Cover Art: “The Boatman” By Rebecca Lumbrix The staff at Lost River would like to thank the English Department at Western Kentucky University for its generous support in our endeavor. Special thanks to Dr. Tom C. Hunley, Mary Ellen Miller & Jay Sizemore. Lost River would not exist without you. Additional thanks to Dr. Brent Oglesbee for supplying incentive for the creation of our logo. Lost River logo designed by Duncan Underhill Cover design & layout by Leigh Cheak Lost River maintains First North American Serial Rights for reproduction of works in Lost River and/or Lost River affiliated materials. All other rights remain with the artist. Copyright ã 2016 Lost River
½MASTHEAD½ EDITOR IN CHIEF Leigh Cheak PROSE EDITOR Clinton Craig COPY EDITOR Shaun Helton
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Lost River Fall 2016
Table of Contents POETRY ROB CARNEY Magic Realism ½16 Because Summer Has Fourteen Kinds of Orange ½41 KEVIN CASEY At the Halfway Mark ½38 JIM DANIELS I Had a Dog, and Dog Loved River ½ 13 JOE FULTON Teacup ½22 DAVID M. HARRIS Dead Letter Office: William Harris (5) ½3 Asymptote ½23 STEVE KLEPETAR Strange Days ½2 BRANDON MARLON The Gatekeeper ½45 BRUCE SAGER What the Magician’s Assistant Needs ½28 Edison ½44 BEKAH STEIMEL On the Subject of You ½27 PIA TAAVILA-BORSHEIM Aloft ½1 ROBIN WRIGHT Services at a Later Date ½15 JAKE YOUNG Rising ½14 In Your Embrace ½43
KAREN BARR Sorry ½4 CHELSEA BARTLETT Dusty’s Treasure Chest ½47 J. BRADLEY Circumnavigation ½42 JASON MAKANSI Big Nine ½17
NONFICTION KITTY BOWERMAN That Night ½25 JIM TRITTEN Saunagus ½31
PHOTOGRAPHY DEBRA CHEAK Sunset at Dale Hollow ½11 Tulips in Spring ½39 NICK DURCHOLZ Rustic Swallowtail ½24 Summer in Narnia ½46 REBECCA LUMBRIX The Woods Received Me Well ½29
When you hold me in our cotton bed, lying flank to flank, gazing eye to eye, I could no more resist you than a leaf can its breeze. From the window, I see one turn and float, its stem jutting this way and that, so light, carried along by upwelling drafts, free. Sometimes it spins within an eddy before it is swept away, or falls. It rests, fragile in one lull, then is whisked away again in one swift flue. It is all that I can do to hang on and fly, unbound and reeling. The leaf scudders to bits, crumbling in mid-air.
- PIA TAAVILA-BORSHEIM
Those were strange days when stars seemed to swim through the night sky like luminescent fish, and my mother rose from bed in search of her sister’s ghost. A face floated near the overhead light, pale in the darkness. “We spent so little time together as adults,” my mother said. “Only a few visits, and we had such different memories of home.” And then, at breakfast, the sea began to rise. We rushed for the boats as one by one islands disappeared and bridges washed away. Maybe tomorrow the doves will return, or the raven, with a bit of mud in its beak, something almost solid to remake the world. - STEVE KLEPETAR
DEAD LETTER OFFICE: WILLIAM HARRIS (5) Dear Dad: When Mom left you, walked away on that beach, hailed a cab and went to the airport, and you called from your sister's place in Beverly Hills – your sister Anne, whom I had never met – and summoned me to fly to California, that day, right now, to help you drive the Caddy back to New Jersey, I imagined a long, slow bonding as we fell through the deserts and plains. I imagined one night at Anne's and rushing home to discover . . . whatever was left of my parents' marriage. But we lingered in California, saw the sights, spent time with Anne, talking about nothing that was new to me. On the road at last, to Las Vegas to see Hoover Dam, I saw this trip was planned like all the others, and revealing yourself was not part of the plan. I did learn about two of your brothers, Real Sam and Fake Sam, Shimshon and Shmuel, and Real Sam's vanishing act to Australia, and nothing more. By the time we hit the plains (through Santa Fe and Sterling), a plain silence had conquered the car, and whoever wasn't driving was sleeping. Council Bluffs, Joliet, Youngstown, and home to the empty house, “Goodbye” in lipstick on the kitchen table. Goodbye, too, to our last shared project until you went into the hospital. Neither of us then was in the mood for hard questions, and after that there are no answers that I'll ever hear. - DAVID M. HARRIS
SORRY Karen Barr
There was a time when he didn’t have
What did come was understanding.
to say I’m sorry. Back when they stood on the
Claire was in her prime. Her beauty shone
cold white beach at Port Townsend, and the
from the inside, out. What man, or woman,
salt air was stinging their faces and the waves
could resist her exuberance, the joy in her
delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.
laughter, the shine in her golden-brown eyes?
When he had pledged his devotion and she had
One eyebrow cocked up at an angle like a
giggled at the sight of him down on one knee.
sarcastic question mark. Her skin was brown
A time before the monotony and tedium set in,
but as soft as the belly of a kitten and she
before life became mechanical and ordinary.
smelled of vanilla and coconut leaves. A small
Back when a conscious choice might have
scar interrupted her lip line on one side just
made all the difference.
enough to give her a slanted smile—like a
Sure, there were decisions he should
perpetual smirk. He held no resentment
have made differently; tests he should have
toward anyone who succumbed to her charms.
passed, temptations he should have denied. He had been weak, self-absorbed. Either way, nothing he could have said or done would lessen the pain. It began slowly. Just little things at
increased. At first it was verbal. "What do you think of a trip to Vermont next year?" She'd asked. "Sounds nice, perhaps in the fall."
first. A slight difference in her way of speaking,
tiny bouts of forgetfulness, the carelessness of
“Fall, I hear the colors are dazzling.”
her attentions, the distractions.
At first he mistook it. He thought it was a lover, though male or female he was never quite sure. Claire had a magnificent heart, it didn’t discriminate. He was angry, livid, in the beginning, but that soon gave way to disappointment and distress. He vowed to pay
“The trees, silly. It’s a beautiful time of year in that part of the country.” “Why are we discussing trees?” She looked suddenly agitated. "The trees, in Vermont. Isn't that where you suggested we go next fall?"
closer attention, to make up for his
She stared at him blankly, as if the
insensitivity, to fill holes that lay vacant. He
word trees or fall or even Vermont were of
longed for a confession but none came.
some alien language. His attempts to return to
these conversations only confused and
irritated her more; he might as well have been speaking Russian.
changes. His frustration only seemed to
Then came the physical disorientation.
increase her moodiness. She began walking in
Frank watched as she stood in a doorway,
the evening, not caring for companionship but
unsure of which way to go. When he asked her
he stayed by her side just the same. The
about it she laughed it off.
engaging demeanor he came to love was
fading and fits of anger and depression took its
place. He suggested a doctor, someone she
"Everything." She smiled and winked,
could talk to, but she sobbed so each time he
"I'm probably just losing my mind." But he could see the frustration in her eyes. A look of helplessness that was becoming more evident as the days went by.
Frank tried to keep up with the
brought it up that he would quickly change the subject. Then things took a turn for the worse. Claire went to town and called him from a
Claire was always a list maker. She
phone booth asking him how to drive home.
wrote lists of daily routines, lists of shopping
He found her outside in the garden late one
pick-ups and weekly to-dos. Lists of birthdays
night, crying. He brought her back to bed and
and anniversaries to remember. She started
sat by her side while she explained she was
writing things down on a small yellow notepad
certain that the peppers were ripe and must be
she kept by the bed, small things, everyday
picked before they spoiled. They hadnâ€™t
things. Sometimes he would read them in
planted peppers for close to four years.
passing and even add an item or two when she
By this time, Claire, who could no
was sleeping rather than wake her. Then he
longer go shopping by herself, got away from
saw yellow sticky notes appearing in various
him at the library. He searched the rows of
places around their home. Reminders on
books, waited impatiently while the librarian
getting dressed and what she would wear the
checked the women's room and was in near
next day, on the bathroom mirror, what day of
panic by the time he stepped outside, praying
the week it was on the refrigerator door. They
that she hadn't gone far. He choked back tears
became more precise; Towels on the linen
of relief when he saw her climbing out of a
closet, Pots and Pans on the cupboard below
squad car at the curb. A police officer found
the stove. She made notes telling her when to
Claire walking down the center of the highway.
do the laundry, when take a shower and when
When he asked her address she told him that
to wash her hair. He watched her decline,
she couldn't remember the number but she
powerless to stop it.
was certain the house was painted in
"Mushroom Beige." When he asked her to get
The brochure had mentioned “Luxury Homes
into his car, she replied, in her most proper
or Assisted Living with Nursing Care On-site.”
tone, that her husband was waiting for her at
They had gone so far as to take a short tour of
the library and that even if he wasn't, it
the grounds. It was a beautiful country
seemed in terribly bad taste to jump into a
location; acres of rolling hills and green grassy
strange man's car.
lawns with a velvety golf course surrounding a
picture-perfect lake, inhabited by a small flock
She finally consented to a visit to the
of Canadian geese. It had seemed like the
doctor but only because she had forgotten
perfect place to spend their golden years.
where the bathroom was one night and
But at that time they had not toured
dislocated her toe walking into a wall in the
the “Communal Grounds”. A gated area
dark. The prognosis was not promising, and he
surrounding a large brick building—stately
cried in the hallway while she dressed. Early-
enough until he looked closely. The curtainless
onset dementia, they said. A rare form that
windows were covered by steel bars; a double
generally affected women under sixty. Claire
entryway with electronic locks on the doors
was fifty-six. It would only get worse, there
prevented any “casual strolls in the garden” by
was no cure.
“Perhaps some time away might
The picture in Frank's mind of "those
help—in foreign surroundings the patient
places"—as his mother had called them—was
feels more in control. They’re not expected to
dreary. Outdated facilities, peeling paint, and
know their way around, and in time, it can
the smell of urine and death filled the halls. He
lessen the fear and anxiety. Not to mention it
couldn't bear the thought of Claire living out
will give you a break. You’ll find you must
the rest of her life in such a place.
watch her closely as this progresses. There is a place...A facility,” they said. Saddlebrook
The doctors had also told him that a just change of scenery sometimes provided a
Advertised as, “An Active Adult Living
temporary reprieve. He decided on a trip to the sea.
Community—Find your Luxury Dream Home
Claire giggled when he told her where
and Enjoy Resort-Style Amenities—Low
they were going. For a moment he could see
her again, her childlike exuberance, her sense
He and Claire had looked into a
of wonder, her joy and zest for life that had
retirement home there at one point, years
always left him in awe. Then it was gone.
before the reality of old age began to creep in.
Replaced by anger that turned to depression.
When he looked into her eyes he could see the wild-eyed fear that consumed her.
Now, driving down the coast with her in the seat next to him, these memories
He packed her suitcase, a small blue
crowded his mind. At one point, Claire asked if
and white floral overnight bag that he bought
they were going to the store and if so, could
on their honeymoon in Montego Bay. He
they stop at the dry cleaners as she had to pick
combed her hair and brought her handbag. He
up his suit for the rehearsal dinner; he bit back
helped her into the car and fastened the
tears of helplessness. He wondered if she ever
seatbelt around her waist. All movements so
thought of the old days now. Did she still
familiar, a deja vu of the distant past when she
remember their life together? Did she realize
woke in the middle of the night screaming, her
that they had been married for over forty
bed sheets soaked, and he rushed her to the
years? Or was it, for her, like starting over? If
hospital for the delivery of their first child.
so, would she have forgotten his indiscretions?
