THEI GNATIAN IGNATIAN
Cover Art and Design by Sabrina Hernandez Contour Map by Cobi Williams
The Ignatian Literary Magazine Volume 33 / 2021
062..Praying to Amelia Earhart by Gina Willner-Pardo 0100.....................Empty Tank Blues by Russell Thayer 0130.....................................Yzod by Matthew Wallace 0192..................Wanna Be Crazy Free by Jessica Levine 0244........Mother vs The Mirror Ball by Rebecca Fifield 0268.......................The Promise by Timothy Caldwell 0314...............................Riprap by Dwight R. Hilson
nonfiction 016.............................Chance Companions by Jim Ross 030.................The Spotted Cat by Callie S. Blackstone 034.............................City Limits by Julia Rae Medina 069..........................Bleed for For Me by Zoe Williams 0220.............................Yes or No by Eanlai P. Cronin 0356......................Becoming Luminous by Janet Yoder
poetry 024.....My Mind Cannot/Will Not Be Chained by Grace Sampson 034................They Are Never Cold by Ash Arumugam 038.................................Flowers by Ash Arumugam 040...........................................Pup by Juhuhn Kim 060........................Bitter Rice by Kristin Lieberman 0124..........................New Beginnings by Caitlin Ryan 0126...............Name of the Game by Rosalind Kaliden 0186...............Elegy for Auntie Ruth by Arnie Yasinski 0214.........................COVID-19 by William Luker Jr. 0218..................................Beyond by David Lewitsky 0264...................The Land of Dreamy Dreams by Carol Anderheggen 0298...............................Dorothy McS. by Gay Baines 0301.........We Owe the Dead The Truth by Gwen Jensen 0304................................Loving by Terri Cummings 310............................November by Benjamin Harnett
0328..............Pygmy Shrew Asks For Directions by Joddy Murray 0332.............Sant’Anna Di Stazzema by Lauro Palomba 0354............................River Toad by Nickolas Duarte
art & photography 012....................................Tarot Set by Lucas Galante 032.............................Artist’s Door by Laura Giardina 042............................Someday by Arantza Aramburu 095.........................The Tale of Three Lands by Sijia Ma 0218.....................Pueblo Dwellings by Laura Giardina 0343..........................Reaching by Arantza Aramburu
features 0190...Tomboy, Bakla, Transgender, Bisexual: A Shor Memoir on Being Filipino, Bisexual, and Nonbinary by Eli Ramos 0336.........................................I’ll Smile by Kim Buck
THE EDITORS We don’t need to tell you that this year was unprecedented. Or that it felt insurmountable. Our future feels perilous, you and I and your nextdoor neighbor can all feel the boat churning in the storm. We need each other now more than ever. We need art now more than ever. We decided to study "literary ecology" for this issue. Ecology is the scientific study of an organism in its environment and we've noticed that this process seems to be inherently cyclical. The cycle between art and its environment; community. Art connects individuals, art creates community, community creates art. We want to view this volume as a system of writers creating their own environments and organisms. Even the most stylistically, tonally, nominally different pieces in this volume speak to each other. Producing art in the best of times is difficult.
Producing art while you’re just trying to survive is a heroic feat. Thank you, contributors, for your perseverance in this time when art is so desperately needed. You are the cells and the organs of our living, breathing literary community. In isolation, it’s easy to forget that so much of the human experience is shared. That we need each other. The way we bond is through storytelling. Everyone does it. As much as this issue is an ode to art, it is also an ode to humanity, a reminder of why we’re worth saving. We could not have finished this project without the help of a vibrant literary community. The sweetest, most patient man in the world, Omar Miranda, the prolific Kimberly Garrett, the entire USFCA English department, our ingenious TA Caroline Read (for all of the READing she’s done), and our zine man, Matt Collins! And, of course, you ;)
THE LAND Vallejo
Chochenyo Ramaytush Tamien Awaswas Mutsun
The city of San Francisco, where this publication is edited and produced, was curated for thousands of years by the Ramaytush people. The original name for the territory now known as San Francisco is Yelamu. The greater Ohlone people of the bay area lived in mobile, seasonal communities because they understood that the ecology of this area needs seasonal brushfire. Now a different town out in wine country burns uncontrollably every summer because colonizers, after stealing this land, insisted on making permanent dwellings. Now, on the same land that once thrived, most live in unstable, exploitative housing, if they are not forced to languish in the streets or in prisons. And for what? 18 different flavors of “sports drink”? Profit hoarded by the benefactors of Apartheid? Mass death? Hegemony breeds only destruction. In the 700 years since colonizers began exploiting Indigenous lands across the globe, our world has hurtled towards mass extinction. Not only have we stolen, we have destroyed. We have tried and continue to try to
erase the narratives of Indigenous people. Enough. Return this land, and all land, to Indigenous people. Return Yelamu to the Ramaytush. Return Palestine to Palestinians. Abolish the carceral state in all its forms. Take accountability. Stand in solidarity. Because we're done asking.
014 Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
Chance Companions By Jim Ross
I hiked through the mountains to a small village. Straddling the town line, I considered my next move. The brown eyes of a tired, lean German Shepherd caught mine. Ten feet away, she turned, took a few steps, stopped, turned her head toward me again, and seemed to say, “Follow me.” So I followed. What did I have to lose? We walked together up a long, muddy hill. Periodically, she looked back to confirm I was still there. Atop the hill, we approached a small stone chapel dedicated to St. Roch, patron saint of dog
lovers and dogs. I told her, “Please go right in.” She sat in the second pew on the right, with me behind. After a few minutes, she wandered toward the rear door, so I followed. I suggested we share lunch. She wouldn’t touch stale baguettes, but liked the hard cheese and kept asking for more dried blueberries. After lunch, I stood and said, “Good to meet you. Thank you for bringing me here. I’ve got to be on my way.” The shepherd seemed to say, “Where’d you get the idea you’re going anywhere without me?” as she walked right alongside me. We walked together along a rolling, asphalt road. Occasionally, she scooted under barbed wire and ran across vast green fields in wide, interlocking circles. If she ran ahead, she either waited for me or ran back to place herself like a shield between me and oncoming cars. A long-horned, brown-and-white cow caught my eye. I stopped to take her photo. Irritated, she kicked up wads of grass with her hind hooves and
charged. I’d been warned that barbed wire wouldn’t hold a cow charging full tilt. The shepherd darted under the barbed wire and counter-charged. The cow reared up on her hind legs. Then, the shepherd and cow exchanged glances, the cow exited stage right, and the shepherd glided under the barbed wire as if nothing extraordinary had happened. Over the next few hours, we only once encountered other people—two bent-over, smiling old men and an old woman donning a sunhat—who welcomed my dog like an old friend. “Mon chéri,” one addressed her. If other dogs paced and barked loudly to guard their property, my dog did not engage. We ran out of water long before I began questioning: How much daylight remains? Where will we sleep tonight? The path emptied into a dirt road. The first fruit trees we’d noticed all day—apple, pear, fig – stood by the roadside. I helped myself to apples and pears off the branches. My dog picked over the fallen fruit as if she’d hunted it down.
With residual light fast diminishing, we had no choice but to follow the path when it turned into a forest. My companion seemed as unperturbed by darkness as she was fending off the fussy cow. She sensed barbed wire and scooted under it. She led. I kept talking. She stayed close. Repeating “steady now” kept me calm. As we approached an electric fence sign, she strolled beneath safely, using a limbo-style maneuver I followed. As long as I focused on my connection to my companion, my feet somehow eluded the fallen chestnuts littering the trail. “My dog is my shepherd. I shall not want,” I joked. Then, I repeated, “Dog is love.” I began to envision spending a night in the forest, with all its uncertainties. Just as my adrenaline dipped, we saw a house abutting the forest. The full moonlight made the tips of the tall, pampas grass surrounding the house look like flames. “We’re almost there,” I told my companion, feeding her dried blueberries.
We came upon a road of smooth asphalt running mostly in a straight line, with adequate overhead lighting. It became apparent my companion was unaccustomed to such roads, especially after dark. She wandered into the road and when cars intermittently came through, she didn’t have the sense to run. Drivers didn’t seem keen on slowing down either. One driver saw her late, swerved, temporarily lost control, slammed on his brakes, shouted at us, and drove on. I tried an experiment. After I saw or heard a car coming, I commanded firmly, “Come here now.” My companion ran to me immediately and stood by my left side as I faced the road. When it was safe, I told her, “It’s okay now,” turned and walked forward, thereby granting her license to roam freely. I added an element: when she came and stood by me, I took my left walking stick and held it in front of her to demonstrate, symbolically, I was protecting her. She then cuddled my leg for the first time. That became our modus operandi.
When we reached the town, we stopped at the first bar. The bartender said they were closed but not to lose hope, there was another bar down the block. Two minutes later, when we reached the next bar, a mug of beer waited for me and a two-liter bowl of water awaited my companion, who splashed water all around but cleaned up before leaving. I continued walking as if the sun were rising. I had no glimmering how to find shelter or what to do about my companion. I worried that she had wandered so far from where we met. Would she be safe on the street alone at night? What if she wandered back to the busy road where she’d nearly gotten killed? Assuming she survived the night, could she find her way home come morning? Was someone worried about her? I preferred the prospect of snuggling with my companion in a cold alley over finding a warm bed and being separated. A car pulled up on my left. The driver asked, “Why are you out so late? D’you need help?” She jumped out and put my walking sticks and backpack
in the hatch. As I sat down she said, “I don’t know what to do about the dog,” when my companion whined, jumped into the car, squeezed into a little ball, and sought refuge under my legs. “I guess that settles that . . . for now,” she said. I reached down and held my companion who seemed frightened. After finding the town’s only two hotels were closed, the driver said, “We have one more option. I just left a meeting at the priest’s house.” We drove there, she spoke with the priest, returned to the car, and said, “You’re in. I’ll take the dog home and keep her outside tonight. In the morning, I’ll bring her back to the neighborhood on her collar.” I squatted down, held my companion, and said, “See you again.” The priest led me upstairs, gave me a sheet of yellow bubble wrap to use as my mattress, led me to the kitchen, and pointed to the floor. Many times during the sleepless night it crossed my mind: it would have been softer, warmer, and kinder huddling anywhere with my companion.
Come morning, my first thought was, “Where is she?” Then, I wondered, was she home safely by now? Would I be safe without her?
My Mind Cannot/Will Not Be Chained. By Grace Sampson
This makes my heart beat. But in a weird pace, Like a chicken striding down a pathway, People see him, but they wonder Where He’s headed. Where he came from. They wonder how they could reach that Tempo and stride. This Is what makes my heart beat. As it flutters. Another night spent listening to the red chili’s, Filled with blissful euphoria, as I see in my Mind, the various friends who belong To me;
Sie sind [they are] People who portray me Through In the time they’ve spent With me And With every breath that we share, My compassion is felt In their freedom. This is what makes my heart beat. The people I’ve lost; I was never Looking for them. The bars I stumbled into; They waited for me with every rainy Sunday Morning, and every new German Beer my palate was yet to be acquainted with. This is what makes my heart beat. Studying
Allen Ginsberg for the first time, And remembering the strange James Franco film I experimented with before my experimental Days had begun. The books I compulsively brought back, like a mother Returning to her homestead after the day of labour, I welcomed such masterful artefacts into my Home - My Soul. This is what makes my heartbeat, Hoping that my school principal would be Proud of the awards given to me. 2 Of my Sober Days count Of the friends I left behind Of the new places I travelled And of the Raging, Bolstering, Weathering
Thoughts That Entered My Mind And Stayed Forever.
028 Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
THE SPOTTED CAT By Callie S. Blackstone
I stood against the wall, cradling a damp bottle of beer that I had overpaid for. A young woman dominated the small dance floor with more confidence than I knew a human vessel could contain. I was envious of that freedom and her beauty. I was conscious of the frizziness of my own hair, the chafed and sweaty skin between my thighs. Everyone watched her as she moved. I melted into the scenery. The door of the club had been left open, an act was done with some hope that a breeze would come in and relieve the stifling heat. We all knew that the air would remain still, that it would eventually
suffocate us all. We celebrated with whiskey and gin in the meantime, with furtive glances at lovers in the darkroom. An older man appeared in the doorway, drenched with the spirit of laissez le bons temps rouler. He moved with ease despite his age. Everyone’s eyes drifted from the woman to the newcomer. We were collectively captivated. He manifested right as the jazz musicians began a new number, heralding his arrival. I watched as he entered the room with elegance. I wondered if he was living or dead or the manifestation of a city far older and wiser than most people could comprehend. He approached the girl with the ease of an animal acting on instinct. His hands reached out to her. He cradled her body and moved her to the music. She bent to him with ease. The song came to a close, the notes long and tentative to end. The man drifted back into the night, carried out by the last of the music. His hunger for music and sweat had temporarily been fulfilled.
Artist Door by Laura Giardina
They Are Never Cold By Ash Arumugam
I wrap my roses in today’s paper Feed them water and sunshine They are never cold When they die, I pluck their corpse from the murky water Separate their bodies from their heads Squeeze them together in the pages of a notebook They are never cold Years later, I come upon my roses
Let them crumble in my hands Wash their memory with the summer wind They are never cold
Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
By Ash Arumugam
How beautifully they hang from the tree Bodies stiff and heads sunken Snow piles on their shoulders Pretty little flowers so full of sugar They plummet to the ground like comets A man comes to sweep their corpses off the street
By Juhuhn Kim
We didn’t know it’d be so cold Or that new life was upon us We didn’t know it’d be so cold Or that new life was upon us Instead of four inside that home There were only three among us And those two lovers howled For days on end And those two lovers howled For days on end Sometimes things are returned too
Soon after they’re brought in We found a pretty spot for you I guess to run and just be free We found a pretty spot for you I guess to run and just be free Now every summer I always smile At that damn persimmon tree.
042 Someday by Arantza Aramburu
City Limits By Julie Medina
Once, I said the words: “I have one life goal: to never step foot in Texas.” I was talking to a co-worker who was a transplant Texan and even she understood. Something about the South freaked me out. It might be the racism or the Republicans or the guns or homophobia; something just didn't feel safe about the South and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Kidding aside, the liberal, lesbian, and biracial woman that I am liked being safe in my little Bay Area bubble. No Texas for me, baby. That was my truth. However, I say things like this all the time. For example, my life’s goal is to write a book. My life goal is
to sleep with a mom. My life goal is to buy my mom a house. “Life goals” are just one of those quirky, arbitrary phrases I say about things I mildly wish to happen. I found myself caught off guard one day when my very convincing friend, Cassidy, invited me to go with her to the Austin City Limits Festival. Austin, everyone says, is like the one cool place Texas has. It’s their little bubble that none of that KKK shit touches. I hear it’s really liberal, etc., etc. I wasn’t all that convinced, but something in me wanted to go see the artists playing. She forced me to buy festival and plane tickets before the conversation was over. Guns N’ Roses, Third Eye Blind, King Princess, Billie Eilish, Thom Yorke, on and on and on—all these cool artists were on the playbill, so I begrudgingly agreed, yes, I will go… to fucking Texas. Cassidy, unbeknownst to me, invited seven random friends from across the country. Five of those people I’d never met, and knew close to nothing about. I was extremely nervous for all sorts of
reasons, the main ones being that I wasn’t drinking anymore, and Cassidy was the only person I’d know for four days in that gross part of the country that I swore I’d never go to. I almost bailed a few weeks before. A lot of shit was going on: I wasn’t doing 100% in school, I was unemployed, and I was trying to quit drinking and didn’t think Austin was a great idea for my sanity. But I’d already paid for everything, so I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to waste the hundreds of dollars I’d sunk into that stupid ass idea. I cursed ever meeting Cassidy and plugged my nose as I jumped off the cliff. *** Between the airplane and the jet bridge, there was about a one-inch gap that the atmosphere slipped through, and the second I crossed that threshold I was hit like a truck by thick, wet, Texas heat. I immediately thought to myself, Where the fuck am I? It was the
most uncomfortable air I’d ever felt. It was more like a stuffy sauna filled with old naked men rather than oxygen that I was expected to breathe and survive on. I was all too aware of how my body was reacting to it, my hair molecules frizzed one by one, and my shirt became wholly soaked from either humidity or sweat. Which one it was stays undetermined. As soon as we had all arrived at the Airbnb, Cassidy, our ringleader, made us stand in a circle and do introductions before I could even put my bags down. We all were to say our name, our preferred pronouns, where we lived, and who we were most excited to see at the festival. That’s when I met Liz. Liz was originally from Houston. She got out as soon as she could and lived in Boston. She was twenty-five and had the most gorgeous little threeyear-old girl. I knew the second I laid eyes on her that it would be very difficult to think about much else during my time in Austin.
*** Once we arrived at the festival, we immediately split into two groups. My group wanted to see Cherry Glazer at the VRBO stage. I stood there with Liz while the others went to the restroom before the show started, and I asked her about her daughter. She got pregnant while living abroad by a guy she was with for a couple of years, and he wanted her to keep it because they were supposed to be together to raise her. She had an IUD and was five months pregnant when she’d found out, so she didn’t really have a choice. She loved her daughter more than life itself, but if there was any way she could have prevented it, she would have because the day her daughter was born, her boyfriend changed. Something washed over him that made everything too real, and he didn’t know how to handle it. She found out he was doing internet searches like, “How to leave your unmarried partner,” and that’s how they split up. “He’s a great dad, very involved,” she said, but
he decided he couldn’t love her. What a fucking idiot, I thought to myself. Later that evening during Thom Yorke, I stood behind Liz and was unable to do anything besides watch the way her body moved to the music and be utterly mesmerized by its rhythm. It hypnotized and transported me to a place where only her and I and the sound existed. She knew what she was doing to me. She played the part of a desirable mate perfectly, and she loved the role. What I would have done to have been able to pull her into me and kiss her. I would do a lot of weird things for a lot of weird people if I could go back in time. All I could do at the time was savor her. I didn’t want something to happen and things to get weird and have to be around each other three more days and not know how to act the whole time. Do I hold her hand? Do I kiss her whenever I want? Do we explain that we’re into each other to the rest of the house? It was all too rich for my blood, so I just stood and watched. I didn’t even want to see Thom Yorke. Guns N’ Roses was playing,
a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it was something I don’t regret missing for a second. I needed to be where she was, in that separate dimension outside of reality. Exhausted from the day, I laid wide awake not wanting to miss a moment of her. I asked Liz when the lights went out, “What was it like to grow up in Texas?” “It fucking sucked,” she said. She told me about when she was in high school, she had a Black boyfriend, and how her best friend’s dad told her, “If you were my daughter, I’d fucking kill you.” She said that’s how she found drugs. She was a fish out of water. She wasn’t born with that intrinsic hatred of people who were different from her, and that everyone around her seemed to have been born with. I assumed there was something weird in Houston’s water. They really were all racist, homophobic, gun-toting Republicans. I knew it. “It was really traumatic,” she said, to grow up in a place she didn’t belong. She was nothing like
them. She was loving of all people, accepted all people, and slept with all people. At this point, I was irrevocably fascinated by her and that question had to be asked. “How did you become the person you are?” “Drugs,” she said. “Lots of drugs. And finding people like you who weren’t full of hatred and fear.” She got out of Texas as fast as she could, and had been sober for five years. Add resilience to my list of everything I ever wanted in a woman. All I wanted to do was hold her and tell her how strong she was. *** I spotted a real-life human pig. He was a young, fat, and white jackass wearing white calf socks with sandals and a red, white, and blue jersey that had the number “45” on it and “USA” on the front, and “TRUMP” on the back. I took a picture of him and posted it on my Instagram story with the caption, “We in Texas now baby,” and stood very far away from
him. To my surprise, for every weird, scary red-state thing I saw, there were 10 “Make America Gay Again” pieces of merchandise to make up for it. King Princess, a very outspoken lesbian, started her set with a song, “Pussy Is God,” and prefaced it by telling the crowd how much she loved pussy, and if there were any homophobes in the crowd that had a problem with that, they could, “get the fuck out.” It was shocking, honestly. Imagine all the incels in the crowd getting their pride stomped on by this strong, hot, queer female telling them to get lost, and doing so with their tails between their legs. “Fuck yeah!” We all roared back in unison. Liz didn’t say so, but I could tell she was fully turned on by King Princess which made me devastatingly jealous and rethought my career track to maybe shifting it to becoming a pop star. That night, a bunch of phones got stolen. Three out of seven of us to be exact, at the same time, like a sick magic trick that was only as impressive as it was disappointing while making our way through a
thick as oak crowd during 21 Savages. Fucking Texas, man. That wasn’t fair because I’d gotten my phone stolen just like this at San Francisco Pride one year. It turned out that shitty people existed everywhere. The fascinating thing was that so many people tried to help us as we desperately foraged for the phones. Several drunk girls expressed their most earnest condolences, “Oh darlin’, no! Let me help you find it!” We never did find them, and over five hundred phones were reported stolen that night. It was rumored that one bag was searched, and at least a hundred iPhones were inside. As we came closer to the last day of the festival, I was more desperate than ever to be around Liz. Something magnetic was pulling us together. We walked closer and closer, sat closer and closer, and danced closer and closer. Like a compass, my body stayed pointed straight towards her direction like she was my North Star. I thought I would lose control. I’d be standing in a crowd of thousands of people, the
music so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think, and with her back to me, her body danced and my face flushed and my ears rang and everyone else melted away, and I tried my very best not to touch her. I was quickly losing faith in myself. *** We were especially excited to see Third Eye Blind on the last day because they were a favorite band from middle school for Liz and me. One of the people in our group asked to be reminded what songs they did, and Liz and I smirked at each other and sighed at the tippy top of our high horse, what wasn’t theirs? and put “Never Let You Go” on blast in the car on our way to lunch, belting at the top of our lungs together “THAT GIRL IS LIKE A SUNBURN,” and so on. I’ve seen them four times, but never with someone like her. Everyone at the festival sang each word of every song. Thousands upon thousands of
“Semi-Charmed” renditions simultaneously. It made my soul giddy. That was why I flew to Austin. For that feeling I got when I was in a crowd of people who felt the same thing and loved the music playing so much that we all connected. Gay or straight. Democrat or Republican. Black or White. None of that mattered when the music was involved. When people say “live in the moment,” shows and sex were truly the only things I could relate that concept to. Nothing else in the entire world mattered to me during a rock show. All I knew was the song and how to move my body in union with the music and with her. It was me, her, and the band. Whoever “her” was was always different, so were the bands, and so was I. I was not the same girl during a song as I was once it was over. I was a magician when I was in a crowd. For four minutes at a time, I knew how to transcend from this world to the next. I knew how to stop time and space. I knew how to fly. This is where I felt alive for real. Where I was only conscious of my heart beating, the deep breaths between lyrics
that I was singing along to, and the happiness and adrenaline that was pumping through my veins. It was meditative and healing and releasing like the best therapy money can buy all at once. If only I could go to a show every night, I’d never have a bad day for the rest of my life. Stephen, the lead singer of Third Eye Blind, did a thing at every show where he made a big long speech about being survivors before playing “Jumper,” a song about suicide, and asked us to turn to a stranger next to us, shake their hand, and say, “hey, I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you made it.” We all complied with his direction. All of us. I saw it, people all around me reaching out, taking each other’s hands, and smiling. I even said it to the gay couple in front of us who were wearing stupid cowboy hats that blocked my view the whole time. I was so glad they were there in Texas with me, but I was mostly glad that Liz made it. She cried during “Motorcycle Drive By,” and I felt that. The overwhelming love and happiness to
have a live experience of something that meant so much to you and had so much meaning in your past life. It flooded you. Where you were in life when that specific heartbreaking song played meant something significant. It was never a place you ever want to visit again. During the very last show of the festival, Liz took her shirt off because we were dancing so hard, and I felt faint. I didn’t trust my hands. I was sure they were going to reach out and put themselves around her waist, but, luckily, I was too dumbfounded to move. She was so fucking beautiful. So fucking perfect. I didn’t have the right to touch her. She would have to break that barrier. She did, later that evening back at the house before we went to bed by resting her head in my lap and asking me to play with her hair. I obliged. I could have melted to the floor while my knees weakened beneath me if I weren’t already sitting down. ***
Most of our flights were early in the morning that day. By 6:00 a.m., there were just a few of us left, but Liz and I were the only ones that mattered. I followed close behind her up the stairs to the master bedroom, leaving the den we’d been sleeping in without privacy, and locked the door behind us. We were finally alone, and my arms did what they’d always wanted to do. They put themselves around her as naturally as it was to breathe, and her body melted into mine. Three hours later, she was gone. I can still conjure up the sensations of her lips on my neck. If I think about it hard enough, I’m able to do my magic trick and go back to that bed where I never should have left. “Sucks you live across the country,” she said while kissing me goodbye, “I’m really glad I met you. Take care of yourself.” The memory of the face she made before turning to walk to the car was burned into my memory. Tilted to the side, dark, tired eyes, big smile.
So much happiness and sadness at the same time felt too combative to be possible. It said, I’m so glad I met you, but I know I’ll be longing since you’re not coming with me. My face said it, too. We both understood that whatever that was only existed within Austin’s city limits. I’ll never forget the last thing she did was run her fingers through my hair. Her head is tilted in sympathetic inquiry that does not want to be disappointed while she wonders if my fears can even live side by side the year-round manicured green lawns and dormitories and departments that look like Spanish villas. Or maybe she is hoping to assess my mourning and rule whether it is more than the inflated sadistic hope that my very likely untimely death will come with a point. And at my funeral, she will say she saw it coming and We have to stop this. The soul of our country is at stake and these people matter. Everyone claps for her, and her white face becomes the spokesperson of outrage over my Black death.
“Yes,” I say. She shrugs and walks away. At my funeral, she will say it was unexpected and a complete surprise while cities burn behind her. For now, my list unfurls on hot concrete and remains incomplete.
BITTER RICE By Kristin Lieberman
my grandmother was a lover of rice created dishes rich, flavorful, aromatic enough to serve as an entrée for four or an appetizer for six in the gardens off her patio grew twisted red begonias in the shade aloe rising up in the sunlight a broken cement bridge for a child I used to run across the bridge in my good shoes and
my scarlet velvet Easter dress while my older cousins played baseball a cold Coca-Cola in the refrigerator when the sun became hot I have three stones in my wedding ring they remind me I have three children when will my daughter call me? my grandmother’s house passed hands twice after my grandmother moved away and later it was converted into a mortuary when she came to town to visit in her old age she would look the other way as we passed the house
PRAYING TO AMELIA EARHART By Gina Willner-Pardo
At 17, Dolores Bissell was used to all the attention. Boys puckered at her as she passed them in the halls. The braver ones waited at her locker to ask if they could walk her to class. (She said yes because saying no was provocative and hateful.) She often caught other girls staring at her chest disdainfully, equally repelled and covetous. Even teachers treated her differently from the other students who struggled but were plain. “It’s those bee-stung lips. Just like Mae Murray!” Mother often said. “You’re the beauty in the family.”
Evie pretended not to hear, but Dolores knew she did. Twins, even those who didn’t look alike, hear everything. “And you have such a lovely figure,” Mother would add. “Why, you’re positively wasp-waisted!” Dolores wondered why pretty girls were likened to creatures that stung and frightened people. She didn’t know whom to ask: She was afraid of being mocked by teachers and was weary of Mother’s anxious flattery. Finally she looked up “wasp” in the encyclopaedia. She learned that its narrow waist connected the thorax to the abdomen but this was unsatisfying, not what she wanted to know. Evie tried to be helpful. “In a person the thorax is everything from the neck to the abdomen. But in an insect it’s what bears the legs and wings. See?” she said, pointing to the picture. “I can read, for heaven’s sake,” Dolores said, annoyed. “You girls,” Father said, overhearing them as he walked past the parlor to the kitchen. “My smart
cookies.” Dolores adored him. *** Of all the boys at school, Joe Denovellis was the one Dolores noticed. He had dark, curly hair, thick on his head like frosting before you smoothed it on the cake, and dark eyes fringed with lashes almost as long as hers. He didn’t blow kisses at her or loiter near her locker, but she caught him staring at her once or twice, standing among the other boys who played basketball. The first time he looked away. The second time he held her gaze and smiled. It took him another two weeks to approach her as she sat alone at the lunch table waiting for Evie. “Can I sit here?” he asked, waiting until she nodded before setting down his tray. Her heart was fluttering. She had no idea what to say, especially without Evie, who knew how to talk through awkward silences.
