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10 Michael Kramer when you die you’ll wake up on a gameshow called will it float you have to guess whether every object you’ve ever touched will float in water if you get more than half right you float right on up to heaven

Newspaper Ad Karolina Zapal A man is chewing on his coffee, sipping his cookie, likes to read.

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Backbend Vivian McConnell

If I were to lower myself onto the bronze Appalachia I’d align my spine; rigid with its horns and pines slump gently in half over the patient peaks with a hand in Maryland feet in Delaware which I only had remembered because I was planted there my toenails burning in the leaves my cheeks, halfway up, rouging with sun

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Folk In the Night: Mum, Beer, and Steel String Awakenings Alyssa Davison

So I find myself at a hootenanny the other night.

Small town bar, quite the dive actually, and with my mum, no less. This tavern of sorts, aptly named The Cheap Lizzie, is embellished from wall to wall with weathered racing car hoods and shoddy beer logos strewn vicariously about. The dingy dim lighting gave a red tint to the twenty or so patrons on this particular evening.

So, a hootenanny. Not as terribly let’s drink some

whiskey and love on our cousin as it sounds.

My father had just left my mum. In actuality, I’m pretty

sure he checked out a long time ago, but it was only a few weeks or so ago, after my mum found the phone messages, that he was forced to physically vacate. My mum misses him. Even after he ignores her every phone call and is most obviously fucking around with some ambiguous dalliance, my mum would take him back. She’s lonely.. In fact, I am most certain this is why she has been hanging out with me in abundance lately, she’s afraid to be alone.

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It’s not as if I’m her only source of companionship. I

have a younger sister. However, said sister doesn’t understand these sorts of things. In her twenty two years, she has yet to face any genuine difficulty with fully realized emotion. She tells my mum things like “Don’t worry, it will all work out in the end. God has a plan for everything.” Mum doesn’t need to hear that.

What she needs to hear is Dad’s a fuck-up. He’s not

coming back. Things are over. I’m of course the oldest, and have been through my share of existential crisis’. Maybe this is why my mum prefers to hang out with me, misery does indeed love company.

So I’m at this hootenanny, and I somehow talked

my perennially sober mum into sharing a beer. It had been a particularly painful evening for her, and I tried explaining that the only logical rectification would be a malty liquid beverage. My father was supposed to come over and talk about the finances earlier in the evening. He was to be there at precisely eight, and yet that time had long came and went, and no father. Needless to say, my mum was on her second beer and seemed to be having a swell time.

“You know, I used to come here with my parents all

the time. We would all go out for a steak dinner on fridays, and then come here for line dancing. You know, your mom used to

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be wild.” I watch as she takes another long, deliberate drink from the amber bottle. Her eyes wonder off to the furthest shadowy wall in some distant reverie. I stare at this face that doesn’t really resemble the motherly visage of the mum from childhood memory. Her eyes like two subdued dilapidated marbles, eclipsed by the crescent of heavy furrowed lids, gazed listless. And her lips, when was the last time I had seen them smile?

I decided I needed another beer. It’s hard to see your

mum in such a state. And I don’t mean just see her, I mean actually see her. Up close. For some reason, when I think of my mum in thought or memory, it’s always a cheerful cherub type figure, who smells like Musk and wears cowboy boots with every outfit. Maybe it was the fact that I had never really drank with my mum, except for at my wedding, which I don’t really remember, that made me see her differently. It was as if ten years of aging just instantaneously appeared on her face.

It was making me sad. And not just a passing, typical

sad, but a downright miserable, depressed sad.

As I waited on whatever the special was on draft,

leaving my mum at the table in the corner, I watched the quartet on the small wooden stage. I’ve often thought that you could tell what type of lover a man would be by the way he handled his instrument. If this was true, the guitar player

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would make an excellent lover. He stroked the steel strings with mellifluous motion, cradling the oaken neck with care and caress. His scruffy beard and flannel shirt were a fitting compliment to those graceful, yet experienced hands that strummed life out of each string.

If the guitar player was making love to his harmonious

apparatus, then the upright bass player was down right fucking his. His oafish palms pounded the heavy strings, while each sausage finger plucked away in a feverish madness. His style was chaotic, cluttered, and yet his sound floated in melodious convergence with the mandolin and banjo, creating a resounding dulcet resonance throughout the compact murky space.

Mum looked strange as I sat back down. There was

a ruddiness in her cheeks and the remnants of a smile. Yes, a smile. Maybe there was hope after all, and the childhood visions of her reclaimed their rightful place in my mind.

“Having fun?” I yell into her ear. There’s that smile

again.

“Your dad texted me back. He says we can talk

tomorrow.” She shows me the text, but I can’t bare to look.

The thing about my mum is, she perseveres, even

when it’s clear she should just stop. It’s like somebody who has cut their thumb, and instead of stopping with natural instinct

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and grabbing a bandaid, they just keep sawing away until they slice through the whole damn bone.

My father had been an alcoholic. Alright, I realize

most every story wines and pines about their abusive, alcoholic father. But mine wasn’t abusive, nor did he molest or in any way harm me or my sister. He was just your plain old, passive alcoholic, who had an alcoholic father before him, and many grandfathers to precede and perpetuate the whole unfortunate cycle.

My mum had always known he was an alcoholic,

but she loved him. You know, I actually believe that she does, because I know if I were in her shoes I would have left twenty years ago.

I remember her going off to night school and leaving

my father in charge of us. Those evenings always consisted of hot dogs, mac n cheese, and Married With Children and The Simpsons until we went off to bed. Don’t get me wrong, as a child I loved all those things, but in hindsight I realize what a shitty dad he had always been, but most especially an even worse husband.

He had been the type of alcoholic to binge drink,

which meant leaving for days while being blaring drunk, only to return with his tail in between his legs hoping my mum wouldn’t leave him. Which, of course, she never did. After an

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equal number of days of yelling and threats and flying objects, they would make up. Things would be just peachy until the next time he went missing.

So here we were now. Even though my father had

given up drinking for the past fifteen years, he just transferred his dependence onto other things. Like watching t.v., and working twelve hour night shifts, and smoking two packs a day, and affairs. Only my mum just recently found out about those, and I’m pretty sure he had wanted her to. I think he wanted to get caught, he wanted to get thrown out sine he didn’t have the guts to leave himself.

I think he’s given up on life.

He’s drinking again, which is really no surprise. I often

thought my mum had saved him, but there is the fatal flaw: No one can save anyone else. I want to scream this at my mum, sitting next to me with the hopeful smile on her face, all the while not realizing how artificial her jovial expression is.

“Remember when you first turned eighteen and I

brought you here?” She yelled in my ear as she put her arm around me. I could tell she was getting pretty lit, and it made me happy to see her out, even if she was only socializing with me.

“Of course.” I could see my teenaged self standing so

awkwardly against the wooden pillar in the middle of the pine

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grained dance floor, my lips clung tight against my braces, arms folded in antisocial disdain.

My dad had tried to get me to dance with him. I had

just stood there, arms crossed and eyes rolling, talking about how I couldn’t stand country music. I’m pretty sure that had been my goth phase, and I can only hope to god that I didn’t have black nail polish or fishnets on, although that may have been the case.

At that time I was so embarrassed I was here with

my parents instead of out at some party. I had only came because it was my uncle’s birthday. We had a close extended family, and as they all had told me reminiscing in intoxicated yells across the plastic tables pushed together, my mum and her two brothers and sister all used to come here with my grandparents. I remember watching my parents dance in these seemingly pointless circles, looking so happy and ridiculous, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

“Those were fun times.” I yelled back to my mum.

She nodded in content agreement. It’s sad to think how many moments I took for granted being young and foolish. Youth is wasted on the young. Cliché, yes. But equally as true.

“I’m going out for a smoke.” I watch as she throws her

heavy black jacket over her shoulder and grabs her purse. I’m fairly certain she’s going out to try and call my father again, and

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the thought makes me cringe.

Just the other night, my mum had called the woman

my father had been hooking up with. She had swore to herself that she wouldn’t, but in a fit of vexed desperation she gave in. I’m sure she had the number memorized at that point, since she would check my father’s phone records religiously every evening after work.

“Who is this? Do you know who this is? Do you know

the man you’ve been fucking has been married for twenty nine years and has two grand children?” The woman on the other end had hung up on her after that. After this woman helps perpetuate the end to a twenty nine year, albeit terrible, marriage, she can’t even give my mum the decency of a conversation. Not even the hint of an explanation or remorse.

This pissed me off. After watching my mums face swell

in salty disbelief, her throat cutting off an intense gutteral weeping, I decided that enough was enough. My father was being an asshole. And a liar.

My father couldn’t even be honest with himself. After

the messages, he told my mum you may as well kick me out, ‘cuz things will never be the same. Damn right they could never be.

My mum handled it well. Instead of sprinkling every

last article of clothing on the lawn, and then setting it ablaze

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just for good measure like I would have been apt to do, she gently arranged it all in plastic boxes and set them neatly by the front door. My father didn’t even have the balls to say bye or give an explanation. He snuck in and grabbed all his belongings while she was at work.

And this is how things had grown to be. My father

would say he was going to come over so they could talk, blow her off, and then ignore her every text.

