L i t e r a ry A rts J o u r n a l Montage is a biannual periodical of undergraduate creative writing, edited and designed by the students of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The journal’s goal is to publish the finest creative work that this campus has to offer. We strive to recognize young, talented authors and to foster and promote an atmosphere of artistic creativity. What you hold in your hands is the realization of our goals. Enjoy.
SPRING 2008 STAFF EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: James Knippen TREASURER & LAYOUT EDITOR: Jeff Brandt ASSISTANT Sarah Phillips ADVERTISING, EVENTS, AND FUNDRAISING COORDINATOR: Jeni Reinke ASSISTANT Jacqui Leffler POETRY EDITORS: Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc & Rafael Ibay PROSE EDITORS: Jacqui Leffler & Chris Balmes SECRETARY: Sunanna Chand EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Jenele Anderson • Lizzie Blaine • Jeff Brandt • Justine Chan • Sunanna Chand • Jennifer Denne-Van Pelt • Ellen Goleas • Alex Heil • Candace Johnson • Allison Kerr • Kate Kinsella • Andrew Krok • Chris Magiet • Lauren Mangurten • Megan Novak • Sarah Phillips • Jeni Reinke • Maja Seitz • Kevin Smith • Justin Taylor • Michael Tupy • Stephanie Turza • Susan Xu Printing by Crouse Printing, Champaign, Illinois. Circulation 500
TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S
Tires, by Adam Portelli Front cover Spoons, by Chelsea Fiddyment Page 3 Preparing for Winter, by Mike Lynch 6 You Fell Asleep and I Studied Your Hands, by Sarah Cason 7 Cereal Aisle, by Jonathan Jacobson 9 Mondays, by Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc 12 The Virgin Mary, by James Knippen 14 How to fuck your best friend. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like everyday of the summer before you leave for college. And then break her heart., by Charlie J. Johnson 15 An Ode to Garish Dresses, by Tim O’Gorman 18 God is a Place, by Stanton McConnell 19 Concepts of Continuation, by Jeni Reinke 20 When You Were Young, by Jeff Girten 21 Alone, by Jonathan Jacobson 26 Wintertime in Yellowstone, by anonymous 28 The Women of My Grandfather’s Village, 29 by Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc The Pond, by Alex Heil 30 Sardana Sundays, by Johnathan Jacobson 35 36 The 10th Commandment, by Andrew Krok A Blackness, by Scott Taylor 37 Autism, by Kaitlin Pecho 45 A Distant Storm, by James Knippen 46 Upsidedown bottles, by Tim O’Gorman 47 Serendipitous by J. Enriquez 48 Terminal 5 (Under Construction), by Ann Holland 55 evening, by Katherine Briggs 57 The Gare de Lyon, by Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc 58 2
A situation involving a lost spoon closely resembles that of a lost pen. The owner becomes aggravated when the desired object cannot be procured, then proceeds to exert every ounce of that annoyance in an attempt to locate the utensil in the most obvious last location. Confronted with the realization of its potential absence, the owner feels the chill of mild panic in the depths of his chest. Disappointed, dismay sets in, and the owner reminisces on the niceness of that particular tool, the good times he shared with it, and with sullen resolution the owner thinks, “Well, it was just a pen, after all.” The owner goes about his day, still wondering in the back of his mind if, should he retrace his steps, he might find his missing possession. But the difference between lost pens and lost spoons lies in the perception of the party who rediscovers the item. A lost pen becomes public property— “fair game”, if you will. A dropped pen completely transfers ownership when it is found (unless by some miraculous chance, the original owner should identify it in the hands of the new owner). No one asks any questions about the potential identity of the original possessor. The finder writes along on his merry way with his newfound writing utensil without scorn or inquiries from his fellows into his moral code. Yet potential new owners avoid a lost spoon entirely. Someone placed this spoon in his mouth, licked it, used it to consume God knows what type of food, and perhaps washed it only once a month. This spoon has rested here on the ground for several days, weeks, months. The person who dropped this spoon has some dread disease that is communicable by way of liquid, and he certainly drenched this bit of metal in his saliva. No one picks up a forgotten spoon of his own free will, and to command him to do so might qualify as cruel and unusual punishment based on the perceptions of the public. That brave and stupid adventurer who picks up that omen of misfortune has surely condemned himself to a slow, torturous end. Imagine my surprise upon encountering just such an instrument
of death on my way to class one afternoon. As I passed it, watching closely for any sudden movements, I couldnâ€™t help but feel sorry for it there on the cold edge of the main quad. The southeast corner of the quad serves a large amount of pedestrian traffic, and I knew that not one of them would take a chance on picking up this solitary spoon. From time to time I notice empty food wrappings or various other bits of detritus littering the grass, but until that moment I had yet to spy an eating utensil. The reason I must have even noticed the spoon in the first place probably had something to do with the sunlight rolling across its mirror surface, or the fact that I watch the ground often while I walk. Face-up and glaring at the passersby, this spoon dared any one of us to pick it up. Mostly what filled me was a curiosity as to who owned the spoon and under what circumstances it had come to reside on the southeast corner of the quad. Its owner had clearly lost it, because who would throw away a metal utensil in such wellkept condition? If it were plastic, it would not have been worth my time to think about it. I imagined someone in a hurry, a girl dressed in a winter coat, mousy hair with just a touch of frizz tucked under a knitted hat, her backpack full of textbooks turning this corner. The ghost of her walked past me, through me, still traveling on her way to catch the bus. No, not the busâ€“she looked healthy and probably rode a bike or rock-climbed, and her backpack was one with lots of strategically placed zippers and compartments, in one of which rested an empty Gladware container that had once held her lunch (obviously leftovers of something she cooked the night before). Inside, too, was the ill-fated spoon, doomed to fall from her unzippered knapsack without so much as a clatter upon the dark soil. Maybe she wore glasses. Maybe she was walking with her boyfriend. I wondered exactly what kind of person she was, or if her roommate had cooked the food instead, and how many round-trip journeys the spoon had successfully completed up to this point. I considered picking up her spoon but the precaution struck me that she would never find it if I moved it (although she probably would never find it now anyway, would not even realize it was missing until she returned home to her apartment after her arduous bike ride), and it remained
entirely possible that she (or he) was nothing like the shadow that had crossed my mind as I too rounded the corner, going the opposite direction. I continued my scenario. I considered what kind of food she had consumed, and decided it was healthy. Her hair was long, but maybe tied up loosely to keep from tangling in the chill wind. I predicted her annoyance at finding her backpack open, digging through it in vain to find her spoon, hot, soapy dishwater waiting in the double sink in the small kitchenette of the second-floor apartment. She heaved a disappointed sigh, consoling herself that it was just one cheap spoon of many, feeling guilty and concurrently too tired to ride back to campus to retrace her entire path over the course of the day. She resolved to look tomorrow on her way to classes. I don’t recall if I saw the spoon again for days afterwards, or when, if at all, I stopped running across it, my eyes following the sunlight. Maybe she just didn’t exist. Maybe whoever dropped it never realized. Or someone had really thrown it there after using it. Why I cared so much, I didn’t know.
Preparing for Winter
We bear all this and drop the tomatoes into a brushed steel pot. Water splashes onto our arms, & in this moment of shared pain we know it is time to spoon them out. Now so much like melted wax, we hold them with fingertips over a wet sink full of skin, & Eden seeps into the softness between our hips. We spread our hands & tomato skin is a silk robe sinking. And when we hold the tomatoâ€™s insides, when we slip flawless hands into quart mason jars, when juice sluices through our fingers, the banks of our hips flood.
You Fell Asleep and I Studied Your Hands Nudged underneath your cheek, pressed together, palm to palm, each a makeshift pillow of flesh over feathers, which provide an angelic look to your pose, like a fervent Catholic who fainted mid-devotion. Slender, bone-filled beauty: think meiosis, the delicate spindle fibers that rake across the cell, think willow branches swaying. In them I find solace, and relief, though they are not in any way particularly smooth or hairless — nothing suggests a labor-free existence. Instead they’re a palm-reader’s deepest anxiety, each a roadmap of wrinkles not terribly unique, or all-telling. As if they could belong to anyone, the police’s fingerprint archives thoroughly vexed,
no supreme difference in their state as opposed to mine or another’s. Suppose we could trade pairs of hands, and depend on our senses entirely to discern their owner— could anyone tell a lover’s hands, trusted, known, from a murderer’s? I would dare, simply, to deny eyesight, assume blindness. Even then, my skin would raise to the touch, grazes, of your hands. I do not need to see them maneuver on my body, just as, assuredly, your hands know my own: both, when conjoined, the commingling fingers and their unmistakable connectedness, in which no finger is mine or yours, or they all are. How right it feels, palm on palm, to share an extremity, converged, until again needed solely by its possessor.
