From the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
April 24, 2015
New fiction by Matt Rowan Photography by Paul Blair Gordon Chicago Literary Events Calendar April 24, 2015 | 1
THIS WEEKâ€™S CHICAG
For all events, visit [cclapce FRIDAY, APRIL 24 3pm
Kate Hannigan 57th Street Books / 1301 East 57th / Free semcoop.com
The local author launches The Detective's Assistant, her new Civil War-era novel for young people. 7pm
Carol Anshaw Gerber Hart Library / 6500 North Clark / Free gerberhart.org
Discussing her 2012 novel, Carry the One. 7:30pm Peter Slevin Women & Children First / 5233 North Clark / Free womanandchildrenfirst.com
The journalist and Medill professor talks about his new biography: Michelle Obama: A Life.
SATURDAY, APRIL 25 2pm
Elizabeth Berg Barnes & Noble / 55 Old Orchard Center / Free barnesandnoble.com
The author discusses her new historical novel, The Dream Lover, based on the French writer George Sand. 2pm
Poetry off the Shelf Harold Washington Library / 400 South State / Free chipublib.org
Dana Gioia, the internationally acclaimed poet, critic, and librettist and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, reads selections of his work, including poems from his latest collection, Pity the Beautiful. 2 | CCLaP Weekender
GO LITERARY EVENTS
Paper Machete The Green Mill / 4802 N. Broadway / Free, 21+ thepapermacheteshow.com
A “live magazine” covering pop culture, current events, and American manners—part spoken-word show, part vaudeville review—featuring comedians, journalists, storytellers, and musical guests. Hosted by Christopher Piatt. 3pm
David Lat The Seminary Co-op Bookstores / 5751 South Woodlawn / Free semcoop.com
Chicago Kent College of Law professor William Birdthistle interviews Lat about his new novel, Supreme Ambition. 7pm
Tiny Hat Time Uptown Underground / 4707 North Broadway / Free, 21+ tinyhattime.com
At Tiny Hat Time: Selected artists are given a word and create a tiny hat sculpture. Storytellers are shown the hat and create a story. The stories are read at our next show and the new tiny hat sculpture is revealed. 8pm
Blackout Diaries High Hat Club / 1920 East Irving Park / $10, 21+ blackoutdiaries.info
A comedy show about drinking stories, a “critic’s pick” at Red Eye, MetroMix, and Time Out Chicago. Comedians share the mic with “regular” people, such as cops, firefighters, and teachers, all recounting real-life tales about getting wasted. Hosted by Sean Flannery.
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SUNDAY, APRIL 26 10am
Sunday Morning Stories Donny's Skybox Studio Theatre / 1608 North Wells / Free
We performers are pre-booked. We feature novice as well as seasoned storytellers. On or off paper. 4pm
Rickipedia: Scott Saul The Seminary Co-op Bookstores / 5751 South Woodlawn / Free semcoop.com
Rick Perlstein talks to Scott Saul, the author of the new biography Becoming Richard Pryor. 7pm
Uptown Poetry Slam The Green Mill / 4802 N. Broadway / $6, 21+ greenmilljazz.com
Featuring open mike, special guests, and end-of-the-night competition. 7pm
Asylum Le Fleur de Lis / 301 E. 43rd / $10 lefleurdelischicago.com
A weekly poetry showcase with live accompaniment by the band Verzatile.
MONDAY, APRIL 27 8:30pm Kafein Espresso Bar Kafein Espresso Bar / 1621 Chicago Ave., Evanston kafeincoffee.com
Open mic with hosts Chris and Kirill.
TUESDAY, APRIL 2 6pm
The Moth Martyrs' / 3855 North Lincoln / 21+ themoth.org
A limited number of pre-sale tickets will be available for $16 /$8 tickets at the door (All tickets guarantee admission only and not necessarily seating) 4 | CCLaP Weekender
Deirdre and Kevin Cunningham The Seminary Co-op Bookstores / 5751 South Woodlawn / Free semcoop.com
The married couple discuss their respective books, From Limited to Limitless and Six Principles of Manhood. 6:30pm God, Sex, and Death Variety Hour The Hideout / 1354 West Wabansia / Free
Storytelling, readings, comedy, sketch, trivia, interviews, Q&A, short films, music and more...all themed on the subjects of GOD, SEX and DEATH!!!
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29 7:30pm An Evening of Poetry Women & Children First / 5233 North Clark / Free womanandchildrenfirst.com
Local poets Natania Rosenfeld, Aviya Kushner, and Dina Elenbogen discuss Judaism and identity. 9pm
In One Ear Heartland Cafe / 7000 N Glenwood https://www.facebook.com/pages/In-One-Ear/210844945622380
Chicago's 3rd longest-running open-mic show, hosted by Pete Wolf and Billy Tuggle.
THURSDAY, APRIL 30 7pm
Stoop Style Stories Rosa's Lounge / 3420 West Armitage / Free
Stoop-Style Stories Live will take place the last Thursday of the month at Rosa's Lounge in Humboldt Park. Podcast dates are TBD and TBA. =) Stay tuned!
To submit your own literary event, or to correct the information on anything you see here, please drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org
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“r_130314081_kurt_a,” by Mitch Waxman [flickr.com/photos/mitchwaxman/]. Used under the terms of his Creative Commons license.
EVERYTHIN INTO ITS RI 6 | CCLaP Weekender
My friend, Penny, phoned and asked whether we’d go to the rally, my family and me. I told her I wasn’t sure. And in fact, I wasn’t. I knew that Burton wanted to cook again—meaty foods, like steak or ribs.
