residential College Program through the Office of the Provost. The first issue appeared in the Spring of 1980, and included contributions from Northwestern faculty including Joseph Epstein and Mary Kinzie. The works published herein are the sole property of the writers and artists who created them. No work may be used without the explicit permission of the author or artist.
Homer and Hestia by Rachel Vrabec
Slow Me Down, Tasmanian Devil by Kevin McFarland
Observation of an Alley in the Late Afternoon by Elisa Sutherland
On Ambiguous Wine, or Architechure by Cresence Birder
A Haiku For The Worms Lured onto the Pavement by the Rain by Margaret Smith
I Stole a Book of Poems from my Grandmaâ€™s House by Joe Drummond
Blue Stripes by Sarah Smierciak
Melanesian Herbman by Bennett Kissel
Untitled by Hallie Liang
Common? by Saaquib Bakhsh
Milwaukee Art Museum by Maggie Smith
Untitled by Emerson Gordon-Marvin
Unseen by Zhen Cheng
Untitled by Emerson Gordon-Marvin
Flashlight by Rachel Koh
Abandoned Shack by Cassi Saari
Lost by Rachel Jones
Untitled by Emily Rifkin
Untitled by Emerson Gordon-Marvin
Bonvor Sunset Canoe by Bennett Kissel
Untitled by Emerson Gordon-Marvin
Untitled by Bennett Kissel
Pinhole by Aaron Horowitz
Isaak Saari by Cassi Saari
Spiral Jetty by Angela Wang
Ghosts by Angela Wang
PROSE AND SCRIPTS 9
Who The Fuck Is Bowth? by Ethan Kaplan
The Time Bomb by Philip Jacobson
The World Has Turned And Left Me Here by Kevin McFarland
A Sparknotes Guide to Daniel Camponovo’s Webjournal, June-October 2010 by Daniel Camponovo
Short Talks by Aaron Frumkin
Snow by Alex Ziff
Temples by Laura Jok
MUSIC AND FILM
Available at http://groups.northwestern.edu/helicon/winterwebzine11 Going Going Gone by Kara Ali Échappée by Gaspard Le Dem You Might Have A Moustache by The Earth is A Man Everybody’s Fun by The Earth is A Man Paranoid Android (Radiohead cover) by The Gentlemen of NUCO Exit Music (Radiohead cover) by The Gentlemen of NUCO Aggregate by Harrison Atkins
HOMER AND HESTIA by RACHEL VRABEC
1. It is fifty miles to Homer. The rain fires upon the tin roof of the wilderness outhouse and steam rises with each furious drop, seems to come from her head, her furrowed brow, her crossed arms. The drops are vengeful to the roof, but to my empty bicycle saddle, they happily bounce and drip off the pedal. “There is a truck stop three miles up the road,” I say. She does not acknowledge but uncrosses her arms, abandons our shelter, and begins to pedal toward her new destination. I arrive at the truck stop, walk to her and gently pry the cracked and rusted pay phone receiver from her hands just as I had stolen her Hercules flash light twelve years ago and the T.V remote just last week; as then, tears spring to her eyes, our father’s eyes. Stopping to relieve himself of baggage from the long road he must have traveled, the trucker mentions Homer. All I need is three minutes to sit her next to his stack of ACDC tapes, tissues, and undershirts. I pedal away up the gravel road and look back to meet her gaze from the truck window. The rain rises as steam off the tin cabin. It is fifty miles to Homer.
2. Your grin is not a tender friend to me. The unripe fruit of laughterâ€™s bitter skin Disappoints the fair youth of our seed, Turns green before our riding can begin. To far Olympus or Kenai I long to steal In search of clarity and carbon stone. Evade ancestral ties, appeal To drown a flame uncouth and monotone. Yet I must guard this fire, ill and odd, Although its fever burns against my veins. Because what fuels this flaming fierce faĂ§ade, Is love alone, and love remains. So brother, we may part for fifty miles. Iâ€™ll guard the fruit and fire, fresh and vile.
rachel vrabec | 7
Sarah Smierciak Digital photograph
WHO THE FUCK IS BOWTH? by ETHAN KAPLAN
I am of the belief that all inside jokes have inherent value—that we do not find them funny merely out of habit, but because they speak to something of a group’s collective character. And that they, in large part, define the way those people interact. And so, the mystery. Two weeks ago I smoked a bowl on my friend’s deck. Beneath us was a group of hipsters, smoking cigarettes and talking of God-knows-what as we above fell further into our stupor. I sat on the stairs heading up, sprawled out and staring off the ledge as the two girls in my group joked about their sleeping roommate. My other friend had the bowl in hand, ready to go. My eyes turned toward him and stood there—fixated—as a voice below rang in our ears. “No man, it’s B-O-W-T-H.” Wait. “Who the fuck is Bowth?” We asked the question amongst ourselves but we were either too high or too shy to pitch it down below. And, in a more immediate sense, I’m glad we didn’t, because the line would have lost its force with the inevitable, anti-climactic response of “Me.” Instead we let it grow. We gave it oxygen and sunshine and the vines coiled around our limbs—enveloped us—and assumed mythic status in the lexicon of our daily conversations.
And it grounded our friendship, the commonality—the tie—bringing us closer together with each empty recitation. Because that’s all it really was. Words. And that’s all we ever needed. I’m reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Right now. This instant. You can see it. But I also can’t focus. Because there is a car passing me by and, for all I know, Bowth could be that driver, shipping out to the Frontier—heading West like Huck Finn and living out the American Dream. I’m aware that these little mysteries don’t really matter, but what strikes me isn’t that they’re not worth solving—rather, what’s jarring is that they could, in fact, be unsolvable—the answers lost to me even if I looked forever. What kills me is not the actual personage of Bowth, but the consequences of the search—whether or not I can find him and whether or not I’d want to. We tried Facebook. Not there. So we tried screaming down below on subsequent nights, but all we got were puzzled looks. And I didn’t care. Because personally, I knew we wouldn’t find him—I knew that all we were doing was providing canon fodder for strangers—a conversation topic for when they finally arrived home, greeted by their roommates, lovers, and friends who absolutely HAD to hear about these stoners up by Ridge and Davis—these idiots who kept screaming “Bowth, is that you?” “Yo Bowth.” “BOWTH!” “Seriously, who the fuck is Bowth?” We were spreading the virus—coughing it out onto passers-by, blissfully uncaring as we smoked and smoked and shouted and yelled—knowing that we were just vehicles. We were the carriers of something greater than ourselves—of a mystery that, at the very least, held supreme power in our group—that at first utterance could send us into an uncontrollable laughter. We could fight it or spread its gospel and we chose the latter, even if no one else got the joke. Because it’s important to wonder who Bowth is. To consider Bowth. Why did Sal Paradise ship out West? Was it to conquer the unknown or to ride? to surf the mystery onward, onward—to ignore the reality that waves crash and that every high has its low—to blur the world around by simply moving, moving, searching, searching—the American spirit of thinking there’s always more: that we can always get drunker, be higher, and put off our work until mañana, mañana. Was there a purpose to his travels or was he like a dog chasing cars—running solely for the sport of the hunt.
10 | who the fuck is bowth?
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But not happiness. Not happiness. Should I call out to the man in the car? Should I scream BOWTH just to see if he responds? I have to ask myself this question because there is the tiny chance that he will respond. That the mystery—the chase—comes to an end right here in this peaceful grassy knoll. No blood on my hands—no tears, no toils. Just. Over. No. Eyes down and focus on the text. This is America. This book. Focus. Then the logistics. Is Bowth a first or a last name? What sounds better, Bowth Thompson or George Bowth? Maybe it’s like Cher. Just Bowth. Is it a man or a woman? I think that’s a pressing matter. Because even though it was a man’s voice that first spelled the name, we still don’t know if he was talking about himself or someone else entirely. If the former—oh God, not that. Because then I’ve heard Bowth’s voice. Isn’t that some sacrilege? I should stand up right now. I should forget this book—forgetting reading and just live. I should walk up to that car and not ask, but announce: “Bowth. I’m getting in. Let’s go. To the end of America—to the West—to Frisco. Let’s step into high gear and live the legends’ life, because isn’t that what they’re teaching me right now? Isn’t that the message of this country? that we shouldn’t be afraid to be great—afraid to be legends—afraid to be free. I don’t know who you really are and I don’t care. To me, you’re Bowth, and that’s enough. Let’s go, let’s go. Call me Dan October.” No, I didn’t get into that car. The scary part of legends is the chance that they won’t meet expectations. The crushing, overwhelming chance. So I lower my eyes from the untinted windows—the clear view—and descend back into blurriness—back into the muddiness of another story— another high—to build those legends up once more. Was it to conquer the unknown or to ride? to surf the mystery onward, onward into death? And so, the mystery.
