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VOLUME THREE • ISSUE ONE

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Greetings and welcome to Montana Mouthful’s “Romance Gone Wrong” issue!   Romance gone wrong is a favorite topic of mine, and for a very long time, it was my life. I had the misfortune of losing my husband when I was 45 years-old, and after being sad and lonely for a few years, I entered into the sometimes frightening world of online dating, which lasted more years than I care to admit. During that time, I sorted through a myriad of profiles looking for my new “Mr. Right.” I met and/or dated a shady biker with a checkered past, a trucker who was lonely and unable to commit, an adult boy scout with a fifth-of-whiskey-a-day issue, and a railroad engineer. Because so much baggage from prior relationships gets carried over into the next, many new relationships are doomed to fail. I encountered many interesting characters and may one day write a book about the experiences, with a preface that covers what not to include in your dating profile. Suffice it to say, my personal recommendation is that you leave out those photographs of stuffed elk heads and giant fish!   Anyhow, this issue contains some unique and disturbing takes on romances gone awry. We appreciate all of the submissions and thank those artists, writers, and poets who put their work out there for our enjoyment. This issue also includes a new feature, called “Editors’ Enclosure,” which is a space for one of the editors to share a story, essay, poem, or artwork. In this issue, Jasmine Swaney Lamb shares a nonfiction piece about a romance gone wrong with parts of herself.  We’ve also set aside a page that includes information about future advertising space in the magazine. If you’d like to include an ad in our next issue, please read that page for more information.   As always, we appreciate your support and are so happy to have you as readers of Montana Mouthful magazine. With warmest thanks, Cari Divine, Editor

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Romance Gone Wrong VOLUME THREE • ISSUE ONE Montana Mouthful is an independent nonprofit literary magazine devoted to short fiction and nonfiction, poetry, and visual artwork. Each issue is themed. We aim to publish three times per year. Although we seek short pieces—just a mouthful— avoid sending anecdotes. Surprise us with your words. Strive to submit stories that build toward something more than a punchline or trick ending. Montana Mouthful is open to most subjects and styles; however, we are not interested in gratuitous sex or violence. EDITORS Jasmine Swaney Lamb Cari Divine WE PUBLISH Fiction Flash Fiction: 1,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Short Story: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Non-Fiction Essay: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Narrative Nonfiction: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces). Poetry 1,000 words or less (up to 3 pieces) Artwork/Photography Up to 10 images SUBMISSIONS Please send us your work via Submittable at https://montanamouthful.submittable.com/submit Emailed submissions will not be accepted. VIEWING ISSUU: https://issuu.com/montanamouthful/ MAGCLOUD: magcloud.com CONTACT Email: admin@montanamouthful.com Web: montanamouthful.com Facebook: facebook.com/montana-mouthful Instagram: instagram.com/mouthfulmontana/ Twitter: twitter.com/MontanaMouthful DESIGN Layout and graphic design by Luke Duran, Element L Design

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Introduction .......................................................................II For Better or For Worse......................................................3 My parents’ marriage...........................................................7 Fight or Flight ....................................................................9 Amelia...............................................................................13 When my girlfriend met my friends.................................15 Gifts..................................................................................17 The Bridge ........................................................................19 Walking Matrimonial Trail in New Mexico Alone...........23 Reading Your Future in Thrift Store Ephemera ................25 Virus & the Sock ..............................................................27 Dalliance ...........................................................................29 Modern Love ....................................................................31 Missing my Misses............................................................33 Cutest Couple ...................................................................34 Love Poem for a Dying Wife ...........................................36 Long Train ........................................................................37 He Found The Postcard ....................................................39 What You Leave Behind...................................................41 Wild Horses Grazing........................................................43 A Kiss Is Just A Kiss .........................................................45 Empty Choir.....................................................................47 Of a Mother......................................................................49 Her Restraining Order......................................................51 The Wolf and the Cat .......................................................53 For Danny.........................................................................57 Sleep Talk..........................................................................59 Angry Cat .........................................................................60 Remembering to Forget ....................................................64 English as a First Language ..............................................69 Biography..........................................................................72 Cover art:

I Gave Her My Heart…

| ALEX STOLIS

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Cajas | LUKE DURAN 2 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


