O F T H E D E L AWA R E VA L L E Y
Marguerite McGlinn Fiction Prize Winner:
THE WORK BOYFRIEND juditha dowd
NAVIGATION sylvia beauvais
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O F T H E D E L AWA R E VA L L E Y
3 The Work Boyfriend (Marguerite McGlinn Fiction Prize Winner). . . Katherine Hill 14 Navigations (fiction). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Juditha Dowd 19 The Baby (essay). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sylvie Beauvais
POETRY 12 Soldier.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Harry Gieg
PHILADELPHIASTORIES.ORG Publisher/Fiction Editor Carla Spataro
Contest Coordinator Jamie Elfrank
Publisher/Managing Editor Christine Weiser
Editorial Assistants Jamie Elfrank Diana Restifo
Poetry Editor Conrad Weiser Essay Editor Julia MacDonnell Chang Associate Fiction Editor Marc Schuster Director of Development Sharon Sood Production Manager Derek Carnegie Web Design Loic Duros Board of Directors Kerri Schuster, secretary Mitchell Sommers Christine Furtek Michael Ritter
Interns Zeba Baksh Justin Davis Angela DeMott Amy Kates Greg Silber
3 Underwater Scene of a Shark by Sean O’Neil. Sean graduated from the University of Delaware with a BFA. He works with acrylic on canvas and shows regularly in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. www.seanoneillart.com
Editorial Board Zeba Baksh, fiction Courtney Bambrick, poetry Anne Buckwalter, fiction Jackie Cassidy, fiction Christine Cavalier, poetry Liz Dolan, poetry Sandy Farnan, non-fiction Teresa FitzPatrick, fiction Marylou Fusco, fiction Pat Green, poetry Joanne Green, fiction Fran Grote, fiction Steven Harbold, fiction Matt Jordan, non-fiction Amy Kates, fiction Cecily Kellogg, poetry Aimee LaBrie, fiction Nathan Long, fiction Walt Maguire, fiction George McDermott, poetry Elizabeth Mosier, fiction Julie Odell, fiction John Shea, poetry & non-fiction Greg Silber, fiction Mitchell Sommers, fiction Janice Wilson Stridick, fiction Valeria Tsygankova, poetry Michelle Wittle, fiction
Abstract Webscape 6 by Rachel Moore Rachel Moore recently returned to her home state of Pennsylvania. She has a BA in Studio Art from Goucher College and studied at The University of the Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art and Temple University Japan.
10 Hit or Miss by Michael Carlin. Michael is an American Artist/Poet who lives in West Chester, PA. Carlin has many pieces in private collections throughout Europe and the United States. 13 Orchard Glow by Deena Ball. Deena is a watercolor landscape artist and art teacher. She is a graduate of Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and has additional training from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and other prominent local artists. 14 Solitaire by Anne Buckwalter. Anne (www.Anne Buckwalter.com) graduated from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art with a BFA in Painting and Drawing in January 2010. 17 Phone by Julie Laquer. Julie is a Staff Illustrator at Wonkavision Magazine/ WebZine and enjoys illustrating for their various punk-rock themed issues.
Winter by Marita McVeigh. Marita McVeigh is a local artist and member of The Manayunk Art Center co-operative gallery. She likes experimenting with different mediums, but favors oil and pastel.
Cover Art: Nonna’s Mirror by Pam McLeanParker. Pam began exhibiting her fine art photographs in 1988 while working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Rosemont College in Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in galleries and art centers for over two decades and has received numerous awards. See more work at www.pmpfinephotography.com
Philadelphia Stories is a non-profit literary magazine that publishes the finest literary fiction, poetry and art from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware and distributes free of charge to a wide demographic throughout the region. Our mission is to develop a community of writers, artists and readers through the magazine, and through education programs such as writer’s workshops, reading series and other affordable professional development programs for emerging writers and artists. Philadelphia Stories is a 501c3 and is managed completely by a staff of volunteers. To support Philadelphia Stories and the local arts, please visit www.philadelphiastories.org to become a member today!
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Underwater Scene of a Shark by Sean O’Neil © 2010 The following story is the winner of the first annual Marguerite McGlinn National Fiction Prize (visit www.philadelphiastories.org for details on the 2010 contest). endra fell for Russ at a party. The theme was Winter Blues, which meant everyone dressed normally, in jeans and a monochrome palette of shirts, ranging from navy to sky. “It’s me,” he said from his pack of males in the corner. “The guy from Tragedy who never talks.” She’d always found him attractive in their seminar, but he came alive that day, having finally used his voice. He was compassionate and broad-shouldered, and he seemed to see in Kendra the glamorous figure she imagined for herself instead of the bulging thighs and flaring nose that were real. He was going to law school in the fall. She would be a book editor. A book editor could marry a
lawyer, she thought, and they both had dark eyebrows and hair. By the end of the night, they were standing in their coats in the backyard and he was leaning within inches of her mouth. Deep in her coat pocket, she found a thin red ribbon, a Christmas leftover. “Aha!” she said, holding it out. She tied their belt loops together. What else was ribbon for? “They had sweaty, vocal sex in ludicrous positions, sex that Kendra might have laughed at if it hadn’t so unraveled her.” She told him everything, and still, he stayed. On a piece of ruled paper, they wrote up a list of campus sites: the library stacks, Memorial Fountain, the seminar table where they sat every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 2:15. By the time they graduated, they had done them all. Now, in New York, as college graduates, they sat facing each other from the
deep ends of his tweedy, second-hand couch. She rubbed his feet one at a time and watched reality television: people being cruel for fun. He caught up on Torts and Anti-Discrimination, and every half hour or so, looked at her like a puppy. “I promise you,” he said, “in three years, I’ll massage your feet when you need it.” They had only been dating a year; three seemed a lot of time to bank. She let his foot rest in her lap and scratched the back of her wrist over the rounded bone. She’d lost weight since college—one of those irrational patterns of city living; you ate out or you didn’t eat—and she had to admit she liked it. Russ had noticed, but was careful. He’d been raised to treat women like rare books, turning the pages one by one, reading the words he understood, and looking up the rest, making no assumptions. “I might need it sooner,” she said,
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resuming the massage. “Next year, then.” He bargained with her the way children did, offering false promises because he knew he had to offer something. They were in constant contact but lived apart to ease his stress. His dorm room was near the law school, partially subsidized, with naked windows overlooking Washington Square. Besides the couch, he counted among his furnishings a 14-inch television, two bar stools from the trash heap, an aquarium with a goldfish and sunken castle, and a mattress and box spring on wheels. Her own Park Slope apartment, which she shared with two dieting actresses, had exposed brick and uneven floors. A ball placed on one end of the narrow living room would roll to the other, unless obstructed by a pile of shoes. It was like living in a subway car. She had considered hanging a handrail from the ceiling, for balance. Since college, Russ had become more like a brother than a boyfriend. He had his own schedule, and he asked her if she’d been safe when she walked places at night. She could describe him to strangers with the cavalier precision usually reserved for a blood relative. He’s thinking about employment law. He likes racquetball, pink hamburgers and camping. Yet unlike a brother, he was always kind, and for this she felt compelled to reward him. When she went over on Sundays—dinner night—she brought loaves of bread and special olive oil from the gourmet grocery. Before long she was buying exotic spices and learning to cook him meals, producing odd, schizophrenic experiments inspired by menus at Restaurant Week: chicken with mint and chives and honey, shrimp with garlic and orange and cardamom. He always praised her meals, no matter how spectacularly she failed, as she often did. “Do you know what my problem is?” she asked him one night over dinner. “I used to be full of potential. Everyone said so. But now the period of potential is