“Do you like basketball?” Joe asked. She smiled. “Very much.” Encouraged, Joe asked if she’d been at the game last winter when Joliet won State. “Of course,” Dolores said. She and Evie had sat high in the stands with Betty Mary Dorward and some other girls from church. Dolores wasn’t interested in basketball, but she had watched Joe—the team’s star—run up and down the court, calling out to the other boys, who arranged themselves as he directed. “Isn’t he dreamy?” Betty Mary had said several times. Dolores hadn’t responded but remembering now made her blush. Joe seemed to notice and smiled a slow smile. “Thinking deep thoughts?” he asked. “Just…just…” she stammered. Nothing came to her. In a panic she blurted, “It was before everything. You know. Amelia Earhart.” Instantly she regretted her words. Boys weren’t interested in Amelia Earhart the way girls were. What a dummy I am. Joe’s smile slipped from his pillowy lips. He
looked at his tray and nodded. “Awful.” “I wrote a book report on her when I was 12. After she flew to Ireland. She meant to land in Paris, like Lindbergh, but it was windy. She was so brave. She didn’t care what people thought. I…” She stopped herself, not wanting to over-talk. “I met her,” Joe said. She gasped. “You did?” “She went to high school in Chicago. Hyde Park. My father taught biology there, the year he started teaching. She was really smart, he said. After she flew back from Ireland, he wrote her a note. Something about me, how she was one of my heroes. Could he have an autograph, something like that. ‘To Joe, Good luck in the future.’ You know. “And she wrote back and said she was going to be in Chicago and would he like to meet her for lunch. And bring me,” Joe said. “She said Dad was her favorite teacher.” “Oh my!” “Dad and I both skipped school that day. We
waited in the lobby at the Morrison until a bellboy took us up to the penthouse. And there she was, looking just the same, but different in a skirt, you know? We had sandwiches and she and Dad talked about science and a little bit about flying. I can’t even remember what they said. I just couldn’t believe it was her. Right there. And when we left, she autographed my napkin. ‘To Joe, Fly high!’ I still have it.” He added shyly, “It’s one of my treasures.” “Do you know what it said about her in her yearbook? Under her picture?” she asked. “‘A.E.—the girl in brown who walks alone.’” Dolores knew at that moment she would never love another boy the way she would love Joe Denovellis. “She’s my hero too,” she whispered into his smiling eyes. ***
On their walk home Dolores couldn’t stop
talking. “He wants to join the Army Air Corps after graduation. For a little adventure. To see the world, you know. He wants to be a pilot someday, he said. Isn’t that wonderful?” Evie smiled. “Yes, wonderful.” “His father teaches science in Lockport. He wanted Joe to transfer to Joliet Catholic for basketball but Joe didn’t want to leave his friends.” “Mother will make a fuss.” “Oh, what difference does religion make anyway?” Dolores said sharply, causing Evie to glance her way. “We were just talking. We’re not getting married.” It would serve Mother right if we did, though, she thought.. All the years of being primped and shown off, talked about like a doll kept on a shelf. Being told that Evie was the smart one. “But you like him.” “I don’t care about religion or what Mother thinks. That’s all.” She did not tell Evie that Joe had asked if he
could take her out for a milkshake after practice on Friday. She did not know why agreeing to go felt like treachery or why the notion of herself as someone duplicitous added to her pleasure. “Just be careful,” Evie said, in that way she had. Dolores held her books tight against her chest as though they were the secret she was holding close, cherishing. *** Walking home after their milkshakes, Joe held her hand. As they turned onto Kiep Avenue, he asked, “Which one’s your house?” When she said, “Down another block,” he cornered her against the trunk of an old ash. His lips were cold from ice cream and the early fall darkness setting in. She knew she would do whatever he wanted from now on, would acquiesce to anything if only he would continue to kiss her, would press against her
so their hearts merged beat for beat. She would lie with him, elope, move far away. Everything shifted in that moment. When he asked if she wanted to see a matinee on Saturday, she was disappointed that it was something so ordinary and easily agreed to. She wanted to make a grand gesture so he would know how she felt, what she was willing to relinquish. *** After their third movie date (Love Is on the Air), she laid in the back of Mr. Denovellis’s Plymouth while Joe put himself inside her. At first it hurt, but the sting wore off quickly. She kept her eyes on the back window, beyond which leafless tree branches bent in the evening wind. She thought they looked like the arms of bank robbers surrendering. When it was over he shifted his weight so they lay side by side. She felt the pounding of his heart in her bones. She wondered if she’d done it right.
After a few moments he kissed her forehead. “How many kids are we having?” he asked. She wasn’t ready for babies just yet. She’d always dreamed of getting an apartment all her own. Decorating it just the way she wanted: sewing cheerful curtains, maybe, or crocheting a throw. Getting a job at Milano’s and learning to make the breakfast breads, the pies and cakes. Or at the Economy Grocery as a checkout girl. Or maybe even moving away: Kankakee, South Bend, Milwaukee. Still. She was flooded with the bliss of being just what someone wanted. Just herself. *** When she got home that night, Father was waiting up for her. “Can’t sleep,” he said. “You have a nice time with your young man?” She told him about the movie and getting hamburgers at the diner. He patted the cushion next to him. “Come sit.”
She worried that he knew what they’d been up to. The possibility filled her with horror. But in the warm glow of the parlor, the lamplight casting its familiar shadows, all he said was, “Don’t forget about Evie.” “Why would I forget about her?” “In the excitement. A new beau. New friends. It’s easy to get caught up.” Honestly, did he think they were going to go through life wearing identical dresses, finishing each other’s sentences, ordering the same strawberry ice cream cones at Weber’s? Were they supposed to live in their parents’ house for the rest of their lives? Usually she felt safe, the way he loved them equally. “I don’t like thinking of anyone splitting up you girls.” “It’s not like that, Daddy. Joe doesn’t want to split us up. And anyway, Evie has lots of friends. Betty Mary Dorward. Lizzie Sprankling.” “There’s nobody like family.”
“Did Mother put you up to this?” she teased. But he didn’t smile. He leaned close. “I heard Evie crying in her room this afternoon.” “Well, that could be anything.” “I know you girls pretty well.” He looked so sad. She touched his arm. “I’ll talk to her,” she said. “Please don’t worry.” His forehead smoothed out; he smiled and patted her hand. “That’s my Dee-Dee.” She was desperate to get upstairs and take a bath. But she let her head rest on his shoulder for one falsely reassuring moment, knowing she would not ask Evie what was wrong. They did not investigate each other’s private sadnesses. That was not their way. *** Joe always used a rubber. “Protection,” he explained, as though “rubber” was too explicit to say
in her presence. She was grateful for his courtesy. She opened her mouth under his, knowing he would keep her safe, realizing that something momentous— the transfer of authority beloved and absolute—was occurring. *** They were a couple now: admired, gossiped about. Dolores noticed that girls didn’t look askance in her direction anymore; dating Joe had conferred prestige and a kind of immunity. It was widely assumed they would be engaged by graduation. Evie liked to remind her the goal of dating was not to find a husband but to appear popular. “It says so right here,” she said once, pointing to a line in one of her books. “Don’t you just want to be happy?” Dolores snapped, sick to death of her sister’s need to prove things with someone else’s words, her scholarship on every matter.
“For heaven’s sake, Dolores. Of course.” She sounded so sincere. Dolores felt bad for barking at her. “Aren’t there any boys you like?” she asked. “I’ve seen how Fred Williston looks at you.” “Oh, that Fred. He’s not my type.” “Who is your type, then?” She didn’t want to say, but Dolores pressed her. This was the nicest conversation they’d had in years. Finally Evie sighed. “Glenn Novak. He’s the one I like.” She was usually afraid of seeming overeager when it came to matters of the heart. But prodded, she went on about his blue eyes, his seriousness, his shy smile. It all came out in a rush. Glenn was one of Joe’s best friends, a basketball teammate, a member of his Confirmation class at St. Joseph’s. Dolores had been to parties with him. He was painfully shy. “Your sister is so smart,” he said once.
As Evie talked, Dolores understood she was being asked for something: a way in. She could not remember her sister ever before requesting a favor, and this made it seem a question of some urgency: an undeclared beseeching. *** Joe told her he loved her in July, after a day of swimming with friends at the quarry. “I love you, too,” she whispered. They were in his father’s car, parked by the side of the road in Pilcher Park. Her hair was still wet. The green leaves above them were backlit by the setting sun. Later, when they lay together in the back seat, she let Joe catch his breath, waited until he whispered, “Happy?” as was his custom. “Oh, yes,” she said. “But…” “What is it?” he asked. “Did I hurt you?” She shook her head, buried her face in his shoulder. “Oh, Joe!”
“What, honey? What’s wrong? Tell me!” “I’m so scared!” She pulled him tight against her, whispered in his ear, “Please! Don’t join the Air Corps! Please!” “Honey…shhh…shhh.” “Please, Joe!” She gazed up at him, tears blurring his stricken face. “People say there might be a war! And those planes! They’re so little!” He smiled and she wrested herself away. “Don’t make fun of me,” she sobbed. “Look at Amelia, what happened to her!” When he didn’t say anything, she added, “If you won’t think of me, think of your mother!” Mrs. Denovellis—an immigrant from Abruzzo who spoke almost no English—had gotten Joe to promise he would wait until after Christmas to enlist. Joe sat up, not looking at her, and buttoned his shirt. “Amelia told me to fly high.” Dolores covered her breasts, painfully aware of being naked when Joe was not. “She didn’t mean
actually flying.” When he didn’t answer she added, “You can have adventures in other ways.” *** It wasn’t until the following December, sitting on a lonely bench overlooking the Des Plaines River, that he fumbled in his pocket, and she knew what was about to happen. For months after, she thought how strange it was that her first thought was of her father. He would say he was pleased, of course, but she would know his worry underneath, not for her. *** At breakfast the next morning, Mother grabbed her hand and made a show of examining the ring. “Is it a real sapphire?” she asked, eyeing Dolores over the top of her glasses. “Of course it’s real.” “He wouldn’t tell you.”
“Jane,” Father said, shaking his head almost imperceptibly. “Joe’s a Navy man now.” He himself had been a machinist’s mate on the USS Nicholson during the war, patrolling the Irish Sea. Evie craned her neck. “It’s pretty. Congratulations.” She was halfway through her first year at ISNU, home for Christmas, her conversation hinting at a life of books and study. Boyfriends weren’t mentioned. Fred Williston, with whom she had gone to the movies occasionally last spring, hadn’t called. He wasn’t waiting around for a career gal, apparently. “Well,” Mother said, rising from the table, “it’s an exciting time for you, isn’t it, Dee-Dee? Have you thought about the wedding? Shall we ask Reverend Hoffman when he’s free?” “We’re going to wait until Joe’s done his tour,” Dolores said. But she knew what her mother was really asking.
*** Joe finally came home for a weekend in March. In the back of his father’s car, their coupling was frantic, different from what Dolores had come to expect. And unprotected. “Just this once,” he begged. “Just this one time.” *** When she was six weeks late, there was no one to call but Evie, who was silent for several moments. Then she said, “There’s a doctor here. He helps the college girls.” “No,” Dolores whispered. “I don’t want that.” Hadn’t she sinned enough? “I need a place to stay is all.” “What will you tell Mother?” “I’ll think of something.” “I’ll think too,” Evie said.
*** Evie’s plan was far more intricate than anything Dolores might have devised on her own. She was to tell their parents she had decided to take a class at ISNU, and the owners of Evie’s boarding house would allow her to stay in Evie’s room for half the rent. She was to explain that Evie would pay for everything out of the money she’d earned working at the campus library. Then she would board a bus to Kansas City, where a home had been alerted to her plight. “They’ll take care of you and take the baby when it’s born,” Evie said. “What about the money?” Dolores whispered into the phone. “It’s been arranged.” “I don’t know what to say.” “You don’t have to say anything,” Evie said coolly. Or was Dolores imagining it?
But then Evie said, “We must always help each other,” and it was clearly a rebuke. Dolores was overcome with the shame of her inaction, the way she had chosen not to ask Glenn Novak if he wanted to be introduced to her sister. “I didn’t know!” she exclaimed and then swallowed the rest: how Evie wouldn’t meet the right boy in high school, how she would attend a teachers’ college surrounded by other girls, how easy it was to become the sort of person opportunity eluded. “We must always do everything we can,” Evie said, ever the educator, the one who knew best. *** The Tattersley Home for Wayward Girls was a columned, red-brick building on the outskirts of Kansas City. From the outside it looked imposing, but the foyer smelled of gravy and there was mold growing on the ceiling tiles. Mrs. Cochran, the superintendent, led Do-
lores to her room. “Supper is at six in the dining hall. Please be prompt. Vespers are at 7:30. Did you bring your Bible?” “I forgot.” “I’ll get you one.” She looked back at Dolores, who was dragging her trunk, struggling to keep up. “You should always have a Bible, dear.” “Yes, ma’am.” “You’ll see the nurse tomorrow. Sign some papers. I’ll have Alice show you around. Your roommate. She’s further along than you. Only another month to go!” Mrs. Cochran said, her voice betraying the strange secret the walls of this building held: Without a baby to love and raise, the labor of birthing was the worst thing a woman could know. “You must be tired. You’re from up north. Chicago?” “Joliet.” “That’s a long day,” Mrs. Cochran said, rapping on the door to Room 7 and opening it without waiting for permission. “Why don’t you take a nap
before supper?” The room was small and contained two beds and a dresser between them, a wooden cross hanging above it. A woman with brassy blonde hair sat on one of the beds, reclining against the wall, seemingly doing nothing. She had been looking out the window and turned her head slowly as Dolores entered. “Alice, this is Dolores,” Mrs. Cochran said from the hallway. “I’ll let you two get acquainted. Let’s make Dolores feel welcome,” she added sternly. Alice waited to speak until Mrs. Cochran closed the door. “You smoke?” “No.” “We can smoke in the yard. I was hoping you had cigarettes,” Alice said. “I’m running low.” She looked Dolores up and down. “You’re just a little thing,” she said. “How old are you?” “18.” “Who done this to you?” She smiled slyly. “Homecoming king? Captain of the football team?” “My fiancé.”
“He know about this?” “I don’t know how to tell him. Or my parents.” She hung her head. Alice swung her feet to the floor. “Good. Just keep it to yourself. No need for them to know. You’re doing the right thing now. You get this over with, marry that nice young man, have a passel of babies. You’ll be alright.” She rose and pulled the trunk onto Dolores’s bed. “Let’s get you unpacked.” Dolores nearly wept with gratitude. At last, someone who understood. “Do you have a beau?” she asked shyly. “I got plenty of those,” Alice said. “All no good.” “I’m sorry.” “I was like you once. Young and fresh. Had a nice husband just back from the war, a sweet little baby. Sweet little Lorena.” Alice’s face softened with memory. “She died of scarlet fever. It poisoned her blood.” “Oh no!”
“And then my no-good husband took off, leaving me with nothing. Told me it was grief. Never sent me so much as a plug nickel, the rat. But I’m a tough cookie,” she added. “I can take care of myself. And I was doing just fine until all this.” It had begun to dawn on Dolores that Alice was, quite possibly, a prostitute. She had a roughand-tumble way about her and a shabby, worn-out beauty Dolores imagined could only come from enduring sex with men she didn’t love. She pulled a skirt from her trunk. “Where are the hangers?” “Don’t let us have them,” Alice said. “Don’t want us cuttin’ our stay short.” *** After supper and prayers, Dolores thought she would fall asleep before she could put on her nightgown. But Alice was chatty in the dark. Dolores learned that her parents had died of the influenza,
that her brothers wanted nothing to do with her, that the girl who’d last slept in Dolores’s bed had had a baby boy and named him James Lloyd. That she’d smuggled a knitting needle in when she arrived and kept it taped to the back of the dresser, where no one cleaned. That the nurse could be rough. “How rough?” “Just enough to let you know she thinks you’re nothing but trash,” Alice said. “Just be prepared, is all. Close your eyes. You’ll be alright.” “Why did you bring a knitting needle?” Dolores asked, feeling herself drifting off. “In case I changed my mind.” *** Up and down the street, trees leafed and crocuses pushed through the earth and gasped for air. Dolores longed to go for walks, but Mrs. Cochran said the neighbors could be heartless and the girls were better off staying in the yard—a patch of dead
grass and a twiggy azalea bush. She was able to call her parents twice a month. During those calls, Mother never forgot to mention that Reverend Hoffman was awfully busy and setting a date would be the prudent thing to do. It so aggravated her that she mentioned it to Alice one night in their room. “I’m Catholic,” Alice said. “Born and raised. They don’t want me now, but I don’t care. They can’t stop me praying to Mary.” “You do that?” Presbyterians had told Dolores that she could only pray to God. “But that’s not why I’m still in the faith,” Alice said. “I want to be churched.” Seeing Dolores’s face, she added, “It’s when the priest gives you a blessing after you have a baby. ‘Enter thou into the temple of God, adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary who has given thee fruitfulness of offspring.’ Something like that. He says it just to you. You don’t have to bring the baby. Or if it dies, even, he’ll still do it.” Pause. “I want that.”
Her words floated in the darkness. She was silent for a time. Then she added, “You can too, if you want.” “Can what?” “Pray to Mary. Dolores did not respond. The idea was delicious, seductive. A mother to pray to. “Mary’ll hear you,” Alice whispered. *** The next night, late, Alice went into labor. She sobbed and clutched her belly. “Get someone!” she cried, and Dolores, frightened, ran barefoot down the hall to the front desk. “It’s all right, dear,” Mrs. Cochran said when she emerged from her room. She pulled the belt of her robe tight. “Let’s see if this is just Alice wanting a little attention. Or maybe a false alarm. That happens, you know.” “It’s not a false alarm.”
“Well, we’ll take her to the infirmary. Call the doctor. It’s going to be alright,” she said. “Labor is very difficult, but Dr. Snope will know just what to do.” *** Alice died later that morning, as the sky was flooding with milky light. “The baby too,” Mrs. Cochran told the girls who gathered somberly in the parlor. “A sweet little thing, stillborn, the cord around his neck.” She clicked her tongue against the back of her teeth. “And Alice was screaming so. Perhaps it’s a blessing she didn’t have to see her dead boy. Perhaps—” She stopped herself. “Well,” she said, “we all know this is risky business, don’t we, girls? Birthing babies is not for the faint of heart. A woman’s blessing and curse both.” She wiped at her eyes with a handkerchief. “Alice knew that. She knew it better than most.”
*** That night Dolores tossed and turned. What was the point of carrying a baby if it could die so easily? Or having a friend—the only friend she’d ever made on her own, without Evie—who could meet such a cruel and painful end, all while trying to do the right thing? It seemed that everything she’d been taught to believe was a flimsy, evil lie, easily seen as such if she’d only cared to look. There was still time. I could do the curtains in an hour or two. Finish the blanket in a month, she thought. The darkness heaved above her, crowded with souls whose anguished cries had not been heard. “Let her be with her baby in heaven,” she prayed, but not to God or Mary, neither of whom had listened to Alice. It wasn’t a proper churching, but she knew Amelia would do what she could. Then she prayed for courage.
Finally, at dawn, she reached for the knitting needle. *** Waking in the infirmary, she was informed by Dr. Snope that she had been there for several days. “You’re not out of the woods yet. But we stopped the bleeding.” He made some notes on his clipboard. “Of course the baby is gone,” he said, not looking up. Lying there for five more days, and then on the bus ride home, she could not deny her profound relief. The sickness she felt for weeks had disappeared, as had the sense that her life was not her own. She hoped the terrible wrong she had committed would eventually fade from memory and the pain in her heart would lift. She would marry Joe when his tour was over, bear his children if she were still able. She would convert and be unafraid to tell her mother it was none of her concern.
Still, she couldn’t help but feel that God was displeased. It was in her nature to be selfish, whether through action or purposeful inertia. “The most effective way to do it is to do it,” Amelia once said. Perhaps God was angry that Dolores valued her counsel over His own. But as the bus sped north through the lush, green cornfields of Illinois, she let herself be comforted by the certainty that she would seek redemption in a life of her own making. THE END
095 Whiteness by Sijia Ma
Bleed for Me By Zoe Williams
A heatwave laps into Palo Alto, California, and I am melting on a different stone bench than the day before going through the list of things trying to kill me. There is a sharp pain in my throat every time I inhale, and my eyeballs feel hard and stiff when I blink because of the steady explosions of pollen from eucalyptus trees lining the campus. I can feel my exposed skin burn while the sun bores down, and the flat back of the bench props me up as my rage peels away leaving fresh sorrow because the current broadcasting of old violence has left me raw and open like
it always does. I ignore another message offering condolence from someone who will never understand but thinks they need to say something still. “Are you okay?” A young woman walking by asks. I do not know her, but I know she is keeping a list of things trying to kill me too. “Yes.” I do not wipe the tears off my face so she can be convinced. “Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it?” She stands behind a row of evenly trimmed bushes that divide the grass and sidewalk. She wants to know if it’s true. She has seen the public grief of overturned cities and riots over the past weeks. She has seen the videos of state sponsored murder. She wants to know the name I’ll cry out as I take my last breath and if she’ll be the one lucky enough to record it. She watches my brown skin burn into the dark red clay of a river bed, and she wants to know what that means to me. “No, I’m fine.” “You look forlorn.”
Her head is tilted in sympathetic inquiry that does not want to be disappointed while she wonders if my fears can even live side by side the year-round manicured green lawns and dormitories and departments that look like Spanish villas. Or maybe she is hoping to assess my mourning and rule whether it is more than the inflated sadistic hope that my very likely untimely death will come with a point. And at my funeral, she will say she saw it coming and we have to stop this. The soul of our country is at stake and these people matter. Everyone claps for her, and her white face becomes the spokesperson of outrage over my Black death. “Yes,” I say. She shrugs and walks away. At my funeral, she will say it was unexpected and a complete surprise while cities burn behind her. For now, my list unfurls on hot concrete and remains incomplete.
Nothing in the Dots by Sijia Ma
EMPTY TANK BLUES By Russel Thayer
Maggie stepped out of the club on Post Street, buttoned her cardigan with weary fingers, then started to weave toward home on baffled feet. Drifting from light pole to mailbox, she began to hear the bright scratch of a man’s leather soles scuffing the hard concrete behind her. Without turning to look back, she knew it was the man who had most recently paid for her drinks and that he undoubtedly wanted her to pay him back by hiking up her skirt and letting him grind her against the dirty brick of an alley wall. As Maggie approached a beat-up Plymouth,
the passenger door popped open over the curb. “Get in,” came a gruff voice. Maggie took hold of the door frame and dipped her head. A disheveled blonde sat in the driver’s seat, dimly illuminated by the overhead light. “Get in,” the woman repeated. “I’ve been watching you two in the mirror.” Maggie slid onto the bench and pulled the heavy door closed. The woman reached across her to lock the handle. Maggie could smell stale cigarettes in the arm of her jacket, the cheap perfume she wore to cover the fact that she hadn’t been bathing. There was a revolver in her hand, and the barrel nearly put Maggie’s eye out. “Watch that thing,” said Maggie, pressing her spine into the cushioned seat back. “Here he comes,” said the woman. Maggie’s head snapped toward the glass as the man pressed his fleshy face against it. He was drunk and smiling a wide, stupid smile.
“Hey, you red-haired fox,” he said in a muffled voice, starting to tap at the glass. “I thought we was havin’ fun back there. How ’bout a kiss while the night is young?” “I thank you sincerely for the beer and oysters,” shouted Maggie through the glass, “but I’m not going to lie down for you.” “You little bitch,” he shouted back. “Sucking beer out of guys for nuthin.’ No payoff.” “Get lost, ya big ape,” said the woman, pointing her revolver at the window. “Or I’ll plug ya.” The man threw his head back and laughed. Then his arm was taken roughly, and he was pulled away from view. Maggie strained to see what was happening at the dark mouth of an alley. Men were speaking loudly. Her heart thumped and she realized she had to pee quite urgently. Then the dark face of Otis appeared at the window. The woman grunted and raised the pistol again, her arm shaking now. Maggie slowly pushed
the arm away. “It’s okay,” she said, rolling down the window. “That’s Otis, my barman.” “He gone,” said Otis. “You get your ass home now, Magpie. You need me to buzz a cab?” “I’ll be fine. Did you hurt him much?” “He gone.” “Thanks. I owe you a big tip the next time I swing by.” “You poor as a pigeon, Magpie.” Otis flashed his big, white teeth. “And you wouldn’t leave me a dime on the bar if you was a tycoon. I know you.” “That’s the truth, Otis. You have me all figured out.” “That’s a fact, Magpie. I got you all figured out.” “I just said that, dummy.” It was a game they played. Otis smiled, patting the hood as he stood up straight. “You make that lady take you home. And tell
her not to point no gun at me again.” Otis turned back toward the club. Maggie turned toward the woman in the driver’s seat. “Don’t ever point a gun at my friend.” “I heard him,” said the woman, burying the revolver inside her heavy jacket. “Can you give me a ride over to the Bella Rosa on Powell?” asked Maggie. “I live above the restaurant.” She pulled open her plain green cardigan to reveal a mustard-colored uniform with white trim. “Had to work late tonight. Didn’t have time to change into a skirt and blouse. It’s a jazz joint where Otis works. Just up the block. The New Orleans Swing Club. I hope to play the piano there someday.” “That green sweater next to your red hair makes you look cute.” “Thanks,” said Maggie. “I draw attention in a place like that.” She pushed some red hair behind her ears. “What about a lift? I know it’s late but I’m dead tired. I usually walk home after a night
out. I’m not afraid of much anymore. And the walk clears my head.” “I’d gladly take you, hon, but I’m outta gas.” “What? You’re kidding.” “Coasted right to the curb when she ran dry. Been here two days already. Just sitting.” “Don’t you have any money?” Maggie asked. “Nope, I’m flat broke.” “The cops don’t care?” “This isn’t a metered street. They’ve got other folks to bother.” “Where do you go to the bathroom?” Maggie asked. “You sure ask a lot of questions.” “Sorry. I have to pee.” “Push the door open,” the woman said. “Squat at the curb. Might rain later.” Maggie followed the woman’s instructions. With the door open the dome light came on again, and Maggie could see the mess in the back seat: the open suitcases, the loose clothes, blankets,
torn paper bags. The woman herself was a mess in wrinkled clothes, her blonde hair loose, unwashed. She looked about 40, heavyset in her thick, greasestained jacket. “This is your home, isn’t it?” asked Maggie as she closed the door. “It is now. You’re welcome to spend the night.” “Don’t mind if I do. I’ll buy coffee in the morning.” “I thought you didn’t have any money.” “An ambitious cat at the club left a dollar on the bar after buying me a shot of rye whiskey. He was marinated so I swiped it.” “Wasn’t that dollar for your friend?” “Otis? Yeah, I guess it was.” “That boy likes you.” “Otis?” Maggie yawned. “He doesn’t need that kind of trouble.” The woman reached into the back seat and dragged a blanket over for her guest. Maggie
removed her saddle shoes and pulled her feet up onto the bench. She was soon warm under the blanket and watched the woman do much the same thing for herself. “What’s your story?” asked Maggie. She liked a good story and was tired of her own. “There’s only one story that matters,” said the woman as she offered Maggie a cigarette. “And God’s done abandoned me.” Maggie smoked quietly, hoping to avoid a frustrating conversation about religion. She didn’t believe in God anymore, if she ever did. She’d come to realize at a young age that she was on her own in this vast world. She’d learned that especially in Manila, starving for three years in a Japanese prison camp. “How do you figure?” Maggie asked. “He took my husband from me. Killed him on Okinawa.” “Why’d He do that?” “To punish me.”
“For what?” Maggie yawned again. “For being a whore.” “You don’t seem like a whore.” “I lay with another man while my husband was in the Pacific. I hadn’t had a man for two years and I was tempted. That was against the church, I know. Got pregnant because of it. Then the baby died inside me, like I knew it would.” “All that stuff happens,” said Maggie. “God doesn’t have time to waste on your affairs of the heart.” “Les and I owned a small service station outside of Bodega Bay. Right on the water. It burned to the ground one night. I barely got out alive. Then Carl went back to his wife. I went broke. My mother died.” “Okay. Stop,” said Maggie. “And that’s just 1946.” Neither spoke for a minute. “You’ll get back on your feet soon,” said Maggie, not used to giving bland encouragement.