NG FITTING IGHT PLACE BY MATT ROWAN April 24, 2015 | 7
“Fire up the grill,” he said about what he was going to do. He encouraged me to go get the cauliflower and so I did. I went to the grocer and I picked some up, along with a few other items. The cashier had been friendly, didn’t even ask about my purchases. I liked to be left alone and not subject to inquiry when it wasn’t necessary. Among a few other unnoteworthy items, I was buying cauliflower as a delicious side for the meal we’d eat that evening. Nothing more needed to be discussed. She probed, instead, about my day, about the rally, and whether I was going. I said we might, my husband and kids and I. I wasn’t sure, much like I’d earlier told Penny. She said she was going and implied it would be good if I went too, with the family. She didn’t say it like she was trying to scare me. Still, I had to be getting home. Driving home from the grocer, I observed that the neighborhood seemed flatter than usual. People were out in large numbers and appeared mostly able to stand with perfectly erect posture, but their grass looked lower and their houses, already single-floor, ranch-style dwellings, looked even more stunted. Gravity hadn’t increased, not that it could to my knowledge—which where gravity’s mystery is concerned, my knowledge is limited as is most people’s. No one had come on the Announcement TV to indicate that gravity could increase, no one who claimed to be trustworthy or an “expert.” Granted, I didn’t trust those folks who claimed their trustworthiness or expertise—but with little else as alternative— Anyway, no one appeared to discuss the matter on the Announcement TV. I was pretty sure it was something illusory to my eye, something that wasn’t real—though my eyes portrayed it as real to my mind. I drove carefully, as always. No more accidents, not after we’d been through so much with Burton. Burton was a bit accident-prone, particularly while driving. It had been the cause of some trouble. Burton wasn’t a dunderhead exactly, but he gave you cause to worry in general—lots of cause. So I was surprised when coming down the street that we lived on, I spotted him wandering out in front of my home and moving directly into my path, holding a grill fork with a single steak dangling from it. The girls stood back from their father in the street, as we instructed. They were on the lawn and out of the way of danger. Guster too, who was on the lawn but barking fiercely at Burton or in Burton’s direction. I avoided hitting Burton and pulled the car into the driveway and parked, and got out and ran to meet him, to help him. He was waving the steak so that grease splattered on his face and his clothing. “Burton,” I said. “What is this? What are you doing? Why are you doing it?” He lowered his grill fork. The steak slid off and fell to the asphalt pavement. I lowered my stalk of cauliflower, realizing I was holding it. “There was an announcement on the Announcement TV. They said don’t 8 | CCLaP Weekender
be surprised if your water stops coming out of the faucet for no reason. It could happen. They were sure it could happen. They said, ‘Sure, it could.’ When the expert was consulted, he said the exact same. ‘Sure, it could stop.’ But I guess I got a little carried away—you know, emotionally.” The girls were hopping now, pretending to be bunnies in the grass. I gently reminded them not to pull up the lawn and pretend to munch on it as though they fed on grass. Guster was buzzing around them, chasing and jumping at the grass they threw into the air after they pretended to eat it. I glared at them, and finally, they stopped disobeying. It was nice that we had Guster, the family pitbull. It had been hard to get a dog permit, but we got one—so Guster was all of a sudden one day with us, as if by magic. We loved him. We knew he’d protect the twins, Sarah Dee and Shelly. We were needful of a good protector of children and lover of us all. It was a beautiful pairing, Guster and our family. It was getting close to rally time. We saw Mr. and Mrs. Shields climbing out the door and getting into their white sedan. Mr. Shields seemed disappointed about something, although that was common of his expression. Mrs. Shields noticed Burton’s steak and said it seemed like a waste, but maybe it could be salvaged, and would Burton please pick it up in that event? In the event that it could be dusted of whatever debris and possibly still eaten. She didn’t want us to leave it to the animals, a perfectly good steak. She waved to us as she got into their sedan, Mr. Shields waiting in the driver’s seat. Mrs. Shields was saying, “See you at the rally.” Then she closed her door. “I feel like there have been more and more of those,” I said to Burton. “I need a break from all the rallies. We’re agreed, right? We aren’t going?” Burton looked away from me. “Yeah, I’ve about had it too. I do worry we’ll miss something important. Lots gets decided. A part of me doesn’t want to be excluded from the decision-making process. I get anxious about that.” “The most important stuff has already been decided,” I reassured him. “Plus, all they ever do is announce at those things. Have you ever once raised your hand to vote on anything? I know I haven’t.” Burton stooped to pick up his steak, but I shook my head. “Leave it,” I said. We gathered up the girls and Guster and headed back inside, just as everyone else in the neighborhood seemed to be exiting their own homes and heading toward the rally. Dinner that night was steak and cauliflower salad. I shared my steak with Burton since his was still in the street. There was plenty of cauliflower salad to go around. I had to think about why we ate the stuff. A strange and sad plant, cauliflower. Too white, too suggestive of ill health in its whiteness. I didn’t make it a topic of conversation at the dinner table though. The girls ate April 24, 2015 | 9
happily and mostly without making a mess of the area around them. Guster would have taken care of anything they let spill though. He waited hopefully between their chairs. And dinner was the highlight of the evening. In bed that night, we heard the crowds of neighbors returning to their homes. I imagined I heard Mrs. Shields stomp over to the steak we left on the street, shaking her head violently. Burton grumbled something dreamily in his very evident state of unconsciousness. Dinner had been good. I remember I didn’t dream that night, unless my imagining Mrs. Shields running out to the steak in the street had, in fact, been a dream. The next morning, there was a major announcement on the Announcement TV. A gray picture screen said the following: At last night’s rally, you folks deliberated. You gave the whole thing a lot of thought. Facts are facts. Things are fine. Let things stay that way, you’ve all agreed. Let things stay the way they were, always have been. No need for change. Change would probably make things different. So this decision has been made. Follow through will be doing what is necessary to keep things the same. We thank you for your attention during this broadcast. “Damn,” Burton said, rubbing his chin. “I knew we should have gone to that rally.” “I’m not so sure. I mean, maybe it’s harder to shock people these days, but I really don’t see what this changes or why there was a rally to decide it,” I said. I was confident all we needed to do was ignore the process altogether. I could live and function in the world in one sense, but remain totally apart from this—its single, most universal aspect—all through sheer and wanton ignorance. My family could be free of it as well. We would continue to avoid the rallies, which from what our neighbors were saying had gotten increasingly severe in ways they refused to explain. They didn’t owe it to us, they said. If we wanted to know, they said we could attend the rallies ourselves. Burton told me of a strange phenomenon he observed during his workday downtown. There were men and women on the streets who walked along,
At last night’s rally, you folks deliberated. You gave the whole thing a lot of thought. Facts are facts. Things are fine.