over, and I am what I am.” “Who says you’re out of potential?” he asked, his mouth streaked with orange. “Easy for you to say. You’re a student—you have time. I’m already a career girl, and sinking.” “Didn’t you just get a raise?” He spoke with admiration, which embarrassed her. She was trying to tell him she wasn’t his equal, but he was too much the better person to understand. “Trust me,” she said, pushing her food to the side of her plate. “I’m sinking.” Kendra was an editorial assistant for Willett & Stokes, a large and venerable publishing house. It was her first job, and she honored its legacy in stacked heels and pencil skirts. Books, it turned out, were a mysterious business: no one seemed to know which ones would succeed, or whom to blame when they didn’t. Kendra hardly knew anything, including the names of most of her colleagues. She didn’t know Alex’s name for months because of the way their departments interacted. As it worked, he brought the purple cover art folders for her boss Amanda’s signature, and she passed them on to someone in marketing, who then passed them on to the publisher, innumerable vehement changes marked in color along the way. Alex was quick with his deliveries, and Kendra nearly always received the folders without glimpsing the human messenger. There would be a disturbance near her open door, then a flash of collar and blond sideburns at the edge of her vision. She would look up at her plastic, wall-mounted inbox, and a purple folder would have appeared, tilting outward toward her fluorescent, overhead light, a banal office flower reaching for its sun. Unsettled by the anonymity of everything, Kendra began to glance up from her desk more frequently, until one day, she finally saw her messenger’s face. He was older, bearded, efficient: an
experienced publishing professional. Still, no one had told her who he was, and she was too embarrassed to ask. It wasn’t until she accompanied Amanda to a cover design meeting one morning in February that Kendra finally learned his name. “Alex will take this one,” the publisher said. The blond, bearded man brought his left boot to rest on his right knee and adjusted the hem of his pant. “Thanks, Alex,” she said, the next time he made his rounds. “Any time, Kendra,” he said, as though she’d made a clever remark. She stood before her mirror for nearly an hour that night, sucking in her stomach, wondering if her hair had grown darker. She’d heard the body changes every seven years or so and felt she must’ve reached a new end. It made sense, mathematically; she was almost twenty-three. He came by more often, sometimes without purple folders. They had lunch. They talked about the covers he was designing, the false certainty of publishers. His voice was spacious and wet and she found herself swiveling her legs to the side when she spoke. She called him her work boyfriend, and told everyone, so it would be clear she had nothing to hide. It was when she began to see him on weekends that she realized she had a problem. Anything that happened at lunch or on a weeknight could be compartmentalized. It could be shuffled together with work the way the pages of a manuscript could bury crosswords, applications for graduate school, and other evidence of a growing disloyalty. But Alex refused to remain in his compartment. They met up on Saturdays, went to dreamy, colordrenched movies, her elbow barely touching his on the armrest. They walked around uptown neighborhoods, where every residence had its own staircase and dark cars idled for wives outside. The air smelled of fresh pavement and perfumes, the sodden stink of
k a t h e r i n e garbage consigned to other parts of town. She felt that this was the ingenuity of wealth: the ability to shut out trash. She felt that Alex was ingenious too. Kendra allowed herself a reckless intimacy on these walks. She could hear her voice yammering as though she had never spoken to another person in her life. Though he was older, they’d both been pampered by the liberal arts at earnest New England colleges, and had come to love all the same foolish things: lanky black basketball players, Thai food, yoga, all products of Russia and France. Like her, Alex was free flowing in his speech, yet his ropy, logical body seemed evidence of a profound equilibrium within. He was handsome, too: astonishingly bright lips, slightly watery eyes that watched closely when she spoke. Before long, he invited her to his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. She wore a plum knit dress and dotted pink ballet flats, the fifth or sixth arrangement she
had tried. It seemed to her casual and forgiving, and it looked good under her heavy brown coat. He greeted her at the door in a baby blue button-down. It was a Sunday afternoon, and baby blue suddenly seemed a very insincere color. But it was too late now. She’d had at least three weeks and an entire subway ride to change her mind. She imagined her subway driver, shouting warnings she hadn’t heard over her headphones: Christopher Street: Last exit for virtue. Fourteenth Street: For dignity and face! Kendra let Alex take her tote bag of manuscripts, which he stowed in a hallway closet. She’d brought it as armor, spurred by a perverse fantasy: if she were caught, she could hold it up in righteous protest. See?—her bra exposed as lacy and pink, her panties in a cowering twist at the end of the bed—we were working! Alex had real hardwood floors—not the parquet wood tile she was used to seeing in New York. His apartment was
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a one-bedroom, and he had it all to himself. As it turned out, he came from money, the kind Russ was working to get. Covetously, Kendra noticed everything on this first visit: crown moldings, stainless steel appliances, ceramic tiled bathroom with self-rimming sink. Then there were the distinctly Alex touches. The umbrella stand in the shape of a cannon. The living room walls hand-painted with supernovas in shades of fermented fruit. The adult-looking cylinder of valium in his medicine cabinet, itself painted a petulant green. Nothing matched, everything matched, which seemed to Kendra like some kind of code. And yet a code she’d studied once in school, a code that she could crack. They sat on floor cushions and drank red wine from enormous Burgundy glasses. She curled her legs to one side and ran her tongue over her teeth between sips. “What does Kendra wish for?” Alex
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS Welcome to the Spring 2010 issue! Let’s hope by the time this issue comes out, the snow has finally melted! We have lots of events this spring for literature lovers – including our biggest FUNdraiser of the year: our online auction and spring fling. So, get out your calendars – here are important dates to note: April 30: Philadelphia Stories online auction opens. Bid online to support the magazine – as well as get great deals on vacations, restaurants, books, gift baskets, and much more. May 4: The 2010 Second Annual Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction opens with an even bigger prize: $2,000, plus travel expenses to an awards dinner to be held in Philadelphia on October 15, the evening before our Push to Publish conference. Big thanks to the McGlinn family for making this happen and allowing us to honor our friend Marguerite with this tribute. May 22: Spring Fling at the Swedish Museum. Just $10 includes food, beverages, readings, and live music from local band, The Tights. The party also celebrates the third release from PS Books, Prompted (at right), which features select work from Alison Hicks’ Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio. June 6-11: The week-long Rosemont Writers Retreat features fiction, novel-writing, poetry, and more. This is a terrific opportunity for writers to escape to the beautiful Rosemont campus and immerse themselves in their craft. On another important note, this issue will be the last for our poetry editor, Conrad Weiser, who will be passing the reins to guest editors from the poetry board until we find a new permanent poetry editor. Cover art by Anne Buckwalter When we launched the magazine five years ago, I invited my father to join us as Poetry Editor. I had no idea how huge this request was, but knew that we shared a love of writing. I also knew he would take the job seriously. He did, and he managed the poetry selection process and our eclectic poetry board beautifully. “(Conrad’s) wonderful personality and astute judgment have kept the poetry board going,” says veteran poetry board member Patricia Green. “We will all miss his presence as our poetry board leader.” Thanks, Dad.