ethan kaplan | 11
Melanesian Herbman Bennett Kissel Chromogenic print
THE TIME BOMB by PHILIP JACOBSON
Streets named for a French socialist and an Argentine revolutionary enclose Avenida Sarmiento’s 3100 block, where this Monday evening motorcycles ride up sidewalks, young porteños share pipes and beer, hostel hoppers from overseas empty out of cabs, and drum beats drift forth from Konex, the oil factory turned entertainment venue that occupies this twilight. In the outdoor enclosure beyond the ticket window neon K-O-N-E-X glows like five red moons. Beneath it, a giant staircase spills from the structure’s upper depths. Its landing functions as a stage; the concrete hall beyond it, a white pillared ribcage filled with thousands of people, holds another. Soon, 17 of the best percussionists in Buenos Aires will take it, as they do every Monday night as La Bomba de Tiempo. Using the conductorled, hand signal-based method of structured improvisation under which Santiago Vazquez united them four years ago, dressed in heartbeat red, they will pump the place with percussive energy, and Konex will shake with cardiac force. Historically, Argentina is probably the least percussive nation in South America. It certainly is the whitest. Though the country once contained a substantial number of afroargentines, no one seems to know exactly where they went - popular explanations include a yellow fever epidemic, their use as cannon fodder in war against Paraguay, or a simple fading into the general population over time - and the national census hasn’t even counted
them since 1887, when it found they numbered 1.8 percent. While neighbors like Brazil and Uruguay developed drum-oriented styles like the samba and candombe, Euro-tinged Buenos Aires became synonymous with tango. Still, the country had a thriving Carnival tradition, until the military government that came to power in 1976 discontinued it and banned Murga, the performance group that is the celebration’s singing, dancing and drumming essence. In those dark years it was forbidden for three or more people to be on the streets together doing anything, much less amongst a drum circle. During that time, a young Santiago Vazquez lived in Spain with his family. They returned to Buenos Aires in 1985 when Vazquez was 14. By 30, following years of musical experimentation and a bit of notoriety with his band Puente Celeste, Vazquez was training percussion groups. He saw Buenos Aires as a city in need of some kind of collective social space. A place where people could come together and dance. He envisioned something centered around a percussion group, something genuine to Buenos Aires, a new invention rather than an imitation of an already established musical form like the samba or candombe. Vazquez had been making music with a group he created called Colectivo Eterofónico, based on a system of harmonic signs he had developed to explore conducting improvisation. He had also for years been collecting rhythmic ideas which he hoped to put into use in a large percussion ensemble. As he began to understand how his many ideas could fit into one project, Vazquez ended Colectivo and started planning what would become la Bomba de Tiempo. He developed a new system of signs for conducting rhythm specifically. He drew up the construction of the group and then began the process of recruit members. For his system, strange as it was, Vazquez needed musicians capable of understanding complex ideas and fluent enough to play naturally while he threw an arsenal of signs at them. “So I called the best,” Vazquez says with a smile. We’re sitting in a back room of the Konex following a Monday show. He’s wearing a purple v-neck and a white sweater tied around his waist. Laugh lines converge at his eyes, which light up when he talks. He looks distinctly younger than he is through sheer healthiness. Most of the other members of Bomba eat at a table behind him. When Vazquez proposed they join his group four years ago, they didn’t fully understand what he was trying to do, but the prospect of working amongst one another and the challenge of the signs was a strong incentive to participate. “The initial 15 minutes of the first rehearsal were terrible,” Vazquez says. “Because I didn’t explain what we wanted to do. Just, let’s jam a little bit. I was just trying to listen [to]
14 | the time bomb
what was the natural jamming of that group of people.” Afterwards he explained the concept, how he envisioned them divided into almost autonomous sections, how they were to balance repetition and creation, his idea of free composition. “And then they got it very soon, and I could start to see that it could work.” After two full months of Monday night rehearsals, Vazquez pitched the idea to Konex. On May 8, 2006, 350 people paid five pesos each to attend Bomba’s first open rehearsal, rigged up with old Chinese microphones and a borrowed sound system. Four years, 17 red uniforms and some big-time equipment later, Bomba regularly draws 3,000 people. Last year they added a few Saturday Bombas to meet demand; Fiesta de la Bomba, as they are called, always sell out, capacity 3,500. Other members have established themselves as directors. Since they play with a different guest musician every week - everything from a bassist or a singer to a Trekkie-looking guy behind a turntable - no show is ever the same. Perhaps the largest accomplishment is that Bomba has become the collective social space that Vazquez dreamed of creating. Before the show, you can’t hit the kiosco for a litro without the guy at the other register yelling about how Bomba is the best thing on the planet. Outside, a young suit getting out of a cab greets his dreadlocked friends drinking on the corner; in this city business suit and eyebrow piercing are not mutually exclusive. There’s a didgeridoo salesman; if he decides you have good vibrations, he might aim his instrument into your chest and give you some of his own. Then he’ll teach you to mimic an elephant’s trumpet, done by rolling your R’s into the great cylinder, and talk up the shamanistic Wachuma ceremony he leads next week. “It’s like ayahuasca,” he says in broken English, referring to the ancestral plant’s better-known cousin, “but for here instead of here,” pointing first at his heart, then at your head. And there amid the crowd on the corner waiting for the signal to cross, stands Cheikh Gueye, the most ferocious drummer in Bomba. Slung over his shoulder is his great djembe, fashioned from goatskin and teak by a childhood friend 11 years ago in Senegal. Tonight, when he rips off a solo that stampedes through Konex’s cavernous inner chamber, his head will arch upward and convulse violently from side to side, sending his fitted hat flying and his short black dreadlocks into seething animation. This is inevitable; Gueye’s solos are a pillar of Bomba. It’s just a matter of when he receives the sign. Screechy, erratic noises fill Diego Pojomovsky’s living room. It’s a recording of Conduction 104, a previous installment of an ongoing traveling musical production put on
philip jacobson | 15
by American jazzman Butch Morris. Under Morris’ conduction system, in which he directs an improvising ensemble through signs, the Conduction series has for over 20 years traveled all over the world. Morris’ travels from city to city forming ensembles of local musicians to perform under his direction. When Morris came to Buenos Aires in 1998 Pojomovsky played the bass. The eerie music sounds like what children fear at night. Juxtaposed with this aural monster under the bed and Pojomovsky’s own face – long hair, unshaven – his accent comes off a bit vampirish. “How do you conduct this? How?” he says. Tension builds before dissolving under a hushed cymbal until the music approaches near silence. Pojomovsky’s voice, an instrument by its own rights, conquers the space. “I remember one sign at this very moment directed to me which was—” Pojomovsky’s right hand makes a come-hither motion and eight creeping bass notes enter the composition. “So I was playing freely.” His gaze falls slightly as he loses himself in the memory. His hands remain raised. “There he asked several players to do two long notes. Oooone, and the other. That’s the way it works. There is no key, no scale, nothing. I’m free to do whatever I want.” His hands continue to reproduce the signs he saw 11 years ago. His left thumb and forefinger form an upside-down L. “He’s asking me to repeat. I’m beginning to repeat.” Vazquez was also to play in Conduction 104, but had to drop out because of a scheduling conflict. Out of interest he attended a rehearsal. What he witnessed proved to him that he could make the music he had been imagining. Inspired, he began to create his own language of signs that became the basis for Colectivo and later converted into Bomba. Vazquez took Morris’ conduction concept further, designing a system that would allow him to experiment with his own musical ideas. “Butch Morris only used signs related to dynamics and movement and listening and getting with another musician,” Pojomovsky says. “There were signs to repeat things, to memorize, to change. But he never used signs like we used in Colectivo in relation to notes or scales.” Morris never used rhythmic patterns, for example. But the members of Bomba utilize a set of songs they call memories, which they sometimes use as a jumping off point for improvisation. One is a famous tango composition, another a mix of folkloric rhythms Vazquez wrote. Most often they use an Indian formula, the memory that allows them greatest flexibility. In their Wednesday rehearsals they constantly experiment. A recent focus was metric modulation, a way to instantly change tempo instead of gradually slowing down or speeding
16 | the time bomb
up, and for a few months before that they played only in the 5/4 time signature. It is here, in this incorporation of new ideas, where the members’ diverse musical backgrounds really come into play. Richard Nant, a middle-aged man with a U-shaped goatee and a hoop in his left earlobe, grew up listening to jazz. He plays trumpet every Wednesday with his other band, Los Gauchos, at a club called in Recoleta called Thelonius. The leader of Los Gauchos is especially well-versed in writing metric modulation, so Nant brought into Bomba some exercises and rhythms they had been working on. “Everyone has different backgrounds, but no one is only about one style,” Nant says one afternoon at a restaurant in the city’s center. “Nacho, he’s a very Candombe concept player, he plays in a Candombe group in La Plata [Buenos Aires Provincia]. But he can play anything he wants to play. Tiki Cantero, [is] the connection with folklore, and also Mario Gusso. Gabi Spiller, his grandfather was a violin master, he played in the Teatro Colon. Carto, he is a jazz drummer. But how can I define Carto? It’s like an intuition. Carto is 100 percent intuition. Totally free. Juampi Fransiconi, he is from Littoral and they have that flavor, you can hear that flavor in his playing. Then you have Ale Oliva. Oliva is like a piece of Buenos Aires. He’s porteño. You have Lucas Helguero, he’s very methodic, always studying. He’s very related with Brazil. He can play the berimbau. You can see where everybody’s coming from.” Nant pauses. “Santiago is a thinker. Intelligent, fast. He did a really great casting call.” Vazquez likes the idea of helping other groups develop their own styles within the Bomba-born system. There exists what is essentially a Bomba school, called CERBA, the Center for Rhythmic Studies, which Vazquez and other Bomba musicians started to teach the system to anyone who is interested in taking the classes. As the language spreads, Vazquez aims to keep it universal and avoid a splintering into different dialects. “If after some years we have different languages, you lose the chance to play with others and to communicate,” Vazquez says. “So if we have a new musical idea we want to try, we first try to do it with the signs we already have, combining things in a different way to express that. If there is no way then we have to create a new sign.” It’s an ongoing process, the language growing organically with the ideas behind it, becoming more complex as more people come into its fold. “I really use in my mind the model of soccer,” Santiago says. “I don’t know what is the limit for this movement. But there are very enormous things that at the beginning they
philip jacobson | 17
probably were very small. Like soccer. So I donâ€™t know what is the real size that this has to have. We only can just keep doing it and see what happens.â€? Alejandro Oliva puts a finger to his lips, sits down on stage and motions the crowd to do the same. They do. The semicircle of percussionists behind him have also followed their directorâ€™s lead and ceased making noise. For a moment the place is actually silent. Oliva jumps back to his feet and resumes his swaying tai-chi dance movements, and the drumming picks up again at full fury. In La Bomba de Tiempo there is always that moment when everything pops. When the crowd, having gradually progressed from standing still or a simple head nod to the more discernible upper body swaying to the edge of total froth finally reaches its boiling point. Directly in front of the stage is the hottest. Imbued with kinetic energy they fly off in all directions, repeatedly colliding and bouncing off of one another like water boiled to steam. Oliva, sagely, expressionless, is playing with that line, cooling them done and heating them up again. Another Monday, another ritual.