How he stood at her bedside and wiped the
sweat and tears from her face as she lay
exhausted in blood-soaked sheets. How two
He had always loved Claire. He never
days later he helped her out of the bed to bring
doubted that, nor did she. Even when
her home, alone. How she hid in her room for
surrounded by eager, nubile young women in
weeks, trying to hide her sobs. How she
open-toed sandals and long silky hair who
apologized over and over for the children they
smelled of incense and musk. Girls who openly
would never have. How he assured her it
declared their availability for sex without
wasnâ€™t her fault and that God had a bigger plan
attachment and he found himself drawn into
an affair. He never stopped making love to
Claire stopped believing in God. She
Claire. He had not spent a single night away
told him that in a matter-of-fact way soon after
from her during that period. No making up
the death of their firstborn. She told him how
elaborate stories in order to spend a weekend
she had lain in her bed praying for her child to
in Seattle or in a cabin on Whidbey Island. He
be alright, praying that he would have ten toes
had gone easy on the drink and dope and had
and ten fingers, that he would be able to see
always shown up for work and brought home
and hear and touch the world around him.
the money needed to give her a lifestyle she
How afterward she had cursed a God that
would deny her motherhood. In his own grief
A few years after the excitement of
he had secretly agreed with her and never
Julie wore off and they parted no worse for
mentioned God again.
wear, he found Tara. Theirs was a short,
whirlwind affair that had died down as quickly
flying in the wind. She looked to him like
as it began, but after that he felt distanced from
Mother Earth herself, standing on the edge of
Claire. A wall of cordiality that took years of
creation, surveying her domain. He stood
bonding over the trials of life to crack.
beside her, his hand in hers, and wondered if
But crack, it did. And behind it he
there was a chance this trip might halt the
found a deeper love for her than he ever
progression of her disease. He found himself in
thought possible. Her never-ending optimism,
a silent prayer as she turned and nuzzled her
her determination and willful refusal to give in
nose against his neck.
when times were hard, she proved her love for
For two days things felt almost normal.
him in ways that shamed him for his lack of
There were a couple of occasions where Claire
courage. Not once did the thought cross his
forgot what she had been doing and wandered
mind that his infidelities were somehow her
down the beach, but the greater part of their
fault. He knew it was his own insecurity, his
days were spent reminiscing about their
own fear of mortality. There never was a
teenage years and the camping trips to Mt.
confession on his part. The closest he ever
Rainer. What a sharp contrast those woods
came was on their fortieth anniversary. He
were to the fresh sea scents. Her past
gave her a square velvet box with a thin gold
memories came swiftly and easily enough that
bracelet with blue and purple stones. In the lid
he began to doubt the doctor's diagnosis. They
he wrote, “I’m sorry.” When she pressed for a
collected shells and starfish and seaweed
reason behind the words he held her close.
configurations and laughed until they cried,
“For all the times I’ve been a burden; for anything I’ve done that might have hurt you.”
and for a short time, all was right in his world again. The third day wasn’t quite as pleasant.
Her voice was soft, “The only thing that
Claire was in a foul mood and seemed not to
would hurt would be if you couldn’t say, I’m
remember exactly where they were or why
they had come. At one point, late in the
afternoon, she asked him his name, and if he
The air was crisp, just as he
was there to change the bloody sheets on her
remembered it. Their cabin sat on the edge of
bed. His voice caught in his throat as he
a sandbank overlooking the lapping waves in
patiently explained that he was her husband
the cove. Claire got out of the car and stood,
that they were on a vacation at the beach and
her face into the wind breathing in the salty
she had only crisp, clean white sheets on her
breeze, holding onto her straw hat, her hair
bed. She seemed to take his explanation as
truth and for the remainder of the night
returned but it was quiet and serene, just as he
although she talked little, she appeared to be
left it. His heart began to race, pumping blood
very much in the present.
into his neck and face so strongly he suddenly
On the fourth day he awoke alone in
felt hot in the early morning sun. He called out
bed and for a moment lay sprawled across the
her name, but his voice was deadened by the
clean white sheets reveling in the pure
wind. There was no movement on the beach,
freedom of the morning. He called out to Claire
not as far as he could see. He raced back to the
assuming she would be sitting on the front
cabin, slid on his shoes and grabbed his keys;
deck watching the sunrise over the ocean, but
he could cover more ground in the car. Maybe
there was no response. A tiny sliver of fear dug
she had just walked on over to the next cabin
its way into the back of his brain, not yet
to introduce herself. It was only about a
daring to show itself in his consciousness as he
quarter mile down the road. The car covered
made his way to the kitchen and poured
that in a matter of seconds. But there was no
himself a cup of coffee. The windows and
response to his knock and as he called out in
doors were wide open and the cool breeze put
all directions his voice was met with a dull
him at ease.
He made his way out to the edge of the
She couldnâ€™t have just disappeared, he
cliff and looked down at the beach fully
thought as he made his way back. There wasn't
expecting to see Claire barefoot in the lapping
another cabin for miles, just sand and sky, no
waves, but it was empty. He traced small
place to hide. The place was still empty. He
footprints in the sand a few inches into the
thought to look into cupboards and closets
edge of the water and back out again in a
hoping that she was playing some cruel game
zigzagging line as far as his eyes could see. He
then headed back down the beach in case
set down his cup and followed them, the tiny
there was something he overlooked before.
sliver in his head worming its way to the
This time as he traced the footsteps in
surface. After a few hundred feet the
the sand, he noticed a pattern. They started
footprints faded into the ocean, the waves had
quite a ways from the edge of the water,
washed them away like an eraser on a
tracked almost to where the waves met the
chalkboard. He shielded the sun from his eyes
shore then back out onto the beach again. But
with his hand and scoured the beach and sand
each time they went toward the ocean they
hills above but there was no sign of Claire.
went a bit further out, a bit closer to the sea.
He turned his attention back towards
Finally he came to the last set of prints. They
the cabin, in hopes that she might have
went out into the water then melted away.
There was one set that was deeper, still firm in
the sand, as if she might have stood in that
single spot for a period of time. He searched
the water for a clue, some sign that might ease
the discerning panic in his gut.
He scoured the beach once again.
Further inland, a few feet from where he stood
something sparkled, when the sunlight hit it
flickered like purple and blue diamonds. His
stomach turned and a spike of ice stiffened his
back as he bent down to pick it up. Etched in
the sand, next to the gold bracelet, were the
The morning sun beat down on Frank
as he sat on the hot sand, cradling the bracelet
in his palm. He watched the long lines of waves
rolling into shore further down the coastline,
the heat rising from the ground causing
ripples in the air, distorting reality. In the
distance, at the far end of the beach, he saw the
tiny figure of a woman wearing a straw hat, the
wind blowing her hair behind her.
I HAD A DOG, AND DOG LOVED RIVER He sprinted straight into the Pine and swam as if to show me something I could not doâ€” unlearn everything with conviction.
He loved sticks and bigger sticks. He brought them back with the eagerness of the newly converted.
He was always converting. His pink tongue howled prayers at squirrels and birds, chanting come on down and be saved.
He drank the river, lapping like rough current slapping canoe. He took his time, and he took mine. We stopped going to church,
my dog and I. We went to the river Sundays and other days, and the days we did not go, I listened wistful to trains tracking
next to the river, whistling and clacking from afar. Ah, wistful sadness, old newspapers yellowed by sun.
My dog danced at the drop of a hat, my hat, as I broke into a run to chase him. Down by the river wide enough
to contain a flush of dreams, he dog-lived his lifetime while I aged in small increments, scratching his wizened muzzle for luck.
The world was at our backs when we stood facing river, and across it, trees. No one called us home from river. When river called him,
I was unprepared, still trying to learn that specific whistle that awoke the dead. After fifteen years in any life, the smile
sags or tightens, hesitates, rusty with tears, raw with first griefs and awkward kisses. I testify to myself at riverâ€™s edge, denying baptism. Water flows as it always has. I will be outlived. I had a dog once, and my dog loved river. - JIM DANIELS
RISING The chicken contributes, But the pig gives his all. —Howard Nemerov, “Bacon & Eggs” Hogs roll outside in their dirt, kicking up clouds of dust; the hens strut and cluck, pecking the ground in search of scattered grains, a morning ritual, not much different from his own slow start. In the cast-iron skillet on the stove bacon sizzles in its own fat. He’s careful not to spill the grease as he pours the drippings into an empty beer can, the lid cut off, kept in the fridge beside the egg carton. The pan placed back on the burner, the heat turned down low, he drops in two eggs that spit and hiss, and pours himself another cup of coffee. When he cuts into the yolk, it runs slowly, the way his muddled thoughts also slog this morning, bleeding sustenance into this routine that’s killing him. Compost bucket full again with onion skin and eggshells; that ripe smell calling fruit- flies from the ether. Creation is like that: what arises comes from what already was. We break a few eggs, enjoy what we can. He savors the bitter, the salt, and fat of it all, just as the day, all too soon, gives way to another empty plate scraped clean and stacked in the sink, smeared with yellow grease, staring back. - JAKE YOUNG
SERVICES AT A LATER DATE
I pick blue hydrangeas from my yard. Donâ€™t know what to do with them. Arrange them in a vase, press them in a book, release them at the riverbank? My friend, Gloria, gone six months. Online obituary still says, Services at a later date. I pull off some petals, toss them in the grass, wave stems like impotent wands. More petals fall. The ground is loose and damp. I claw the soil, bury whatâ€™s left of the flowers, push my palms together, pretend I know how to pray. - ROBIN WRIGHT
MAGIC REALISM I almost hit a dove I didn’t see: a gray-light morning, grayer road, practically invisible, its feathers the exact same color. But those are just the facts. What matters more is suddenly the street was taking flight, shapeshifter bits of it— a dove, another, a dozen—rising up as I turned the corner . . . drove where I was going. But what if it were real? If streets could fly? If they could travel out from under us? What if they could feather, if they could wing? I wouldn’t just like that; I’d never stop looking forward to it. You could ask me, “How’ve you been?” And I could say, “Amazing.” - ROB CARNEY
BIG NINE Jason Makansi Mom always tells me to write things
so I signed up for tennis, but it gets boring real
down when I don’t know how to say them. She
fast because the only kids who play wear their
and dad grounded me for two months, and I
pants up too high and ace the math tests. So I
have nothing else to do anyway. I’ve listened
started skipping out on afternoon sports and
to Rubber Soul a thousand times. I got so mad
hitchhiking downtown to meet my friend
sitting up here in my room, I tossed several of
Roman who goes to the Catholic school.
my sister’s forty-fives out the window like
Roman’s dad manages the expensive
mini-Frisbees. Then, while mom was grocery
department store, Miller’s. We’d hang around
shopping, I got out my old BB gun and tried to
with the girls from his school. I even started
shoot that goddamn Great Dane from around
going steady with Paula. I gave her a bracelet I
the block that rips into my uniform every time
bought at Zayre’s, the cheap department store
I walk to the park. I’m not even allowed to play
on the other side of the highway from
baseball this summer. So I sneak out on the
downtown. Roman was going steady with
roof to smoke a fag every hour or so, hoping
Paula’s best friend. After the girls went home
Eileen Eschmann walks by in her bikini on her
on their bus, we’d walk to his dad’s store, run
way to the pool.
around, lift the dresses on the mannequins,
That’s the most exciting part of the day unless I’m thinking about Pom Pom and those pinball machines. I only ended up in her neighborhood at the end of the school year because I had to prove something to my friends
Vandergriff who calls me Sirhan. But really, I only have my parents to blame. They wouldn’t let me play football. I’m the third smallest kid in eighth grade.