Between the cereal and juice aisles at the Wal-Mart in Richland Center, Wisconsin, Jack confused one twin for the other. Will for Edward. Never could tell them apart, he said afterward. It’s nothing. He was probably too embarrassed to tell me the truth, too ashamed. He was still that way with me then, not quite comfortable. Always jittery and nervous, going out of his way to keep me happy, opening car doors and buying jewelry. Like he was afraid I would leave at the first sign of something wrong. So I didn’t understand why the mix-up was so strange until years later. We had been married for a few months then and this place – his family’s escape haven, since his dad paid the bills – was still new to me. In case there was ever another holocaust, nuclear or the other kind, he said it was straight to the farm where, presumably, we would be safe from both Nazis and bombs. This was before the kids, when our bodies were just beginning to move and flow together and life insurance was something our parents had. We drove up on a Friday, and he asked for the weekend off so we could go together, to this Midwestern paradise, as if it were something I had always wanted. To smell like cow manure and have neon-green grass stains on my clothes. He always substituted his desires for everyone else’s, but he did it so convincingly that he made you want the things he wanted. He was wearing that oversized jacket, dirt-brown corduroy with the zipper so broken that he had run a paper clip through it so he wouldn’t have to throw the whole thing out. And he drove the whole way, holding the wheel with his left hand and playing with my hair or massaging my back with the other. We listened to AM radio, changing stations in every town. This is 540 in Black Earth, keepin’ you from sleepin’ and weepin’. This is 630 Country AM out of Mazomanie, playin til the cows come home. His Richland Center world was apart from ours in the city, and that was how he spoke about it. He would start stories, and then abruptly stop, thinking I wouldn’t understand or didn’t care. Get outta here, Mara, he would say when I insisted on hearing them.
Gruesome and real in his dramatic – and embellished – retellings. The murders, the suicides, the car accidents. All the stories that make up the fiber of a small town’s history. All the people had thick, knotty names. Lunenschloss or Pulvermacher or Breininger. And he would enunciate each syllable, pronouncing slowly and carefully like they were there with us, listening. There was an immobility, a permanency to the place that made driving through and staying for a few days seem almost sacrilegious. People who lived here grew up here. Their parents grew up here. The idea of moving never even made it to the stage of an idea. Once, when I talked to the farmhand, Larry Burke, about coming to visit us in Chicago, he told me about his one visit down south, carrying a load of un-stripped corn to Kentucky in a bad season for a few extra dollars. Too many folks, not enough room, big streets, fancy cars. No place for a guy like me. And so I wondered how they could understand Jack. A man they grew up with, half country and half city, a mutt. How did they let him into their place when they knew they would never be welcome in his? That Friday night in Wal-Mart, we passed Will the first time when we were inspecting veins in the candy green lettuce, beneath the fluorescent lights. Jack looked at me. Grew up with that guy, he said, pointing nonchalantly at Will’s back. He knocked me with a baseball right in the jaw on a stray pitch. Why didn’t you say something? I asked. He just shrugged and bagged up the lettuce. When we saw him the second time, he approached us with his wife. She was a plain woman, her short, frizzy hair unkempt and graying. They were the only people we saw in the entire store that night, though the lights shined magnificently through all 200,000 square feet, a burning fire in a dark ocean. He came up to Jack, a smile on his face. Godamn, Jackie, haven’t seen you in years. Things good? Great, Eddie, just great. This’s my wife, Mara, married a year now. Something crossed his face just then, a barely visible grimace,
but he kept it hidden. Buried it. Jackie, it’s Will, he said. Not Eddie. Jack apologized quickly and tried to make some more small talk. You tell her about the pitch heard round the world? Jack said that he had. They talked for another minute, his wife and I watching our men condense and rehash their histories. But it was clear that something happened. A tear. A crack. I didn’t say anything until we were tucked into bed, the mattress springs grinding together every time I turned a page in my magazine. I asked him if he was feeling okay. He said he felt wonderful, great. And that was all. There was nothing left to know, no secrets to uncover. No locks to pick. So when his mother, at dinner a few years later in our downtown apartment, got into some of the town’s old stories, I never expected to hear the one about Eddie jamming a shotgun down his throat over a failed high school romance. How Will ran upstairs and found his brother’s shell leaned up against the closet door. How he locked himself in there with Ed and wouldn’t come out until the sheriff kicked the door in. All I could think of was Will, standing there in that sterile WalMart in front of the bouquet of cereal boxes, that blank expression across his face. The pause before he explained to Jack that he was not his dead brother.
So many things here in the café are square. Every room is square and the tabletops, too— squares within squares. You sit at one square or another, let ash fall into one, look through windowpanes to watch people at the bus-stop. You start to take stock: wax paper for creamcheese rolls, bus-bins clinked with porcelain creamers tipped over, those slanted bifocals on an old lady’s nose, rows of newsprint on her cheek, or a photo of a closed el station. It is late, and soon you walk across checkered tiles, pavement, blocks to get home. There, you look at a wall calendar, and its ceremony of days will seem a procession
of squares in solid linesâ€” box after box you stay in for a time till finally, after hundreds of pages, you end up in that last boxâ€” but it is made of cedar, and I know it will be nailed shut.
The Virgin Mary
When I pulled the napkin away from my lips, she was there in the grease, staring at me, her translucent eyes praying that I not submit her to the mystics and mobs of eBay, or that I muss her shroud with additional trips to my lap. She had come far already, from Chittagong, where she lamented Bangladesh, spilt ruby tears behind glass; from Boston, where leaking chemicals birthed her image in a hospital window, sent pilgrims to lay bouquets upon the sidewalk; from Egypt, where pigeons splayed divine light, and hundreds slept in the streets of Assiut; from the Fullerton Avenue underpass, where salt trucks painted her on rockface, and warmer seasons sent her on her way, on her way to a gas station freezer in Texas, to the Mojave Desert, the Hidalgo Metro Station, onto a grilled cheese sandwich, and then, onto my napkin. I set Mary on my plate, sent her off with the waitress, thinking maybe there was a busboy in need of a muse. She was last spotted on the side of a semi-trailer heading southbound on I-55, her translucent eyes praying that someone take notice before cool thunderheads send her abroad once again.
How to fuck your best friend. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like everyday of the summer before you leave for college. And then break her heart. Charlie J. Johnson There are a couple of things that need to happen if you want to fuck your best friend everyday of summer break before you leave for college and then break her heart. First, you need a best friend. There are multiple ways to obtain a best friend, but given the extensive mitigating circumstances listed above (notably the frequency of the sex in question, as well as the necessity of ensuring a broken heart) it is of vital importance that serious emotions be invested before the initial sexual contact is made. One way to make headway in this particular respect is to date one of your soon to be best friend’s friends, and then when said other friend breaks up with you, your mutual friend (soon to be your new best friend) will attempt to comfort you. It is greatly preferable that your soon to be new best friend has pre-existing emotional vulnerabilities, and if so you are in good shape and should be right on pace to fuck her everyday of the summer before you leave for school and then break her heart, or at the very least squeeze a couple of hummers out of the bargain. When she runs away to Arkansas unexpectedly, because of those pre-existing emotional problems, and the seat next to you in 11th grade English (which is taught by a father of two who is currently serving five years at Menard Correctional Facility for having sex with a 16 year old student and whose wife is also a teacher at your school) is empty for two days, call her as frequently as you can so that even though she’s not answering her cell phone, she has a lot of messages that she can listen to later when she comes back, to show how much you care about her, which even though you may wind up fucking her every day of summer break before you go off to college and break her heart, you honestly do. Continue to develop the relationship over time once she gets back from Arkansas (and after her first stay in the mental ward of the local hospital), to the point were you confide in her your own long-running depression and personal conviction that you too don’t think that you will ever be a happy person either.
Even though she may have a boyfriend at the time, the relationship will most likely be rocky and it will depress her further and make her anti-depressants less effective, which means more late night phone calls with her weeping on the other end of the line to you, which while this may cut into your sleep the night before your big physics test, will allow you invaluable opportunities to show her how much you care for her and thereby pave the way to fuck her every day of summer break before you leave for college and then break her heart. If she tries to kill herself by running her car in the garage and she is only saved when she sends you a farewell text message (of all the ways to get a suicide note you get it in a fucking text message) and she only lives because you call the police and her on again off again boyfriend who rush in and pull her out of the car, even better; because now her boyfriend will realize that he can’t deal with how their relationship affects her depression and will more concretely finalize their separation. So, now that things with her boyfriend, who you do really like coincidentally, are on the rocks, and you and she have quite a bit of traumatic emotion invested in one another (another stay in the mental ward may be necessary) you are almost ready to fuck her everyday of the summer before you leave for college and then break her heart. In addition to all of the prerequisites listed above, it would also be beneficial if it is prom night, you have three glasses of cheap red wine apiece, and your friend’s bathroom (which may unfortunately be the only one with a functional toilet and as a result you will be interrupted every couple of minutes by people who really want to pee) is unoccupied. And how it happens is really indescribable. You will probably kiss her and she will pause and you will immediately think that you have made a gigantic mistake and before you can pull yourself away to apologize she will grab the back of your head and give you a long, slow, churning kiss that really does express the two years of sexual tension and emotional hurricanes that lie between you two and without even giving it a second thought you will throw yourselves into the bathroom (it’s the only door in the house that locks) and pull off each other’s clothes and fuck. And it will be the best sex you’ve ever, or she’s ever had, for that matter, and afterwards you will lie next to each other on one of the couches in the
house and hold each other for a very long time. And both of you will feel happy, which doesn’t happen very often, much less at the same time. And this amazing fucking will continue all summer. Every day. At her house, at yours, in the park, in your car, in her car and so and so forth until it’s time to go to college and at that point the two of you have become experts at avoiding the subject of what happens when you leave for school every time something innocuous like class registration or shower shoes or dorm food comes up in conversation, and she stays behind to go to community college (because obviously suicide attempts and stays in the mental ward haven’t done wonders for her grades) and so you never have that particular conversation and you leave for college and she stays behind. And after all of that happens, well, the breaking her heart bit will pretty much come naturally.