Thanksgiving would show up in a month. Just around the corner, 1947 crouched like a growling dog. “I’ll be dust in this seat before that happens. But thanks.” “Go to sleep,” said Maggie. “We’ll talk in the morning. Over coffee.” “I’m Edna.” The woman brushed a pleat of dry, blonde hair away from her face. “Maggie Bates. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I won a Chopin piano competition in Peking when I was 12. Seven years later I’m a cute waitress in San Francisco.” “You a limey?” “A China Coast girl from Hong Kong.” “I thought maybe you had an accent.” Edna studied Maggie. “I don’t know much about music but I’m good at arithmetic. You aren’t old enough to drink in clubs.” “Not old enough to buy drinks for myself, Edna, but men like me to sit close to them while
we listen to the music. Sometimes I place my hand on their arm. It’s a gentle service I provide. They reward me with beer.” “Aren’t you the clever one.” “I’m not as clever as I think I am, but I don’t blame God for the way my life turned out.” Maggie didn’t blame Him for her being in Manila at the wrong time. For spending the war in prison. She blamed her mother for some of that, for leaving Hong Kong in the first place. “Everything that’s happened to me has happened for reasons I can point to.” “I deserve what God did to me.” Maggie groaned, quashed her cigarette in the tray, then covered her head with the blanket. *** Morning broke cold. A low mist shrouded the sedan. Edna snored comfortably under her blanket, at home in her seat, as Maggie cracked the
door and slipped out, stiff and tired but happy for the fresh air. A coffee shop on the next block was open early, and in a few minutes Maggie returned with hot brew in two paper cups. Edna pushed the passenger door open as Maggie approached with full hands. “Here,” Maggie said, handing a cup to Edna. “Thanks. You didn’t have to get doughnuts.” “I love doughnuts,” said Maggie as she settled in, digging into the bag. “If I’m hungry, you must be.” “I haven’t eaten for two days,” said Edna. “My purse was stolen the first night I slept here. Wasn’t much money in it, but enough for a sandwich and some gas. Left the quarter glass on your side open for air, and some skinny mug got his arm in and unlocked the door. I didn’t hear a thing. I sleep pretty hard.” “I’ll bring you something from the restaurant later. Chef’s a wonder.” Maggie wiped crumbs off the front of her wrinkled uniform. “I need to
report to work, I suppose.” She finished the coffee and crumpled the paper cup in her hand. *** Maggie tried to explain to Mrs. Bragana that she had not been with a signore all night, but the reputable Italian owner of the Bella Rosa waved her away with her hand, then breezed around the cash register all morning, shaking her head with disappointment every time she looked at Maggie. Mrs. Bragana had given Maggie the spare room in her apartment above the restaurant, so the concern was real, if exaggerated. Once the lunch rush drained away, Maggie asked Chef to make her up a bag of scraps wrapped in waxed paper. Lasagna or cooked sausages would be best. As he handed her the bag without questions, Maggie stuck two fresh stiratos under her arm and grabbed a couple of cloth napkins from the dish trolley.
After a bus ride back to Edna’s place in a soft drizzle, Maggie tapped on the passenger side window. Edna smiled and unlocked the door. “Come on in. Wipe your feet.” Maggie slid in and closed the door. She handed the bags to Edna, who unwrapped the scraps and immediately began to devour them. “My goodness,” she said with a full mouth. “That’s good eatin’.” “Any godly action in your tank?” asked Maggie with a wry grin. Edna wiped her fingers on the napkin in her lap, then turned the key to engage the battery. Maggie’s eyes watched the gauge with anticipation, though she knew what the results would be. “Empty,” said Edna. “He’ll get around to you,” said Maggie. “The Old Man still has a lot of prayers to answer, if a little late. He never should have let war happen at all, if you ask me.” “You shouldn’t talk like that.”
“He can’t hear me.” “Please, don’t.” “Okay.” Maggie sat back and watched the people hurry by. Most were running errands or returning to work after lunch. “How did you end up in the Fillmore?” “God has His reasons. Maybe to meet you. Maybe I’m here to help you. Did you ever think about that?” Edna broke off a length of stirato, handing it to Maggie. “But I’m helping you with the loaves and sausages.” “And I thank the Lord for that.” “What’s your plan?” Maggie asked after rolling her eyes. “Once God fills ’er up, I mean.” She chuckled. “Do you think He’ll check the oil while He’s at it?” “I’m trying to get to Stockton to see my sister,” said Edna without smiling. “She’ll have me for a while. What’s your plan?” “My plan?”
“Yeah. You’re a smart young lady. You talk good. You’re cute in your freckly English way. How come you haven’t got a boyfriend to take you home at night? How come, if you’re so talented, you haven’t got a job playing piano in a fancy symphony? What’s God got against you? What have you done to make Him look the other way?” “Don’t start in on me.” “I’m sorry. I just don’t need you making fun of me.” “If I had money to give you, I would,” said Maggie, “but I live on tips and I’m not that cute. Jokes are cheap. I’m sorry.” “I forgive you,” said Edna, “but I don’t need your money. I have faith the Lord will fill my tank.” *** All evening at the restaurant, between taking orders, wiping down tables, and serving gelato, Maggie tried to come up with a plan to teach Edna
a lesson about her beloved God. It wasn’t until her head touched her pillow that she got an idea. Sitting up, she slipped on a pair of dungarees and a flannel shirt. Visiting the cigar box where she kept her stash of tips, she stared down at the insignificant sum. Like Edna, she wasn’t going anywhere at the moment. At least she had a warm bed and Chef’s cooking. Counting out 10 dollars in singles, half her fortune, she rolled them up and slipped them into her pocket. After grabbing a short wool jacket, she slipped out the kitchen’s heavy metal door to the alley. She’d remembered that a garden business a few blocks away kept a delivery truck next to the building. One fine summer afternoon she’d watched a handsome man without a shirt load flats into the bed. He’d invited her up for a smoke and sat on a five-gallon gas can while she dangled her legs off the gate, hoping not to be set on fire. There was no guarantee that the can would still be there, but it was worth a try. Maggie couldn’t wait to see
the expression on Edna’s face when she asked her to check the fuel gauge the next morning. The woman would get all teary and godly, and then Maggie would tell her that she’d hauled a heavy can of gasoline across town during the middle of the night and poured it into the tank herself, that God had nothing to do with it. This would hurt Edna’s feelings, but someone had to show her that people helped people, or people helped themselves. Then she’d hand her the 10 dollars, and all would be forgiven again. Under the bright glare of a street light, Maggie climbed onto the back bumper of the truck. The can was full and a struggle to lift over the gate, but eventually she lowered it to the ground and began the long walk toward Edna’s Plymouth. After a half-hour of exertion, stopping to catch her breath every few blocks, Maggie finally approached Post Street with the sloshing can. The growing anticipation made her heart beat even harder. It was going to be a memorable lesson.
Then the anticipation died in her muscles. The car was gone. Rubbing her aching palms together, Maggie felt like the abused soul now, her life a continued and utter waste of time. Looking down the block, she saw the familiar neon sign. As she dragged the can into the lobby of the club, Otis hurried over to help her. “Take it,” she said. “I don’t ever want to see it again.” “What the hell you doin’?” asked Otis, carrying the can behind the bar as if it weighed as much as an empty shot glass. “Plottin’ arson?” “Give me a beer and a shot of rye.” Maggie climbed onto a stool and rubbed her sweaty face with her palm. The clock over the bar said 1:45. “No.” “Just the beer?” “No, Magpie. I ain’t gonna lose my job over you. Go on and sidle up to that old fella down the bar. He ready to buy you a drink before we close.”
Maggie glanced over at the man. He smiled at her through a white mustache. “I’m tired of cadging drinks from old men.” “Well, you tryin’ to do the same thing to me right now. And I ain’t that old.” “Yes, I was trying to do the same thing to you,” Maggie said, then sighed. “What’s wrong, Magpie? You feelin’ unfulfilled tonight?” “That’s funny,” she said. “Go on. What you been up to?” “I’ve been getting to know that lady in the Plymouth. Edna. With the empty tank. I brought her coffee this morning and good Italian sausage this afternoon. We talked about philosophical matters.” Maggie started into a bowl of unshelled peanuts. “She was ready to sit there at the side of the road for the rest of her life. Waiting for God.” “If that’s her way, let her be.” “She’s gone, Otis. As if her prayers had been answered.”
“What the hell do you think happened?” “Not that. I’ll never believe that.” Maggie put her elbows on the bar and settled her head in her hands. “I dragged that can all the way up here from Powell Street. Was going to teach her a lesson about faith while helping her out, and I went to a lot of trouble about it.” “Well, she came in here before the show,” said Otis. “Asked if she could use the clean toilet in the kitchen. Said you recommended she do that.” “I might have suggested such a thing,” said Maggie. “Or you could clean the toilets for the customers.” Otis stared hard at her, a disappointed look on his face. “Well, what did she say?” asked Maggie. “She said a miracle had occurred.” “No. Stop it. I’m sorry I said the toilets are filthy.” “She said a miracle had occurred. That the good Lord had filled her tank.”
“Stop it!” Otis smiled. “A cop pulled over to check on her. The man had a can of gas in the trunk for such occasions. He gave her some money to get her on her way, to get her safely out this rotten neighborhood.” “I wish I could have made sure she got it,” said Maggie. “The money?” “The lesson.” “You always tryin’ to teach people a lesson, Magpie. That ain’t kind. You got a big head on you, and you can be a self-righteous thing to behold.” Otis turned his back on her and began to straighten the bottles behind the bar. “No wonder you ain’t got a fella.” “Is that all you can say about me? That I got a big head?” “Stop fishin.’God knows you got all the talent in the world.” “What’s He going to do about it?” Maggie
asked as Otis turned toward her. “You wait and see.” Otis started to push a damp rag along the bar, collecting her pile of peanut mess, then brushing it onto the floor. “You gonna play here someday for real, Magpie. For good money. But you got to listen and wait. You’re a stylish thumper. You draw a crowd at the Sunday jam, but you got to be nice to people. Mostly you got to listen.” “I don’t know,” said Maggie, staring at herself in the mirror. “That’s a lot to ask.” “You go on home now,” said Otis. “Get yo’self some righteous knocks.” Maggie slid off the stool. “I think I’ll go home now and get some sleep.” Otis’s face wrinkled as he picked up a roll of bills.
He looked up and down the bar before slipping it into his breast pocket. “I just said that, dummy.” THE END
New Beginnings By Caitlin Ryan
There is something about starting fresh wiping the slate clean opening new doors that makes it so daunting that you do not dare open that door. Why? Because it takes so much work so much unnavigated territory open ends unanswered questions that the door remains shut. But fast forward one year two years three years and imagine that door still shut. Or open.
0125 The Emperor - The Fool - The Empress by Lucas Galante
NAME OF THE GAME By Rosalind Kaliden
We accept that humble St. Francis happily preached to the birds in the trees, tamed the ferocious wolf of Gubbio, and embraced Sister Moon and Brother Sun. What a joy, then, it must be for Jesus, King of kings, and Lord of lords, to engage in stimulating conversation With the regal Emperor penguin.
Pueblo Dwellings by Laura Giardina
YZOD By Matthew Wallace
In 1952 the Soviet Union had approximately 199,726 inmates imprisoned in the Kolyma—an extensive network of forced labor camps. A part of the gulag system, the camps were built to house political prisoners, dissidents, criminals, and others. The inmates were used for slave labor to extract gold and timber from the Siberian tundra. These work camps utilized a cruel mixture of starvation, abuse, and exploitation. Many were worked to death; others were killed by guards or predatory gangs. A precious few tried to escape. Isolated by thousands of kilometers of unforgiving tundra, they disappeared into the taiga. Scholars estimate that between 300,000 and more than 3,000,000 were sacrificed to feed the Kremlin’s appetite for gold.
The particular event that occurred in Transit Camp 139-G is nothing more than a historical footnote. Because so much of the information was based on the audiotaped interrogation of Aleksandr Korolev, the story has been widely discredited. Mr. Korolev (Inmate #324-54321913) died of natural causes in the Kazan Polytechnic Hospital for the Criminally Insane in 1958. His role in the escape of certain high-value inmates and the disappearance of his superior officer, Isaak Bronin, has been consumed by history.
The Clearing—Midwinter 1952
Five days without food. Walking was a struggle. I shuffled my feet forward through snow, ice, and slick pebbles, toes frozen in my boots. The hill felt monstrously steep. I lunged forward from tree to tree, pulling myself upward. The remote sun dropping below the hills. The temperature plunging with the darkness. I had to push onward to the campfire
in the clearing. In less than an hour I would either freeze or be devoured by the wolves that were following behind me. Fighting to breathe the cold air, I stopped to lean against a bile-colored tree. The clearing lay a little over 20 meters uphill. I checked the pistol in my pocket, spinning the cylinder to make sure it was not frozen. Time was short. I pushed off the tree and leaned into the hill. A few hard steps in, I caught the smell of roasting meat, its aroma traveling unconsumed by the cold. My tongue tacked itself against my frozen lips; I had to pull it away with my gloved hand, spitting out bits of salty, greased wool. A few steps more. I found Golgotha. The clearing was dominated by a large popping fire. It offered only a remembrance of warmth, but still more than I’d felt in days. On a thick branch, a haunch of meat thrust out over the fire. The golden sizzle/pop of fat dripped off.
The airman waved, smiling. “You have found me, Commandant.” I went to correct him, but before I could get my mouth open, he raised the blackened stick. “No offense meant, Lieutenant Commandant.” He smiled into his hand like a shy teenage girl. Then he shrugged, leaned forward, and with soft fingers wrestled off a large hunk of skin and muscle. He popped it into his mouth, the liquefied fat running down his chin, dripping onto his flight-crew jumpsuit. “Almost ready,” he said, chewing. He smiled again. “No reason to be shy. It’s only a donkey.” I felt unnerved by the American’s voice. His Russian was grammatically perfect but lacked any accent. Not native, not foreign, not anything. I was so hungry, I felt faint. I dropped onto a cold stone and stretched my hands and feet towards the fire. “You’re not hungry?” I looked at the fire and flinched as my stomach
stabbed me. “Not ready yet?” Behind me I heard the scrape of the claws filter between the trees. He probed at the meat. “This smell, it makes our friends out there hungry.” I shuddered. “Here, everything is ravenous.” He poked at the haunch again. “Well, now that you’ve caught me, we can sleep here. The fire will keep us safe for now. While you work up your appetite, I will tell you a story. A true story, by the way. Or a story based on truth, like a parable.” “Parable?” Too exhausted and too hungry to fight, I motioned for him to go ahead. In truth, I needed to buy time, to figure out how to get us both back to camp. “There was an older man, a good man. He lived in Andrushky during the Holodomor. He was hardworking, loyal, a good farmer and a capable fisherman. He was devoted to his party and his family. Both he and his elderly wife were surprised when she became pregnant. In his village food was
scarce, but feeling blessed, the old couple decided they would find a way to raise the child.” The American shifted his gaze, looking away, listening to the scratching sounds. The wolves hovered just out of sight. “The old couple was resolute and for nine months scrimped and saved and sacrificed. Then the bountiful day came, and the farmer’s family was blessed with twins, healthy and pink and fresh, and mewling for their mother’s milk. “The farmer was stunned. He knew he could not feed four, only three. The party officials had swallowed his grain, and fish were few. The village party head offered him nothing. So he visited the wise elder woman by the Pavolochka River and asked her.” The airman paused, stood, and rotated the branch, turning the haunch of meat just so. Oblivious to the cold, he sat down on the rock, folding his ungloved hands in his lap. “The wisewoman held each child up by the
ankles, turning them this way and that. They were identical. She advised the farmer to place each of them in identical jars. ‘Your wife must make the choice,’ she said. ‘Place the other jar in the woods and never return there.’” “This is just a fable,” I said. “Does it matter?” Out of sight, beyond the prison of trees, the scratching grew louder. “So, I must know. Are we in this together?” Transit Camp 139-G—Three Months Earlier I first saw the airman when he was dumped, weeping, out of the back of the camp’s aging Zil. The covered truck had just made the 36-hour round trip to Magadan. It seemed ready to collapse as it chugged up the blacktop road, the bald tires spinning on ice patches. It wheezed to a stop in the central yard of our camp, its engine knocking. My adjutant, Aleksandr Korolev, tapped me on the shoulder, pointing at the back of the truck.
“Little General, this should be interesting.” I opened my mouth to rebuke him but said nothing. He knew my distaste for that nickname but could not resist poking me about my past. No one came here, jailer or jailed, without decisive flaws in their character. The roly-poly fat man that tumbled out of the truck struck the ground hard like a mass of uncooked dough, doing nothing to catch himself. “He won’t last 10 days,” Aleksandr said. The guards began unloading the rest of the convicted. “How many in all?” I said. “13.” He held up a handful of folders. “Mostly yellows and reds; and this one.” The folder was purple. I had never seen a purple folder before. With each convict came a folder: yellow for 10 years, red for five years. But purple? Purple people had ceased to exist outside the system. Purples never left the system, nor did any guard who allowed them to escape or die on his watch.
Aleksandr took the purple folder and opened it. “Isaak, you need to look at this. He’s an American.” “What?” I said. “Impossible, I know, but the file is never wrong. American Airman Cecil Hawthorne. Ground Support Crew, 341st Airwing. A deserter, he fled into North Korea earlier this year. Looks like the KGB decided to keep him. Speaks Russian, tried to claim asylum. Arrived from Khabarovsk through Magadan.” A deserter? I could not take my eyes off the American. He had managed to rise to his knees in his too-thin, filthy jumpsuit, faded from orange to a weathered, dried blood color. But his boots were a dream. Scuffed but rugged and warm, he would never manage to keep them. Here, even the camp commandant wore barely insulated East German shit. The convicts wrapped their feet in bits of rags and shreds of flour sacks. I had seen inmates stab each other over a pair of socks. This fool American had just become the target of everyone, from the
guards outside the wire to the criminals who preyed on the other inmates. Since the truck had arrived late in the day, the work parties were milling around the common area, preparing for dinner. They were watching the new wards of the state unload, like wolves watching the village cow. While the hungry political prisoners pointed at the American and spoke in low tones, the criminals—the practical men—looked over the new fish with dead, shark eyes. Still on his knees, the American, his face purplish, seemed to be praying, his hands clasped together. Aleksandr closed the folder, arranging it with the others. He, too, was taken by the boots. Jailer or jailed, one survived by being practical. “How did he get to be so fat?” “I don’t care if he loses a few pounds,” I said, “but make sure he survives until he is transferred. Neither of us want to explain his untimely death to the Commandant. Or the KGB, for that matter.”
Aleksandr nodded. “Yes, sir.” He stepped down from the porch and headed over toward the new wards of the state. He walked with an awkward, rolling gate, one leg shorter than the other. He had never explained why. “And make sure they—” I pointed to the sharks milling with the regular prisoners, “make sure they understand, he needs to leave this camp alive, for all our sakes.” Aleksandr nodded. “And one more thing… Aleksandr stopped, listening. “I’ll go a hundred rubles that Convict Lokaev is wearing those boots by roll call tomorrow.” “Only a fool would take that bet.” Aleksandr tipped his cap with respect, then assumed his command voice. “Okay, Dimitri, line these useless wards of the state up.” The guards pushed the unlucky souls into a rough line. Aleksandr began to pace in front of it.
“Inmates, you are now to be housed in Transit Camp 139-G. Stand in line and answer when your name is called. Joseph Pavlov, Ward of the State number…” Ever the patriot, he called the American last. * * * “We named him Akaky Akakievich,” Convict Lokaev said. “He did not seem to mind.” I leaned against the porch rail, watching the guards sort the prisoners into work details. Lokaev looked at the yard, in no hurry to join his assigned group. We both knew his place in the hierarchy. He pulled out a cigarette made of old newspaper, struck a match, and inhaled. In the camps, this represented a display of power and wealth. The cigarette smelled sharp in the cold air, and I could sense a faint odor of tobacco. “Is he really an American?” Lokaev asked. “The file says he tried to defect to North Korea.”
“Who the fuck defects from America?” He dragged on the cigarette, pausing to admire the glow. The airman stumbled out into the yard, shoved from behind by Tolik Glushkov. He was known, not so affectionately, as Donkey around the camp. The American staggered forward, his golden boots still on his feet. “You must be losing your touch, Convict Lokaev,” I said. “It’s been over 48 hours.” Lokaev snorted, mashing out the cigarette onto his palm. “Isaak, you cannot imagine what some people will do to keep a pair of boots.” He dug into his coat pocket. “Don’t worry, I would never use your first name in public. Order must be maintained after all.” He took three newspaper-rolled cigarettes and laid them on the porch by my feet. “And don’t be giving these away to your comrade guards. They are for you.” He tipped his fur cap in a gesture I chose to interpret as respect and walked towards his work group. “Time to collect for my boot rental,” he said
over his shoulder. His worn shoes made a cracking sound in the mud-frost-covered red clay. I scooped up the cigarettes. Convict Lokaev knew I did not smoke, but any cigarette made even with a trace of tobacco was more valuable than a day’s labor in the worst gold mine in all of the Kolyma. I knew better than to refuse the offering. Inside the wire, the criminal gangs kept order and extracted their price, often assisting the tired, overworked guards. * * * The first deep cold of the season came the next day. For three days, nothing came in or out of the camp. The only movements were the cook teams distributing reduced rations to the inmates. Too cold to work, too cold to eat. We lost two the first night, three the second. The inmates passed the corpses out the door, stacking them like cordwood. A week later, one of the
work details would spend hours breaking them apart with a fire axe. I had spent the days huddled in my bed with all my clothes on, talking with Aleksandr. Our breath coming out in little clouds. Enduring. “I’m always hungry.” He was trying to gnaw little bites out of a frozen loaf of coarse camp bread. “You know, this is not any better nearly frozen.” “I think we will lose a few more before the cold relents.” “There will always be new ones. Prisoners come; prisoners go.” He dropped his bread, thrusting his hands back under the blankets. “Your turn to put another log in the stove.” “Rank has its privilege.” I ignored the whine of protest, reached behind me, and found my clipboard. “As soon as the cold breaks, we should organize a burial detail.” Aleksandr and I knew that burial detail killed nearly as many men as it buried. At the end of an already long day, digging in the frozen ground often proved too much for the prisoner’s feeble condition.
“You should pick Brodsky, that writer fellow.” “Idiot,” I said. “We don’t have an inmate named Brodsky. Do you mean Brik?” “Brodsky, Brik. What does it matter? It’s the same Zionist blood. One artist just as useless as the other. All filthy Jews, enemies of the state.” “And what am I?” “Reformed.” He sat up. “Your family renounced religion long ago. You ate dinner with Lenin, for Christ’s sake.” I felt my face flush. “I was an infant. Put a log on the fire.” He was quiet for a second and then pulled aside his covers. He cracked his back as he stood, then walked over to the woodpile. “You care too much. You were a Hero of the Soviet Union at 15. You showed me the letter.” I clenched my teeth. I had been a fool to show Aleksandr my Letter of Commendation. Too much vodka that night. He knew of my disastrous interrogation by
Colonel Medvedev. Fortunately, I had not spoken of my mother and the months spent crammed in a boxcar to get here. I pressed down my guilt. “And look, that letter got me this great job.” In fact, I chose my fear and the party over my own father. I was exactly where I belonged. Aleksandr fell quiet, jamming the poker into the stove, failing to coax more heat from it. He gave up, pushed the stove door closed with the poker, and pulled something out of the woodpile. “Look here.” It was a small bottle, partially filled with some clear liquid. “I have been saving this for a special occasion. Let’s drink to a break in the weather.” He took a deep swig, corked the bottle, and tossed it over to my bed. A reused bottle, its label long rubbed to incoherence. I held it up. The liquid was a little cloudy. “It’s homemade, but it will help,” he said. Uncorking it, I held the bottle up, tipping it towards him, and put it to my lips. I mimicked taking
a shot. I could not swallow. * * * The next morning, the cold stayed. Aleksandr claimed to be sick, and maybe he was. His face was drawn and pale. A yellow-green bilious mass had frozen to his blanket. “Please,” he said. Pulling on my frozen boots, I gathered my clipboard and pencil. “Only today, you hooligan,” I said, offering a smile. “Any recommendations?” Aleksandr shook his head and pulled the blankets up close. I added a log to the woodstove and kicked the door shut. Guards enjoyed handing out work duty. Work duty was a bonanza of small bribes. Even though the prisoners had little of value to give, they would offer bits of food they had saved from their starvationlevel rations.
There is nothing more pathetic than having an emaciated, starving man give up half his small bread ration so he can spend the day out of the cold. As odious as emptying the barracks latrine might be, it was better than breaking trail in the deep snow or cutting giant timber in the forest. Often I declined the offer and assigned work according to the established work rules, even when it might cost a life. I walked out onto the porch, flinching not from the hard wind, but the stench. For me, the smell is the strongest sensation in the camp. It flows over the frozen ground, propelled by merciless winds. The smell is not death, but of layers of decay . I crouched down on my heels, trying to keep out of the wind, and look over Aleksandr’s work assignments. Convict Fedorov strode up, his hands wrapped in mittens that looked almost new. Better than mine. I had last seen them on our camp doctor, a yellowfolder political undesirable. I could not guess and did not ask. My boss,” he said, “has requested that he and
the fat American be placed on latrine duty for the next two cycles.” There was a weighty clunk as he placed two cans of condensed milk on the porch. “Both?” It was a rich gift. He stared at my face. “Less than you sold your father for?” I ignored the insult, the bribe too rich to ignore. I reached for the cans. Fedorov quickly snatched one of the cans and disappeared it into his coat. “The second tomorrow,” he said. The single can felt dense and heavy in my hand. I could almost taste it. I dropped it into my overcoat, hesitating over the clipboard. “Just those two?” The tight, pugnacious little face sneered, exposing brown misshapen teeth. “Don’t worry. You won’t need to file a death report. The American will get less than your father did.” My life had been too famous, my treachery too celebrated. I did not try and explain that my father
was already at Lubyanka when I had agreed to what Colonel Medvedev had suggested. Or that I had never seen such rank or felt such pressure before. I did not explain that I believed it was the only way to keep my mother and myself safe in our spacious Moscow apartment. I did not explain that I was 15 years old and had already pissed my pants. Instead, I felt the weight of the can in my pocket and nodded. He pulled his scarf over his face and turned his back, heading to the others gathering in the yard. I walked behind him, studying the clipboard, calling out men’s names, assigning job duties. When a prisoner approached, I simply ignored them. No little bribes, and with the big one hidden in my pocket, I appeared an honest broker. When I called the American’s name, I glanced at him. He looked wobbly and weak as he stood in line in his wonderful boots. His white-gray face lit up when he heard latrine duty. As if I had issued a holy writ. For the first time, the American spoke to me.