18 | the time bomb
Hallie Liang Digital photograph
Saaquib Bakhsh Digital photograph
MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM Maggie Smith Chromogenic print
THE WORLD HAS TURNED AND LEFT ME HERE by KEVIN McFARLAND
I open my eyes and I’m staring right into a seatbelt. I sit up and look around for a minute before I realize I’m still sitting in my car. I turn on the engine and the clock reads sometime early in the afternoon, almost time for my shift to start again. I don’t usually make it all the way home, falling asleep in the car has become much too frequent an occurrence. At least I didn’t fall asleep at my desk again. Mr. Blonde likes it when I get there early, but hates to find me asleep overnight in the building. “Nobody sleeps here. This is an active zone,” he says, “If you want to sleep and can’t get yourself home, you go down the boulevard and pay just like everyone else.” If I wasn’t working so many doubles maybe I’d be able to get myself back to the apartment. Not that I’m really so keen on getting home now that it’s only me there. I get out of the car, grab my uniform jacket from the back seat, and walk across the parking lot towards the front doors of the tallest building around for miles. The structure itself is a wonder all on its own. It looks like some giant or alien plopped a huge orange down in the middle of parking lot. The windows run in a stripe down from the top, like one section of the peel is gone. They’re tinted so nobody can see inside, so during the day the ribbon of black stands out. Over the fifteen-foot sliding doors at the entrance is a neon sign that shouts in capital letters “DATE SPHERE” with the subtitle “the world you’ve been waiting for!” I told Mr. Blonde that neon signs really don’t pop like they used to, and that we’re not in Vegas. He never takes any of my advice, even after I’ve been
managing the building for over five years. Inside the first thing you see is the big registration desk and the two doors, each clearly marked for either men or women. I tried to tell Mr. Blonde that not everyone fits into those two categories that simply, but he just waved me off as usual. “Forget about the odd ones out, Clemens,” he says, “I don’t want them in my place, and they don’t want to be here.” I’m not so sure. I always thought we might have a third door with a question mark on it or a layover of a man and a woman, but that doesn’t really fit in with the design of the place. The doors each lead to a little room with a desk that has a big monitor attached, a desk lamp, and a drink holder for the loosening beverages. The desks for women move out onto the lower level of the conveyor belt that moves along with the windows all the way up the dome. The men’s desks move up an elevator to the top of the dome, and they move down the helix of windows to the bottom. There isn’t really room for a third path in that movement. Once we fill all the desks, I set the conveyor into rotation, and every five minutes the desks switch one place over, the women’s desk at the top moves down an elevator to the bottom slot, and the men’s desk at the bottom shoots up to the top, and everything continues. Mr. Blonde’s office is right at the top of the dome, with a glass floor right in the center so he can look down and watch the one couple right next to the elevator chutes in the center of the dome. “Best seat in the house,” he says, “I can tell within a minute if they’re going to forget about each other, want to talk to again, or head straight to my other places.” He owns the string of One Night Pleasure Palaces about a half-mile away. That way he encourages the simple one-nighter. We pass out coupons and half sheets on the way out for everyone linked arm in arm. About half guys grab them, some of the lonely ones too, but you know the deal is sealed when the girl grabs one out of your hand. “They pay once to find somebody, pay again to be with somebody, and it’s our job to make it just unsatisfying enough and with one little drop of hope that they come back ready to pay for the same thing all over again thinking maybe this time it’ll all be different.” I get everything set until the sun goes down in the early evening and the rest of the crew starts to show up. The two bartenders start getting ready at their spot in the dome, and the waitresses loosen up and get ready to put on their skates. They go up and down on the sides of the conveyor belts, and it helps a lot with getting people to drink more in a short amount of time. I head downstairs under the dome to talk to the mechanics. I have charts of the success rates of the dome at getting people over to Mr. Blonde’s other establishments. I do video research on the cameras at the entrances of the dome and all of the Pleasure Palaces. The mechanics adjust the system so the desks are oriented a
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certain way, the brightness of the lamps to hide the occasional unsightly feature of one of our customers, and the time each person converses. We advertise to the fact that it’s a five minute conversation with each potential Love Interest, but I like to tinker with that a little bit. The best results come from about four minutes and forty seconds. If we push it too long it could get awkward; push it too short and that spark never ignites. I’ve been getting lucky with the numbers lately, I’m trying some new techniques out on the system, to make it even better. When everything is ready I head to the front desk to help the two Registration Assistants. I flip a switch that unlocks the front doors, and soon enough men and women are trickling in and lining up to be seated at their respective desks. The first man in is tall, wiry, and resembles a human version of the Cat in the Hat. His hair looks like it only needs a little bit of heat to get just close enough to burst into flames. He is always the first inside, always frequents the dome several nights a week, and has never left alone. Seth McDougal, undefeated heavyweight champion of a speed-dating dome, is the biggest challenge I face at work. For the better part of my time at DATE SPHERE, I have endeavored to take down Mr. McDougal. I’ve tried every possible promotion I can think of to cause a strikeout or even a little bit of a slump. Advertising drew up plans for nights that isolated women by hair color, age, height, intelligence, and even marital status. Mr. Blonde doesn’t care who comes in the door as long as they’re putting down their money for the session. It didn’t matter, McDougal corralled a target every time. I fiddled with the system. I told the mechanics we were trying some drastic new time intervals to test productivity. All I wanted was to see that grease-ball walk back to his car alone, but he’s unflappable. Give him thirty seconds and one joke gets a girl on his arm. Ten minutes and she begs him to cut the session short just to make sure she’s the one to get him out the door and down the street. He walks up to the counter and flashes a metallic purple card that the assistant scans into the computer. Mr. Blonde gave it to him once he surpassed one hundred successful sessions. Now he gets discounts, and every time he leaves with more than one lady on his arm, he comes back for free. I wish I could say this was not a frequent incident. “Good evening Mr. McDougal,” the attendant says politely to his undeserving face as she passes him an entry card, “please take your place in front of the doors, we’ll be getting started in a little while.” He slithers toward the doors. More customers walk in and take places in line. We wait for a full quota to show before starting to fill the dome. Once the lines are almost loaded into position, I get ready to head to my office when the two attendants start muttering to each other. “She’s back again.”
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“What do we do?” “Just don’t let him take the desk.” I’m obviously within earshot, and I turn to see what they’re making such a big fuss about. A woman in a bright blue dress is walking down the entryway, heels spiking into the tiles. She makes a beeline for the desk, as though she doesn’t notice anyone around her. Her name is Lorelei, my ex-wife. Eight months ago I came back from working my late shift at six in the morning to find her passed out in my bed with two strange men. I work for the money and she uses it all to live. She was too quick though. Once I found out about all her sneaking around she filed for divorce real fast. Never even gave me a chance to have the high ground. Cited ‘irreconcilable differences’ and got out of our place. Nothing is final yet, the papers haven’t come in the mail or been signed, so that’s my last shred of hope, but now she’s here. “Welcome to DateSphere, how may I help you?” one of the attendants asks with a saccharine grin. Lorelei doesn’t even make a cursory glance at me. “Hi there, I’d like a spot in tonight’s rotation.” “Let me see if we can fit you in,” the attendant says as she types away on her computer. “I’m very sorry, but we’re actually full up tonight. Right before the session begins is usually a risky time to try and drop in for the current night.” “Isn’t there anything you can do?” She widens her eyes at the attendant. I know what she’s trying to do, but I can’t really believe she thinks it’ll work. Trying to get special treatment for knowing me, when these two girls know she’s my ex-wife. Simply stunning work. “Actually, not at the moment ma’am, but if you come back and try again a bit before the lines open up another time I’m sure we can find you a spot.” Lorelei blows her bangs up over her forehead and stomps back out the door. The two attendants look at me for a minute while I watch her go, and then one of them calls down to start the session. At the end of the night I walk out of the building and over to my car. She’s leaning against the driver’s side door. I can’t even get in without talking to her. There’s no chance to get away. She’s in a bottle-green dress, the one I always wanted her to wear when we went out, those few times I wasn’t busy keeping us afloat. “What took you so long?” she says, and she lifts up one of her feet out of her shoes and rests it against the door. Her head leans back and to the side; she knows how good she looks like this, the lamp above my car bathing her in an orange glow.
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“I didn’t know you would be here Lori,” I say. I haven’t taken the keys out of my pocket. I don’t want to give her the wrong idea. “I took a taxi here, but I don’t have a ride home,” she says. It’s been so long since the start of rotation that she could’ve walked home if she wanted. I don’t really know that, I have no idea where she moved; it could be all the way in a different county. She waited here for hours just to catch me on my way out. She starts walking towards me barefoot, leaving her shoes behind by the car. With one small stumble I can tell she’s had a few, probably from the flask she always kept in her purse. She walks on her toes, bouncing a little with step. It makes her hair move, wave like there’s a fan going behind her. I know her every move she makes to turn herself into an angel. It’s been too long since I’ve seen it, too long since she did this for me and only me. “Come on, can you take me home?” she asks, holding out her hand for me to take. “Where is that exactly?” I ask her, and she starts to laugh into her hand. “You know,” she says, grabbing my arm and pulling me to the car, “our home.” That gets me. Our home. It hasn’t been that way for a while now, and I can’t quite figure out what’s prompted this. She wants to come home, make it home again. It’s been too long; the place just will not feel the same when I’m the only one sleeping in that bed. I want her there. Before I know it she’s around the other side and I unlock the doors. We slide in and I make the drive back down the same streets I used to take on my way back to her when she waited up for me to eat dinner together. I park in a spot right by the elevator underneath our building, and jog around to open her door. She puts her hand out for me to help her get up, and spins slightly to catch my arm around her waist as we walk to the elevator. She breathes down my neck at the door and I struggle with the keys. I should just walk her back down to my car, hop in, and drive her to a bus station. I should call her a cab back to whatever squalid excuse for a house my alimony pays for her. I should want her to leave, want her never to show up outside my work, outside my car, outside my life ever again. I plunge the key into the lock and open the door for her to walk in, and she drops her purse and coat onto the floor. She takes off her shoes and leaves them by the door. We always used to put our shoes in the closet together. These look like a guest is over for a visit, and I know she isn’t thinking of staying. I make myself a drink, but I don’t get two sips down before Lori takes it from me and has the rest. She grabs my hand and leads me to our old bed. I didn’t even change the sheets from the ones she bought when we moved into this place on the first day. Nothing in the apartment has changed except all of the stuff she owned is missing. I kept everything intact