Every time it would happen, who would be there to

console her? Me and my sister. Or more accurately, me, since my sister distances herself from the whole thing. She can’t handle emotion. This became clear after my grandma died, and she tried to kill herself. Same thing after our friend Mike died in high school. I think for my sister, this whole upset was akin to a death, and sweeping it under some mental rug was the only way for her to cope. This has left me cleaning up every mess my father instigated.

And there my mum was, probably outside on the

phone to him right now. He was unraveling all progress I had tried so hard to make. I had thought at one point earlier in the evening that I had convinced her she was better off. She had even talked to a few lawyers and agreed to come have a beer, or three.

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As I vicariously let my eyes dance around each

tenebrous figure, I remembered why bars always made me feel so dejected. They seemed to attract the most doleful, despondent crowd. Huddled around the bar, swiveling in the stools and consuming glass after glass, sat the grey-haired horde. They were the most forlorn of the bunch. I wondered how many times a week these people found themselves here. How many times a week did their faces fade into the carmine lambency overhead, compressing glass after glass between white knuckle grip, hoping to turn their misery to solace?

Then I imagined my father right there along with

them. Drinking his paycheck away and seeping his liver in an illusory happiness. I could see him as the meridian to this entombment. Ordering rounds, laughing to the overweight, balding bloke to his left about some joke that he didn’t really get. All the while never mentioning my mum, or his two daughters that he never sees, or his grandchildren, or anything about his life at all. Since how can you talk about life when at once you are dead?

Okay, of course not literally dead, but most

figuratively. To look at my father was to observe the face of the last remnants of a life wasted. His Stygian semblance eyes hung hollow behind droopy sockets, much in the way his fifty six year old skin clung listless to the bone. But it was something

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beyond the physical. It was the way he carried himself, the way his arms and legs moved without emotion. It was the look that stared from beyond those black orbs. There was no soul.

I’m too old to have daddy issues. I stare down into

my empty cup with glassy eyes. Here I am twenty five, and mentally moping my melancholy malignancies into this most flavorless, carbonated alcoholic water.

I feel fatherless.

I hadn’t seen him since this all happened. He had

texted me out of nowhere one night, saying quite literally: Omg...i love u honey.u are everythhing ive always wanted to be.you are the sunshine of my life.i am so proud of u and I love u more than I can say.i am so sorry.please forgive me.i love you honey...god u are my whole world and I love you so much.i never told u...but I am so happy u are the loveing exciting person u are and honey I will love you forever.

I started bawling like a child lost in the wilderness,

with no one to talk to and no idea which way to go. I couldn’t help it. That was the first I had heard from him since this whole disconnecting family fissure. I had told myself he was dead to me. I couldn’t fathom that my father would be so heartless, so intrinsically cold to my mum.

I had always been close to my father, and sometimes

I even had the delusion I was nearer to him than my mum.

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We both loved horror movies and roller coasters and...well, I suppose that is really the extent of our similarities. Because to get right down to it, I can’t stand liars, and cheaters, and maybe my father had been that all along.

I could tell from his text that he was drunk. It sounded

like an obliterated message you send to an ex, using words like honey and repeating how much he loves me. I think this awareness was at the root of my sobs. To hear him drunk, pleading his half-hearted attempt at reaching out, brought back all my wretched memories of him as a child. In fact, they all rushed back in one overwhelming wave that kept me constrained in tears the rest of that night.

I had decided after that I needed to figure all this out.

Somehow I came to the conclusion that the only way for me to resolve this was to talk to her. Her, as in the woman my father had been fucking, the reason he renounced the rest of his family.

Only, I was too much of a coward to call her myself.

So I made my good friend Krista (whom despite our antithesis of similarities could be trusted with my life after our ten years of friendship) call her. We had devised a plan that she would make the call, and proceed to tell this woman most ruthlessly that she was Roger’s girlfriend (aka my father) and that she wanted to know who was behind this number that Roger kept

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in contact with quite literally twenty four seven. Of course this was all a viscious fabrication meant to cause a disonance in my father’s realtionship, and hopefully stir up some information.

I really only had a few things I wanted to know from

this whole debacle. One being her age, and two being how long this whole shebang had been going on. But this whole plan went awry.

My father had been there with this woman the whole

time, and recognized Krista’s voice immediately, meaning I’m sure this wretch had put her on speaker phone. Krista caved, and handed me the phone. I in posthaste felt sick. Like the butterflies that were meant to flutter happily in an excited stomach decided to float on up in my esophagus, carrying anything I may have eaten on their wings.

After many drunken questions being spewed into my

nauseated ear, I finally told him everything. I told him that he just needed to be honest. I then may have started interrogating him about the woman that stood by his side, in which he proceeded to hand her the phone.

My voice had abruptly halted in my throat, along with

all my stomach remnants.

“What do you think about my dad being married?”

was the only coherent aggregation of vocal intent to leave my lips.

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“You’re asking hard questions. I’m not sure how to

answer that.”

Her loathsome utterance haunted my internal

auricular silence as I watched a new solo guitarist take the stage. This one was wearing a simple striped cyan shirt and jeans. His guitar glittered against the tawny glow from above, illuminating the soft and sensuous hands that held the ligneous neck and body. He was definitely a sumptuous lover.

My mum sauntered in under the neon exit glow, the

convergence of snowy fresh air and cigarettes woven into her sable woolen jacket.

“How do you like the music?” Despite the gelid air

that had followed her in, her expression and words were filled with warmth, a light that illumined each eye to that familiar auburn hue.

“I like it. I never realized how much I love bluegrass.” I

put my arm around her and nestled my head on her shoulder. With a dim glister flickering from each steel string, and the nostalgic atmosphere of things that had once been hanging low in the stuffy, stale space, I wondered what would come to be.

I wondered if she had been talking to my father out

there, but then again, I decided it didn’t really matter. Things will come and go as they will. People come and go. What really

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matters is this moment, the present.

I think back to these childhood phantasms and these

future questioning apparitions, and realize that to just be here, in the hub of this hootenanny, sharing a beer with my mum, is all there is. Now is all there is.

I watch as a man grabs the woman sitting next to him

by the arm and drags her out into the center of the room. She uses her free hand to hide her face in a shy display, but then concedes all resistance and willingly follows. Laughing and smacking his arm, she gently falls into his chest as he pulls her close, guiding her in wispy loving circles. I smile.

“Want another beer?” I ask my mum as we both stare

off at the couple moving to the acoustic lull.

“No thanks. I think it’s about time to call it a night.

I have work tomorrow.” She yawns and pulls me close, whispering a thank you in my ear. “I needed this.”

As we walk towards the door, bundling our coats ever

close, I look back and watch the cerulean siren seducing his guitar, his perfervid fingers falling soft on steel string, caressing each chord in euphonic consonance. The resonance billows out behind us into the snowy night.

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interrupted prayer of her brother now insane Phillip Sudderberg of grace. so much quieter now that i’ve come back home. the lord is of course with thee. she, sister, quietly sitting in sun to write in journal. must be august now. next to her the old telescope. she, sister, sitting next to the pool by the old house next to our old telescope, metal too hot in the sun, would burn to touch. cross to demon’s wine-dark palm. she still calls it mine as if earthly possessions were real. i know it, she wishes i’d come out and look through it with her still. i know it. once cried at night: eli eli eli! come out to see this star! cylinder of metal and lens. us separated by piece - and also with you - of blessed glass, from sand, back to ash into ash. now, and at the hour of our death. open these doors and walk to her. this room, my chapel, tastes like salt, chlorine in air singes hosts of nose, forgotten pool towels, mother forgot my daily bread. go outside. besides His great light blesses us today. hallowed would her face be to see me outside. phone call: journal put open onto arm of telescope aimed godwards. some laughter, stands up, walks away from her chair, turns. slits in blinds too narrow to see through to me. walks to fence, exits, garage door sounds, car starts, faint music, then familiar silence. barren backyard, telescope reading the now of her journal. fruit of thy womb. sister older now that i’ve come back home. leaven breasts. thy kingdom come hath been done. open the door and go to the telescope. that the

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sliding door squeaks when it slides, forgive me my trespasses, is to be anticipated. outside. bare feet. sun and nothing else, haze of its reflection off everything everywhere: windows, pool, telescope. go to it, go see heaven as it is from earth. heated – lead us not into temptation – metal, heavy, leaden – burns palms to touch. should genuflect. press one eye to hot magnified glass. staring I see into gold face of dying star. its father, whispering prayer, dips to cuticle fingertips into a bowl of oil, anoints the star’s forehead. peace be with you. the sun dies in widening spots, incense burns on parchment, pray for the repose of souls. sticky drops roll to tongue, salt and glue, warm eye wax, smote candle. get back to prayer. Full

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I’m Just a Shadow Olivia Arredondo

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Auntie had left for only a while David Huettner to greet the station wagon that just pulled in. The front door shut and froze the house. Only after the fading of her steps did the silence begin to thaw. A big empty rested around my head and fell in front of my eyes if I stared for too long. In the yawn of the flat beige living room, in the sleep of white curtains wandering in place like underwater stoles, I stood still as driftwood, drawing breaths of autumn light perfumed with cardinals and fresh-groomed grass blades bumping into one another, pardoning themselves in whispers. I could make no bed for peace: there around me peace rose and around me it fell with the doorbell.

