The Merrimack Review Issue One: Spring 2014
The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary and art magazine. We only accept submissions from undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of academic institution or program of study, with the purpose of giving new and emerging writers/artists a space of their own. We are a proud member of The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and we are sponsored by Merrimack Collegeâ€˜s Writers House: www.merrimack.edu/academics/the-writershouse.
Editor: Robert Cannella Poetry Editor: Brad Wall Fiction Editor: Michelle Athena Norton Nonfiction Editor: Julia Lemieux Design & Layout: Ashley Yenick Advisor: Andrea Cohen
Cover art: SAM MURAI by Shailinn Messer www.housefire.deviantart.com
Web: www.merrimackreview.com Email: email@example.com Twitter: @MerrimackReview
CONTENTS INTERVIEW My Poems Avoid Higher Math: A Short Interview with Bob Hicok
POEMS Bob Hicok: Not that you asked What’s the word for what’s the word for?
Eloisa Amezcua: Geography Skowhegan
Jose Angel Araguz: Icarus La Esquina
Robert DiSorbo: Uncle Earl’s War
Brionne Janae: God I’ve grown
James Kwapisz: Morning at a Cemetery
Molly Middleton Meyer: Echo of Bones, After Neruda
Arianna Riccio: Origami
Kayla Russell: Grocery Store Addicts In the Wake of Impending Decisions
Adam Tedesco: This Morning
FICTION Alison Cheng: Nymphalidae
Timothy Judd: Savage
NONFICTION Theresa Flynn: Wally’s
My Poems Avoid Higher Math: A Short Interview with Bob Hicok Bob Hicok‘s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, The Paris Review, and many other publications. He is the author of seven collections, including Insomnia Diary, This Clumsy Living, and Words for Empty and Words for Full. His most recent release is Elegy Owed, available from Copper Canyon Press. He teaches creative writing at Virginia Polytechnic and State University. Robert Cannella: Reviewers have commented that your poetry is accessible and lacks pretension. What does that mean to you? What makes your poetry this way? Bob Hicok: It would be pretentious to say why my poetry lacks pretension. I‘m not sure it does. It definitely lacks calculus. My poems avoid higher math. Though I was good at math, skills that have since atrophied. I have poems that are accessible and poems that live in locked rooms. I‘ve noticed a tendency over the years on the part of reviewers to overlook that. If that sounds like a complaint, that‘s just because I‘m bitter. RC: Your most recent release, Elegy Owed, is your seventh book. What is the biggest change you‘ve seen in your writing since publishing your first books? How have you changed as a poet? BH: I‘m not nearly as narrative as I was at the start. And weirder – my poems have become weirder. And more pretentious. RC: People tweeted and emailed each other your poems about the Virginia Tech shooting in the days following Sandy Hook. In other words, a number of people turned to your poetry for solace when confronted with tragedy. Did you envision your poetry having this effect? BH: No. I never think about my poems being read. People told me this was going on. I‘d say I was glad that happened, but I wasn‘t, for obvious reasons. RC: What role should poetry play in everyday life? BH: None. Should sounds like eating vegetables. I‘m sorry – I sort of criticized your question there. But I don‘t like should. I‘m guessing that your question has to do, in part, with poetry‘s diminished status in our culture. I certainly wish poetry still didn‘t seem so strange to people. Which is weird, given that, if people write, they‘re more likely to write poetry than anything else, in my experience. With that in mind, I think poetry is an every-day thing for many. RC: You took what many would consider an unusual path toward becoming a poet. You didn‘t start writing until you were in your twenties, owned an automotive die design business, and published four books of poetry before getting an MFA. You mentioned in an interview with Gulf Coast that you were happy to develop on your own. Is developing on your own with no formal training better? How have these experiences made you a different writer from people who pursued the more traditional path of studying writing at the undergraduate and graduate levels before starting their writing careers?
BH: Better? For some. The MFA has become an assumed thing, a staple. We‘re losing sight of the fact that people did fine without them. I‘ve taught too long in one to overlook that they have a tendency to push people away from their oddities, and it‘s the oddities that mark you as you, not me. My route was so solitary that influence was never an issue or option, and I‘m grateful for that. RC: As a professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech, what are the most important things you try to teach your students about writing? BH: I want them to identify their subjects – the things they care about – and get a feel for how their minds differ from other minds. This sort of goes back to the earlier question about MFAs. People have a tendency to write like other people and take on concerns that aren‘t really their own. Once I‘m able to point at a poem and say, that‘s you, something large tends to open up for the poet.