His face said thank you, but his words were, “How much?” I ignored him, robbed of speech. “It will be a good day,” he said. That evening one of the hunting parties managed to bring in not one but two elk. While the guards took the best parts, even the lowest convict got a watery stew with hunks of meat. * * * The next morning, Aleksandr remained in his bed, pale and exhausted. I opened the door, finding the second can of condensed milk. I handed out the work assignments again—Lokaev and the American together again in the latrines. That day, I processed the paperwork to dispatch two truckloads of doomed men to the gold mines and two more to the logging camp a scant five hours up the road. ***
I had not seen the American for two days. Aleksandr was feeling better and had resumed his work assignment duties. I avoided the prisoners. I checked the duty assignments—the notation next to the airman’s name simply stated illness. In passing, I asked Aleksandr about the airman. “He’s having a hard time,” he said. Later that afternoon, the camp doctor approached me. While he was a yellow-folder, guilty of conspiracy against the State, he was the only medical doctor in the camp. “Lieutenant Commandant Bronin,” he said, “I have a small request. Might the American assist me some days in the infirmary? He has good hands and a basic knowledge of medicine, which is more than myassistant has developed. He would be an asset for the camp.” “We’re a transit camp, Doctor. I don’t see him here long-term.” “Commandant Bronin, I do not intend to detain him from his fate. But while he is here, he could assist. I will end up with fewer men on the
physically unable to perform list.” The doctor knew full well that I had production quotas to meet, and more men cutting timber helped. “I think he is from solid Russian stock. He told me his grandfather’s name was Semert.” “That’s not a Russian last name.” The doctor shrugged. “But maybe he means Smertin. And it became corrupted. When we lose our connection with the motherland, we become unsound.” I snorted. “Says a three-time convicted Trotskyite.” The doctor took the insult and bowed ever so slightly. I waved my clipboard to dismiss him. Then, with a sudden burst of inspiration, I had an idea. “Doctor, could he replace you on the trip to the logging camp?” I did not need to explain myself. The doctor knew I had been instructed to investigate the burned logging camp. I did not want to send the doctor; he seemed too frail, too old. And I feared losing him,
for my own sake if no one else’s. The doctor maintained a pretense of considering and then nodded. No sane man wanted a five-hour ride in the back of an uncovered truck to scavenge the remains of a tragedy. Pretending to inspect the grounds, I fingered the second can of condensed milk in my pocket. I had savored the first late at night, small sips at a time, taking the milk as if from my mother’s breast. I kept the empty can for trading later. I interrupted my slow walk when the American sauntered out of the infirmary. He smiled broadly. I could see nothing but his awkward gait, his round, fat body, and his boots. “Commandant Bronin, you wanted to address me, sir?” His accentless Russian was so high-pitched it felt like nails on a chalkboard. “I’m Lieutenant Commandant,” I said. “The prisoner must use the correct form of address.” “Apologies,” he said, his eyes merry. “My Russian sometimes fails me.
I never want to dissapoint.” “The doctor has requested that you assist him in the recovery ward. One week of hospital duty.” He beamed. I waited, drawing out the cost. “Tonight you will take the doctor’s place and go with the work detail to reclaim what you can from the logging camp. I want you to be diligent in finding anything that’s useful.” He smiled, pleased. “I will be a diligent Soviet citizen and endure each and every hardship. Until you and those dedicated to the party can comfortably call me comrade.” I waved my clipboard. “Be gone.” He bowed slightly and waddled back towards the hospital. He scraped his feet, knocking off the ice before entering the infirmary. The doctor would be pleased. ***
The work party returned from the burned camp three days later, during a light, wet snowstorm. The sticky, sleety flakes this early foretold a hard winter. The men clambered down from the open truck bed, exhausted and ebullient. While waiting for Aleksandr to emerge from the cab, I watched them mill about. Every one of them seemed to have new bits of clothing, fresh rags on their feet, or new things tucked into their coats. “Line up,” the guard said. Fedorov stood in the middle, close to the American. The airman stood, his boots blackened with soot, but still on his feet. The passenger door creaked and Aleksandr tumbled out. He fell onto the snow, but climbed back to his feet. His face an idiot clown smile, he walked a drunk’s facsimile of a straight line, his short leg making him look like a badly listing ship.Aleksandr motioned to the guards, dismissing the prisoners to their barracks. He shuffled to a stop in front of me, offering a phony salute, and pushed his clipboard at
me. His notes were badly scribbled underneath the role ledger. “Little General. All present and accounted for,” he said. I took the clipboard, clicking my tongue. I had grown up with my father drinking to insensibility. It was his best skill. “These notes, they are illegible.” He smiled. “It was a rough road. I knew you would want a report on my arrival.” I considered. “Are you drunk?” Not that I cared too much. “He’s amazing, your American. He found a nearly full liter of vodka.” “And you seized it?” “It was a long road,” he said. “The other convicts were repelled by the remains of the fire. But that fat American just dove in. He would stick his hand into a pile of burned wood and pull out a scarf or a shoe. While our loyal Soviets were vomiting and malingering, he seemed joyous. But he’s really not a Russian.”
I glanced at the clipboard. “Not Russian?” “Not at all, and he proved it. He started giving things to people—just giving them. Young Zhukov was given a scarf, old man Ivanov a coat that fit his little body. And he found me real vodka, not some bathtub gin. Worst of all, he was kind. He traded Convict Fedorov for a handful of cigarettes and then gave them out. I even kept half for you.” Aleksandr dug in his pocket. “Keep them. I don’t smoke. You know that.” Aleksandr shrugged. “How could a man such as this betray a country that kept him so fat and stupid?” I did not manage an answer. In that moment, a fight broke out by the edge of the barracks. Donkey had pushed Fedorov against the wall and was methodically punching him in the face. Even from 20 meters away, I could hear the wet cracks as the Donkey hammered Fedorov. I dashed across the yard, not caring about a
prisoner’s safety, but in the camp, fighting spread like a contagion. “Stop!” I pushed past the convicts, most of whom stood around like tombstones. In the camps, everyone knew that physical power was moral power. Lokaev stood in the doorway watching, calm, as his second-in-command was brutalized. Donkey stopped when I shouted, holding Convict Fedorov up with one hand. His clenched fist dripped dark blood onto the white ground. “Let him go,” I said evenly. Donkey released his hand. Fedorov slid down the building and folded against the ground. “You and you,” I said, pointing at random, “get this man to the infirmary.” I glanced at Lokaev. His face was impassive. Standing just below him, the American looked up. His smiling, belly-white, deadfish face aglow. As the two convicts gathered up the victim, I turned. “Everyone back to the barracks. I want to see Convict Lokaev and Convict Hawthorne.”
It was a struggle to get the strange sounding last name out. I stormed back to my office. *** My office was a tight little box. I left them standing at attention in front of my desk, pretending to concentrate on my clipboard. No one moved, but neither conveyed the anxiety that most men felt standing before me. I slapped the clipboard on the desk. “I will not have this sort of disruptive conflict in the yard. I do not tolerate disorder here.” Lokaev nodded, offering the slightest of bows. “Yes, sir.” The American half raised his arm. “Sir, I’m not sure why I’m being questioned.” I glared. The American offered a weak smile.
Lokaev caught my eye. “Sir, it’s a family disagreement. I will make sure it’s cleaned up, sir. But Hawthorne—” he also struggled with the English word, “had nothing to do with the incident.” “There are no families here,” I said. “There is only the State and the rules.” I held my face rigid, but inside I recoiled. Lokaev was a hardened man whose entire life was defined by unalloyed self-interest. For him to come to anyone’s defense was inconceivable. “Convict Lokaev, you may return to the barracks.” The convict glanced at the American and departed. The door slammed closed with the hard, harsh report of a rifle shot. I left the American standing at attention, walking out of his view. His corpse-colored face was serene, his breathing regular. The smell of burnt flesh shed off him in waves. “Convict, I do not know what sort of game you’re playing, but I will not allow it.” “Game?” I poured as much authority into my voice as I could muster.
“Don’t test me, or you will spend a week in a cold isolation cell.” I stared at him from the side. And then I caught it. There was just a faint give in his knees. Every human has his weak spot, and I had just found his. I let the air thicken. “If you wish to continue your duties in the infirmary, you will follow the rules to the letter. Do you understand?” His fingers twitched just a little. I made myself believe he had nodded. Just as I was about to dismiss him, I saw his fat fingers dig into a pocket in his flight suit. “Commandant…” He pulled out a burned, dented can and shook it, smiling. “I thought of you. I’m pretty certain it’s peaches.” He placed the can on the edge of my desk. “I found it in the debris at the logging camp.” “Peaches?” There were no canned peaches in the Kolyma, and none that could have survived a raging fire that consumed an entire camp. “That’s nonsense.” “I am as honest as Col. Medvedev.”
I froze, confused. “I’m sorry, Commandant,” he said. “I meant no offense.” “Get the fuck out of here now! Go back to the infirmary. You will be reassigned soon.” The American turned and left. I stood leaning against my desk, turning over the can in my hands. Black with soot and dented in a half dozen places, there were no labels or markings. I hurled it against the wall. I sat and drafted an order for Aleksandr to arrange a transfer of the American. On the way out the door, I picked up the can, sliding it into my pocket. The peaches were the best thing I’ve ever tasted. * * * Following an argument with Aleksandr, I ordered him to drive to the nearest telegraph site and request an urgent transfer of the purple file
and attached prisoner. Late the next night, Aleksandr returned, delayed by an unfortunate flat tire, but he carried an order authorizing immediate transfer of the airman. The order instructed me to send the airman and three yellow-folder convicts on to a camp a day’s journey up the Kolyma Road. “Good.” I signed the transfer order. “Aleksandr, let’s move these four enemies of the state out at first light.” “Yes, Little —” My look cut Aleksandr’s tired joke short. “That will be all, Lieutenant Korolev.” I walked to my cabin, pushed a birch log into the stove, and fell asleep. There were no dreams, no haunting memories, only deep blackness. Aleksandr shook me awake. “Isaak, Isaak, they are missing.” The sun pushed into the burlap-covered window. It was late. “Missing? Who?” “Four of them. I don’t know how. It must’ve happened when I was away. They’ve vanished. The
airman, Convict Lokaev, the doctor, and the donkey. They just disappeared.” I held up my hand. “Water.” Aleksandr stepped over to the water basin and cracked the ice with his baton. I grabbed the basin and splashed myself with the freezing water, heedless that my bed was soaked. The cold air and water burned like fire. I was awake. I stood and buttoned my overcoat. Aleksandr kept moving, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his uneven legs making a discordant thumping sound. He was constantly muttering about how the escape must have happened when he was away. Even as panicked as I felt, I knew it would not matter. Maybe the KGB would shoot me first. No one found forgiveness for losing a purple-folder. No one. “I have everyone at attention in the yard,” Aleksandr said. “I checked the account myself, five times.” “Have two guards patrol the fence. Find out where they cut the wire,” I said.
Aleksandr and I stepped out onto the porch. All the prisoners of Transit Camp 139-G stood at attention. The guards surrounded the sorry collection of inmates, many so weak that they struggled to stay upright. “There are four more in the infirmary. They simply can’t stand,” Aleksandr said. I nodded. The wind blew in from the east, carrying bits of snow and ice. “Let them stand,” I said. Aleksandr matched me stride for stride as I marched to the infirmary. I opened the door and beckoned him inside. “They can’t go far in this weather,” I said, then raised my voice, “And they could not get 500 meters with the doctor alongside them.” Aleksandr nodded, the lack of understanding plain on his face. “Doctor,” I said, “come out of hiding. I know you did not escape with them. Come out. Now.” The door to one of the small medicine cabinets
popped open. Stiff, the old man unfolded out of the cabinet, falling into a tangle on the floor. “Comrade,” I said, “help him up and bring him here.” Aleksandr yanked the doctor to his feet. He was acting more from anxiety than sadism, I told myself. The doctor stood before me, unwilling to meet my gaze, his rag-wrapped foot making a faint thumping sound against the wooden floor. “He told me that you would find me.” “He told you to hide?” The old man nodded. “He gave the camp a thermometer.” He held it up in his hand, awed. I rocked back on my heels. If canned peaches were unknown in the Kolyma, a thermometer was the Ark of the Covenant. I snatched it from his hands. It was intact. Well used but genuine. It was stamped with a German manufacturer’s logo. “He told me he found it in the remains of the
logging camp. I cleaned it and tested it. It works.” Angered to the point of boiling, I tamped my feelings down after taking a long moment. I handed back the thermometer with both hands. “Did the American tell you anything?” “No, but Dalkan—I mean Convict Lokaev— spoke at length to Convict Fedorov.” The doctor pointed at one of the cots. “Stay here, at attention.” I stomped towards Convict Fedorov. He lay uncomfortably on the cot, his face a twisted red and black mass of cuts and swelling where the donkey had brutalized him. I stood over the cot. Fedorov breathed out, his exhale sounding like a clogged sewer pipe. Not quite a death rattle, but soon. I punched his leg, hard. “Convict!” His eyes rolled over, trying to focus, failing. “Doctor?” The doctor approached, standing nearby. “I need to speak to this man.” “He’s beyond help.”
“Morphine,” I said. The doctor hesitated. “I have only—” “Morphine,” I said, letting my voice instruct. I knew he had only a few doses. The doctor came back to the bed with a full syringe. The color was off. He held up the syringe. “I diluted it a bit,” he said. “It should be enough.” I nodded. Without a trace of gentleness, the doctor leaned in and injected the convict. I stood impassive; Aleksandr paced until I dismissed him to check on the fence patrol. The doctor checked Fedorov’s pulse and then dribbled a stream of water onto his face. Fedorov struggled awake. I leaned in close. His face was a mass of broken bones. He carried the unforgettable taint of sepsis. His one functioning eye opened. “It’s the little general,” he said, trying to shape his mouth into something of a grin. Gruesome. “Where did they go?” He offered the broken-faced smile again, coughing
as he pushed out the words. “I was supposed to go with them.” I leaned in. “Where?” Before he could answer, Aleksandr and two guards burst in. “They cut a hole in the north fence, right by the commissary. They took a sack of food, mostly potatoes and some venison.” “That’s not enough,” the doctor said. “The nearest city or train depot is maybe three weeks away on foot. They will starve.” Fedorov coughed and gurgled, his speech mocking and cruel, red bubbles popping from his lips. It seemed the best his broken face could manage to produce a laugh. “He took his provisions with him.” “What?” I said. There was a bloodied cough and then Fedorov winced a smile. “He’s going to eat the American. That fat fuck will be a meat source. Walking protein.” His hand quaking, the doctor handed me a folded sheet of paper. His face was bloodless.
“The American, he gave me this.” The writing was crude block script. Come save me, it said. I knew what came next. I turned to Aleksandr. His hands were in the air. “I wasn’t here when they escaped.” “Lieutenant, prep three field packs with five days’ rations. Detail two guards with rifles and pistols to accompany me.” Aleksandr let out his breath all at once. I told him to send patrols out along both roads, but I knew they were not going along the roads. They were headed deep into the taiga. I went to my cabin to fetch my pistol and snowshoes. The escapees’ trail was easy to follow in the snow. Late on the first day, we saw small specks forging a path through the snow. Early the next morning, I caught them with my binoculars topping a ridge, well out of rifle shot. Patiently, trailing behind them in the pines, a group of at least a dozen wolves moved. Let the wolves eat them, I thought. But I knew I had
to bring back the American alive. That afternoon, the guard, an oaf from Odessa, stepped into the stream. He never saw the sharp point of a deadfall. The stake punched through his ill-repaired shoe. “Fuck,” he said, looking down. The ice was sprayed with blood. A light pink flowered under the thin ice. I knew the wound was fatal, even if he didn’t. The guard fell onto the bank, pulling out the sharp timber, and lay back in agony. Two days from the nearest road or the camp, he might limp along, but he was doomed without help. “Fuck,” I said. The second guard, a farm boy of some practical intelligence, shouldered off his pack, divided the food evenly, and handed half the provisions and a handful of pistol rounds to me. While the village boy fashioned a crude crutch, I stuffed the bleeding hole with rags, wrapped the foot, and forced the remains of his shoe back onto his foot.
“See that he gets back to the camp.” The farm boy knew what I meant. After a bit of shared venison jerky, the pair headed back along the trail. I pushed onward. Late in the twilight, the wolves skirted around me, heading back along the trail toward the wounded man, drawn to consume. That night, I found a few hours rest under a gigantic pine. Its branches dipped down, making it feel like a cave. I dreamed of holding my mother’s hand. The next afternoon, I found the remains of a campsite, its embers still warm. For the next three days, the same pattern repeated. A long hard day and another nearly-warm cooking fire. My food had almost run out. I began to get hungry. The following day, I took a shot at a rabbit, but missed far wide of the mark. The rifle was useless to me, so I buried it. I drove on, determined. We pushed into the endless taiga, pursuer and pursued. Things did not go as planned. The second day, I ate the last bit of my food. Following a broken and
dismal sleep, I woke in the insane depths of the night. I saw a small bright glow merely two hills away. Thirsty and hungry, I pushed on. By a shallow ford, I found Lokaev’s head. His skull had been smashed open. Nothing was left inside. I barely had enough energy to walk, and they could build a fire. It was late evening when I reached the bottom of the hill. The wolves who had been trailing behind me did not bother to hide. They knew—maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, but eventually—I would falter, and they would feed. Up the hill I could see firelight. It cast long shadows on the snow, reaching outward. I sunk my boots into the snow and pushed on. The cold bit into my hands and face. It was the smell that broke my reverie; the inviting, satisfying smell of meat. Beyond enticing, it pulled me up the hill. The sun sank below the horizon just as I stumbled into the clearing.
The Clearing—Midwinter 1952 “So,” he said, “what’s the answer to my riddle?” He paused to turn the meat. “What did the old man decide?” I struggled to think. The cold and the hunger drained me of reason, of everything. My mind drifted. I had only felt this empty once before. After I confessed to Colonel Medvedev, the authorities had stuffed my mother and me into a boxcar, where we remained for four miserable weeks. I held her hand when she died, trying to forgive me until the end. Saving her and the apartment in Moscow, a lie told to a 15-year-old boy who had already pissed his pants. “Eat,” the American said. “You need protein. You’ll feel better.” Hungry and revolted, I drew my knees up. The fire cast an orange glow on his face. It wrinkled around his eyes, almost comical.
“Donkey was a friend? No matter. The rest of Lokaev is around here somewhere. He was no man’s friend.” I felt myself wobble and then I leaned over and vomited. Nothing came out but this faint trickle of green-yellow bile. It burned. Then I leaned over and vomited again, less bile this time. I slipped off the rock to the ground. The American smiled. I made the sign of the cross, long banned in the Soviet Union. I was not even sure if I did it correctly. He laughed, leaning in and pulling a bit of meat from the leg. His laugh was harsh, a box full of glass and razor blades being shaken. It seemed to gain momentum, his bloodied cherub hand pointing at me. “That old saw,” he said, “I thought that you guys stopped believing in him long ago. You know he never existed, right?” The laugh became a wave that rippled the entire length of him. It started at the toes of his amazing boots and rippled upwards in an oily snakelike fashion that exploded over his bright eyes. In the near distance, a wolf moaned.
“You are accountable,” I said, then lost my words, retching again. He shook his head in the slightest of denials, then picked at something caught in his teeth. “So, do you know what our hungry farmer did? I mean, he has his twins in jars in the woods, and he can’t decide which one he is going to save. So, what is fair? What is just?” Pushing myself upright against the stone, wiping at my mouth, I managed to say, “Cannibal,” my voice barely a whisper. “Here.” He tossed a canteen to me. “Donkey was kind enough to leave me two full canteens.” The bottle landed at my feet. I let it lie. “The end of the story is self-evident.” He poked at the fire. “Why else would you put the babies in jars unless you intended to use them as meat?” I retched again. “It’s one of those obvious stories. There is no dramatic turn, no surprise, no payoff. But my tastes are different.” The airman leaned over the fire,
oblivious to the flames, and yanked off a piece of flesh, pulling away skin and muscle. He swallowed it in a single gulp. I imagined he was like a boa constrictor, able to unhinge his jaw and swallow a human whole. “Can you believe they called me Akaky Akakievich? What an insult. And a not very funny joke. At the end I think he understood. He even pleaded a little. So it is with all bullies. So tender when brought to task.” He puffed out a little breath of steam. I shrank down, freezing both inside and out. “You can’t swallow people.” “I guess,” he said, “we offer the same thing. Nothing in this world consents to being eaten, but all living things are happy to be corrupted.” He reached out and pulled off a portion of Donkey’s foot, separating all the flesh from the bones. “Corruption is consumption. It’s a little thermometer here, a can of condensed milk there. People betray themselves, cutting paper thin slices off their integrity until there is nothing left. Next thing you know, you’re telling
some useless twat of a KGB colonel made-up stories about your father so you can hold your mother’s hand as she dies, crammed in a railway car. You would be surprised how little it takes to betray your own kind.” Frozen, starving, despairing, I found a tiny flame of anger. Stiff, awkward, I pushed myself off the ground, managing only to drop onto the rock again. Cold and jarring, it hurt. I welcomed the sensation. He smiled, genuine. “The cold won’t bother you so much, I promise. But you must decide; it’s all about choice, after all.” I thought about my father. “What are you?” “I named myself Yzod. The name has no meaning, You said I am accountable.No, I am an accounting. I walked these woods since long before the best part of your ancestors ran down their furcovered legs. Long before your kind scratched their asses and created more meat sacks. I have watched as your kind prayed and created something called civilization. I have seen you rape, murder, pillage,
and torture each other in pursuit of consumption. I sat on the shores laughing while poor starving peasants were forced into the icy waters off of Nanzino Island simply to avoid being tortured for entertainment. You hump each other, mad-driven by a need to consume. No different than bonobos.” He thrust his hand into the remains of Donkey’s chest, his face tightening with effort. “You can become more than any of these small minds.” “Why me?” I said. He plunged his hand deeper into the corpse, grunting with the effort. “Because you were young and deceived and were trying to have a better self. Nothing more than that.” There was a wet squishing sound, and his face brightened. He pulled something free. He gestured at the remains around the campfire. “These fine fellows were empty, inside and out, but you are not. And so you have a choice. Fill your belly one last time and join me on the meat trail. You can leave humanity and be free—no
more guilt, no more restraint. Or? Stay human and wait. They won’t be long.” I could hear the wolves moving about just beyond the firelight. He extended his arm to me, red and sticky, but in his hand he offered me a choice. THE END
Grief by Sijia Ma
0184 Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
Elegy For Auntie Ruth By Arnie Yasinski
July 4th and Thanksgiving mean heading for Vermont. In my dream, I see the guardrail we try to be first to spot and follow its distinctive curve up Capitol Hill, look back at Bird’s Eye Mountain. We never knew Granddad, who dies of Spanish flu, like half the world, when my father is five.
She has to figure out living— two boarders in their eighties; two state girls, their families saved from embarrassment; antiques for sale on the sign out front. She navigates her Fair Haven, quarry town in its heyday of marble and slate, driving a dirty-pink Studebaker. Tall, the reason my daughters are tall, known to all as Auntie Ruth, she shows off the grandkids for whom she makes molasses cookies and plain donuts. When the sun hits her stoop, it brings flies—she offers us a bounty of a penny apiece. The blue spruce in the yard
grows in home movies. We look at our parents’ wedding picture on the wall, him in uniform, her radiant; collect fool’s gold over in the pasture; venture the back way down the hill to watch trains break through snowdrifts on the tracks.
Elegy for Auntie Ruth, continued. She makes a go of poverty for years, even as my father, I’m sure, gives money, but things fall apart in her seventies. The blue spruce takes over. She catches the boarders in flagrante.
She meets Eisenhower, her hero of heroes, at my graduation, then doesn’t live long enough to know I marry a Catholic girl, in spite of her warnings. She dies after I leave for college too far from Vermont to return, but in my dream I’m there.
To m bo y , Bakla, Trans g e nde r, B i se x u a l : A Sh o r t Me moir on Being Fili p i n o, Bis exu al, and Nonbinary B y E li R a m o s I met a trans woman as a child visiting the Philippines. She was confident, a singer somewhere we were visiting in the province—the details escape me now as an adult. I kept a small journal then, replete with photos we hastily got developed at drugstores. “We met a bakla. Hairy legs. She sang for us.” I didn’t know what the word bakla really meant back then. My dad used it to mean an effeminate gay man. Pre-World War II Tagalog used it as a word for coward. Nowadays, the clearest translation is, “people assigned male at birth who adopt a feminine gender expression.” When you break down the commonly derived etymology, bakla takes the words babae (girl) and lalaki (boy) and puts them together. The journey in gender expression and sexuality was one that was very closely intertwined for me. I don’t like to split hairs between “boy” and “girl” interests for anyone, especially children, as that kind of defeats the whole purpose of nonbinary existence and the questioning of gender norms and values. But I was not a traditionally feminine child. I jumped at the chance to play pretend as a boy character as enthusiastically as I accepted the role of female characters. I also really liked frogs and bugs—classic nonbinary behavior. My family called me a tomboy, mostly as a joke, since in the Philippines, tomboy is slang for a butch lesbian. My parents are both nurses, which is among one of the more Filipino things I’ve said in this memoir. Though they’re both fairly devout Catholics (another point for “Filipino things”), they also were invested in giving my siblings and I medically accurate sex education as soon as we could understand it, even if it was accompanied by “Passport 2 Purity.” Picture this: eight-year-old me, sitting with my siblings, writing about the anatomy of the vagina and God’s gift of virginity in my notebook and getting emotional whiplash. My mom finishes discussing various STIs and how to prevent them through abstinence. “Moving on, let’s talk about the breasts. I know our tomboy Elise is excited to talk about that one.” She laughed and our dad joined her. In hindsight, I realized that was a jab at my gender neutrality. At the time I thought my mom knew about my burgeoning attraction to women. But Passport 2 Purity assumes heterosexuality because of course it does, so I went ahead and casually ignored my feelings for women for another six years. My education about gayness came, like for most closeted kids, largely from the internet. I watched videos of YouTubers talking about gender, I got a tumblr on the behest of my friend in middle school and followed a bunch of popular gay users. The thing is, most of the content I was consuming was from people who weren’t really like me.
The people on my screen who told me “It gets better” or “It’s okay to have gay thoughts and feelings” were overwhelmingly white. When I thought I was a trans guy, the faces of the men I desperately wanted to look like were white too. I internalized a lot of Eurocentric standards not just of beauty, but of expression in general. I thought I was genderfluid between man and woman because I couldn’t even conceive of a gender that didn’t come from European standards on gender. It didn’t help that both my middle school and high school were largely populated by white students. I had it mostly figured out by senior year of high school and confidently talked about being nonbinary and bisexual to everyone at school. I started introducing myself with both the name Eli and Elise. Then I would come home and neatly pack all of that away. It would still slip out sometimes. My cousin, her husband, and kids had just immigrated to the United States and moved into a neighborhood close to mine. They frequently came over and asked that I perform the piece I had for a speech competition. At one point, I couldn’t avoid the fact that the most recent one was about gender. I still performed it for them. “The sign for transgender is about becoming more beautiful and more yourself,” I said, signing ASL for transgender. “Isn’t that unnatural?” My cousin interrupted. I felt the pit grow in my stomach. “Why would it be? Is being yourself unnatural?” “Well, it’s like…bakla.” She rolled her eyes. “Or tomboy. You can dress up, but you will never be the other thing. It’s playing pretend.” Being a combination of boy and girl or being considered a girl with masculine traits. Feeling mostly like I wasn’t either of those things. They’d both been used as insults and jokes around me and denying my heritage—which had proven itself through my family and my time in the Philippines as homophobic and transphobic—felt like the easiest way of realizing my identity. I barely talked about being Filipino the first semester at USF, until I met Isa. She proudly pansexual and genderfluid. More importantly, she was also Filipino—I think she was the first gay and genderfluid person I met who was like me. Her very existence in my life was the first sign of many that I was not alone in being brown and part of the LGBTQ+ community. I read the history of non-gendered gods and goddesses, maidens who transformed into male warriors and back again, lesbian collectives and pride marches. I saw myself. In time, I would come out to my parents. In time, they’ll learn the nuances of the words they use—in Tagalog, in Ilocano, in English. But bakla and tomboy don’t feel like insults anymore. They feel like anchors in my journey, stretching back in history. When I look behind me to my history, I see a long line of brown faces, my siblings in the community, urging me towards the future.