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Over The Rhine Vivian McConnell I often recall the smell of your bathtub:

the walls are fruit the porcelain secretes a nectar, Cincinnati sweet like when the water hits Main Street

staining, slowly the damp wood under window sills gently Open they stood because you were in your kitchen watching farmers tote their crops on public transportation

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Red States Phillip Sudderberg My friend’s mother used to feed me lobsters, and would ask, Are you sure you don’t want another, my boy? So skinny before my adolescence, there was a comfort in the possessiveness of that title. I was her boy in those hurried boyish afternoons, cracking brined exoskeleton onto her teakwood-tiled floor. She would ask, You’ll remember me when you’re famous one day now, won’t you? Autumn came and I was invited to join my friend’s family on a vacation to their cabin in the remote upper haunts of Michigan. One gray afternoon we sat cold in the middle of a nameless lake wading in one of their many speedboats. Her son, her husband, the mother, and me, each of us like shivering pilgrims, idling and anchored in the venous lake. There the couple fought without censor: You are an asshole, David. Tracy, you cunt, not in front of them. In that moment, I couldn’t look at my friend so I looked instead into the lake’s frosting water and thought about where she got all those lobsters. I think about her today, about where she is and if she’s happy. It could be that she sold the houses, divorced, and forgotten about me. But if I become famous one day, I’ll find her address and send her two frozen lobsters in the mail. And I’ll imagine that after quizzically signing for the styrofoam container she’ll hand the clipboard back to the deliveryman and ask, Will you have a nice day for me now, my boy?

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Poem for the Real Rebecca Kaplan I. of angsty What do you expect if you post it on Facebook anyone can see it I thought if you were my best/worst/goodest friend we could make it work, but I see you’re imaginary like a paper plane soaring from cotton clouds breaking across the desert where is Good Charlotte? Sitting in a gutter, whistling through grass, playing with their hair? I thought we were pie-making friends who took guts and lamb and sewed their eyes and knotted their hair but I see eyes wide open like blooming flowers or fireworks spraying the sky. Where is your goodest? She is climbing through a furnace into an imaginary world. II. Everybody Knows Your ends tangle like cables, extending from computers into me—into you, like umbilical cords…electric love, blossoming into cataracts, haunting your mother’s eyes.

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I could not—would not—protect a thing that did not belong to river man. He sits on the boat painted red for the fireworks, pretending to fish when the rod’s unhooked. Pretend for me too because sometimes I think you are glasses on a face; a nose outsizing thoughts; a mind unopened. III. SAMPLE.REALLIFE Cass climbed out of bed; she opened the window; Raven sat on the window; Raven preened his feathers; Cass combed her hair by the yellow dresser a mirror sat on the dresser; she unknotted her yellow hair 0001 0010 she set aside her comb; Raven hopped onto the yellow dresser; Raven pecked his notself in the mirror his feathers brushed the glass 0001 0010 sunlit Raven shined yellow like the dresser and Cass’s hair; Cass said 0001 0010 I love you like a yellow dresser beneath a shining mirror you are my mirror bright and yellow like a pan of sun; Raven crossed his eyes and looked in the mirror; Cass looked in the mirror and saw she was Raven

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Her Favorite Flower Katie Gamble

This is something so everyday, so normal, so

mundane. Yet still he watches so intently, watches as she twirls her spoon around and around like an ingenious melody you’d find yourself humming days later. He watches the swirling, curling colors of her Starbucks coffee blend together: all of the various foamy hues of tans, browns, and creamy cocoas. She tilts her head slightly to breathe in the bitter smell, something he often remembered her doing. The sight of this once so familiar act made him catch his breath. This is what he spent those millions of dollars to see. His life savings, everything he worked so hard for, all of it spent just for this one moment. To see her twirl her coffee for the last time on her last moments on earth, to hear the metallic ching of her spoon against the coffee mug. After today he will never hear that again. He clutches the daisy in his hand.

Even her name is so everyday. Sarah. It’s such a

common name. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. The loose, runaway strands of her chestnut-colored hair catches the light reflected off the window. This light casts a celestial glow across her pale features, stretches along the sides of her slightly bent nose, over the mole on her left cheek---the one with the single tiny strand of black hair mysteriously growing in the middle. It’s strange that was one thing he always remembered about her, even after her features began to fade and twist in his mind.

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Time could not erase that mole.

Why he chose this one moment is still even a mystery

to him, really. Out of every moment they had shared together, why watch something as common as her sitting in her favorite booth in her favorite coffee shop?---the one across from the house they had once shared. Maybe it was the fact this was the one time he hadn’t went with her. Maybe it was because it was an event that had etched itself so perfectly in his mind. It could’ve even been the fact that out of all the habits of hers he remembered, the way she drank her coffee is the one he had always adored the most. It was the look on her face. It was the way she focused so intently on the window---to the world outside. It was the little things he knew. He knew she loved the smell, the sounds. It was the fact that he knew exactly what she was thinking, because those things would be things she would share with him. Once upon a time. Once upon a time when he would be the one sitting across from her in his khakis and navy blue blazer. The same blue blazer she always made fun of but he knew she secretly loved the most.

Honestly, though, he knew why.

This was the last moment before her end.

He knew when he walked into the time capsule, even

when he signed the contract, why he chose this exact moment. He even knew when he told his best friend Mark where he was going, and Mark rose one of his fuzzy blonde brows.

“Don’t do something stupid,” Mark said.

They both knew why he chose that moment. They

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both knew what he intended to do.

He intended to do something stupid.

Don’t be seen, heard, or tamper with anything in any

way. Using a napkin could change the entire course of history. He was only to observe. It had taken so much time, so much money to travel back to this moment---to Sarah. Yet still he knew the moment he stepped into that pill-shaped shuttle he secretly wanted to change the inevitable.

Blood was everywhere, they said.

Bits of brain, bits of gore, it all sounded like some

mystical lore to him. They had to be making it up. It was impossible to refrain from screaming---that foreign-sounding screeching that rose inside of him when he was alone that night. It made his insides raw, his thoughts hazy, crazy, and confusing. His body felt like a carcass. If you had told him his veins had turned ice-cold he wouldn’t have been surprised. If you told him he was going to die the next day he wouldn’t have cared.

In his time capsule, years passed him by in reverse.

There was a window he pressed his face hard against because it was so beautiful, so silent, moving by so fast. He clutched the daisy in his hand.

She’s even more beautiful than he remembered her

to be, if that’s even possible. He knows he wants to change things. He knows he couldn’t . . . shouldn’t. He stands anyway.

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Walking towards her feels like slow motion, like he’s

back in the time capsule. Her eyes, hazel, sometimes blue in the light, looks up at him and she blinks, once, twice.

“Oh, sorry.”

Pink flushes her face, coloring

her unusually white flesh.

She ducks her head down in

embarrassment. Quick. “I don’t mean to stare. You look so much like my husband, is all.”

He clutches the daisy in his hand. Her voice rings

throughout his ear canals, echoes in his thoughts, rushes straight to his heart and chokes it into sporadic beats.

Bu-dum. Bu-dum. Bu-dum.

“I-it’s fine. I was just wondering if I could sit with

you?”

Those orbs of hazel peer up at him again, blinking.

“Oh, um, sure.”

He sits. He clutches the daisy in his hand. His forehead

is clammy. She is so beautiful.

There’s a moment of awkwardness that washes over

them, more so for her than him. He’s watching her every move, her every fidget, and it makes her nervous. She asks him a simple question, something to start small talk, something to break their silence.

The sun’s angle changes over time, over the course

of their conversation. It’s like an old routine, like some muscle he had forgotten about. He had forgotten how easy it was to talk to her, how fast the seconds, minutes, hours passed. Her awkwardness was forgotten. She laughed, smiled, let her eyes

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crinkle around the sides. He had the urge to hold her hand.

“That’s such a pretty daisy you have,” she says,

pointing at the one clutched in his right hand. She asks if it’s for someone. It’s her favorite flower, her favorite color.

He wants to say it’s for her, but stops himself. Instead,

he shakes his head.

“No one,” he says, and hands it to her. “You may as

well take it.”

“Really?”

He nods. She smiles.

It’s ten thirty.

“Well, I really must be going,” she says, her hazel eyes

glancing at the silver watch clasped around her thin white wrist. In her other hand is the daisy.

Bloody images ricochet into his cerebral matter. Bang,

bang, bang---from one cranium wall to another. It all stops on her limp, broken body. He grabs her wrist as she rises to leave.

“Don’t go.”

The imploring look in his eyes frighten her, but only

for a moment. The pure love in his eyes unconsciously catches her within, and it relaxes her body, fills her with empathy.

“My house is just across the street. Let me put this in

some water, and I’ll hurry right back okay?”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

Relief loosens his grip enough for her to break free.

“Right back,” she says before heading to the door. He thinks for

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a second that maybe he had saved her after all. If he can keep her beside him then maybe she won’t die. He sits and waits for new memories of him and his Sarah together, in a past where he keeps her. He sits and waits for this. He doesn’t look outside. He doesn’t watch her hurry across the street without looking both ways. He doesn’t know that if he had never been there she would have left at ten thirty and went to the grocery store next door. She wouldn’t have had to go across the street at ten thirty three. If he hadn’t went back in time and given her a daisy, her favorite flower, she wouldn’t have had a reason to go home. She would have lived. He wouldn’t have heard the screech of tires against asphalt, the thunk of her body hitting the front end---bits of blood and gore splattering against the windshield in a glorious banner of crimson red. In her last moments she clutches the daisy in her hand.