10 | CCLaP Weekender
smiling noticeably, but with their shoulder—usually their right, but evidently dictated by whichever belonged to the dominant hand—aimed ahead of the rest of their person, as though they meant to advertise themselves through their unusual manner of walking. He said it was believed this was the work of a competing advertising firm that won a big government contract and was hiring models and other attractive types to wander the streets by day, looking happy and convincing everyone else around them to be happy too. At least, that was the psychological premise guiding their efforts. I was cleaning out my car one afternoon, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught Mrs. Shields in her ratty floral-patterned dress, which she wore seemingly every other day and of which she seemed inordinately proud. She was looking at me disapprovingly. She clearly had something on her mind. Guster was barking toward her, probably at her, but possibly at something else. I let him continue. I felt myself, in some small way, desire a confrontation, to provoke a response from Mrs. Shields. It was the only way I’d know for sure what was going on inside her head. And I wanted to be sure. “Couldn’t you silence the dog? Make him go inside? Get him to ignore me?” she finally said, as though she were an actor trying to remember her lines. “It’s hard to ignore you when you’re standing there staring. I know I can’t,” I said. She squinted at me angrily as my words registered. There was a strong sense of distrust about her. “You could deign to go to a rally once in awhile, you know. Not good for the children, what you’re teaching them,” she said. “We’ll be fine,” I said, standing up and crossing my arms. Mrs. Shields finally backed down, her shoulders slinking somewhat as she turned toward her home. Just before she opened her door and went inside, she stopped. She looked back at me and said, “That steak was still good, you know.” That night, there was another announcement on the Announcement TV. They’d become increasingly commonplace over the past several weeks, but this one proved especially important. In keeping with several of the most recent rallies’ themes, it was unveiled at yesterday’s rally that a new arm of government will be established—only a small change effected in the hope of stemming the tide of more significant changes that have previously occurred or are on the cusp of occurring. The new governmental agency is the Bureau of Everything Fitting Into Its Rightful Place. It operates, very apparently, by the notion that everything already has a “right place,” and the bureau’s job will be to see to it that that is where said person/thing ends up. “All right, that’s it. I’m taking the girls to the next rally. You don’t have to come, Myrna. But I’m taking them. It’ll be good. We’ll have familial April 24, 2015 | 11
representation. You’ll know through me what’s what. It’s important to be informed,” Burton said. He’d had enough. I knew that. I wasn’t blind and I wasn’t going to attempt to stop him, not after that announcement. I was a little wary of him bringing the girls, but I decided they wouldn’t understand what was going on anyway. They’d more than likely be scared by the noise of the rally. The couple of times we’d taken them over the past few years, they weren’t old enough to appreciate their surroundings. More recently, we left them at home with a sitter. But sitters were becoming increasingly scarce. Those who’d formerly been available were compelled to attend the rallies by their teenage friends—friends who treated it like a high school sporting event and who would often get into trouble afterward, like what follows a high school sporting event. “I sort of like this idea of things never changing. Difficult to implement? Yes. But it’s a government program I can really get behind,” Burton said, letting his thoughts take him places, unaware that he was talking to himself. Completing his thought, he said, “It makes me wistful.” I decided not to bring what he said to his attention. I was focused on the fact that the girls were soon going to be attending the rallies and I didn’t know how I felt about that. Burton came home a few weeks later with a story of a man he’d seen on the street. The man was a street person. He kept talking of the storm that was coming, which was a really cliché metaphor and pretty obvious, considering all the changes that had already been agreed upon at the rallies. The man was panhandling, naturally. Everything was normal, traditional of these unpleasant but culturally commonplace circumstances, except that a van drove up just as Burton was about to pass and two men with large, white helmets and black jumpsuits with B.o.E.F.i.i.R.P written across their chests leaped from the vehicle, trundled over to the man, lifted him up, and took him away. Burton inquired about the men’s actions and the men gruffly said, “Rightful place.” They sped away in the van. Burton remained, literally scratching his head. Burton had gotten a brief glimpse of what was already inside the van too. Random items and not strictly human cargo: stray dogs and cats. Men and women who looked like scientists with a penchant for innovation. Various unidentifiable, new technologies. Books—just certain books. Other things that made no sense and probably directly reflected the early inefficiency of this brand new agency, like decks of cards, old car parts, hot dog vendor carts, hot dog vendors, and so on. The Bureau wouldn’t become more efficient in the weeks and months that followed. They really didn’t know what to do with all their acquired people and things. The girls quickly took a liking to the rallies, looking forward to their 12 | CCLaP Weekender
coming like any other major event that deviated from their normal routine. They fussed over what to wear, how to style their hair, even asking if they could wear makeup like so many of their friends did. I didn’t like the idea. They were still so young. Peer pressure is an awful thing to give into, especially at their age. I remembered fighting against peer pressure when I was a young girl. I fought with everything I had. I wouldn’t even allow myself to be friends with most of the other girls, just to prevent the possibility of succumbing to peer pressure. There were certain girls in school who called me, very literally, the screaming girl. They knew not to approach me. I’ve evened out a lot since then. I now have friends, but my aversion to peer pressure remains. While the girls changed significantly with each passing rally, Burton remained the same, reliable man he’d always been. He attributed his stasis to his devotion to the idea of things never changing. He’d become pretty comfortable with praising the new institution and its preservational aims. The Bureau, though, was only really good at taking people away from their daily lives and placing them someplace else. I could only imagine where. But I knew more and more people were being taken for increasingly arbitrary reasons. When the Bureau finally came for me, Burton didn’t hesitate to blame himself. “Oh dear, my lady. I really should have put my foot down about the rallies. I shouldn’t have let you not go without making an argument of it. I own a lot of this blame. It’s my fault. They should take me instead. I wish I were brave enough to tell them to take me instead. Right now, it feels possible—but when they’re here, strong-arming and powerful, I’ll wilt. I know myself too well,” he said. When The Bureau finally arrived at our front door, I remember thinking, ‘What had taken them so long? It was inevitable, wasn’t it? That they’d come for me.’ The men said, very plainly, that they were aware I attended no rallies over the course of a number of years now. If my rightful place wasn’t at a rally, then where was it? They’d see to it that it be found. In the meantime, I’d need to go with them quietly. I needed to make no fuss. No scene, please. The girls betrayed their awe. I could see it behind their trauma. They were impressed by the men from The Bureau. They loved their mother though too. I can’t imagine the conflict that was running wild inside of them. There was nothing they could do anyway. I gave myself up to the men. I gave parting kisses to my girls and Burton and then went quietly, tears rolling down my face in silence. Guster barked at the men from The Bureau, barked what almost sounded like an inquisition, something like, “What are you doing with my mom? Huh? And where to with her?” I worried he might bite the men, but thankfully he didn’t. They wouldn’t April 24, 2015 | 13
have wasted any time eliminating a dog, finding its “rightful place.” Leaving my home, I saw Mrs. Shields once again standing and staring at me from the stoop of her home, wearing that ratty dress again. She was nodding. Her nodding suggested she was involved somehow in my present situation. Whether involved or not, she visibly approved of the situation. I never did like that Mrs. Shields. We drove for what felt like hours. At times, even days. I was in the dark enclosure of the rear of the vehicle. No windows. There were other passengers, and of them, a couple were humans—like an old woman who seemed to think she was herself a witch. “I have no good place to fit,” she cackled. “Not now that they closed the lighthouse that I used to do my spells in. They said no more spells. It’s back to cider. They said I didn’t fit, not in the old lighthouse.” There was an interval in which nobody spoke. Granted, before that it had only really been the old, witchy lady who said anything. She was compelled to explain herself and so said, “I suppose it wasn’t spells I was doing there so much as residing as a squatter. I can’t do spells. Can anyone do spells?” The woman then looked to me and asked, hopefully, “Can you do spells?” I shook my head. There was little more conversation after that and I said nothing more. All I could do was let my thoughts wander. Of course, they always wandered back to the girls, to Burton, to the life I felt myself leaving behind. I kept thinking of better times and times I thought were worse times. Certainly, it had been no picnic when Guster accidentally ate most of our food while we were on that picnic. And he needed to be immediately rushed to the vet, which Burton handled pretty well, didn’t let his anxiety get the better of him. But remembering Sarah Dee and Shelly, the panicked looks on their faces—it was more than I could bear. All of a sudden, I became a spigot and threads of tears came running from my eyes. My eyes then reddened with burst capillaries just beneath the skin surrounding them, each individual capillary its own bursting heart—a hiccup of pain at the loss I was experiencing. In that moment, I was sure I’d never see any of them again. I wouldn’t be there to soothe Sarah Dee or Shelly. Everyone in the van either pretended not to or simply didn’t notice my weeping. We arrived at our ostensible destination—Dear Park, a grateful commune. I suppose I should say that this is where they put us, the people who needed a rightful place. They avoided mention of The Bureau as much as possible. The Bureau had done its job and it was now time for Dear Park to do the same. We were to be rehabilitated. That much was clear. They issued us gray uniforms, a spandex jumpsuit with lots of Velcro pockets. They were formfitting and usually unflattering to one’s physique. Mine certainly was. The man in charge was tall, but not terribly intimidating. His build 14 | CCLaP Weekender
beyond his height was modest, almost spindly. But that wasn’t what made him so unimpressive. It was that he went to great lengths to prove how loving he could be, but not in any perverted abuse-of-authority sense. He chose the more mundane abuse-of-authority sense. He thought he could teach others how to love, while we found our rightful place. It was his hubris and his pronounced lack of self-awareness that were truly to blame. Mark Sriven, that was his stupid name. He had a beard like Abraham Lincoln and a vaguely, academically effeminate bedside manner. He wore sweaters and corduroy pants usually. He visited me in my assigned room on the day of my arrival. It was entirely white, cauliflower white. I hated it. I suppose Sriven didn’t stand much of a chance of making a good first impression—but all the same, he made a truly terrible first impression. “Mrs. Gretelson, welcome to Dear Park,” he said, and even that sounded somehow condescending. He read my full name, “Myrna Gretelson. May I call you Myrna?” I said go ahead, fine, whatever. I wasn’t ready or interested in dealing with my situation just then. I hadn’t decided how severe my situation was yet either. It seemed innocuous enough. Plus, I was looking for someone to vent my frustration on and Sriven was as good as anybody I yet encountered. I decided to treat him coldly. Certainly, he shouldn’t have expected any more from me or of anyone placed in Dear Park for that matter. “You seem like a lovely person, Myrna. What we’d like to do for you is find a place you belong—a rightful place, a warm and a loving place. A community.” “I had that. You took me from that. I’d like to go back to that,” I said, lying on my bed and rolling away from him, toward the wall. “I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I’d like then. I’ve had a few successes recently, one of which was being promoted to head of Dear Park. That’s right, I’m the head of this facility. I’ve had almost twenty people under my guidance here successfully transition to a rightful place in society. I am really excited about the future.” He had a guitar. I hadn’t noticed it before. He hid it in the hallway and was waiting for a good moment to reveal that he could play to me. “I’d like to sing you a little song.” “I’d rather you didn’t.” “I think you’d enjoy it.” “I might, but I probably won’t.” “Suit yourself, but I’ll be back. If you hear me singing for another Dear Park visitor and you realize that you made a terrible mistake, just holler. I have a lot of tunes in me and I love to sing.” He started singing and strumming the April 24, 2015 | 15