FICTION

For Better or For Worse by Mary Sophie Filicetti

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he Uber pulls up after midnight in front of the darkened house, and I exit unsteadily. The front walk is swampy from the heavy rain earlier, so I pull off my heels and proceed to the paving stones by the side entrance, aiming each step for dry land. Reaching the door, I feel rather than hear a presence and turn to face two glowing red eyes fixed upon me. I blink, and the image coalesces into a creature hanging upside down by his scaly tail in a tree barely two feet away. The opossum, alert to my presence, is otherworldly in his stillness, not even a twitch from the whiskers on his long snout. Time stretches as I fumble with keys, keeping one eye over my shoulder. Safe inside, I bark out a nervous laugh, fling off my clothes, and marvel at how it is indeed possible—with the help of close friends and hard liquor—to have a good time on the night your husband packs up and moves out. By morning, the outing has grown fuzzy. I’m clear on the dinner, a tapas bar in Clarenmontanamouthful.com

don, sangrias all around. Another restaurant for dessert, name and menu escaping me. Bar-hopping followed—I remember laughing as we headed to the next round, but now the view of the sidewalk is shrouded in mist, the universe whittled down to myself, companions, and about six feet ahead, like those memories from childhood where the Christmas tree exists in sharp focus, but the rest of the room dwells in a dim fog, all of the minor details and peripheral events lost to time. I consider whether I dreamed up the possum entirely. Four years in the house, and I’ve yet to spy one in the neighborhood, much less lurking by my door. Over a cup of black coffee, I gather my bearings. The house is now mine, a subject of more than one toast last night. But sober reality strikes, and ‘mine’ means 16 more years of mortgage payments on an aging house, along with every bill slipped through the mail slot. I walk through the house, opening windows, trying to dispel a musty scent I’ve never noticed Montana Mouthful | 3


At the upstairs landing, I catch a glimpse of movement in the backyard. My nighttime visitor has brought a friend. Two opossums, the size of small dogs, climb along the top of the fence then scamper down into the yard. before. At the upstairs landing, I catch a glimpse of movement in the backyard. My nighttime visitor has brought a friend. Two opossums, the size of small dogs, climb along the top of the fence then scamper down into the yard. Taking a breath, I reach for the phone and call a colleague. “There are two opossums running around my yard…in broad daylight,” I say without preamble when Janice picks up. I watch the creatures follow each other in and around mulberry bushes, frolicking like children. “Aren’t they supposed to be nocturnal? Is this normal?” “Calm down,” Janice says, “at least they’re not in your house, destroying the furniture.” Her tone cuts through my anxiety, and I smile, unsure whether she’s referring to her dogs, or her two kids. “But do you think they’re a bad omen? A sign that I should sell the house?” “You’re overthinking this—and I believe that particular myth involves foxes. Possums eat all of the pests living in your yard-cockroaches, insects, slugs, whatever. Just let them be.” E It takes a week before I’m ready to face the guest room, Jake’s bedroom during the five long months between the announcement he was leaving, and the actual move. I’m prepared for bare surfaces, hangers dangling in empty closets. Instead, the night table is littered with debris: coins, paper clips, a halfempty tin of Altoids; the drawers and closets still contain a motley assortment of old clothes, 4 | Montana Mouthful

belts, discarded shoes. Only the walls are a blank canvas, the paint darkened in patches where pictures once hung. Stretching out on the bed, I am considering a new color to replace the ugly, too-somber beige, when a line on the ceiling catches my eye. A crack runs almost the length of the plaster ceiling before splintering off down the side of the wall. How could Jake have neglected to deal with this before he left? Scratch that. If you could walk out on your mortgage, and your wife, for that matter, you weren’t really worried about cracks in the ceiling. Our framed artworks are stacked on the dresser face down, rejected. A post-it note floats on top in a layer of dust beside them: Be back soon for the rest. J As I gather the frames on the dresser, a flicker of color flutters down to the floor. I stoop down to collect a small photo, scanning unfamiliar faces until I see Jake, relaxed, smiling at the camera. He’s seated at a long table, surrounded by the team at his new job, beer and wine glasses held up in a toast. I drop the note into the overflowing garbage, pack up, and cart the photo with everything else to the basement, out of the guest room, out of sight. Stepping into the unfinished section, I look around with dismay at mildewed rugs, warped records, two-byfours scavenged for some never-realized building project, and the rest of the odds and ends he’s left behind. Vol. 3 • Issue 1