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Sydney Beck

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Give a hug to someone who needs one more than you Nicole Vecchione It is only after they’ve gone that I realize the movement of bodies – the spastic, chaotic orbiting of rolling chairs, baseball caps, skirts, basketballs. I tell them: let’s stop this, okay? Please keep your hands to yourselves. The orbiting stops for a moment, cheeks and shoulders peel away from other cheeks and shoulders I turn and it starts again the unconscious belief in invincibility that they’ve clung to despite talk of baby daddys, the walk past crack houses on the way home and, once home, the vapor intrusion that is slowly killing their grandparents. I want to stop them, shut their mouths with one definitive call tell them Just think about it, you are all going to die. They would just tell me something about shit being ratchet.

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Lunch Jessica Knoles

Ahmed has watched us date, break up and date again.

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The Alyssa Special Alyssa Erickson

For most of my life, my year rotated around that

cheesy, red, velvet suit. Especially when I was very young, I would count down the days from Christmas to Christmas, and then start the cycle all over again. Even when I got older, and the presents didn’t matter so much, I loved Christmas because of that suit, or rather, because of Papa.

We had a tradition in my family. Every year on

Christmas Eve, we would all sit in my grandmother’s living room that was painted a yellowing shade of beige on couches that were covered in thick plastic covers to shield the once fashionable pattern of pink tulips and roses. We had designated seats on those couches. Not the kind of seat that your butt eventually leaves a permanent mold in, but rather the kind that you grace once a year to sit around the same fake tree covered in generations of collected ornaments. We were that kind of family, a keepsake for everything. In the living room there were these glass end tables that were also lamps with heavy black shades and ornate gold accents. Everything in that living room was ornate, and unchanging. There was something beautiful about that; every year being the same.

My Aunt would make a variety of hors d’oeuvres

every year. My favorites were her rolled sandwiches. She’d order this bread that was dyed red and green in a marble pattern and cover it in cream cheese or tuna or egg salad, and

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then put a pickle in the middle. When I was a kid I didn’t like the traditional rolled sandwiches, so she took my two favorite foods and made a special version for me. To this day the cream cheese and chocolate chips combination is known in my family as the “Alyssa special.” The other hors d’oeuvres were pretty generic. Generic and served on the same cheap snowmanshaped dishes every year.

After we finished hors d’oeuvres, the young kids

would crawl up to the tree and start sorting the brightly wrapped packages by name, shaking each one before they handed it over to the right person, or placed it in their pile. If it was theirs, they gave it an especially hard shake trying to identify what surprise was hidden inside. If it was clothes, it was pushed to the back of the pile: not as exciting. While the children were occupied my Papa would slip off claiming he had to use the bathroom on the other side of the house “because this one is gunna be a doozy,” he’d say plugging his nose with his thumb and forefinger and making his voice sound like Daffy. Even the adults would chuckle, and the kids would roll around on the floor holding their stomachs “DO IT AGAIN, PAPA.” But he had already slipped away.

As I got older, I had to come up with an excuse to

follow Papa in his charade, but my performance was never quite as good as his. He was a practiced veteran at this act, and I was merely his apprentice. I’d stumble after him saying I needed the bathroom too or that I left a present in the car, but I was always discovered. “Lyssa, I checked the car twice

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for presents” my brother, Andrew would say or “You can’t use the same bathroom as Papa, Lysssaaaa!!!” six year old Adam would shout in dismay. I never caved though, being Papa’s helper elf was way too important to mess up.

Before he got sick, he would pull the well-loved suit

from the cabinet over the sink in the bathroom. But toward the end, when his back hurt when he tried to reach high shelves, I would climb up onto the toilet, supporting myself with my left arm against the wall and grab the suit down for him.

Papa always preached that one should always dress

their best, and he followed that rule for most of his life. So when it came to changing, he went from one suit to another. It might’ve been a tux actually. But in any case, he would shake the sport coat off of his arms and, all in one motion bring it around his body and hang it on his hanger. To me, he looked like a magician when he did that. He wore these cufflinks every Christmas that were his favorite. My aunt gave them to him and they truly encompassed his personality. They were black and white opal set in gold with little diamonds on them. Classy, simple, black and white. That was how he lived his life.

When I first started being his “Helper Elf,” I would face

the old wood paneled walls of the family room until Papa was done changing. That didn’t last long. After the first operation, where they inserted his pace maker, he couldn’t move a whole lot by himself, so I would help him into the Santa suit. It would go one leg at a time pushing the red fabric over his thick diabetic socks. I remember that was the first year his feet were

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too swollen for his boots to fit. But I ran out and borrowed my dad’s dress shoes, and Papa called himself fancy Santy. Through his white undershirt, I could see the outline of the scar that was a snake like line down the center of his breast. He tried to distract me from the way his skin pulled tight against his clavicle. “What do you think you got for Christmas, darlin’?” he said rustling my long brown hair.

“Papa, we’re opening our gifts in twenty minutes!”

“Yea, but it’s pretty awesome...” he said individually

enunciating his T’s.

“Papa, Don’t tell me!” I knew this was a lost cause.

Papa told me what my gifts were every single year. This year he had actually held out for way longer than usual.

“What if I gave you a hint?” he said, opening his eyes

wide and cocking his head to one side like an overgrown puppy.

“You are incapable of giving hints, Papa.” I said in true

seriousness, and yet I couldn’t help but giggle while I said it.

He laughed, this big belly laugh that made his cheeks

and nose gain just a touch of pink. “You’re right. It goes ringgg, ringgg.”

“PAPA!” There was that laugh again, but I couldn’t

get mad at him. I finished buttoning up his big red coat and straightened that mess of fabric stuck to his face that we were calling a beard. “Most real Santa I’ve ever seen. Let’s go.”

“It’s St. Nicolas” he said wagging his finger at me. He

dropped his voice a couple octaves, grabbed his belly and said “You be careful now, little girl, my lists aren’t final yet. HO HO

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HO.”

“Come on, Papa!” I laughed. He was such a dork.

“Hold on, is Willard straight?” He was referring to his

dress toupee, he had several. His favorite was fondly named Willard and also happened to be the one he was wearing on that particular night. For him every detail had to be perfect, right down to the white wrist gloves he “borrowed” from one of his waiters at work.

“He’s straight. Now really, let’s go before you tell me

any more of my Christmas gifts!”

“Ok, ok. Come over here and help me up.” I went over

to him and wrapped my arm around his back and held his left hand to support him.

“Are you ready?” I said watching him struggle to scoot

up to the front of the sofa.

“Where’s your new jacket. You’re still wearing that old

thing?”

“Papa!”

“Oops, bad fancy Santy. I’m ready. One, Two, Three.”

And we struggled together to get him up. His weak muscles and achy joints were fighting against us, but we managed. I ran ahead to open the front door and a cold burst of air flooded into the room. I grabbed his giant red sack of presents and we started our short journey across the front lawn. It was covered in about a foot of snow, just high enough to cover about half of my grandmothers overwhelming amount of decorations on her over-decorated lawn. We took it really slow, my Papa gripping

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the shoulder that wasn’t supporting the bag of gifts. He was shaking hard, and I wasn’t sure if it was from the cold, or that he was afraid of walking on the slippery front lawn. Either way, he wouldn’t have complained and either way, it bothered me.

When we passed the big picture window into the

living room, I could see my youngest brother, Adam sticking his head out from around the branches of our fake tree. I knew he was looking for us, for Santa. While we walked I thought about how even though inside they were probably bickering about one thing or another, from out there with the frosted edges of the window pane, and the Christmas tree covered in multicolor lights my family looked like something out a cheesy family Christmas special.

We got up to the door and I helped Papa up the steps

one at a time, holding his hand all the way up. “MERRRYYYY CHRRRIISTTTMASSS” he shouted.

There were echoes of excited childlike voices yelling

“Santa!” from all over the room; young and old. We told the same cock and bull story we told every year about how I had to run out to the car to get my phone and I found Santa walking up the drive way so I offered to help him with his pack because he seemed tired. Papa gimped over to his usual spot on the antique couch and motioned for me to bring over his bag. “Let’s see what Santa’s got for you good little girls and boys.”

Out of his bag he pulled all kinds of goodies that night,

including a phone and a new coat for me. I had to pretend to be surprised when I opened each of my gifts, but I had gotten

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pretty good at that over the years. We changed him back into his suit and walked him back into the living room as his alterego, as a different kind of gift giver. When he faced a barrage of questions from Adam like “How could you miss Santa again, Papa?” and “Will you promise not to miss him next year?” he just shrugged and chuckled.

“I don’t know little guy it must’ve been fate, or

dinner.”

Adam didn’t see the similarity at the time, but Papa’s

everyday black suit wasn’t fooling anyone. His rosy cheeks and the hearty chuckle didn’t disappear when he took of that Santa suit. Being a jolly, charming, room-brightening old man was no costume, it was his personality. That’s why no one ever tried to be Santa after Papa, no one had that Santa like magic that Papa had.

****

That was the last Christmas that Santa visited. The

next Christmas Papa sat in an almost comatose state in his spot. He wore oversized sweat pants and an undershirt with a small mustard stain on the collar. Over his sweat pants were the fleece legwarmers my grandmother made him because he got cold even in the hottest room. There was just no meat on his bones to keep him warm. His eyes sunk deep into his face and the glitter of light I grew to love was gone from his eyes. There was an absence of that deep belly laugh, or really, any laughter at all. We all knew.