No one wants to associate with those
who don’t play football. Plus you get beat up on the bus. I didn’t make the school baseball team, and I’m required to take a spring sport
stuff like that. Then Roman’s dad would drive us home. I hated those rides on the school bus. The only thing worse was riding with dad when he was in one of those pissed-off-ateverything moods, which was most of the time. One day Vandergriff whisper-shouted from the front of the bus: “Hey, Sirhan, come here!” I flipped him off. Vandergriff used to chant “eeny meeny miney mo, grab a nigger by the toe” loud enough that Buford could hear. He’s our chain-smoking black bus driver.
Even the kids on the bus who used to be
“Ah, that’s bull.”
my friends in elementary school mostly ignore
“You’d never have the balls to do that!”
me. Man, what happened to when we played
“I might someday.”
flag football together, and caught crawdads in
“Ha! They’d carve you up and eat you for
the stream? Vandergriff made his way down the aisle. He was a tenth-grader. “What you think you’re doing, flipping me off, Sirhan?”
barbeque.” “You’re so full of shit, your eyes are brown.” ‘Hey, you’re the one that’s brown,
He was about twice my size and played offensive tackle. He jumped into the empty seat next to me, grabbed me around the neck, and began rubbing the top of my head forcefully with his knuckles. He did that to lots of junior-schoolers, just friendlier to some. As the bus veered onto Ninth Street, he reached over me and pressed his head against the window. “You know what they call this street in Chicago?” “How would you know?” “Big Nine,” he said, proud of himself. “Yeah?” “Because of all the partying and fucking that goes on in those clubs.” “People in Chicago don’t give a fat rat’s ass what happens in this town.” Fat rat’s ass, that was one of Roman’s favorite phrases. “Yeah, that’s what you think. You ask anyone down there and they’ll tell you, Big Nine is known all over the country. See that club there, The Satin Doll? I’ve been in there.”
Vandergriff, he’s why I blew Roman off the day I got grounded and walked by myself to Ninth Street. I know I could be as good a player as Vandergriff. He’s just a fat lard of a lineman; I’m fast enough and have the hands to be a halfback. Not my fault my parents won’t let me play. I walked kind of fast, I got to be honest, because I felt totally out of place. The first group of men I passed said nothing, but I could feel them stare. I passed a man wearing a black felt hat with a red feather stuck in it and a sleeveless white tee shirt. He was really muscular. His skin glowed. He slowed down as I approached. Then he snickered. A woman at the doorway he just came from leaned against the side and looked me up and down. She was large, almost like a statue, not a hair on her head out of place, but was wearing very white shorts with a wide belt. I stopped and asked her if she could point me to The Satin Doll. “You really lookin’ for the Satin Doll, cutie?”
“Yes, uh, yes I am, uh, ma’am.” I tried to make my voice sound deep. “Are you sure you looking for the Satin Doll?” “Yes,” I said, firmly, I hoped.
row of boxy machines with flickering lights along one wall. We sat on two stools close to the door next to a big window looking onto the sidewalk.
“It be in the next block.”
“Manny, bring me a Mimosa, and a coke.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“You got it, sister.”
“You ain’t goin’ in there ‘lone, are you?”
I watched the street activity. Emmanuel
“Yes’m, I’m just checking it out.” I studied my shoes. “Checking it out? You under age.” “Well, I’m not going to order alcohol or anything.”
brought the drinks. He looked at me a little funny. Then he looked at Pom Pom. She winked at him. I asked her was Pom Pom her real name. She said, no, that’s just what the people call
“Then why on earth would you go?”
her. When I asked why, she got up off of her
“Just to check it out.”
stool, turned around, and bent over slightly. I
She sized me up again.
started to feel things down there in a way I
“Is this some kind of white boy prank?”
I started shaking. “No way,” I stammered, “I’ve just heard a lot about it and wanted to check it out.”
“People say the cheeks of my butt look like two pom poms in these white shorts.” I gagged on my coke. She laughed really
“Maybe I should go there with you.”
loud. I kind of wished I had one of my
Wow. I was feeling better. I wouldn’t
schoolbooks to put across my legs.
stick out so much if I went in with her, maybe. “Emmanuel, the bartender, he knows me real good.” I felt really short next to this woman. She took my hand as we entered. “Pom Pom, what you know, babe?” A man shouted from the far darkened end of the bar.
“How old are you anyway?” “Guess.” “Well, if I go by how tall you are I’d say, ten. If I go by how you act, I’d say fifteen. So which is it?” “I’ll be thirteen in July. I think I act pretty old for my age.” “You sho’ are cute for your age.”
Small Christmas tree like lights hung
I looked away, out the window. A group
over the long wooden counter. There was a
of men stopped to peer in. One of them backed up and stuck his head in the door. He yelled
something. He talked the way Buford our bus driver did. Pom Pom waved her arm at him,
“You need something to prove you was here, I guess.”
and then shooed his friends from the window,
She called again to Emmanuel: “Hey,
too. She mouthed the words, “go on,” when
Manny, bring me a few coasters.” He slid them
they chuckled and made faces at her in
down the bar to her like he was skipping
between the lettering on the window.
stones on a lake.
I was pretty much finished with my coke in a few seconds. Then Pom Pom asked me what was I doing here, really. “Kids don’t be hanging out on this street, especially white kids.”
“You take these back to those kids.” This was striking gold! I could picture Vandergriff when I pulled these out of my pocket. They said the name of the place and even had an imprint of the big sign on the
“I’m not really that white.”
outside of the bar. I thanked her and rushed at
“You white to me.”
her with a big hug.
“I’m a sand nigger.” She gagged on her drink. “A what?” She cleared her throat. “That’s what some kids on the school bus call me. They call me Sirhan too.”
“I never heard tell of a sand nigger, but now I know they sho’ are cute!” “I don’t know what a sand nigger is, either.” She asked me if I ever played pinball
“What school is that?”
before, I said no, and then she took my hand
“Castle Grove Academy.”
and led me to the row of machines. She gave
“Ah, you a rich white kid to boot.”
me a quarter, and pointed at one of them.
“My parents are not rich.”
“This’ll make you feel better,” she said.
“Where do you live?”
The girl in the brightly lit picture staring
at me from the machine wore a very low-cut
“You rich then.”
blouse, and was carrying a large box
I didn’t argue after that.
overflowing with popcorn. It was a scene at a
“Kids talk about this street and what
baseball stadium. Again I wished I had a book
happens here. I figured I’d find out for myself.” “You is a brave, rich, white kid, then.”
or something to cover up down there. Pom Pom came back with a stack of
“The thing is, I figured if I proved that I
quarters. I couldn’t stop playing. I lost all track
was here, I could get them to just leave me
of time. One of her friends who had been
making faces at us from the window came back. His name was Willie. He played the
machine next to me. After a while, Pom Pom
lot. I’m used to that. Then he grounded me till
asked him, over the bells and dings, “Say,
my birthday. When he said I couldn’t play
Willie, you ever heard of a sand nigger?” and
league baseball during summer vacation,
he laughed and asked if that was the kind of
either, I started bawling. Hell, it was the only
nigger that went to the beach to get a tan. Then
sport I had left.
we all paused, looked at each other, and broke out laughing.
School ended for the year. I didn’t even show the coasters to Vandergriff, the hell with him. All summer long, I wondered how Pom
Pom Pom asked, didn’t I need to be getting home, and offered to walk me back into town. I realized after stepping out into the daylight that there wasn’t going to be much of it left. It was way too late to get a ride with Roman and his father. Miller’s was probably closed. The thought of hitchhiking alone really
Pom and Willie and the rest of the gang on Big Nine were doing. Next time I hang out with them, I thought, I’ll just wave at Vandergriff when Buford drives the school bus by The Satin Doll. Maybe I’ll even see if Eileen Eschmann wants to go with me, since Paula and I broke up because she didn’t want to go steady with someone who was grounded.
scared me. I ran the eight blocks to Miller’s at top
Roman stopped by to give me the bad news.
speed. I gasped for breath at the front doors, and knocked loudly. The security guard recognized me and hurried over. I asked him if I could use the phone. I had no choice but to call my parents. Not only did I get the third degree for being downtown but I had to spill the beans about hitchhiking after school, skipping afternoon sports, and not being where mom and dad thought I was every afternoon. Mom had been worried sick and had called the school, my friends’ parents, and was about to notify the police. Dad yelled and screamed a
TEACUP It’s unlawful, boys swear, to wear Underwear here, in this crater created By meteor, old timers say, but jetting Water yet wears rock away. We plunged in, shattering sapphires, Soaring, diving, splattering friends, Rousing with voluptuous concussions, A tempest in this teacup. No map leads to this splashing, But local lore records an ancient path: Turn three times on two roads, veer east, Into cypress trees. The pool wells with tears such as love brings, Overtops the cup, and spills from the spring, Yielding St. Steve’s Creek that disappears In dry years. No one rests in effervescence today. Fizzing water, surprising champagne, Tickles eyelashes to admire How girls whirl in The teacup’s curving bowl, a mad motion, A maelstrom of cauldron-stirring potion, Bewitching this green place and Every boy’s face. Ponce De Leon once sought this spot, A fountain of youths in slippery sport, Water rising, welling, thrilling toward the lip ——Spilling - JOE FULTON
ASYMPTOTE a straight line continually approaching but never intersecting a curve “Would you like to come in?” I'd love to. “I'd better not.” Every failure of heart, of understanding, ends another possible life. The street dark as any Manhattan night. The air chill with fear of rejection or acceptance. Two people stand, not touching, not walking to the door.
- DAVID M. HARRIS
Away at college, I was free to make outrageous
my ex-boyfriend, The Really Bad One, and
and even dangerous choices.
have no recollection of what I said.
It was 1993, and social media had yet to document my life or anyone else’s.
It must have been convincing though, because he appeared on the dance floor in
It was also time for my sorority
what felt like maybe five minutes. He was the
semiformal, an event that courted disaster
only one wearing denim shorts, so all eyes
before it began. I had just broken up with The
were on him. Or me. Some of his frat brothers
Really Bad Boyfriend, the kind that is mean to
approached him, all talking at once, and that’s
you, takes your virginity, and listens to Amway
when he did it. He pulled a large black
motivational tapes in the car. And yet, I
handgun from under his shirt. He seemed to do
secretly missed him for reasons I don’t recall.
it in slow motion, his eyes never leaving mine.