guitar, but slowly stopped as it dawned on him that I wanted nothing more than for him to leave. His surprise at my reaction was excessive, as though he couldn’t imagine anyone wishing him to leave and not to sing. With great reluctance, he moved on to the next room. The next morning, after a tolerable breakfast, we were instructed to go to the auditorium. There was to be a performance accompanying our orientation. Two men climbed onstage. “Well, boy. That’s a big crowd out there, but you know what else is big, Rick?” “No, Vick. What?” “I just decided that, you know that leader whose abilities we were disagreeing about the other day?” “Yes.” “I decided that you were right and I was wrong. That leader is great. Definitely the best. I thought about it long and hard and I realized it would feel a lot better to just agree than to debate who was better, the leader I previously preferred over the leader you preferred. I decided to just get on the train and accompany you and the leader you preferred.” “That’s great, Vick!” “And so to summarize, in lieu of approving the message of the leader that I previously followed, I’m now following your preferred leader for the sake of friendship, and who knows what else? I couldn’t care less what happens to the leader I previously followed, also a thing I’ve done for the sake of friendship and getting along.” Sriven came clapping up onto the stage. “Wasn’t that a great metaphor for all sorts of things we experience in our day-to-day lives, everybody?” He paused. “The answer is yes, of course.” He went on. “I’m happy to welcome you all to Dear Park, a grateful commune. Here, we’re singly concerned with getting you the help you need as quickly as possible. There’ll be all sorts of activities for you, all sorts of ways for you to find purpose. So get ready, because we believe there’s hope for you yet.” He waited for the slow, weak patter of clapping to abate. A few in the crowd were extremely enthusiastic, and to some extent, appeared ready to celebrate Mark Sriven, a man they may have viewed as a savior of sorts. Emboldened by the response, a shit-eating grin spread wide across his face and he said, “Maybe I’ll play a couple of songs to get the day started off right.” He had his guitar at his side, something I noticed but hoped it would be possible to ignore. Mark Sriven began to sing. At Dear Park, you were required to take classes aimed at self-improvement. “Finding your place in the whole wide world” was the official title of the 16 | CCLaP Weekender
course catalog. The classes meant little to most of us, the prevailing belief being that we had a rightful place and it’d been taken from us. I soon learned just how much they disagreed with that assessment. “Myrna Gretelson, would you come on down to the observation rooms when you get a chance?” They were paging me via the public address speakers. It was beginning to feel like they were doing that a lot. It had been maybe twice before. Each time previously, they merely indicated to me that this is where the observation was done. I’d sit here and observe through the window something happening on the other side. The second time they brought me in to tell me this, I reminded them that I’d been there and received my education on the subject already. They called it an oversight and said they wouldn’t ask me to return unless they had something definitive for me to observe. So I was worried. “Mrs. Gretelson, there you are!” Mark Sriven said. “Please, sit in this observation room with me. Come, sit right here on this seat, this one.” He patted a seat next to himself. It had a reasonably comfortable-looking cushion. I sat down, but not without any trepidation. The curtain opened, and on the other side of a one-way mirror, I saw Burton and the girls. They even brought Guster, wagging his tail like everything was completely fine and no one was missing. ‘Oh what shit,’ I thought. It was torture. It was torture of some kind. Flaunting my family in front of me. But it was not entirely meant as torture. Soon, a frumpy woman was let into the room, joining my family. Then a voice came on over the loudspeaker. It was Mark Sriven, sitting beside me. He held a tiny microphone up to his mouth. He said to them, “Hey, look at that lovely family. That is one great-looking family right there. Why don’t you all take a moment to consider this idea? How about it? We have, on the one hand, a family of husband, daughters, and beautiful dog— and on the other, a lady in need of those things presumably.” Burton looked confused. He spoke louder than was necessary, “I was told I’d be able to see my wife!” “And so you will! She’s right in front of you, blushing—a blushing bride of a wife!” Mark said. I was getting ready to attack him. I didn’t know how I’d do it exactly. Maybe rip a leg off a chair? Beat him down with a leg I ripped from my chair? I was considering it. I felt the violence welling in me.
But it was not entirely meant as torture. Soon, a frumpy woman was let into the room...
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I wasn’t a violent person. I normally resorted to petty name calling in fights, at worst. I sprang at the one-way mirror instead, pounding my fists against it and struggling to catch my breath amid the fierce, panicked screams I lost all conscious control of. There was something horribly wrong here. Mark Sriven never unclenched his grin, and in fact, rarely was he not grinning. It was one of the most unseemly things about him. More unseemly than his unseemly tics was that he appeared either unaware of or apathetic to these many unseemly things about himself. Burton began looking at the mirror. “Is Myrna behind there? Myrna? Myrna, can you hear me?” The girls were disconsolate and crying their eyes out. The woman in there with them was awkwardly attempting to make them feel better. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it was probably nothing that departed from ordinary expressions, things like “keep your chin up” and “tomorrow’s another day.” Guster was barking wildly. I thought for the first time ever that he might actually bite someone. I hoped that person was Mark somehow. “We require security in observation room 210,” Mark said into his walkie-talkie. And immediately, the doors opened and my family, with Burton struggling some and still calling my name, were ushered out into the hall. Another two guards entered our room and easily restrained me, though I felt myself resisting them, making good use of the lingering energy I still had. I was experiencing too many emotions all at once. They would soon coalesce in the form of unbridled, unyielding rage. “Mrs. Gretelson, this doesn’t have to be so bad. Why can’t you see that? We wanted you to know that your family is taken care of. You saw Dora. Didn’t she look like a nice and capable mom? Isn’t it nice to think that your family is in such good hands? And what’s more, that we found a wonderful fit for Dora too? Can’t you be the slightest bit happy for the welfare of others, your family especially? I don’t understand. This wasn’t what I was hoping would happen,” Mark said. He seemed genuine. He seemed to genuinely believe that I should have reacted with gracious acceptance of the changes he effected. He was imagining, I guess, that I might pay him a compliment for his efforts. I had nothing to add to this insensible place, nothing to add that would reassure Sriven he’d done the right thing. He nodded at the guards, who proceeded to lift me and return me to my room. Before they pulled me through the door, Mark added, “Keep in mind, there’s always a place for you here, Myrna. Always.” I was out of mind. I had one objective: release on my own terms from Dear Park. I felt that they realized this and were trying harder than ever to find a place for me. Mark Sriven believed it his life’s work to find everyone a 18 | CCLaP Weekender