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from our time together. Lori slinks onto the bed and beckons me to a spot next to her. She fits my arm under her neck and down her back and rests her hair on my shoulder, tucked perfectly under my chin. This is what I remember best, fitting together like a puzzle with the satisfaction of finally having finished. “Can I kiss you?” she asks into my ear. I stare at the ceiling. I can feel her breath against my face, her eyes watching my muscles twitch, her hand running over my chest. I want to think it’s familiar, it’s welcome, it’s home, but I know it isn’t for any longer than the night. “Only if it’s what you want to do,” I whisper, and she rises from my side to look down into my eyes. “Yes,” she says, and lowers her lips to meet mine. They don’t feel right, and for the first time this feels strange with her. It feels foreign, tainted, like something borrowed but not kept. I think maybe that’s just me wanting to distance her, but she’s the one right on top of me. She wants this, she wants me, and I have her back again. I wake up in the middle of the night alone. It’s not like I didn’t suspect this would happen. In the kitchen there’s a note from Lori on the fridge. She called a cab, went back home. I still don’t know where she lives and I probably won’t find out anytime soon. In and out like a whirlwind, nothing left but a thoughtless note and a few tissues in the bathroom trash bin she used to wipe off her makeup. The next night at work is the same song, second verse. Another group of scruffy, desperate men take their place in line. Of course Seth is one of them. He prattles to another guy in line about how many women he managed to satisfy after his previous session. I wonder if he even owns his own place or he just sleep in Mr. Blonde’s Pleasure Palaces every night. The lines are almost down when the attendants both stare out at the doors again. “Not again,” the attendant moans. I look down the hall and see Lorelei coming towards the desk again, a smirk on her face and a folder under her arm. This time she doesn’t go to the attendants first, but walks right up to me and hands me a stack of papers from the folder. “You need to sign these at the end of every page,” she says, dropping a pen on top of the stack and then turning to the attendant. “I’m here to check in, reservation is under ‘Lorelei’ for one.” I take a look. It’s the divorce papers. They’re finally here to sign, and that’s the last nail in the coffin. “I’ll take this one,” I tell the attendants. They know well enough not to challenge me
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and back away from their computers. “Lori, what are you doing here?” “Excuse me, I’m trying to sign in for the session tonight please.” “You can’t be serious.” “What do you want?” “I think a little explanation on the quick turnaround would be nice.” Now she notices the room. She taps one of her heels on the floor and it echoes through the hall. There are only a few people left in line, and about a minute until we start the session. “I don’t know what you mean Clemens,” she says, “I’m just another paying customer.” “Not here. I work here. You know that.” “What do you need from me?” “To be acknowledged. You make me feel nonexistent.” “That’s not true.” “Of your own free will you enter those doors into this dome,” I say, printing out her entry card and taking her money. She doesn’t get to pretend like she doesn’t know I’m here. “You know I work here. You know how long I’ve worked here. I’m here every single day of the week. You try to walk right past me, without a word, like I’m some damn street beggar without a job to his name. You make me invisible whenever you can because you need me to be, but I don’t have a choice.” I hand her the entry card and she turns without a word to jog over to the door right before it closes. She makes it, and one of the attendants calls down to the mechanics to start up the session. Up in my office I can’t get any work done, not when Lorelei is here. I don’t know why she did it. I was the only one who worked, and I needed to do double shifts to make ends meet, and she still couldn’t be happy with me. And now she’s in that dome, and somewhere coming down the line is Seth, the scum of the earth. I can’t figure out how he does it. My phone rings and it’s Mr. Blonde. “There’s been some kind of accident on the floor,” he says. “What happened?” “The waitresses collided going up and down the conveyors with drinks. I need you to put on some skates and replace them.” “Mr. Blonde, I’m sorry but I have all of the paperwork and research to go through-“ “Forget the damn papers, Clemens! If we don’t serve drinks then they don’t get liquored up. If they don’t’ get liquored up they don’t fawn all over each other and end up down the street at the Pleasure Palace. You know how this works. Get down to the floor and
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start greasing the wheels!” He hangs up. I feel like he was right next to me, spitting in my face, but it turns out I’m just sweating. Lorelei’s in the dome, and I’ll have to see her talk to Seth. The girl’s roller skates are way too small for me. My toes are smashed into them while I skate up and down the side of the conveyors trying to avoid colliding with any of the moving desks as they shift. Keeping the drinks balanced is almost impossible on the way up, and it’s quite a task keeping all the empties from falling off while I rush back down. I got lucky though. Lorelei and Seth haven’t been matched up yet. As their places shift closer and closer to each other, I keep an eye on their drinks. I haven’t had to talk to either one yet, so they don’t even notice I’m the one taking orders. Lori finishes first, so I skate up to her for a refill as she talks to a heavy-set bald man with a beard to rival St. Nicholas. “Having another, ma’am?” I ask, looking down at my pad of paper so she can’t see me without taking a really good look. “Yeah I’ll do another cosmo,” she says, turning back to the behemoth across the table, “now tell me more about this chainsaw business?” I skate over to Seth’s table, where he’s holding hands with a buxom woman wearing a large wedding ring. This is not so unusual in the line of business. “Another for you sir?” “Yes, but this time try and make the martini actually dry. I’m getting tired of paying for these failed attempts.” I roll on down the path to the bar and the bottom, put in those drink orders and put away the empties I collected on my run. This is an Olympic-level workout for me, I barely ever have the time to do any sort of exercise. The bartender hands me the cosmo and dry martini and heads to the other end of the bar to clean up. I spot a little can of BarBeCLEAN on the counter and while the bartender isn’t looking I snatch it and shake a bit into the martini. Nothing serious, I just need some insurance that Lorelei won’t go doing something rash that I know she’ll regret with that scumbag. When I get back up the ramp they’re talking together. I put their drinks down as quickly as I can without spilling and get out of there. I don’t want to risk either of them recognizing me, and I don’t want to hear any of their conversation. I can’t stand listening to Seth sweet talk anyone. All I need to do is watch from a distance to make sure he takes a few sips of his drink. Once he takes a big gulp all that’s left is a few minutes to wait. It works better than I ever expected. Sure some people are complaining about not getting refilled drinks at the moment, but I can’t take my eyes off Seth. He looks nauseous, he’s fidgeting in his seat, and Lori can tell something is wrong but just like she always did,
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she never asks what’s wrong or tries to help him. Once the desks shift again Seth is matched up with a rail-thin blonde girl, and he vomits all over the desk. She gets up and screams, and everyone in the dome looks down at the failure pile that is Seth. The streak is broken. Mr. Blonde has to endure an enraged Seth for a little while once the session ends. The rage even gets turned on me for a while. Seth sticks his finger in my chest and yells that I ruined everything for him. Of course I did, but he doesn’t know how or why. Mr. Blonde gives him credit back for a free session, and that placates the pervert. Unfortunately I didn’t think that I would be the one to clean up his mess. I should have known that, but considering all of my other tinkering has never netted me a win, I clean up the desk knowing that what fills my nostrils is the stench of victory. I ask the door attendants if they saw Lorelei leaving with anyone, and they don’t remember. None of them gave her a sheet though, so the Pleasure Palace will have one less room booked for tonight. Everyone goes home and Mr. Blonde leaves me to shut down all the equipment and lock the place up. I head into the dome to close up the bar and shut down the conveyors, and I’m about to turn off the lights at the power panel by the doors when I hear a voice behind me. “Mr. Seth McDougal, we meet again.” I whip around and there’s a guy standing in the middle of the dome. The name echoes around through the space and hits me a couple more times. He’s got white-blonde hair, silver glasses, and wears a completely black suit. I mean everything from the jacket and pants to the shoes, shirt, tie, cufflinks, are all jet black. In his hands is a white notepad, and he’s scribbling something down on it. “Excuse me?” I ask, “What are you doing in here sir?” He looks up and scrunches his face up. “Who the hell are you?” “My name is Clemens, I’m the manager here.” “Well that’s just perfect,” he says. He picks up a black briefcase off the ground that I don’t remember being there before. “First mother can’t go to sleep without her goodnight tea, and she can’t prepare it on her own because her feet hurt, and then I’m late to work, and just when I’ve gotten to the very, very last thing on my list, I go and mix up the target.” I need to get this guy out of the building. I’m trying to actually go home tonight. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave, we’re closed for the night.” “You can call me whatever you choose. Osiris, Azrael, Shiva, take your pick, but I need to find Mr. McDougal, I’m on the verge of collecting his debts.” “You’re…not from here…are you?”
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That’s when I start to notice that it’s a little too cold in here, and that this guy looks a little too perfect. Doesn’t look like life has taken any toll at all on his face. “You said Seth has debt. Did he borrow money?” “No, no, not monetary debts. I deal in things a little more personal than money.” This guy is creeping the hell out of me. Showing up in the dome in a suit talking about Seth. “Can I help you with anything? I just need to close up and get on home.” “Wish I could go home. Mother is a real thorn in my side at the moment. And hearing I made a mix-up at work will just set her off. She’ll just keep comparing me to my father and how he never would’ve made any mistakes, always collected on time with perfect accuracy, kept everything working in order, but she doesn’t know anything. She was a Vila near the Sudetes before my father ensnared her. Nobody but the sons of the family inherit the job of collection.” I feel a little sorry for him now. He still lives with his mom. I may have been beaten down for most of my life but at least I live on my own. I take him up to my office and let him sit down, make him some tea. It looks like I’m not going home for a while. You can’t just tell somebody like him to go away and leave you alone. “I am here to collect what I am owed from Mr. McDougal.” “And what might that be?” He sets his things down and takes out a single sheet of paper with a bunch of calligraphy on it. Down at the bottom is Seth’s signature all slanted, and then the other signature is just a hole burned into the page. It’s a contract. “What was the deal?” He sits down and crosses his legs, smiling like I’ve never seen anyone do before, like something out of a cartoon. “Well, I don’t think it’s too hard to see that Mr. McDougal did not always possess his telltale charm with women. That was never naturally his, and he desired it more than anything else,” he says. “Besides being a collector, I am also an infinite provider, with certain limitation of course, but I gave Mr. McDougal what he desired, with the stipulation that he would only be able to use his endowed power upon one thousand individuals. Should he choose to live a moderate life, it could last until the end of his natural days.” Somehow his smile gets wider, and doesn’t diminish with every word he speaks. “Unfortunately, for Mr. McDougal anyways, he chose the path of lust, and that is why I must make a collecting call. He has one more until he hits one thousand, after that barrier is reached, he forfeits his soul to me.” My mouth is dry, but my palms are so sweaty that I think I’m staining the contract in
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my hands. “I…need to get home,” I gasp. “Well of course you do, I’m not here for you. Unless you’ve got something in mind that you require more than anything your heart has ever yearned for?” My mind flashes instantly to Lorelei, but I think of how many times I’ve seen her come through the doors and into the dome, and the vision is gone the next second. “No, I think I’m good, thanks.” He gets out of his chair and picks up his briefcase, sighing heavily. “I just wish I wasn’t going home to her. Every day all I hear is ‘take out the trash’ or ‘do the dishes’ or ‘make me some supper’ or ‘clean out the gutters’ or ‘polish your father’s urn!’ There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do my job and be her maid.” “Well maybe you should talk to her. Tell her how hard you’ve been working and that her lack of independence is making things hard for you. Communicate.” “You know what kid?” he says, “I think I’ll give it a shot. Things haven’t been the same around home since my dad gave me the job and passed on.” “That happens? You can pass on?” I’m not an expert on the whole thing but I figured the general idea was that these kinds of things don’t die. “Oh sure, we pass on, but not like you. We go to a different realm, a different task required of us. All that was left of my dad was a cloak, and my mom burned it. She was so angry he left her that she keeps it locked up in a cage so she finally has some control over something that was his.” He gets up and puts all of his things away in his briefcase. “I’ll be back for him. From the looks of things this place is bound to give him that one last push over the top and into my win column. Thanks for the chat.” I blink and he’s gone. I sit in my office with only my desk lamp on for a long time. Seth could be out of my life tomorrow if I let him do everything he normally does. Or I could save him, start him on the path to a new life, and he could be free. I can’t imagine what kind of torture having a contract like that would be once you reach the end. I can’t fathom what must’ve been going through his brain, but Seth must have been way too desperate to sign something like that. I’ll just have to help get him out of this rut, and help save his soul. The next day I show up early to give a tour. Mr. Blonde is always looking for ways to make a little extra cash, so every now and then a group of kids from a school that can’t afford a field trip to somewhere better comes to us. It’s a nice building to look at from the outside, and the kids have fun on the conveyors, I just don’t tell them what we actually use it for. Most of the time the excuse is a communication service, and the kids just go along with it.