A week before the dance, an unknown
People scattered in all directions, stumbled,
student appeared in the hallway of my all-girl
dorm. He looked like a young DiCaprio but
including my date. The weight of guilt was
with dark hair, and sailed through the open
crushing me. He extended the hand that wasn’t
door of my room without a knock, all white
holding a gun and said, “Come on. Let’s go.”
teeth and blue eyes. He spoke of his t-shirts like they were valuable treasures from a far
The town magistrate was a white-haired
away land, and addressed me with a
man with a long white beard. He was wearing
tenderness I was unaccustomed to. He was
overalls. I saw flickers of reflections from my
nothing like The Really Bad Ex. He was nice to
sequin dress on the deer mounted behind his
me. Really nice. This complete stranger
desk. No one had been hurt and the Ex left
enthusiastically agreed to go the dance with
before the cops arrived, so the magistrate
me. What could go wrong?
would not press charges. He said:
The dance was held in a nearby hotel ballroom. During the “Electric Slide,” the
2. Do not contact the ex-boyfriend.
moves to which I have never mastered, I
3. Do not ever come to this town again.
drifted to a payphone in the hotel lobby. I performed an ancient ritual called drunk dialing that is as sloppy as it sounds. I called
1. Do not report this to anyone.
That next semester, the Really Bad Ex
was at a house party showing off his handgun,
when he accidentally shot his best friend in the
chest and killed him. They had been friends
I doubt anyone thinks about that dance anymore. If it happened today, my face would be splashed on Facebook, accompanied with a hash
#GirlGoneStupid. It may live on in sorority lore, but I hope it’s a tale of caution, if it does. I wasn’t at the party when he shot his best friend and I can’t imagine what he felt at that moment. Decades later though, I wonder more about the dead friend’s mother and less about him. She is probably the only one who still thinks about a night with that particular gun, even if it isn’t the same as mine.
ON THE SUBJECT OF YOU Time- 12:53 AM Location- Cheap Hotel Room I keep emptying this ashtray and bottle of honey whiskeyâ€”catching a buzz because on the subject of you I need a little emotional laxative to get it out because on the subject of you I break with every line just as my spoken words shatter in mid-air and race my tears to the floor the gravity of grief can only be suspended in time that I have yet to travel I will make my way there someday where only stars shine in my eyes and I build with every line because on the subject of me in your last letter you asked me to write such beautiful things and nothing is more breath-taking than a scar that finally makes you smile - BEKAH STEIMEL
WHAT THE MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT NEEDS First, I need a man to sell me to you. The very idea of me. Let him stand in front of the theater and take you by your lapels as you wander home from work, pull you into his stale breath, push you towards the double doors of the auditorium. Let him guide you to me. He could be my father. Then I need a man to sit in wonder and wait for me, to crave so hard that the very notion of me is enough to set him burning. I need a man to be my audience, to watch for me, for my entry into the egg-shaped spot of light, a man to love me spotlit – one leg easing through that oval, then my mid-section, then all of me spilling all at once – I need a man who will take one look at my high heels, the fishnet on my legs, and feel it. Feel it right here. You know where I mean. He could be you. And I need a man who will do things to me right before your very eyes to amaze you, things that no man can or has the right to do. I want him to lay me down, to cleave me. To cut clean through. Two halves. Clearly two. Then I’ll swing open, unguarded as a door, a book, a melon. The one part of me, which you could chat with as though nothing were amiss. And the other, which you will love with a schoolboy’s desperation. I need a man who can cut me in two. Almost any man will do. - BRUCE SAGER
SAUNAGUS Jim Tritten Perspiration rained down my face, burning
through the open door. I looked up and
my eyes as though bathed in acid. The saltiness
reflected on what the hell I was doing in that
reminded me of tumbling through ocean
waves when I was a kid. Internal pressures forced my mouth open while my stomach retched. Starving for oxygen, I inhaled a bushel of oppressive superheated air. My lungs rejected the intake. I coughed and grimaced when bile seared my throat and rose into my nasal passages. I leaned back to stabilize and closed my eyes. My hands found the smooth wooden seat. Involuntary spasms followed as my palms and fingertips blistered. water before my mind registered what was happening. I opened my eyes wide, gasped, and took in another lungful of air while I reacted to the frigid water drenching my nearnaked body. I roared at the top of my lungs invoking the name of our Lord and begging for a quick death. I shuddered and collapsed in on myself as the icy fresh water replaced the sweat that soaked the towel cushioning my bony rear end. My mouth gaped open seeking oxygen. I inhaled an even larger mass of still- air.
evaporated in the heat, and I felt myself loosen up. I wiped the refreshing liquid from my face, reveled in the rapid change of skin temperature, and opened my still-stinging eyes to see a shadowy figure with a pail retreat
A saunagus (sauna goose) is a Nordic term describing a particular type of sauna treatment performed in Denmark. My Danish wife Jasmine and I were staying at a prestigious kurhotel that offered numerous opportunities to improve oneâ€™s health.
Saunagus boldly purports to detox your body, boost your blood circulation, revitalize your immune system, and give you a gigantic
The shock stopped my heart. I felt the cold
energy kick. It is mist therapy with a water/essential oils mixture ladled on hot stones. Iâ€™d been in saunas in the U.S. before, and at times, some participants poured water on the heated stones. Gently dripping small amounts of water from a ladle on stones causes a sizzling sound, steam to form, and the humidity to rise a bit. The effect was to make the room seem hotter, but I survived this before. So what could hurt by adding some natural oils to some steam? The answer is Leo, our saunagus dominatrix from Finland. Petite and softspoken, how could we know she would throw a bucket of ice-cold water on our hot pink bodies? She seemed like such a nice girl.
Perhaps our Danish hosts outsource anything
degrees Celsius. My brain melted when I tried
that might upset the guests? Leo wore a black
to make the conversion to Fahrenheit.
dress-like gym outfit seemingly totally
The door opened and closed letting in some
inappropriate for the setting. Must be the
cool outside air. It took a minute for me to
uniform for gusmeisters.
realize she departed. In the romantic
And, of course, Leo was nice. She came back
candlelight, I looked around at the dozen or so
into the sauna sans bucket, bearing a glass
fellow scantily clad travelers on this journey of
bowl filled with a dark golden liquid. She
discovery. Leo was Finnish, everyone else
smiled, asking if we found the cold water
other than me was Danish, and Leo delivered
refreshing. We lied. “Yes Leo.” After nearly
her explanations in English. Nordic people are
killing us, yes, it was refreshing. I guess that’s
very polite. They smile a lot.
only half a lie.
The cool air signaled Leo’s return with
Leo passed around the basin after
what appeared to be branches from a bush in
demonstrating how to scoop the thick golden
her hands. “Bend over,” the Marquisa de Sade
liquid and rub it all over our exposed skin.
Pure, raw monofloral honey made from
branches down on my neighbor’s back. Whack,
whack, whack. She hit him three times in rapid
Imported from New Zealand–and I thought
succession. He thanked her. He thanked her?
they only raised sheep. I cheated and put my
For beating him with a switch? I wondered if I
finger in my mouth. Delicious. I rubbed honey
might make a discreet exit without
all over, including into my thinning hair. I kept
embarrassing myself or my Danish wife.
my eyes closed lest rivulets of the nectar upset the delicate balance of fluids guarding my
“Your turn. Aspen branches.” I hope they’re
corneas. As our bodies responded to the heat,
I offered my back with thoughts of the cat
sweet whiffs from the honey stimulated our
‘o nine tails flaying raw an errant seaman’s
olfactory receptors. Jasmine rubbed it
back in the good old days of rocks and shoals–
soothingly all over my back. I smiled even
U.S. Navy discipline from the age of sail, before
while my skin temperature rose and I
civilization set in. Whack. It didn’t hurt.
remembered it was Jasmine’s idea to
Whack, whack, whack. The room now smelled
experience a saunagus. I’m a Navy carrier pilot
of the outdoors. Like walking through the crisp
after all. We rise to any challenge.
aroma of a Nordic forest. I thanked Leo (why
Leo smirked as she explained the maximum
did I do that?)—and silently thought of telling
temperature in the sauna would reach ninety
Jasmine what I thought of her idea when we
from my body and swim trunks and rubbed it
were alone later.
on my head. Leo left the sauna–pails, hips, and
After beating everyone, Leo let in more cool air when she departed, but it didn’t take long before sweat poured from our bodies again. And I sat on the lowest level–the coolest part of the sauna. I learned to tilt my head just so and watch the perspiration and honey drip from the same spot at the end of my nose to form a sweet puddle on the wooden plank between my feet. Drip. Drip, Drip. I dared not move my feet lest the soles burn on the wood. Perhaps this would be the time to go into a meditation and zone out for a while. The monkey brain refused to quiet, and thoughts raced through my head. Why in God’s name did I agree to Jasmine’s suggestion? Shouldn’t I have taken it as an omen when I signed a four-page disclaimer absolving the
kurhotel of any responsibilities? And filled out an equally long checklist of all known ailments? The door opened, and Leo the Lioness came in with multiple buckets. She offered them to all of us after demonstrating what to do with it. Place the bucket of cold water above your head and dump the contents. Ice cubes spilled out with the liquid, clinking as they landed on the hardwood floor, shrinking as they melted. I don’t think this time my heart stopped. Maybe I got used to it or perhaps it’s different if you do it yourself. I wiped the cool liquid
gym dress swinging as she departed in search of some new torment. Returning with a small wooden bowl filled with white crystals, she explained “Icelandic sea salt” while she demonstrated how to rub the mineral on our skin. “Rub harder–you need to clean out those pores.” My skin turned a rosy pink under the crystalline scrub. Leo ducked out, this time returning with a wooden pail and ladle. The heat rose after she closed the door. Leo took her time to explain how our pores were now open, our bodies ready to receive a healing treatment of oil-infused steam. I wondered which oils she planned to use, but at this point she lapsed into Danish. Is she explaining the next torture? In Danish because she is afraid it might send me bolting for the exit? I like the perfumes from essential oils. We use an atomizer in our house and favor star anise to mask the odors from four cat boxes. She added oils into the bucket and ladled drips on the hot stones of the sauna. The effect—delightful. Pleasant fragrances tickled our noses and induced a calm usually only present during meditation. I jostled my body to ensure every pore received this gift so it might do its magic. I vaguely sensed the cool air as Leo left the sauna. My perspiration increased, washing off the sea salt, forming
white crystalline puddles on the planked
corner exit. I saw the knowing grins and
smirks on other clients–they knew our fate. I
I closed my eyes and imagined floating in a
noted Leo was absent. Had she gone off to
sensory deprivation tank. Detached from
release the sharks for our swim? A frigid icy
reality with heavenly scents healing my lungs.
gale howled while we went along an asphalt
Even forgot about “thanking” Jasmine later.
walkway to the road crossing, waited until the
Balanced between the air and the sea with
rural rush of small cars and cyclists subsided,
every pore absorbing life-giving energies.
then went down a seaside sand path to a
A chill interrupted this dream. Leo
By the time I reached the pier, I could no
appeared in the doorway. I swear she wore a
longer feel my limbs or nose. I watched in
fascist armband and jackboots. “Show me your
horror as all the Danes took off their robes,
backs,” she ordered. Sieg Heil! I slunk forward
exposing their lily white legs and ruddy backs
and was rewarded by four whacks on my
to what had to be the coldest gale I ever felt,
shoulders. This time they hurt. Before I could
counting when I attended Arctic survival
figure out if she had switched from aspen
training in the Navy. Each Dane, including my
branches to a rose bush, she yelled something
Viking wife Jasmine, went down the ladder at
Danish, and we all hustled out of the sauna.
the end of the jetty and into the water. I
Outside Jasmine and my fellow travelers told
grimaced when they all ducked their heads
me to put on a robe and flip-flops. We were
under the surface. Egad! I was not going under
going to jump into the sea. I’m a Navy pilot, not
the cold water. I wrapped my robe tighter
around my body.