Wanna Be Crazy Free By Jessica Levine
Robin arrived at Stephanie’s place in Boston toward midnight, after the last leg of driving across the country from California. It was a warm night in late summer, and she’d tied a red bandana, folded to hairband width, around her head to keep her wild curls off her face. She wore, in spite of the heat, jeans and beat-up Frye boots. She’d enjoyed stomping around in the boots at Wellesley, going up and down stone stairs to classes, kicking through mounds of leaves in fall, and treading snowdrifts in winter. They made her feel even more powerful than she was, a young woman full of dreams, hope,
and self-confidence, attending a women’s college that gave her the illusion of being the first sex, no longer the second. Robin let herself into Stephanie’s with the key. The apartment, on the top floor of a threestory brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue, was softly illuminated by street light coming in. She put her bags down, went into the kitchen to look for a snack. Flipping on the light, she saw dishes in the sink and, on the window sill, empty bottles of beer with candles in them. She found an orange, peeled it, then ate it one section at a time, staring out at the low buildings on the other side of the avenue. They were partly blocked by the dense foliage of trees growing in the wide median, but she could see lights on across the way, and with the windows open, she could hear bits of music floating in from several sources. A piece of the triangular, neon Citgo sign in Kenmore Square was visible above, further away. It was never easy to fall asleep here. It would be even harder tonight because soon
she would test her bond with Stephanie when she revealed to her the hetero adventures she’d had that wild summer. She went into the bedroom where Steph was sleeping naked, the sheet kicked down to the bottom of the bed. The street light filtering in through the flimsy curtains illuminated her skin. Steph’s hair, long and wavy with a bit of frizz, a true blonde, made Robin think of Botticelli’s Venus. Robin was ashamed she had a thing for blonde women because she thought it made her sexist. But blondes were the light to her dark. They ignited her passion for the female body, made her want to bury her face in the nook of a woman’s head and shoulder or in the crevice between her thighs. Some of Steph’s hair was braided, the rest lay loose on the pillow. Robin sat down on the bed next to her, leaned forward, and pressed her face next to her lover’s. “Steph,” she whispered. “I’m home.” “Oh good,” Steph murmured. Robin didn’t move, just sat looking at her.
Steph opened her eyes, reached up for Robin. “I missed you,” she said. Robin caressed her breasts, leaned over, sucked on a nipple. “Take your clothes off,” Steph said. “You’re not too sleepy?” “Not for something simple.” They had code words for their different routines. “Simple” meant only one climax each, no toys, just a bedtime release to wind down. Robin was soon naked. They intertwined, moving together like waves. Steph’s skin felt silky, both cool and warm against hers. She felt Steph’s hands holding her face, then moving down between her thighs. There were kisses, caresses, exploring fingers. There were orgasms. There were words of love. I wonder, Robin said to herself as she tried to fall asleep afterward, how she’ll react when I tell her what I’ve been up to. She shifted on the pillow to avoid a ray of light coming in between the curtains and falling on her face, but sleep eluded her until
the late hour dimmed the noise outside. When she woke up, the bed was empty. Going out into the living area, she found Stephanie on the couch, drinking coffee, reading Adrienne Rich and taking notes on a pad of paper. Steph was ten years older than Robin, in her fifth year of teaching Women’s Studies at Wellesley; with two years left until her tenure review, she was beginning to worry and overwork. If her book about women’s poetry and teaching evaluations weren’t stellar, she would be out of a job when her seven years were up. Robin went over, sat down next to her on the worn couch, and kissed her lightly on the lips. “How’s it going?” she asked, nodding toward the books on the coffee table. Steph nodded. “Good. Good. Everything’s on track.” She stroked Robin’s hair, gave her an odd look. “I’m so glad you’re back. You’re staying until school starts, right?” “Yes,” Robin said, though she wasn’t sure
about it. She had a couple of weeks to kill before going down to Yale, where she would start a doctoral program in psychology. At the time of her college graduation, when she and Steph had discussed their future, they had decided they would take turns commuting between Boston and New Haven. But the summer had changed Robin, and the future now seemed unclear. “Thank you for the sweet homecoming last night,” Steph said. When she blinked, her eyes shimmered in a way that made Robin uneasy. “Sure was.” Feeling the pressure of Steph’s anxiety about her job and their future, Robin stood up and went to get some coffee. It had indeed been a sweet reunion, but how long would the sweetness last? It was in the fall of her sophomore year at Wellesley, in 1973, that Robin had become involved with Stephanie. During the week she endured the fishbowl life of Cazenova, or “Caz,” the dorm that lesbian students gravitated to and a scene of
constantly changing relationship constellations. Weekends she spent with Steph in her Boston apartment, doing homework while Steph prepared classes. On Saturday nights she and Steph went to the movies or to a gay bar to dance. They especially loved the 1270 with its blaring music, flashing lights, and people of all genders and preferences, dancing and mating. It was a place to let loose, and they would flirt and dance with others but always came and left together. On campus, in contrast, Robin and Steph had been discreet. At the time there were no official rules against a professor getting involved with a student; nonetheless, whether it was because theirs was a same-sex relationship or because of their difference in ages, they always had the sense of doing something risqué. After graduation Robin returned to her parents’ home in San Francisco for a summer waitressing job. She and Steph had parted lovingly, with Steph’s last words being: “Be free. Don’t let me
tie you down.” They had been monogamous thus far, but Steph had told her more than once that she didn’t believe in monogamy because no one could own anyone else; jealousy was an invention of the patriarchy, which saw women as property. This had left Robin with the sense she could do anything she wanted. And she had. Back in California Robin went to straight bars, where she picked up guys and had casual adventures. Previously she’d had sex with guys only a few times. Now she really went at it, enjoying different body types and sexual styles; her appetite for men had come up and she couldn’t get enough. Her parents were so busy fighting about money and property that they didn’t notice when she was gone overnight. One of the adventures, with a twenty-year-old rock musician named Carl, lasted two months and felt special, though not enough to continue long distance. When her summer job came to an end, Robin had the time of driving cross-country with her friend and classmate Gloria to ruminate about the
depth of her commitment to Stephanie and wonder whether it would survive if she continued playing around. Robin liked driving back and forth between the coasts. Her car was her power and freedom, and she wasn’t about to leave it in San Francisco when she went east for school. So she had days on the road to think, but the thinking didn’t lead anywhere. Maybe because she and Gloria stopped in Reno to gamble; in Albuquerque to visit friends and get stoned in the desert; and in Nashville to listen to music and do some serious drinking. Gloria, like Robin, worked hard and played hard; she was good company and the spaces in between stoned and drunk were spent driving, yakking, and singing along to music on the radio. It occurred to Robin that if Steph kicked her out, she could always crash at Gloria’s in New Haven. Gloria, too, was blonde, though more of a dirty blonde. Her hair was the same color as Carl’s. Carl had a mass of pale curls and a charismatic smile and enjoyed songwriting. The song he’d been
working on that summer went through her head: Why should I care what other people see
It’s none of my business what they think of I have a lock on crazy, that comes easily What I want above all else to be Crazy free Crazy free crazy Like a dog on a beach Crazy free
After working on one song or another, he’d go down on her while she gave him precise instruction, initiating him into the finer points of oral arts so that by the end of the summer, if there had been an Olympic competition for male cunnilingusists, he would have been a gold medalist. “You learn so quickly. You must have been a lesbian in a former lifetime,” Robin joked once during an after-sex cuddle. “I’d be okay with that,” he answered, grinning impishly. Maybe, if she went back to San Francisco the following summer, he’d
still be there and interested. Stephanie got up from the couch and came into the kitchen, putting an end to Robin’s reverie. “Your letters were kind of brief,” Steph said reproachfully as she put an arm around her waist. Robin hesitated, wondering whether Steph had already read between the lines of those letters. “You know, between waitressing and dealing with my parents and…everything else…I had my hands full.” “You have things to tell me.” Robin was startled. “Do you want me to tell you things?” “We’ve always been open with each other.” “It’s easy to be open when there’s nothing to hide.” “You have something to hide?” Steph let go of Robin and stepped back. “No, not if you don’t want me to.” Robin’s heart started pounding and her mouth went dry. “I don’t want you hiding anything,” Steph
said. There were beads of perspiration on her forehead and not from the summer heat. “Well, I had…a few flings.” “I’m not surprised.” Steph’s body language stiffened a bit. “With guys?” “How do you know?” “When I touched you last night, you—you seemed—more open,” Steph said, looking at the floor. Feeling betrayed by her vagina, Robin blushed, then was vexed with herself for blushing. Why should she be ashamed? “How do you feel about it?” she asked. Steph didn’t respond, just kept looking at the floor. “You said you thought monogamy was ridiculous, an invention of the patriarchy,” Robin continued, “and that you wanted for both of us to feel free and not trapped by rules…” Steph was visibly agitated. Her jaw hardened; a tear welled up in the corner of each eye. “Yes, I
wanted us both to be free, but I also thought that your love for me was special, like mine is for you—” She shook her head angrily. “I’m going out for a walk.” “Steph, listen—” Robin reached for her arm but Steph yanked it away. “You’re young, you should fuck around,” Steph said, yelling now, “but I’m not going to pretend I’m happy about it.” She grabbed her keys in the next room and fled out through the door. The door slammed and Robin sat down, feeling lightheaded. She wasn’t about to label her lover a hypocrite for preaching one thing and feeling another. They had talked about relationships in general, never spelling out the exact terms of theirs, but how many people had the courage to do that, anyway? She went back into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and dialed Gloria in New Haven. Please be there, Gloria, she repeated to herself as the phone rang and rang. And rang again.
“Hello,” Gloria said. “Thank God you’re there.” “You sound terrible. Everything okay with Mrs. Robinson?” That was Gloria’s nickname for Steph, who was, in her view of things, an older and dangerous seductress. “No. I told her about Carl, and she didn’t take it well.” Carl was the only fling Robin had ever mentioned to Gloria, who, she thought, would have been shocked by the number of partners she’d had that summer. “Hmm.” Gloria snickered. “So much for rebelling against the patriarchy.” “We had a fight and she walked out.” “She’ll come round. After all that garbage she spilled in class—” “I didn’t think it was garbage,” Robin said. “She meant it when she said jealousy is used by men to control women. And I agreed with her. I still do.” There was silence on the other end of the line.
“Gloria? You there?” “Yeah. Well, if that’s the case, I bet she’ll calm down and take you on whatever terms you offer.” “You think so?” “I’ll bet you a round of drinks at the Duchess,” Gloria said, referring to a lesbian club in New York they’d talked about visiting. “Now that’s a wager I can’t refuse. But, listen, if she kicks me out, can I come and stay at your place until the first?” That was when Robin was moving with her cousins into an apartment north of the Yale campus. “Of course.” “And hey, Gloria, what a great time we had!” “Nashville especially! Jesus, we got wasted.” They both laughed, then Robin turned serious again. “You know what I’m realizing? I want to always be that free. Free the way I felt on the road with you and in Nashville. Crazy free.” “Supposedly if you’re really in love, you no longer want to be free. That must be what Steph is
feeling.” “Maybe. But I don’t get it. Why shouldn’t I love more than one person at a time?” “Life is long,” Gloria said, “people change. Maybe you’ll want to be monogamous one day too.” “Somehow I doubt it.” They hung up and Robin decided to go out. She headed toward the Charles, stopping at Baskin-Robbins for a double-scoop cone. Banana and strawberry, the flavors of childhood and vaguely comforting. The cold of the ice cream felt refreshing in the August heat. The river came into sight, and in the more open landscape, a slight breeze could be felt. As Robin walked west on the Esplanade, she crossed walkers, joggers, a few bicycles; on the river were sailboats, a few canoes, and crew boats. Her eyes darted around looking for Stephanie; they both enjoyed walking here, and it was a natural place to come on a hot day. And there she was, braiding her blonde hair. Robin walked over, sat down next to her.
Steph glanced sideways at her, then looked back out at the river as she finished braiding her hair. “Wanna bite?” Robin extended the ice cream cone. “Sure.” Steph leaned over, took a lick of strawberry. “Hey, why don’t you just hand it over for a sec.” Steph reached for the cone, took a few licks, handed it back. Long silence. “Are we going to talk?” Robin said. “Sure.” Pause. “I feel embarrassed. Like, caught not practicing what I preach,” Stephanie said. “Your reaction was normal.” “But I want to change what’s normal.” Steph reflected. “And I’m aware of the age difference between us. I’m thirty-two, I’ve had a bunch of relationships, so I’m ready to make a choice. But you’re twenty-two. You’ve gotta do what you gotta do.”
“And so…?” Robin asked, looking out at the water. The movement of the sailboats, so graceful and unbound as they swerved from one zig to another zag, bending with the wind, reminded her of what freedom tasted like—cool water, fresh air, a dance of speed and light. “And so time will tell whether I can handle it.” “Thank you,” Robin said. “Let’s go to the 1270 tonight,” Steph said. “That’ll get us back to normal.” “Sure,” Robin said. Steph reached for Robin’s hand, and Robin took it with a feeling of relief but also the uncomfortable sense of a disaster simply deferred. She even felt a twinge of disappointment, for some part of her craved the cataclysm they had just averted. The 1270 was, that night, as it always was: quiet at the bar by the entrance, loud at the
disco upstairs. Robin danced with Steph, then a voluptuous redhead, and a tall, scrawny guy with a goatee. Steph danced with other partners too; they came back together, then separated again. It was the way they operated at the club, except tonight Robin felt self-conscious dancing with others, even when the other was a woman dressed like David Bowie and doused with glitter—someone having fun without trying to hook a partner. At a certain point Steph disappeared from the dance floor. Robin went downstairs and saw her at the bar, drinking a rum Collins and chatting with the gay black bartender, their favorite because he poured generously, his extravagant pours being an act of general defiance. No one reproached him for his excesses, not even the bar owner, because revolution was in the air, although not seriously the way it had been in the 1960s. Now revolution was more of an ironic gesture, a jaded pose. “Hey,” the bartender said to Robin, “you’d better take care of your lady. She’s killing me with
that face.” Steph looked glum indeed. “I’ll take care of her.” Robin took the bar stool next to Steph. “You getting tired?” she asked her. “Yeah,” Steph said. “An old gal like me… What am I doing, at thirty-two, going to discos? It’s ridiculous.” “What’s ridiculous about liking to dance?” Steph shrugged. “Let’s go home.” They walked out, then down Boylston, holding hands. It was a beautiful summer night, yet Robin could not enjoy it. She knew Steph had left the dance floor because now she would no longer be relaxed when Robin danced with others. Robin wondered whether they ought to talk about it but decided against it. Emotionally and physically drained, she only wanted to go to bed. They fell asleep later lying back to back instead of doing spoons as they usually did.
During the night Robin heard Steph get up and go to the bathroom. A door slammed. Maybe Steph had drunk too much and was throwing up. Robin, too tired to go investigate, went back to sleep. Waking at dawn after only four hours’ rest, she glanced sideways at Steph, who looked like she might sleep till noon. Robin was hung over, exhausted; her night had been interrupted not only by Steph’s getting up but also by ceaseless thought-dreams: imaginary conversations, analyses, gut feelings, all leading to one conclusion—that from here on in, she could only cause Steph pain. Besides, she didn’t want to be the guinea pig in Steph’s experiment in not being jealous. It would mean worrying about Steph’s worrying about every new friend she made. What would be destroyed, in the end, was something precious to Robin—her sense of internal freedom. Emotional liberty—why hadn’t that ever been written into the Constitution? Robin made herself some strong coffee, then casually, as though just tidying up, started to pack
while Steph slept. Only when Robin snapped her luggage shut did she become fully conscious of what she was doing. She looked at the clock: when she got out of Boston, she would call Gloria from a gas station, then drive to her place in New Haven. Suitcase in hand, she went down to her car; the brilliant patch of morning light bouncing off the windshield hurt her eyes. A piece of paper folded in four was stuck under one of the wipers. Robin unfolded it and read: Please don’t go. I love you. —S Damn, they knew each other too well. It really was time to leave Boston. And Robin realized, as she threw her bag in the trunk and slammed it shut, that she herself was the cataclysm she’d been waiting for. THE END
By William Luker Jr.
We were reminded of Apollo 13 this week, and scenes from the movie that urged on Us a Warm Glow and golden tears at the Idea that there was inherent goodness and resourcefulness in our Compatriots, and a certain kind of always reliable Grit. Toward the end Of the picture they were limping back home in translunar space, everything switched off. Not in pressure suits because those were for re-entry, and anyway I think too much for the ship’s fried electrical system; and they were Freezing and so cold and one guy had the flu, with a fever, and that was Class AAA
misery. There was the shot of the Walkman tape Player he had brought on board with the flu, which played a motley collection of pseudo-psychedelic rock, shit like “Spirit in the Sky” (although a good tune and well rendered). Floating in zero g, It Was turning over, in the command cabin, batteries running down, playing more slowly, then slower, some improbable Conway Twitty at the end of the mix, sounding More pathetic and mournful than Anyone could ever Sound. It was an intolerable symbol of the cosmos running down into the echoing entropic abysm, fake H.P. Lovecraft weirdness with a cackle, and I would have turned off that little son of a bitch, emphatically and cruelly, with a hard look at my comrades to say that unless we immediately silenced this foolish grinning crooner emitting from a tech-thing that was surely a harbinger of our undoing, we were precluding even the merit of salvation, from Within or Without. Never mind all that. Just Get on with it.
Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
Beyond By David Lewitzky
Beyond the city where I live Beyond my city hall of infamy Saint Buffalo, The Comatose In an uncertain heaven, floats Beyond my dreamless sleep Lie the deepest of my dreams And Saint Monotony, Guardian of the sleeples Frets and paces and waits Beyond the highway that circles the world
Sits the highway from my house to yours Where Saint Acne, The Hopeful cruises And Saint Drag Strip, The Nascar, tours Beyond my impotence and dotage King Dave orgies, carouses and creates And Saint Bubble-Butt, The Party Girl Opens windows, knocks down gates Beyond my beckoning tomb, Saint Doughnut Saint Slapstick and Saint MasseuseFeed, amuse, and comfort me Eyeless, earless and mute
Yes or No By Saoirse E. Doyle
I am caught between a yes and a no. Yes to a police investigation of my past to jail the man who abused me. No to such a forensic upturning of every childhood stone. Is yes the only right answer? Is no the coward’s way out? I, the writer, have long touted to other survivors to break our silence. To use our words to fight our way back into the heft of ordinary existence which is, in itself, a tall order. Unrealistic, if you will, because nothing is
ever ordinary for us again. Not after the first violation. Ordinary packs up and leaves. Inside its satchel is any straightforward claim to yes or no. Each word frosted with insinuation. Yes, you wanted this. No. No one will believe you. *** It is not good for a soul to wish someone dead. I knew that even as a toddler. Catholicism seeped in even as I busily formed fingers and toes in utero. But today, I pray that my childhood neighbor drops dead. A man in his late sixties over in Ireland, somewhere in Dublin City. “He’s not well,” the detective said in our last call. His response to my concern that he might still be at it. The male detective, like so many Irish males around whom I grew up, spoke in parallels,
proffering “he’s not well” as an assurance that my childhood neighbor was too sick to be on the prowl anymore. “We have him in our sights,” he added. The idea of a city police station on alert to this man’s every movement paralleled, too close into my primitive brain and provided an image of him skittering along some side street, nervously checking left and right, just as I spent every childhood trip to the shop or my auntie dodging and ducking on that single street. You’d think I’d be happy. Watching him, in my mind’s eye, cower and stoop from the brunt of being hounded. Finally. But it’s hard to know what happiness is while he still breathes air somewhere on this earth. One thing I know for sure: I wish him dead. Not just for what he did to me and countless others who haunt me, but because I can’t say that one word that would put a bullet in his head. Not a real bullet.
But the bullet of truth finally gunning for him. It’s been ricocheting around my body long enough. *** I recently saw some editor’s list of topics to not send her: cancer stories, sick child stories, death of a parent stories, and abuse stories. Isn’t that awful? Not that any of us can listen long to what is maudlin and unexamined. I know I can’t, but what about the thousands like me, with their thousands of violations embedded in the mind’s machinery? An unwanted heroine’s journey, then this return to my words, even before I’ve wrestled my real yes and my real no onto the page without his spit all over my lips. ***
The first time that grown man kissed me on the mouth, I was four years old. He pulled up on his bike at our yard wall. Picked me from the small herd of sisters and cousins. Plopped me on the crossbar of his black High Nelly. Off we went for a spin, he said, down the village lane and onto the main road where I knew to never go alone. Unspecified guilt already native to my conscience, I readied my gallivanting excuse even as the wind whipped at my long hair: A grown-up told me I could go. My wrongdoings were and are a constant concern. His wrongdoings registered nowhere. In my mind, every adult was right, their wisdom a robe of infallibility into which they all grew. Especially men, for whom their deified state had also come in with the fingers and toes. The neighbor pulled over at some desolate spot between houses. He knew his geography well. Choose some dip on a bend that blocked our sighting from the hillside above us, and from the village
several fields away now. Then, he planted his mouth over mine, wet, slippery, full of spit. I thought I was being eaten, a lamb chop fresh from the grill to his plate. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t figure out what was happening or why, or if this was something I had invited by simply saying yes to the spin. For several long seconds, his mouth poured saliva into mine. I felt certain I was drowning. I remember that. The loss of air. The wetness. The complete suffocation by a face far larger than mine. His false teeth clacked in my ears, yet they seemed like distant donkey hooves and not close at all. And the volume of wetness, how it kept going and going. Breathless with shock, my nostrils flared of their own accord to take in more air, and when they did, they registered a stench so bad—stale cigarette smoke, sour milk, and something putrid whose origins I couldn’t locate—my stomach flipped with the need to throw up.
His tongue probed and choked, while spit drenched my face so that even as I twisted and gasped, I swallowed more of his stench and saliva. I had no idea what his tongue was doing. It knocked, that day, and in the following years, against loose teeth that made every nerve ending in my gums revolt. What do you call something for which you have no point of reference? How do you put a name to something you don’t even understand? Now tell me, from this nameless place, how you find your way back to a yes or a no? * * *' A pedophile. Let’s use words while we can. Here on this page. There’s power in naming, so we’re told. Well, here’s his title: pedophile. One he has avoided all his life. I’ve helped him in that regard.
Me, with my silence. Me, without my yes. Me, without my no. There’s a cruel irony to that. The irony of helping your enemy simply by surviving long enough to glue together the shards of sobriety and sanity. Difficult to think that somehow, even as I clawed some dirt road in Massachusetts and bawled to God to take me, hobbled that not even a new continent could outrun the wreckage of my past, even as I knew I would have to pick myself up and give everything I had to stay alive, even that moment contains the silence that protects him. Isn’t that awful? That even your most valiant act is streaked through with spinelessness. Not really spinelessness, but hiding. A much better word. Hiding in my silence is the one who took a decade of my childhood as easily as though dipping his pint glass behind the bar while no one was watching, topping up his Guinness for a thousand straight rounds. I’ve done the math. The math of damage—if
one could even actually do such math. I’ve counted the violations as best I can for the detectives in Ireland from the age of four to thirteen. He’d be well drunk on the estimates I tallied. 804 violations, the number at which I stopped trying to figure it out. I suppose when one looks at it numerically, one can start to see the distance from one’s yes and one’s no. Give each violation a hundred-mile spitting distance from where you started. That’s if you can even put a pin on where you started (possibly the smothering kiss on the bar of the bike for me), and exactly where that is in relation to where you landed after the last one, and the one before, and the one before, and all of that depends on whether or not you went in a straight line, or spiraled, or zigzagged, psychologically that is. It all depends on who was there for the before of things, so that you could land on each after and measure it exactly from its point of origin. Let’s say
each violation is one hundred miles long. Then, multiply that by the estimate at which I landed, 100 x 804, that’s 80,400 miles from where you began. Over three times the circumference of the earth. It would take 17 days driving at 65 miles per hour, 24 hours a day to complete one round of the earth’s circumference. Imagine crawling that on your hands and knees, without a compass or a companion, through the quagmire of your lost mind. Do that three times. Now find your yes and find your no. *** Heinous, the word the male detective used after I’d given a two-hour statement. That man is heinous. I thought it the best synopsis I’d ever heard. And from another Irishman, it counted even
more. I can’t fully say why. Still, the idea of every family member, schoolmate, relative, colleague, neighbor, teacher, doctor, and friend questioned to create the net into which they then march that sick man, well, that frightens the life out of me. Which, I suppose, makes me a coward. Lacking. Certainly not someone to admire. Nothing like all those countless brave ones who have stood their ground. The “Me Too” brigade. But not me too. Instead, I teeter here, between yes and no. Yes, go ahead. Start the investigation. No. I’m not ready. Give me more time. I don’t know which is worse. And this, after waiting almost four decades to hand over his name to the authorities. What does that make us—me and him? Isn’t it awful that there is an us in that question that pertains to me and him?
Married to a shared secret, one that has served him well and driven me to attempted suicide twice. My silence has given him a full life. Worse, full license to do God knows what. My silence has given me half-life, a foot in the aftermath of his actions, and a foot in what might have been had nothing ever happened. All survivors live this half-life in one way or another. Never quite sure our yes is a real yes. Never quite sure our no will be heard. *** I want him dead because I cannot find it in me to say yes to this examination of my life which, as the head detective, a very kind Dublin man, said in our last long-distance call, would not be easy. Not easy at all. Leastways because families balk when secrets spill, and communities resist being ques-
tioned; lest some lid blows off their own confessionals. As he said those words—not easy—sweat trickled down my back like I’d walked a mile in the blistering California heat, every nerve revolting yet again at the notion of that far-flung parish sinking their teeth into the fodder of my downfall. I nearly vomited right there. On my apartment floor. While on the phone to an Irishman whose command of psychological understanding as to my post-traumatic state gave me hope that the twenty years I’ve spent away have spawned a new kind of consciousness over there. Still, I did not say yes. But I didn’t say no either. *** Once, when I was eleven, and my body danced with the biological imperative of procreation and hormonal wellbeing, despite itself, might
I add, I said again. It may as well have been a yes, but, instead, I said again. I did not know the facts of life. I knew only the pleasure of something that came in with as much disgust as a young mind could also muster, especially the mind of a girl for whom her body is already a foreign object. A smile came over that man’s face that night that I often found in my image thereafter. Whenever I stood before the mirror in a moment of pure self-hatred, I swear that same smile traveled right into my features and stared back at me in triumph. It said, yes, you wanted it. And no, no one will believe otherwise. *** There is a Buddhist text that states: “Do not underestimate good, thinking it will not affect you. Dripping water can fill a pitcher, drop by drop; one
who is wise is filled with good even if one accumulates it little by little.” My first full no to that man came when I was twelve. I had learned the facts of life from a biology teacher at a convent boarding school to which I was sent. At twelve, I had never been away from home. Had never known the loneliness of separation from every stick of friendly furniture, every family face, every furze bush on the ditches of my village lane. To be thrown, at that age, into the life of a novitiate, to sleep in a silent cubicle, file to a silent breakfast, sit for hours on end in a silent study hall, filled the pitcher of my mind and body with something I hadn’t known before. Freedom from him. Much as the price was exile, and much as I couldn’t see past my desperation to go back to the only life I knew, some small voice inside said this convent life was not the worst way to spend a winter, spring, or autumn. No more ducking. No more dodging. Just a routine set in stone that folded our days into bells—31 in all. From Mass to chores
to classes to meals to study to prayers to bed, bells called us hither and yon across the small campus of that convent. Every step I took across the marble floor and dormitory corridor accentuated every mile of the inner distance of 80,400 miles I had already traveled. But I could find no words to explain such distance to anyone, how far from any kind of home I already felt, in my body, in the convent, in the world of other girls. But that day, in that biology class, I learned the mechanics of my first no. And maybe too, the mechanics of my first true word. As the lay teacher spoke of menstruation and cycles and ovum and sperm and counting—how vital it was that we girls count our days (as though boys couldn’t count, or didn’t have to)—I learned of a function my body held, a miracle that I had not fully known as mine. Mine. Yes, I knew women gave birth.
Yes, I knew it was a painful process. Yes, I knew the man was involved. But it seemed my brain could go no further than the feeding gates of Catholic shame already built around such matters. To hear, that day, of this procreative dance of male and female, was to know, for the very first time, something that had already been taken from me 804 times. If that number is accurate. But what had been taken too was the sacred language that such consecration of life invites. Yes. No. Yes, I consent. No, I do not. After class that day, I stepped into the polished corridors of that repurposed British landlord’s manor a different person. I had one word on my lips: No. Some weeks later, my first night home at Halloween, that neighbor slipped into our house moments after my family had stepped out to Mass.
I was absolved of such a first Friday ritual of confession and penitence. I had already been to Mass first thing that morning. A fact that pleased both my mother and father, as though their every dream had already been fulfilled. When that neighbor lurched toward me, eyes fixated on my growing breasts, I said the single word pressing against my lips and teeth since the biology class the week before: No. Such a small and simple word. No. But enough to fill a bucket drip by drip with its goodness. Enough to reverberate back to all 804 episodes. Enough to make retroactive the right that should have been mine all along. I cannot say it happened in that way. I felt the time travel of its delivery. Saw the look of shock on that man’s face, as though the barkeep had finally spotted his thievery and chopped off his stealing hand from the elbow down. And he hadn’t even seen the glint of the axe falling.