happy place—or someplace, anyplace. He’d convince himself that everyone was happy and that he was the giver of this happiness. I began treating Dear Park as a prison, to the best of my never-beforeincarcerated ability. I socialized more, talked to people who roamed the courtyard looking aimless and desirous of some kind of human contact, but unwilling to initiate it themselves. That was most of them, that seemed to be the kinds of people that were collected here. They needed a purpose, but more than that, they needed someone who cared. I cared. I really did care, not just for my own selfish needs and wants. I wouldn’t be like Mark. I would admire and enjoy the people I befriended for who they were, whether their immediate “value” was apparent or not. And slowly through conversations—getting to know the people, many of them women, but quite a few of them men, all of them ostensibly ablebodied—a concerted thought was formed, the consensus belief that we were being treated unfairly. We hadn’t been misplaced. We’d been discarded, doomed to a middling existence in this failure of bureaucracy. I came to this realization talking to a slight, young woman named Kate. It was nothing she said or I said. Dear Park was a beautiful place to put us. We could stay here until we died. We didn’t need any other rightful place. We were stuck here. And no matter if our families or friends or whoever else tried to get us out, nothing would change that. Not without some serious action. “I never thought of that before,” Kate said. “I always imagined they’d find somewhere for me, someplace.” How many of us had left? With more arriving daily. Most of us, like mangy dogs at the pound, would never again have our own home. “They’re happy to keep us pacified, grazing the commune’s grounds without a hope or dream in the world.” Kate became my closest confidant among the new friends I made. There were plenty of others too, a group of cohorts. They had names like Keaton, James, Vicky, Tina, and Erin—more and more all the time, faces with identities and personalities I can’t remember. We met secretly at night, which was easy because we weren’t under any sort of surveillance. We had a lot of freedom of movement within the commune, another failure of the bureaucracy. They were good at rounding us up and finding us if we escaped, but were not good at keeping close tabs on our movements while we were confined. This was true, at least, of Dear Park. At first, we talked about our lives before. Keaton said he was a farmer. He said he was a farmer in the classic subsistence-farming sense, made enough food to feed a family and himself. The Bureau arrived, said that that was pointless, and dispersed him and his family. He wasn’t taken away to Dear Park until he went back to his farm and continued farming, anticipating the April 24, 2015 | 19
return of his wife and children who’d gotten separated from him. Instead, the Bureau returned and drove him off more permanently this time. “Can’t plant any crop here, though the soil isn’t half bad,” Keaton said. Vicky was a victim of domestic abuse, a husband who was sadistic in every horrible sense you can imagine. She still had the burns and scars to prove it. She didn’t know if they took him away too—she was just glad he never made it to Dear Park. “I feel weirdly safer here,” she said. “But I don’t want to give into that feeling. It’s what I did before. I don’t want to be how I was before, feel that way again. I believe there’s a way out. I don’t want to settle for just this shit.” Tina and Erin were sisters who’d fallen into hard drug use. They prostituted themselves when they were younger, but slowly gravitated away from that to asking for money in the middle of streets and the bigger intersections of the cities and towns they lived in. Like the man Burton had seen hauled off, a van pulled up one day and the two women were told they needed to get in. I thought of Sarah Dee and Shelly. I thought of how long it had been, how cruel my being able to look but not hold them was. And again, I was made angry—for all the sisters of the world who were treated this way or that way, who were treated so terribly. There might not have been need to put on a brave face and pretend that I wasn’t wrecked by my girls’ absence, but I didn’t cry in front of my new friends and co-conspirators. I did cry, but later. I did and I felt better, but not much. James and many others—whose names, as I’ve said, I’ve forgotten— were great people, but even better foot soldiers in our growing army. They took commands well, listened to our objectives but didn’t question them, and instilled a sense among the general population that Mark Sriven was no longer in control of Dear Park. I hated that it had to be fear that was needed, required to get residents of Dear Park to understand, but I understood the value of fear too. Mark Sriven may not have used it and maybe that was his mistake. I don’t know. I don’t know what his purpose was, but because we did have a purpose, we felt it wholly reasonable to use both the carrot and the stick. We didn’t have time for niceties, not with so much yet to be reclaimed. I’ll admit it, I changed. It was the trauma of the whole experience, all its weight beginning to bear down on me. I felt as though I’d been flattened—no, that’s not it. I felt that I’d been made more dense. My density was increasing, as it had been the entire time I’d been at Dear Park—maybe even before that, before I avoided the rallies and being taken by the Bureau. Eventually, of course, I’d have nowhere inward left to go. Every sub-atomic particle of my being would be rubbing against the other in stone, solid compactness. Mark Sriven didn’t see it. He was being pushed out. Each day, we were giving new people a role in our organization. I admit that this was a bit 20 | CCLaP Weekender
misguided because we had no way of easily determining friend from mole. But it was a necessary risk and I believed in my lieutenants to find the best people they could muster. Truly though, anyone who wanted to join us was given the opportunity. And then our plans started subtly going into effect. Trash was not disposed of properly. I remember walking through the courtyard one afternoon, in mid-October I think it was. A brown, paper lunch bag carried by the wind swooped right up and was caught on my face. I pulled it away to reveal to my own eyes, almost as though I were seeing it for the first time, the mayhem that uncleaned trash brings about. Piles like artificial leaves of every color covered the grounds, yard after yard. A trash heap, a junkyard, an unsubtle protest effectively implemented. It was simple and it had been easy enough. And it was exactly what I wanted. Mark would be wise to take notice, but he didn’t. An announcement some days later came over the Dear Park loudspeakers. “Hey, all. This is Mark Sriven here. It’s come to my attention there’s been a little bit of a trash problem in Dear Park as of late. If you’d please be sure to take care of your own trash and encourage others to do the same, I’ve no doubt this issue will resolve itself naturally. Thanks.” The message wasn’t getting through. I sent someone to poison Mark’s soup. Nothing fatal, just something that would keep him awake all night, make him think that Dear Park wasn’t what he imagined it was—an extension of his own greatness. He got terribly sick. My agent was successful at that. Unfortunately, he viewed his illness as nothing more than a freak occurrence, forces that work against people without logical explanation to be expected, especially around that time of year. And true, we left him no reason to believe it could have been otherwise, there was no evidence that anyone wished him harm. I was happy with the sickness, but its outcome was lacking. The severity of my campaign against him had to be increased. I went to Kate sometime shortly after learning of Mark Sriven’s illness and casual attitude about it. James accompanied me, as he usually did. I didn’t think of it then, not consciously, but James was the face of the fear I hoped to instill in Dear Park residents. Fear has always meant power in our society and I hadn’t the time to win the hearts and minds of those skeptical or unwilling for fear of our opposition. They needed to see me as the bigger threat. It was not a coincidence that James was tall, quite tall, and physically imposing with broad shoulders and solid musculature. No one would have doubted if he told them there was a time he played football professionally. He was the force behind my menace and always helped me to persuade. He appreciated my vision, which I’d elucidated to him on many different April 24, 2015 | 21