We hope to see you online or at one of our events. Enjoy the issue! Christine Weiser (and Carla Spataro) Publishers
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asked. He broke off the question like a piece of candy he was offering her to bite. He knew about Russ, knew he would never meet him. This made his interrogation freer, and Kendra more forthcoming in her replies. â€œI donâ€™t know,â€? she said. â€œI guess Iâ€™ve always wanted to think well of everyone I meet.â€? His baby blue shirt crinkled as he leaned towards her. â€œBut you donâ€™t.â€? He seemed to know how she felt before she did. It was useless even to speak. â€œI hate editing,â€? she went on, not knowing how to be silent. â€œYou have to assume people are idiots.â€? â€œYou need to travel more,â€? he said. His face was set; she could have drawn him, and she was not an artist. â€œWhen you get out there, I mean way out, youâ€™ll see what little impact you have on peopleâ€™s lives.â€? He spoke in a tone of reluctant authority that she found sweet. He was posturing, even for her, who would have been impressed with him however
he spoke. â€œThat month I spent in Fiji?â€? he said. â€œI went days without talking to another person. I would lie there in bed at 4 oâ€™clock in the morning, a whole day ahead of home, and I would look at the light, that first film of morning color, kind of a pale, muted indigo, if you can picture it. And I would think, This is it: This is the color of loneliness.â€? He swirled the air with his hand as if mixing the exact hue. â€œReading makes me lonely,â€? she said, looking at his built-in bookshelves. â€œHarold Bloom can read a thousand pages in an hour. It depresses me to think how much time Iâ€™ll have to spend by myself to achieve even half as much.â€? She tilted her head back to take in the collection. â€œAll those,â€? she said, waving her free hand. â€œIâ€™ve probably only read ten.â€? He chose this moment to kiss her, while her hand still dangled in the air. It was clear heâ€™d been calculating his approach for several minutes, and when he came at her, it was with stagy aban-
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don, yet straight as a math class line. He licked his lips only the instant before they landed. Kendra received him with gratitude. The suspense was finally over, and it had been worth it after all. As his tongue moved in spirals under her lip, she found herself thinking she would have done it just this way had she been the one to lead. It was exactly the way you kissed someone you werenâ€™t supposed to kiss. â€œDoes he think youâ€™ll just wait for him?â€? he asked, when they lay in his bed later. She stared at the ceiling. Like the rest of his apartment, Alex had painted it himself: a cubist cityscape of overlapping colored squares, all sizes, each one reaching for something in the next. She could not imagine how much money all those colors had cost. â€œI think I want to be a psychiatrist,â€? she said. â€œDistressed women always do,â€? Alex said. â€œWhat about distressed girls? What do they want?â€? â€œSex.â€? He rolled over on top of her. She closed her eyes and imagined she was someone else, someone with wisdom and slender thighs. Her old self vanished behind a colored square above: a childâ€™s mythical beast winking, then gone forever. Her hips rolled back with ease; she was a grown-up now. She left Alexâ€™s while it was still light, her mouth full of searing Altoids, her hands and neck greased with the gardenia-scented body cream she carried in her bag. She took the subway two stops, then walked the last twenty blocks to Russâ€™s, letting the wind lick Alexâ€™s print from her skin. Papers with public scandal headlines peeled along the sidewalk before her, catching now and then on a street post, or the leg of a jacketed dog. She stopped in at a freshly painted coffee shop and bought a cappuccino and croissant. The boy who rang her up wore a knit cap and was most likely in a band.
k a t h e r i n e She made coy and wide-eyed small talk with him, the kind that implied an irreverent and complicated soul beneath, the kind this boy would like. She was a flirt, was all. Harmless! He smiled and gave her a flier for an open mic on the Lower East Side. She tipped him generously and left, humiliated. Back on the sidewalk, oily liquids ran in streams from a storefront to the gutter. She ate the croissant while she walked, avoiding the streams, crispy flakes clinging to her lips and scarf. She was not wealthy enough to neatly eat a croissant. Russ greeted her looking wolfish. “Are you growing a beard?” she asked him, alarmed. “Just haven’t shaved in a while.” He nuzzled her cheek with his chin. “Would you like me to grow a beard?” She pulled back. “I hate beards.” She clamped her hands on either side of his head. “I like your face,” she said with sudden ardor. “What?” he said, her hands having covered his ears. Alex sent dangerous emails to her work account. They lacked detail: Are we still on for lunch? The vagueness was damning—if anyone were to see! She deleted them the instant she read them. She couldn’t be sure the distribution list for the entire company wasn’t carboncopied on every message she received. She couldn’t be sure deletion was even possible. What else did those tech support guys do all day? She’d seen their basement office suite—windowless, paperless, all-knowing. Nothing was ever lost any more. Except dignity. Except face. Why couldn’t he write her paper notes and sneak them into the purple folders? They were book people, after all. Paper would still be dangerous, but at least it would give her some sense of control. She could shred or burn the notes and know for sure they were gone, no ghost of them remaining.
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Abstract Webscape 6 by Rachel Moore © 2010
He came by her office less, which amplified Kendra’s anxiety. Surely this was more suspicious. “Where is that adorable designer?” Amanda shouted from her office. Amanda shouted everything she said. “Which one?” Kendra was balancing a 600-page manuscript in her lap, composing the rejection letter she wished she could send. For an “accomplished journalist,” you seem to lack a basic understanding of pacing, characterization and English grammar. We simply cannot publish an author who misuses common words. I have literally had sex with Alex four times, but you are not literally walking on air. She held the delete key until her document was once again blank. “I don’t know his name,” Amanda said. “Colin. Micah. Alex!” Kendra’s boss appeared in the doorway, her knee twitching feverishly, a new manuscript in hand. Amanda had forced intimacy on Kendra early in their profes-
sional relationship, treating her to expensive lunches and using these as occasions to unload the details of her two failed marriages. One husband cheated, one drank; both would have preferred her mousy younger sister. Amanda’s life was a story she’d told many times and was by then well-edited. “It will amaze you how little power you have,” she’d said over the salted rim of her margarita. “They just get stronger and stronger the older they get. Well, physically weaker, but more capable of harm.” “So where’s Alex?” she said to Kendra now. “I have a project he simply has to read. He’ll die. I mean, you can’t even imagine the cover potential.” She dropped the manuscript on Kendra’s desk for copying and scanned the shelf of gimmicky presidential biographies on the wall. “Where’s Grover Cleveland?” she asked. “Someone mentioned him the other day, and I had to come up with
some bullshit because I had no idea which one he was.” “He’s the one who was president twice,” Kendra said. “Once before Benjamin Harrison and once after.” She handed her the volume, Grover Cleveland: The Split-Term President. The series was glib and sold well. Amanda flipped through a few pages and said, “So why didn’t we make two volumes?” “Because no one would ever buy two?” Kendra said. This was the longest conversation she had ever had on the subject of Grover Cleveland. Willett & Stokes had been well onto Herbert Hoover by the time she’d come on board. “Joking, Kendra!” Amanda said. She turned to leave, then snapped her head back. “I love your outfit!” “Oh!” Kendra’s face burned and she shrugged with instinctive girlishness.
k a t h e r i n e “Thanks.” She was wearing an argyle vest in Dutch blue and tangerine. Amanda squinted, as if reading her for the first time. “What are you trying to be, a runway model? Go eat something!” “Amanda has a novel for you,” Kendra told Alex over lunch the next day. They were sitting at a second-floor café counter that faced Broadway, watching the scarves and handbags that passed on the street below, and eating spinach salads out of disposable plastic domes. He was a finicky eater, she had learned; this was part of how he stayed so lean. “Is it a cowboy novel?” he asked. She put down her fork. What kind of a question was this? Romance fell apart to fatuous questions like this. The smell of his sweat—a peculiar combination of peat and rust—flashed through her nostrils. It was a memory only, but in that moment, she found the sensation revolting. She would have to call it off with Alex. “It’s about tango dancers in Peron’s Buenos Aires,” she said. “That’s too bad,” he said. “I like cowboy novels.” He put a forkful of leaves into his mouth and turned to reach for a napkin from the dispenser behind him. A round woman in an I LOVE NY sweatshirt was squeezing by, and his outstretched arm smacked her in the chest. She fumbled her tray, dumping chicken Caesar salad across her shoes and the floor. The woman stood expressionless for a moment, then tilted her head back and closed her eyes, resigned, as though the event she had dreaded her entire life had finally unleashed itself upon her. “What are you, retarded?” Kendra blurted. “You can’t just fling your arms around like that!” “Whoa,” Alex said. “Easy.” He wiped a dollop of tomato pulp off his lip, and stood to fish his wallet from his back pocket. But the woman had hurried away without replacing her lost meal, too traumatized to try again. All Alex could do to atone was help the busboy pick up the mess.