An Ode to Garish Dresses why do we call them polka dots, who saw in these scattered colors a mass of people covering a vast yellow floor, who heard them asking each other to dance, who wondered why they never quite touch?
God is a Place
God is a place in which trees are perfectly out of row, so that you cannot run perfectly straight without branches and thorns. God is a place in which there are blooming ovaries, orange and inside out, never ashamed to break out of the bulb. God is a place in which lanterns draped from trees emit a slow, red light that drags their eyeballs lazy and sideways and finally faced inwards, telling everyone to go to their beds or to find another. It has streams that perspire and assure that swollen fish will survive. God is a place that can look like it hates you with silent wind on its face. Luckily, you remember the streams that slip through warm seams of the wood, its bleat floating up from the banks to comfort your ears. God is a place that forces the contortion of self-image, situated between sky and earth, between windy wisps and the trunk of willow wood, trying to reconcile wormy shadows and strips of sunlight that pry the boughsâ€” even if it is for but a second. God is a place, the swirling treetop projections on your hand. Love is a lanternshade that is forever being etched to let out just enough light poking through, a personality appearing so deliberately shone and seen on others who believe in you. God is a place whose balance between bitter and sweet shuts out those who wholly believe.
Concepts of Continuation
Limestone slabs warmed by sunshine â€” rain-softened, silent and solid beside the quarry water create footing for the dueling, running, leaping swimmers and become the chosen location for their exhausted, laughing collapses. Older than the oldest man these visitors could know, the sum total of all it has seen during all of its life is sky, water, and verdant seasons but still, the limestone knows more of rhythm than anything else. Green, brown, alive and dying. Our lives are nothing here.
When You Were Young
You were pretty sure that you saw it coming. Standing out in front of the building you had tentatively been calling home, you were definitely sure that you’d see it coming. You couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to you, walking through your apartment, loading all of your possessions into garbage bags because you didn’t have a single suitcase in the entire place. Where had you gone wrong? Just twelve months prior, your life had been complete. You had a wife, a stable job, car payments, a respectable credit score, an I.R.A. But now, the wife had divorced you, sexual abandonment was the phrase the judge had used. It wasn’t your fault though, you had tried everything. Well, not everything, you had made a stand at Viagra. Your wife had brought it up one Sunday afternoon while you were on the couch, watching the Michigan State-Michigan game. You hadn’t paid much attention at the time though, you just smiled and nodded. You had wanted to watch the game. Viagra was something as you had put it, “old men with weak junk” used. Nevertheless, your junk had gone weak, and there was nothing you could do about it. For a while things had gotten better, you dieted and exercised. The spice was back, your lost manhood had been returned to you. Then one afternoon you had caught your wife grinding up pills and putting them in to your iced tea. You searched the counters and found that she had gotten the prescription filled, without consulting you. You weren’t happy, but that couldn’t kill your raging erection. After the Viagra incident, it wasn’t all that surprising when six weeks later you had come home early to surprise your wife and had discovered her in bed with another man. It was even less surprising when the very next week you caught her with another woman. Something about those events had reaffirmed what you’d begun to suspect, that winners were winners and you were not. It went a lot further back than that. You remembered how on the first day of middle school you had been so nervous that you had spilt an entire carton of milk on yourself, prompting the nickname “peepants” to cling to you for the next three years. It wasn’t too long after that, that you had started carrying your father’s Smith &Wesson .45
caliber revolver with you to school. Sometimes you wondered why no one ever seemed to notice. Your father never said anything about it; sometimes you had wanted him to say something. High school had been a different story. Your parents had decided that Catholic school was no longer delivering a quality education and had placed you in the public high school. You had protested initially, claiming you had friends you wanted to stay with. The more you thought about it though, the more you liked the concept of escaping “pee-pants” once and for all. You felt lost for a long time, never quite sure where you belonged. Your high school years had turned out well enough; you had lost your virginity on prom night just like you were supposed to. Your date was rather nice about it, you felt a little guilty, but she was pretty enough. In college, you had gotten your life on track. You got a serious girlfriend, had your first pregnancy scare, learned a few life lessons, and graduated in four years with a business degree from Michigan State. It was shortly thereafter that your father had sat you down for a man to man talk. “Son” he said, “You’re a man now, and what men do is raise a family.” You had considered this rather cliché of him, but your father had never been one for words. You took your father’s advice and found a wife. She was the best thing that had happened to you. You settled down, got a corporate job working for Enron. It was a good opportunity, the company was big and getting bigger. Yearly salary increases, health benefits, Christmas bonuses. You had it going on. You moved in to an apartment together, a cozy flat on the upper west side with all wood floors and fake marble countertops. You two fought a lot after the initial luster wore off, you wondered if perhaps you had made a mistake. Seemed like every other night you fought, screaming your lungs out. You considered going to see a marriage counselor, he had asked about your sex life. It helped to talk, it helped more to fuck. After that you started waking up with a spring in your step, you’d kiss her goodbye in the mornings and put in a full day’s work. Your life had become normal. You rose quickly up the corporate ladder. Regional sales associate, regional sales manager, vice-president of mid-western sales.
Things were looking great, you bought a house. A quarter acre to call your own, with a nice lawn and a swing set for the kids you planned on having. Your dream had always been two. It seemed to work out better that way, at least in your head. Your wife had wanted three, and she had gotten her wish. There had been a fourth, but by that time you were both creeping into your forties and you had agreed that you wouldn’t be able to handle another child. She had cried so hard that day. You had tried to console her, but you knew there were some things that men were never supposed to understand. You hadn’t spent much time at home in those days, you had mouths to feed. Suddenly phrases like sexual abandonment and spousal rights started popping up. You remember one Saturday you had taken John Jr. out fishing, the two of you needed some time to get away, to be men. You remember how unfulfilling the silence had been. You had asked how the fifth grade was going; he had just started middle school. You were so ashamed. After that, you had cut it back at the office. You spent more nights at home, took more weekend trips with the kids. Everyone seemed happy with the way things were going. The kids had forgiven your previous mistakes. It had taken some work on your part, but they slowly began to appreciate all the effort you put in. You had thought that maybe by showing how much you cared about the kids you might prove something to your wife, show her that you still knew how to be a good husband and father. She didn’t seem to mind that your sex life had ground to a crawl or that you had forgotten her birthday. It wasn’t too long after that incident that you had caught her in bed, twice, and it wasn’t too long after those incidents that she had handed you the papers. “I can’t keep leading this life,” she explained. You weren’t sure what life she thought you two were leading, everything was great. The two of you had decided that perhaps all you needed was a little separation. You moved out, into an apartment, tried dating again, failed, and were miserable. She had found someone new, someone exciting. The papers came out again, and you were out of options. The kids hated to see you go, but the court had ruled that
they needed their mother more than they needed you. So you moved out. You tried to be around as much as possible; it hurt too much to be away. You missed your house, you missed your kids, you missed her, but most of all you missed feeling a part of something. Life away from them was unbearable. Things began to slip, little by little. First it was the apartment, you didn’t even clean up when the kids came to stay. Then it started effecting your job, you were late for meetings, then for work itself, finally you had just stopped going. It came as no big surprise when you got a call the subsequent week informing you that your position at Enron had been terminated. After you were fired, it dawned on you just how hopeless things had become. You wondered how long you could stay afloat, but you weren’t really looking for anything else. You didn’t have much to live for anymore, you’d rather just bide your time until the landlord evicted you. You got her “rent overdue” notices in the mail, but you ignored them anyway. Since you hadn’t responded, she took it upon herself to find a more appropriate tenant. You hadn’t gotten her voice mail letting you know she’d be showing the apartment on Tuesday at three. It did come as a surprise when she walked in with a man and his wife to find you masturbating in the bathroom with the door open. You couldn’t think of anything to say, so you just kicked the door shut and finished the job. You weren’t sure what you were going to do then. It wasn’t really clear where you had gone wrong, you wondered if anything had ever been right. You decided that whatever it was you had to do, it had to be done soon. The sky was cloudy and the miserable components of your life were out on the sidewalk. You started to load the fragments in to your car, books, sheets, photos, porno magazines, all of it in one pile. You couldn’t fit any of the furniture, it would have to stay. You decided that what was lost, was lost and drove off. It started to rain hard, and you were worried. You weren’t sure what you had to worry about though, you had no place to go or people to see. You started heading uptown, towards your house. Surely they would put you up, you thought, if only until you could get back on your feet. The roads were slick, and traffic was slow. It came to a stop
just before the bridge, a traffic patrol officer waving cars across the bridge one at a time. You waited your turn; you needed the time to think anyway. When your turn to cross came, you waited till the officer gave the okay signal and took off. Perhaps too fast, but you needed a thrill. It came as a surprise when your car started to fishtail, but a pleasant one. You could only live by everyone elseâ€™s terms for so long anyhow, so as your car broke through the railing and leapt in to the river below, it wasnâ€™t fear that filled you but a sense of control.