Soon after, the house dreams begin. In the dreams, I discover rooms in my own home I never knew existed—lofty spaces with vaulted ceilings, wall—length windows showcase a sweeping view across the Potomac River. Red eyes wink down upon me from atop the Washington Monument in the strange, must-be-imaginary geography. I awaken with momentary disappointment in the reality of my 1930’s bungalow. The dreams shift as winter approaches, when it’s just me and the four walls after dark. I consider inviting friends over for company, but then resist with some strange, Puritanical determination to face loneliness head on. On the other hand, Jake, apparently, is cooking and watching old movies with Kasey, a mutual friend, who very courteously emailed me to see if I mind her letting him crash—Of course, it’s platonic… just trying to help him out… but it turns out we’re enjoying ourselves… Rereading fails to change the message, and having no civil response, I delete the email. By November, the evenings expand in length. I lie in bed, my gaze shifting back and forth from a Patricia Highsmith novel to the new cracks radiating from the window of my bedroom walls. They seem even longer in the guest room, and wider than before. I resist the temptation to turn on the overhead light to examine the cracks more closely, and work some mental math in the dark, running numbers, calculating the possibility of my teaching salary and tutoring work covering all of the bills. Anxiety pushes down into my subconscious and invades my sleep, where I hear a terrible rumbling, cracking sound erupting from deep inside the house. I pivot from the bedroom, thwarted in my escape down the stairs as my feet fail to find purchase on the montanamouthful.com

steps in the thickened air. The noise builds, the whole second floor shaking. I reach the landing just in time to see the wall beside the dining room buckle outwards, and the bedroom ceiling rain down atop the rubble. Heart thudding, I wake, stumble out of my room, and walk through the house to reassure myself it’s still standing. I’m at Home Depot an hour later walking up and down the aisle searching for spackle, and back home, searching YouTube for instructional videos. E A few people at work know about the split, but avoiding the subject is almost worse, since it’s tricky to edit Jake out of stories he once figured prominently in. Janice invites herself over on Fridays often enough to become a new tradition. She claims she needs a break from the cacophony at her own home, but underneath, I sense a wellness check. We find a routine—walking to pick up some takeout and wine, followed by binge-watching Marie Kondo, a soothing show where the soft-spoken and always-cheerful host restores order not only to the homes, but also to the families living within. Jake, having failed to pick up any of his crap, sends periodic texts, all business, no mention of the house, or to ask how I am doing. I react by purging boxes from the basement one by one, beginning with the obvious junk. I work with the rhythm of a ransom note: You have 48 hours to comply. For every hour past that time, I will remove one finger… Each Friday when I arrive home to find the trash cans empty, a similarly empty place now in the basement, a brief calm descends. Clearing out Jake’s personal discards, though, does nothing to solve the problem of our mutual possessions. Montana Mouthful | 5


When he moved out, Jake had the privilege of hand-selecting the items he needed to start a new life, while I retained everything else. The holiday ornaments and decorations, (“Those rituals were always more important to you.”), mismatched silverware from his sister, and other day-to-day items that carried our history around with them. I pull out our photo albums on a rainy Saturday for a little self-imposed torture. Jake and I on the beach on a cold February, taking turns standing beside the SOLD sign in front of our house. The two of us sitting on the steps together at a family reunion, a quiet moment caught by my cousin Nicole. For the first time, I notice Jake’s ironic expressions, and in the group pictures, the way he is always standing a little apart. (“You know I don’t like to have my picture taken.”) I rip out every photo where he seems coerced and throw the lot in the trash. The deletions in the album appear like the redactions in a classified document, gaps in my story. The wedding album remains on the shelf, unopened, but ordinary objects in every room, every corner of the house, draw my attention and provoke unwanted memories. E “Laura!” I look up, startled. Janice stands in the doorway, a bottle of wine in her hand, taking in the scene. Every table-top in the living room, as well as most of the surface of the floor, is covered—kitchen appliances, clothes, decorations, my jewelry box, photo albums, boxes of cards and letters, gifts. She leans over, reading the label on a 4x6 foot box which holds my wedding dress, cleaned, pressed and preserved for the next generation.