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After that, Christmas was never the same. The time

we were supposed to arrive at my grandmother’s house started getting later and later, and most of us just spent the night checking the picture window out of the corner of our eyes. Hoping, by some miracle, that Papa was trudging through the snow worried if his toupee was straight.

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Apes after all Max Plokita a child given the task of drafting an epitaph for the grave —stone of mankind might write: Why? the banker—similarly tasked with pen and shovel in hand might write:

DEBT PAID IN FULL

then rewrite:

This is the cost of progress.

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House Brittany Jackson There was nothing to do on a day like this one. Gwen and Tasha sat on the stoop in front of their unit. The LeClaire Courts Projects was usually bustling with movement and noise but today it was silent. The heat made everything and everyone slow. Most of the windows in the project buildings were propped open with fans blowing more hot air into the small apartments. “Maybe we can go to Jasmine’s house,” Tasha said. “You gon ask momma?” Gwen asked, Tasha was silent. Tasha picked at the eyes of her baby doll. “Stop that,” Gwen said, “It’s creepy.” “I’m bored. What do you want to do?” Tasha whined. Gwen shrugged her shoulders and wiped her forehead. Their mother had banished them from the hot apartment, annoyed with their complaints and bickering, and now Gwen was regretting her role in getting them kicked out. “Wanna play house?” Gwen asked, half knowing the answer. “Ok, let me grab my kids. Her name is Mary and his name is Marcus,” Tasha said smiling proudly. “Hi Mary and Marcus, how old are you?” The children stared back with cold, blue eyes, silent. “They are two and three.”  “How lovely! What should we eat for dinner?” Gwen said. She was holding a pad of paper and a pen she had stolen from the kitchen.

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“Hmm,” Tasha said, dramatically tapping her chin with her index finger. She chewed her nail, getting flakes of pink polish on her lips, “I would like spaghetti, pizza and pie.” Gwen scribbled down the list, folded the paper in half and put it in her dress pocket. “Ok let’s go grocery shopping!” Gwen said, rising to her feet. “Wait! Who’s gonna watch my kids?” Both girls stared at each other confused. “Um, tell your husband to watch them,” Gwen suggested. “Ok!” Tasha turned her back to Gwen and her children, “Hunny, can you watch the kids? Oh thank you! I love you!” she said. She began to hug her body, rubbing her arms up and down her back and twisting her hips to make it seem like someone else was hugging her passionately. Gwen giggled. They had learned this from a girl they called Blue, who lived in the unit above theirs. Their mother called Blue a ‘fast girl’ and told them not to copy her, but they did it in secret anyway. When their frantic giggling subsided they proceeded to go grocery shopping in the project court yard. Tasha pulled up handfuls of fried yellow grass and plucked as many dandelions she could find. Gwen went over to the muddy flower bed that ran the length of the court yard between the row houses and dug up a hand full of dirt. As she plopped it into her plastic toy bowl she noticed one of the old women who lived in the project building across from them staring at her from behind her screen door. She looked as if she was going to scold Gwen for making a mess but decided to ignore it and go inside. When they were done gathering their food they brought it back to the front stoop and placed it in front of little Mary and Marcus. On the bottom step Gwen drew two circles with the nubs of chalk they had borrowed from Blue to make a stove. Tasha

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watched her older sister draw exaggerated triangle shapes inside of the circles. Fire, she though, suddenly becoming aware of the heat outside and the sweat gathered on her brown forehead. “What about the Pizza?” Tasha said wide eyed. “It’s your turn to get it.” Gwen said not looking up from her master piece. “I did it last time. You’re the oldest, you go.”  “Ugh, what a scaredy-cat,” Gwen moaned, making a show of her irritation, “we’ll go together.” She grabbed Tasha by the arm and led her up the three concrete steps and through the screen door. Tasha thought of protesting but being the younger sister she knew she had about as much of a choice here as she did in wearing Gwen’s hand-me-down dresses. They both stood in the small enclosed space, just inside the door. Peeping around the corner they could see their mother in the living room, standing at the ironing board watching her ‘stories’  on the thirteen inch black and white television. Her hand rested on the handle of the iron, their father’s work shirt lay on the board in front of her, wrinkled. The kitchen was directly across from where they stood. “I’ll get the ketchup, you get the crackers.” Gwen Whispered. As soon as she mentioned actual food Tasha’s belly began to rumble. Gwen would grab the ketchup from the first shelf in the cabinet. She was proud of the fact that she could now reach it on her tippy toes. They moved into action, slowly. If their mother saw them she would scold them for stealing food and kick them out of the house, or worse put them down for a nap. The fact that she wasn’t hungry by three in the afternoon was a mystery to them. Their breakfast of grits, a sausage and a homemade biscuit was gone and now their stomachs yearned

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for more. “We won’t make it to dinner momma! We hungry!” They had said to their mother one day, to which she had simply sighed and said, “Go play.” They could barely contain their anger when they saw that their two brothers were laughing at their rejection. They hated them for their laughter but also because they always got seconds, “They’re growing boys and they need their strength. You want them to grow big and strong so they can get one of those City jobs cutting grass this summer, don’t you?” their mother would say while scraping the contents of the pot onto their plates. They always got the most food and never left any seconds for the girls. To their relief they were able to sneak out of the kitchen unnoticed. “We got some food babies!” Tasha said swinging Mary around by her little white, plastic hands. At once they began to cook their meal. Tasha placed a handful of grass into one of their plastic pots and took it to the spigot on the side of the building. She watched the water run over the stalks of grass. It looked just like the pasta her mother made once. Carefully she carried it back to the stoop where Gwen was kneading the dough for the pie. “I’m going to put the Spaghetti on the stove,” Tasha said sitting the pot on top of the white hot chalk stove. “Ok, make the pizza. I want two,” Gwen said as she packed the damp dirt into the bowl. She smoothed the top then poked holes in the surface, like the women on TV did. She walked to the spigot and rinsed her hands with the cool water, then cupped her palms and drank. When the cold water hit her belly she felt it cramp and moan. “Is the Pizza done?” She shouted to Tasha on her way back to

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the porch. “Hold on, almost.” Tasha forced two drops of ketchup out of the bottle onto each of the four crackers. She spread the red goo with her index finger then placed it beside the pie on the stove, which now functioned as an oven, “We just have to wait for it to cook now.” They sat and stared hungrily at the food. In their eyes, the water swirled around the softening spaghetti noodles, giving off the faint smell of warm pasta. The steam would heat up the kitchen and make the windows sweat and the wallpaper around the stove relax. The insides of the pie would bubble and boil. The apples would soften; the bread would tan and crust. It would be flaky to the touch and sound like fingers rubbing soft paper. “I can smell the pie,” Tasha said dreamily, her head cocked to the side, her eyes glazed over, lost in fantasy. “What kind is it?” “Apple,” Gwen said, swallowing hard, “Just how momma makes it on thanksgiving.”  The pizza was browning. The dough around the perimeter became firm and brown. They wished they had stolen a slice of cheese, but they would have had to use a knife to cut if from the block and that would surely get them a whopping if they got caught. But even without it being there they could still imagine it and the smell of melting cheese was intoxicating. It was a warm, happy smell that you couldn’t resist. Neither of them had ever had pizza, but would imagine what it was like from watching the little white children have a slice with their friends after school on television. “I think it’s done,” Tasha said moving closer to the stove. “Me too,” Gwen said reaching for a pizza slice. “What ya’ll doin?” A voice said from beyond the porch. It was

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their baby sister Kim, rubbing her eyes, just waking up from the nap the other girls had avoided. She was still holding on to a stuffed bear they all called Poppa Bear. He had belonged to their older brothers, then he was passed on to Gwen, then Tasha and now he belonged to Kim. “Playin house,” Tasha said quickly then focused her attention back to the pizza. “Can I play?” “No,” they said in unison. “But I’m hungry!” She began to whine. “It’s not enough for you!” Tasha said through clenched teeth. “Momma!” Kim yelled. “Shhh! Ok, come on you big baby before momma hears you!” Gwen hissed. Kim came out of the house and sat on the concrete next to her sisters. Tasha handed each of them a few strands of spaghetti noodles which were now limp. “You want cheese on your spaghetti?” They both nodded and she sprinkled dandelion cheese into their hands. “I want some pie too!” Kim whined. “After your dinner,” Gwen snapped, “Let’s pray.”  God is great, God is Good, Let us thank him for our food. Amen. They ate, chomping their lips and teeth, up and down, dreaming

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of the hot noodles and melted cheese in their mouths. “Let’s eat the Pizza now,” Kim said grabbing one of Gwen’s slices. She rolled her eyes but said nothing. Making Kim cry would mean their mother would find their feast and the fun would be over. They each took a slice and ate it. Each bite of the cracker and the tangy ketchup teased their stomachs. “What the heck are you girls doing?” They turned to see their two brothers, Henry and Tyrone jr, walking up the path covered in sweat and grass stains. “Don’t worry about it,” Tasha snapped. Another thing she had learned from Blue. “Where ya’ll been?” Gwen asked. “Playin ball on the other side of LeClaire Courts. We came back cas it’s supper time. Daddy’s comin up the path now,” Tyrone said pointing behind him. They all turned excitedly to see their father making his way through the court yard, his dark brow shining with sweat. Wet patches spotted the arm pits and back of his plant uniform. When he finally made it to the stoop he kneeled down and pinched each of their noses. “How was work Daddy? You drive the fork lift today?” Gwen said. “I sure did, but I’m glad to be home. What do we have here?” he said. “We makin dinner!” Kim said. “Spaghetti, Pizza and Apple Pie,” Tasha said smiling shyly. “It looks delicious, but how about we go see what mom has for us?”