“Listen,” he said, once the floor was mostly clean. “I think I’m going away this weekend. Some bonehead friends of mine are gathering in DC. You don’t want to meet them.” She stiffened. “Who said I would?” “I just don’t want you to get any ideas.” “Alex,” she said. “I have a boyfriend.” For an instant, this statement was empowering. She was the coveted one; her life was whole and good. Love was something to declare, like a large and legal thing she’d purchased overseas. People continued to shuffle by their table. Salad leaves flew into and out of plastic domes behind the counter. Chairs bucked forward and back. In this incessant atmosphere, her words seemed to ricochet off an invisible current, and come back to her, stinging. Alex smiled, the blond bristles of his beard standing out in sympathy. He had broken hearts in the past; he knew the
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pain of hypocrisy, too. “Of course you do,” he said. “Who the hell do I think I am?” Luis, the third boyfriend—the gay one—told her she was lucky to have Russ, who had well-sized arms. They were circling the sidewalk carts in SoHo the following Saturday, pretending to have money and influence. “Well-sized?” She held up a pair of heavily jeweled earrings that hung down in three tiers. “Cheap!” Luis said. The cart keeper made a face, and Kendra and Luis flounced carelessly down the block, reveling in their small brutality. They were friends because they shared an understanding. They liked private exchanges of empathy and public displays of conceit; liked embracing their own stereotypes one minute and then casting them off the next. Liked being, to each other, the most honest people they knew.
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Hit or Miss by Michael Carlin © 2010
At the hat-and-pashmina cart on the next corner, Luis ducked around the back, then reappeared in a maroon fedora. “If you don’t treat him right, I will,” he said. “Russ needs someone who understands his needs.” He spoke in an exaggerated, kidding tone, but Kendra knew he wasn’t kidding, not completely. Luis liked to fancy himself a housewife, with Russ as his trusty breadwinner. He tossed the fedora back on the pile. “This is hideous!” she said. She was holding a scarf the color of curried lentils. Luis gasped and plugged his nose. “Quick, take this one,” he said. His voice made a sound as though he had swallowed a sponge. He draped a sapphire blue over her shoulder and released his breath for show. She couldn’t tell Luis about Alex or any of it. Luis thought well of her. She
was his most reasonable friend, the one who would never cheat. He held a small mirror in front of her face. “Pretty girl!” he sang. “Bring on the boys! Bring on the football team!” In her conscious life, Kendra did not often feel pretty—certainly not as pretty as Luis, whose skin was cellophane clear. But Luis loved her enough to appeal to her wicked unconscious, and she loved to let herself believe him. “Who needs a whole team?” she asked, flipping her hair, her best part. “Two is enough for me.” She knew this was not a confession, but it was the closest she would come. As the weeks chugged on, she became acclimated to her routine. First Russ, then Alex. Then Alex, then Russ. Each one, opening the door of his apart-
ment, opened himself to her. It was like being the child of divorce and having two hometowns, two bedrooms of her own. She had different faces for each boyfriend, and sometimes, different clothes. For Russ she was caring and relaxed: a blousy shirt and jeans. For Alex she presented vaguely off-center: extra eyeliner, outfits built from the shoes up. What surprised her was the authenticity that accompanied these shifts. She didn’t have to pretend. She no longer made mistakes. “You’re so good to me,” said Russ after another meal. He looked down at his chest as though he didn’t know which was the bigger surprise, Kendra’s devotion, or his own male frame. “You’re so good,” said Alex, after another orgasm. To each, Kendra purred in contentment. Both goods were important, and she had come to believe that both were true. She was feeling fuller, like the Wonder Woman balloon in the Macy’s parade, inflating at the elbow, the breast, and at the tips of her purple-black hair. Kendra had watched the parade on television as a girl, and when she moved to New York she’d found the live balloon even more magnificent than she’d imagined. It loomed like a generous storm, a woman altered by the power of good. She stopped reading books on her subway commute and instead composed lists on the backs of junk manuscripts, ones she could shred instead of having to return. Two columns: Russ/Alex. Like two options on a prix fixe menu. The champion/the challenger. Everything could be written like this, with slashes— her entire life in two columns on a page. This was the secret pleasure she’d discovered: the pleasure of division. She had punched through the tyranny of oneness and found a new religion in twos. She saw the unlikely nobility in her situation, that she could share her love, and in sharing, multiply it. Riding the subway from Alex to Russ one evening, she realized she loved
k a t h e r i n e Amanda, and her dieting roommates, too. She loved the middle-aged men in business suits with bellies and company souls, their thumbs flattened from BlackBerry texting. She loved New York’s many transgressive toddlers, little girls in princess dresses who ate their string cheese whole like carrots, and the glassy-eyed moms who let them run wild through the cars. She especially loved the subway beggars and their bewitching, monotone speeches. The pathos, the editing—they were better than NPR! She went out of her way now to have ones and change, so that she could give freely, whenever she was asked. Russ’s law school formal fell on a Friday. They’d agreed to meet outside her office building, which was on the way to the hotel. While she waited for the appointed hour, Kendra caught up on manuscripts, marking each page in red. By the time he
called from the lobby, her floor was empty. She asked him if he wanted to see her workspace while she changed into her dress. They’d always kept work and life separate, but with no colleagues around, she found herself wanting to share. The security guard sent Russ up, and she met him at the double doors that separated her floor from the elevator bank. He stood in anticipation on the other side of the glass, looking like a cadet in his rented tuxedo. “So this is it,” he said, when she opened the door to her windowless office. He plopped down in her swivel chair and put her phone to his ear. “This is Kendra,” he said in a feminine imitation of her voice. “I do not sound like that!” she said, switching off her computer. She took her dress down from a hook on the back of the door, which she locked. “I’m going to change in here.” “Please do,” he said. “I’ll be reading
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James K. Polk: Our Manifest Destiny.” He stood to pluck the book off its shelf. “I know, aren’t they ridiculous?” she said, shimmying out of her Casual Friday jeans. “But they sell! Even James K. Polk. I think it’s the promise of the complete set with all the matching spines that really appeals to people.” “Fucking packaging,” he said, flipping the pages. She hummed in approval; they hated all the same things. “Who are you up to now? Kennedy?” He turned to look at her. “In production,” she said. She was standing in her bra and underwear, preparing to step into the dress, which she turned around in her hands until she had the tag at the back. She got one leg in before she realized he was watching her. “What?” she said. She was bent awkwardly, from the shoulder, her hip jutting out like a peg, her pink lacy bra gaping slightly under her right arm where her breast did not quite fill it. She felt like a
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zoo animal, caught licking her bottom by a family in sunglasses and cotton brimmed hats. Russ’s arms hung down at his sides, and his eyes were moist, as if he were remembering something from long ago;
his face like warm, heavy clay. “Are we alone?” he asked quietly. She didn’t understand at first, but then he came forward and wrapped his arm around her naked waist, causing her to drop her dress to the floor.
Soldier By Harry Gieg Charley, or Cholley, or Chol— grew gardenias, raised kids and tropical fish, and broke the knees and heads of grown men. A soldier in a fitted charcoal-grey wool topcoat and pearl grey felt hat, with a wide band of black ribbon around the crown— his shiny black Pony-ac Ventura made all three of the city’s newspapers back in 1960 during the strike (“but the assailants are still un-identified”). Now Cholley’s seventy-two years old, retired (more or less honorably dis-charged) and pensioned. He’s also cirrhotic, and diabetic, and dying, too, of lung cancer—and mugged last night, caught downtown, just off Broad between Chestnut and Market, behind John Wanamaker’s fifteen-story, block-long, block-wide, department store
took my fuckin’ watch and wallet his face, still, at once brutale, and placevolissimo, his crooked and chipped-tooth smile and bright eyes, his old ploy of raised eyebrows, like a good-natured and confident kid’s false show of helplessness
an’ I couldn’t do nothin’ about it— three kids, callin’ me “pops”
his thinning hair, poker straight and lightly oiled, combed straight back from a still-good hairline— his large dark head, Sijjy, Sijli-ahn, Sicano (Sicilian), on a short, thick neck, Sicario (cut throat) —not a fuckin’ thing. Harry Gieg grew up in North Philadelphia. He’s published poetry in journals ranging from Pennsylvania Review to Jacaranda. Gieg is also a singer, starting in mid fifties with inner-city R&B vocal groups. Referring to his poetry, Gieg explains, “Mostly I’m still singing.”