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“Janice? I wasn’t expecting you…” “Yes, well, you weren’t answering my texts, or emails, and when I saw the out-of-office response, I got worried.” “Well, I’m fine.” “Clearly you’re not. What the hell is all of this?” “It’s everything I own which has some connection to Jake. I thought I could Marie Kondo it all—you know, see what sparks joy— then figure out what to do with everything else. But...” I looked at the jumble of objects strewn across the room. “It’s too much.” “I don’t think Marie Kondo quite envisioned this. I don’t see how you can separate out Jake’s presence. He did live here.” “Do you have a suggestion?” “No, but we’ll figure it out. For starters, I could hold onto a few mementos, so you don’t need to decide everything right now.” “What is this for?” I ask, as she hands me a phone. “For you to call work and let them know you’re okay. Then I’ll set my own out-of-work response and call the Thai place on 23rd street. If we’re going to do this, it won’t be on an empty stomach.” We retreat to the kitchen to open the wine. “By the way,” Janice says, “I met your resident opossum tonight. He was blocking the front walkway, like your guardian, judging whether to let me pass.” “I guess I could do worse.” Passing me a glass, Janice asks, “Are you ready?” I look at my friend. Somehow, the words of protest forming in my mind die on my lips. I nod, and we begin the sorting.

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

My parents’ marriage by Yixuan Wang The tension between these two inmates waxed and waned with me. I waxed and hung myself in the sky many nights in the last 27 years when they deemed each other the worst person on earth. Maybe their daughter is truly the worst. I wished for my eternal lunar eclipse, so they could peacefully pass their time left together. My only wish. During the Chinese Moon Festival, other families worshiped my luminous full brightness, a laudable symbol of happily reunited families. These two jailbirds didn’t give their daughter that belief. Tonight, I’m fully waxed again, like when she was 4, or 12, or 17 years old. The parents threatened each other’s lives. she can’t compose herself like an adult, fearing how violent the fight goes on the other side of the earth. she travels back to those vexing nights that I witnessed. she fears one day, she loses her guard and walks into the same prison with her accomplice.

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Vol. 3 • Issue 1

Don’t Call Me Anymore | JAINA CIPRIANO


NONFICTION

Fight or Flight by Jenny Hedley

I

met Nik* at a nightclub just after my 34th birthday, through a mutual friend, a stripper, back when I sold lingerie in the dressing rooms of every strip club in Melbourne, Australia. I’d dangle pretty, sparkly things and girls would empty their garters, calling me the Panty Devil with equal parts love and hate as I wheeled my suitcases up and down King Street. Nik, then 49, rescued one of my baby-faced clients off the street when she overdosed at the Love Machine one Sunday night. He never touched my friend, the incapacitated high earner, so we assumed he was a Knight in Shining Porsche. Sunday benders were ritual for anyone in the nightlife industry: work hard, play harder, starting at Love at 11p.m., where Nik racked up lines of cocaine and displayed me to his friends. “Make sure you wear something really short and slutty,” he’d say. I was flattered by the attention, softened by the MDMA that we dissolved in bottled water and sipped throughout the night. I mistook lust for love montanamouthful.com

while under the influence. Our cavernous pupils contracted as Circus Bar closed, the bouncers ejecting us into the sober light of another Monday morning. As we walked down Chapel Street, my shoes in hand, Nik asked if I’d ever heard of morbid jealousy. I didn’t know then that he parked outside the strip clubs every weekend, watching to make sure that I wasn’t leaving with one of the Johns. A dance manager spotted him parked outside a club on King Street, lurking. One night a bouncer on Lonsdale Street lied to Nik, telling him I wasn’t working, thinking he was protecting me from a stalker. Nik came to the paranoid conclusion that I was at my best friend’s house and that, since she was a sex worker, I must be in on the hustle. I answered my phone in the strip-club dressing room. “Nik’s freaking me out,” Jade said. “He’s at my front door and he won’t leave.” I told her to call the police. “I’m holding,” she said, double bolting her door. Later, Nik stared through me in postMontana Mouthful | 9


coital sprawl, and said, “If you ever leave me, I’ll kill you.” Those words became so familiar— a language of endearment––as he systematically perforated my confidence. Nik called me a slut, broke into my phone, rummaged through my purse and planted a listening device under my

Our cavernous pupils contracted as Circus Bar closed, the bouncers ejecting us into the sober light of another Monday morning. As we walked down Chapel Street, my shoes in hand, Nik asked if I’d ever heard of morbid jealousy. bed. I thought I had nothing to worry about, because I had nothing to hide. If I’d had a healthy sense of self, I would have run for my life. I blame my appetite for bad men on intergenerational trauma. When I was 13 I discovered Mom’s article “I Lost My Husband to a Cult,” in Redbook magazine and wondered why she hadn’t fought harder to save me. Every other weekend, as a child, I came to expect beltings plus emotional and spiritual abuse that culminated in my exorcism. I was under the illusion that coercive control was a form of affection; I had no healthy relationships to model. I never would have found the courage to leave Nik if only my life had been at stake. But everything changed: I was pregnant. I trace the time of conception to one ecstasyfuelled Monday morning, post-Circus Bar. After my skipped menses, I flushed the rest of our party pills and hoped that sobriety would