*** The power of that first no into which I slowly grew did not take back my life. Not then. But that first no was a start. Also, in a way, an end. No was my first true word. Is it still true if it has orbited the earth three times and taken one away from the person for whom that no should have been as natural an utterance as Mamma or Dadda? That twelve-year-old’s no still stands. But she deserves an accurate place on the map of her life to that point. She said no in the exact right way at the exact right time. I have learned to say no in exactly the wrong way ever since. No to trust. No to intimacy. No to children of my own. No visibility. No to gifts. No to life’s
sweetness. That man came bearing money and sweets. Twopence for that first kiss. Chocolate for other violations thereafter. All payments soon stopped. What I couldn’t say no to thereafter: addiction, abusive relationships, drama, abandonment, self-commodification, emptiness. The least dangerous life, or so I thought, was the least populated one. Till recovery. Till therapy. Till no to Ireland. Yes to America. I was almost thirty. Still, can you see now how quickly the miles accrue, even with one true word? How long it takes to re-enter its inviolable chambers. *** Now the pandemic gives me further reason to hide. For just another while. No detectives going to
any door right now. No endless fishing net cast over a parish that surely knew something. Every day, I pray to hear that the monster is dead. Then I pray even more for the courage to say yes. To keep him alive till I say yes. Then back to wishing him dead. Him being dead is surely better than me saying no. Is this a seesaw you’d want to be on? I know I don’t. But I’m caught where I’ve always been caught. Between the yes he told me I must have said to make him do the things he did, and the no I couldn’t find anywhere in my Godforsaken cavern of a mouth, the one that swallowed more of his spit than I could stomach. That cavern. The one with lost tongues marching around inside it, even as his fat and coated one torpedoed the gap between missing teeth like he was cleaning my gums as a favor. I’m caught there. Between the yes he convinced me I already
said to him. And the no I couldn’t find. Now I can’t find either word without his intrusion. What does that make of life, when every yes and every no leads back to somewhere in your head you can’t quite explain to anyone? I’ll tell you what it makes it: lonely. And puts everything on hold. Everything. Your dreams. Your love. Your healed life. It’s all in there, in the yeses and nos. And you, meaning me, with the hemming and the hawing. And the running and the clawing. The hiding and the silence. It’s a middle ground that’s not a middle ground at all. More a limbo. And so I wish him dead. And then I wish him health. And back and forth I go.
Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
MOTHER VERSUS THE MIRROR BALL By Rebecca Fifield
Every third Friday is my parents’ chance to remind me of the life I should be living. Things generally start well enough. Cocktails are followed by dry roast beef and potatoes, flaccid green beans, and maybe my mother gets creative, making something with olives, shredded cabbage, and gelatin in it. My parents met in the city and moved to this street before we were all born. A lot has happened in front of my parents’ house. Ted and I caused chaos sledding down the hill into traffic. My father, camera in hand, refused to take any pictures
the night of my prom when he realized my date Sally—hilarious and smart as hell—was Black. There was that night the cops brought me home after I stole the neighbors’ tires. And then I left for Nam. That street out front has seen a lot. And my goal every time I come out here is to drive down that street as soon as possible after dinner. We are done eating, and Dad and I slump in armchairs in the living room. Chatter drifts in from the kitchen. There isn’t much to it from what I can hear, but it seems polite. Sherry and Mom are putting the dishes through soapy water, the rinse, into thin towels, and back into cupboards. All five feet, six inches of Dad drone on about his current plumbing contracts and that deadbeat truck driver of his, Bud. “What is Ted’s problem? Why is he working some shit job near Miami, on a beach?” Sounds nice, I thought. “And, Joey, what about you?” Fuck. Dad fiddles with the dial on his hearing aid,
scowling when it turns out I have nothing to say. He takes a long drag off of his cigarette, then flicks the ash in the general direction of the ashtray. He appears to think his endless assault of blather could imprint me with a Bergen County split-level lifestyle and a wife whose parents went to Mom and Dad’s church. I reach for one of his cigarettes, even though Camels feel like napalm in my lungs. Whatever. My mind is on Sherry’s damp white thighs, followed by her big front teeth and that flowered, floppy hat floating above her waist-length blonde hair. Two years ago, she was waitressing at the Chock Full o’ Nuts on Madison Ave. She wasn’t much good at it. How she got that chunky white mug of hot coffee to tumble off that round tray and onto my balls, who knows. I wanted to know her so badly I welcomed the coffee’s hot sear. I asked her out. She’s a painter when she isn’t spilling coffee, slapping it on with a masonry trowel. Her work is green and blue and white and always seconds away from sliding off the canvas. When I’m
not driving a cab, I’m creating a toxic waste dump in my studio, sculpting melting plastics and lead. From time to time, I help out a friend with his low-budget, high-intellect porn films too. God, my skin was tender that first night. No matter. Sherry moved into my loft on Greene Street the next day. “And what about you?” My father is still at it. “Still wanting money for some falling-down old building full of deadbeat artists?” “Dad, I’ve told you, it’s gonna be big. $40,000, that’s it. It’s nothing. It’s almost over and this is the last chance to get in on the way up, turn it into apartments.” “How do I know you wouldn’t just drink $40,000? Or spend it making more crap you call ‘art.’ Bet you haven’t sold anything lately. Get a real job, already.” “Dad, the building’s an investment. Split it up by floor, the rent will make a mint. I just need some funds. People are moving into the area in waves now, not just artists. People with money. Lots of it.”
“ I’ve seen that place you live in, DC current, a blower for a heater, freight elevator that’s more like an outhouse.” “That’s only if it gets left open on the street.” “Who’s going to invest in that when there’s bums taking a dump on your doorstep? What decent people are going to want to live next to rag pickers, wire factories? People are moving to Jersey, not Sono Tube, Soxo, what did you call it? Sounds like a soap or a soda. Bouillon cubes or something.” “Soho, Dad, south of Houston Street, get it? SO-HO. The artists are pulling the people with money in, and soon, they’ll want to live there too. Shoom…” I shot my hand upward. “Just come in on a Saturday; you’ll see what’s happening, the galleries, the music. It’s an investment…” “Yeah, no thanks. Listen to me, the city is over and the suburbs are it. Who wants to get mugged in broad daylight? Wake me up in my grave in 30 years; you won’t have anything to show me. Construction’s booming here. People are moving out of the city,
not in. They don’t even go there for work anymore. You know, all those, well, you know. Those people. They’ve got money too.” He waves his hand toward the window at a group of undetermined people. I know he thinks less of them for their skin color, or their religion. Really, I can’t tell if he meant the Koreans, the Blacks, or the Jews. “Look at these houses going up in Tenafly, Cresskill, Demarest. All over here. Settle down and come work with me. Marry that girl and have some kids. She’s cute enough.” He hooks his thumb toward the kitchen. His mouth twitches and he grooms his mustache with his index finger and thumb. If he wasn’t my father, I’d think he was trying to hide a smile. But what should a god in his own kingdom need to hide? Somewhere between “outrageous price for concrete” and “the renovations to the Pine Street garage,” I notice the women have fallen quiet. I look up to see Mom staggering slowly from the kitchen and into the center of the room, halting
before Dad’s armchair with her fists clenched. My mother does not stagger, even after a couple of whiskey sours. Her moves are usually soft, cushioned by the swish of slip and skirt together. She is shivering, and I soon realize it is rage, a rage that seems to suck all the sound from the room. I’m sure she went to the beauty parlor this afternoon to have her hair set, but boy, it sure doesn’t look like it anymore. Sherry creeps quietly into the alcove between the kitchen and living room, her hair spilling into the pink ruffles of her dress. Her hand is pressed against her lips in what seems a futile attempt to cram some errant word back into her soft mouth. Concealed in the dim light, she is barely visible, translucent, as if she is fading before my eyes. Mom opens her mouth. “Harry.” Her voice is quiet, almost airy. I’m not sure she is even breathing. Did I hear her even speak? Maybe I need the hearing aid, not Dad. Mom’s solid figure makes it so I can’t see him sitting there in his Brylcreem, bourbon, and attitude.
He peers over the arms of his armchair.“What is it, Claire? Did I drop some ash?” My mother—my mother—full-on throws her fist into my father’s face. Not a slap, not a shove. I throw my hands up in front of my face and recoil into my chair. She is seething, waiting for the bell to ring, shaking out her fingers before the next round. “Fucking Christ! Claire!” I can see Dad now, bent over in agony, blood dripping from between the fingers covering his face. Did she break his nose? My mother doesn’t get angry. I’ve seen her ashamed when I got arrested. Horror and distress when my sister got pregnant at 17. But there has never been violence. Not even a swat on the tail when I was small. “With Joey’s girlfriend. I can’t. Harry. Really?” Mom is barely stringing any words of sense together. All of those words sit in my palm, and I consider them, thinking about what they might actually mean. “With” and “Joey’s girlfriend”? I stare at my mother, wondering why those words are coming out of her mouth. Mom is full of words, the words
an avalanche of outrage that just doesn’t make sense. Her voice sounds as if it has just climbed through one of Dad’s neatly pruned rosebushes. In fact, Dad looks kind of like his rosebushes at this point, when all the red blooms start to wilt on the branches. God, none of this shit is gelling. I shouldn’t have smoked that joint after dinner, when I ran to “get something” from the car. Sherry’s hand reaches gently for my cheek, and she tilts my head up to look her squarely in the eye. She is shaking her head in response to a question I didn’t ask. All the words coming from Mom are a big blur. She is nodding at all of us as she says, “We all need to hear this. Right now. Joey most of all. Harry. Did you sleep with this girl?” Sherry’s pink ruffles push past me and my chair and into the center of the living room, where she throws out her arms. “It was just dancing. Nothing else. That’s it. He asked me to go, and I thought no big deal. It was
really no big deal.” Sherry spreads her hands out in front of her, like an umpire calling a play “safe.” Her gaze is cemented to the floorboards, and she speaks to them as if she’s justifying her night out with my father to my parents’ house. It hits me. My father. That ridiculous old man in the plaid armchair and plaid polyester trousers. He’s annoyed when he gets up to change the channel on the television, so you mean to tell me he has gone out with Sherry? His hands touched Sherry? On her waist, her shoulders? Had he breathed deeply of that green and earthy shampoo she uses, as I do, every time I hold her? An alarm clock is going off in my mom’s bedroom. It’s getting closer now; the buzzing is growing louder, like it’s grown legs and is coming into the room. And now the buzzing is in my head. I spring out of my chair. “You went dancing? With my father?” My voice is squeaky and strange, and sounds to me like it came out of the magazine rack, the TV, some for-
eign, disconnected object. Dancing? What the hell for? She could have said she went scuba diving with Liberace, cape, sequins, and all. Sherry is looking up at me fearfully. She’s oddly bewildered by the horror before us. “Yeah. At Roseland. A couple of weekends ago.” Dad hitches up his bloodied trousers and leans back in his chair. His face is ashen, either from discomfort, or maybe just from the blood loss. “Harry.” My mother’s mouth keeps forming his name, though no sound comes forth. “So what if I did, Claire, what if I did go dancing? What do you care? You haven’t slept with me in years! Years, Claire. I don’t even know when.” “Shut up! Shut your, how, I can’t, you, you, you…” Her body bends over him in his chair, her mouth spitting the words as the memories bleed from her mind, the kids, the house, her and Harry. It’s humiliation and anger pushing to get out of the door at the same time; it’s a real fire inside her head, and it’s awful. People are dying in there! She
sinks toward him. If I were watching the late movie, I would have thought that she was crawling into his lap. Sherry. She is facing the picture window, her arms wrapped tightly around her middle in an attempt of self-vivisection. I do not attempt to touch her. I don’t hold her. I do nothing but look at her frills, her hair, her tiny figure in those high-heeled sandals. “So what was it, Harry. Really?” Mom is heaving, with fists clenched. “Dancing? You expect us to believe that?” Sherry spins around, looking at my mother in horror. Dad’s cigarette is nearly burned out. He pulls another from the pack, smearing it with blood in the process. It’s as if none of us are here. “Obviously, if you didn’t tell me and Joey that you both went there. … See?” She reaches for one of his cigarettes and his lighter. Mom, smoke? And Mom smoke Camels? She takes a drag and doesn’t cough once. Where is my mother? This woman had
never kissed my head, never given me a shampoo beard, never taught me to build playing card houses or sang me to sleep. My mother is gone and I feel orphaned. Mom is standing in the middle of the room, smoking fast. “You son of a bitch.” Her voice is light and airy like the loose skin under her chin. She turns away from everyone, but there we all are, staring back at her in the mirror over the fireplace. My God, where is the mercy of closed doors? Harry has no interest in closed doors. His foot is wedged inside this terrible door, and he is not backing out. “When was the last time. Claire? When?” She turns back toward us. “I will not talk about this in front of the kids. I will not talk about this, period.” “Well, I am going to talk about it and I don’t care who hears.” Harry’s lip juts out. “If I can’t get it from you, I’ll get it somewhere else.” Mom holds out her hand like she is model-
ing in an appliance showroom. “And Sherry here was just too damn convenient?” “No!” I yell, waving my arms. They keep shouting, so maybe I haven’t said anything at all. Sherry bolts forward, leaning over the back of the blue and green flowered armchair. Obviously, Harry’s desires have not been made clear to her. I stare at her. Are you stupid? Mom is picking up the pieces of herself and stowing them away, tucking them in her dress. She swings her arm toward the front door, pointing. “Thanks so much for coming, kids.” We say nothing. Sherry’s already sitting in the car as I yank the heavy door shut, leaving behind the voices in the living room. *** The lights on the George Washington Bridge flicker down at us as we cross back into Manhattan and speed down the Henry Hudson. We ride in si-
lence. Within my mind is a much more jagged landscape, full of loathing and bewilderment. The elevated West Side Highway is condemned. A dump truck fell through the roadway unexpectedly. Nobody died, but the road’s a wreck all the same. I steer beneath it at the street level, swerving to miss the junkies tripping across the street as they head for the piers. Beer cans land on the car hood, tossed overboard by partiers up on the abandoned roadway. Greene Street is deserted, and our ride up the freight elevator is silent. We’ve heard enough for one night. Inside the loft, I neglect to turn on any lights, letting the street lamps provide just enough light. It’s like Sherry isn’t there. I roll up one huge window and climb out into the evening, squatting above the empty street on the fire escape. I am too strung out to do anything but light up cigarette after cigarette. The pack soon rattles with emptiness, and I throw it into the air above the street. It floats without menace down toward the granite Belgian block below.
Sherry doesn’t come out of the bathroom for two hours. I can’t go to her. I can’t knock on that door, can’t stop her from whatever she is doing with needles, or maybe a razor. Her blood is probably dripping onto the cracked hexagonal floor tiles, cleft by rotting grout. We are too scarred for anything but our own thoughts. Later, we stand across from each other on opposite sides of our mattress on the floor. She is high, sinking, yet holding herself above that flat white plane and resisting collapse. The pink ruffles are gone, and she stands in a white nylon slip that is shredded below her buttocks. I touch her wrist softly with my right index finger. Nothing. No response. I pull her gently by her arm, slowly drawing her into me. It’s less of an embrace than a way to lay her carefully on the mattress. I walk around to the other side and lie down, not touching her. By the early morning her paralysis is gone. Our limbs tangle in the way that they do, her hair spilling from the sheets and into my mouth.
*** After 58 years of marriage, Dad had a heart attack on August 12, 1997, with all his DNR paperwork in place. I never witnessed another scene that betrayed their unhappiness. From 1974 onward, they continued to be the elders with perfect smiles, wielding tongs over barbecues, making cookies for the grandchildren at Christmas. They made it look good, whatever the reality. I refused to bring another girlfriend to meet Mom and Dad until 1990. By then I was confident Dad couldn’t get out of that armchair too easily. My mother would ask occasionally for Theresa, Jill, Gail, or Leslie to come to dinner. She never pressed me when I said we were busy. Mom couldn’t ask Sherry to dinner anymore. Sherry had simply left us all and she wasn’t coming back. We planned an outing to the beach a few weeks
after that horrific dinner. There we’d listen to the sea and mend. But she spent one rough night while I was out driving the graveyard shift. When I got home, I found her breathless body in front of the windows facing Greene Street. My mother died earlier this year. I spend Saturday afternoons throwing away stuff both physical and emotional. I’ve left Dad’s closet for last. None of us has ever been allowed to go in there. Ted did once and received numerous welts with the buckle end of the belt, so Rachel and I lost interest. The large coffee I brought is hardly enough for this shit. I trash the newspaper clippings, Knights of Columbus gear, and bowling trophies. There is no Claire in this closet, or anything about me, Ted, or Rachel. At the funeral, Ted speculated whether my mother and father had ever loved each other. Without missing a beat, Rachel reminded us that Dad had loved Mom at least three times, once for each of us. Perhaps the memories of wife and kids sit more comfortably on the mantel than the stuff in this closet.
Pushing aside the musty wool suits, I find something pink hanging on a hook at the very back. Breathing deeply of the ruffles, I can smell Sherry in the yellowed fabric. And then Harry is standing there, eyes hot and wanting. And I see Sherry walk up from behind, placing her right hand on Harry’s shoulder. They are standing here together in this closet. From the tangle of an embrace on a dark Midtown street corner, her green eye looks up suddenly. And then I see them everywhere, the loft on Greene Street, the house in Tenafly, some ragged hotel room, some friend’s borrowed apartment. Maybe the dress fell into his hands straight from her powdered brown shoulders in one of those varied places of assignation. Now gone are the Sunday mornings and Italian almond toasts. The late nights with Joni Mitchell on the radio. Sherry’s eyeroll over her glass of wine at an obnoxious gallery opening. The bandana she wore, tied over her hair when she was painting. Sweating and miserable, I finger the ruffles’ tiny hems one last
time before I ball up the dry-rotted dress and stuff it into the trash bag with everything else. Loss can also be lost. THE END
THE LAND OF DREAMY DREAMS By Carol Anderheggen
Honeysuckled garden district: Victorians proclaim their virtue with their classic lines and Greek columns. We saw only one mossy tree— my friend convinced it was fake until I proved otherwise
with digital photos from the zoo. There lots of moss grew—for real. Blazing neon of raucous Bourbon Street: Honky-tonks sizzle up and down, in and out, small doorways welcoming tourists and their dreams. Open containers of beer and sweet alcoholic concoctions lubricate, blending with the smell of urban garbage and all-night revelers still at work.
While over in the honeysuckled garden district Our Mother of Perpetual Help consoles Our Lady of Everlasting Counsel. She says: “My child, this is the land of dreamy dreams, where light and dark coexist. Stay. You are needed here.”
0267 Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
The Promise By Timothy Caldwell
Mark Reynolds smiles as he lets the screen door bang shut behind him. “Mark! Don’t let the door slam!” his mother calls. “Sorry,” he says. I haven’t heard that in four weeks, he thinks. This is his first day back from Berklee Summer Jazz Camp, and it feels good to be standing on the porch of his family home. He turned 16 at camp and added two inches to his slender frame. So everything seems a little odd, smaller somehow. Wonder if Sam’s any taller? he wonders as he looks
at the house next door—Sam’s house. Jazz Camp was crazy good, and he’s eager to tell Sam about it. Sam. He smiles at the memory of meeting her for the first time. He was seven when her parents moved into the house next to his, and she was a funny-looking six-year-old girl with a baseball cap over her long, blond hair. Her parents named her Samantha, but she didn’t let anyone call her that; she was just Sam. She is his best friend, which is why the thoughts and feelings he had about her during the camp bother him. He glances toward her house. It sits on the other side of the vacant lot that was their special playground. A maple tree towers over the back of the lot, and his eyes drift to the treehouse that sits on its massive branches. Their dads built it the year before Sam’s dad divorced her mom. That divorce was tough on Sam, he thinks just as the screen door in Sam’s house closes with a bang. He hears her apologize for the noise. She’s wearing
white shorts and a light blue tank top. As she curls up in a rocking chair and opens a book, he mutters, “When did she get to be so pretty?” A quiver passes through his diaphragm. What the heck? I’m going to ask her. Just look casual. He is wearing a red T-shirt with Berklee in big, black letters on the front; he pulls it down in the back so it doesn’t ride up over his butt and make him look like a dork. His hands are shaking, so he puts them in the pockets of his cargo shorts even though it’s about 85 degrees. Just walkin’ past her house. Sam looks up, uncurls herself from the rocking chair, and goes to the wooden railing that runs around the porch. He wants to pick her up and kiss her, like in the movies. She’d probably punch me in the mouth. “Hey, you’re back,” Sam says. He looks around as if lost, shrugs his shoulders, and smiles. “Yep, I guess I am.” Her short, blond hair bounces as she runs down the wooden steps in her bare feet. She crashes into him and
throws her arms around his neck in a giddy hug. She smells clean, like soap. When she releases him, his gaze drifts downward. “You…you’ve grown this summer,” he says. “Oh, these?” she says. She looks up at him— her green eyes are sparkling. “Yeah, my boobs got bigger this summer. I assumed I would be an A-cup my whole life, but about a month ago, I noticed they were bigger. What do you think?” He’s desperately trying not to think about her boobs. Embarrassed, he shrugs. Sam giggles, grabs his arm, and pulls him toward the front steps. “I, uh, we thought you might come over for dinner. Mom made your favorite dessert.” He stops her. “I want to see your mom, but Matt called earlier and said there will be a big fireworks show over at Helmstead Park tonight. It’s supposed to be celebrating the town’s founding. Wanna go?” he says, trying to sound nonchalant. “Sure, but come say hello to Mom. She
missed you, too.” Too? So you missed me! She takes his hand and pulls him into the house. As the screen door slams behind him, Sam yells, “Mom! Mark’s here.” She races up the stairs that lead to the bedrooms. For a moment, he is alone in a familiar living room. He smiles when Janet Morgan enters the room, wiping her hands on a dishtowel that rests on her right shoulder. “Mark. So good to have you back home,” she says, hugging him. She looks up at him with a smile like Sam’s. This is what Sam will look like when she’s old, like her mom. Sam comes bouncing down the stairs in a white shirt with sleeves that end below her elbows; its whiteness contrasts with her summer tan. She’s beautiful. Although Mark has eaten dinner, he can’t resist Janet Morgan’s strawberry pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Brad, Sam’s 12-year-old brother, talks non-
stop as Mark works his way through two helpings of dessert. “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot,” Brad says. “Sam, can I show him the cool present I gave you?” “Sure. It’s on my dresser,” she says to Brad’s back as he runs out of the room. “Why did he give you a present?” Mark asks. “My birthday,” Sam says. Mark slaps his forehead. “I forgot your birthday. I’m sorry. I was having such a great time at camp that—” “It’s okay,” Sam says. “Don’t worry about it.” Brad thunders down the stairs and into the dining room. “Isn’t this cool?” Brad says, handing Mark a pocket knife. “For your sister?” Mark asks. “I love it,” Sam says, looking at him with a raised eyebrow. “It’s the neatest gift I’ve ever had.” “Cool,” Mark says. “Brad, show Mark the penlight,” Janet says. Brad grabs it out of Mark’s hand and pushes a tiny
button so Mark sees the narrow stream of light. “Watch this,” Brad says, pushing the button twice, and the light blinks. Mark looks at it for a moment then says, “That’s Morse code. SOS. Very cool.” “And it has two blades and a toothpick.” “Brad, let Mark finish his dessert,” Janet says. “Please put it back on Sam’s dresser.” “Sure. I’ll be right back, Mark,” he says as he runs out of the room. Now. Ask now, Mark thinks. Why am I nervous? Water. Drink. “Um, Mrs. Morgan,” he says. “I was wondering if, maybe, you would let Sam—” Brad rushes back into the room carrying a baseball glove. “Hey, Mark, when you’re done eating, wanna throw some balls? I’ve been working on my pitching arm. I wanna show you my curve, and I’m workin’ on my drop. I’m guessing I’m—” “Mom,” Sam interrupts. “Mark’s going to the fireworks tonight at Helmstead Park. Can I go?”
“Fireworks? I wanna go too,” Brad says. “Wait, one question at a time.” Janet holds her hands up. “Are these the fireworks that were rained out last week?” “I don’t know,” Mark says as he looks at Sam. “Hey, let’s all go,” Brad says. “Sam, you can go. Just be back by 10 o’clock.” “Mom,” Sam whines, “it’s not a school night, and I am 15. Besides, it’s not, like, a date. It’s just Mark and I.” Janet sighs. “Mark and me. You wouldn’t say ‘It’s just I.’” “Whatever,” Sam says. “Can I go?” “Okay. But be back by 11 o’clock.” “What about me?” Brad asks. “Children have to be in bed by nine o’clock,” Sam says. “That’s bullshit.” “Brad! You know better,” Janet says. “You’re most definitely not going now, young man.” “Aw, come on. These are gonna be the best
fireworks of the whole year, ever. All my buddies are goin’.” “Oh? How long have you known about this?” Brad shuffles his feet as he says, “Awhile…okay, tonight when Sam asked.” He droops his head for a few seconds, then says, “Look, Mom, you know they need a chaprone or they’ll get into trouble.” “What?” Sam says. Janet says, “Chap-e-rone, not ‘chaprone,’ Tell you what, you and I will do something special tonight.” “What?” Brad asks. “Joey Miller says there’s a new arcade at the mall,” Mark says. “Yeah, I know about it,” Brad says. “And there’s the ice cream shop next to it.” “How does that sound?” Janet asks. Brad turns to Sam. “Okay, you two kids take off. And remember, no kissy-face stuff.” Sam and Mark blush. “Brad!” Janet says. Sam walks over to Brad, throws her arm
around his neck, then runs her knuckles over his scalp. “You might be as big as me, but remember, I’m your big sister, and I can always take you down.” Brad laughs. “Okay, okay,” he says, rubbing the top of his head. “I apologize. Geez. Besides, who would want to kiss a horseface like yours anyway,” he says as he runs from the room with Sam in hot pursuit. Janet looks at Mark. “Little brothers.” Yells come from the living room. Brad is on the floor, weak with laughter as Sam straddles him, puckering her lips grotesquely, threatening to kiss him. She stops, looks seriously at him, then leans over and whispers to him. “Sometimes you drive me crazy, but you’ll always be my Main Man. I promise.” She gives him a peck on the cheek and stands up. Brad follows, grinning. Janet turns to Mark. “Will you be driving?” “No. Dad has the car tonight.” “I’ll drive you,” Janet says. Sam cringes. “If it’s okay with you,” Mark says, “we can just
walk over. It’s only a mile or so away.” Sam looks at her mother, eyebrows raised. “Well, okay. Have fun,” Janet says. As they stroll to the park, Sam occasionally nods or smiles as Mark tells her about his time at camp. I missed him while he was away, she thinks, but when I saw him today, I couldn’t catch my breath. Jesus, what’s wrong with me? It’s only Mark! A memory unfurls in her head. She is 12; they are throwing stones and clots of dirt at her dad-built treehouse. Tears streak the dirt on her face. Her dad is divorcing her mother and moving in with his girlfriend. “I hate him!” she screams. She sees tears in Mark’s eyes. He’s only 13, but she feels safe with his arms around her. He whispers in her ear, “I’ll never leave you.” Calmness flows over her. “I’ll never leave you, I promise,” he says. The memory is so keen, so good, she senses it in her chest. Mark sees her put a hand on her chest. “Are you okay?”