Not that you asked This leaf fell last fall I‘d been dating with my eyes by the time I got downstairs, I couldn‘t tell it from anyone else, they all looked the same, I felt racist and lonely and wanted to run all the way back to my childhood to hug the tree when it was a sapling this is never how they use time travel in movies, I‘m too emotional to be a leading man, I‘m a character actor, which is someone who pretends to have character, I‘ve been pretending to have character since I didn‘t save Joseph Bonafiglio from Joseph Bonafiglio, who I knew had a razor blade but no facial hair and some very sad veins when I was allowed to go into his room and take one thing, I took the hole he'd punched in the wall a hole is a hard thing to carry it needs something to be carried in but a hole is adamant that it doesn‘t believe in anything, holes are nihilists like heroes in westerns who want to shoot zeroes in people and go it alone but I could carry the hole because I saw it being made, I saw his fist give birth to absence and took the hole because no one else could see it in my thoughts, it was a privacy between me and a dead boy, it was the open mouth of his confusion
and Iâ€˜ve held it for years between me and the pillow, between me and the shape of me in the air
What’s the word for what’s the word for? We call it a rose of Sharon but what if it‘s a rose of Steve we keep meaning to trim on the tall orange ladder -I think I‘m a man but every fall when maple leaves break up with maple trees, my heart wants to run away with them to the curb -a friend when she was younger liked to cut her thigh and came better with a razor blade than with a man or woman or her hand, what kind of shit am I, she wondered aloud to the bottom of a shot glass, a glass that had shot no one that we knew of but was taking the rap -she‘s a mom now and we don‘t talk anymore about how she comes or doesn‘t or about what things really are underneath what they seem to be, like the sky being the top of a doll house or my wife's breath a note I keep finding in a bottle, a clear bottle that seems determined to rescue me
Geography God talks to us in the map in his geographic voice. -Adélia Prado When I‘m in Boston, God‘s in Tenochtitlan. I stand at the mall directory near 55B, he‘s at 3A. When I‘m home, he‘s tomorrow. Yesterday‘s coffee sits cold in the pot and I woke this morning thinking yellow. I‘d said it in a dream. Said it to myself remembering the stench of banana peel in the garbage, which is why I don‘t eat yellow fruit. It travels so far to get here, and by that time, it‘s gone bad. Maybe it‘s distance I fear. The thing that separates I from me. At twenty-four, I can feel myself getting older. One breast shrinking in retaliation, wanting a return to childhood. Days of flatness and lists of crushes written on bathroom stalls at school. When you start your period in fifth grade, time passes month to month, trying hard not to stain your plaid skirt. Now, squatting over the trail of ants on the kitchen floor, they crawl one behind the other. I get lost in the pattern. Alternating slivers: tile, ant, tile, ant, tile, ant, tile. It‘s as endless as the number of postcards I wait for, knowing they won‘t arrive because they were never sent. I‘m in Boston and I can‘t hear him calling.
Skowhegan Over the phone, I asked you to tell me a love story. You began with your father and his brother opening a trout hatchery in Maine; your father‘s brother was deaf, and at fourteen, he ran away, the note on his pillow read I’m going to Martha’s Vineyard even though the island‘s sign language was twenty-years dead. Your father drove for hours, found him in Manchester staring at the bluegills in Merrimack River. When they neared home, they stopped at a pet store, your father bought him two guppies. You told me of the hatchery‘s close, how your father left Maine and met your mother. I thought this was your transition into our story— but instead, you told me fish communicate by vibrating, and you thought your uncle could hear.
JOSE ANGEL ARAGUZ
Icarus Take these words as small fingers pointing at victory, a hand reaching out to catch a feather, a drop of wax, something of the spectacle which might have never felt like falling.
JOSE ANGEL ARAGUZ
La Esquina Where men hold bottles the color of their skin, wince and laugh. Part of themselves leaves their lips, returns silent. They stare at nothing, eyes rimmed with light: the eyes of dogs waiting out a fire.
Uncle Earl’s War August 1965 Groveland, Massachusetts
I was bred to die a soldier, but now that I‘m older I could go into law, or commerce, or be a teacher, I just don‘t want to be my Uncle Earl, I listen to him preach or, no—spew, ―Four generations of Wrights before you laid their head on foreign soil,‖ Every time he tells me, I can tell he feels a little less loyal than his father, or mine, or his own Uncle Shea, see, Uncle Earl is a little crazy, it amazes me how scattered he seems, I wonder what‘s in the world that he sees, or what he dreams— Does he see my father dragging him from the crossfire? Does he see the blaze that blanketed his brother as he looked up from the torn flesh of his right thigh? or maybe he sees the children from town yelling, ―Duck! Cover!‖ as they ride by him on the street on their Schwinn‘s and Huffy‘s, It‘s that moment, when Uncle Earl is struggling to climb out of the shrubbery he sought for cover from a child‘s prank, I consider that maybe I will die a soldier, so long as I don‘t survive as one.
God I’ve grown a woman afraid of small things: the outhouse black when the moon is thin and hunched behind clouds gray like spirits gathered overhead the bend of saplings when winds rush and rivers rise, of going under— of higher ground. of momma drinking hootch and striking flint, of kindling, of kitchen fire, of glowing ash, pa‘s sunday suit and church folk whispering him pulling a switch and raising my dress, of blood between my legs going dry, it turning brown it disappearing, of this tiny body that lies so still—lord I can‘t raise this boy with his daddy up north or dead in a ditch or cozied up with some high chinned gal with pearls round her neck lord be with me, lord be with me.
Morning at a Cemetery A morning is gained by a night lost. One beer too many, incentives too few. But I canâ€˜t complain, having this as cost for my lethargy, for Iâ€˜ve re-found you, Morning, buzzing life loud, chirping strange sweet songs in odd measures; calls and cries only the singers can understand. And here I sit, wondering what a wonder it is what Iâ€˜m sitting in. This tree, or trees, I lounge betwixt, looking like some stool turned upside down, having four legs protruding from the ground among the company of Huguenot graves. And as I sit I watch my remedial smoke curl and ribbon up the grooves of bark, and study the graves, finding the same names again and again. Mourning the death of my hangover, I find it hard to see the seriousness of the cemetery when I see a headstone
that reads ELF. Well, that surely adds to the mysticism of the morning, so, hereâ€˜s to you, Elf.
MOLLY MIDDLETON MEYER
Echo of Bones, After Neruda Love is so short, forgetting is so long—Pablo Neruda
He swallowed enchiladas verdes a month before the gun. She refused to see his raptor, blinded by the sun—and the red noise of bones. September raindrops muddle your cupped palm, the last Thanksgiving, crayons in a casket, eight candles snuffed. Silence echoes a red noise of bones. In the duped light of youth, another forgives his temporal home, plays a riff for Peter, strums tattoos and sea glass. Requiem for the red noise of bones. For her grandsons, quilted jungles, firecracker buttons. For granddaughters, lace towers, rick-rack mares. Will knotted thread mend her red noise of bones? His watch unwinds misplaced time. I didn’t know that, again and again. Nightingales hush their broken wings and bequeath the red noise of bones. Old trees shift light and shadow, hold stories we forget, forgive the seasons our sorrows. Root, branch, leaf, bloom—quell my red noise of bones.