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end Nik’s paranoia. Nik and I went to couples therapy, where he'd promise not to stalk me anymore, not to smoke any more crystal meth. Then he’d go back to accusing me of having an affair or of taking drugs in secret. He kept on tracking me, threatening suicide if I didn’t stay. Then when it was clear I’d had enough, he’d apologize again. I wanted to believe his crocodile tears; I wanted my son to have a father. But when I was seven months pregnant, I found evidence of Nik’s risky sex life—and a drug scale—in his van. He had been gaslighting me all along, accusing me of exactly the things he was guilty of. I asked him to move back in with his mom and, due to a death in his family, he agreed. Right as my little flame-haired prince filled his lungs with air, Nik strode into the birthing room and said, “Are you sure he’s mine?” He showed up at my apartment under the pretence of visiting our son and asked me to put on lingerie for him. I felt devalued as milk leaked through my maternal bra and blood soaked thick post-partum pads. I tried to remove my spare apartment key from his key ring but Nik ripped it from my hands, causing me to stumble, almost dropping our precious ten-day-old bundle. Our newborn's primal scream—forever etched into my neural pathways—startled Nik. He walked out the door without saying sorry. Any love I had for him died that day. I kept a hammer under the bed where I co-slept with our son, ready to fight for our lives. I felt like a caged animal, my amygdala in constant overdrive. I could no longer imagine a world in which I would feel safe. I didn’t know then that it would take another 18

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months of fighting through the legal and justice systems to free myself from Nik’s stalking and coercive control. I collapsed onto my knees in the shower, praying to a God whom I wasn’t sure was listening, my tears shrouded by the sudsy rinse circling the drain. When I applied for and was granted a two-year restraining order, Nik’s revenge was swift. I was served with a summons for Family Court. I felt powerless sitting in the courtroom without an advocate, my mouth dry, my hands trembling. Nik’s lawyer emphasized that I worked in strip clubs and that I had taken drugs, knowing it would offend the sensibilities of the middle-aged, white judge. Sure enough, the judge shamed me for my “colorful lifestyle," despite the fact my business was on the books. It did not matter that I had been living in terror. It did not matter that Nik had a two-page criminal record that included convictions for drug trafficking, and possession of a silencer and firearm. It did not matter that I was—as Nik would say—a cleanskin. The judge granted Nik four visits per week and ordered me to take random supervized urine drug screens twice a month. Nik was drug tested too. I was naïve enough to think that when the judge learned about Nik’s meth addiction, he would save us from further abuse. There was a visit at the pool where Nik pulled our then six-month-old son under water. Nik’s eyes bored into me as he lapped up my maternal suffering. After he left, I collapsed onto a beanbag to breastfeed. Suddenly, Nik doubled back and stood over me. He accused me of turning his life into a living hell with all the drug tests and the court dates. Our son’s body stiffened against my breast, his tiny fists kneading at my staccato

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heartbeat. I reported the incident to the police; they said it was my word against his. Nik tested positive for amphetamines that day, then he tested positive for opiates, then he tested positive for amphetamines and opiates. I peed in front of strangers ten times in as many months, even after Nik stopped complying with his drug screens. Every test cemented my innocence, the fallacy of Nik’s accusations. At every hearing, I hoped the judge would excuse me from the indignity of more tests. I saw how the drugs destroyed Nik; no way would I let that happen to me. So I endured the gruelling psych reports that told the judge I was not paranoid—the same reports that revealed Nik’s borderline personality disorder, anti-social personality traits and drug-induced psychosis. And yet, the judge ordered more contact. He wasn’t impressed with my own mental health status, which included a new diagnosis––social anxiety disorder––in addition to my long-held obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Nik and I went to couples therapy, where he’d promise not to stalk me anymore, not to smoke any more crystal meth. Then he’d go back to accusing me of having an affair or of taking drugs in secret. When our son was 20 months old, one final drug screen (a hair follicle test) was the only thing standing between Nik and shared custody. He entered the courtroom a half hour late, dishevelled, sans lawyer, most likely under the influence, and he told the judge