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I bring the group up the elevators to the top like I always do, with my back turned so I can face them and talk all about how tall the dome is at the center and how long it took to build and how much steel is in the walls. Then I see that same black suit down by the entrance and I take a bad step and hit the walkway. The kids laugh at me; a hollow sound like they won’t ever know something like this, and when I get up the suit is gone. I rush through the rest of the tour to get back to my office, and sure enough there he is again. He’s got the same black briefcase, and it looks like it’s the same suit but somehow it’s newly pressed and everything. I notice there’s a big black trunk on the ground, with shiny gold corners and a big gold latch flipped open at the top. “You were wrong Clemens,” he says. “About what?” “My mom kicked me out of the house until I ‘learn some familial respect’ of where I came from and how much she’s done for me.” I’m a little surprised. I’d have thought that with all we talked about the conversation would’ve gone quite smooth and reasonable. “Where exactly did you come from?” He ignores my question and throws his briefcase on the carpet next to the trunk. “And then she busted into some stupid speech about how I need to find a nice nymph or the daughter of a harvest goddess to ensnare and bring back to the house. I know I need somebody with me eventually, but I need that woman to be out of the picture before that’ll ever happen. Until then I’m just going to enjoy doing my job in increasingly warmer weather.” He sits down at my desk. His trunk clicks open on its own. It’s filled with more suits just as black as the one he has on. “I just need to get away for a night. Once I finish up with that McDougal on my list I’ll be calm enough to back and deal with mother.” “Oh I don’t if he’s coming back again after that last time. He got pretty sick.” He puts his feet up and leans back in the chair, picking at his fingernails. “If he’s been here almost every night for the past two years, then he’ll be here tonight. Which of these suits do you think I should wear?” I point at the third one down, but I can’t really tell. They’re all identical. “That’s the dirtiest one. What’s wrong with you?” That night I spend the entire session down in with the mechanics. I tell them that Mr. Blonde wants us to try varying up the different intervals to see if we can hit a sweet spot tonight. I watch the monitors to track Seth. Whenever he hits it off I have the guys signal for
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a switch, and I leave Seth in dead conversations for much longer than normal. He looks at his watch every once in a while, but he seems to be the only one who might be catching on. There’s no clock in the dome at all, we try to be like a supermarket or a casino controlling the way time functions during a session. I should have tried this tactic ages ago. It works like a charm. Some people are hitting it off, and the numbers for tonight are going down the tube for sure, but it’s worth the risk to buy Seth another night. I wait outside in the dark for him to come out. For the first time I’ve gotten it to work right. All the tinkering made this fall into place. He strolls out of the automatic doors, still trying to chat up every girl that passes him without an arm linked to another man, but nobody gives him the time of day. He kicks the ground and shoves his hands into his pockets, all while walking out towards my position in the parking lot. I move out from behind the car. “Mr. McDougal?” I ask, and he stops dead. I see him recognize me and he starts laughing. “Bet you had some fun seeing the champ strike out two nights in a row, weasel,” he says. He’s a little watery around the eyes, but that could just be the wind. “No worries though, it’s the exception to the rule.” There’s no other way for me to end this but to start saying what I need to say. “I don’t think you should come back here again after tonight.” “What are you talking about?” “It would be very bad, for you I mean, if you came here again, ever. Just consider what happened tonight the beginning of something else.” He gets so far up in my face all I can see are his eyes, shifting back and forth as they scan my face. “Is that a threat you little shit?” “No, Mr. McDougal, I’m just trying to help and give some advice. I just know it will be bad if you come back here again.” “I can walk right inside there and get you fired tonight you pissant! I’m the best customer you’ve ever had here, and you try to tell me to stay away? What kind of employee are you?” He turns around on his heel and marches back towards the doors. I don’t know how to tell someone they’re a goner. “Wait!” I yell, “You can’t go back in there.” “In a few minutes, it’ll be you buddy, just watch.” I wait outside by my car. He didn’t listen to me. I get a call from Mr. Blonde telling me to come to his office. When I walk through the building I don’t see Seth anywhere. He may
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already be gone. At least I gave it a shot, but I guess he loves the game too much to give it up before it comes back to bit him. When I get up to Mr. Blonde’s office he just starts laying into me pretty thick. He knows everything about me messing with the controls, trying to keep Seth from getting any, and the final straw of talking to a customer so disrespectfully. I take issue with that. I’m only trying to help. He tells me I’m fired, and makes me sign all the paperwork to get me out of there with nothing but the clothes on my back. “No severance, no pay,” he says, “this is with cause, you get nothing.” I sign everywhere in the papers he shows me and I move to the door. “Wait just one second kid,” Mr. Blonde says as he files the papers away and walks to the center of the room. “I’m not an unreasonable man. I’m a businessman. I made a few calls, I conceded to a few demands, all in the best interest of my property and the future of my business. Surely you can understand that. You really almost lost the only customer that keeps me afloat, and I had to give him something. Nothing that was just a five-minute meet-cute would do. I needed a sure thing.” He points down through the glass to the top of the conveyor belts. I look down through the window and see two people sitting at the desks, the only ones in the entire dome. All the lights are turned down, and for the first time ever I see candles in the middle of the little desks. Seth reaches his hand across the desk to take the woman’s hand. The candles flicker just right, and I see Lorelei slink her hand into Seth’s. I step closer to Mr. Blonde and look straight down through the glass as they run their thumbs over each other’s fingers. I feel sorry for her, with Mr. Blonde getting her hopes up like this. She has no idea. It’s done; Seth is a dead man.
36 | the world has turned and left me here
Emerson Gordon-Marvin Digital photograph
Zhen Cheng Oil on canvas
SLOW ME DOWN, TASMANIAN DEVIL by KEVIN McFARLAND
Spin left, see the barman slide tumblers to empty hands eager for courage. Boats rock east, back to the west, spiraling with the wind of the sails in soft circlets, dragging canvas wide around masts for the harbor urchins on the bar docks to leer. Spin right, find eyes that meet on a perfect level, twirl and meet for a breath but find a way to whisper with pupils to tack starboard, raise and lower anchors in deft syncopation, only for the winds in his hands to change at any instant and guide back to the safety of a dock.
Emerson Gordon-Marvin Digital photograph
OBSERVATION OF AN ALLEY IN THE LATE AFTERNOON
by ELISA SUTHERLAND
No sounds flap their white-flash wings and echo through the streets outside my mildewed doorway after alley-rain. Stoic bricks (wind-worn fondly) startle querying cats and make them hide, the quick movement of their tails incoherent and impeccably noiseless, past cupboards of wax paper and skins of bottles. Kitchen pipes duck their heads and crawl beneath the concrete to basement rooms of sterile white, recalling, ever, the PVC theyâ€™ve left behind, reeking of the many onion peels and peppers pickling in lonely bathwater. Across the way silent windows smile and curtains die of rich neglect, their folds smothered in tender, white moth kisses. But listen! I can hear rhythmic footsteps in the shadow of my building as it grows an arm, then casts away the useless limb now free to spawn with other shades (potholes in the road coagulate and then retract as, like a dream the shadow slow surpasses them). No, not a shadow, but a figure as if in a dream, like paperclips that slip off desks, or glasses dropped on white ceramic floors, or clouds that roar like dragons! A composition alien to the bricks and pipes and windows in their silent tasks. In a flurry of cardboard snow, it passes, and with it all the chaos that its shadow teased among the streets. The sound has died, and all is left ringing in its absence.
Rachel Koh Gelatin silver print
ABANDONED SHACK Cassi Saari Digital photograph
A Sparknotes Guide to Daniel Camponovo’s Webjournal,June-October 2010
by DANIEL CAMPONOVO
All times set to EST Sunday, October 31, 2010, 3:20 a.m. In this scene, the narrator talks about the disappointing way he spent his Halloween night. Metaphors: The disappointing way he spends his nights back home in Pennsylvania. Key Quotations: “I hate this city.” Sunday, October 24, 2010, 1:46 a.m. In this scene, the narrator talks about his immediate thoughts after the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team lost to the San Francisco Giants baseball team in six games in the 2010 NLCS. Themes: Ignorance as an acceptable means to ending suffering. Key Quotations: “It’s like when someone shatters a dream of yours, and you want to thank them for it, for preventing you from wasting so much time.” Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 10:38 a.m. In this scene, the narrator discusses how he was unable to sleep last night because he can hear the El track from his bedroom window. Themes: Disillusionment with ending up in Chicago “too early.” Key Quotations: “I was to be drawn here, when the timing and the
conditions were right, and it would have felt natural, instead of forced upon me, and I wouldn’t have had any doubts about whether or not I belonged here.” Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 12:06 a.m. In this scene, the narrator relays last night’s party and reunion with C_______, his first of the new school year. Themes: Inability to quit somebody after two years of non-activity. Metaphors: An unseemly birthmark you can’t get rid of but also don’t want to lose entirely. Key Quotations: “…and I’m sadistic, I’m masochistic, but I love it. Thursday was one of the best nights I’ve had yet at college.” Tuesday, September 7, 2010, 12:56 a.m. This entire scene is a blurry iPhone photo of the Chicago skyline from N. Lakeshore Drive. Themes: N/A Metaphors: N/A Key Quotations: N/A Thursday, September 2, 2010, 11:28 p.m. In this scene, the narrator finds out he might be moderately allergic to gluten now. Themes: That the narrator is allergic to gluten. Metaphors: Comparing following a glutenfree diet to something that’s equally difficult to do. Key Quotations: “Word on the street is I might be moderately allergic to gluten.” Tuesday, August 24, 2010, 1:17 p.m. In this scene, the narrator’s computer hard drive crashes and he talks about how he lost everything. Themes: The realization that your entire life’s work on your computer is valueless; The terrifying-yet-liberating prospects that come with a tabula rasa. Metaphors: Comparing the new hard drive to a tabula rasa. Key Vocab Words: “Tabula Rasa,” or blank slate. Key Quotations: “They popped in a new hard drive, free of charge, since I was still under warranty, and they ‘fixed’ my laptop without me paying a dollar. And there’s no way to put a monetary amount to the files I lost, so in a sense, there was a net balance of zero, and I lost nothing.” Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 3:28 p.m. In this scene, with the end of classes looming nigh, the narrator talks about his negative experiences at the Johns Hopkins University summer program in Baltimore. Themes: Insecurity about where the narrator should have gone to college, as if any of it mattered anyway. Key Quotations: “I hate this place.”