Origami Tiny pieces of folded paper litter the ground. Some are crushed to near disintegration. Others. Others are pieces of art all folded and cut From a life that was far too long. They are damaged, all of them, Damaged by the doubt that constricts your blood and imprisons your soul until your only desire is to desire something - anything, if only you could trust yourself to decide. Damaged by the fear of saying the right thing to the right person and discovering it‘s not so right after all but wanting this person so deeply you can‘t find your own body. Damaged by the worry that this day might be your last and worried when you need for it to end because the mystery of death is so great it consumes your every breath. Damaged, no, not damaged - torn by the desire to question your safe world and seek another life where your only objective is one of survival. Torn by the regret of forgetting to say ‗I love you‘ to a stranger who once wasn‘t a stranger but now haunts you so much so you become a stranger to yourself. Torn by the torture of having lied to those you trust most but knowing that they will never know this lie will save them one day. Maybe. And torn, but in a strange way fixed. Fixed by the touch of your foe as she hugs you because she was the only one to realize you suffer, just like her. Fixed by a letter from your mother containing pieces of a childhood so magical that you hid it for fear of falling into a dream world and refusing to come out. Fixed by the gift that took you so by surprise you found yourself crying next to the Christmas tree and everyone‘s watching but you can‘t stop because you‘re finally whole and it feels so good just to cry and love all at the same time. And fixed, no, saved, no, fulfilled. Fulfilled when the scars of your folds become tattoos of god-like significance. And fold by fold, you live again. And fold by fold, you love each crease with such passion your heart becomes a lotus Blossom. And fold by fold, you understand. How dead you‘d be Without the damage.
Grocery Store Addicts Katie is my favorite drug addict. She doesn‘t try to hide it, I once watched her sit on the floor of the bakery eating from a tub of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies in full uniform, eyes red, barely open. She‘s not like Janet, her uniform dirty with denial, who gives a sunken tooth smile walking around like the lines of Seventeen Magazine are based on her life. She‘s not quite like Lisa, who is held up with pride. Getting dropped off and picked up for each shift by a different customer. Always smiling to herself after she has swallowed. The clicks of her cheetah stilettos echo across the tile on her cat walk to the locker room. She can‘t resist bragging about the men and money at her mercy. When Katie slept with Randy, The unhappily married full time stoner, she simply stated ―I was really messed up and he went for it.‖ When he left his wife and transferred to a store in Nantucket she told him she was a creature of convenience and never visited. The last day I saw her she was sober. Katie told me ―the stuff‖ was killing her. She offered me a ride home,
but knowing her relationship with car accidents, I politely said no.
In the Wake of Impending Decisions Our vices chase us from the ICA‘s fourth floor to the Beer Gardens on Boston harbor. We smoke on strangers‘ apartment staircases and in the Silver line‘s Court House stop, trying our best to avoid cameras. We drink pinot from plastic water bottles calling wine crystal lite, like no one can tell as we laugh openly at the ‗Saved by Jesus or Go to Hell‘ Guy on the subway, applaud him when he gets off at Wood Island. Killing time in Wonderland Parking Garage, watching Josh toss change at traffic signs and gutters. Above the entrance our bodies throw burnt cigarettes into the street. The 455 could not contain our sleepless feet. We are in motion, seizing our nights that amount to more than application fees and deadlines, fearing the moments of pause, when we are forced to consider what direction we need to be going.
This Morning I‘m realizing my barber has become the curator of a collection of hairs currently on loan to my head. My son‘s becoming a man that will one day laugh at my discursive speech and lumbering movements. The hands at each arm‘s end: They‘re fossilizing. Punched too many brick faces, swung too many hammers… I‘m embarrassed by my face. I don‘t hate it. I‘m beyond the need for looks now. It gives too much away. You can smell alcohol in all the products of my body. Aquaman‘s kryptonite was alcohol. I‘m a Pisces. I now know more people than ever. I am now a stranger to more people than ever. Realizing this, I feel estranged from myself. I‘m smiling about this. Last night I climbed a mountain inside the oil mill where my grandfather worked for thirty five years. He was never a stranger.
Nymphalidae They called her Mademoiselle Papillon, even though they weren‘t in Paris, she wasn‘t French and that wasn‘t her name. But it didn‘t matter—the landlady wanted her to be French and so she was, just like the other four girls who lived in the house. And when they had taken her in and told her that in the Palais, she was to limit her wardrobe to the white dresses they gave her (at least until after dinner), learn to speak with a French accent instead of her natural tone, and that when a customer asked, her name was Mademoiselle Papillon, she considered for a moment, then said ―Yes.‖ And the landlady reprimanded her for not saying ―Oui.‖ It had taken her some time to adjust to the Palais‘ luxury. The first time the girls had taken her on a tour of the house, it had taken her breath away. The entryway, with a high mahogany desk attended by the landlady on weekdays and the stern-faced Madame Andrews on weekends, painted with alternating wide stripes of white and gold; the pastel green waiting room that took up half of the first floor, filled with couches and chaises and high-backed chairs arranged in a deliberately casual manner around the glass fireplace in the center that housed a small flame no matter the season, and the wall lined with bookcases that carried leather-bound novels and Shakespearian plays in English, French and Spanish; the dining room with a grand oak table with intricately carved edges, always set with china and gold-rimmed wine glasses, and ten throne-like chairs, their cushions embroidered with birds and flowers and vines; the adjoining room that housed every type of French wine the landlady could collect, along with liquors from other places across the globe and a bartender the girls teasingly called Pierre, as he rolled his eyes and said in a distinctly Northern accent his name was William. The bar also contained a door that led to the kitchen—and a gorgeous kitchen it was, one that let in plenty of sunlight that glinted off the silver and copper of the pots and pans and always smelt of cinnamon, cumin or sage—but Mademoiselle Papillon knew that customers were not allowed in the kitchen and if they asked what was behind the door, she was to smile coyly and refresh their drink, but not answer. But, even though the entire first floor was beautiful, the landlady having been meticulous in its detail, the true beauty of the Palais lay in the bedrooms upstairs. The first time Mademoiselle Papillon was shown to her room and the girls told her it was her room, the first 22
room she‘d ever had to herself in all her nineteen years, she had cried. Because who wouldn‘t cry if they had been given a room painted buttercup yellow that contained a bed with silky sheets and at least a dozen soft pillows to rest against every night, a closet full of gorgeous white dresses in every style, cut perfectly to her measurements, and a rug that tickled her feet every morning when she rose, making sure her day started with a smile? Of course, she had brought pieces of her old life into the room—a photograph she had taken of the moon over the harbor, an ornately framed mirror that had belonged to her long-dead mother, a small empty perfume bottle from a past lover—but she had few reminders that she would have wanted brought with her and fewer the landlady had approved of. It was true that her room was the smallest on the floor, and that the other girls had colors that they had chosen instead of being assigned, and the oldest even had room for a piano, but Mademoiselle Papillon didn‘t care.