I’m okay as long as I’m near you, she thinks. She clears her throat. “I am. I’m…I’m glad you’re home.” She smiles, gives him a quick hug, then takes his arm and they walk into the embrace of the coming night. At Helmstead Park, she leads them to a grassy spot under a large elm tree. “Are you going to see Hank?” She waves toward the line of trees on the other side of the park. “Hank?” he asks. “You know, the pyro who sets off the fireworks.” “Oh, Hank.” I’m staying with you. “Nah, I figured we…uh…do you want to…I mean, but if you want me to go, you know, or…” Sam giggles as she sits and pulls him down next to her. “I would like it if you would stay,” she says. Great! “Sure. Maybe I could, like, check in with him when it’s over?” Damn, I can’t talk straight tonight. Hello, Mister Indecision! Maybe she’ll go with me to meet
Hank after the show. The park lights are turned off and the cool, early autumn night settles over the waiting crowd. A solitary rocket rises above the far side of a grove of trees on the western side of the park then explodes with the sound of a cannon. A small child yelps, causing some laughter. The fireworks are spectacular, and the people “ooh” and “ahh” on cue. It is not long before Sam scoots close to Mark, wraps her arms around his right arm, then leans her head on his shoulder. For him, the lights and noise seem far away, leaving the two of them alone in a breathing silence. Her hair touches his face. Tentatively, he tilts his head until it touches hers. He smiles as a light scent of perfume reaches him—She always said she would never use perfume because it was too “girlie-girl,” but tonight she smells like roses. As the full moon appears above the trees, the fireworks end. For Mark, lost in Sam’s warmth and scent, only a minute has passed since they sat down.
But the sounds and movements around them intrude, waking him from a lovely dream. They stand, and Mark looks around to see if any of their friends are there. He spots Ashley and Josh holding hands as they drift along with the crowd. Maybe that’ll be Sam and me next year. “What are you smiling at?” Sam asks. “Nothing. It’s good to be back.” “If you want to go talk to Hank, that’ll be okay.” “Great! Thanks. Come with me.” “Okay.” They make their way through the trees, and when they exit on the other side, they see Hank and his assistant, Zeke, loading their truck. When Mark introduces Sam, Hank says, “If I had such a pretty girlfriend, I wouldn’t be hanging around with a couple of smelly pyros on a night like this.” “No, she’s not, I mean, she’s my friend, and she’s a girl…” Sam giggles at Mark’s awkwardness.
“Hank,” Zeke says from the cab of the truck, “it’s 11 o’clock. I need to get on the road.” He starts the engine. “Good to see you, Mark,” Hank says. He closes the truck doors, hops in the cab, and waves good night. “11 o’clock?” Sam says. “I’m supposed to be home by now.” “Hold on,” Mark says, “I’ll call her to explain.” He pulls his phone from his pocket. “Damn! It’s dead. I forgot to charge it this morning. Use yours.” “I don’t have one, remember? I’m not 16 yet.” He watches the taillights of the truck disappear. “Wait. I know a shortcut,” he says. “How?” “We’ll cut over to the railroad tracks and take the train bridge over the river. That’ll get us to your house in half the time.” “I don’t know; it’s kinda dark…”
“There’s a full moon out tonight and no clouds. I’ve done this before when there was no moon. We’ll be fine.” They follow a path through the high weeds that leads away from the park. The trail ends at the railroad embankment, so they clamber up the stones to reach the rails. The bridge is close. They know Sam’s mom is waiting for her to return, but the warm late-summer air, the bright moonlight, and the hushed sounds of the shallow river below pull at them, slowing their steps. Halfway across, Mark stops. “Sam, I, uh, I…I missed you this summer. A lot.” “Didn’t you think you would miss me?” “Yeah. Sure. I figured I would miss you. But I didn’t, like, miss you as a ‘friend’—” “You mean we’re not friends anymore?” “Yes. No. I mean—” She is grinning as she puts her arms around his neck, pulls him toward her, and kisses him. His
arms close around her as sensations whoosh in and around him, making him light-headed. She pulls away with her eyes closed. She opens them slowly and sighs. “Kissy-face is really, really nice.” He can’t talk; he just nods. She rises on her toes to kiss him again. They freeze at the high, mournful sound of a train horn—long, long, short, long: the signal that a train is approaching a crossing. “Arnold Street,” they say together. They see the brilliant headlight of the engine as it moves around the curve that abuts a small hill. The train is less than a quarter mile from the bridge. They run. His breath is loud in his ears; his stomach pushes against his throat. Sam’s beside him. She slips, keeps moving. He grabs her outstretched hand. The train howls behind them. She slips again, jerks her hand away. “Go!”
she yells, still moving. “No!” He takes her hand. They run. The trestle shakes. The horn roars. Shitshitshitshit. He trips. Her hand jerks out of his. She screams. He turns. She’s gone. The light pushes over them. He sees her only from the waist up. He goes to her. She yells, waves him away. Hands under her arms, he lifts. She doesn’t move. She pushes him away. He kneels in front of her. “Go! Go! Go!” she screams, pushing him. “I won’t leave you. I promised!” he shouts. “I promised!” The train whistle snakes through the bedroom window of Police Chief Joe Wilson, pulling him from sleep. He looks at the digital clock beside
his bed: 11:29. The last time he heard short, frantic bursts of a train horn, he found the body of an 18-year-old boy, a meth-head who had been in and out of juvie since he was 12. He stepped in front of an oncoming train and fired several shots at the locomotive before it plowed over him. Joe throws water on his face and pulls on his uniform. Five minutes later, he is in his truck, lights flashing but no siren. The train horn stopped; Joe is not sure what he dreads more—the screaming of the horn or the awful silence when it stops. His phone rings. “Chief, Kristin here. You heard the train?” “So did everyone else in town. You know what that means.” “Affirmative,” she replies. “Every rubbernecker in town will swarm the tracks.” “Which is why you’ll call everybody in and block every crossing. Has the train stopped?” “Affirmative, sir. Central Dispatch received reports that the engine is sitting a short distance
from the bridge, maybe a quarter mile, on the east side of the river, between South and Hitchcock.” He pictures a map of the town, then says, “Block both ends of the bridge and all crossings on our side from South Street through...McCaffrey.” “Copy that, sir,” Kristin says. “Anything else?” “I’ll drop down to Hitchcock and walk to the train. That’s all.” “Affirmative, sir.” She disconnects. Retired military really know how to use the radio, he thinks. Minutes later, he’s walking on the track toward the idling engine. The brilliant single headlight flares in his vision, transforming the engine into a hunkering black mass that sits growling as he approaches. Primal fear runs up his spine. He spots movement next to the tracks. His flashlight beam shows a man standing on the edge of the berm, looking up at the moon. As he moves closer, the smell of urine mixed with diesel fumes wrinkles his nose.
There’s a wet stain on the man’s pants, but he doesn’t seem to notice, nor does he move as Joe comes toward him, running his light over him. Walker is stitched above the right breast pocket of his work shirt. “Mr. Walker?” No response. “Mr. Walker, I’m Joe Wilson, Chief of Police, Watson’s Grove.” No movement, but tear-tracks shine on Walker’s face. Joe moves closer so he can see Walker’s eyes better, checking for drug use. Walker staggers then collapses into Joe’s arms. “Oh, God,” he cries. Joe sits Walker down on the berm then sits beside him. Walker shakes with sobs. Joe waits. “Are you the engineer?” Walker nods. “What happened?” “They, they…I tried to stop, God help me, I tried to stop, but it took so long. The girl…” He
breaks down again. Joe waits. “The girl. It looked like she fell, got stuck. The boy, he goes back, but she pushes him away. He tried to free her, but she was pushing on him. Oh, Jesus, she was pushing on him like she wanted him to leave her!” Walker moves onto his hands and knees; he vomits. Bile rises in the back of Joe’s throat. He stands, moves away from Walker, spits. He flinches when Walker grabs his arm. “Why didn’t he run?” “What? Who?” Joe asks. “The boy. He could have made it, but he stayed with her. Why didn’t he run?” *** Helmstead Park––One Year Later
Brad and Janet are sitting in her car as the
sun sinks below the horizon. “The sky will be light for another 30 minutes,” she says. “The French call this time of the day crépuscule; we call it twilight. I’ve loved this time of the day since I was a girl about your age. I also liked…” “Mom, you’re doing it again,” Brad says. He hands her a tissue. “Thanks.” She wipes her eyes. “I wouldn’t have made it this year without you. You know that, don’t you?” He nods. If I try to talk, I’ll start bawling. He wipes a stray tear away. Janet pats his hand. “Any time you want to leave today, we’ll leave. Okay?” “I’m the one who had the idea,” he says. “I’ll be okay.” They share an easy silence, watching the darkening sky until Janet sighs. “It’s time to go. You ready?” “Yeah.” I don’t wanna cry in front of my friends! People greet them with soft smiles and hugs
as they make their way to the south end of the park. It’s weird being in the park where they were last year, Brad thinks. He sees some of his classmates among the people milling around. A girl, Silvia, waves; he waves back but stays with his mother. The kids will talk about anything but the accident, like they’re afraid I’ll explode or something if they say anything about it. “Janet, Brad.” Reverend Andrew, the Methodist minister, comes to them. “Mark’s folks are here.” “Okay,” Janet says. “Will you be coming to the houses after this?” “Of course,” he says. He escorts them across the lumpy ground to the row of chairs nearest a small wooden platform. The rest of the people follow. When everyone is settled, he begins. His words are like wind in Brad’s ears as his mind fills with memories of Sam. Her last words to him seem like they’ve been printed onto his brain: You’ll always be my Main Man. I promise. So it stings when he recalls his last words to
her. I was such a shit! Sam was laughing, but why couldn’t I say something nice? And Mark… He senses the familiar tightness in his chest. Not now. Breathe! Listen to Reverend Andy. “…Brad suggested fireworks,” Reverend Andrew says. People chuckle. “Why fireworks? Correct me if I’m wrong, Brad, but I think you said, ‘Fireworks were important to Mark, so they were important to Sam, kind of.’” Brad hears giggles coming from his right—Rhonda and Susan, two of Sam’s friends. Susan gives him a thumbs-up. Andrew pulls a piece of paper from his jacket pocket. “I remembered this line from an awful poem I wrote years ago. A friend of mine was killed fighting in the Gulf War. I compared her life to the flame of a candle that had been snuffed out. The last line says, ‘The smoke is the memory of the flame.’ “Last year, the funerals for Mark and Sam were about our loss; tonight is about our memories of them—the ‘smoke’ that lingers with us. Although we will continue to mourn our loss, the fireworks
can remind us that the meaning of our lives comes not from how long we live, but how much we love and are loved in return. “What happened one year ago is beyond the limits of our understanding, but not beyond the limits of our love. Sam and Mark, we miss you, we love you, and tonight, we celebrate you. Peace be with us all.” Andrew glances at Josh, who stands apart from the crowd. Josh nods, speaks into his walkie-talkie, and the park lights flicker off. On the other side of the tree line, Hank wipes his eyes and blows his nose. His hand shakes as he ignites the fuse that sends the first rocket into the air, signaling the beginning of what he hopes will be the best display he has ever put together. The sky explodes with showers of gold and silver stars, rainbows sizzle as they float in the wind, and silver streaks end in brilliant white flares. The crowd gasps and laughs at the profligate splendor above them.
“If only Mark and Sam could see this,” a girl says. “I bet they can,” another girl responds. The noise and colors go on and on, overwhelming the senses until— Silence. No one moves or speaks. The spell is broken when a young child asks, “Is dat all?” As if in answer, there is a whoosh beyond the tree line, and a small, red point of light soars up, up into the quiet sky, higher than any of the other fireworks. So high that the tiny point of light disappears into the darkness. There is a loud boom, then glittering colors appear. They flow away from each other until a voice says, “It’s a heart!” Laughing, clapping, cheering, as the lights form the outline of an image that lasts only seconds before breaking apart. Still glowing, the embers disperse and disappear. “G’bye, Sam. G’bye, Mark,” a voice calls. Other voices add their farewells. Some people wave
skyward; others bow their heads or stand in silent embraces. The park lights come on but people linger, murmuring as they would in a hallowed space. From the park, many of the townspeople go to a quiet, tree-lined street where they will find two houses separated by a lawn that a boy and a girl claimed as their special playground. The porch lights are lit, and screen doors slam if people are a bit careless. A sidewalk carries the visitors between houses that tonight are brightly lit after a year of shadows. No one notices Brad as he steps out the back door of his house into the moonlit coolness. He has changed from his dressier clothes to a sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers. He walks to the towering maple that holds the treehouse, and as he climbs the wooden ladder, he imagines Sam and Mark’s hands touching it so many times over the years. On the platform, the air seems softer, the voices more distant. Sitting cross-legged, he gazes
at the same moon that Sam and Mark saw. He gives in to the hurt in his chest, crying softly. He wipes his face with his sleeves as his tears blur the round moon. His tears dry, he sits up, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a pocket knife that has two blades, a toothpick, and a tiny light that blinks SOS. He turns it on, points it toward the moon, and whispers, “I’ll take care of your knife.” As if in answer, a light breeze stirs the leaves of the tree; in its breathy swirls, he thinks he hears a distant voice whisper, “I promise.” For a moment, Brad’s eyes open wide. Then he smiles. THE END
DOROTHY McS. By Gay Baines
On a Thursday she walked up Erie Street to St. John’s to pray for me, gave me a little statue of St. Ann. I licked it. It had a salty taste, like Lot’s wife. Her prayers and good wishes were kind, my mother said. Perhaps Dorothy believed that I survived because of her pleas on her knees in St. John’s that winter. She was probably returning a favor. When Jackie ran into our kitchen
My mother is sick, bleeding something awful, my mother went next door to help. She knew there was nothing to do but call Dr. McHugh. He came, and as Dorothy and Angela, her mother, wept in each other’s arms, he called an ambulance, then with my mother got Dorothy dressed. Mother laughed about it later, Dr. McHugh with his rimless glasses, waxed mustache and dark suit rolling stockings on Dorothy’s sticky legs. Little Mary was frail, but lived on to marry and give Dorothy two grandchildren. No matter how much her mother prayed, Mary was never quite right.
Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
We owe the dead the truth By Gwen Jensen
a young crow dead I had forgotten one wing stretched how beautifulto be young full-out in flight
Loving By Terri Cummings
He smiles, says, Mama, Daddy Two small words render the dream false He looked younger than fifteen years when last arranged displayed on table Funeral home a lonely country— wired lilies supporting weeping heads How little the fantasy knows about our child’s language In his alphabet, letters rose and fell without a word. Anywhere
further than earshot broke us open— melons ripened by his needs We, his mouth held more than possible Far away as myth: drowsy lips on breast soapy, milky scent fingers tugging locks of hair rich and dark as polished wood We resign to now, its trappings our quiet concession— the memory of loving him
Tarot Deck by Lucas Galante
Baked by Sijia Ma
Diet by Sijia Ma
By Benjamin Harnett
The earlier I get up the less time I have. We must cover half the distance between then and now, before we can cover half that distance again. Life leaks out of the bucket as we fill. How does it feel, you, who are already there in the future, pretty good I guess, or pretty bad. I have
always imagined one could follow the train of connection from eye to word to hand and back. So send me a message on the string that connects us let me know: are better things possible? Once we have begun to slide down the leafy bank of understanding is there purchase to be found, do we climb back to the light of the ridge, or fall away forever? I forget, there is no final answer up the chain, there must always be another November waiting for you, each one a bit farther
from the last: that’s thermodynamics and the expanding universe, and the messages you’ve sent are only my echo.
Bounce light around like popcorn.
Riprap By Dwight R. Hilson
The geese were not happy. They paddled tensely in a tight group near the opposite shore, taking turns glancing back across the pond as Danny’s crew deposited boulders haphazardly atop the bank. No honking, no diving, no males nipping at rivals. Instead, they displayed the same fearful looks as when a plastic wolf model was first staked as a repellent into nearby ground. Its website had guaranteed effectiveness, but, of course, that was bullshit. The thing did look nasty, though, saliva inked in dripping globs from its bright molded teeth, and for a few days it was rewarding to see the birds wing down
toward the pond, take one look at White Fang, and promptly flap frantically away. They soon returned, keeping their distance while eyeing their nemesis suspiciously, but then the geese figured it out. The powers that be moved the fake wolf twice, to keep the geese off-balance, they probably told themselves, and that did generate some temporary effect. But before long the flock—a minimum of eight, the maximum too annoying to count—resumed their shoreline attack as if the solitary figure were no more worrisome than a daffodil. Danny’s crew used a rusted and dented wheelbarrow to position the rocks, filling it, one boulder at a time, from a pile deposited on the driveway the day before. There were three men: one loading, one wheeling, one unloading. They chatted away in a beyond-our-border language, oblivious that anyone monitored their progress from a safe distance. Back and forth they went, not too fast, not too slow, a measured pace seemingly timed to ensure the estimated bid for the job didn’t come up short. At first, it
seemed that steering the wheelbarrow was the choicest task, no bending or lifting required, but given the soft turf surrounding the pond—to say nothing of the unbalanced weight being hauled—it was quickly apparent that maintaining forward motion was a mighty struggle. The lead wheel furrowed deeper into soil with each pass, soon requiring grunt-filled stops and starts along each trip. The men kept their distance throughout the morning, never really breaching mandated separation; however, that fell by the wayside during lunch hour, when they huddled together on their haunches behind Danny’s company pickup. Wisely, the truck and crew were positioned off to the side of the driveway, hidden from any authority who might cruise by the connecting thoroughfare. Attuned and wary to the steady squeal of wheelbarrow, to say nothing of the rumble of rock cascading onto the ground, the flock took turns pecking away at the far shoreline turf, beaks stabbing into the grass, soil too, a couple of sentinel males
standing guard. It was foolish to think they could be stopped altogether; their progress could be hindered only on this section of tightly controlled shoreline, a job that in and of itself was barely affordable. Their assault had continued unabated for over 28 years, yet over the course of just a few months, the damage had become cataclysmic. Enough was enough—something had to be done. The land, a wooded near-acre that because of the bordering dark pond felt more than double in size, hosted a desirable mix of woodland, field, and water. The sunken remnants of a seemingly ancient drainage ditch bisected the property, its haphazard indentations and misdirection serving as an opaque boundary between forest and grass. The geese were already there, of course, and at first appeared an asset, elegant animals that cruised and bobbed, their necks curved like the handles of a formal teacup. What’s more, when the weather chilled, they departed, abandoning the pond as it froze solid, layers of snow soon making its surface indistinguishable
from the surrounding terrain. For more than a decade of our tenure, there was no need for alarm. We worked on a near-constant list of improvements, starting with the trees, which covered far too much of the land. A crew of chainsaw- (maybe ax-) wielding men went at it, logs hauled away, the smaller branches and slash either chipped or buried in an effort to smooth over the remnant archaic troughs. Not all the trees were removed, though; we left the finest specimens, along with a handful of saplings offering future protection against wind and sun. Not surprising, in retrospect, these enhancements left spring and summer downpours little option but to pool exactly where was intended only consistent grassland. Easy fix, however; perforated piping was buried—multiple lines branched out like the veins on a hand—to direct the rains and snowmelt into the pond. Technically, the work needed approval from local overseers, but that process would’ve been drawn out, and it made little sense to wait while the land turned into wet-
lands, only to host an unruly assortment of weeds and mosquito larvae. And anyway, the land was obscured from passersby, and even the open end of the piping stopped a few inches shy of the shoreline, where muddy, lichen-splotched gravel masked the improvements from unwanted discovery, even when the flow of downpours gushed out from the shoreline. Seasons came and went, as did the geese, the flock oddly absent again during the brief crystal days when jet engines and contrails were so abruptly scared from the sky. Contentment followed, distracting us from imagining damage, so, too, the almost imperceptible erosion as the resident birds commanded the waters, assailing every inch of green leaf down to dirt, which, in turn, the rains began to wash into pond sediment. Still, there seemed little need for concern. But when change came, it came all too suddenly. That winter, the pond barely froze over for more than a day or two, the geese nonetheless having
gone off to God-knows-where, and in the spring, normal soaking showers were replaced by sideways rain, the wind now a daily, billowing constant. The flock returned to lay eggs; their nests hidden even to willing thieves. Multiple mated pairs then incubated what turned into a bumper crop, dozens of summer goslings imprinted on our shores. And these, we found over the following years, would never leave. “Not a problem,” Danny said, surveying the shoreline. “Riprap, that’s what’s needed, maybe a few tons of stone, fill the crevices with topsoil, then fling a little seed for good measure.” He smiled wickedly, his whole face crevassing into concentric semicircles. Gradually, ragged piles of rock extended along the semicircle of the shoreline, mica and quartz spots flashing under the high sun. The sentinel geese remained fixed on the activity, their necks extended and tense, while the rest fluttered their wings and dove for subsurface vegetation, even as unprotected grass sloped into the pond behind them. By sunset,
the stones positioned for the hard work, Danny’s crew piled into their pickup, after which the geese honked furiously even after the men had long since disappeared. It had seemed like ages before the crew returned, but, of course, who’s really to say whether the cycles were days or years. Regardless, in the workers’ absence, the geese had ventured forth, first to inspect and gauge their handiwork during a nighttime cruise, scant moonlight illuminating their white cheek and chest feathers like blacklights as they glided along the shore. By morning, though, it was evident they’d attacked what little vegetation remained in an armada, their beaks troweling the land with brutal efficiency that allowed a steady, seasonal rain to wash their handiwork into the pond. By the time the crew arrived, the flock had retreated, and a muddy brown sheen discolored the water nearly ten feet from shore. No bother to the workmen though; they set about their task and began setting stones by hand,
larger flattish rocks anchored into pond muck and leaning shoreward, more irregular ones laid flat on the ground with their pondside edges abutting the others, a jigsaw puzzle of feldspar and quartz. Under the sun’s arc they progressed, backs bent and arms twitching, occasionally stopping to hammer smaller stones into the shapes needed to fill in vulnerable gaps. With the release of each boulder to splash or pound itself into position, clumps of loosened dirt spilled into the water, almost as if fleeing the weight intended to forever cement them in place. Alarmed by the violence of noise and action, the flock spread out on the opposite hillside, the sentinels standing guard as the rest stabbed nonchalantly at roots and weeds. Danny’s crew advanced at a surprisingly rapid pace and by late afternoon arranged their final stones near the pond’s narrow outflow channel. They were to return the following morning with topsoil and seed for the decidedly less taxing chore of filling in between their handiwork, the spreading of a bale or
two of hay being the last task. Whether or not the geese intended to inspect or even mount a futile attack on the new bulwark was hard to discern. Only fitful, honking cries interrupted the night, and as clouds darkened visibility, the bright cones of uncountable flashlights crisscrossed the shoreline and dilated the pupils of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in their glare. Most never gave the birds any thought, though, since this was the moment so many had waited for. Perhaps it was merely symbolic, but the ruinous shoreline erosion dovetailed with greater suffering beyond, a precipitous assault no less fierce because no one saw it coming. Of course, that wasn’t exactly true; the trend was obvious for anyone to notice along so many other shores, so long, that is, as one was paying attention. Few did, though, and like pressure systems roaming over the globe, it didn’t take long for devastation to overwhelm every jurisdiction, the realization of which remained paralyzed within denial and anger. Meanwhile, the detritus of
crisis grew, and individual caches—each box, jar, or bag filled with a lifetime of experience—remained hidden, stored as an act of rebellion against a once incomprehensible future. Ironically enough, for so many, Danny’s riprap offered the best hope. And in darkness, save for the flashlights, folks arrived and silently poured their revered cargo amongst the shoreline rocks, filling each and every space as if grouting tile. They finished before dawn and promptly disappeared, the geese having barely enough time to cruise the shoreline, their necks extended fully in tentative attempts at inspection. The sunrise illuminated a dusty gray haze above the riprap, to which Danny’s crew paid little attention. Once again, the wheelbarrow was brought into service, this time to roll loads of dark brown soil to be dumped on top of the stones and fresh mortar. Here again, the crew worked in concert, one filling, one rolling, one raking the dirt into position, the rake’s tines leaving minute furrows. After spreading seed and hay, they were gone.
Whatever disappointment or frustration the geese might’ve felt was little evident. They picked at the hay and probed the new formations for weakness, yet seemed resigned to the riprap’s permanence. And as the seed germinated and green shoots rose above the now desiccated hay, they soon congregated in ever greater numbers atop the shoreline rocks. At one point nearly a dozen birds paraded back and forth like drilling soldiers before all at once flapping their wings to glide back across the pond. They cackled incessantly, almost as if coming to some sort of simultaneous agreement. In the weeks to follow, the new grass grew to flower, the riprap remained cemented in place, but the pond water began to rise, little by little, and then all at once. The outlet stream wasn’t clogged or dammed, but steady, unyielding rain carved rivulets that quickly grew into streams along the unreinforced sections of shoreline. Before long the pond doubled in size, submerging the handiwork of Danny’s crew, its reach inching down the driveway to-
ward the thoroughfare now seemingly abandoned. The geese took it all in stride, all the while pecking away at the new shoreline, wonderfully oblivious to any fresh patch of dirt they might leave behind. THE END
PYGMY SHREW ASKS FOR DIRECTIONS By Joddy Murray
Heart beats 25 times a second, which means every day of two years is like four. What happens when every time you move, you click? What reminds you of movement like a vocal glitch, a spasm of sigh? This is my calendar: a day full of creaking doors held open with winds so fierce blue-gray paint opens its fingers and flies. I am the difference between biology
and mortality tables: algorithms with marigolds stuck in the binder like dust in eyelashes, pebbles in shoes. Where your heart rests has nothing to do with whether the fly in your eye lands.
Tarot Set by Lucas Galante
Sant’Anna Di Stazzema By Lauro Palomba
Dawn dew on olive groves, bean plants, persimmon trees, the robust men already fled the alpine village still they corralled its isolation; among the foreigners, uniformed as foreigners countrymen come to lend a hand of their own accord balaclavaed of their own accord bullets thicker than children’s fingers grenades louder than women’s wailing
malice toddlers couldn’t spell the elderly couldn’t fathom 550 thereabouts, if eight women pregnant each count as one if the youngest, twenty days, not erased if the livestock not germane if the terror not added if the flames not multiplied if the stoking church pews not subtracted 3 unremitting hours, then a snack 50 years, survivors dying like their village, the rescuing foreigners’ reports, - the witnessing and the itemizing files choked under ashen anguish mouldering in a palace wooden cabinet
sealed doors facing the wall 1 decade further for a reckoning 1 imprisonment, commuted in a decade Darkening our stubbly human fields - what considerations trump a slaughter?dusk
But sometimes, yoga pisses me off. 1990ish, I had been an obsessive competitive triathlete and rock climber, when this chick, Jen (she was this hip yogi with great hair, pierced nose, lived in a retro airstream trailer..all the guys loved her), showed me Triangle pose on a boulder on the bank of the Icicle River in Leavenworth, Washington. I leaned into the pose for the first time and was like, “YES! Show me more!” ...because it was “easy”...for me. And I was doing YOGA (which I’d always thought was about wrapping your foot behind your head and levitating…) Then I did a handstand and I was SOLD! I LOVED the thrill of being upside down and the strength it required. I LOVED feeling so strong! (Turn that frown upside down!) (Insert pic 1)
I started regular practice then, and over the next 5 years or so, I took many yoga classes with lots of different teachers mostly from the “Classical” yoga traditions... Classical Yoga is typically “sedate” and a lot of “rules”... a general belief that life is meant to be ASCENDED from the physical and not enjoyed AS such. That embodiment is meant to be transcended in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. I knew there was something else out there for me...something more “positive” and relevant to the life I was living...a life fraught with daily challenges and difficulties unique to those of us who live IN the world… Five years later, I was 30ish and found my calling in a yoga lineage for “Householders.” Anusara Yoga. Sigh. Anusara embraced all that was deep and rich and RIGHT with living in the world...and what is RIGHT in our bodies, the mantra that, “If it hurts when you do that, don’t do that!” physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. If it hurts, don’t do it... or at least TRY not to do it. I found my nest. Anusara became my solace, my “it’s all good” pill.
(Insert pic 2) (2)Childbirth. The ultimate Householder work. I am a householder. And so is everyone who lives in the world as a contributing member of society ...if you pay taxes, pay rent, have kids, have sex, eat food. You are a householder if you live IN society and are a participating PART of that society. WHO KNEW? Householders may NOT include prisoners, who are KEPT in isolation (though often create community within and in spite of that isolation), and monks;the ascetic types who pray for the Universe while subsisting in a cave on a single grain of rice and the air that they breathe. Anusara yoga is a life affirming practice. Acknowledgment and the understanding that life is GOOD and meant to be enjoyed...The practice of seeing the good in all things… Years later, I was deep in marriage collapse and the
muck and mire of child-rearing...I fell even deeper...nose first into this practice. I needed this “path” that empowered householders…that “yeah, life sucks sometimes but that’s what makes life GOOD!” I needed the distraction to “lift me up” at some of the lowest points in my life. I needed the FOCUS of something I was GOOD at and could continue to GROW in... because at the rate my life seemed to be falling apart, I was going to “lose it” completely and very likely end up nearly ready for an institution...or at least a big fat dose of antidepressants and anxiety meds. Yoga became my way of successfully and constructively “coping” with that which I felt I had absolutely no control over. (insert pic 3) (3)”Muck and mire” of parenting.