occasions. I think that, above all else, is why he was so dutifully willing to obey me. Kate was different. She was smart, but unsure of herself. She was skilled at displaying her emotions when the need arose, but she was shy about offering her services and she started to avoid me. She said something about the atmosphere becoming too tense and that she needed space for awhile. This was after we’d become well-acquainted, as I say. I knew of her life before Dear Park and she knew of Burton and Shelly and Sarah Dee. Once, her sister had been invited to Dear Park and Kate had been invited to observe her sister in the observation room. “Look,” Mark had said. “Look at how happy she is now that she no longer has a sister. We suspected this would be the case, but the results are uncanny, immediate, wonderfully affirming. Your removal has changed her life for the better.” He meant it, somehow, as a good thing—like what he attempted to express to me. Everything was working out okay, Mark wanted us to know. Kate said her sister looked fine. She was smiling. Her sister stood at one point and asked, “What’s going on?” Mark, on the loudspeaker, replied, “Oh, nothing. You’re free to go.” And her sister left. And Kate stayed, presumably forgotten. “How can you not want what we all want?” I demanded to know. Kate was shaking slightly, but I noticed. I knew I had her on that point. She couldn’t pretend she didn’t want to see Mark suffer and see an end to Dear Park. “What do you want me to do, Myrna? I don’t really want to hurt anyone—not really. I don’t want to kill Mark.” I was calm. I smoothed my jeans with my hands, it made me feel more composed. “We need Mark to understand just how little control he has and just how despised he truly is. For that to happen, we need him to experience something jarring enough to take him out of his happy, smug, and selfsatisfied little world. His delusion is our nightmare, remember?” “So we’re not going to kill him?” “No, we need you to pretend to have died. Well, that you killed yourself. You’re the best we have at this sort of thing, the acting thing. Plus, we understand you’ve got a history of depression? I remember you saying things that suggested you might. I got James and some others to retrieve a copy of
“Look,” Mark had said. Look at how happy she is now that she no longer has a sister...”
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your files for me. I apologize, but it’s important for me to know these things, whether you feel comfortable sharing them or not.” With the looming figure of James somewhere over my right shoulder, I said, “So you agree to do this?” She did. In the morning, Mark had me brought to his office. I’m sure I looked exhausted. We’d been awake much of the night preparing. Kate would have to appear to have died by hanging. We imagined Mark would immediately become hysterical with some kind of egocentric emotion, how this tragedy was now affecting him or something. There was nothing in his character or professional background to suggest otherwise. Ideally, Kate’s suicide would put him in some kind of catatonic state. If not, a coma would have to be induced and that’s where the real planning was required. I needed the proper dosage of barbiturate, which would likewise need to be stolen from the commune’s medical ward without arousing anyone’s suspicions. If we were careful, we’d be able to inject Mark without him even realizing we were responsible. I imagined James’s arms would do the trick, coming in from a fair distance away and stabbing him. It’d be better if he were unable to speak or respond, perhaps carrying that stupid guitar of his, ready to play a song or two, completely unsuspecting. When he’d awake, I’d read him Kate’s “suicide note,” which would make it clear that no one but Mark was responsible, specifically invoking the ill-treatment she endured by being forced to watch as her sister showed no concern about her disappearance. So much of the commune was already, really, in my own control. It was necessary to make Mark understand this. Then we’d see about what to do next. “After all that I’ve done, Myrna? All the positive strides we made together?” Mark said. He didn’t seem very upset, which bothered me more than having been found out. He continued, “I suppose this was all for the best. You have a good friend in Kate. She revealed your plans. She’s worried about you. I’m sending you to the medical ward, to talk things over with some of our specialists there. I think it will help you a lot. This could get to the root of your problem, in fact.” He turned. “Kate, will you come out here? Tell Myrna how concerned you are.” Kate stepped out from behind one of the plants in Mark’s office, an especially large rubber tree that had, to that point, concealed her very well. She was entirely white. She knew. There was no stopping me. “I know I feel better. And why? Because we’re addressing the problem,” Mark said, believing the discussion was, and so too the situation, concluded. That night, he found the body of Kate hanging in her dorm room. He was smiling, as usual. He thought we’d gone through with the plan as we originally planned, but Kate was not acting. And when he realized this, James April 24, 2015 | 23
was there to catch him. I was there too. Despite Mark being catatonic, I injected him with a tranquilizer. The barbiturates weren’t easy to come by and even more difficult to safely administer. I don’t even remember why I believed a medically induced coma was necessary at all. The fact is, each of these changes to our plan had been for the best, sad as Kate’s death was. Mark was out for a great deal of time, much needed time. I picked up his guitar and James pulled his limp body by the legs along the hallway’s tile floor. Things escalated, sure—but it was controlled escalation. Organization won the day. Scatter-brained narcissism had not. Mark would soon understand. We prepared a large heap of kindling and gathered other combustible material nearby for a bonfire in the center of the courtyard. I remember watching my loyal friends piling the wood, lines long and constant like ants carrying food to their queen. Not to suggest I was anyone’s queen. Mark was in that ungainly position of leadership, of worship. We tied him up and James would carry him to the pile’s center. He had yet to awaken from unconsciousness. I wanted him to understand what we were doing, why we needed it done. We couldn’t proceed until he understood. We waited far longer than I expected, until finally his eyelids slowly flitted and began to lift, first showing only the whites of his eyes. Finally, through his faintly