When she finally did hear about it, of course she was furious. But helpless, trapped like a character in one of her plays, there was nothing she could do. It was too late, and he was probably off with that hooey all the way to New Orleans by now. It sickened her, remembering his face, the yellowy thickness of it, and his oily skin. Doughy to the touch. How could she want him? Fourteen years. All those nights, that hairy body curled up next to hers, a lazy, naked arm catching her and dragging her closer. He was supposed to be the one who needed her and now here she is. Alone in their – in her – uncarpeted, tiny one-bedroom with the 32 x 20 poster of Times Square above the pea-sized television. It was a gift from her mother, who had died only weeks after they had moved in together. Get married, she said, and I’ll get you the bigger one. Good advice, though she was glad she’d never taken it. It was true that things had been going poorly, but they didn’t talk about it. They didn’t talk much at all. And she was never sure if it was just her paranoia. Did he stare at that waitress too long? The extended bathroom excursions. What are you doing in there, David, saying your prayers? Privacy please, just some goddamn privacy, Mildred. Then there were the credit card receipts for flowers she never saw. She was nobody’s detective, but it all added up. Which made it something less of a surprise when he simply didn’t show up last Tuesday for dinner. She had made a roast beef, stained her new white blouse right through the apron. When Abby called to see if she would come to the club for brunch tomorrow, she said she would be working. Working? Honey, you can work whenever you want, but you gotta eat. Thanks but no thanks. There was nothing to do, so she sat down at her typewriter, an old Smith Corona from college, absentmindedly hitting the keys, banging them harder each time. Feeling the pressure against her
fingers, something pushing back against her, resistance. Her ring finger, though, slipped between the K and the L and she had to carefully remove it from the squeeze. She felt the tear, and a drop of blood sailed down onto the space bar during the extraction. Damn it! She washed it under cool water in the kitchen sink, squeezing it between her thumb and index fingers. Mildred, please. They were for a client. She believed him.
Wintertime in Yellowstone This wintertime, pine needles are bluer than midday sky, striding alongside this caravan of trees in white and only white, save for the occasional bead of blue, blue jays that fly as we come into sight, Gary and I, my eyes look to beams of light shining through limbs and silent mist. How can this haze appear so still? Deception— vapor bits surmounting the smallest shift in atmosphere? Gary’s eyes do not seem to care, affixed to our path, tracking the tracks of an unnamed vagrant who has traveled this way before. Already filling with new snow, the tracks will soon evade our eyes. Up ahead, water shoots into the sky from a deep earthen hole. Gary sighs, You know when you know your life has reached its all-time low? I shake my head. When a fucking geyser is more faithful than your wife. Blue-gray gnatcatchers are flying through the steam of the hot eruption. I wonder how such small birds can stay warm in such a frigid environment… Gary has always had a way with words.
The Women of my Grandfather’s Village Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc ‘L’idioma en què escric no l’entenen ni els morts.’ —Ponç Pons I was gone before fall, before I could see them slumped in wicker chairs under a crab-apple tree. They would be wiping sweat from their necks with a kerchief, shingle after shingle collecting at their feet like foliage. They would have forks and knives already on the table, a jar of kvass kept cold without ice. I can hear them quietly cluck as they embroider napkins, always ready with salt, a prayer and a few words borrowed from the dead.
I gave a hard tug. Once, twice, three times. Nothing. I swirled the pole around in the air like a lightsaber. But instead of the reverberating “whoosh” of Luke’s Jedi sword, I heard the shrill twang of the high taut tension on my six pound test. “Don’t,” my friend cautioned, his gaze still fixed upon his red and white striped bobber. “But it’s snagged, so I—” “No, it’s not.” He sighed and gently laid his rod down on the concrete slab that jutted out a few feet into the pond. “Give it here.” I obeyed. Ryan was an expert fisherman. I scanned the surface of our favorite fishing destination we appropriately dubbed “The Pond.” It looked especially dirty. The water’s hues of brown almost mirrored the color of the night crawlers we dug up and used as bait, well—that I was supposed to be using anyway. Stringy patches of green ooze bubbled over onto plant matter that floated next to the edge of the surface. There were only three species of fish that I ever pulled out of there: bluegill, bullhead, and carp. The bluegill and bullhead always bit on worms, but if we wanted to catch the elusive carp we had to use balls of bread. Unfortunately, I usually consumed most of that bait before I even cast a line in. I looked up at Ryan as he took the rod and held it like a rope in tug-of-war. He began to pull it in gently. He was a lot stronger and taller than me, which really worked to his advantage when he crushed me in basketball everyday. It may have helped that I was only in second grade and he was in sixth. Even so, I never stopped trying to win. Neither did he. Maybe that is what I admired about him. He never made me feel like I was four years younger. We just were friends, best friends even. “Congratulations,” he announced dryly. “It’s Snappy.” “Nu-uh!” I tried to sound as defiant as possible. As I spoke I felt my voice elevate in excitement. “Dude, what were you using?” he asked. “A nightcrawler,” I lied, peeking over at my half eaten salami and
cheese sandwich that lay baking in the hot summer sun. Ryan once told me snapping turtles love salami. He glanced over at me. “Well you can get the hook out.” He continued to slowly rein in my prized catch, being careful not to snap the line and letting out more slack when it was necessary. I shielded my eyes from the sun to try and get a better view. Twenty feet out into the pond I saw what looked like a smooth, round rock bigger than a basketball. “Holy crap,” I muttered. He floated up like a submarine, except there weren’t splashes like normal. He sort of just plowed through the top of the water like a shark fin, almost blending in with the color of the pond. Ryan continued to steadily pull the line in and he moved off the concrete slab to the bank of mud next to it. Snappy’s shell became bigger and bigger. Suddenly I saw something else protrude from the murky depths. A short, stumpy head poked out, and judging by the way his mouth shot open, I don’t think he was happy. Two dark beady eyes were set close to its hooked snout. He looked so foreign, so prehistoric with his creased, bumpy skin and mud-caked claws. At last Ryan had reeled it out of the abyss and onto the muddy bank, revealing the full girth of the beast. I stared in amazement as he grabbed it from the back sides of its shell and dragged it onto the grass so it couldn’t get away. I crouched down, making sure to keep my distance. I thought it would lunge at me at any second, but it just sat there, glaring at us like it was used to this game. “Told you he was a big boy,” my friend said matter-of-factly. I never had seen anything this enormous come out of a pond so small. He now looked like the size of two basketballs. Snappy was everything I had come to expect, and then some. Ryan had his hand on the back of shell and motioned for me to come over. I reluctantly gathered up the courage and smoothed my hand over the ridges on the top of the turtle’s shell. It felt like a wet skipping stone from the beach. “Careful,” Ryan warned. “They don’t call him Snappy for nothing. Check this out.” Ryan reached up onto the concrete and snatched long needle nose pliers from his tackle box. He gently prodded Snappy in the
mouth with the pliers. True to his name, Snappy clamped down on the end of it. If that were Ryan’s finger, I don’t think it would have been attached anymore. “Open up dammit,” Ryan said. He poked the turtle on the roof of its mouth. I gasped. Dull barbed metal hooks protruded from his tongue and mouth at all angles. I counted at least six. Some of the hooks seemed to have become an extension of the turtle’s mouth and tongue, like a robot with human flesh. I shuddered. But at the same time I felt sorry for this cyborg turtle. He looked like an old man. Wrinkles ran down his long neck in all sorts of weird zigzags, like a beat up leather jacket. The dull green and grey skin around his neck and feet were folded up in circular rolls. Small bumps covered the back of his neck. He reeked terribly. Worse than the pond scum, if that was possible. “Do you see the hook?” Ryan asked. “I don’t know,” I said, my eyes still fixated on the turtle. “This is why I told you to never catch him,” he explained, poking around. He took hold of the line and followed it into its mouth. “Alright, I think I got it but I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get this hook out.” He clamped the pliers down on my dull copper hook and gave it a tug. Snappy retracted a little but Ryan held his shell down with his free hand. He tried to figure out which way to thrust it out, but it was dark and crowded inside the depths of the creature’s chops. Every time he tried to get Snappy to open up, massive jaws would collapse on the glimmering metal tool. For the next ten minutes we struggled to free the beast from his burden. Ryan and I took turns grasping onto the hook and turning the pliers in every way imaginable. Nothing worked. It appeared to be lodged deep within the back of its mouth. “This is pointless.” “Even if we did get this thing out, what about all the rest of the hooks? He obviously has been living like this for awhile. What is one more going to hurt?” I sighed. I glanced at Snappy brandishing his menacing, toothless grin. I could tell why people wouldn’t try to remove their hooks. He didn’t exactly look like the cutest and most lovable of turtles. But for whatever reason I felt a strange sympathy for him.