AND...but...also... I loved the physical practice...I had the BEST arms (and I was very proud of them.) (nsert pics 4, 5, 6) (4) (5) (6) “Hey! Wanna see my guns!!! YOGA!!! That’s right…” It was then that I entered the Anusara Yoga teacher training program ...for the FIRST time. It was my way of “getting through” what life was throwing at me. I had been “teaching” yoga already for about 10 years in the “fitness industry”, but it was just JUST the physical practice... the repetitive calisthenics so popular in group exercise classes. I wanted to DEEPEN...I needed more. The teacher training was full of anatomy, philosophy and study of the sacred texts of yoga...and it was also community. I met some of the greatest
people in my life during that training...women who have become lifetime friends and powerful mentors. The hours I spent with my “kula”...community of the heart...became my sanctuary. My reprieve from the grind that my life outside of yoga had become. medicated with asana...the postures…., mantra repetition, and lots and lots and LOTS of deep study. (Insert pic 7) (7) Both my teachers, Christina and Karen. I loved it. And then...I hated it. Teacher training is just that…”learning to be a teacher”. Much more than just leading an “exercise class”, it meant really taking the time to SEQUENCE the postures in the class and decide what “class” of poses was the focus...was it going to be standing poses, forward bends, back bends, twists, inversions...a combination of all of them? And then,
making the sequence of poses RELEVANT to everyday life…”Why practice one-legged standing forward bend? It helps build balance and confidence and stability...so if we drop our keys on an ice-covered parking lot, we have the strength and “tools” to pick them up with a far less risk of falling than if we didn’t have the practice behind us…” Context is EVERYTHING in an Anusara class...simply leading a class through a series of “whatever” poses isn’t enough. And that is just part of the challenge of teaching an Anusara class...it took planning. And sometimes a LOT of planning.It took me ages to figure out a good class...and I had far more “bad ones” than good ones. And along with the class of poses decided for the class, was the requirement of a relevant “theme”...So if I was teaching a class on “standing poses” I would want a theme like “Foundation - wherever your body is in contact with the earth is your foundation, all structures are dependent on the integrity of the foundation. Lay it well” or a class of backbends may have a theme such as “Trust...bending backwards into what you can’t see...what is the emotion needed and how does that FEEL? Confidence. Faith.”...and a class of forward bends may be themed around “Mindfulness...as you bow forward, take this time for introspection, to quiet your busy and distracted mind and focus on ONE thing…” So. Every class must have a focus on a particular class of poses AND a
complementary theme. Theming a class was so hard for me. SO. HARD. My hummingbird mind would often get caught up in my personal life distractions and I would inevitably theme a class directly from whatever was going on in my life...which turned out isn’t a BAD thing...but only if I was able to maintain the premise and not get side tracked or completely derailed... I remember my ex had just passed away, and I was being observed by my teacher for certification a class focused on back bends and the theme was “heart opening” celebration --”hands up like a tent revival”--and then I broke into tears and played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Tanked the tent revival. The class became forward bending, crying yoga. No one likes “Sad Yoga.” I didn’t get certified that day. (insert pic 8)(8) He passed away 8 years after this picture was taken. Two years later, I’m again teaching a
class that I’m being observed for certification on twists and forward bends with theme of “Making Space.”he metaphor is where and how the “load manifest” gets distributed evenly in a Bell 204B Super Helicopter --so it flies level without risk of listing to one side or the other; No difficulty with lift-off or landing-- and how it correlates with insides during twists and forward bends. To do an efficacious and SAFE spinal twist takes preparation, proper foundation and the right breathwork...and a decent understanding of what is happening internally during the twist. NAILED IT! I got certified that day. (insert pic 9) (9) (Yup...that’s me and the Bell 204B Super...) I take DAYS to journal before the class so I get it just right. What theme goes well for an inversion class...or arm balances??? It’s not as easy as it seems. I struggle with it even now...20 years later, thousands of hours of yoga immersions, intensives, trainings and study.
I worked SO HARD. Diligently. I would train after week after week with my teacher. Getting it right...but mostly getting it wrong. Because that’s the WORK. I can’t even count the times I was castigated for “bad behavior” or “bad form”. I cried thousands of tears...BUCKETS of tears... during my years with my teacher. I was hum-
bled daily. I needed to be, I was arrogant! I still thought like a competitive athlete. I felt like I was going through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy...and sometimes even felt like I was being brainwashed. I mean, I think if I could’ve been brainwashed, it would have been easier. But I wasn’t. And it wasn’t. And I struggled. SO HARD. But it was
still my solace...a lovely distraction from the reality of my daily life...at home. With problems. Yoga had problems for me that I could solve...ME. I had the control...where I didn’t in my home… (insert pic 10) (10)Yoga teacher training Immersion number 2 (of 10 or so…) Now years have gone by, and I sit and think, “Wow, I’ve put a LOT of work into my classes...hours. Blood sweat and tears.” My undergraduate degree took less energy...less hours...fewer years! I’ve earned the equivalent to a PhD in yoga...maybe even 3 PhD’s! The struggle sometimes felt insurmountable...I couldn’t get the theming right or I didn’t understand a particular principal of alignment an-
atomically...or FASCIA! Now I’ve got to figure fascia into all things kinesiology...my journey as a yoga teacher is endless and constantly is evolving. The learning NEVER stops. I am forever a student of the practice...and the Work that goes with understanding I am a lifetime student is HUGE. Humility is hand and hand with being a GOOD yoga teacher. I always remind myself that I really know “not much…”...but maybe that’s enough. I’ve got over 30 years into my yoga journey...every minute I have been and always will be a student. And that is a comfort,knowing that I’ll never know it all… A few years ago, I was in the midst of a VERY intense immersion --advanced asana, philosophy, meditation and pranayama ---and one evening, I joined in on a local studio class. The “teacher” told the class he was the physical embodiment of Ganesha... The Hindu God and Remover of obstacles... and for $100 dollars, he would touch us on the head, pray a chant
over us and “grant us the gift of enlightenment” at the end of class. A gesture, blessing really, known as “Shaktipat” among the most devout of yogis and vedic monks, mostly in India. It can ONLY be administered by an “ordained” Guru, a TRUE teacher of the spiritual life. He...Ganesha embodied...was a 32-year-old from Alaska with a man bun, chanted in what he called “Japanese Sanskrit”...REALLY! REALLY???!!! Hand to face. Sanskrit is sanskrit.o such thing as “dialect”. It’s amillenia old language, spoken before written...sigh. It’s like saying, “I play trombone-style piano.” .. and he liked to teach without a shirt. I walked out of that class, before he could snag me for my “blessing” donation...shaking my head…and retaining my $100... About the same time ago, I offered a series of “Yoga for Every Body” at a local country club...I was preparing the ad media and working with the clubs’ event-coordinator. The class was to focus on the population that couldn’t necessarily get on the floor...which was the MAJORITY of the membership of the club, aged 60 plus..and I LOVED this demographic. Mostly old people with old bodies, or young people with old bodies...but all people with REAL bodies. I took photos of a student of mine in her late fifties...with
a natural UNedited body...in a modified side angle pose. It was PERFECT for the people I was targeting. The director, who is/was not a yoga practitioner, refused to use the picture because, in HER words “The lady is fat! She’s not even doing a very good version of the pose...and her hair is terrible.”As if SHE had any idea what ANY version of the pose looked like...except for her LIMITED exposure to yoga... via, you know, Yoga Journal magazine...or Sex in the City.I quit the club that day,and I’ve never returned to teaching in health clubs. The other day, I drove by the studio on the corner that popped up last week… there was a sign in the window that said, ”Come in for our tantric partner yoga class, Wednesdays at 7pm!” Really. REALLY!?So, I go inside to meet the “teacher.”She’s 24 and just completed her weekend YogaFit “certification”. Adorned in Lulu and reeking of patchouli. She’s just “so excited” to teach partner yoga...she’s read the entire Kama Sutra and knows ALL about Tantra...did I mention she’s 24? And just finished a WEEKEND YogaFit training?…Again, I walked out shaking my head... I teach with context and purpose...not theory, lies, showboating, abstract equations, or claims of being the reincarnation of Hindu deities.I do the Work. And it’s hard. Really hard...but it’s my SOLACE. It keeps my peace. It challenges
me in ways I sometimes think will push me over the edge. AND! The practice is just that...PRACTICE. There is no END game...it’s life. It’s MY life...and I am forever grateful to have it and the blessing it has helped make my life out of the CATASTROPHE I thought it was... and what it could have been if I didn’t have yoga. And, it pisses me off. And, I love it.
Reaching by Arantza Aramburu
By Nickolas Duarte
for my father to come home instead. Water collects on the dented green dumpster by the car port. Sometimes tadpoles are underneath I investigate even though mom says I’m too curious and some things should not be explored. But her skin is not like mine so she does not understand. Underneath the dented green dumpster is the River Toad but no tadpoles. The River Toad does not like me.
He has a fat body and mean eyes and is dry and wet at the same time. He calls me pocho and pinche poche and other things I’m not allowed to say like trying to make words with your hands. I think it is great the River Toad learned to talk but I wish he would be nicer to me especially since I am waiting for my father to get home and I am in trouble for trying to talk like him.
Becoming Luminous By Janet Yoder
You were named Molly when I met you. We loved the same man back then—Joe. I met Joe first when I entered college in 1969 at nearly 18. Joe and I were not lovers then. We were depressed together during that rainy winter in Tacoma, when the air smelled of the pulp mill on the tide flats mixed with the metallic odor of the copper smelter. The Viet Nam War hung over us. Joe and I survived music theory and music history classes by hanging out together and reminding each other that there was life outside the music building. We could make each other laugh. But sometime after
the draft lottery, Joe suffered what his mother told me was a nervous breakdown. He left school and she took him home to Vashon Island to recover. Three years later Joe and I reconnected in Seattle where he lived downstairs in his dad’s house. You and he were in the same world by then. He told me about you, told me you were a therapist and feminist leader. He didn’t say that you had pulled him out of a dark place, but somehow I knew you did and I was grateful if a little jealous. I introduced myself to you at a party after Gloria Steinem spoke at the University of Washington. Was it 1972? We were in a big room full of women dancing, celebrating the women’s movement, celebrating being women. Did you speak to the crowd? Or did someone point you out to me? During a pause in the music, I walked up and introduced myself as a friend of Joe’s from college. You turned your falcon eyes on me. We stood there together assessing. You, wiry, fierce, older. Me, unsure, breathless, but standing there anyway. Then
your face softened. You thanked me for introducing myself. It was the beginning. A few years later, you and Joe bought the big old house in Madrona where you hosted therapy groups. Alternative therapy. You challenged your clients in ways they had never been challenged before. Challenged them to stand strong in a difficult relationship, challenged them to do something outside their comfort zone, challenged them to do the one thing they were afraid of doing, even if that was to take off all their clothes and shout their deepest desire. No way would I have come to your therapy group, even though you offered to cure me of asthma. Our lives fell into a rhythm. I saw Joe one day a week. Was it Tuesday? And he lived with you the other six days. And I lived with Robby. It was the beginning of the fluid times. We all slept on waterbeds, Robby and I on a funky houseboat on Lake Union. Your house seemed to expand to accommodate whoever needed to live there—your children,
friends, people passing through. Everything was in motion. I discovered the first Carlos Castaneda book called The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and we all read it. Castaneda described alternate realities, lucid dreaming, paths to animal powers, to shaman powers, to becoming luminous beings. At the time, the world was cracking open in a hallucinogenic way. But also in a spiritual way. Later you thanked me for that book that launched us all on our spiritual path, the path that carried you further than any of us. You and Joe hosted meditation groups at your big old Madrona house. We all sat around on pillows in your living room with its candle-lit altar and the droning harmonium that Joe played. We chanted and danced and spun. We breathed and stretched and turned. We felt vibrations moving up our spines, igniting our chakras one by one all the way up to the crown. We sought spiritual teachers and sat Darshan to perceive their enlightenment. We sat zazen and tried TM. We did guided meditations.
We visited the followers of Rajneesh in a house on Capitol Hill one evening to jump and hop ourselves toward ecstasy. We sought to become luminous beings, even if luminosity was always just out of our reach—a glimmer caught in our peripheral vision, a glow on the horizon. We raced out to Discovery Park just before sunset to witness that magic between worlds. We watched eagles and great blue herons. We swam at night. We chanted in the glass pyramid Joe built on the top of the big old Madrona house. You charmed Robby and challenged him to a winter swim in Lake Washington in the wee hours of morning. Robby loved the challenge, loved you. We all loved you. When you changed your name to Starfire, none of us batted an eye. Starfire is the source of energy for stars and that explosive name fitted you. You climbed Mount Rainier. You fasted and cleansed. You blended carrots by the crateful and bunches of chard and kale. One evening you announced you were the first woman of the counterculture to go
through menopause and that blew my mind, made me realize I would one day in the long-distant future go through menopause and just possibly still be as vibrant as you. Then you got cancer. I don’t remember what kind but a bad one. You dealt with it by cleansing and meditating. You went to the desert to apprentice yourself to a sorcerer, perhaps to live on peyote and prayers. Or air. Later, I ran into you one chilly afternoon just before Christmas at the Cause Celebre Café on Capitol Hill. I was sipping a cappuccino. You carried a hot chocolate to my table and sat across from me. You told me you had just bought Christmas presents for your children and grandchildren at Fred Meyer. I was surprised that you did Christmas presents, that you shopped at Fred Meyer, and that you drank a hot chocolate, a beverage full of caffeine, sugar, and milk. You smiled at my surprise. You talked
about your childhood in Florida, running wild around your family’s big home. The wild spark was still in your eyes. Then you asked me to keep up my friendship with Joe. “You are special to him,” you said. “He’s going to need you.” You got up and gave me a long hug—the kind of hug that transmits blessings. Did you know then how short your time was? Did you know that this was our farewell? I watched you wrap your thin self in a way-too-big down jacket, pick up your bag full of Christmas presents, and walk out of the café—a fully luminous being. THE END
Tarot Set by Lucas Galante
Megan Baker (she/her) is a sophomore English Creative Writing major also working on a Psychology minor. She hopes to work in a publishing house or write fantasy novels with an emphasis on mental health. She spends her free time gaming and working as a Twitch moderator when she is not studying or working on the Ignatian. Ezra Buck (he/him) is a senior English Literature major also getting his master’s in Education. He’s been working with the Ignatian for almost three years; you can find him in the staff photos of vol 31 and 32 as well! He loves his mom, his cats, and the number three. Holly Clancy (she/they ) is a senior Chemistry major with a minor in Mathematics. This is her first year with Ignatian Magazine and she’s been having a lot of fun so far! In her free time she enjoys watching horror movies, crocheting, and hanging out with her pets.
Alex Dellar (they/them)is a Junior at USF, majoring in Psychology and double minoring in Philosophy & Neuroscience. They feel honored to be a part of creating space for folks’ stories, dreams, and narratives to be heard through the Ignatian. When not studying, you can catch Alex hanging with their toy poodle, making polymer clay rings (a new COVID hobby), or geeking out about how cool communication is/daydreaming about one day becoming a Speech Language Pathologist. Sabrina Hernandez (they/she) is a senior English Writing Major and Fine Arts Minor. This is their third semester with the Ignatian. You can always find them watching scary movies, sketching, or cuddling up with their cat. Aliyah Kirkland Jackson is a Dual-Degree student majoring in English and pursuing her Masters in Education. She has recently been involved with The Ignatian for a few months now. She loves animals, music, and has a shopping addiction.
Juhuhn Kim (he/him)is a third year at USF, majoring in English and minoring in music. This is his first semester being involved in the Ignatian literary magazine. Juhuhn’s other hobbies outside of literature include music production, skateboarding, and cuddling cute cats. Cat Ling (she/her) is majoring in Comparative Literature, minoring in Urban Agriculture, and is a student in the Dual Degree Teacher Preparation Program. Even though this is her first year at the University of San Francisco, she has already found a home in The Ignatian. Other places she considers home are national parks, her 1995 Nissan Quest, and her Filipino mother’s kitchen in San José. Alyssa Miller (she/her) is a Senior English major with a minor in communications. She is the Non-Fiction Editor for The Ignatian Literary Magazine as well as a writer for No Film School. Outside of school, Alyssa enjoys reading and watching anything horror-related or anything that makes her cry.
Mira Nair (she/her) is a Junior at the University of San Francisco, studying design and film. This is her first year working with Ignation Magazine. She is Eden Nobile (they/them) is a junior English major with a minor in Classics at the University of San Francisco. They are also an Intern for the Gender and Sexuality Centers in USFCA’s Cultural Centers, as well as the Events Coordinator for ASUSF College Players. Eden enjoys watching cartoons, writing poetry, and befriending animals and trees they meet in Golden Gate Park. Clara Rosandich (she/her) Kat Triebes (she/her) is a senior English major and psychology minor at the University of San Francisco. She is also an intern for Nomadic Press and The Mud Season Review. She loves poetry, horror fiction, and spending time with her dog and rats when she’s not trying to find a job. Cailey Tuers (she/her)
Evalynn Wendt (she/they) is a freshman majoring in Politics and with a minor in legal studies. This is her first year working on the Ignatian and is looking forward to working on more editions in the future. In her free time, you can catch her drawing/painting for hours on end, curled up with a good book, or cuddling with her cat. Cobi Williams (he/him) is a junior Urban Studies major also pursuing a Geospatial Analysis Certificate and a Music minor. When not tending to his studies, he enjoys building synthesizers and spending time in San Francisco’s parks. Alecsander Zapata (he/him) is The Ignatian’s Fiction Editor as well as a Book Reviewer in Residence at The Baram House. When it comes to fiction, he’s known for favoring questions over answers and for his unabashed love of comic books. His other passions include soccer, video games, cigars, and reggaetón. He has very recently become a coffee snob.
CONTRIBUTORS Carol Anderheggen
Arantza Aramburu is a Senior at the University of San Fransisco. Arantza is a Peruvian-American artist who was raised in Miami and taught themself art from a young age.
Ash Arumugam is an undergraduate student currently pursuing a BA in psychology at the University of California, Irvine. Her poems have been published in two print and online publications: The Patience Project and New Forum. Drawing inspiration from nature and the joys of everyday life, Ash enjoys exploring art in a variety of different mediums, including writing, painting, knitting, and photography. Callie S. Blackstone is a lifelong New Englander. She is lucky enough to wake up to the smell of saltwater and the call of seagulls. Her creative nonfiction has been published in special interest magazine ‘SageWoman.’ Her poetry has been published in The Ele-
phant Ladder. It is also forthcoming in an anthology titled ‘Tell Me More’ that is being published by East Jasmine Review. Timothy Caldwell was a professional singer and university professor for forty years. When he retired, he returned to his early love–writing. Caldwell’s novel, The Chaplain’s Assistant: God, Country, and Vietnam, was published in 2012. His essays and short stories have been published in a variety of journals. Éanlaí Cronin’s writing has appeared in Sweet Tree Review, String Poet, Peregrine, Sinister Wisdom, Big Muddy, The Courage to Heal, Entropy Magazine, and The Magic of Memoir. She has spent the last twenty years attending writing workshops across America. She writes under the pen name Saoirse E. Doyle.
Terri Lynn Cummings is the author of Tales to the Wind, An Element Apart, When Distant Hours Call, and soon, Artifacts. Her work appears in literary journals, including Pasatiempo, right hand pointing, and in anthologies including Malpais Review, Flint Hills Review. She holds a BS in s ociology/anthropology, Oklahoma State University. Nickolas Duarte is a filmmaker based in Tucson, AZ. His work has received support from the National Endowment of the Arts, Sony Pictures, the Ryan Murphy HALF Initiative, Vimeo Staff Picks, and Short of the Week. His poetry is published in The Avalon Literary Review and The Evening Street Review. Rebecca Fifield is a library and museum preservation administrator living in the Hudson Valley. Her work is forthcoming in Blue Lake Review and Caveat Lector. She holds a master’s degree in museum studies from the George Washington University and enjoys gardening, transit, and historic preservation. Learn more about Rebecca Fifield at www.rlfifield.net.
Laura Giardina is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts, New York, where she majored in Photography and Media Arts/Illustration. She has served as manager in creative at Avon Products, Inc. and has photographed products, models, and many of Avon’s Breast Cancer Walks. Benjamin Harnett is a poet, fiction writer, historian, and digital engineer. His poetry has appeared recently in Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Juked, and ENTROPY; and forthcoming in SLANT, Midwest Quarterly, and the Evansville Review. His short-story “Delivery” was Longform’s Story of the Week; he was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in Poetry; and he has been nominated for a Pushcart. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife Toni and a collection of eccentric pets. He works for The New York Times.
Dwight Hilson is a onetime businessperson now writing through the midlife crisis. His short fiction and poetry being published or forthcoming in The Alembic, Chaffin Journal, Coe Review, Colere, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Literary Yard, The MacGuffin, Moon City Review, riverSedge, Sanskrit, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Summerset Review, and Valparaiso Fiction Review. After many years in academia, Gwendolyn Jensen retired from the presidency of Wilson College in 2001. The print and online journals where her poems and translations have appeared include the Beloit Poetry Journal, The Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, and Salamander. In 2018, Rosalind Kaliden published her first fulllength book Trysting with the Divine, a collection of ekphrastic poems. Her poetry has appeared in Obsidian, Existere Journal, The MacGuffin, Valparaiso Review, The Round, and others. She published a chapbook, Arriving Sideways, and is currently working on a memoir, Five Point Storm.
Juhuhn Kim is a third-year at USF studying creative writing and music. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is now currently residing in Alameda. Juhuhn, along with writing poems, creates music under the name “No Room No Sweetener”, with his friends. Jessica Levine holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was a Mellon Fellow. She works as a hypnotherapist, and has held workshops on writing a novel at the American Library in Paris. Jessica now lives in Northern California. Visit her website at jessicalevine.com.
David Lewitzky is an 80 y. o. former social worker/ family therapist living in Buffalo, New York. In 2002 he resumed writing poetry after a 35 year hiatus. During that time of biting his tongue he carried a sandwich board in his head declaring him: “Poet. Not writing!” He’s had about 125 poems published in litmags such as Nimrod, Red Rock Review and Red Wheelbarrow and he has work forthcoming in Seneca Review, Main Street Rag and Slant among others. Kristin Lieberman has a BA from Simmons College, a JD from Albany Law School, and an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Broad River Review, Evening Street Review, McNeese Review, New Madrid, Penmen Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, SNReview, Switchback and Willow Review.
William Luker Jr earned a Bachelor of Arts in literature and philosophy from New College of Florida, a Master of Science in labor and industrial relations from the University of North Texas, and a PhD in economics from the University of Texas at Austin. He has numerous professional publication credits. Sijia Ma (b.2001 in Shenyang China), is currently pursuing a B.A. in Studio Arts and Quantitative Economics at Smith College, MA. She also studied Graphic Design at Yale University and is now studying Photography at Amherst College. Sijia works in the medium of photography, performance, and graphic design. Her works have been exhibited at the International Center of Photography in New York, London Format International Photography Festival, Janotta Gallery, and Loosen Art Gallery in Rome. She is also the Co-founder of One Centimeter Gallery. / www.msijiama.com Julia Medina is a Bay Area Native and a senior English major with a writing concentration at USF.
Joddy Murray’s chapbook, Anaphora, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2020. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 70 journals, including, most recently, The Adirondack Review, Caliban Online, The Cape Rock, Crack the Spine, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Moon City Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Pembroke Magazine, Southampton Review, Texas Review, and Westview. He currently teaches writing and rhetoric in Fort Worth, Texas. Lauro Palomba has taught ESL and done stints as a freelance journalist and speechwriter. Approximately ninety of his poems and stories have appeared in American and Canadian literary journals.
Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after a rewarding career in public health research. With a graduate degree from Howard University, since retiring he’s published nonfiction, poetry, and photography in nearly 150 journals and anthologies on four continents. Publications include Bombay Gin, Barren, Columbia Journal, Ilanot Review, Ignatian Literary Magazine, Kestrel, Litro, Lunch Ticket, MAKE, New World Writing, The Atlantic, The Manchester Review, and Typehouse. A nonfiction piece led to a role in documentary limited series. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals on the front lines and grandparents of five preschoolers—split their time between city and mountains. The poet, Caitlin Ryan, is a second year english major at the University of San Francisco. She is originally from Portland, Oregon and loves the pace of city life. She would love to pursue a career in the literary arts and cannot wait to see where that goes!
Grace Sampson is an emerging Irish writer, aged twenty-one. She lives in rural Limerick, where she was brought up. Her work is experimental, personal, yet incredibly universal, and she hopes that her work can be a uniting force in a world that lacks unity or cohesion. Her work can be found in ‘The Galway Review’, ‘The Lothlorien Poetry Journal’, and on her Instagram and Twitter Pages @graceksampson7 and @graceKSampson, respectively. She is working on a number of projects, including her first collection of poetry, while finishing her undergraduate degree at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Russell Thayer’s work has appeared in Hawaii Pacific Review, Tough, Potato Soup Journal, and Pulp Modern. He received his BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Washington and worked for years at large printing companies. He currently lives in Missoula, Montana, with his wife of thirty-five years.
Matthew Wallace has attended the Writer’s Digest Conference and participated in several writing workshops, including McKee Story, Truby’s Writers Studio, and Story Genius. Matthew is very active in dog rescue. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Forge Journal, Menda City Review, and The Paragon Journal. Zoe Williams is a graduating senior studying creative writing at USF from Texas and Southern California. Gina Willner-Pardo has been published in South Carolina Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Louisiana Literature, Pleiades, Crack the Spine, and other journals. Her story “Everything That’s Lovely” was a finalist in both Narrative’s Spring 2020 Story Contest and Pithead Chapel’s 2020 Larry Brown Short Story Award contest. “How Karma Works” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2020 by Slippery Elm Literary Journal. She has also written seventeen
books for children, all published by Clarion or Albert Whitman. Her book Figuring Out Frances won the Josette Frank Award, presented by the Bank Street College of Education, to honor a book of “outstanding literary merit.” In 2021 Gina will judge the Slippery Elm Prose Contest. Gina has a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and an M.B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley. She has studied with James Frey. When not writing, she enjoys running and hiking near her home on the California coast. Arnie Yasinski is a retired college administrator, born American but now living in Ireland with his Irish wife. He’s a father and grandfather who holds a PhD in English and wrote his first poem at fifty. He has published poems in four dozen US journals and recently had his first collection, called Proposition, published by 21st Century Renaissance in Ireland. Janet Yoder
The Ignatian Magazine Website https://theignatian.wordpress.com Instagram @ignatianlitmag
Submit http://theignatian.submittable.com/submit Questions? email@example.com
Vector and Cover Art by Sabrina Hernandez Layouts by Megan Baker, Ezra Buck, Holly Clancy, Sabrina Hernandez, Aliyah Kirkland-Jackson, Cat Ling, Eden Nobile, Clara Rosandich, Evalynn Wendt and Cobi Williams. Design Team: Megan Baker, Holly Clancy, Sabrina Hernandez, Eden Nobile, Evalynn Wendt, Cobi Williams, and Alecsander Zapata.
Carol Anderheggen Arantza Aramburu Ash Arumugam Callie S. Blackstone Timothy Caldwell Éanlaí Cronin’s Terri Lynn Cummings Nickolas Duarte Rebecca Fifield Laura Giardina Benjamin Harnett Dwight Hilson Gwendolyn Jensen Rosalind Kaliden Juhuhn Kim Jessica Levine David Lewitzky Kristin Lieberman William Luker Jr Sijia Ma Julia Medina Joddy Murray Lauro Palomba Jim Ross Caitlin Ryan Grace Sampson Russell Thayer Matthew Wallace Zoe Williams Gina Willner-Pardo Arnie Yasinski Janet Yoder