46 | a sparknotes guide to daniel camponovo’s webjournal, june-october 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010, 10:30 p.m. In this scene, the narrator talks about his fear of addiction during summer school. Themes: A Raymond Carver-esque propensity to self-medicate any negative situation into oblivion. Metaphors: Comparing the narrator’s weeknights to a Raymond Carver story. Key Quotations: “I’m afraid that before this summer session is over I’m going to find myself addicted to caffeine, cigarettes and over-the-counter sleeping pills.” Monday, July 12, 2010, 12:39 a.m. In this scene, the narrator quotes the entirety of “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” by James Wright. Themes: Disillusionment. Allusions: “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” by James Wright. Key Quotations: Just read the damn poem, it’s barely ten lines long. Thursday, July 8, 2010, 12:59 p.m. In this scene, the narrator talks about his (then)-current profile picture on Facebook, showing him talking on the phone with C_______. Themes: How the Dillo Day photo is a microcosm for the narrator’s entire relationship with the girl he has wanted since the day he met her. Key Quotation: “That smile’s your smile, you’ve earned it, and I hate it, I hate that photo, it’s proof I am weak.” Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 3:11 a.m. In this scene, the narrator directly addresses one of his readers as a continuation of a discussion they had in the front seat of his car that night. Themes: The ephemeral, volatile nature of high school friendships and relationships; how the narrator doesn’t need to “worry” about the dynamic changing with this one particular girl; how the narrator thanks her for that. Key Quotations: “It won’t be just like it used to, it will never be just like it used to again. But it’ll be as it should be. And it should be just like it used to.” 1 Comment on this entry, from Allison: “loud and clear, sir. couldn’t say it any better myself.” Saturday, June 26, 2010, 12:47 a.m. In this scene, the narrator sifts through a drawer of his desk deciding what to pack for college. Themes: How what was once the most important thing in the world to us a year ago isn’t even worth taking to Chicago now. Metaphors: Likening the narrator’s childhood to (but not limited to) old bottle caps, tangerine altoid sours, a prom picture, foreign currency,
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a picture of the narrator’s grandfather before the war, a picture of the narrator’s other grandfather before emigrating, a 1964 edition of Ray Bradbury’s R is for Rocket and a receipt for the roses the narrator bought in april 2008 and never delivered. Key Quotations: “This shit’s worthless now, yo.” Thursday, June 17, 2010, 5:59 p.m. In this scene, the narrator muses on why he says “buddy” so often in conversation. Themes: Overcoming adversity, besting one’s inner demons, never giving up, feel-good “livestrong” bracelets. Metaphors: Feel-good “livestrong” bracelets, analogizing the narrator’s trouble pronouncing the word “buddy” with his stuttering problem to the more general life problems the narrator faces on a daily basis. Key Quotations: “I call people ‘buddy’ so much because I’ve earned it back.” Sunday, June 13, 2010, 12:19 a.m. In this scene, the narrator muses about the past school year, in more-or-less its entirety, after packing up and clearing out of his dorm room and driving the 13-hours back home to Pennsylvania for the summer, for about 75 long, rambling paragraphs. The narrator cancelled dinner plans with his ex girlfriend the last week and moved out a day early, forgoing goodbyes to a good half of his friends. The narrator also talks about his excitement for the courses he plans to take at the Johns Hopkins Summer Session the next month. The narrator muses about the unhealthy and unnaturally rapid, surgically-induced weight loss he has experienced over the past school year and how it has shifted his friendship dynamics with both the “school” and “home” crowds. The narrator also discusses how he hates how pretentious and high and mighty and “holier-than-thou” his college is compared to all of his friends’ colleges back home. Themes: The “school vs. home” dichotomy, disillusionment, isolation, alienation, depression, excitement, eagerness, general un-describ-ability of the last day in Evanston, sophomore year. Metaphors: Likening the narrator’s feelings about the “school vs. home” dichotomy to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers; likening the narrator’s ex girlfriend to a black hole, likening the narrator’s college to a “douchebag factory.” Key Quotations: “I feel sorry for whoever stuck around to read all of this.”
48 | a sparknotes guide to daniel camponovo’s webjournal, june-october 2010
Rachel Jones Digital photograph
SHORT TALKS by Aaron Frumkin
On Losing Momentum The screaming, the marching band, the cheerleaders. The field swells, electric. For one tiny instant everything is frozen – a snapshot in the cosmic memory. And then it breaks, and seven thousand cups of hot chocolate go cold. On a Problem I have a problem, my friend told me once. Every time I look into someone’s face I begin to see it as it is going to look in forty years. Weathered, jaded, nostalgic for the face it used to be. I could never decide if that is beautiful or terrifying. On the Other End of the Line You used to squeeze yourself through the wires and jump out into my room. We would talk face to face for a while, hug goodbye, and then you would go back. But it’s been a while since we last spoke. I tried to get to you again. Tried and failed. The line has been closed – a sign said.
On Spin Nothing can ever be precisely the same. In 1925 it was decided. Wolfgang Pauli squinted and saw into a miniature world within our visible world. Look, he said, all of the little things that make up everything are different. They are – each and every countless one of them – unique. Unique and spinning. Millions upon millions of miniature worlds, spinning on their axes. On Existing Sometimes – if you tilt your head at the right angle on a certain breezy Tuesday evening; or feel the tingling warmth on the back of your neck from someone, far out of sight, looking your way; or come home to an empty apartment where the faucet is leaking and the heater is whispering husky nothings into the living room; or hear the lingering wisps of a particular song from the radio of a car already down the block – you can feel yourself existing.
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Emily Rifkin Gelatin silver print
ON AMBIGUOUS WINE, OR ARCHITECTURE by CRESENCE BIRDER
Six or eight wine glasses are brighter than one hundred Chinese teeth collected in a bowl. They build buildings of their bodies and then unbuild, pulling each pillar of a limb from drops on arms and legs. Ankles like swan necks roll, roaming between the flexible structures. Squares that make you wet yourself. Geometry that makes you sweat. One sloshed spill is bigger than any limb-house that you might build, and more dangerous.
A HAIKU FOR THE WORMS LURED ONTO THE PAVEMENT BY THE RAIN by MARGARET SMITH
Worm is fried by Sun. No time, even, to tell his Brother, “We were wrong.”
Emerson Gordon-Marvin Digital photograph
BONVOR SUNSET CANOE Bennett Kissel Chromogenic print
Emerson Gordon-Marvin Digital photograph
by ALEX ZIFF
FLASHBACK - EXT. WALCZACK’S BACKYARD – DAY SNOWFLAKES gently fall to the ground. A large house is blanketed. The quaint backyard gets another coat. IGNACY WALCZACK frolics in the snow. He is 8 years-old, innocent, and full of hope. He flops on his back and makes snow angels. Ecstasy. TITLE: “Poland, December 1942.” ANKA and GERIK WALCZACK play with their son. They throw snow balls at each other. Smile. Laugh. Their family could not be more perfect.
EXT. ROAD - DAY – CONTINUOUS A BLACK SS MERCEDES tears along a dirt road. A RED NAZI FLAG on the front of the car flutters in the wind. The car stops abruptly in the Walczack’s driveway. Anka and Gerik stand straight as arrows. The joyful playing ceases. They solemnly stare at the SS Mercedes. Ignacy continues playing. Deathly silence. INT. CHILDREN’S BARRACKS – DAY Gnarled wooden floors. A dirtied window. Mud-stained curtains. Dank dungeon. Darkness. Ignacy sleeps on the hard floor. He slowly awakens. Adjusts the weathered STAR OF DAVID on his chest. Other CHILDREN stir. He leaves the barracks. EXT. MAJDANEK CAMP – CONTINUOUS GERMAN GUARDS patrol the grounds. Some walk GERMAN SHEPHERDS. Smell of dead flesh in the air. Observation towers litter the camp. Ignacy passes GROUPS of GAUNT MEN and WOMEN. Walking corpses. Ignacy remains joyful. He enters his father’s barracks. INT. MEN’S BARRACKS – CONTINUOUS Gerik is PRAYING at the side of his bed. His hands tightly squeezed together. Conjuring false hope. Ignacy pulls on his father’s sleeve. IGNACY When can we go home, papa? Gerik takes a moment to respond. He looks around the barracks, thinking of something to say. His eyes drift towards the window as he stares outside. GERIK (improvising) We will go home when winter comes.
60 | snow
IGNACY When it snows? Gerik nods. Looks to the right at ALEKSY, mid-50s, bearded, haggardly, sleeping on a bed. GERIK Can you do something for me, son? IGNACY Sure.
GERIK I want you to make a friend. Affter losing your moth—
Gerik fights back tears. He points to the sleeping Aleksy.
GERIK (CONT’D) With Aleksy, I have someone to talk to. I used to have your mother. But she’s still with us. Here.