Every girl agreed that their favorite part of their rooms was the view from their window—not that it was an actual view, of course, not in their line of work, that would have been ridiculous. Instead of boring white screens behind glass, every bedroom had a view of the city of Paris at night, with the Eiffel Tower lit up and the windows of the buildings below glowing. It didn‘t matter that it was the same picture for all five rooms and all five windows. It didn‘t matter that the picture was old and if you looked at it for too long, you could see the sun damage and the wrinkled corners. It didn‘t matter that, without that picture, the girl‘s windows would oversee only dirty city streets continuously crammed with people who were disappointingly ignorant (in the eyes of Mademoiselle Papillon) to the world preserved within the walls of the Palais. The photograph was just one more piece of magic that the Palais contained. Of course, not everyone on the streets was ignorant of the Palais, but, as with everything, there were levels of awareness. There were the tourists who took pictures of the building, commenting on the Victorian architecture, wishing to go inside, wondering if the flashes of movement they saw in the windows were people or ghosts. There were the policemen who would pass by, looking with suspicion on the house—they had no reason to suspect the building, and yet, some part of them knew that the women who answered the door and answered so perfectly, too perfectly, their questions, were not quite right. There were the employees of the Palais, who
knew without being told its purpose and didn‘t ask questions, more interested in receiving their pay than upholding the law. And then there were the customers. There were always five customers, Wednesday through Sunday, for 7:30 at night— they would tell Madame Andrews at the front desk they had a place reserved for dinner, to which she would respond, ―And will you be staying for dessert?‖ And they would say ―Yes,‖ and pay the cover fee, (―Just high enough to keep out the street trash,‖ said the landlady) then go into the bar and order a glass of something from Pierre before sitting down on one of the cushioned sofas, perhaps picking out a book and browsing through it or chatting casually with each other about their jobs, their families, their hobbies. While the men sat there, the girls would come downstairs, sometimes all at once, sometimes in pairs, sometimes one at a time and mingle among the men, talking and teasing and laughing in their perfectly French accents as though every man they spoke to was their best friend. They would giggle and laugh and drink until the landlady announced that dinner was served and then the girls would lead the men into the dining room and pull out their chairs and top off their wine before seating themselves. Then one of the kitchen staff would bring out the meals, and all would eat and every customer would express how tender and perfectly spiced the meat was, how wonderfully flavorful the vegetables were, how the wine Pierre had chosen was the best pair with the meal. The landlady would never join the girls and the customers, preferring to watch the tableau unfold from the kitchen, always smiling quietly to herself. It was Mademoiselle Papillon‘s favorite part of the day While the girls and their clients were eating and drinking and laughing behind the doors of the dining room, there were two maids who turned down the beds for the dessert, moving quietly from room to room under the cover of the clinking of glasses and the tinkling laughter under their feet. By the time the dishes had been cleared and the men had chosen a girl to entertain them, the lights in all the rooms had been dimmed, the sheets turned down, and the girls‘ nightclothes laid out for them in the bathroom they shared so they could change in peace while the men were shown to their rooms by the landlady. This bit of the nightly ritual never took longer than thirty minutes, but it was always soothing to Mademoiselle Papillon to hear her friends‘ soft voices whispering and giggling about the customers waiting in their rooms as they changed and brushed each other‘s hair and sprayed perfume onto their necks. It was relaxing and beautiful in its simple nature, but more
importantly, it was something Mademoiselle Papillon had never had before being offered a job at the Palais—it was sisterhood and friendship and an understanding that could not be put in words.