Technically the Øresund is not the open ocean. It is the waters between Denmark and Sweden. You can see the opposite shore from the beach. I’ve never swum in the Øresund but have observed nude bathers near my motherin-law’s apartment as they immersed and then quickly erupted from the water a little bit bluer than when they started. Our little band of heated and beaten health seekers walked through the spa to the far
The Danes all beckoned me into the
Øresund, and I realized if I did not join them, there would be a lot of embarrassment later with the family. I’m a fearless pilot, right? So without further hesitation, I threw my robe on the railing, put my flip-flops on the deck, and climbed down the ladder. Slowly. Actually, I only slowed when the water level reached my swim trunks. I thought of the 1994 Seinfeld television episode “The Hamptons” where the character George Costanza tries to explain to
Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriend about penile
into further surrender. Thank you Jasmine.
You owe me big time.
As the ice-cold Øresund hit my chest, I
I have no recollection of walking back along
released my hold on the ladder, casting adrift
the beach, crossing the street, and then back
into the open ocean. I again broke the Third
up the path to the kurhotel. As we got to the
Commandment and, presuming hell would at
spa entry, one of the men tapped me on the
least take off the chill, wished for an early
shoulder and said, “You’re bleeding.” I looked
death. There is no comparison to any other
down; indeed, narrow red rivulets flowed
cold I ever experienced in my entire life. I
from my left heel. “You must have stepped on
know my heart stopped for at least a minute.
something.” Or one of Leo’s sharks took a bite
My conscious brain refused to function–eyes
out of my Achilles’ heel.
couldn’t focus. I heard nothing. Mr. Freeze’s
Frankly at that point I realized my body
(Batman & Robin, 1997) cold gun couldn’t
was shaking so violently I needed immediate
have been more effective. My jaw started
warmth. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right?
chattering on its own. I did my best to keep my
Heat first, stop the bleeding second. And who
tongue from sliding between teeth tapping a
the hell cares what is third. Just give me heat. I
staccato rhythm. I regained some semblance of
went into the spa in search of someplace
time and place. Then I remembered one more
warm. Someplace, of course, was the sauna
thing. I ducked my head under the water.
A mid-May Øresund bath was just what I needed to wash out any residual raw monofloral New Zealand honey and Icelandic sea salt crystals from my hair. And as an added side benefit, I was now ready to be packed away for trans-Atlantic shipment in sub-zero steerage class. I rose from the depths of the sea reborn and in a frantic search for the ladder. “No, you must go up the other ladder” Jasmine yelled from about ten feet away. I shuffled my feet along the stony bottom, spitting out Øresund water. I was the last of our group to climb the ladder back into the cold wind that tased my body
Leo, sans the storm trooper regalia, welcomed us like long-lost brethren. “Come inside,” she waved us into the sauna. I dropped my robe and kicked off my flip-flops somewhere outside the entrance and ran into the wooden paneled room. The hot sauna enveloped me, and I lay down not caring if I offended one of the Danes by taking their seat.
Heat, warmth, I need to be thawed. What is that saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” I closed my eyes and lost all connection with time and place as I focused on becoming human again. It was too good to last.
I heard the snap before feeling its effect.
to move. Unable to think. Without any hope of
Incredibly superheated hot air cascaded on my
this ever ending. More ice cubes melted on the
raw, broken body. A flamethrower couldn’t be
wooden plank floor.
worse. I bolted upright only to see Leo
A cooing Leo returned with the wooden
standing in the middle of the sauna, black gym
bucket and ladle. She dripped essential oils
skirt undulating from side to side, whipping a
and water on the heated stones while chanting
white towel through the air. Snap. More
something in Druid or ancient Uralic. She
freakishly hellish air swirled around the room
probably had pinned a fetish doll of me to the
onto a dozen health seekers. “Arghhh,” I
inside of her black gym dress. Transformation
again to a peaceful place. Utter collapse—I
My anguish had no impact on the Finnish,
again lay down to await whatever she had in
devil queen. She laughed as she switched the
mind next. Surely the end or death must come
towel from a rotary engine of death to a
blanket-like torture device. Snap, she
The room again heated to its maximum and
dislodged hot air from the top of the sauna and
Leo poured the rest of the bucket of water on
brought it down on our bodies. Snap. More
the stones. With loud sizzles, scalding hot
flames engulfed my body and entered every
steam filled the room. My pores were wide
pore wide open for invasion. Snap. I bent over
open, so my skin rejected the sudden
thinking at least my face would be spared.
onslaught. My exposed skin burned. I jumped
Snap. The effect of the heat was worse than the
up–my eyes singed from the steam cloud now
day I made the mistake of rubbing oil on my
swirling around the ceiling of the wooden
skin thinking I rubbed on sunscreen, and then
sauna chamber. I could take no more. Escape. I
baking on a beach in Corfu one very sunny
bolted from the sauna and to my surprise saw
afternoon. Snap. My fellow travelers grunted
the entire entourage follow me out into the
as each new wave brought down thousands of
cool spa area. Everyone laughed, clapped each
needle-points on our raw, exposed skin. How
other on the back, and shook my hand. I made
much more of this shock therapy was I going
it out alive. Salvation at last. Or so I thought.
to have to endure? The snapping and waves of heat stopped, and a cool breeze signaled the fiendish vixen had departed. Another cool breeze was followed by pails of frigid water shocking our bodies into total submission. I lay there unable
Leo had one more trick up her sleeveless gym dress. I had never even heard of nettle tea and had no idea what it could do to me. But it sounded sharp and I figured it would hurt. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to
put pointy things into their mouth. My group
on my heel–my “red badge of courage.” I had
resumed talking Danish, so I took my first cup
survived The Pit and the Pendulum.
without the benefit of peer counseling. Savory,
What the hell, my experience with
like how I imagine old wet hay tasted. I kept
saunagus would make a great short story. I got
picturing needle-like things sliding down my
up, went over and kissed Jasmine, then signed
gullet only to puncture my stomach. I searched
up to do it again the following day. Apparently
in vain for sugar.
shrinkage includes the brain.
There are websites devoted to the healing properties of nettle tea. Must be an acquired taste. Like raw herring. The Danes love both. And of course the national drink aquavit– which I do appreciate and needed now more than ever. I smiled a lot and raised my cup in cheers en route to find a potted plant to dispose of the tea. I lay down on a recliner, closed my eyes, and reflected on the experience. I lived through the saunagus. I did feel revitalized. Nothing like a dip in the cold sea to invigorate. And clearly I had received a huge energy kick– although at this moment I lay completely spent from the experience. No doubt my blood circulated at a more rapid pace than ever before–I assumed this was only temporary, and my blood pressure medicine would take effect next dose. I took it for granted I was toxin free—I wondered if the sauna cleaner has to wear a hazmat suit. And I’m sure my immune system hummed along at 150% as I pictured miniature nettles skewering all the bad cells in my body. I would see someone at the front desk in a few minutes about the cut
AT THE HALFWAY MARK
Weaving my middle-aged way through these streets on my pre-dawn jog, I know the houses along this colorless route less by their shadowed mass and geometry--the outline of their angled attics, jet ranks of windows that might place a pale rhombus on the lawn-- and more by the air they leak into the street: a drier rumbling its floral notes along a driveway, the smell of breakfast flowing from a screen door. And at my routeâ€™s midpoint, the stately house theyâ€™ve chosen to deconstruct and not demolish--its roof removed like a spice jar lid, the sweetness of dry-rot and hemlock sap unraveling heavenward from the loom of studs left standing in the dark, each day pry bars and sledges pulling the house closer to its granite stones. It seemed a disgrace to watch such a grand building lowered by degrees, its usefulness long since paid out. But as my path wound around the corner toward home, I paused on creaking knees at this halfway mark, a mist of sweat rising, and wondered if I was winding my way or unwinding, gathering up or becoming undone, the house and myself left sighing in the twilight. - KEVIN CASEY
BECAUSE SUMMER HAS FOURTEEN KINDS OF ORANGE, I want to see you catch this Frisbee, but you’re standing too close to the cliff-edge and might fall off and forgot to take your flying lessons. “In the future,” you thought, “they’ll invent new air. Something kind of spongy, so if you fall you just bounce up again, like anti-gravity yoga . . . the Phoenix pose, the Morning Slinky,” and I don’t know, you’re probably right about that; it makes sense. But I can’t help wishing you’d listen and sometimes put on your flying costume. I know a few places where it might be fun to soar. - ROB CARNEY
J. Bradley I worry about how my smell will evolve every time I try to sail the ocean in a plastic bubble. It’s one thing to not shower for days while on land. There’s always enough space available to avoid your own smell. In the bubble, you can’t walk around other than to propel it the way you want it to go. You only have so much room for supplies to keep you alive and last I checked, there’s no nutritional value in used wet wipes. I always get questions before and after each attempt. The first time I did it was my way of getting over someone, to sweat out those memories like a fever. The fourth time was just to see if I could finally pull it off. The Coast Guard warns me not to make another attempt but I ignore them as usual. Maybe when they find me again, the smell will ward them off, keep them at a respectable distance; an accomplishment means more when someone’s watching.
IN YOUR EMBRACE
You can come to me in the evening, with the fingers of former lovers fastened in your hair and their ghost lips opening over your body — Joseph Millar, “Dark Harvest” Wrapped in your embrace I feel thankful, realizing I could love anyone like this. Which is to say anyone is beautiful; and thank you for teaching me how to desire you feel so much pleasure that you moan, cry out, or cannot make a sound—sheets clutched in fists, thighs clenched around me, my hands on breasts held by how many other lovers I do not know. Nonetheless I am thankful for this sharing of bodies bringing us together, and even with the lights off we can find each other, please one another as we’ve pleased others, or have failed to do in our attempts to learn what we know now: that there are others in bed with us always, past lovers who move through us tangled in the sheets. In the moments after we both come, while I’m still inside, lying on top of you, your arms wrapped around me, you kiss me playfully; I nibble at your neck, softly bite your lower lip, remembering other lovers who showed me how to wander through a body like a forest, discovering new trails, how to tease nipples with my tongue, reminded me not to stay silent while making love, how every open mouth wants something different, knows a different way to please. - JAKE YOUNG
October 21, 2015 Today marks the 136th anniversary of the day Thomas sat back in the sweat of Menlo Park, a eureka moment, with a workable light bulb in front of him. I would rather know just this and nothing else about that moment. I would rather that bulb brighten the frontiers of the imagination with its own humble flame, free of the facts. I don’t want to know how many failures preceded it. I don’t want to know what he thought it presaged. I don’t care what he was wearing, how many others were working on the team. Keep the watts to yourself. Leave me the warm glow of slow human triumph, let it shine on the cave paintings in France, upon the odd camber of the first wheel, inspired, perhaps, by the iris of an eye, a lover’s eye, or by the sun itself, observed only when the eye is shaded, let it cast shadows soft and sensual, moving here and there along a timeline lit mostly by candles, let it kiss every dash and droplet falling from the quill of Mozart, of Cervantes, let it run like a track of dominoes from the mouth of a cave through Silicon Valley, let it flare to a roar the zeroes and ones that lie at the feet of a woman and man squatting in the earliest dark, rubbing two sticks together. - BRUCE SAGER
By Friday afternoon she is buried alive by wobbly stacks of paper in her 54th floor, midtown office overlooking the river teeming with nonchalant drakes and ganders, oblivious to their colloquy as indoors she pores over reams of solipsistic rubbish the likes of which have never before been seen on God's earth, she avows to no one in particular.