After all, he just wanted a meal. Don’t worry, he’ll be alright, I kept telling myself. He was different from any creature I had ever caught. I attached no emotions to the worthless bullhead or carp that tried to swallow my hook, especially those that got it lodged too deep down their gullet that it was impossible to retrieve. Usually I felt angrier at the fact that I had to tie another hook. But for some reason this terrible tortoise struck a chord in me that I did not understand, even if he just wanted to chomp down on our fingers. He didn’t look especially sad or anything. I don’t know if those beady glaring eyes could ever look sad. He just looked so helpless sitting here on the grass, like a beached whale needing us to push him back into the water. I wanted to make the rest of his days as comfortable as any turtle living in this bacteria and scum laden pond could be. “Isn’t there anything you can do?” I asked, half expecting Ryan to say one of those movie lines like, “Well, there is one thing.” He just shrugged. “You can start by not catching him ever again.” He must have seen the concerned look on my face. “He’ll be fine. I heard that they don’t really feel any pain in their mouths. But we better get him back in the water.” I grabbed scissors out of his tackle box and he cut the line near Snappy’s mouth. We went down next to the muddy bank and Ryan took hold of him on the backside of the shell, turning him around to face the pond. He stopped snapping and I got the feeling that he knew this ritual. Once he was on the mud again he began paddling, digging his claws into the muck to push off. Ryan crouched down, grunting and gritting his teeth as he struggled to shove him into the water. Finally he gave one last heave to the behemoth. Snappy’s shell bobbed in the water, and after a few feet he disappeared once more into the abyss. I hated to send him off like that, but I felt better since Ryan said that Snappy would be okay. “Hey Alex, can you do me a favor?” he asked. “Sure.” “Catch a fish next time.” We continued to cast out our lines until the onset of midday, reeling in plenty of ugly bullhead, but carp eluded us. After a few
hours we decided to pack it in. I grabbed my rod and my tackle box. I took a look at my half eaten salami sandwich. It had been baking in the sun most of the day, so I decided it probably wasn’t going to taste too good. I chucked it to the spot where I had caught Snappy. I smiled, mounted my Huffy, and took off with Ryan. * * * As the summer of Ryan’s freshman year in high school rolled around our fishing trips became fewer and further in between. Gradually we hung out less and less. Soon we stopped hanging out altogether. It wasn’t even a conscious decision, really. The age difference finally caught up, and I think we both felt it. He was hanging out with more kids in his grade now. I occasionally saw him go in and out of his house, the big blue one where I had so often lost at basketball, but we never spoke. At first it felt strange, but after a while I stopped thinking about it. I think he moved four years later.
Her smile was a rope sagging in its center But she danced like the rest of them Sagging, aged flesh covered her eyes Blocking the falling sun You couldnâ€™t see her snaking varicose veins Because she wore dark brown hose thick like corduroy Her feet were popping out of her sandals like over-baked bread But she liked their airy feel when she kicked Everyone knows that Sundays in the plaza are Sardana days The curly-haired tible player watched her, the oldest by far She stepped in and out and lifted each foot in time Step jump step jump and she never lost her balance
The 10th Commandment
An everloving idol never forgets to close the door right before you open it. Around the corner in a cubicle, Mother Mary is waiting in the wings, on a prayer, shouting epithets and exclamation points to Helen on the hill. But she is no fool, sheâ€™s watched Troy burn to the ground a thousand times over. Down the hall, Jack the Ripper sits, staring down your corduroys with one red eye. Heâ€™s never meant you harm, he just likes the way your hair reflects the sunlight. Meanwhile, Icarus cries his nights away at the bar, drinking to lost time and missed connections, ninety-three million forgotten lifetimes ago. But their doors have all closed, that whole sad bunch, wishing upon a star in the sky for Troy to build itself up one last time just so Helen can watch it burn.
Images come and go, like lightning—it strikes successively and always repetitively, although the speed at which it does so makes the flash of light appear constant and uninterrupted. In lightning, much like images, the naked eye is unaware of this repetition because a certain amount of time is required in between flashes in order for our brain to process the tender moments of soluble darkness that separate them. There are countless moments of recognizable darkness in our daily lives, however. The average human, for instance, blinks 17,000 times a day. Now, take into consideration the time we spend sleeping; consider the time we spend yawning or sneezing or enjoying the sharp rush of hot water on our tired faces in the morning shower. Even still, imagine the time we spend fucking, the time we spend cursing and screaming and fearing. Imagine all those moments: the vulgar, fearful, angry, vengeful, lonely, loving, heart-breaking moments. Imagine them and how they only multiply as we grow older; and yet, these moments, they don’t even begin to account for the sum of darkness that surrounds us even when our eyes are wide open, when our mind is wide awake. These are the moments in between images—the instantaneous, hideous, unrecognizable darkness that only the mind’s eye is truly capable of interpreting. However immeasurable the translation, there is always a gap between pictures; there is always a fraction of a moment when the only thing reassuring the rest of our body that it exists is the hope that when the world comes back into focus, it will be exactly as we had last remembered it. These moments of absolute darkness greatly outweigh our fragile moments of cognition—of visual perception— if not in quantity than surely in breadth and depth and sheer massive introspective volume. These are the defining moments; these are the thoughts and ideas we use to cement the gap between pictures and interpret the mechanisms of the world, and they ultimately become much more real and intimate than the sentiments of an increasingly ambiguous society. ---
The hot water offered him little comfort that morning as he washed away the fresh scabs that scaled his aching body. He had been up late last night carving into the veins of anger that rutted in the sole of his foot and ascended towards the fleshy thighs and even further then up his burning torso into his chest. He had to bleed away the memories, it was his only comfort, the only way he could sleep soundly in that third story bedroom, in that utter silence. Right before the cold intoxication of blood-loss had tucked him in that night he had remembered that there was a particularly disheartening picture which stood bow-footed in its golden frame on an ebony shelf in his parents’ living room—that of a young pale boy wearing a pastel blue sailor’s suit with a red fabric duck patched on the breast of the well ironed jacket. After drying off he stood above the toilet with one hand supporting his weight against the burgundy back-lay. He couldn’t pee. He clenched his fist until you could see the pearl of his bulging knuckles and flexed every muscle he had ever used in his whole body but the sensation never left him; the boiling still raged on in his abdomen. It must have been the pills. Not the pills he should have been taking. Those were in a cabinet above the sink, behind the mirror, and he hadn’t been beyond the stale glare of its contorted reflection in days now. His legs wobbled under the tremendous weight of the saturated air upon his shoulders. The first time his father had come home late from a meeting and had smelt of bourbon and dry sex he had just finished changing into his pajamas—the soft felt kind with the footsies. He should have been in bed hours ago, but was drawn to the intense commotion coming from the kitchen. “You cunt!” the stout man in his business suit and disheveled tie had called his mother, whose stone face and emerald eyes became inflamed and whose cherry curls flopped morbidly around her neck. “And what are you? A washed-up second-rate drunk!” she had screamed back while simultaneously grasping for a bottle of pills that were on the counter beside her. He had snuck up behind them from in the hallway and was particularly careful not to drag his felt feet across the shiny wood. He stood there and was overwhelmed by the intoxication; by the excitement.
There were French doors behind him leading out to the balcony and from there he could only make out a small portion of the Chicago skyline, which seemed to warp in the moonlight. There was a growling darkness cast around him. He had heard the frail doors creaking open when the silent beast had first entered, but he knew that it had not spotted him yet. The drunken man grabbed the lethargic woman around the collar and pulled her terrified face close to his own. Thatâ€™s when he yelped, ever so meekly. He knew then that he had been spotted. He could see the beastâ€™s frantic razor eyes which darted threateningly from wall to wall in the pale room. The man had not noticed the beast but was suddenly aware of the small boy who had been spying on them from behind the cabinet. He freed the pleading woman from his enraged grasp, fumbled across the room, grabbed the frantic boy and flung him across the cold kitchen tile into a stack of drawers. Then the man hastily wrenched his damp trench coat from the dining chair and marched erratically out the doorway into the heavy summer darkness. The pane-glass windows were rattling against their meek metal frames when he walked down the hallway, into the living room. He could hear a raspy shuffling from the dark space below the chestnut door that lead into the second bedroom. He didnâ€™t investigate. It was probably just the furnace. He hated this drafty apartment. It was great to get away from the hassle of urban living but the desolate landscape he now inhabited was equally as uninviting and even more fiercely isolating, especially on bad days. There was a liquor shop, a general store slash gas station and a smoke shop all within walking distance of the single apartment complex and that had seemed enough amenity for him at the time. The soft horizon seemed perfect that first night not so long ago, after he had finished arranging the old furniture and stacking the freshly emptied boxes and had found a moment to enjoy a smoke on the stoop. There were barely any trees, just unaltered, unobstructed, unobtrusive horizon as far in each direction as the eye was capable of seeing. He poured some coffee and lit a cigarette. The light-headedness comforted him. He took another pain-killer. Vicadin was his favorite, although anything with codeine in it suited him just fine. The effects were slow, calculated. He could feel it working its way through his