He is waiting for her in her bedroom, but there is something different about him. Whereas the men in the other four rooms have already arranged themselves on the beds in various states of undress, some with more wine in hand, some not, but all laying claim to the room, in the same delusional way that every other man before them had also laid claim there, he is upright, fullydressed though he is sweating through both his shirt and his jacket, and pacing, taking periodic sips from a shaking glass. No one comes to the Palais to pace. They come to do many things, but all in the name of relaxation—and pacing is not relaxation. He tries sitting on the edge of the bed, breathing deliberately if shallowly, then shakes his head and starts pacing again. One room over, a different man frowns at the wall before the woman he is with distracts him—not that it takes much effort on her part. ―Have you had a long day, monsieur?‖ Her voice comes as though out of nowhere, at least to the pacing man. He spins in shock, pale as a ghost and wide-eyed not in anticipation, but in fear. He does not know what to expect—he hadn‘t anticipated the Palais being so… captivating, so enticing. The woman who is standing in the door doesn‘t help him—she‘s temptation incarnate, both innocence and sin, encased in a gown of black silk designed to slide off her body at the slightest encouragement. He stares at her, words failing him entirely, mouth opening and closing like a fish plucked from its ocean home. ―Monsieur?‖ she says, taking a step closer, worry coloring her voice slightly—though whether the emotion is genuine is impossible to discern. ―Are you alright? Would you like some water? I can call the maid—‖ The man shakes his head and finally manages to speak. ―No, I‘m fine.‖ His voice is shaking as badly as his hands, but the girl doesn‘t react—many of the men she has hosted have been intimidated by her and she knows that it will pass. He swallows and squeezes out a few more words, his voice breaking at the end of his question. ―What‘s your name, again?‖ ―I am Mademoiselle Papillon,‖ she says, gliding to the bed and climbing onto it, her dark eyes never leaving his face, tongue flicking enticingly over lips that had been painted the perfect shade of red. ―Who are you?‖
―James,‖ says the man. He seems to be purposefully keeping his eyes off her, as though he is just barely resisting joining her, touching her, caressing her. She knows this, and can‘t make sense of why he is not acting on his primal urges—she can hear her sister a room over gasping in rhythm (as she always does) as her partner obeys his urges. But this is no matter to Mademoiselle Papillon—unlike the other girls, she doesn‘t mind a challenge. ―James, would you like to join me? It‘s awfully cold by myself.‖ She cocks her head to the side as her voice purrs out. He rubs his head. ―I-I-I…‖ He sets his glass down deliberately, then shakes his head. ―No, I want to talk to you.‖ Her eyebrows scrunch up for the briefest moment—this is a first for her. Men do not come to the Palais‘ bedrooms to talk to women—that is what they do at home, at work, at bars. ―Oh, monsieur, I‘m so sorry, are you uncomfortable?‖ He pulls at his collar and loosens his tie. He is still sweating. ―I‘m fine… just—do you not know me?‖ She looks more confused. ―Monsieur, I only just met you.‖ ―No—stop calling me that—we‘ve met before.‖ Mademoiselle Papillon laughs. ―Mons—James, I would remember you.‖ She uncoils herself from the bed and sways toward him a few steps, but stops when she sees him breathing even more heavily than he had been before. He stares at her for a few moments, and when he next speaks, his voice, for the first time, perhaps all evening, is completely steady. ―Your name is Hannah.‖ She stops laughing, stares at him, no trace of sexual appetite in her gaze. ―How do you know that?‖ Her voice has dropped half an octave, her accent slipping from natural to clearly false in her shock. The words pour out him in a jumble, so quickly he barely makes sense. ―We went to school together. You sat next to me in biology and you hated the smell of formaldehyde. You rode bus 14 to get home, and I rode bus 13. You had a cat, a tabby, you had pictures of it in your locker but you never had pictures of your friends. And right before we graduated, your dad died. And you just disappeared.‖ Mademoiselle Papillon looks at him for a moment before answering. ―Why are you here, James? Did someone send you?‖
―No, no, I just… I thought… I could maybe get you… out?‖ He swallows—it looks like it takes an incredible amount of effort. He can barely meet her eye; suddenly, his quest to rescue his high school crush seems foolhardy, even to him, and her response does nothing to help as the color rises to his face. ―Oh, you‘re funny, monsieur! Don‘t be ridiculous! Why would I want to leave?‖ she laughs, tossing her hair softly over her shoulder and reaching out to touch his chest, her fingers tracing over his body. James‘ face gets steadily redder and he stammers out his next sentence with tears in his eyes, ―Because—you‘re not happy here… are you? Hannah, I just want to—protect… you…‖ Mademoiselle Papillon stops her hand. ―Well, of course, I‘m happy, James… although, I have missed you and everyone else…‖ James hesitantly reaches for her hand. ―You—you missed me?‖ She looks at him, her eyes wide and pleading. ―Of course, I did, James… I wished all the time I‘d spoken to you more when I had the chance… I thought I‘d never get the chance to tell you.‖ A small smile escapes her, filling him with hope. ―Oh, Hannah… I didn‘t think you‘d even know who I was…‖ ―Of course I know, James. It just took me a moment… it‘s so hard to remember things from the outside in here… the landlady doesn‘t like it when we talk about it…‖ James takes her hands and presses them to his lips. ―Hannah, you have to get out of here… I can help you, my car‘s here, you can stay with me, and no one even has to know you worked here, I didn‘t tell anyone when I figured out that you worked here… and we can go to the police and you can tell them about what happened to you, so your landlady won‘t come looking for you…we can be together, I can take care of you, you can start over with me—‖ He‘s cut off when Mademoiselle Papillon suddenly presses her lips to his, with such force he staggers back into the dresser and his wine glass tips over, spilling onto the back of his shirt. ―Oh, James, I‘m so sorry,‖ she gasps, grabbing the glass. ―I‘ll refill it, just give me a moment.‖ And before he can say anything to the contrary, that he‘s had enough, that he‘d rather his shirt be ruined a thousand times than stop kissing her, she‘s slipped out of the door, leaving him with a spinning head and lips red with her lipstick. He touches his lips, feeling the balm on them, hardly trusting himself to believe what just happened. For the first time, he allows himself
to sink down onto the soft mattress just as Mademoiselle Papillon slips back into the room with two glasses of red wine. She offers one to him, and he‘s about to refuse when she says, ―Please, James… can I really come with you? Tonight?‖ He looks at her, shocked. ―You really want to?‖ He takes the wine as though not realizing he has, sipping it distractedly. She copies him, sitting down beside him and leaning her head on his shoulder. He puts his arms around her clumsily—their bodies don‘t fit together well, but he doesn‘t seem to notice. ―Yes,‖ she breathes in his ear. ―James… I love you. I want you to keep me safe. Please, take me home.‖ Her lips brush his cheek. ―Oh, Hannah.‖ He turns to catch her mouth with his, but she moves back, smiling and holding out her glass as though to toast him. ―To you, James,‖ she says, blinking her beautiful eyes at him, ―My knight-in-shiningarmor.‖ He laughs, but clinks his glass against hers and drinks deeply, though the wine tastes a bit sour to him. But he doesn‘t know much about wines, and assumes that‘s normal. ―You deserve so much better, Hannah,‖ he says. ―Let‘s go. Now. While everyone else is occupied.‖ Mademoiselle Papillon nods. ―Wait, just a moment though, please. I saw the landlady downstairs, we can‘t get past her, and if she sees us… just drink your wine, darling, and wait, it‘ll just be a moment.‖ He obeys and fifteen minutes and many kisses later, his glass is empty and she hands him his jacket. James stands as he puts it on, and almost instantly sits back down. The room spins before his eyes, and he‘s a sickly pale green. Mademoiselle Papillon helps him to his feet, steadying him as they walk the short distance to the door and down the hall. He‘s exhilarated, giggling every few steps, only to be shushed by her as they slowly make their way down the spiraling staircase. By the time his feet hit the first floor, he can barely keep his eyes open as she leads him through the door to the kitchen, a determined look on her face. His head smacks noisily against a copper pan hanging from the ceiling, and the landlady, hearing that, looks into the kitchen to see Mademoiselle Papillon supporting James, his entire body slumped to one side, tongue barely fitting inside his mouth.