Gerik places his hand on Ignacy’s heart. Ignacy smiles. IGNACY Things are lonely in the barracks at night. I will try and make a friend, papa. GERIK (satisfied) Good. IGNACY Should I pray with my friend for snow? GERIK That’s a great idea! Pray with him for snow, and it will come faster. alex ziff | 61
IGNACY I will. GERIK Now go Ignacy. You can’t be late for your shift at the factory. IGNACY Love you. Gerik and Ignacy hug. Ignacy leaves the barracks. He walks by a WOMAN who is THROWN into the mud and KICKED in the ribs as a GUARD shouts at her. INT. WEAPONS FACTORY – DAY Bullet casings, steel, and weapon parts litter the factory. A GROUP of CHILDREN, including Ignacy and JANEK, sit at a table and polish casings. Ignacy STARES up at the sky through a window. Janek sits besides Ignacy. He is eleven years-old, wise, resourceful, and all too mature for his age. JANEK What are you staring at? IGNACY Do you think it’s going to snow today? The children look up from their work at Ignacy. Shock ridden faces. JANEK (sotto voce) We’re not supposed to talk. Be quiet. IGNACY But—
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JANEK (sarcastic) Why don’t you ask a guard if you’re so interested? IGNACY Okay. Ignacy walks over to a SURLY GUARD. He is a chilling figure to be sure. He totes an automatic rifle and a face that can intimidate the most hardened criminal. Janek realizes his sarcasm was misinterpreted. He listens in. IGNACY Hello. Do you think it will snow today? The guard pauses for a moment, surprised to see the boy by his knees. GUARD Not today little boy. Tomorrow. Janek rushes over. JANEK I apologize for my friend. We will get back to work right away. The guard nods. Janek grabs Ignacy’s wrist, pulling him back to their station. JANEK Why did you ask him about snow? IGNACY You told me to-JANEK I didn’t actually mean to do it. IGNACY alex ziff | 63
I turn six real soon. I know what I’m doing. JANEK What did he say? IGNACY (exuberant) That it would snow tomorrow! Janek pauses for a moment. Fear in his eyes. JANEK (shaken) Not again. Janek and Ignacy return to their seats. Back to work. Ignacy polishes bullet casings at the speed of light. CLINKING of casings piling up in a hefty stack. The rest of the children have half as many. A MENACING GUARD walks over to the work station. He creeps behind the boys and looks over their shoulders, monitoring their productivity. He stops behind A BOY and STICKS OUT his hand. The boy TREMBLES as he hands the guard his casings. The guard counts them, places them back on the table. WHACK. The boy’s head whips forward. The other children look down.
GUARD If any of you Poles have less than 10 finished, you will get a beating!
Janek looks down at his pile. Four. His foot taps rapidly. He looks from side to side. Panic sets in. The guard slowly walks down the row, looking over the shoulders of each boy. Ignacy sees Janek’s lowly stack. He grabs a handful of his own casings and SLIDES them into Janek’s pile.
64 | snow
The guard walks behind Janek and looks at his pile. He pats Janek on the head. Guard finishes patrolling the station and walks away. JANEK Thanks. I appreciate it. IGNACY I told you I know what I’m doing. JANEK I guess you’re right. I’m Janek. IGNACY I’m Ignacy. Janek and Ignacy exchange smiles. The children continue polishing casings. INT. CHILDREN’S BARRACKS – DAY Ignacy walks into the barracks, to find Janek peering through a window. He stares at TWO GERMAN GUARDS talking to one another. IGNACY What you looking at? JANEK (startled) Nothing. Janek pulls curtains of window shut. JANEK (CONT’D) You have a lot of guts for what you did today, you know that? IGNACY Yeah, I guess so. Just thought you needed help.
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Ignacy and Janek exchange smiles. Ignacy opens curtains and stares at sky through window. JANEK Why d’you care so much about the snow, anyway? IGNACY You don’t like it?! JANEK I’ve been here too long to care about it. Worry about your family. IGNACY Well you may not be, but I’m excited for this winter. JANEK Listen, if you want to go home, you have to be smart. You understand? IGNACY Yeah. JANEK Let me show you what I mean. Janek removes two floor boards and gestures for Ignacy to go in the opening. Ignacy does and Janek follows. INT. JANEK’S HIDEOUT – DAY Hideout is very claustrophobic. Fit for two. Rays of light seep through cracks in floorboards above. JANEK This is my secret hideout. I made it last year before the first snowfall.
66 | snow
IGNACY Wow! This is awesome!
JANEK (laughing) It’s the place I come to when I want to feel safe. I want you to share it with me. IGNACY Really? JANEK Sure. IGNACY Thanks. JANEK Can you sleep here tonight? I’d have some company for a change. IGNACY Okay...I’d be glad to. Ignacy and Janek shake hands. Ignacy leaves hideout. Runs to tell his father about his new friend. INT. MEN’S BARRACKS – NIGHT Ignacy sees Gerik talking with his friend, Aleksy. Ignacy happily interrupts. IGNACY Papa! I made a friend today! GERIK That’s fantastic Ignacy! IGNACY We are going to pray for snow tonight. We will be home in no time! GERIK
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I’m very proud of you. Your mother would be too. Gerik kisses Ignacy’s forehead. GERIK (CONT’D) Now get some rest. IGNACY Goodnight papa. Ignacy smiles and leaves the barracks. He walks back to the children’s barracks, and passes a GROUP OF GERMAN GUARDS. They huddle near his father’s barrack and speak in code. They SMILE. Ignacy enters children’s barracks. He removes floor boards and goes into hideout. INT. JANEK’S HIDEOUT – NIGHT IGNACY Can I ask you something? JANEK What? IGNACY Can you pray with me? JANEK Pray? IGNACY Yes. For snow tomorrow. JANEK No. IGNACY Why not? JANEK I won’t pray with you.
68 | snow
IGNACY But I thought we were friends. JANEK We are. But I’m not praying with you for snow. I never will. Ignacy starts crying. Janek remains stoic. IGNACY Now it’s never going to snow! An eerie silence fills the air. Ignacy tries holding in his tearful sniffles to no avail. IGNACY (CONT’D) If you won’t help me, I will do it myself. (singing) Sh’ma, Yisrael, Adonai, Eloheinu, Adonai, Echad. JANEK The last time I saw my parents was in the snow. IGNACY What? JANEK Never mind. Let’s go to bed. The boys fall asleep beside one another. Ignacy’s head rests on Janek’s shoulder. INT. JANEK’S HIDEOUT – DAY Ignacy wakes up and rubs his eyes. It is so cold that he can see his breath. He hops up, climbs out of the hideout and into the children’s barracks. No one is there. Ignacy runs outside. EXT. MAJDANEK CAMP - DAY – CONTINUOUS alex ziff | 69
It is SNOWING. The flakes slowly fall from the sky. They glisten like shining gray pearls. IGNACY It worked! YAY! Ignacy runs to the men’s barracks. INT. MEN’S BARRACKS – CONTINUOUS Ignacy enters the barracks. No one is inside. IGNACY Papa! Papa! Papa? Ignacy is confused. Concerned. He leaves the barracks. He runs back to the children’s barracks and crawls down to Janek’s hideout. Janek rouses from his sleep. INT. JANEK’S HIDEOUT - CONTINUOUS IGNACY Janek! Janek wake up! My prayer worked! It’s snowing! JANEK Now? IGNACY Yes! We are going home! Janek begins hysterically crying. JANEK No. No no no. IGNACY What’s wrong? JANEK Where is your father? IGNACY
70 | snow
I can’t find him. I looked but he wasn’t there. JANEK They are all in the snow. IGNACY What? JANEK I can’t explain. IGNACY I’m going outside. Come when you’re ready. Ignacy leaves the hideout and the children’s barracks. He runs outside. EXT. MAJDANEK CAMP – DAY Ignacy stands alone in the center of the camp, trying to catch SNOWFLAKES. He is going home. Ignacy CATCHES a flake on his snow. He SPITS it out. Tears CHIMNEY sullies the cool air the men, women, and children
tongue. He is confused. It is not stream down his face. A CREMATORIUM’S with the ASHES of Ignacy’s family and of the camp. FADE TO BLACK.
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Bennett Kissel Chromogenic print
Aaron Horowitz Contact print
TEMPLES by LAURA JOK
The last thing I said to my father was to take two aspirin and call me in the morning. He just said, “Two?” but not like he was asking about the number of pills. More like he was trying to remember if that was the one that came before three. My father the mathematician. That was last night. The last time my father woke me up in the middle of the night, I was four years old. I don’t remember actually hearing him, but in my dream, it must have scared me, because I woke up feeling breathless as if I was the one who had just screamed to wake the dead— or at least the whole house. To describe it in retrospect, I would later coin the term “secondhand sleep apnea,” which really pissed off my mother—who said something about the use to which I was putting my education, which they were, after all, paying for. That night, when I was four, my mother came into my room and told me that my daddy, a man who did a lot of really smart math, sometimes got really bad headaches in his sleep. She explained it to me in a way that made it sound as if the two things were connected. His brilliant brain couldn’t fit inside the confines of their ordinary skull cavity. His thoughts were too great and too big for his head. Even then, I dimly understood that this didn’t really make sense, but it still filled me with a profound respect for the man. I wanted to both sit on his knee and look inside his head. I too longed for the headaches of greatness.
When I questioned what kind of bad guys pluses and minuses could really be in the storylines of nightmares, my mother just told me to go back to sleep; everything was alright; my father had just had a bad dream. Even now, I still can’t understand what about theorems and proofs could have given my father so much pain and made him lose so much sleep. I don’t know if the tension migraines went away after he stopped working or not. I didn’t ask him. When my father called last night, I knew he either wanted to talk about how he was dying or how he was disappointed in me. He had been both for years now. My mother, sister, and me silently started wearing earplugs to bed. It was a habit I kept, later prompting my med school roommate to inquire if I really found the sounds of his nocturnal activities that repellent. I told him the story. I regretted it. After that, whenever I outperformed him on an exam, he would clap his hands over his forehead, screw up his face in a sort of scholarly constipation, and cry, “Augh, so smart! It hurts, oh it hurts!” That wasn’t how I felt though. How I felt was more like my medical school roommate’s response when I first told him about my father’s headaches. “Well. Never had that happen to me before,” he had said. “I must be a moron.” The cadaver class was held in a locked room down a long hallway, which was also locked. This was a precaution so that no one would walk in accidently. God forbid some luckless French Revolution PhD should stumble in and get a real good look at a real dead body. It was fair, though, I guess. It was enough when you knew exactly what you were getting yourself into. The college had a limited number of cadavers, so they required that each pair of firstyear students dissect under teaching assistant supervision. The morning after my father called, I unlocked the door to the cadaver lab and discovered, to my relief, that years after my own first-year anatomy class, I was still used to the smell. The lights were surgically bright but green-tinged. This, like the smell, was the same as I remembered it. I suspected they made the lighting this way so that no one would notice that the cadavers’ skin was a little blue. The students smiled too much and stood with their hands clasped behind their backs when they received instructions, except for one thin girl with glasses who kept pulling at her earlobe, stretching the flesh open around the hole for her earring. It turned my stomach. I was assigned to supervise two young men. I knew I had my work cut out for me when I witnessed them poking at their cadaver like they were trying to wake him from a nap—he, a Caucasian male who had retained the pursed lips of a concert violinist—and I
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overhead them agree to christen him “Ricco.” I reminded them to treat the cadavers with dignity, not that I had much hope of that. The one with the mussed reddish hair and the drumming fingers looked like the type society taught surgery to keep him from making some less constructive use of his enthusiasm for gory video games. His mouth was open and a little rounded the whole time, like he was barely restraining himself from mouthing, Awesome… “Why do they have socks on their hands and feet?” he asked me. I told him I didn’t know. “To keep them extra moist, I bet.” I instructed them to make an incision in the chest cavity. “How do you mean… ‘cavity?’” said the other boy. He had dark hair and some kind of accent. He kept asking me how did I mean this and how did I mean that. I knew he had to be putting me on; he couldn’t have gotten this far in his education without some knowledge of the English words for basic parts of the anatomy. I wondered if the accent was even genuine. Maybe it was; I don’t know. It was a warm fall day outside. The smell of the bodies themselves was worse than usual, but it was the embalming fluid that would really make you sick. It stuck in your nostrils for a long time after you had washed it out of your hair. I guess I couldn’t blame him the quiet boy with the scalpel in his hand for pretending to be someone foreign to himself, and if it helped, trying to rename every familiar thing we cut open. I understood what he was asking, but I never knew what to say to it. How do you mean… heart? How else could I mean that. I could hear my cell phone vibrating in my coat pocket on the opposite sign of the room. I told the boy with reddish hair that he could apply less pressure with the scalpel. While he was working on that, his friend discovered the tray with the genitals in it. “Put that back where you found it. We aren’t going to dissect the reproductive organs for several classes now.” I prayed the boy wouldn’t ask me to explain how I meant by this. “Why are they in a box?” the redhead had to ask. “We examine the genitals detached from the cadaver to show respect for the dead.” “But they had to get there somehow, right? Can’t have been anything respectful about that—” “Enough,” I said. The gallows humor didn’t fool me. Sure enough, he didn’t take long to show his first signs of squeamishness. He dropped the swagger as soon as we opened the chest, and the insides did not look exactly like what he had been taught to expect.