The week is nearly ended and she is bone-tired of scribbling notes on boilerplate rejection slips to hapless rhymesters to the effect that a haiku is a tanka for folks in a rush or that writing offering all heat and no light is no good to anyone even in the dead of winter. Low-grade efforts dispatched from around the globe meet their doom atop the infamous and unforgiving slush pile, the refuse of the refused, dreadfully awaiting its fate of defenestration.
With her razor-sharp eye she audits hemistich and stich, painstakingly scrutinizing stanza and strophe in the desperate hope of discovering a quality ever underrated but undeniable: merit. Her approach, finical if not fanatical, has her scurrilously imprecating typos and blowing her gasket over haplography, elevating her blood pressure and abridging her lifespan.
Not for the fanfare does she subject herself to such exacting standards, though the awesome power of serving as mediatrix between twaddle and treasure is hardly lost on her. She knows full well she stands like a literary Colossus bestriding worlds, arbiter and custodian of the worthy.
When at long last she excavates a hidden gem she cachinnates in triumph, nettling attorneys-at-law in the neighboring firm who shoot her dirty looks, which, in her overdue bliss, she ignores. Only thereafter does it dawn on her what an arrant sty she occupies, which she must titivate prior to the publisher's matinal arrival come Monday.
- BRANDON MARLON
DUSTY’S TREASURE CHEST Chelsea Bartlett The boys, three of them, were restless. They tried to play soccer but the sun made
a good day to explore.”
their shirts stick to their backs. They thought
Dusty studied their turned-up faces a
about hanging out in Jason’s basement, but the
moment longer and then swung her legs over
air, though cooler, was stagnant and they all
the balcony railing. Setting her tiptoes onto the
felt the need to move. Jason suggested that it
windowsill below her, she crouched and
was a good day for an adventure, so they went
jumped to the ground. “Let’s go then,” she said,
to find Dusty.
and turned to lead them off to whatever magic
Her house was large and quiet. They
she could find.
skirted the garden, gathering pebbles as they
That was the summer that Jason, Steve,
went, folding them between fingers and palms.
and Dusty had started spending extra time
At the back of the house, Steve pointed out
together, just the three of them. Dusty would
Dusty’s window and they all tossed pebbles.
bring Jason and Steve up to the attic and they
Most of them missed the house completely, let
were in their own private universe. They could
alone her bedroom window, but enough hit
lie on the floor for hours talking about nothing
that it should have gotten her attention.
or sharing their deepest secrets. Or they would
“Sure you got the right window, dumbass?” Matt said.
play games that Dusty made up. She created complex rules and if they ever broke any, she
A shadow passed beyond a curtain on
devised punishments for them—small things,
the second floor. It hesitated and Jason had the
like snapping a rubber band on their wrists
feeling, not for the first time, that Dusty was
five times, or making them run laps around her
making up her mind, deciding whether or not
house while she watched from the balcony.
she wanted to hang out with them. And then
After this had happened a few times, and the
she was there, stepping out onto the balcony.
other boys at school started asking why Jason
The sun caught in her hair and formed a
and Steve didn’t play basketball with them
shining ring around her. The boys looked up at
anymore, Jason realized that these activities
her, suddenly still and silent, and she looked
should have embarrassed him, and yet
down at them. There was just a touch of smile
everyday, or whenever Dusty would have
at the corner of her lip. Jason felt her gaze rest
them, he went with Steve to her attic with a
on his shoulders. She stood unspeaking,
strange sort of thrill in the pit of his stomach.
almost unblinking, a queen over her subjects.
Finally, Steve said, “We thought it was
But those secret evenings were only
“How did you learn how to make a raft
one kind of the adventures Dusty offered.
anyway?” Jason asked, not because he thought
Once, she’d taught them how to make a raft
Dusty would tell him, but because he wanted
that would float down the little river that ran
to keep her talking.
through the woods. She’d found some old rope
“Anyone could find out if they tried.”
and bungee cords in her attic and snuck them
Jason wanted to tell her that she didn’t
to school in her backpack like they were
need to sound cool to impress him, that he
something that had to be kept secret. Jason,
thought she was cool already, but that was too
Steve, and Matt had been standing around
much for both of them so instead he said, “So
Steve’s locker as they did every morning
you really want to build a raft in the woods
before classes started, when they were
with us instead of doing what the other girls
supposed to be in homeroom. Dusty came up
to them, swung her bag off her shoulder, and
Dusty’s cheeks got pink but her voice
held it out between them all, so that its
didn’t shake when she said, “What do the other
contents were shielded by their bodies.
“Rope?” Matt said, already skeptical.
Jason never got to share his half-
“For a raft,” Dusty said.
formed and confused ideas of what he thought
“We don’t have a raft,” Jason said.
girls their age did in their spare time because
“We’re going to build one.”
Steve stomped up to them, flung an arm over
And they had, that afternoon. Dusty
each of their shoulders, and said, “Come on,
brought an old ax from home and directed the
slackers, we’ve got a raft to build.”
others on which bits of which trees to collect
Together they finished the raft that
and lash together. Steve and Matt were
afternoon and by evening they were floating
enjoying the chopping, so Jason got assigned to
down the creek, occasionally using long
tying everything together, but he didn’t mind,
branches to steer the raft out of the way of
because it gave him a chance to talk to Dusty
rocks and fallen tree limbs. There was only one
direction to go, so Dusty didn’t have anything “This is so cool,” he said. Dusty
she could tell them to do, and Matt didn’t have react
anything to complain about, so they just sat as
compliments, but she smiled, just a little,
still as they could to avoid capsizing and rode
before replacing her mask of calm superiority.
quietly through the woods. Jason watched
“It’s simple really,” she said.
Dusty and sometimes Steve and wondered about the stabs of nervous feeling in his
stomach when they glanced up in time to see
him. Still, Jason didn’t like the way Matt talked
to her. He’d even asked Steve once why they
They had many adventures that
kept Matt around—if they couldn’t just get rid
summer, but most of them slipped away in
of him, maybe. Dusty never seemed to mind
time without leaving any trace of themselves.
Matt though. Anything she didn’t care for
One was different.
rolled right off of her.
“Where are we going, Dusty?” Matt
They walked for a long time. The sun
said as they all climbed over tree roots and
coming down through the canopy made Jason
fallen logs, which felt bigger than they really
think of rain made of light instead of water.
were beneath Jason’s feet. There was a touch
This reminded him of Dusty, as most things did
of a whine in Matt’s voice. It was hot Georgia
during those days, and he began composing a
summer and no doubt he would have
poem, as he walked, about the tiny flecks of
preferred to be at home in his pool rather than
dust that he saw drifting in streams of sunlight
traipsing through the woods.
in Dusty’s attic. That was where they, the three
Dusty’s hair had grown long over the past year. It hung almost all the way down her back. Jason, trailing behind her, watched it sway back and forth as she walked. It whipped around her when the wind picked up.
were alone. “I’m starting to think you were right about getting rid of Matt.” Jason turned his head to look at Steve.
She shrugged one shoulder. She never
He hadn’t realized how far behind he’d fallen
told them if she had a destination in mind
while working on his poem. Now he followed
before she dragged them off after her, or if she
Steve’s gaze and saw that Matt was up ahead,
just chose paths along the way. Jason loved
matching Dusty step-for-step at her side.
this about her, loved never knowing where she
Steve’s brow was furrowed, eyes narrowed,
was taking them, and he suspected Steve felt
still watching Matt and Dusty up ahead, and it
the same way.
occurred to Jason for the first time that Steve
“How will we know when we’re
was in love with Dusty too. This didn’t bother
there?” Matt said. He had been growing
Jason as much as he might have guessed, but
mutinous. Jason thought Matt probably
then again, Dusty was something mysterious
wanted to figure out how Dusty got her
and unearthly, not to be claimed.
information, so that he could take her place.
“It’s not too late,” Jason suggested.
But even Matt was impressed by her, and so he
“Got any ideas?”
never tried outright to bully her into telling
of them, had begun hanging out when they
Jason was not the idea guy. Jason was
Dusty had never told them to dig before, and
the get-things-done guy, the guy who took the
they hadn’t brought shovels. But when
idea and ran with it, saw it through. He
someone like Dusty told you to do something,
you did it. They got on their knees and sunk
Steve nodded, as though he had expected this answer. “Well, we’ll think about
their fingers into the dirt. Steve was the first to start.
it,” he said, clapping Jason on the shoulder.
For the next few minutes Dusty stood
“And until then, maybe we can trip him up so
over them and watched. None of them would
he lands in the creek.”
have begrudged her this. She was wearing a
Jason laughed, but he thought Steve
dress and it seemed wrong to get a dress dirty
was only half-joking. Steve had a bit of a streak
on purpose. But after watching for a while, she
in him—not a mean streak, exactly, but
joined them on the ground and helped. Jason
something like it. He was probably jealous, but
remembered getting distracted from the task
Jason flashed him a grin anyway because he
whenever she paused to push her hair back
liked that they were on the same side, and he
over her shoulder. Someday, he knew, maybe
liked it when Steve put his hand on Jason’s
soon, he would want very badly to kiss her.
shoulder, like they were two leaders at the end of the world. Like everyone counted on Steve, and Steve counted on Jason.
Matt reached it first. “Guys—hey, guys—I think I found something.” He pulled his small hands out of the
Up ahead, Dusty stopped. Even though
way so that they could all reach in, one at a
he couldn’t see her face, Jason knew she had
time, to feel what Matt had felt. It wasn’t much,
closed her eyes and lifted her chin up toward
but it was a hard, flat surface, probably made
the treetops. She always did this when she
thought—for whatever reason, maybe the
Dusty nodded, but said nothing.
earth communicating with her, maybe
Now that there was something they
adventure that day. “Here,” she said after a moment. “We have to dig.”
knew they were digging up, they all doubled their efforts. Jason, with an enthusiastic grab for a fistful of dirt, split his finger open against the corner of what they could now see was a
The boys shared dubious expressions,
large wooden box. He kept going, ignoring his
which lived in different places on their faces—
bleeding finger. The air tasted like mud and
an exaggerated frown on Matt, the faintest
moss. A fever overcame him, to get it out, to get
impression of a crease between Steve’s eyes.
it open, to see what Dusty had brought them to
assigned Jason and Matt to carry the treasure
chest (which was how they had all begun to They cleared the whole top of the box
think of the box already). On the second half of
and the first couple inches of the sides. “Let’s
the walk to Dusty’s house, Steve took over for
pull it up,” Dusty said.
Matt. Dusty was excused, according to Steve,
Steve, Jason, and Matt all took
because she had done the hard work of finding
positions at each side of the box and braced
the site of the chest. Matt probably assumed
their fingers around it. Dusty counted to three
Steve gave her this break because she was a
and they all pulled. The box didn’t come all the
girl, but Jason knew the truth. Steve was not
way out the first time, but when they tried
just affectionate toward Dusty, but reverent of
again, they pulled it free.
her. He meant to honor her by letting her lead
It looked—and they could all agree—
them all home, aware of the fact that they were
like a treasure chest. The top was rounded like
richer by one treasure chest full of unknown
they had seen in a thousand illustrations, the
contents thanks to her.
edges carved into simple patterns.