―Mademoiselle Papillon, what is he doing here? He doesn‘t—― ―I‘m sorry,‖ says Mademoiselle Papillon. ―I‘m so sorry, Madame, I know there‘s normally a bigger dose, but we can‘t let him leave… he remembers me before.‖ ―Then let him be like the others. Let him come again to the flower until there‘s more inside, and the trap can close. Tell him you need more time to be convinced. Tell him I will not let you leave. You know these things, ma chérie, you have done them before!‖ ―No, Madame, if we let him leave, he will go to the police… he knows my name, Madame.‖ As if to prove her point, James mutters her name, reaching for her hand. She takes a step away from him, lip curling in disgust. The landlady sighs, then grabs him roughly, turning his face from side-to-side, then reaches to open a drawer and pulls out a long knife, its blade glinting in the moonlight. On cue, Mademoiselle Papillon shoves James over a sink with practiced precision, not touching his body any more than she has to. He struggles weakly, but can barely move his arms at all, can barely move his lips as he begs help from a girl called Hannah. The landlady clicks her tongue as she pulls James‘ head back by the hair, lengthening his neck. ―Shame with this one… the taste‘s usually better if they‘ve had some more time to marinate and this one has an awful lot of meat.‖
The sun rises behind the Palais every morning as the girls get up and go about their business. They bid the men goodbye one at a time, give them the opportunity to sign up for another dinner in a month or a week or so, depending on how badly the girls want to see their favorite customer again. The men never see any of the other customers leave and occasionally, phone numbers exchanged between them won‘t work anymore or a vaguely familiar face will appear on the news with a plea for information before a customer‘s wife calls him to dinner. But no one ever thinks to ask about the Palais, with its five beautiful girls and its wonderfully prepared dinners, seats available for reservation Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30.
Savage The Cold Call Let‘s get something straight: I‘m a shit bag. You know it, I know it, and now you know that I know you know. I‘m not going to waste time trying to convince you that I‘m a great guy and you don‘t have to sit here, pretending to believe it. But, as sleazy as I am—and I am a worthless piece of shit—I‘m very good at what I do. Think about it, you don‘t even know how I got here, but here I am. Don‘t even sweat it because I‘m going to tell you exactly how I got here… and a lot more. It all starts with a yellow index card with your name and number on it. I glance at it just long enough to get the numbers, but not too long, otherwise I might pre-judge you—don‘t try to act like you‘ve never done such a thing, we all do it. Then, I pick up the phone, punch in the numbers and wait. Ring-ring. If I‘m calling an American, the most important thing to work into the dialogue is ―I want to shake your hand.‖ It sounds crazy, but most people born and raised in the United States can‘t resist a handshake. Try it, if you don‘t believe me, and see for yourself. If you‘re dressed well, you can walk up to anybody on the street with your hand outstretched and, nine times out of ten, your target will shake it. It helps if you smile a little, but not too much—as it makes people suspicious. Regardless, I use the same strategy over the phone. Ring-ring. Now, the objective of the call is to set an appointment, not to try and sell something, since the prospect can‘t sign paperwork through the phone. The best way to set an appointment is to assume everything is good to go and offer a time and date. Here‘s what I mean: Just before the third ring, you answer. I say, ―This is John over here at American Mutual. The purpose of this call is twofold. First, I‘d like to meet you and shake your hand. Second, I‘d like to tell you a little bit about the type of work I do. I‘m going to be in your area next Tuesday morning 30
around nine and then again Thursday afternoon at four-thirty, quarter to five. What works best for you—it won‘t take more than ten minutes.‖ You say something about how you already have a financial planner and you‘re all taken care of. ―I understand,‖ I say. It‘s a standard objection I encounter (and overcome) about a thousand times a day. Just before you hang up, I reel you back in with ―I appreciate where you‘re coming from, but the purpose of this call wasn‘t to try and sell you anything. As I said, I just want to meet you, shake hands and tell you a little bit about what I do. That way, should a situation ever arise where you are in need of advice, you might think of me—will Thursday work or would Friday be better? It won‘t take more than ten minutes.‖ You‘re slightly irritated now. I can hear it in your voice. You say it‘s a bad time, perhaps if I were to call you back at a later date, maybe in six months or so… ―Listen, I‘m going to ask you a question and your answer will be the most important decision you‘ve ever made about your family in your life. If a nutcase with an automatic rifle walked into your office right now and blew you away, are you one hundred percent certain that your family will be taken care of?‖ Silence. It‘s a cheap shot and even I don‘t like this end game, but you didn‘t give me much choice. (And, just to be fair, I usually use the age old ―if you were in an accident on the way home from work‖ line, but you were being kind of a dick.) The silence continues and I‘m starting to wonder if you‘re still on the line, but I don‘t say a word. Once I make a hard sell, I shut my mouth—the next person who speaks loses. ―No,‖ you say. ―Then we need to meet right now.‖ That‘s how I got here. Now sit tight, we got a lot more to cover.