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“Ok,” They said in unison and abandoned their half-eaten meal. In the kitchen, lit by the fading sunlight, their mother was setting the table. The girls sat at the table excited, wishing for spaghetti, meat loaf or cake. They smiled at each other and crossed their fingers under the table. Their father sat at the head of the table and looked on with faint amusement. Momma brought over a bowl of corned beef, a bowl of white rice, utensils and seven bowls. Gwen stared at the food disappointed, wishing there could be more, wishing it wasn’t the same meal they have had so often. There was nothing special about this meal. Their mother had gotten that can of salty corned beef from the corner store and mashed it in a skillet until it turned dark red. That white rice came out of a bag under the sink and had been cooked in a big white pot with a broken handle. She watched as her mother shoveled two spoonfuls of the steaming rice and corned beef onto her and her sibling’s plates and split the rest with daddy. “Let us pray,” their mother said, and the table joined hands. God is great, God is Good, Let us thank him for our food. Amen. They all began to mix their rice and corned beef, Tasha mixed Kim’s food for her; momma rose from the table and came back with the box of crackers. She peered into the box and noticed a packet of crackers was missing. Tasha and Gwen met her accusing eyes but returned them to their plates when she said nothing. The boys scarfed their food down, not waiting to taste a single bite. “Mmm, this is good honey.” Their father exaggerated. Their mother waved him off and smiled bashfully. The girls took note of this and began to eat with more excitement. Even though

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Gwen was dissatisfied with the meal, her body could not resist the warm, salty taste of the corned beef. When Gwen finished her meal she noticed that Momma and Daddy had stopped eating and instead starting watching everyone else eat with sad eyes. “Is there anymore?” Henry, the younger of the two boys said. Their mother and father exchanged hesitant looks. Daddy opened his mouth to speak but before he could, momma spoke. “Here baby,”  she said and passed the plate to her son, “I’m still watching my figure.”  Their father smiled and lowered his eyes. “Nevermind,” he said, “It’s ok Ma.” “Go ahead son,” Daddy said. Henry took the plate, shamefully and split it with Tyrone jr. “Let’s get cleaned up girls,” Momma said, her voice tired and low. Daddy squeezed her hand and released it as she got up from the table. The girls followed her into the other room, waiting to be hungry again.

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Whilst Sitting in the Laboratory Dish Sophia Ege Paint me like a Tuesday, with American thighs and the Egyptians’ taste for the sun. Lick the stamp. Slip it on. I am the drum in the hookah shop. Drum and pat and drum, and take your time with me. Make me familiar. Let the water boil before you set me in to cook—three minutes’ time. Science, I am your Lucretia. Your rubber gloves and heartache howled, “Embrace, create, cock the head back and laugh.” Draw me from the devil’s mouth— the beaker’s frothing cum— the turn and run of Doctor Frankenstein’s progressive feet. Do so on a Tuesday, when balloons go missing, eaten by air, and the sprinklers run too late in the afternoon. God, I was impossible— the balloon that came back to the boy in the shorts and the baseball cap, that Tuesday afternoon when the sprinklers were shouting and scalding the grass, sneaking kisses with the pavement. I’ve lived a life not given, Father, but cheated, masturbated. I’ve won the lottery and it felt like being lifted out of a warm, soft oven.

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Where the Apple Falls Karolina Zapal i didnt know mamusia was a woman until a girl she told me was a woman didnt wear her undieswear and pointed right there and said i came from a womanpeach like hers and when i started getting smarterer i knew mamusia was a wife to have me cause fruit doesnt plant without the carrying winding of seeds and I didnt know mamusia had a name until school asked me for her name then I said what mamusia named herself when she signed me for school cause I thinkded mamusias with sons in school have to signed their names school said silly your mom had a name long before you got here and then I thinkded that mamusia needed one when I was born so people knew I belonged to a name for years I struggled with my mamusia’s trees I didn’t know what purpose they served me as did her hands and her goodnightface she looked at them and looked at them until they underlined her forehead she would have been beautifuler without trees in her eyes they don’t learn her nothing she only knows what’s best for me when I was older she took me to her favorite tree she picked out of a bouquet was then taken and hollowed her eyes sad for the first time went somewhere without me she said look son hear is my past where I followed the ground’s highest potential into empty lots where people were swallowed couldn’t argue simply because I was dying a young solo

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my artist strangled underneath the bitter addressee of death mailed unless life I helloed After that day I passed time on a tray to the younger starving behind me I was planted in my mamusia left home denying her feelings I grew to know I was not her orchard but a dollar in the meadow Time had given her friends her more nature to feed besides me I noticed how her voice scratched after she drank tea or the mornings She became not only a wife but a lover to my father and lover herself when she picked hairs naked in the mirror During meals she spoke of not appreciating At her tree I listened like a son here I listened like a reader to the work of dead artists or the sidewalks that moved forward Mamusia’s books found storage in her self I noticed she didn’t need me to tuck her into tired states of mind or build houses out of boxes with my laugh She wouldn’t sacrifice a single tree when uninspired left me building boxes out of houses on her behalf In late September I read an ad in the newspaper for my leaving an inconceivable death maybe it was time I listened mother how I desired to be nobody like you once were climb my eyes to the top of me and be able to see down

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to him curled in the shelter of the tree, but before I am able to lose your woman, your name, your lover, I need to propose to you that I see them too, the ones with their branches every which way as if they were dipped in milk and floating away. Then the neat ones, like just purchased rubber-banded pencils together, and the sea creatures with so many arms, scarecrows that should be placed at the farms. I see the treehouses you said where your father and I lost the doll’s clothes and revealed her charms. I see you’ve switched seats to say how does this table look on me today? And I see what you’ve been hiding for all these years that I’ve been growing. I know the tree that killed you and gave you life wasn’t me, but the shaved and digested paper type that has been in your life an absentee. My discovery silenced your quiet mind. You said son I was jailed for collecting trees. My yard was not a forest. I began blocking the roadways to the house, where no one came, even your father before he was a father stopped believing in the attraction

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of my breast. I was crazy in love without your father. Then went the doors, and when I brought the trees into the bedroom, he marked off my side of the bed, which forced me to write on all fours. I realized I was no longer becoming my marriage. My marriage was becoming me, my experiences becoming me my friends, me, and in that I existed, lonely, wishing to see me required wishing me to sea, and if I talked who was I to make the person on the end of my conversation a reader? I was the one who cut down my favorite tree to make room for the cemetery of me. I asked for a last page, Sat down, penned a now. I said, mom, you have to write again. Where you closed your journal, you trapped your son.

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Hearth Alex Ukropen The winter has been long and cold. Snow covers the ground and there’s nothing but barren trees and empty roads for miles. The white landscape seems to have no bounds. The ground matches the cloud filled sky and bleakness encompasses everything. There has been almost no food for five months now, and Marcus feels hunger pangs biting inside his belly. There is a knot in his stomach, and anything, even if it were only the stalest, driest bread would fill him enough to satisfy his hunger. Marcus, a middle aged man with graying black hair and a small goatee, travels alone in the forest on the outskirts of town. He is on the verge of death, and though there has been no game in a long time, he had decided to take his chances. He has a rifle with only a few bullets left, and has seen no sign of game in the last two hours. There has been a food shortage. The farmlands have been covered in frost and have not been able to produce sustenance, and everyone has been starving. Animals have either died off or migrated to places warmer. The townspeople of Bellmore are bound to their homes and cannot do the same. Everyone has gathered all the resources they can and are trying their best to survive. No one has seen any wild life around –no game to hunt. Though there’s been no sign of life in the woods, he would still rather die in the cold looking than to wait and starve. Suddenly, he spots movement in the distance. He snaps

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his head and readies his loaded rifle. He can see something within the wilderness. He sees the soft, white tail of a deer hiding behind a tree. Marcus has to stop himself from shouting out or making any sudden movement. Getting this shot could mean saving the life of himself and his son, Lawrence. Marcus shifts to get a view around the tree, his soft leather boots gently slide into the snow, not even making the slightest crunch. He holds his rifle steadily against his shoulder like his father taught him when he was a boy. He shifts to the side until he can get a clear shot around the side of the tree. The doe isn’t very big; probably just slightly older than a fawn. The beast elegantly stands motionless, as if a statue. He can’t help but wonder how such a feeble creature survived in the wild. Something about her feels strange and unearthly. He regrets having to kill her. Marcus readies his aim, lining up the iron sights at the head of the deer; he plans for a quick, clean shot. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger, the deer turns her head, sees him, and bolts off into the woods. Desperate, Marcus chases it through the thick brush, following the clearly formed tracks. He follows it and follows it, turning back now would be death. He won’t survive the cold trip back, so he can only go deeper into the woods. He refuses to turn back without any food. Death is inevitable, and so he would rather die trying to hold on to one elusive strand of hope than submit to failure. Strangely, he hears music –sweet, soft, and happy music. He wonders if he hears this because he is dying. Still, he

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travels further down the path past the snow covered thickets and mass of leafless trees. The cold bites more than his hunger now, and he can barely feel his hands and he has to constantly wiggle his toes so that he can sustain from getting frostbite. The music gets louder and louder, and though there is no sign of the deer, he has nearly forgotten the beast. In the distance he can the warm orange light of fire coming from a giant wooden cabin covered in gold decorations of wild animals and wildlife. The large structure occupies a small, nearly untouched clearing in the woods. Adorning the walls are lavish trophies: various gilt bones and animal skulls. Death beautified with a sheen of gold. Marcus knocks on the wooden door inlaid with a design of two deer drawn from simple, yet eloquent lines that gives Marcus a sense that he is somewhere ancient. Within moments a young boy opens it. He’s wearing strange furs and a woolen cap. Warmth emits from the cabin. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. The boy quietly opens the door and gestures for Marcus to enter, and then quickly runs away past the crowds of people who seem to be celebrating. As soon as he walks in, he is assaulted by a wave of aromas he has long forgotten. He can smell charred meat and rich spices permeate the air. Groups of people sit around large fire pits. There are several long tables along the sides of the room filled with roast hog topped with carrots, bowls of soup filled with chunks of meat, and roasted chicken –countless more foods fill the hall. Music reverberates throughout the building and fills Marcus with comfort.