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what I’d known all along. “Maybe I don’t want to be a father,” he said. The judge urged Nik to at least have supervized contact, and when Nik refused, the judge said, “I’ll leave the door open in case you change your mind." He closed the case without prejudice, which means that Nik could reopen it at any time. I expected to feel relief, but instead I cried for my son, whose father chose drugs. During the protracted drama with Nik, my dad apologized for the way he treated my late mom. My hatred gave way to forgiveness, healing a decades-old wound and giving my son the gift of a grandpa, whom we visit twice a year. Still, I don’t discuss my own childhood trauma with Dad. Instead I tap at the keyboard, compelled to detangle the roots of my pain, of all my poor decisions, in order to never repeat the cycle of trauma again. I never even knew I deserved to feel valued until my son showed

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me that my life was worth preserving. People say I don’t look like that kind of girl, the kind who gets abused, like it’s a compliment. My son and I were lucky enough to escape domestic violence and rebuild our lives. I gave up working in the strip clubs, completed a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing and then enrolled in a creative writing program while juggling court dates. Today, my son is happy, healthy and confident. In spite of these achievements, I’m still afraid to post anything on social media and I check the license plate of every white van. I work on neutralising my fears in therapy, paid for by Victims of Crime, and I try to reduce my cortisol levels through exercise and breath work. Every day I take one step closer to creating a new normal, where the threat of violence is not an option I will ever again accept. *not his real name

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


FICTION

Amelia by AJ Atwater

H

e’s an asshole and I’m his wife but only until Monday. Then I’m starting a new life with Kelvie Rinken. He’s picking me up at the bowling alley when I get off work. We’re going in his pickup to choose curtains, sheets and a Mr Coffee for this little place we’ve rented on the corner of Main and Main across from the asshole’s Handy Hardware Store where he conducts city council business in his back office. He’s the county sheriff, too, elected for his eighth term last year and I’d always been the reason. Solid, good old Amelia. I make the best Jell-O salad with marshmallows central Minnesota’s ever seen. And I hold the chair of the pulpit committee at the Unionist Church. It was one Sunday afternoon after a Lenten sermon that I caught the asshole red-handed screwing Kelvie Rinken’s wife, Colva the vixen, by the nail bins in aisle A in the Handy Hardware Store. The asshole took Kelvie Rinken’s wife so, eye for an eye, I took Kelvie Rinken. I wait for him now to pick me up at the bowling alley and I add other items to our shopping list. Coffee cups and 10 boxes of montanamouthful.com

Kleenex. Kelvie has one weepy eye. It needs Kleenex or it gums up at the drop of a hat and he’s nearly been fired twice at the ice cream counter where he works for his eye’s unappealing appearance. I add cotton balls for his cauliflower ears. He says his ears are so wide he picks up all kinds of sounds like dogs barking two blocks away and if he bangs the

Kelvie has one weepy eye. It needs Kleenex or it gums up at the drop of a hat and he’s nearly been fired twice at the ice cream counter where he works for his eye’s unappealing appearance. metal edge of the ice cream scoop on the metal edge of the ice cream bucket, he near collapses from the throttle it gives him. Customers speak to him softly. If some fool from another town doesn’t know better and talks to him in a normal tone of voice asking for a vanilla double dip, Kelvie clamps his Montana Mouthful | 13


head in his hands and gives a yowl. Then there are the shoe lifts he needs. I add those to the list. And dandruff shampoo. Two bottles I write. And there’s the corn remover. Kelvie has got more corns running up and down his big toes than any feet I ever seen. And I’ve seen plenty helping as I do every year at the varicose veins clinic. I recall Kelvie being the first in line last year, standing with the aid of a diamond willow cane crooked as his spine. The asshole might have Colva the vixen and a hardware store that rakes in $151.89 daily and a county sheriff salary of $29.00 a

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day and all the prestige that comes from being on a city council that has takeout from the Burger Barn for its Friday night meeting paid for by the council and perks like a year free subscription to the Grass Seed and Other Small Things magazine, plus two free pounds of butter and a squash at Thanksgiving time from Bert’s Beets our local owned grocery store, but the asshole can have it all because my man Kelvie Rinken’s got two thumbs on his left hand, six toes on his right foot and a truly honest look in his one weepy eye.

