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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

Lost River accepts poetry, fiction, nonfiction, book reviews, & art/photography. See submission guidelines at www.lostriver.ink/submissions Correspondence can be sent to Leigh Cheak Cherry Hall 1906 College Heights Blvd. Bowling Green, KY 42101 or lostriverlitmag@gmail.com Please visit our website for more information about us: www.lostriver.ink


Lost River Fall 2016

Issue One


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


FICTION

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


ALOFT

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

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STRANGE DAYS

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

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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

3


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

Her

absentmindedness

gradually

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,

“When?”

tiny bouts of forgetfulness, the carelessness of

“Fall, I hear the colors are dazzling.”

her attentions, the distractions.

"What colors?"

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

4


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

"I forgot."

fading and fits of anger and depression took its

"Forgot what?"

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.

5

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 hadn’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.

the inhabitants.

“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

was

The doctors had also told him that a just change of scenery sometimes provided a

the

name.

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

Maintenance Living.”

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.

6


When he looked into her eyes he could see the wild-eyed fear that consumed her.

7

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

His weakness?

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

wasn’t her fault and that God had a bigger plan

attachment and he found himself drawn into

for them.

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

deserved.

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

sorry.”

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

8


9

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.

silence.

He made his way out to the edge of the

She couldn’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

words,

I’m sorry

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.

10


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 do— 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 river’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

13


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

14


SERVICES AT A LATER DATE

I pick blue hydrangeas from my yard. Don’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 what’s left of the flowers, push my palms together, pretend I know how to pray. - ROBIN WRIGHT

15


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

16


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

and

my

enemies,

especially

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

17

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,

Sirhan.”

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?”

18


“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?”

hadn’t before.

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

19


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

“Summertown.”

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

alone.”

making faces at us from the window came back. His name was Willie. He played the

20


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

21


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

22


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

23


THAT NIGHT

Kitty Bowerman

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

screamed,

and

eventually

disappeared,

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

25

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

since kindergarten.

I doubt anyone thinks about that dance anymore. If it happened today, my face would be splashed on Facebook, accompanied with a hash

tag

like

#drunkdialingfail

or

#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.

26


ON THE SUBJECT OF YOU Time- 12:53 AM Location- Cheap Hotel Room I keep emptying this ashtray and bottle of honey whiskey—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

27


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

28


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

wooden-planked room.

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.

The

cooling

water

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

31

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 one’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

superheated

energy kick. It is mist therapy with a water/essential oils mixture ladled on hot stones. I’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.

commanded.

Pure, raw monofloral honey made from

branches down on my neighbor’s back. Whack,

organically-raised

explained.

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.

bees,

she

my eyes closed lest rivulets of the nectar upset the delicate balance of fluids guarding my

Whack–Leo

brought

the

“Your turn. Aspen branches.” I hope they’re

organic.

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

32


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

33

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

floorboards.

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

Pure bliss.

wooden jetty.

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

a SEAL.

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

34


Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriend about penile

into further surrender. Thank you Jasmine.

shrinkage.

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.

and Leo.

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

35

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

howled.

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

soon.

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

36


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

37


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 route’s midpoint, the stately house they’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

38


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

41


CIRCUMNAVIGATION

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.

42


IN YOUR EMBRACE

43

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


EDISON

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

44


THE GATEKEEPER

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

45


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.

47

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

do?”

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.

girls do?”

“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

alone.

direction to go, so Dusty didn’t have anything “This is so cool,” he said. Dusty

usually

didn’t

she could tell them to do, and Matt didn’t have react

to

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

48


stomach when they glanced up in time to see

him. Still, Jason didn’t like the way Matt talked

him watching.

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

49

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,

shrugged.

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

of wood.

thought—for whatever reason, maybe the

Dusty nodded, but said nothing.

earth communicating with her, maybe

Now that there was something they

angels—they’d

reached

the

place

for

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.

50


it open, to see what Dusty had brought them to

assigned Jason and Matt to carry the treasure

now.

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

brought

everyone

around,

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

51

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

is.”

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

52


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

pavement.

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

closer.

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,

happened?”

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

dead.

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

53


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

said.

exciting.” Jason nodded, surprised at the relief he

“You’ve

done

something

with

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

argument.

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?”

talked

her

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.”

about

her

dreams

and

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.

know—ten years.”

54


“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.”

55

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

its holdings.

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

anywhere.

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

him.

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

invitation.

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

56


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.

started up.

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

57

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.

58


Poetry

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.

59


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.

60


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 Amphorae’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.

61


Photography Debra Cheak is a Kentucky native and book lover who loves learning more about her camera’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.

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Lost River Fall 2016  

A literary magazine dedicated to excellent writing and the journey to wherever 'here' is. Our inaugural issue features 12 fabulous poets, 4...

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