body, attaching itself to each cell in his blood and dissolving in his skin. There was something on the television that caught his attention moments before his vision had alighted itself to a fluorescent blaze of sightlessness. A young boy—familiar—was being showcased. His family was in tears; a father, mother, brothers and even an infant that was hanging from its mother’s arms were stricken with a very intimate grief that he had recognized in an instant. He had tasted it before—that acidity; that sadness. The boy was taken from his family. Kidnapped. They showed a picture: about ten years old, sympathetic features and smooth blond hair. Is he being abused, they wondered? Is he still alive, they hoped? The mother couldn’t contain herself anymore. She screamed, throwing her arms up into the air and the sky responded with a pale, blue, eye-straining smirk and clear, cloudless, perfect mockery. It was a beautiful day; the only indication otherwise was an occasional brutish gust of wind that whipped the mother’s hair around her pale face, although the face itself remained rather structurally unaltered. He had had a recurring dream as a child. There was a dark light coming from beneath a single door in an otherwise empty landscape. This time the image was different though; he recognized that door. At first he was hesitant but after a dramatic lapse of unintelligible time he grasped the copper handle and it squealed as he turned it. When at last he had opened the door he found himself staring at the liquid texture of his own reflection in a resilient wall of blackness. At first he couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t fall into hell or dissolve into space if he were to reach behind the black wall but you could tell from the smell—like a shallow pond of piss and wet mold—that what was beyond that fabric of reflective darkness had been contained, that if he walked any further the only exit would be that from which he came. He could hear muffled screams, though, and understood then that he was obliged to enter. A boy. He was strapped to a bed, white ropes so tight and shredded that they dug into his wrists and ankles and became dyed a delightful shade of spring-rose pink. The boys clothes were crinkled and burned and ripped and torn and he could only make out the boy’s long blond hair-the rest of his face had been out of focus before and no matter how hard he had strained it was as if that part of his dream had been undecided. But now. Now he could make out the
sorrowful shape of the boys nose; the depth of his concave eyes behind his battered cheeks; his sharp chin and how the darkness strangled him. When he woke up, the world outside had turned to night and beyond the single apartment complex there were only barren black fields and harvested crop for miles and miles. He could hear the thud of angry feet and vengeful clamoring downstairs. His neighbors were fighting again—a bleak, middle aged man with wild raccoon eyes and a down-right mean looking Asian broad who must have been one third his size. They argued a lot and he enjoyed the company, although they had never formally met. He imagined they had amazing make-up sex—the angry kind with lots of deep hateful thrusts and vulgar language. “What kind of little pervert are you?” his father had asked, and backhanded him across the face. He was only slightly older then. His pants and briefs were around his ankles; he had been sitting on the toilet looking at the slim boys on the underwear packaging when his father burst in. “Lets see if you want to touch yourself after this!” the angry man had said and dragged his son’s naked body from the bathroom all the way to the kitchen. His father set a kettle on the stove and they waited in deafening silence until the high-pitched whine of steam escaping the kettle had signaled that the water was boiling. His blood was boiling too. “Here!” his father said, uncapping the kettle and thrusting the boy’s small hands over the hot steam, holding them there until the boy was sure that they would catch ablaze. Had he screamed? Of course. But he couldn’t remember. No. It wouldn’t work. He couldn’t close his eyes, not even for a moment. He tried not to blink and they began to sting. The air in the room was old, unventilated, and dry, but he tried his hardest. He hated those memories worst of all. He could handle the sailor suits and the nightmares; they were manageable, but these were the memories that sought to humiliate him, to dehumanize him, to murder him. He should have found the darkness rather comfortable and familiar in comparison. He knew though. He knew that in darkness the memories could breed and digress and digest and he didn’t want to feed them any longer. The room was unlit and he frantically searched for the light
switch. Finally. Light. He could see the living room. The leather couch, cracked and dry and worn through to the plywood at the edges; the ashtrays and beer bottles and the television, which was now a sandy white animation. The wind had knocked out the cable and the humid air was thrashing at the windows. It wasn’t enough. The shame was scratching from beneath his skin, from within the very layers of his bone and the liquid of his marrow. He had to bleed it out; that was the only way. The beast could smell the fear pulsating, could sense it flowing through his veins and he had to rid himself of its scent. The razor cuts so elegantly, so precisely. It finds the sin and it slices it away from beneath the surface; it grabs it by the scalp and separates its fuming head from its frantic body. He is addicted to the calm cold rush of its penetration. How it starts in the center and works its way outwards, like death. “Your mother’s probably not going to make it through this,” his father had said to him on their way back from the hospital, but he had already understood that from the way his father was driving—calm and smooth, politely even. “She had a hard life. Not much fight left, ya know?” the aging man continued, scratching the gray scruff that slanted on his chin, but the boy sat silently, watching the skyline morph around the buildings. “Well, aren’t you going to answer?” his father yelled, but he had thought that the question was rhetoric. He knew better than to speak out of turn. “Things are going to be a lot different around the house,” his father continued more coldly. The boy shifted uncomfortably. He had already understood that, too. Out of the periphery he could see the beast’s gleaming eyes sizing up its meal, surveying its content and size. He would be ample nutrition for the beast. Yes, he would satisfy the beast’s vulgar appetite rather well. The raspy shuffling from behind the bedroom door was becoming more foreboding. He fidgeted uneasily on the weathered couch, clutching at the fresh wounds on his naked arms. He wasn’t sure what it was about that particular darkness—the way it brooded and the steamy burn of its intense luminosity. He had seen that darkness before. Perhaps he should have followed his doctor’s schedule;
perhaps he should have taken his medication twice a day with a glass of water each time as he was instructed. He remembers being rather content not too long ago. He enjoyed the way the days grew shorter and the way the eastward wind brought with it the promise of changing leaves and pink horizons. But he was hungry even then, and every so often he would glance over his shoulders and recognize the unmistakable murmur of the rabid beast breathing down his spine and coaxing the soft clear hairs on the edge of his neck. If pills could so effortlessly alter his perception of reality then he wondered how legitimate any perspective was. He couldn’t be crazy. He had to confront the predator and he had to feel its fibrous mane against his cold face before he was sure that it existed. Which he was. “Please don’t turn out the light,” he had pleaded, but the bitter man was not listening to his cries. The garage was the worst. He could hear rodents rustling in the corners, could hear the dripping of saturated rain water from the leaky drywall. Most of all he hated the darkness. He hated the sounds he had imagined the darkness would be, and in this isolation he heard them all even more loudly than he had dreamt. He wasn’t sure then why the beast hadn’t seized him yet; why it hadn’t drawn him out from the corner of the soggy garage with its terrible claws and sliced into his beating flesh. It was waiting for something. Waiting until his prey’s belly was most completely engorged. That’s when the power went out. The windows crashed against their cheap frames. They were mocking him. The room was suddenly immersed in darkness, but it seemed to have poured out from underneath the bedroom door first, and in the angry silence he found himself defenseless against its madness. Finally the beast was ready. “Fine,” screamed the raging man, and the words frothed at the edges of his lips. “You don’t want to sleep in the garage? Fine,” his burly voice echoed as he grabbed the boy from the back of his shirt, lunging him back and forth, side to side with each intoxicating stride. They were headed towards his bedroom. Had he been forgiven? Perhaps his father felt sympathy; perhaps he understood that it was the beast; the beast was making him a bad child. No. Why couldn’t he see it, hear it, smell its putrid breath and the cold din of its heavy breathing? The man swung the boy’s trembling body back and in one tremendous throw launched him upon
the bed, which wheezed and sighed and clanged in retort. When the man left the room the boy knew better than to try and escape and so he sat, curled up on the bed, waiting for his father’s shadow to appear on the wall opposite his bedroom door, and when that shadow finally appeared, rope in hand, he knew that he would regret having argued against the relative protection of the garage. There was a flashlight in the bedroom. In the bedroom. Behind the door. He could scare it away if only he could get to the bedroom. He leapt towards where his mind had remembered the doorway to be. It was his only chance. He knew he would be most susceptible to the darkness beyond the veracity of that doorway, but he had to fight it. It had smelled his fear now and would be infinitely persistent. “You probably like this, don’t you?” the man demanded, pulling and prodding at his skin; groping his belly and soft thighs. “Yeah you like a strong masculine touch, huh?” the man said so calmly and softly and so drunk with power that the words flowed like melted candle wax from the wrinkled corners of the bitter man’s thin lips and were only barely intelligible whispers by the time they had dripped down upon the boy’s bare skin. When he opened the door he could sense its vehement crouch and its bloody grin. There was a blinding flash and suddenly the agile beast leapt from behind its veil of darkness and pounced upon him. It was an ambush. He barely had a chance. Finally it would feast upon its prey; finally it would tear into him and he could no longer resist its tremendous weight on his wounded flesh. A flash again and in that moment he saw there, the room at once and in its entirety bathed in light, the fragile image of a limp body—a boy—strung to the corners of a mattress, and in the fantastic light the beautiful soft features of the boy’s lifeless face and golden hair were illuminated. He knew what he had to do. When at last he was sure that no being could survive being deprived of air for so long he lifted the plastic from the boy’s death stricken face and revered in his sorrowful victory.
I remember it was hot that day On the little bus with the wheelchair lift. I sat with Mickey quietly Fingering a gray seatbelt, And he said to me, “I saw a dead bird today.” I frowned. I asked him, “Was it sad?” “No,” he chuckled, “it was dead.” I had never looked at death that way.
A Distant Storm
The colloquy of hoary eldermice peering off at far-off darksome skies beckons clusters down from crossbars barely crutching barnloft veneer. From sluiceway slypes they pour before the burlap apse and denim dossal spouting hymnody as others trawl the ashtray ambry for bead and bauble. But as the elders shiver off their snowy albs of falling snow, knowing now the distant drift storm drifts not to but fro, apostasy as altarage is taken back in haste to be saved while the pests anticipate the colloquy of hoary eldermice.