visible irises, Mark took the world back into focus, the world as it now was. “No, this isn’t right,” he said, realizing he’d been tied up. There was visible pain in his expression, the way the skin of his brow was clenched. He also looked as though he might have been thinking hard about something. His eyelids again closed, but tightly, as though he were attempting to imagine himself away from us. Mark gave in, and at last, said, “I’d like to be untied now.” “And we’d like to untie you, Mark. But we can’t. You’ve made a lot of people suffer unnecessarily and you’ve failed to realize it at every turn. You’ve been a bringer of all sorts of pain, delivering it upon so many who’ve been forced to reside here. We’re tired of it. We’ve had enough. It’s time we get retribution,” I said. I tried to speak in a soft, stern, and even tone. I don’t know if Mark heard me. It was hard to tell. He heard so little in general. “Wait. May I please have my guitar?” he said. “Sure,” I said. I walked to him, delicately strumming the chords myself. Then as I arrived in front of Mark, I grabbed his guitar by the neck and I swung and cracked it across Mark Sriven’s face. Something sounded like it broke, either in his face or the guitar (since I provided enough damage to both). My friends cheered. I hit him again. Then again. And another hit. And another. His face was soon reduced to reddened pulp. I was surprised by the ease at which I was willing to do him physical harm and I was able to take 24 | CCLaP Weekender
pleasure in the way the harm done to him became visible. While I hit him, someone ignited the bonfire. It erupted in flame with the immediacy of a gas-powered cook-stove. Mark, meanwhile, caught fire like a scarecrow, like his body was only straw. His movements soon mirrored the gyrations of an inflatable advertisement dummy and his body became the spitting image of the Human Torch. Before too long, nothing of his body was left except for a blackened skeleton. I handed his remains his guitar. It was amazing how the weight had lifted. My back felt light and springy, as though a spinal column that had once been entirely fused was now enlivened with the cushion of a gel-filled disk. I stretched and the release I felt up and down my torso was very similar to the way it feels to cleanly crack your knuckles. Sure, it was a little painful, but I enjoyed the sound. Others around me heard the way my body cracked and inquired whether everything was all right. It was, I told them. Everything was all right. I informed everyone that there was new leadership at Dear Park. We could earnestly be “a grateful commune.” The guards who remained, who hadn’t been terrified by our coup the evening before, vowed their allegiance. I dispatched messengers to the surrounding towns. I asked that my family be brought to Dear Park without delay—Burton, Sarah Dee, Shelly, and all— Guster too. Not their new mother though. “Tell the people there is going to be an important meeting tonight at Dear Park,” I said. C
Matt Rowan lives in Chicago, IL, with a talented female writer and two talented chihuahuas. He coedits Untoward Magazine and Horrible Satan and is fiction editor of Another Chicago Magazine. He is author of the story collection Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013). His work has appeared, or soon will, in mojo journal, Gigantic, Booth Journal, Necessary Fiction and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. A collection of his CCLaP Weekender stories, entitled Big Venerable, will be published in 2015. More at literaryequations. blogspot.com.
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Orest Godwin is ruining his long legacy three fingers of rye at a time. His lectures have become bizarre. He’s smoking indoors. And he’s begun to carry a knife. When Orest nearly burns down the campus destroying memoirs in his attic, the College has no choice but to dismiss him. After 50 years, a prestigious career is ended in a humiliating act of senility. Or so The Provost thinks. Orest decides he is no longer satisfied to be a known historian; he wants to be historic. So he cashes his pension, draws a new will, and vanishes. With the help of a failing Spanish student whom he has promised a fictional scholarship, he embarks on an adventure from northern California to the lawless badlands of Mexico to join a true rebellion. Armed with Wyatt Earp replica pistols and a case of rye, Orest and Augie trespass through a thousand miles of brothels, cantinas, jungles, diners, and motels, threatening those they meet along the way. If Orest can just elude the pimps he’s crossed, the ranchers he’s sworn vengeance upon, and kidnapping charges, he might just join his peasant uprising. At least while he can still remember where he is going. And if no one gives him a drop of mescal.
Download for free at cclapcenter.com/orestandaugust
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Paul Blair Gordon
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Location: Tucson, Arizona Paul Blair Gordon, born 1990, from Tucson, AZ. My images are a combination of conceptual, often studiobased subject matter and whatever happens to be of interest to me in the moment. Lately Iâ€™ve been focusing on portraiture. I like creating an image that can be viewed as both serious and silly, with a good amount of mystery in between. I use whatever camera is most convenient for what I need, usually digital. Right now thatâ€™s a semi-old Nikon d3100.
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paulblairgordon.com paulblairgordon.tumblr.com 50 | CCLaP Weekender
It’s 2039, and a political faction called the Lifestyle Party has risen to power under the Presidency of Deepak Chopra. The new government bans scientific innovation and introduces a set of policies focused entirely on maximizing personal happiness. So why is Grady Tenderbath so unhappy? Believing that he’s fallen short of his professional potential, he buys a personal robot muse to nurture his talent and ego, while his wife Karen, a genetic scientist, becomes more entrenched in her lab. But just when Grady seems on track to solve his career crisis, he discovers a new problem: he’s swooning for the empathetic yet artificial Ashley. Not only that, he’s distracted by haunting visions of Karen transforming into...something else. Half speculative fiction and half marriage thriller, Rise of Hypnodrome explores how future generations might draw from the realm of epigenetic engineering to eventually control their own biology. Whether human or robot, the characters in this cutting-edge science-fiction novella have one thing in common: an irrepressible desire to evolve.
Download for free at cclapcenter.com/hypnodrome
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The CCLaP Weekender is published in electronic form only, every Friday for free download at the CCLaP website [cclapcenter.com]. Copyright 2015, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. All rights revert back to artists upon publication. Editor-in-chief: Jason Pettus. Story Editor: Behnam Riahi. Layout Editor: Wyatt Robinette. Calendar Editor: Taylor Carlile. To submit your work for possible feature, or to add a calendar item, contact us at cclapcenter@ gmail.com.
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Published on Apr 24, 2015
This week's edition of the Pushcart-Prize-nominated CCLaP Weekender [cclapcenter.com/weekender] features a new original piece of fiction by...