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Marcus sees a beautiful woman preparing another bowl of soup. She’s covered in colorful clothing and gems, and he decides that she must be important; there’s something familiar about her. He feels as if he knows who she is, but can’t quite recall her name. “Where am I?” His voice is hoarse and soft. The cold has made his throat dry and it is painful to speak. “You’re home, of course.” When she speaks, it’s as though her mouth isn’t moving and he’s dreaming the words. Everything feels softer. The ground does not return his force when he walks upon it and the heavy burden he once felt upon him has been lifted. She hands him a bowl of soup. The warmth brings pain then great relief to his hands as he handles it. The meat is tender and salty. The vegetables are soft and have taken on the rich flavor of the thick broth. Marcus is careful, only taking a few sparing bites. His stomach has shrunk and is tight. Too much food could make his innards rupture. He feels like he should be ecstatic, but he is not; Marcus has lost too much, and the void within him cannot be filled by food alone. “Sit with us,” she says as she takes him to an empty seat. He looks across to see men and women all enjoying upon earthly delights. Couples, triples, quadruples, all travel together upstairs to different rooms, giggling with guilty-yetexcited demeanors. People are dancing. Mirth is abundant. Marcus cannot comprehend how there seem to be infinite doorways in this hall. Stairs spiral up and branch into hallways that reach into the sky; there is no limit to the height of the

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ceiling. Across from him sits a man he hasn’t seen in years. The man is short and round-faced with small eyes that glimmer like gems. Marcus used to work with Isaac at the printing place just at the start of the long winter. “Isaac, we all thought you were dead, why didn’t you come back to us?” Marcus puts down his half eaten slab of hog. “Why didn’t you bring us food?” Isaac smiles and laughs, “If I could come and go at ease, then I would, but this isn’t the kind of place that you can put on a map.” “So are we dead? Is this the afterlife?” Marcus asks. “If this was the afterlife, would we need food? I don’t know what this is, but I know that once you come here, you need to stay here or it goes away,” Isaac says. “But if it isn’t paradise on earth, then I don’t know what is.” He laughs and slurps broth from his bowl. “Still, you wouldn’t come back for your friends and family? We are starving back home.” Marcus looks pained as he speaks. “I can only carry so much,” Isaac says. “The townspeople will eat all I can bring in a day, and I’m certain I have no family by now. You can stay here as long as you like. It’s a rare privilege to find a home that will always be there for you. I am not eager to give it up.” Marcus stares at him, contemplating. “So then, you will not come with me?” Isaac shakes his head. “I do not miss that place one bit. I don’t have to work; I have food, and a safe place to sleep

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every night. There’s nothing more I can ask for.” “And you aren’t lonesome?” “Not any more than I was before.” Marcus finishes his meal and looks longingly at the cabin. He doesn’t want to leave, but he knows that he needs to. If he could bring his son here, he would stay. There are countless floors, and the woodwork is not like that of what he’s used to with boards and planks bound together to form a whole, but one single piece carved into a giant home. It’s a single, seamless entity. He returns to the beautiful woman, “Am I allowed to leave this place?” Speaking those words make him feel uncomfortable and somewhat sick. She nods and frowns quaintly, “Yes, but if you do, you will die, eventually.” She says this as if it’s ordinary. “You can stay here for as long as you would like to. Not many find this place. It would be such a shame.” Marcus realizes now that the woman looks exactly like his wife when they first met. How he could not have seen it before he has no idea. The boy who answered the door before stands there at the exit. Marcus realizes now that he has the form of his first son. He recalls finding the boy in a pile of snow just months ago, perhaps the same pile the two brothers once made snow angels in, his face purple and blue and his body frozen. The boy’s mouth was filled with slush, as though he thought the cold could fill his belly. Her image is perfect. Marcus knows she isn’t real, that she couldn’t be real, that she was dead, but he has trouble keeping that in mind. The woman has the small birthmark just

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above her left eye brow that his wife did. She has the same toothy grin, and her eyes are the same ice blue, they even fill him with the same joy he had missed. “Please, just stay,” She looks sad even though she smiles and gently wraps her arm around his waist. Marcus feels warmth like he has not known in a long time. He can forget about the constant worries outside, about the two deaths that hollowed him out more than the lack of food and long winter. Lawrence is waiting for him, the boy is ten and still needs him, he thinks. His thoughts blur, as the warm embrace of this image intoxicates him more than any drink. Marcus’ bosom fills with warmth as he takes in the beauties of the cabin around him. His wife gently kisses him on the lips and grabs his hand. She smiles gently and takes him past the groups of people huddled around the various pits of fire that are scattered across the giant room. In each fire there is a spit with generous portions of meat roasting. Marcus doesn’t smell the ash or get any smoke in his eyes because the dark clouds bellow up and exit out of small slits on the top of the walls. He sees a giant fountain in the center of the cabin. The statue of a goat head pours red wine from its mouth for all to drink from. The woman takes Marcus up one of the winding staircases that weaves in and out of the wall. The way is half hidden as the stairs that look like they were carved from a single tree spiral upwards, and he notices they go down under the earth as well. Each part inside the wall has a door that seems plain and identical to the last. There seem to be infinite rooms. They travel up and up until he is nearly out of breath, and they

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seem no closer to the ceiling’s wooden rafters than when they started climbing, but everything below them appears far small and far away. They stop at one of the doorways. “This one is ours.” The woman says as she slowly opens the portal. Beyond he can see the bright light of the sun, and a color he has not viewed in a long time: green. He steps out into a small glade of lush vegetation. There are thick, healthy trees and tall grasses surrounding what he sees as his home from before, but the abode is somehow better than the actual two story brick house they used to live in; it’s the eternal image of what he always wanted. His wife pulls him in further. As they enter the house, he can smell that unique smell of one’s own home. Both of his children, Lawrence and the one that was dead, are waiting there, happy as can be. Though he knows that this Lawrence is younger than the real one, he needs to pretend. Marcus embraces the two smiling children and then takes a seat on the soft, earth brown suede couch that isn’t riddled with holes like it’s counterpart on the outside. He wants to believe, he can finally relax and the empty shell that he has been feels less hollow now. He can close his eyes, free from worry. The embrace of his loved ones is warm and he can imagine that he has succeeded in protecting his family and keeping everything together instead of having to face the stark reality of their deaths. “I want to believe,” he says. The outside world where his son starves and Marcus feels like a failure seems only like a dream now, but he knows good does not come so easily. “Where does all of this come from?” He waves his hand in

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front of him, gesturing everything around him. “Do not worry. This place only appears when people suffer the most, and you have been given freedom from the dregs.” The image of his wife holds him close. “The world outside has nothing for you, let it go. They will only suffer more and you are unable to change that.” Marcus closes his eyes and imagines this to be the only true world. He forgets about how he failed to save his wife from thieves, and how the house began to fell apart afterwards. Though everything seems perfect here, he still cannot be completely comforted while knowing that his living son still needs him. He isn’t sure how long it has been since he’s been feasting on food in the main hall and living in paradise in the cabin when he sees Isaac again. His once coworker is drinking a glass of wine. The red liquid drips from his chin and onto his shirt. Marcus joins him, he hasn’t had the wine before, and when he takes a sip from his glass, he tastes the bitter yet sweet earthiness to the drink, but there’s also a hint of iron, that reminds him of the time he slipped on ice and bit the inside of his mouth. “Are you enjoying yourself yet, friend?” Isaac bites into leg of mutton that is dripping with grease. Marcus tries to smile. “I feel as though I want more and more. I cannot quell my hunger, and I can no longer sleep at night with just the image of my wife.” Marcus sighs, in his life outside, he never wanted much except for the ones he loved to be happy. “Also, I know my remaining son is dying out there, and I am in no way guiltless.”