They got the chest into Dusty’s house
They stood in a circle, staring down at
before her parents got home from work,
it. It was plain and brown, and it was locked,
dragged it up the stairs to the attic where she,
not with the kind of shiny, combination locks
Jason, and Steve had already started spending
that they had on lockers at school, but with a
extra time together. They hid it in a corner,
large, old-fashioned padlock.
draped some sheets over it, and left it there.
“We should get it home,” Steve said. This
which were over the moment they returned
because they had to argue over whose home it
home and were quickly forgotten in the wake
would go to. Matt wanted it at his place, and
of new quests and conquests, the chest didn’t
Dusty wanted it at hers because her parents
go unremembered. They spent the rest of the
never went into her bedroom.
summer trying to get it open. Matt’s first
Steve only let this go on for a couple
suggestion was that they bring it to his house
minutes before he interrupted. “Dusty’s,” he
because he had a window that let out onto the
said. “It will go to Dusty’s house.” Before Matt
roof. “We’ll push it off and it’ll smash open,” he
could offer an argument, he said, “We found it
said, which was no doubt true, but the idea
because of her.”
was immediately voted down by Dusty.
This did seem a more legitimate claim than Matt had, and he didn’t argue. Steve
But unlike many of their adventures,
“We don’t know what’s inside it,” she
them how to make a potion and she’d spilled a
said. “We don’t want to break it, whatever it
bottle all over the wood floor. He loved how
the air always tasted like it had just rained. He It was true that the box was heavy, but
loved how, in the afternoon, the sun would
not so heavy that it could be filled with gold,
come in through the windows and fill the
like in pirate stories. They had to concede the
whole place with a slow, rolling heat that
possibility that she was right, that the contents
matched the way he felt inside. It was his
could be damaged and therefore they had to be
favorite place in the world, even more than the
careful. For this reason, they agreed that they
woods. He felt at home there, and with Steve
also could not use an ax to break into the box.
on one side and Dusty on his other, he felt
This spurred several days spent
led—a particular mix of comfort and trust and
searching the woods for a key to match the
abandon that Jason would never quite manage
lock, but even with Dusty’s help this got them
to find again. He’d known then that he would
nowhere. In the evenings, after Matt went
follow these two people anywhere they
home, Jason, Steve, and Dusty went up to
wanted him to go, and there was a kind of
Dusty’s attic and talked about what they
elation in knowing it. That was the time—on
thought might be in the box. Dusty thought it
one of those warm, sticky nights, one of the last
would be filled with old clothes, like from
nights before they would start junior high—
colonial times, preserved by the box and so
that they had sat in their small circle and
worth a fortune. Steve guessed that it held
practiced, for the first time, how to kiss.
secrets, valuable information that was worth
The three of them stayed close through
enough to someone that the box had to be
junior high, though Matt did eventually drop
buried. Jason didn’t know what he thought
away from them. They still talked about the
they would find in the box, and he didn’t
treasure chest in Dusty’s attic every once in a
especially care. After a couple weeks, it
while, but they had more or less accepted it as
occurred to him that Dusty had most likely put
a lost cause. A couple of times, Jason
the box in the woods in the first place, but by
considered asking Dusty about it, about
then his interest had changed. Secretly, he
whether she’d put the box there and
hoped they wouldn’t get it open, so they would
intentionally kept them from opening it
have more reason to stay in the attic.
because she knew exactly what was, or wasn’t,
Jason loved Dusty’s attic. He loved how
inside. But he’d never asked her.
it always smelled like mothballs and
Shortly after high school began, Steve
cinnamon, from the time Dusty had shown
and Dusty started dating. Neither of them said
anything about it beforehand. Jason tried to
Steve looked up from where he was
remain friends with them through it but, hurt
watching the tip of his shoe scuffing the
in a way he couldn’t quite understand, let
alone explain, he slipped away. He went to
“Jason?” he said.
New York for college and then stayed there. He
Jason smiled as confirmation—yes, it
hadn’t spoken to Steve or Dusty since
was him—and Steve returned it. He held out
graduation, except once. Dusty had called him,
his hand and Jason took it in a handshake that
many years after he’d seen her last. She had
turned into a hug when Steve pulled him
been upset and difficult to understand, talking
about her life and her regrets. Jason had
“When did you get here?” Jason said,
thought she must be drunk. He’d been so
because he suddenly wasn’t sure what he
startled by her sudden presence, even over the
should be doing.
phone, after so many years. He was unable to
“This morning.” Steve’s smile hovered
make sense of what she said or why she said it,
on his face a moment before falling away.
or the muscle-memory feeling of the way his
“Listen, man,” he said, “I don’t know if I can go
love for her crashed into him. He couldn’t
in there.” He tugged at the collar of his shirt.
understand, and so he couldn’t think of what
Jason could smell the thick green scent
to say. He remained silent on the phone, until
of Georgia summer. “Do you know what
Dusty thought she’d gotten the wrong number,
or that he was still angry, and she hung up. And
It was breast cancer. There was a
for two years, Jason still didn’t understand—
history of it in her family and they just didn’t
not until Steve called to tell him that Dusty was
catch it in time. It happened fast. “Mom called
a couple days ago to let me know.” Jason met up with Steve at the funeral.
They were 34 and hadn’t seen each other since high school graduation. Jason saw Steve standing outside the funeral home. He had gained a little bulk around his shoulders, and lines had appeared around his eyes. He wore black, but only jeans and a t-shirt.
“Was she married?” Jason asked, because he knew he couldn’t ask what had happened between them. He didn’t even know how long Steve and Dusty had stayed together after high school. “No,” Steve said. He patted his back pocket. “Ah, shit. Forgot I quit.” An ache that had been growing at the bottom of Jason’s chest since he’d arrived back home twisted and settled into him. It was
sorrow, but it was something else too. “I should go in,” Jason said. He hesitated before adding, “Will you wait for me?”
“You moved to New York,” Steve said, not a question. Old adventures, space travel, secret
Steve met his eyes and for an instant
missions—all would have felt like more
there was a flash of that old feeling: comrades
natural topics of conversation than Jason’s
at the edge of the world. “I’ll be out here,” he
desk job. “Insurance company. Nothing
exciting.” Jason nodded, surprised at the relief he
felt. He hadn’t come here for a second chance,
yourself,” Steve said, and left no room for
but maybe there was buried in him some
desire long thought latent, to make up for the one mistake that haunted him.
Jason thought about telling Steve how often he imagined what his life might be like if
During the funeral, Jason found it hard
things had happened differently, how much he
to pay attention to the eulogies and the
still wondered what he’d denied himself when
singing, all meant to honor a life he hadn’t been
he moved to New York alone. He kicked a
a part of. The Dusty he’d known wasn’t in that
pebble out of his path. “What about you?”
coffin and this ceremony wasn’t meant for her.
“I own a shop. Mechanic.”
While people who knew her better as an adult
“Like your dad?”
Steve let out a short laugh that was
accomplishments, Jason’s thoughts wandered
nothing like the long streams of laughter that
back over those wooded paths, along the
erupted from him as a boy. “Guess so.”
creek, up the stairs to that old attic—and,
“And what about Dusty? What
occasionally, to Steve, waiting for him outside
happened with you guys?” Jason made sure to
in the parking lot.
leave off the Georgia drawling “y’all” in favor
When it was over, the sun was high, the air was heavy, and Jason found Steve pacing back and forth. “Let’s get out of here,” Jason said.
of the more northern “you guys,” even though he was pretty sure Steve wouldn’t notice. “What always happens,” Steve said. “She went to school in Florida with me, but she
He thought it might be quiet on the
hated it. She wanted to transfer, I didn’t. We
walk—after so many years of silence, he didn’t
thought we might be able to make it work, but
expect anything different—but Steve used the
you know how that goes. Long distance. So
time to chat. Now that they were away from
that was it. I haven’t talked to her in, I don’t
the funeral home, he didn’t seem as anxious.
“You broke up over distance?” Jason
railing, the cool roughness of it against his
tried to keep as much of the incredulity out of
palms made him feel like he was 11 years old
his voice as he could.
again. For a moment, he thought he could
“We tried,” Steve said. “But we were kids.”
smell the cotton-and-flowers scent of Dusty’s hair and clothes. He pulled himself up to the
They rounded the corner and they
balcony, swinging his legs over the railing.
were there—the neighborhood that had
This was easier too, though he feared his
raised them, taught them to believe in
increased weight might pull the balcony from
impossible things. Dusty’s house was the
biggest. Her parents still lived there; Steve had
The last time Jason had made this trek,
asked his mom when she called to give him the
he hadn’t been particularly young. Even
news, and he had told Jason when he called to
though he drifted away from Dusty and Steve
relay it. And to ask Jason to come home, to
in high school, he’d gone to Dusty’s graduation
share the last piece of Dusty they knew they
party. When she invited him, he assumed it
still had access and a right to.
was because she invited everyone, and he
The house was two stories, which set it
hadn’t planned to go. But his mother gave him
apart from the ranch style houses that made
the look he understood meant that he was
up the rest of the neighborhood. And it was the
being intentionally difficult, and also the
same peeling sage green it had been two
thought of never seeing Dusty, or Steve, again
decades ago. It didn’t even look any worse, just
made his whole midsection ache like there was
like it was stuck in time. Jason went right for it,
too much acid in his stomach, so he showed up
Steve following close behind.
an hour after the party started. He walked
Jason looked both ways down the
once through the house, said hello to Dusty’s
street before slinking into the backyard. The
parents, but he didn’t see Dusty or Steve
back of the house had remained the same just
as the front had. The kitchen window had a
Knowing he might regret going in
ledge that hung down over it, just high enough
search of them, he ducked out the back door
that if a kid stood on it, and stretched his arms
when no one was paying attention and hauled
as far as they could go, he could reach the small
himself onto the balcony and through the
balcony on the second floor.
window to the second floor. He found Dusty
Jason was tall—much taller than he’d
and Steve in the attic. They were just talking,
been the last time he did this—but although it
sitting on the floor, not just holding hands but
was easier to reach the wrought iron balcony
holding both hands, Steve’s folded into
Dusty’s. When they saw Jason, they stopped
how to braid her hair and Steve would help
talking, watched him for a moment, and then
with homework, and Jason would feel how he
they separated, pulled apart, made room for
felt now, sitting on the floor between them, all
him between them on the floor.
the time. For one painful, thrilling moment, he
Jason sat. He hadn’t spoken to either of
allowed his body to pang with the thought of
them in a couple years, had a whole new group
the three of them sharing a bed. He could
he hung out with at school. But it was easy, to
follow them, and they would be happy to have
sit in his old spot on the floor, to settle against
the floorboards, to feel that he was in the right
They watched him, waiting for his
place, with Steve on one side and Dusty on the
answer. Dusty sat as though nonchalant, her
other, in Dusty’s attic.
hands folded sweetly in her lap, shoulders in a
“We’ve been talking,” Steve said.
gentle curve inward, no visible tension
“We want you,” Dusty began, and then
anywhere in her body, except that her gray
stopped. “We want to ask you if you might
eyes were wide and trained on Jason as though
come to school with us.”
she wanted to make sure she didn’t miss a
Jason had not expected this. He’d
single gesture, however miniscule. Steve was
expected an apology, maybe, or one last
the opposite, stiff and leaning toward Jason in
chance to catch up before they went their
an unselfconscious way, one hand braced
separate ways for good. He did not expect an
against his knee. They looked good beside
each other, both ordinary in many ways, but
“We miss you,” Steve said.
bigger than real life—monuments to what
Neither of them apologized—for
humanity could be, rather than purely factual
abandoning him for each other, for not trying
examples of what it was, of the average, as
harder to keep him, for letting him fall away as
Jason saw himself. They seemed impossible,
if he were as transient to them as Matt had
sitting still as stone on the attic floor, and yet
been—but he realized that he didn’t want
they were somehow, miraculously, real. And
them to. And he realized that it was a tempting
they were asking Jason to go with them. They
offer. They would get an apartment off
wanted him to go.
campus. In the mornings they would coordinate showers and at night they would make dinner together, dividing their days with a series of dances, three bodies occupying the
He didn’t know what it would do to him, to live that freely. “Thank you,” Jason said, “but I don’t think I will.”
same small space. Dusty would teach them
The wood of the floor was warm beneath his palms when Jason pushed himself
trapped in a surreal dream.
up to stand. He wished that in his memory, at
Together, they walked down the hall
least, he was calm when he walked down the
toward the stairs that led to the attic. Jason
stairs, wished he hadn’t hoped that they, or
found himself stepping on the carpet as gently
even just one of them, would say something to
as he could: one-thirds caution, reverence, and
try to stop him. But he’d never been the hero
muscle memory. The door to the attic stairs
of their stories, and he didn’t act like one that
creaked when he opened it, but there was no
day either. His heart beat hard enough to feel
old sense of fear, because there never had
it, he prayed on every step down the stairs that
been any fear. That attic had always been a
one of them would say his name, and halfway
place of adventure, and the comfort of
down, he turned to look back at them, and saw
understanding between friends. It was a place
them watching him go. He did keep walking
that still haunted him, sometimes. Jason
though, he would give himself that.