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“What’s…?” He could barely say it. He pointed. I explained, “That’s just the lungs.” “By the stomach?” “That happens sometimes. The organs can move around postmortem as the body deteriorates. It’s normal. They’re just not where they’re supposed to be.” When I retrieved my phone after class, I had three missed calls. I clamped it shut, and when I opened it again, they were gone, replaced by the screen’s bland background of a morning sky. The quiet boy who may or may not have an accent was still there when I left. He arranged metal instruments in straight lines on square trays, all the sharp edges pointing away from him. His elbow knocked the table and one blade turned slightly crooked. Frowning and murmuring to himself, he put it back. I told him it was time to go. “Yes it is.” He said this like I had told him something too obvious. Last night on the phone, my father called from hospice to tell me that he was dying. I didn’t say anything, because I couldn’t say, Yes you are. I couldn’t say, I know. My sister knew that I knew that there was only one reason why she would be calling me. We only had one thing in common. What she had to tell me could only be something I didn’t want to know. “I know you think you know why I’ve been calling.” I could hear her shouting through the screen door from the other room. I turned up the volume of the TV commercial that promised to make my headaches go away until it was so loud, I could practically feel the words popping between my eyes. “I know you think you know, but you’re wrong.” Side effects included light sensitivity, which essentially meant “headache.” It could at least cause one. I was confused. “Hear me out, Jason. Come over here. I don’t want to have to yell this—“ I flipped through the channels. Why were so many soap operas about hospitals? “Can you please just let me in so we can talk about this, please? I made you veal parmesan. Let me in, I can warm it up, we can eat and talk.” She worked as a cook, so she had lots of experience with this. It was an old trick of hers: Trojan veal. It forced you to decline not just her but her offer to feed you. Impossible not to imagine her flattening cutlets with a rolling pin, cutting the raw meat into thin pieces with that fixed knowing expression, lips tight, thinking of you the whole time, no doubt. “I’m coming in.” There was a hollow banging noise. Something sloshed wetly to the
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floor. I knew she had tried to push whatever it was—the pan, the dish, the tray—through the threshold before her. “Sugar!” she cried ferociously. My sister wouldn’t swear. She used substitutes. “Jason! Jason, I mean it. Fine—fine. I didn’t want to have to say it like this, but if you won’t—” She waited for me to come to the door. I did not. She waited longer. “Dad isn’t…” She couldn’t say the word, so she paused to leave room for it. I still knew what she meant. “He’s alive. That’s not what I was calling about.” She hadn’t spilled all of the pasta. There were only a few ropes of it coiled on the toes of her shoes. She whispered: “Could you please let me in?” “What is it then?” “Just open the door and then we’ll…” “What was it you wanted to talk about?” “I know you two don’t talk anymore—” I didn’t correct her. It didn’t seem worth mentioning that every now and then, he called me because he had forgotten the last time he had decided to never speak to me again. “He wants to see you.” “I don’t want to see him.” I didn’t add the “like that.” I knew my sister would be much more likely to leave if I disgusted her. She just sighed. “Jason…” I explained to her that our father could tell me just as easily over the phone that I was wasting my life in a thankless profession. Meat-packing, he called it. That I could only make my living taking it upon myself to learn everything that was defective about the human body because I could not make anything. I couldn’t build theories or bridges; I couldn’t make dinner. I wasn’t a creator. I was a fixer. My sister told me to go easy on him; he was sick and confused. “You misunderstand each other,” my sister said. “You’re too alike.” “I understand him perfectly.” “You try too hard to please him. He’s never liked that. You know that. Are you going to let me in or not?” Balancing the casserole dish on her hip, she stood with enough space between us that she had to stretch her entire arm to hand me the frayed manila folder. I reached for it. She didn’t let go. “Maybe we should eat first. Then talk about this after.” “No. Tell me what’s going on.”
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“I wanted to ask you something. I know it’s been awhile, but…” She straightened the lid on the dish as she said, “would you sing at the funeral?” She looked up, started talking faster. “I know it would mean a lot to him.” All I could think was that he wouldn’t know if I sang one way or the other. At his funeral, he would be dead. I sat down hard on the stairs and touched my forehead. “I picked up the sheet music from the church: some traditional hymns. They have a whole section for grief.” “I haven’t sang or played since I started med school.” “I know.” “He hates that.” “I know: he always did.” “Why are you asking me this now?” “Jason…” “He’s not dead yet.” “You need time to prepare.” I hated her for wrapping her arms around me so that the folder of music pressed against my back. I hated that it became unavoidable then: the stain of my mucus on the shoulder of her sweater. For some reason, I just couldn’t stop saying her name: “Anna, Anna, Anna…” until it clotted and congealed in my throat. After a while, it just started to sound like I know. I didn’t tell my sister that I didn’t eat meat or pasta. I hadn’t since the first time I had seen the insides of a human body. The meat part she probably should’ve been able to guess. But the spaghetti noodles: that was something that only someone who had held a handful of tendons should know. The head was the last part of the cadaver to be dissected. This was because it was the most emotional for the students. It was impossible to look at the cadaver’s face and into its brain without thinking about what kind of person he must have been. They needed to be ready for it. The atmosphere had changed visibly in the lab for my two students. They were no longer on first-name terms with the dead man, for one thing, and they had both stopped asking questions. Kevin no longer made jokes about the cadaver but around it. About my cell phone ringing in the lab, for instance, making the instruments on the trays and me jump. I had forgotten to turn it off. Kevin wanted to know who was calling that made me so jumpy. He suggested angry
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ex-wives, angry mistresses, ex-wives angry about mistresses. He then moved on to the Mafia, the Secret Service, something like that. “They’re calling to tell you your cover’s blown.” “Careful,” I said. “The skull is softer at the base of the neck.” “It’s over. Abort mission. Dead man walking.” Theo stopped what he was doing, folded his gloved hands, and looked at me. “You are going to get that?” In the tinny high-ceiled room, the phone sounded like a siren. Turning it off would take a while, holding down the power button until the light finally drained out of the screen. Answering it would be quicker. I apologized, shed my gloves, washed my hands. When I was done, it was still ringing. I picked it up and walked out of the room. “Jason?” There was only one reason left for my sister to call me. “Jason?” “Hello?” “…Jason.” While the two medical students discovered the brain for the first time without my guidance— the hemispheres, the lobes detached but touching, with neat boundaries like latitude and longitude lines—I asked my sister how it had happened. “Another stroke? An aneurysm?” “I told you.” Her voice sounded scratchy, but it could have just been a bad connection. “I told you. It was nothing like that. A heart attack. Out of nowhere. No one could’ve seen it coming—” “Was there neurological involvement?” “I don’t—” “The heart attack. Was there?” “Goddamnit, Jason, I don’t know.” I heard her begin to cry. “You needed to have been there. I wouldn’t even know what questions to ask.” “I’m so— It’s just— the headaches. You remember his headaches.” “As far as I know, it was nothing to do with that.” “Anna.” “If it was, they didn’t tell me anything about it. I’m sorry. I really am. I just don’t know what else to tell you.” We breathed at each other over the phone for a while. We said that we were sorry a lot without being specific about why. When I returned to the lab, the students had finished with the skull and moved on to
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another task. They were laying out small slices of heart—of coronary tissue—for examination under a microscope. I walked back out. Kevin and Theo both saw me, but they asked no questions. The cadavers had socks on their hands to prevent the hands from degrading further when they came in contact with the air. The skin on the fingertips was quick to decay. I had yelled at my father on the phone that night, but instead of hanging up hard like I wanted to, I had to gently press a single button: End. Cell phones. Fat fingers. He had reminded me of what I already realized: that he was dying and that he was disappointed in me. And me? I had yelled at a weak dying old man for making me believe in his medically impossible migraines. He said I would understand when I was older. I was older. No one who hadn’t taken an anatomy class would know about the cadavers’ socks. When I was a student, this detail had unsettled me more than anything else. Socks on hands: its wrongness. Gore I could imagine, anticipate. This I could not. So now it was something I could not forget. I sat in the medical library and watched students diagramming the textbook body with confidence, tracing capillaries like tributaries. I sat surrounded by all those shelves of information. I just sat there, rubbing my temples, long past the time when I could have gone home.
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Cassi Saari Digital photograph
Angela Wang Digital photograph
Angela Wang Gelatin silver print
I STOLE A BOOK OF POEMS FROM MY GRANDMAâ€™S HOUSE by JOE DRUMMOND
The collection is quite slim The kind a casual reader gets Now when I read Shelley I smell perfume and cigarettes
The 2011 web edition of Northwestern's HELICON Literary Magazine