The Dog and Pony Show I met Charles—a balding, middle-aged man with a spare tire—the same way I met you, through a cold call. We sat down in his office after hours and went through all the usual introductory formalities that normal people consider to be polite and what salesman
call ―building rapport.‖ Once all that bullshit was over, I whipped out a large three-ring binder from my briefcase. It contained clippings from notable financial journals illustrating how our company, American Mutual, was the best—every company has similar articles saying they’re the best. As I flipped through the book, I spoke of saving, the miracle of compound interest, and did my little song and dance routine. I was a couple minutes into the whole spiel, when Charles interrupted me. ―I want one million dollars of term life insurance.‖ That one word turned the whole deal sideways. Term is a lot like ―renting‖ a life insurance policy, whereas whole life is like ―buying‖—the policy even builds equity, like a mortgage. I explained this to Charles and then suggested whole life would be a much better fit for his family. (It actually wouldn‘t make any difference for his family as the payout would be the same, but it was a much better fit for my bank account.) ―You‘re not listening, I want one million dollars of term.‖ ―Fair enough,‖ I said, pulling the paperwork from my briefcase. ―You do know that term expires when you turn seventy—whole life is good for your whole life, that‘s why they call it—‖ ―I‘m not going to live that long.‖ ―Don‘t tell the medical examiner that,‖ I said, smiling. ―Will the policy pay out if I kill myself?‖ I kept smiling. I thought he was joking. Some people have a real demented sense of humor and I figured Charles was just fucking with me. Besides, I wanted to close this business and get the hell out—nine time out of ten, when a salesman fails to close, it‘s because he talked himself out of the deal (and Charles was really starting to creep me out). ―Okay,‖ I said, finishing up my part of the paperwork, ―one million dollars of term.‖ ―Will the term policy pay out if I kill myself?‖ ―I‘m pretty sure it would, but let me make a call to double check.‖ I pulled the cell from my pocket and powered it up. A couple voicemails popped up on the screen, but I ignored them. I punched the button for Hale—his ass was on speed
dial—and waited. The bastard always had to be dramatic and wait until the fourth goddamn ring. ―Hale Archer.‖ ―Hale, it‘s John.‖ ―John who?‖ ―John Savage.‖ ―John Savage… John Savage, I don‘t know anybody named John Savage—is this a sales call?‖ ―Shut the hell up,‖ I said, laughing. I glanced at Charles who was growing impatient. ―Hey, quick question.‖ ―Quick answer.‖ ―Nice.‖ ―Like that.‖ ―Yeah, listen, got a guy, wants some term—‖ ―Sell ‗em the term, make him a client, upgrade him to whole—‖ ―Right, right. Listen, about that, let me just ask you flat out, will it—this is hypothetical, of course—will it pay if he were to, ah, you know…‖ ―Off himself?‖ ―Yeah.‖ ―Wait a year.‖ ―Come again?‖ ―Tell him to wait a year.‖
Closing You‘re not going to believe this, but I met up with Hale later at a bar named ―Charlie‘s,‖ I mean, is that some crazy shit or what? Anyway, after a few drinks—Hale had already had a few and I was trying to catch up—I reminded him about our company‘s newest customer. Judging by Hale‘s blank stare, drifting eyes and sudden interjection of ―hey, check out that tight piece of ass,‖ I figured that he‘d already forgotten my client‘s plight.
When I got home, I dug up the new hire paperwork and flipped through some of the training materials. It‘s amazing how little they teach. Ninety percent of the material was geared toward sales; maybe ten percent (and I‘m being generous) had any bearing on financial analysis. I did find a suicide hotline buried in the benefits package, but the girl who answered didn‘t buy the ―I have a friend‖ line and spent the whole time trying to talk me out of killing myself—and by the end of the call, I really wanted to, believe me. To make matters worse, insurance agents have a similar policy to lawyers and shrinks where we are required to keep customer information private. So, I couldn‘t talk to anybody (besides Hale, who already knew and didn‘t give a fuck) and this was way over my head. Obviously, there are some exceptions when you can break the privacy rule, such as when a person plans to harm themselves or others, but I didn‘t know any of that. I could always rat the guy out—give his fat-assed wife a call and let her in on his sordid plans—but I‘d lose my job for sure, most likely my license as well. I figured it‘d be worth it to save someone‘s life, but then there was no guarantee that it would even work. He might still go ahead and take a swan dive off a bridge earlier than planned. Or, the wife might put herself in harm‘s way if she tries to stop him. These ―don‘t tell‖ rules are in play for a reason… When I don‘t know what to do, I just keep thinking about it. After a while, I think about it less until I eventually forget. Instead of doing anything, I read a book by a Real Estate guru (maybe even a mogul) who said he treated his top clients to dinner… and usually got a couple high end leads out of it. I figured it was worth a shot and gave Charles a call. I called several times throughout the week and could never manage to get through the endless string of gatekeepers. Secretaries, Executive Assistants and Office Managers fielded the calls, quickly assessing my relationship with Charles and determining whether or not I should gain entrance: access denied. I left messages that were never returned, sent a couple letters that were left unanswered and even dropped in unannounced one day when I was ―in the area‖ (I was not; I was getting paranoid). Just when I began to understand that stalking Charles was an unhealthy obsession, I got a phone call from Jaisey Broden. She introduced herself as Charles‘s daughter, but I already knew her, at least on paper—she was the beneficiary. She explained that she
found my business card in her father‘s wallet and my heart dropped into my ball sack. Her father, she said, suffered a massive stroke. He had since been released from the hospital and was doing much better, but he was no longer capable of working and required full-time care. Jaisey said she had to withdraw from Miami—she was pre-med— and move back to the Carolinas and live with her father around the clock. Things were becoming tense between her and the fiancé. To get right to it, she wanted to know if her father‘s policy covered this sort of thing. It pained me to tell her, no, a term life insurance policy did not. And that is why you should always get disability and long-term care insurance. For your convenience, I‘ve already filled out the necessary paperwork—just sign here and here…