I just got a feed that the best minds of our generation will be destroyed by willpower, stark sterile wireless, sullen slaverace pulling long nights and speed tabs for a chance at the big dull, legions of bitter humanities junkies shouting recycling mantras from the minarets, frothing ginko teafoam from golden mouths, I just got a feed that your mother thinks that racism is dead, and another that claims jazz will now find soul in soul and pep in pop and you too can usher out bad art I just got a feed that your father thinks you are wasting their tuition money and probably should spend your time doing something useful with your life I just got a feed that your political science professor thinks you are wasting his research time and probably should spend your time doing something useful for a change I just got a feed that your AJAX code thinks that you think you’re hot shit but should probably spend more time looking for bugfixes and missing semicolons I just got a feed that your drinking buddies have found girlfriends, followed by the feed telling me that your girlfriend has found drinking buddies I just got a feed about every new chair, from every new architect, and comparing their differing aesthetic implications I just got a feed about every new war, in every new country, measuring their differing economic implications I just got a feed covering every great book, from every great author, and what you can talk about by the end I just got a feed telling you every great element, from every great culture, and how you can experience it without worry I just got a feed telling me that I will be somewhat worried about that new haircut I’m getting tomorrow, but don’t worry, it looks good I just got a feed alerting me to how many cool new things can now be digitized into streams, how we can now digitize the baby-powder stench of the late vincent price I just got a feed alerting me that my raison d’etre is a very good match with that of a certain social worker in florida and that they can totally hook me up I just got another feed that if she dies and I live a forlorn and lost existence, they’ve got a feed for that, too.
When you wake up, men are laughing to the sound of your daughter’s clothes being ripped. It’s not instant, waking up. It’s like floating up softly from beneath bathtub water, the surface impermeable for a moment, like some film, just before your head bobs up into the oxygen. Thundering nothingness pounds through the tunnels of your ears, slowly giving way to real sound. A hard mattress presses against you, loose springs stinging your lower back. The sheets you’re on are grimy against your sweat-soaked hands, feel almost crusted. There’s heaviness in you, like you’d been dumped and your clothes are still doused, won’t let you move how you want to. Your left eye is stuck closed, the contact lens somewhere up high it shouldn’t be, scratching your eyelid, fluttering like a wounded bird. Kayla whimpers, somewhere, and you turn onto your side. Yes. Turn, turn, turn, you can more and more. There’s something thick like whiskey running through your arms, but it’s sizzling away, burning like a shot as it runs through the throat, slowly giving way. Giving to a shudder like your leg after it falls asleep, coming slowly back to feeling. Have to get to her. Don’t know where she is. Hear her. Fight to move. See her mouth, calling. Her mouth, you remember. Calling. Kayla didn’t get mad anymore. Didn’t even look mad. Looked… dismissive. Like you should stop pretending to be her dad. It had been the morning before the game at Old Robin. That one morning. You had been on the couch, not moving, not asleep. You could almost see her think as she stepped over the empty brown pill-bottles at your side, child-proof white caps rolled nearby, see her think that you couldn’t be blamed for your actions, like some dog past all reform. She was wearing a short skirt and team sweater, one-shoulder backpack. You said, “Hey,” and she stopped by the door, a second of hesitation and tensed-up shoulders. She was disappointed that she hadn’t made it to the door, just steps away, so close, steps away – not because she was in trouble or a hurry, but because… because it was you.
“What is it?” You asked, “What time will you be back, Kay?” “I’m staying at Cassidy’s. I told you.” “You told me?” “Yes.” She was lying, but there was nothing you could do about it. You couldn’t say she didn’t tell you, because No, she’d say, I did tell you, you forgot, again, you forget, it’s the pills, those goddamn pills. Ever since She left, you don’t remember a fucking thing. Her mouth pursed then, to show impatience, she wanted to go. And when she did that – it was then she looked just like her mom. It wasn’t uncommon, but – her mouth right there, right then, it caught you off. Her lips were small, pale pink, and they pinched in the middle whenever she was thinking, eyes up, or was in a rush to go or sick of listening. They made this perfect arc, like the way a kid draws a bird with a single curving line next to a circle sun and oval clouds. Just perfect. And then she was gone. That night, you went to Old Robin, to make it all back. All of it. It was time. The basement felt old, wasn’t well-kept like the rest of the place —the legit part with drunk tourists at cards and senior citizens at slots, with its gold-and-brown wallpaper and new tables. Down here, it was chipped cement and wood rafters that spilled dust. Down here, it was different. Sanchez told you, “Ethan, you don’t look so good.” “Fuck yourself.” He should fuck himself, but he was right, too. You’d gained pounds the past months, though not all of it fat. It was strange, in the mirror each morning; still not familiar. Face lined with wear, eyes shot with red, but that was expected; you hadn’t slept much since Kayla’s mom was gone. It was the bigger frame that seemed different, like the mirror was out of focus, or moved. Shoulders that took up more shirt. Nights spent blending into the shipping department staff, hours of boxes to lift that blended into each other, all blended into days. Cards in the daylight, big bets. Doses in between. Wasn’t much else to do when you owed your mortgage once over than work, bet, dose, and
then repeat. It was one pointless, wearing circle. Tiring wheel. It was no surprise to you that Kayla hated you. She was better off that way. The man was spinning glimmering silver around his forefinger and palm. “New gun?” you asked. “Just got it last night,” said Sanchez. “From who?” you asked. “Someone who won’t complain.” You hadn’t asked questions for the rest of the game. Just you and him in it, his two friends smoking cigarettes and talking Spanish behind him, leaning against the wall. Sanchez kept the pistol no more than six inches from him the whole time, next to his cards, next to his chips, fidgeting it between his hands as he considered every move, like he was in love with it. He asked, “You get more cases from Nick?” Nick was his brother: older, looked after him. They were close, from what you know, but Sanchez was also jealous of him sometimes, looked for ways to get the little things. Like extra cases. “Yeah, I have them,” you said. “But I’m not betting them.” Weren’t bad people, Sanchez and his brother. Least, not as bad as most. It was just business. This was what they did. And if you lost this game, they’d probably kill you and dump you in the river. The sight of its filthy green water, between trees and highway, got closer and closer, as the sinking, removed sensation rose that you were losing this game. Sanchez stopped twirling his pistol when he saw the last card come out. He was excited inside – you could see it in the twitch of his mouth, trying not to grin, like a kid who knows his parents have finally given in to his tantrum but doesn’t want to rub it in. You didn’t even have to look down. The card was not for you. You said, “Let’s play again.” “No.” “One more.” He said, “No.” He was staring down the open chambers of the gun again, as if checking them to be straight, clean. He twirled them around another
time, no eye contact. You could see lust for that barrel. You said, “Russian roulette,” and he looked up. “What did you say?” “Russian roulette. For everything. Half of the bullets loaded. I’ll pull one time.” He said, “Then what?” “If I win, it goes away. Go back to what I owed before. I can sell you the cases from Nick, for today’s payment.” He asked, “And if you don’t? Win?” “You get it all. I won’t fucking know.” He chewed one side of his cheek, spun his gun again. Oh, he was thinking about it. Thinking. And then stopped. You could see it in his eyes. He wanted this. It was time. Time to play. So. Either you’d lose and shoot yourself right now, or you wouldn’t, and he’d find out five minutes later you lied about the cases, could never pay. Either way, they would kill you. No matter what, that gun was losing its virginity tonight. You were the only one who knew it right then. The bullets slid into the chambers slowly, carefully, with little sounds of steel on hollow steel. Reminded you of torpedoes into submarine chutes. The revolver closed with a sure, echoing click, and Sanchez handed it to you reverently. You gripped the handle, turned it to hold it the right way. It was weighty, balanced, perfect in your hand. The silver glimmered, and cracked light from side to side. It was beautiful. You aimed at Sanchez first. He had the second it took to point barrel between eyes; his didn’t go wide so much as snap to center, and you squeezed trigger. Blood sprayed from behind his ear, fast dark mist, and you didn’t see his face because it jerked back like he’d been punched. You didn’t know his two friends’ names, only which one was going for the table faster. You didn’t know what was in the table – knife, gun, phone, it didn’t matter. One on your left reached it first, tall, blunt-faced, middle-aged, with messy black hair. You missed his head just barely; a hole appeared in his Adam’s apple. He was grabbing his throat as he fell to his knees, like he could dam up the damage,
stop the blood pouring between his fingers. The other one, shorter, skinnier, like a grocery bag boy, didn’t take another step. He stared at you, unfocused. You took your time not to mess with him so he wouldn’t suffer, pulled fast enough he didn’t have time to be scared. He didn’t make a sound. Not much you could do now. Numbness was a friend, though, defender. So you could simply act. The gun you stuffed down the front of your pants – couldn’t leave it, fingerprints, whatever. Jacket on, carelessly, fast. Stepped up to the old window frame, pressed into what looked like dirt above the chest-high basement wall. Pushed the rotted wood up, struggling ‘til something cracked and broke, letting the window slide up suddenly. You had to hold it up with one hand while you swung one leg up onto the edge – difficult, awkward, you’re old, shit – and kicked the bug-screen out with your other leg, sliding yourself out with it. And then you had to run. You don’t remember much after that. Blurred. ‘Til five minutes ago when you started to wake up. Your temples feel like python-heads throbbing fangs in and out of your brain, too big for your skull. Steps are coming towards you, cracking on old wood floor. You roll, make yourself fall onto the floor, manage to use your hands so you don’t make a crash. Your knees are responding to what you want them to do now, with only a grinding difficulty, pushing up underneath you tenuously, like on a rocking boat, standing from a nap taken twisted and curled in a painful position. The walls look like rotted fishing docks put up vertically. Carpet’s dirty red like bitter wine, with streaks of dirt. An old black-onyx dresser used to shine, now sits chipped, missing drawer-handles, holding up a TV that faces the bed you woke on. Outside the bare, streaked windows you can see the dark pit, interrupted by vague shadows of tree trunks and branches, of some secluded fields or forest. Instinct tells you where you are more than your pained head, in the familiar dullness a depressant throb. One of Nick’s places. Shot his brother. How long ago had it been? Day or three, sleeping on benches, catching buses. Ineffective. He’d still got you. And Kay. Wanted to take his time on you. And Kay. Door swings open. Voices that were laughing before, were talking