They had sex braced against the biography shelf. Spine to spines: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson. She put a hand on a stack of purple folders for balance, and understood that she was killing Alex with every thrust. You could not fuck your real boyfriend in your office and expect your office boyfriend to survive. She wrapped her other arm around Russ’s broad back and imagined Alex with his mouth full of salad, dissolving like a weed into compost. They lay on the few feet of floor space after, boxes of bound galleys cramping them in head and feet. It seemed a gross parody of New York living to snuggle in a space like this, even smaller than her room at home. Next they would have to try an Amtrak sleeper car—or bathroom! “I have a title for you for Kennedy,” he said. “What’s that?” She was coiling a strand of his curly chest hair around her index finger, looking into his ear, and thinking she would have to end things with Alex. “John F. Kennedy: One Shot.” She smacked his chest, shrieking. It was terrible, it wasn’t even funny. He laughed and grabbed at her arms. He wasn’t funny, but he was hers. Eventually, they got dressed; he zipped her in, she adjusted his cuff links, then they walked out together, turning off lights as they went. Her new shoes cut tightly into her toes, but she figured she could last the night. She recalled the momentous shift that had occurred in her life the previous fall, when she’d finally purchased a pair of knee-high rubber galoshes. This was being an adult, she’d thought at the time: it was being sensible enough to own things that would keep her feet dry in the rain. They waited for an elevator under the dim orange glow of the Exit sign, Kendra plunging her hands into Russ’s deep pockets to keep his body close. “All right, all right,” he said, patting her head. She shifted her weight back and forth in
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Orchard Glow by Deena Ball © 2010 her shoes and poked her nose into his coat’s notched collar. When the elevator came, and its doors opened, Alex was leaning rakishly against the wall inside, the strap of his shoulder bag bisecting his torso, white iPod buds in his ears. Kendra inhaled. She’d forgotten him. Alex saw her with Russ, and his face snapped into a blank expression. As Kendra and Russ stepped in, she nodded hello to Alex, then faced forward, her hand firmly on the bar. He wasn’t supposed to be there. He wasn’t supposed to have stayed late that night. She looked at Russ, who was watching the numbers tick down, his mouth slightly agape. Behind him, Alex looked straight ahead, like a stranger on the subway. They stood remarkably close. It occurred to her in a rush that she ought to introduce them— they would like one another! It would be the easiest thing in the world. Why not combine love, and increase it, if you’re
suddenly given the chance? When the elevator reached the lobby level, Kendra, Russ and Alex stepped out and filed through the revolving glass door. She emerged first and stopped on the sidewalk. Behind her, they turned in opposite directions: Alex north, Russ south. “Have a good weekend!” Kendra called into the sharp, metallic air. She watched Alex walk, mind somewhere apart, and waited for him to respond. “He can’t hear you,” Russ said, his voice still gravelly from their upstairs romp. “Let’s go eat finger food and dance.” In the hotel restroom several hours later, Kendra took off her heels and ran her thumbs over the oval blisters that had formed on the tops of her toes. She considered her store of cruelty—the measure everyone was given to get even, or get by. She spent hers freely on minutiae: manuscript rejections, coffee shop
boys, scarves sold at SoHo corner stalls. She spent it as people do when they’re not really cruel at heart. But she’d also spent it on these boys, and in larger, more regular amounts. At a certain point, she realized, her measure would have to run out. Which left what—an eroding husk of love, diminishing with every exchange? It struck her then for the first time that she did not really know how to treat people, and that the goodness she longed for might already be gone. Katherine Hill lives and writes in Philadelphia. Her fiction has been published in Word Riot, and her articles and reviews have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Bookforum, The Believer, Poets & Writers, Publishers Weekly, and Philadelphia City Paper. A staff writer at the University of Pennsylvania, she holds a BA from Yale and an MFA from Bennington College. She is currently at work on a novel. The author of The Other Aya Kawaguchi has withdrawn her story from the Marguerite McGlinn Fiction Prize contest. The prize is now awarded to the second place winner, Katherine Hill, author of The Work Boyfriend. The Marguerite McGlinn Fiction Prize is made possible by the generous support of the McGlinn family and the Dry Family Foundation.
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NAVIGATIONS IN THE GENE POOL ature trumps nurture. Ellen believed it even before science arrived at the same conclusion, believed it even after science changed its mind again. Believes it now. Even so, she hadn’t expected her adult daughters to divide between them every characteristic she’d found objectionable in their father. Ardis and Jilly, oil and water, but each in her way Artie’s child. Ellen grabs a towel and steps from the shower, notes the stretch marks silvering her belly, more prominent since she shed those ten pounds. They never did fade much, and now they’re like ski trails seen through spring ice. Any minute Jilly will arrive with her pal Renée and Renée’s toddler, Hannah Rose. (Or not. Jilly’s relationship with the clock is casual.) When she was pregnant with Ardis, Ellen floated the name Hannah, but Artie vetoed it as too biblical. Typical Artie. If they’d had a son he’d have insisted on Joshua Arthur Draper, Jr., found some obscure reason why Joshua was not actually biblical. Back then, before you could find out the sex ahead of time, you chose a name for a boy, a name for a girl. Two arguments instead of one. Artie knew who he was, though; you’d have to give him that. And early on he knew he was not meant to be a dad. After he fled New York for Miami, Ellen came to prefer the clear dimensions of single parenthood. She’d kept her job at the ad agency through both pregnancies, and that was good—no back-to-work adjustments. As the most skilled of the department’s artists, she liked her job and earned a reasonable wage. Once a year Artie sent a check to cover child support, except when he didn’t. Eventually he’d make it up, and she let it go at that.
Solitaire by Anne Buckwalter © 2010 Ellen turns on the hair dryer and scrunches her waves into place. In the mirror her skin is blotchy and her highlights are inching toward unappealing ochre. Or maybe it’s just the light. Artie Draper, what a piece of work. Among other things, Ardis inherited his contentiousness. When Ellen met him in 1965, she’d found this trait admirable, a nice change from the men in Missouri who took pride in their reticence. It soon got old, but not soon enough, not before she married him. Cock-sure and proud of it. First-class bullshitter, ditto. At times Artie would catalogue his flaws as a kind of foreplay, chuckling over them with a dreamy fondness as he and Ellen snug-
gled on the sofa. It was arousing in a weird way, like watching masturbation. Artie still believes Ellen came up with the name Ardis as homage. In truth she’d kept it in mind since her teens, when she went through a phase of reading British novelists. It seemed at once both sturdy and exotic, a fine name for a firstborn daughter. But perhaps it had been unwise, so similar to “Artie”, encouraging Ardis to identify. When she’s annoyed, which is often, her voice takes on Artie’s bullying edge. She looks like him, too, something on the plus side. At thirty-one she’s tall and fair, her jutting chin either noble or assertive, depending on the situation. This is probably an asset in her
n a v i g a t i o n s job as an oncology nurse. Ardis is married to a recreational hunter, and animal parts—haunch, chops, the occasional liver—dominate her diet. She defends this by pointing to something she read that links diet to blood type. Ardis is Type O, the most ancient. The literature, as Ardis puts it, ties Os genetically to their hunter-gatherer ancestors. They require meat. Grains and vegetables are dietary no-nos for the roving O. Ellen is the same type. Her failure to adopt Ardis’ regimen is a bone of contention. During increasingly frequent raids on her mother’s East Side walk-up, Ardis thinks nothing of flinging open the refrigerator to inspect for signs of conversion. “Mother,” she says, shaking her head, “it’s small wonder you’re anemic.” Ellen has been unapologetically vegetarian since college, though she cheerfully cooked meat for her daughters when they decided they were not. Except for a bum knee from an old ski accident and a mild tendency toward anemia, she enjoys excellent health. This bugs Ardis to no end. “We’re talking long term here, Mother,” she says. Lower the voice an octave and you’d swear it was Artie. A few years after he decamped, Ellen let her daughters adopt a cat from the city shelter. They chose an amiable tom that Ardis named Moosey. Feeding and litter box duty were part of the deal, and the girls were pretty good about it, especially at first. But when Moosey developed urinary problems, it was Ellen who took the bathmat to the basement laundry every night. She paid astronomical vet bills without complaint until Moosey expired on a late-night emergency visit to Animal Medical Center. “You never wanted him in the first place,” Ardis accused, stoically dry-eyed while Ellen bawled along with Jilly in the backseat of the cab. “What’s that got to do with anything?” Ellen sobbed, but even as she spoke it was being writ large on the tablet of her failings.