Steve came up behind him, swift and quiet as ever, but Jason noticed him grimace as he pulled his body over the railing and onto the balcony. He didn’t appear to be impaired at all. Then Jason saw: Steve’s hands, the knuckles were too large. He was young for arthritis, but if he’d been working on cars all these years, Jason guessed it made sense enough. So Jason moved to the window and shinnied it up himself. “Still no lock,” he said. “Good thing.” The window, unlike the balcony, was more difficult than it had been in the past, but Jason and Steve managed to squeeze themselves through it and into the upstairs hallway. This, at least, had changed somewhat. The walls were painted a pale blue, instead of wallpapered. Jason was grateful for the visible
change. He’d been starting to feel like he was
If he’d thought the outside of the house was surreal, it was nothing to the attic. Everything was the same—from the vanity in the far corner to the carpet rolled and propped against the right-hand wall to the dust caught floating in the shafts of afternoon sun that flowed in from the windows. “No one must have come up here for years,” Steve said. Jason went to the vanity first. Sure enough, there was the ax Dusty had put there when she vetoed the idea of smashing the treasure chest open. Jason held it up toward Steve, who nodded his assent. Together they walked to a clear spot on the floor, the only sizeable area where nothing had been stacked, just to the side of the attic’s center. This was where they—Jason, Steve, and Dusty—had sat in their circle, for so many afternoons turned
evenings. From there, to the right, tucked
Steve leaned forward suddenly. Jason
between a pile of old quilts and a dollhouse
held still, feeling like a kid again, feeling like he
Dusty told them she never used, they could see
wanted Steve to touch him, feeling like it could
it: the treasure chest.
be any one of those nights so many years ago.
Jason dragged it out into the middle of
The only thing that was different, that held him
the floor. It was smaller than he remembered,
in the right time, was that there was no Dusty
which he’d expected, but it was about as heavy
with them now.
as he’d thought it was when he and Steve
Steve clapped his hand on Jason’s
carried it back here from the woods. There
shoulder. “Ready,” he said.
was a small stain on one corner. Jason
Jason raised the ax.
wondered if it was the blood from his split finger. “Definitely not gold doubloons,” he said, “but heavy.” Steve’s face was turned down toward the chest. He sat in his old place on the floor. After a brief pause, Jason did the same. “I loved her, you know,” Jason said, mildly horrified to hear himself speaking, these words especially, but too invested now to stop. “For a long time, I thought it was just a crush. Just kids’ stuff. But I think it might have been real.” “Even if it was kids’ stuff, why would that make it less real?” This was such a Steve thing to say, Jason laughed despite the gravity. “I’m sorry,” Steve said then. “For the way things happened. With all of us.” Jason could tell this was difficult for him, like the railing on the balcony, but he made himself do it because he knew it was important. That was the way Steve was. “Ready?” Jason asked.
Rob Carney is the author of four books of poems, most recently 88 Maps (Lost Horse Press 2015). In 2013, he won the 4th Annual Terrain.org Poetry Prize, and in 2014 he received the Robinson Jeffers/Tor House Foundation Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Mid-American Review, Quarterly West, Poecology, Weber: The Contemporary West, and dozens of others. He writes a featured series called "Old Roads, New Stories" for Terrain: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments. He lives in Salt Lake City. Kevin Casey’s work has appeared recently in Rust+Moth, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Gulf Stream, Chiron Review, and other publications. His chapbooks are “The wind considers everything” (Flutter Press) and “For the Sake of the Sun” (Red Dashboard). The full-length collection And Waking... was published earlier this year by Bottom Dog Press.
Jim Daniels’ next two books of poems, Rowing Inland, and Street Calligraphy will be published in 2017. Other recent collections include Apology to the Moon (BatCat Press), Birth Marks (BOA Editions), and Eight Mile High, stories (Michigan State University Press). He is also the writer/producer of a number of short films, including The End of Blessings (2015). Born in Detroit, Daniels is the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Joe Fulton is professor of American literature at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He has published widely on American literature. His poetry has appeared in The Iconoclast, Haunted Waters, Off the Coast, and The Oklahoma Review. Until 2003, David M. Harris had never lived more than fifty miles from New York City. Since then he has moved to Tennessee, married, acquired a daughter and a classic MG, and gotten serious about poetry. All these projects seem to be working out pretty well. His work has appeared in Pirene's Fountain (and in First Water, the Best of Pirene's Fountain anthology), Gargoyle, The Labletter, The Pedestal, and other places. His first collection of poetry, The Review Mirror, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2013. On Sunday mornings, at 11 AM Central time, he talks about poetry on WRFN-LP in Pasquo, TN. Steve Klepetar’s work has appeared worldwide, in such journals as Boston Literary
Magazine, Chiron, Deep Water, Expound, Phenomenal Literature, Red River Review, Snakeskin, Voices Israel, Ygdrasil, and many others. Several of his poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize (including three in 2015). Recent collections include My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto and The Li Bo Poems, both from Flutter Press. His full-length collection Family Reunion is forthcoming from Big Table Publishing.
Brandon Marlon is a writer from Ottawa, Canada. He received his B.A. in Drama & English from the University of Toronto and his M.A. in English from the University of Victoria. His poetry was awarded the Harry Hoyt Lacey Prize in Poetry (Fall 2015), and his writing has been published in 145+ publications in 22 countries. Bruce Sager lives in Westminster, Maryland. His work has won publication through contests judged by Billy Collins, Dick Allen and William Stafford. Five new books -- one of short stories, four of poetry -- are forthcoming in 2016-2017 (via Echo Point Books, Hyperborea Publishing, and BrickHouse Books). Bekah Steimel is a poet aspiring to be a better poet. Recent publications include Yellow Chair Review, Crab Fat Magazine, and The Bitchin' Kitsch. She lives in St. Louis and can be found online at bekahsteimel.com and followed on Twitter and Instagram @BekahSteimel. Pia Taavila-Borsheim received her BA and MA in American Literature from Eastern Michigan University, and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from Michigan State University in English, Sociology, and Philosophy. She is a tenured, full professor and teaches literature and creative writing at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. In 2008, Gallaudet University Press published her collected poems, Moon on the Meadow: Collected Poems 1977-2007; Finishing Line Press Two Winters in 2011 and Mother Mail is forthcoming from Hermeneutic Chaos Press in 2017. Her poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart Prizes and she has just finished a new full-length manuscript titled Notes to David and two chapbooks: Mother Mail and Love Poems.Her poems have appeared in several journals including: The Bear River Review, The Broadkill Review, Appalachian
Heritage, The Comstock Review, Barrow Street, Threepenny Review, Wisconsin Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, storySouth, The Asheville Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Measure, Ibbetson Street Review, and The Southern Review. Robin Wright’s work has appeared in various literary journals, including Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, Quatrain.Fish, and Amarillo Bay. Two of her poems were published in the University of Southern Indiana’s 50th anniversary anthology, Time Present, Time Past. She has also co-written two novels with Maryanne Burkhard under the name B. W. Wrighthard, Ghost Orchid and A Needle and a Haystack.
Jake Young received his MFA from North Carolina State University, and after a hiatus working at a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, currently attends the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Missouri–Columbia. His most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Miramar, Fjords Review, Poecology, pacificREVIEW, and The Commonline Journal. In 2014, Jake attended the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. He also serves as the poetry editor for the Chicago Quarterly Review.
Prose Karen Barr is the administrative assistant and staff coordinator at Writer's Village University, where she is currently working on my 3-year MFA certificate. Chelsea Bartlett was born and raised in beautiful coastal Maine, where she is currently an MFA student at Stonecoast. She is a lover of princesses, pirates, and the pen. Kitty Bowerman is a member of the Third Street Writers in Laguna Beach, California. Her stories appear at Silver Birch Press, Golden Fleece Press, and Akashic Books, among others. J. Bradley is the author of the novel The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016). Jason Makansi has published ten short stories in a variety of literary journals and collections, including Big Muddy (Southeast Missouri State University), Dos Passos Review (Longwood University), Marginalia (Western State College of Colorado), Mizna: Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America, St. Louis Noir (Akashic Publishing Group), Noir@bar Volume II, London Journal of Fiction, Rainbow Curve, and Arabesques. His first novel, The Moment Before, will be available in 2017. He is a 2009 alumnus of the Sewanee Writers Conference, reviewed short story collections for The Short Review for many years, is currently a contributing editor for River Styx literary journal and Associate Editor for December literary magazine. He serves as Literary Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Amphorae Publishing Group, and is currently managing Amphoraeâ€™s debut short story collection, scheduled for publication in late 2017. Jim Tritten is a disabled vet who lives in a rural New Mexico village with his Danish artist/author wife and five cats.
Photography Debra Cheak is a Kentucky native and book lover who loves learning more about her cameraâ€™s abilities. She resides in Versailles, Kentucky for most of the year, and spends the remainder on her houseboat on Dale Hollow Lake. Nick Durcholz is a native of southern Indiana and graduate of USI. He has a B.S. in English and a minor in Journalism. He finds nature to be his the most inspiring muse but can find the creative spirit most anywhere. He has experience in the publishing field but treasures the value of the written word and photography in his free time. He loves to explore and map worlds and emotions big and small with his words and his camera. Rebecca Lumbrix is a recent graduate of Western Kentucky University, anxiously awaiting the perfect opportunity to wield her shiny new Literature degree. In the meantime, she works in a bookstore, where she buys far more books than she can possibly hope to read in just one lifetime (this seems like a good reason to nurture a belief in reincarnation). She is an obsessive lover of coffee and Mary Oliver. She lives in a cute, small house with her wonderful husband, with whom she cooks overly ambitious meals, and his two cats, with whom she wages fierce territorial battles.
Published on Nov 11, 2016
A literary magazine dedicated to excellent writing and the journey to wherever 'here' is. Our inaugural issue features 12 fabulous poets, 4...