Wally’s In fourth and fifth grade, within the small world of the South Orangetown Central School District, your coolness depended on whether you were allowed to venture to Wally‘s when school let out. When your mother finally gave in, and you walked along the Highway, older than you‘d ever been in your eight years of life, you had made it. You‘d stand there and eat your ice cream, but not before it dripped all over your baby fat fingers. The cool kids, for whom Wally‘s was a daily ritual, would play chicken in the street. Wally‘s Ice Cream was a shack set on Western Highway, squished between split-ranch houses and Carmine‘s Pizza, a pizzeria/deli that supposedly sold crack out of its garage. At Wally‘s, you‘d wait in haphazard lines under flickering yellow lights to order through two mesh windows. The menu that hung between them was never fixed or changed—the red painted letters peeled and were worn away by the weather; desserts that were no longer offered simply had a Sharpie marker ‗x‘ through them. Flies crawled along the ice cream drippings on the counter. I had made my first pilgrimage to Wally‘s with a rolled up five-dollar bill in my pocket, along with a Post-it note with my mother‘s cell phone number on it, just in case. I sat at a table off to the side by the fence with my two friends—both quiet dreamers like me—waiting for the cool to soak into my system. I watched Shane Dornak push Larry Quigley into the street, and a group of girls dance at the cars as they passed by. The girls were Nikki-Leigh Angelo, Dianna Baris, and Caitlyn Burke, and my fifth grade dream was to be as cool as them. Middle schoolers made the trip to Wally‘s as well, but their activities differed from that of the younger set. One year, when my Wally‘s days were long over, a group of seventh graders formed a prostitution ring. Wally‘s was their whorehouse. Behind the shack, they‘d kiss the shorts of any prepubescent boy who was willing to pay. Their charges were inexpensive, but more expensive than the ice cream. Six dollars for sixth graders, seven dollars for seventh graders, and eight dollars for eighth graders. The entire district heard of their shenanigans as the news traveled from the gossiping mouths of middle schoolers to high schoolers and the people of our town, but as far as I‘m concerned, Wally‘s people never had a clue. 36
When I visited Wallyâ€˜s for the last time, I was nineteen years old and a college student. At that time, Shane Dornak was beginning his freshman year at Rockland Community College, or â€•thirteenth gradeâ€– as it is sometimes called; Nikki-Leigh, after disappearing for some time in high school, according to rumors became a porn star; and I was happy, and even thankful, that my coolness no longer depended on making trips to a kid-crawling, whore-wielding shack on a highway.
Eloisa Amezcua is an Arizona native currently finishing her thesis at Emerson College. She still believes #WCW stands for William Carlos Williams, not the less-interesting Woman Crush Wednesday. Jose Angel Araguz has had work most recently in Barrow Street, Gulf Coast, Slipstream, and Right Hand Pointing. He is presently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati. Robert DiSorbo is from the North Shore of Massachusetts. He is a senior English major at Merrimack College and a prospective JD candidate. Brionne Janae is a second year graduate student at Emerson College working on an MFA in poetry. She is interested in writing poetry that explores the history, music, and culture of the AfricanAmerican South. She has been published in Blast Furnace‘s online literary magazine. James Kwapisz is a Creative Writing major at SUNY New Paltz. This is his first publication. Molly Middleton Meyer is an MFA student at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Middleton Meyer is the founder of Mind‘s Eye Poetry. She works with dementia patients as a poetry facilitator, helping to unlock memories and stimulate creativity. As a member of the Alzheimer‘s Association of Greater Dallas, Middleton Meyer serves as a speaker and advocate for those living with dementia. Arianna Riccio is a senior at Franklin & Marshall College where she studies French and Psychology. After graduation, she would like to work on a vineyard in France before pursuing higher education in alternative forms of psychotherapy. Her pastimes include yoga, meditation, longdistance running, and re-reading her Markus Zusak collection. Kayla Russell is a senior undergrad studying English and Political Science at Salem State University. She works as an intern for Massachusetts Poetry Organization and is on the Editorial Board of Soundings East literary magazine. Adam Tedesco is an undergraduate student at SUNY Empire State College. His poetry and criticism have appeared in Quintessential Zine, A Single Spark, MIM Notes, and The Kitchen Poet. His work is awaiting publication in Up the River and Burningword Literary Journal. He once raced to the top of the tallest building between Manhattan and Montreal. His lungs turned black. Alison Cheng is a student at Franklin and Marshall College, studying Creative Writing and International Relations. When she‘s not writing, reading, or studying, she enjoys watching too much British television, and having intense political or social debates with her friends. Timothy Judd is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University. He won the Director‘s Award in Fiction at Fairleigh Dickinson University two years ago and the Name the Shuttle Contest last year. Theresa Flynn is a junior at SUNY New Paltz. Her work has been previously published in Anthem Journal. You can learn more about Theresa and all her creative endeavors at her site, theresaflynn.wordpress.com.
The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary and art magazine. This inaugural issue features an interview with poet Bob Hicok, poetry, sho...
Published on May 2, 2014
The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary and art magazine. This inaugural issue features an interview with poet Bob Hicok, poetry, sho...