Yes, Ardis is tough—but easier to take than Jilly, still demanding as a twoyear old, chronically broke, and a newlywed for the second time in six years. And where the heck is she, anyway? It’s after four already. Both of her husbands, past and current, are easygoing men, attractive in the same athletic, balding sort of way. Jilly’s spoiled-brat behavior seems to attract men, but it troubles Ellen. She’d been an attentive but even-handed parent, encouraging kindness and a sense of responsibility. Ardis is responsible. Neither one is kind. If only she didn’t love them. Like her father, Jilly keeps her options open. Lately she’s been hanging out with a group of new mothers, which is how she met Renée. She can spout off the merits of every park in Manhattan. She’s an authority on strollers. No job, but that’s nothing new. Maybe she’ll become a lactation consultant. Her present spouse, Ira, says he doesn’t want her to work. He wants her to ease up and learn to be happy. Good luck, Ira, thinks Ellen. She could kick herself, but there you have it. If only her girls were not so constantly in her face, couldn’t she be more patient? Lately she’s dreamed about moving a breathable distance from New York—Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore. Ellen pulls on her favorite jeans, newly comfortable and proudly baggy. Later she’s meeting Pradeep for dinner in the East Village. She’s picturing his long back, his questioning eyes. She’s in no big rush to sleep with Pradeep, though they’ve been seeing each other for months. Apparently this is mutual. Sometimes she wonders, though. He’s younger, late forties. Possibly she is not his only interest? Pradeep shares Ellen’s love of antique bottles and Fifties jazz, enjoys hanging out in flea markets. Jilly and Ardis are unaware of him—a small closet of privacy not yet ransacked by her daughters. Would they like him? Probably not. Both prefer less cerebral types. They’d never
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get his sense of humor. The first time Pradeep asked her out Ellen assumed he was kidding. His musical speech pattern tends to make whatever he says seem ironic. That’s part of his appeal, but it can be confusing. All that week he had been helping Ellen customize new software to prepare layouts. It was beyond frustrating, the program seizing up and an hour’s labor vanished. Nice of Pradeep; he had his own deadlines. “So what about dinner tonight, mein Schatz,” he said. They had worked again past nine. “Der Chinese,” answered Ellen, staring at her monitor. Pradeep had to wave his hand in front of it, make clear that he wanted to take her to dinner, not order out again. Even so, she felt like Chinese. They found a new place nearby and ordered without waiting for menus. A comfortable silence blanketed their fatigue as they drained the first pot of tea. When she tasted her eggplant with chilies, Ellen nudged the serving plate in Pradeep’s direction. He took a bite and smiled into the air as if at an invisible face. “Yes,” he said slowly. “Oh yes, I see.” What a lovely man. Why hadn’t she noticed him? Revived by the tea, Pradeep had regaled her with tales of his student days in Munich, where he toiled nights as a waiter in a beer garden. The patrons treated him poorly, mistaking him for a Turk, the lowest rung at the time on Munich’s social ladder. But he loved Germany—the mountains and forests, the medieval cities. Even the food, though he, like Ellen, is vegetarian. When their plates had been cleared, they snapped open the fortune cookies. “Blue is not your color,” read Ellen, peering down at her navy turtleneck. “What happened to Confucius?” “I don’t think it means that kind of blue,” said Pradeep. He intoned his fortune like a newscaster from the Thirties: “A dead duck is still a duck.” Not that funny, really, but something about it triggered a mutual giggling fit they couldn’t tamp,
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even when people at nearby tables began to frown. They had just about pulled themselves together when Pradeep slouched deep in his seat, garroting himself with his hands. “Still a duck,” he squawked, eyes bulging. They stumbled into the crisp night, laughter erupting every few steps until they had to rest against a building. Ellen invited him up for coffee. As if they needed more caffeine, but what the heck. How shabby the apartment looked all of a sudden: the walls needing paint, that grubby cotton bolster. It had been months since she viewed her surroundings through another’s eyes. Pradeep perched on the sagging sofa in a manner that seemed European, alert, and slightly formal. Unlike her other (infrequent) male visitors who were more apt to sink back on the cushions with a proprietary ease that irked her in a way she could never explain. “Tomorrow, then,” he said at the door, brushing her cheek with the backs of his fingers. Ellen had closed the door, run her own knuckles over her cheekbone, continuing the sensation. It occurred to her then that what made Pradeep’s accent so unusual was its tinge of German. A melting pot accent; she likes that. And she likes hearing snippets of his background piecemeal, whenever they happen to come up: a jigsaw puzzle of a man. Jilly leans on the buzzer while Ellen jogs barefoot to the foyer. “Jesus,” says Ellen, “look at you! Where are Renée and Hannah Rose? It’s six o’clock!” “The Lord’s name is not to be taketh in vain, Mother.” Jilly wipes her tearstained face, heading for the sofa. “Sorry, honey.” Jilly and Ira are newly fundamentalist, struggling with Biblical grammar. She keeps forgetting that. “Anyway, you look like hell—what happened?” “I’m pregnant, Mother,” says Jilly, as though Ellen might be implicated. She has recently adopted Ardis’ habit of speaking in italics. A grandchild? A little fin of hope
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swims by, but Ellen keeps her face neutral. “So, not good?” “Well of course it’s not good, Mother. We’ve been married six months! This was supposed to be the fun period.” Jilly buries her face in the bolster, shuddering silently. “So I guess it was,” says Ellen. She can’t help noting the scratched parquet—it’s bad here in front of the couch. Maybe she ought to get the floors redone. “I can’t believe this happened. What am I supposed to do?” Someone needs to be the voice of reason here, but Ellen’s tired of the role. Let someone else be the damned Voice of Reason for a change. She combs Jilly’s hair with her fingers, smoothing back platinum ringlets that spring forward as she releases them. Artie’s curls, Artie’s green cat eyes. “Okay,” she says, hefting the load because sure as hell no one else will. “Let’s start with what you want, Jilly. Let’s figure this out.” “Ira wants a child. Like it doesn’t matter what I want. I’m just the little hostess for this occasion.” “Mmmm, I see.” Ellen gets up and steps into the bathroom to a find a washcloth. “And according to Ira, abortion is out of the question,” Jilly says, mimicking Ira’s resonant bass. “But you knew Ira wanted kids right away. He told you when you met him. He even told me.” “Et tu, Mommy?” says Jilly, rolling her eyes. “How far along are you?” “Nine weeks. My gynecologist has reserved a bed at Roosevelt. He thinks there could be complications.” Jilly stiffarms herself off the couch and scuffs over to the window, swabbing her face with the washcloth. Ellen follows, pauses a step behind. Snowflakes are blowing sideways and swirling away on an updraft. How can that be, when there isn’t a cloud in the sky? “ “Can’t you give this more thought,