faintly a second ago, are now right there. Two men in work clothes see you struggling on the floor. “The fuck,” you hear. “I gave him enough codeine to drug a fucking ox.” That’s a Saturday dose. You push off the floor, feel a rush that it works – your legs respond, and you tackle. You slam into the closest one, red shirt, your shoulders against his stomach, arms around, and crash his back into the dresser. It holds fast, and the sharp edge of its top juts into his neck. He twists up the way a man shouldn’t, falling, and you turn around to face the other man. You’re hit in your face, force of head-butting a freight train. You don’t feel it much. They drugged you. You take a step back, arm up, find the leg a little odd, and almost fall. You grab at the wall beside you to keep your balance and wrap your hand around a lamp. A cheap black metal one that sits atop a tall hollow tube and a round stand. You pull on it, and the plug tugs easily from the wall. He swings again. The lamp’s metal stand rings an echo when it slams into his cranium. The sections of it actually break apart, three smaller tubes and plastic top, the power cord keeping them together awkwardly. His mouth is open, about to scream. You slam the pipelike section that’s in your hand into his mouth, power cord still sticking out both sides. It rams against the inside of his cheek and scrapes it off, punching the back of his throat. He gags, a disgusting, retching, gasping sound. You swing once more. There’s a heater vent next to the bed, where you must’ve heard Kayla when you woke up. Leading to the heater, down. You run out through dilapidated hallway, down cracked, carpeted stairs, the bare living area, and the stairway that leads to the basement, landing quietly on the basement floor. She’s lying on her back, front of her blouse filthy with dirt, top few buttons undone, frayed, jacket torn. Doesn’t look like he wanted to rape her, nothing like that. Wanted to kick her around. Revenge. Make her hurt. To make the little girl hurt. Yours. She looks up. You don’t know why, but she does. Over Nick’s shoulder. At you. At you standing there behind him, a lone power
cord now in your hands. She looks in your eyes – your eyes, so tired, and angry. Suddenly, like real life breaking in on fatigued distance and detachment, mad. So mad. That your daughter lies on the floor. She looks at you, asking, asking. And you nod yes. It isn’t that there is purpose in her eyes, anything as simple as that. It’s almost the opposite, actually. There’s… frantic. Like she’s literally lost. Her eyes are darting, darting madly, so fast in their tiny orbit near the center, so jarringly about, searching, it looks almost like they aren’t moving at all. But her eyes are begging. Like a child’s voice you can remember – you can remember – like her child’s voice, begging, “Come back.” To you. Don’t be gone, like you have been, don’t be gone. Don’t be gone. Come back. Be here. And you nod yes. The cord comes up and over his head before he knows you’re there. It’s wrapped around his neck, and the two ends you hold at the back are turned over each other in a closed loop, wrenching closed on his windpipe, close to cracking by the time he’s snapped up in reflex, choking. Her eyes stay closed now, and she’s breathing, sweat-soaked hair matted down against her neck. Your heavy arms pull with steady strength, bringing the two ends of the cord farther, the circle in the center tighter. And you think, now a different kind of dazed, maybe there is a reason for everything.
Terminal 5 (Under Construction)
What it’s like to lose your voice: The cab comes at 5 a.m. I am still drunk from the night before after only two hours of sleep. It takes me to Brighton. My luggage is in the trunk, and except to tell the driver where I’m going, I say nothing. There is a thank you, an exchange of money, and I’m left outside with all my bags. There is no sun and I feel like the light will never come back. I can just barely see the pier from where I stand, at some bus stop or other, waiting for a bus to take me to the airport. Here, see? I have the ticket in my hand and when I look at it it turns purple and gray like everything else. There is a fair amount of wind and the beach and the streets are so empty. It’s too early. I get my own seat on the bus. The plush seats are all patterned in reds and yellows, like little ribbons floating in the material. On the ride there is no one to speak to. I alternately sleep and look out the window, but under no circumstances do I open my mouth except to breathe. The airport is under construction, and inside it’s yellow. The way I see it, it’s yellow. And glass. There is glass too and there are glossy lunch counters. People are everywhere. I stand in lines, a thousand of them, for security and coffee and later a sandwich on nice bread, but wrapped tightly in plastic and placed neatly on a refrigerated shelf. As if it isn’t real food because it traveled a thousand miles (like me, I will travel a thousand miles it seems, maybe more) and they couldn’t trust it not to go bad. It had to be fake and wrapped and then kept cold. I pay too much for a world-weary sandwich in bright packaging. There are rows and rows of chairs but still it’s hard to find one. I’ve managed another thank you or two to the cashiers who rang up my food, but here I am still in a silent sea of chattering. Everything feels hushed, like church. Like all the people lined up don’t want to disturb each other but can’t keep quiet either. I am out of the joke. Are we making fun of the priest? I don’t know. For a moment I can’t figure out where I am. In an airport, yes. In front of a TV screen that will eventually tell me my gate number, yes. But not now. For now I am floating in uncertainty. I don’t know where I’m supposed to go
because the flight is hours hence, and in all of these people there is not one person I know. After three hours in the same seat things begin to close in on me. The duty-free shops, the Starbucks, a bookstore, a very thin woman reading next to me all look at me out of the corners of their eyes as if to say “Who are you?” but I haven’t the presence of mind to answer, nor the voice to speak it. The children seem friendlier than their parents. I want to test my vocal chords, see if I can make sounds anymore. It doesn’t feel like it. I am drying up and where am I again? Please stop looking at me, Starbucks. I haven’t got anything to say; I don’t know what to say. I switch seats for the sake of moving. I can’t feel my legs, not really, so I want to sit down again as soon as I can. I watch the screen and wait for my gate. There is still so much time to go and everything has stopped working in me. There are gate numbers and announcements and so many people in and out of seats, in and out of places and everything is goinggoinggoing. They all have the power to leave. But I remain, I am stable, I cannot reach any of them. I am shrouded in my own silence, and I’m afraid that when the time comes, I won’t be able make noise. Or get up. Or get out.
evening and a square of goosebump floor. long white shapes stretched across my blueâ€” cut with yellow halogen light and shadow foldsâ€” corner mattress pulled scar abdomen lengths, legs arch and absorb the light splashes damp soap smells and pillows wet with shower water, teeth bared near new shorn skin, hallway creaks through the glass door and limbs hanging cold and bent the wrong way across, dry heat burning in one stream blazing my open eyes as our toes ice up under the fleece
The Gare de Lyon
then, one by one, the platforms starting to waken with last night’s smog and heat are less shapeless in neon, when a vendor carries old pears up the stairs, carefully— middle-aged women heaped up in seats as in mesh crates, asleep and rarely budging. It is the same: the intercom announcing delays in a voice like Charleton Heston’s, the wall-length poster always advertising the cheapest airfare to the Netherlands, the fatally asterisked number surrounded by airbrushed canals or a field of sunflowers, their tiny heads bowed down like they were posing for church ikons, like they too were waiting in a queue, or behind one of the ticket machines which lays a heavy egg in your temples when it pours you a jackpot of change. A whistle will blow then, as whistles inevitably do. I will not be surprised to find myself there, those few voices from some time drifting around as if they were ‘50’s radio shows floating through the vacuum of space in clouds of buzzing that may be heard long after anyone can remember them or us.
THIS HAS BEEN THE SPRING 2008 ISSUE OF
Montage Literary Arts Journal is published once each semester. Submissions of poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction from University of Illinois undergraduates are accepted at: email@example.com. General questions may be sent to: UIUCMontage@gmail.com. Montage is a Registered Student Organization of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As such, Montage does not discriminate on the basis of the author’s race, nation of origin, sexual preference, sexual orientation, religion, age, morality, or political beliefs. We will not reject work purely on the basis of any of these criteria. This issue was funded in a large part by Student Organization Resource Fee (SORF). Montage is – and always will be – distributed free of charge for your reading pleasure.
CONTRIBUTIONS We would like to thank all those who donated funds to Montage. Without the help of these individuals, this journal would not exist: Jim & Tallya Knippen • Sunil & Cynthia H. Chand • Jane & Dennis Brandt • Mark & Catherine Tupy • Michael L. Mangurten & Susan G. Liebovitz • Mireya & Victor Magiet • Illinois Street Residence Hall Thanks also to Maureen T. Airsman from the English Advising Office for her help with promotion and to the ChanningMurray Foundation for their generous support.
If you would like to donate to the journal, checks can be made out to Montage and sent to: Montage Literary Arts Journal University of Illinois Department of English 608 South Wright Street Urbana, IL 61801