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Isaac reaches out his greasy hand and pats Marcus on the shoulder. “I felt the same pains at first, too. You can have all you want here though, there is enough for all of us, and it will never run out.” He looks down and chews on his lip; it seems he is thinking about how to word something. “I’m sorry about your son, but it would be that either you both die, or just him. You can’t alter his path.” Marcus sighs. He knows it is true; they were just on the verge of death before he found this place, yet the fact still doesn’t comfort him. Marcus tries to eat more. He chews on a flank of beef. While the food is savory, tender and full of spices, he can taste something else. He isn’t sure how exactly to describe why, but the meat tastes bitter and he can’t swallow it. He spits the chunk back into the fire and watches the meat burn into ash. Marcus can only see the meat as a hand now –a small, tender hand the same size as his sons. He knows that his food isn’t really his son, but he can’t eat without realizing that every moment he spends here, Lawrence starves more. He feels sick, as though he has begun to awaken from a dream. The image of his wife is tending to the fire. Marcus approaches her, everything has suddenly feels wrong. He has known that there is no such paradise without consequence. He gently pats her on the shoulder. Marcus has made sure to never call her by his wife’s name. He has to remember that she isn’t real. “I need to leave,” he says. Marcus is surprised by her scowl. “You have been persistent.” She looks down, now she seems saddened. “The house holds no secrets. I have tried to give you an eternity of pleasure, but

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if you must go and die a pointless death, then go.� He reaches for the door. There is a tense pressure in his chest that does not want him to leave. Marcus knows that when he leaves the house, he will never be able to return. He will never see this beautiful world and that he will return to the frozen wasteland filled with death and pain. As he pushes the door open, he feels his head pulse. He can feel the freeze of outside and his body, his spirit, does not want to go. Marcus pushes harder on the door inlaid with two dancing deer. The door seems to distort, and instead of opening on its hinges, it splits with a loud rip and Marcus lunges into the cold face first. His heart is bursting. Blood is pumping through his body. He feels an explosion in his breast as he falls out of the passageway and into the snow. His heart heaves and his chest aches as he lifts himself up. He is lying face down in snow. He feels empty. Marcus turns around to see the cabin behind him, and he is filled with terror. There is still a cabin, but the dwelling is a small hobble with grey, rotting wooden walls. There are no golden decorations of animals, but there are bones. Bones that he assumes are those of animals until he sees a human skull at the foot of the door. Marcus forces himself to peer inside. There is a flame in the center, though it is small and dwindling. A small group of ragged people with dog like faces and worn clothes glare at him hungrily. He sees Isaac, and though he is not as corpulent as he saw him before, he still is more stout and thicker than a starving man. Isaac smiles as he chews on a dry hunk of flesh. There, Marcus sees along the walls, are people sleeping with smiles and he assumes they must be dreaming the same happy

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dream he once did. In the corner, Marcus notices what he feared. There is a stockpile covered in a worn blanket stained with dirt, blood and other colors. He moves to the pile, and gently lifts the cover, trying his best to touch it as little as possible. He sees the true source of food. There is the serene, solid face of an old man atop a pile of other cold, dead bodies. Chunks of him are missing, and Marcus knows that it is what they were eating moments ago. He feels a sickness in his gut that rushes up to the back of his throat. He can smell the sweet smell of cooked meat which is only more putrid to him. He is ashamed, embarrassed and angry. Marcus manages to force himself outside, even though his legs feel numb and he wants to hobble over in disgust. In the woods, he sees the same small doe from before staring at him with cold eyes. He sees that his rifle is still in the snow and picks it up. Marcus lifts the gun to his shoulder. The beast doesn’t move, it’s as if it knows and accepts the fate ahead her; she looks sorry. Sorry that her gift was not good enough. Marcus fires, the doe falls quickly and quietly. He manages to take the animal over his shoulders and carry her –she is just light enough. He no longer thinks he can feel hunger or bring himself to swallow food, but he will bring the venison to his son so that they might live another few days.

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Cruci Fixus Noble Schermerhorn Jesus has hung from many crosses. Silver and gold, Stone crosses in fields, moss bleeding from his side where the Roman’s spear pierced him. I’ve been here before I’ve knelt in the churches, Saint Pat’s and Saint Gertrude’s, and I’ve looked up from the pew to Christ hanging without seeing the pinewood, or rosewood of the cross. I tell you this now at the end of mass because as the priest removes his vestments in the sacristy, the deacon returns the blood to the tabernacle, where it will turn back to wine for the next mass, in a few hours.

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Because the candles are being put out; and because the air has thinned, and cooled, and is no longer heavy with religion. It’s gone back to the beginning before the gospel and the priest, and Christ has become wood again. I tell you this because I’ve been here before, but never seen it until now: The common labor of men in the holy things we do: The wine a vintner made, or the baker’s loaf. Never gone back to the beginning, back before Calvary or the Passion, to the rough hands of a carpenter pushing through shavings before they fall to his feet. Sweating into the wood, shaping the cross, raising it up from a cedar, numbering it, resting before beginning the next.


My first squirt gun fight Drew Podlewski Needles. Needles filled with stuff that was supposed to make me feel better but didn’t. The needles only came at night, carried by women in white. I might have thought they were angels at first, but each time they came, they were demons. I don’t recall them coming in the daytime. My mother was always there then, there to comfort me, to hug me, to promise me popsicles when it was all over. That’s how it went for five days. In the day, my mom, with kisses and hugs. In the nights, the nurses with Rocephin. I have only seen one picture from that time, when my lungs were inflamed. But it is not of doctors and medicine, or of a worried mother and frightened child. It is of two brothers, pointing water pistols at each other, beaming with such fervor that the fact one of them lies, reclined on a gurney, makes no difference.

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Progressive Alyssa Erickson I’m afraid you’ve caught me thinking about forever; about tomorrow and next year, and when I’m ninety. I’m afraid you’ve caught me imagining the perfect centerpiece with nine roses each, not six, light on the baby’s breath in the center of Each. and Every. Table. at a church of some denomination I’m not yet sure of. But, I’m not picky. I’m afraid you’ve noticed my distraction at the thought of centimeter length toes tracking red, blue, green finger paints across wood floors, because carpets are hard to clean and I’m going to have better things to do than steam carpets with two kids, a job, a husband, and a weekly book club. Oh, I do hope we read Gatsby and so-and-so will mistake the green motif for nature instead of money and we’ll laugh about it all night long over red wine and spritzers. I’ll make sure to put mozzarella on the cheese tray because everyone knows mozzarella goes well with red wine. And the next morning, the leftovers will be a great treat to put in the kids lunch boxes. Oh, their lunchboxes… One perfectly adorable Cinderella one for Rose and a very plain black one for Teddy though I told him it was boring. But “Nooo” he’s much too cool for any themed lunch box. None the less, I’ll tuck a napkin with a little note on it wrapped around their silver wear: a reminder that I love them both, while avoiding the embarrassment. You know how school children get! But one day they’ll thank me. One day when they

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marry off into nice families of fiancés that they’ve dated for at least three years after college because they will get an education and they certainly won’t start dating as early as I did, No Sir! And once their married off, my husband and I will move off into the South Carolina by the lake and get visits from the grandchildren every few weeks. We’ll live in a great big blue house with white shutters that is big enough for the kids to run around in but not so big that they’ll get lost. We’ll keep a great big oak wardrobe for them to hide in, separate from the one our clothes are in. They will know the difference! After long visits, the hubby and I will go explore some historical monument like the grave of Woodrow Wilson, but certainly not the Grand Canyon or something, because let’s be honest it’s just a giant hole. Certainly, my husband won’t be interested in that kind of thing. He’d much rather take our antique red convertible to somewhere more worth our time. After all, we don’t have much left. We’ll have to be planning our gravestone placement and discuss who we are giving that ring to in the will. The ring he’ll buy me for our nineteenth anniversary will go to his niece, not that dreadful step-child of his other brother. I can’t believe he insists on caring for her. Yes I do believe I have all the details just right, now all I have to do is get the fiancé and we’ll end up in our mahogany rocking chairs right where we belong. Now what’s that? What if he doesn’t come? Oh honey, you get much too caught up in the future!

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The World Without Love Nicole Vecchione Women around the world woke up today to find that they had no desire to feed, clothe, or even see their children. Men, too, rolled over in their beds hardly able to recognize the women they usually slept with, never mind their sons and daughters sleeping in other rooms. Alarms rang. Turning their heads on their pillows, husbands and wives eyed one another warilyaware for the first time of the smells coming from one another that most of them did not like. Still undressed, they moved about one another in silence, padded barefoot into the halls where their children began to brush up against their thighs like fish seeking shelter in murky water. They grabbed their parents’ waists, already looking for direction, but the adults moved on shaking their bodies free. On the sidewalks, babies strapped into strollers screamed to see their mothers crossing the streets without them. Older children, the ones who had learned that money could buy the things they needed, walked into convenience stores with cash from their parents’ wallets shoved into their pockets, mistaking autonomy for love. The people working at the stores didn’t stop

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the children from buying coffee. They didn’t stop them from grabbing handfuls of candy, turned away from the ones who snuck packs of cigarettes beneath their shirts. Adults passed in and out of stores among the children, acutely aware of the scents of others. From time to time a man would stop, pulling a woman close by her wrists and she would not scream. From there, she could sense his scent, determine whether he was what she wanted. Night brought the sounds of children whimpering together in homes that were not theirs because they could not find their own. They settled into abandoned king-sized beds and told each other that tomorrow their parents would return. The babies were gone from the streets, taken in by former mothers who knew how to nurse infants to sleep without milk. This is something the others would have to learn in time.

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Montage | Issue #8  

Spring 2013 edition of Montage Arts Journal

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