honey? You’ve had two abortions. Ira’s your second husband and—” “Is it necessary to remind me of these obvious facts, Mother? Can you have a little mercy?” Jilly leans hard into Ellen’s shoulder. “I’ll need you to come with me. You’ll have to take me home.” A wave breaks below Ellen’s breastbone, rises into her throat. It’s snowing harder, the sky suddenly dull. Winter, the time of beginnings. Pradeep’s sentences trail off as he stirs lazy eights into his lentil soup. Okay, probably a girlfriend, just as she suspected. “Well,” he starts, but pauses again. “Well, what?” says Ellen. Why make it easy? She’s pressing her thumbs into her temples, trying to stave off a headache. “Well, I’m thinking of going back to Germany.” His melancholy eyes lift. No guilt there. Ellen sighs and releases her thumbs. “So, that’s what the matter is. Why?” “I’ve been renting my apartment to a cousin, but he’s taken a job in Oslo. Also, my visa will soon expire.” He shrugs in that waifish way he has, making him look much younger, like a boy. Should she touch the tip of his nose with her finger—is that too dumb? She does it anyway. “I’ll miss you.” “I will miss you as well,” says Pradeep, looking like he means it. They fall silent, spoon up their soup, considering this. Ellen concentrates on tightening her forehead muscles, a headache-busting technique she learned in biofeedback training. Clench, release. Clench, release. Jilly’s predicament slogs through her brain like a swamp creature. “I was wondering whether you might like to come with me,” he continues. Ellen halts her spoon mid-air. “To Germany?” “Cologne.” That musical inflection, the faint gurgle of laughter. Clench, release. She’s been to Cologne—a group tour of Europe’s great cathedrals. Begun in 1248, the Cologne
j u d i t h a Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe . . . that ability to remember guidebook details, useless but occasionally amusing. “We barely know each other, Pradeep,” Ellen says. “We aren’t even having sex.” The Voice of Reason. “We are peaceful. Very comfortable,” says Pradeep, pronouncing all four syllables of “comfortable” in his Indo-German twang. “Agreed. But.” “Would the rest be a problem?” “The rest? What’s this, some kind of proposal?” “Marriage, do you mean?” Pradeep purses his lips. “If you would find it more suitable we could consider . . .” “I don’t seem to have an aptitude.” “Me either.” “I didn’t know you’d been married,” says Ellen. “Well, once almost.” He shrugs again, leans forward. “But what’s that you were just saying, Ellen, that you and I should be having sex?” “No. I was just pointing out that we aren’t.” “Well, possibly we should,” he says, brightening, as if this hadn’t occurred to him. Oh for god sake, talk about timing. “I guess my biggest concern would be getting a job over there,” Ellen says, more to herself than Pradeep. “Do not be concerned. I have excellent connections.” Ellen cups her eye. An anvil has sunk itself into her brow, and a zigzag border is forming around her vision. “You know what? I need some time to absorb all this.” “Of course. Plenty of time. What’s going on with your eye?” “Migraine.” “Oh, too bad. We’d better get you right home.” Pradeep cranes his neck, looking for the waiter. “When are you thinking of leaving?” “Next month. I’ve purchased my ticket.”
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Phone by Julie Laquer © 2010 “Cologne?” shrieks Ardis through the phone. “Honestly, Mother, you never cease to amaze. What can you be thinking?” “You can visit me. Think bratwurst, think schnitzel.” “Seriously!” “Seriously, why not?” “Well, for starters, who is this guy? What do you know about him?” Ellen switches the phone to her other ear. “I know he’s a German citizen.” “Great, Mother. A German. They’re barbarians.” “Listen to you, Ardis. Your Grandpa Koester was German.” “I’m talking Nazi resurgence, Mother. And if that doesn’t freak you out, how about terrorism. Don’t you read the newspaper? There are big problems over there.” Ellen sighs. “There are big problems everywhere, Ardis. And Pradeep is a very peaceful man.”
“You’re going to Germany with an Indian?” “Name does sound Indian, doesn’t it?” “I’m coming over.” Ardis marches in, armed with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, a sack of roasted cashews, and beef jerky wrapped in cellophane. “Offerings!” cries Ellen gaily. She pecks Ardis’ cheek and goes off to search for the corkscrew, while Ardis prowls the living room, slouches into the Windsor chair. She runs her hands up and down the wooden arms, caressing the carved paws. “Ardis, don’t look so grim,” says Ellen, returning with the opened wine and two stemmed glasses. “This is not the end of Western civilization. Let’s have some of your nice wine.” “You’re an adult, Mother. I’m not here to insult your intelligence.” “Excellent.” “So don’t insult mine. This is unrea-
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sonable.” “Unexpected, perhaps. Why unreasonable?” “What are you going to do for money?” “Got it covered.” Ardis straightens, remembering her mission. “You understand that his mother will own you. You will wash this woman’s feet.” Ellen nibbles her bottom lip to suppress a smile. “You’ll be relieved to know that Pradeep’s mother has been dead for fifteen years, Ardis, so I doubt there will be any foot washing to speak of. Besides, we have no plans to marry. We haven’t even decided whether to live together.” Ardis frowns, sniffs her cabernet. “You’re in love with this Pra-deep?” “You might call it that.” It occurs to Ellen that this is the first time in years she’s glimpsed uncertainty in her eldest. It’s refreshing. Touching, actually. She’s about to reach for Ardis’ hand, say something conciliatory, when the buzzer signals Jilly’s arrival. Without taking off her faux-leopard coat, Jilly flings herself on the sofa. “Tell me this isn’t permanent!” “Don’t know, Jill. Could be permanent. Why not?” says Ellen, sitting down beside her. She strokes Jilly’s coat, so silky, so close to real. “Because it’s too friggin’ far!” “Didn’t God make planes? Didn’t He create phones?” Ellen grabs a handful of cashews. She hasn’t felt this good in months. “But you know Ira and I are separating. I was thinking of moving back home for a while.” The crestfallen face, the desperate eyes. Ah, Artie. Silence dangles like an apple, waiting to be plucked. “Well,” says Ellen, reaching for it. “I don’t see why you couldn’t.” She leans forward for a moment, hands on her thighs, then rockets up, propelled by an unfamiliar energy. “They can’t prove you ever left, can they? You could move right in, Jilly. No sublet!” Jilly shoots Ardis a look.
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Wissahickon Winter by Marita McVeigh © 2010 “You can get a job, move right in,” repeats Ellen, waving an imaginary baton. “It’s still rent-stabilized.” “Alone?” says Jilly, drawing out the “o.” Artie getting ready to work the angles, Ellen hears it immediately. “Or, find yourself a roommate, get married again, whatever.” “Get married again?” Both girls are staring now. “She’s going,” says Ardis, her mouth full of beef jerky. “And don’t forget there’s Ardis a mere subway stop away.” Ellen heads for the kitchen to find another wineglass, calling over her shoulder as if across a great body of water. “Right here at home, Jilly, all the comforts. And Ardis ready to advise on almost anything.” “What’s that about?” says Ardis, gripping the paws of her chair. “How should I know?” says Jilly, but already she’s redrawing her bead. “You’re the big expert.” Ellen roots among the shelves above the stove. There’s got to be another wine glass in here. Oktoberfest, wouldn’t that be something! she’s thinking, or did she say it
aloud? Bayreuth! Kirshekuchen like Mom used to buy at that little bakery in St. Louis. Her disembodied voice wafts into the living room. “What did she say?” says Ardis. “Sounded like and dim sum!” “We can’t hear you mother,” calls Jilly. “What?” Head and shoulders in the cabinet, Ellen hums the final bars of “Lili Marlene,” all she can remember from when her daddy used to sing it after the war. A newly-minted citizen, he’d fought with the Americans, the only guy in his battalion who knew the words in both languages. “Shush, Jilly! Shut up!” says Ardis, learning forward, cupping her ear. But there’s nothing now except the urgent ring of glasses being jostled—a bit roughly, perhaps, but not to the point of breaking.
Juditha Dowd lives north of Trenton on the Jersey side of the Delaware. Her work has been published in The Florida Review, Perigee and AARP Magazine, and been featured on Poetry Daily. She performs in the tri-state area with the ensemble Cool Women and is currently working on a second novel.
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THE BABY As I turn 38 and keep stocking drawers full of dreams and half-completed projects, I’m pushing forward with one big initiative: I’m having an imaginary baby. Why not? My friend Laura and I share imaginary cocktails via instant messenger at work. I talk to my guardian angel a lot (if shadows are angels). I sometimes comfort myself with the idea of alternate universes where I’m adored and published, or in prison, maybe all of these. Reasons why I want this baby: 1) I’m selfish. 2) My routine bores me. 3) Imaginary babies are less creepy than imaginary boyfriends. 4) I’m pretty sure I have really good advice to give. Unlike the dreamy-eyed hippies I got for parents, I will be candid. Here’s the set up: each family is a mini kingdom uniquely composed of demanding princesses with half-baked ideas about ruling. Every time you leave the house, you run into princesses who refuse to admit their titles, but like to pull rank. The important thing to remember when dealing with royalty is that there is protocol. Like any good tourist, you must observe the customs to the best of your ability and when committing a faux pas, remain polite. The other good bit of advice: it’s okay to go to bed drunk without brushing your teeth. I’m having this child because I’ve earned it—the search was long and arduous—because I’ve found the right child for me, and because it makes the commute to work that much more pleasant. And finally, because my child is fun and has good ideas.
Before my plan was formulated, my baby was hard to find. I looked for the baby in the eyes of men, sometimes in the eyes of women, but I did not find my baby. I only knew its ghostly absence in my arms weighing on me. I clutched a gaping
space, not in my body, but on my body. Full of the absence of the baby I didn’t have, I carried the emptiness around like an invisible baby front pack—you’ve seen them. They’re called Baby Björns, by the way. I’m an accomplished singleton: I make and eat delicious food alone. I’m an expert at solo lovemaking. I’m not an imaginative daydreamer, but I am close to my heart’s desires. My heart is full of invisible people — the friends and family I bring with me everywhere I go, inspiring authors and heroes whom I love, the half-baked crushes that add intrigue to my daily life. They are a rich society that is known only to me, part anchored in the world, and part whispering wishes. The real world is, well, tangible, and quite demanding. Case in point, my friends’ lively offspring whose charms have matching drawbacks—like the bossiness and the tears, and the abundant curry-colored shit overflowing the diaper and dripping onto the carpet. These are drawbacks I would only dream of tackling in a team formation. Thus my baby, imaginary, and loaded with optional features tailored to my lifestyle. No curry-colored shit for me. I won’t deny that I long for the body warmth of a real baby, but for now, I will be satisfied with this: My baby tells me stories to put me to sleep at night and holds my hand when I cross the street, but walks at my pace and I don’t pack a stroller. This is ironic because I lust for the big-wheeled strollers ambitiously fit parents run behind. Just cause they look so sporty and nurturing, simultaneously. My baby wasn’t born all at once. Or rather, she has been born often and dissipates back into star-stuff as needed. This process, like the singing of a song,
is repetitive and allows for fine tuning or the universe’s baby-sitting, depending. She’s kind of a lease baby, but these are advantageous terms. She’s sleek and plush, and shape-shifty, like a dream car or a good pet rolled into one. But human. Making an alien would be too weird. What’s nice about parenting is that there are no licenses and no tests, it’s your business until it becomes the State’s. You can fuck up just until the damage is so extraordinarily obvious that law obliges third parties to call in licensed professionals. Abuse notwithstanding, what scares me about parenting is that there are always plentiful bystander judgments. You’re being observed, and you are found wanting. More than usual, I mean. Thus again, imaginary baby. Who never cries herself to sleep. The baby doesn’t have a real name yet, but that’s her doing. She’s to pick out her name. She likes to change them
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up. Today she’s Roujika, but I bet she’ll go back to something a little less interesting in a few days. Emma seemed to stick for a while. I sometimes wish I had a boy so I could call him Rafael. I’m a sucker for Italian boy names. But I really wanted a girl. Girls are easier, and I can relate. I’m not sure what I would tell a boy. I’d cram his head full of feminist ideas, encourage him to read books— he’d be reviled by jocks. It would be tough going. Obviously, I haven’t fully imagined my baby yet. Most parents enjoy a minimum of nine months to accustom themselves to the notion of parenting. So I’m taking my time getting to know my baby. For example, I’m pretty sure that my baby is a good sleeper like me, not an early morning person, but a child that likes the smell of coffee. Specifically I start the day in a leisurely fashion. My child only wakes once I have drunk one full hot cup of java. A friend suggested that I have a baby whose nostrils, when I squeezed the baby’s head, produce coffee. Now that’s monstrous. I’m not look-
ing for a coffee maker. I have a coffee maker. Having my baby wasn’t so hard. There was no need to locate an inseminator, no need for a pre-baby diet, special baby vitamins, or post baby regimen. No need to think about the sad fate in store for my breasts, inflating and deflating, sucked dry. My baby is body friendly. No c-section about it. Ponder the word delivery. Delivery is a strange, ominous word. It implies imprisonment or the arrival of packages that require a signature. Your body is to deliver the goods, the giant, multipound, independent mechanism that wants you to spend all your money on its education. Luckily, I have no educational costs, I home school my baby while I work. The day, as I said, starts with coffee. We take a shower, the baby scrubs my back, and I help her shampoo. We moisturize. I get dressed on my own. The baby draws the clothes she wants to wear that week, they materialize, she puts them on, and we have a fashion show. Sometimes I suggest alternate colors or fabrics, but, by and large, we agree. This takes place on Sundays; I don’t have time the rest of the week. On Mondays, the baby helps me with my commute; she holds my bags and we comment about the people on the trolley: their weird hats, their unfortunate lipsticks, their sleepy eyes. We wonder what their professions might be. My baby girl, she wants to be an archeologist or a dentist—precision instruments for cleaning either way. She doesn’t get that from me. I suck at cleaning. Once I get to work, the baby plays with my feet while I check my email. She sings songs, and draws, and generally has a good time ripping paper all day. When I need a break, or when I feel overwhelmed, we take five minutes and she holds me close and pets my hair. At
lunch, I tell her stories, other jobs, other places I’ve been. She likes it when I talk about Hong Kong. We agree it’s a cool city. At 3 p.m., I riffle through my candy drawer and the baby gives me looks because she knows I’ll complain about my thighs eventually. Luckily the baby doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth which is convenient when I’m sneaking chocolate and don’t feel like sharing. I don’t like saying no to her, so that works out. I haven’t introduced her to my coworkers. They might be alarmed that she’ll distract me or lower my productivity. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I work harder when the baby’s around-it’s easier to do things for someone else. I am working hard and saving up for vacation. I can’t wait to show her the world. After work, we walk home together and enjoy the changing seasons. There’s no fighting at bath time, and she likes to go to sleep early in the evening. Before I make dinner. She’s easy going. If I go out for drinks after work, she’ll let herself into the apartment, eat a little something and go to sleep on her own. The universe turns out to be a generous neighbor— It’s always Saturday night, and the universe is always available, knows infant CPR, and doesn’t eat my food or make prank calls from my landline. This leaves me with a lot of time for dating, which apparently I should put more energy into. So she tells me, the baby, not the universe.
Sylvie Beauvais received her Master's of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004. Her novella, Fly, Rapunzel was a finalist in Low Fidelity Press’s 2006 Novella Award Contest. She has been a writer and editor for start-ups and non-profits, but is now focused on publishing her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
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Spring 2010 issue of Philadelphia Stories magazine.