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

When my girlfriend met my friends by DS Maolalai he’d been fine all day, right up until he wasn’t any longer—we were in dicey’s; 2 euro drinks until 10pm, steaks a fiver and not bad for that, but he'd been holding off the food in case of slowing down. they’d been open since 4. now 8 and he folded up like a newspaper dropped on a bus-stop bench—his ass sliding backward and his legs bent in a rooftop silhouette— head and back arching to where he clipped the seats behind him. it was all shouts then, chaos, bouncers, strangers and a barman grabbing people out of the way but I was in the next seat over and had collapsed my own glass

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making the effort to catch. earlier he’d grabbed my girlfriend in his lap and tried to kiss her, but it was his first time meeting her, so she agreed she wouldn’t mind. when they took him to the taxi he made another fuss apparently, and aodhain got ejected too for holding his arms too angrily as they stuffed him in, carrying him out cursing and giving directions, trying to help get him home. we left to meet aodhain when he called us to another bar; all in all it was a hell of a first impression.

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Centralia-30 | DYLAN SCILLIA 16 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

Gifts by David Jibson Our first Christmas together I gave her a book of love poems by John Donne. She gave me a book on how to become self-actualized. On her birthday I gave her The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. On my birthday she gave me a book on how to communicate. On Valentines Day I gave her a copy of In Praise of Beauty. She gave me a copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People. Our second Christmas together I gave her Rumi’s Love’s Ripening. She gave me Maxwell Maltz’s Phycho-Cybernetics. On her next birthday I gave her a copy of The Joy of Sex. She threw it at me as I was backing out of her driveway.

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Before Angels Had Wings | JIM ZOLA 18 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


FICTION

The Bridge by Hollin Stafford

I

have contemplated what it’d be like to fall before, but never what it would be like to jump. Until now. The fog encircles the bottom of the bridge, cutting us off from the outside world and cloaking the river below in a mysterious intrigue that turns my insides cold. It’s the first time we’ve visited the bridge since… He interrupts my thoughts. And asks me why I wear a face borrowed from someone else. As if I dress my features in the likes of strangers I’ve seen in photographs or on T.V. Annoyed at the intrusion of my imagined solitude, I tell him I’d rather not talk and turn toward the cold steel rail. Sliding off a red shoe I place my foot flat on the bridge. He tells me to stop being so grim, grips my sides from behind with fingers too smooth for a man, and exhales a breath of bad air into my ear. I recoil in disgust, dipping my head away from him and force myself not to vomit. I hadn’t noticed his breath the day we met, it was too full of whiskey and smile. We’d been montanamouthful.com

out at the splintered tavern that teetered on the edge of town as if it were about to make a run for it, move to the Bahamas and become a tiki bar for fishermen and surfers named Lou…the moment I met my husband was a long time ago, I doubt the tavern would remember. “Why didn’t you refuse?” I ask. “Refuse what?” He loosens his grip, but only slightly. Refuse to be born you psychopath. E “Why did you let your mother change your name?” The woman who’d spent the past four years rummaging through my drawers, stomping cigarettes out on our rug and leaving pamphlets on the fridge, forcing me to consider what role Jesus played in my life when all I wanted was a peach yogurt, had renamed her son Ash after their house burned to the ground — with the rest of the family trapped inside. I couldn’t prove it, but I knew she did it. Montana Mouthful | 19


She lit the place on fire and just watched them burn. Probably used one of those tacky lighters emblazoned with the Pope, or a dope smokin’ Buddha or Homer Simpson. She collected these treasures from the truck stop out on Interstate 10 and had started gluing them to the wall of her trailer years ago…Ash hasn’t answered my question. Not now, not when we met, not ever. But I know the reason

I recoil in disgust, dipping my head away from him and force myself not to vomit. I hadn’t noticed his breath the day we met, it was too full of whiskey and smile. he didn’t refuse. Guilt. His mother had laid the blame on him when he was only a child. It used to make me sad. But now I know better. I can barely look at him as he stares at me. The whites of his eyes are pink, the left iris the color of a muddy stream, the right darker and slower like molasses. They’re his mother’s eyes and when I look at him I get the odd sensation that somehow she can see me too. A Red Tail Hawk darts up through the mist, a raspy scream escaping its beak as it flies from some unseen danger. It startles us both, and Ash kicks my shoe. It soars off the side, first straight, then drops downward and disappears. A crimson bullet into the abyss. I cock my head and listen, for the descent, for the landing, for my heart. But there is only silence and somewhere above the cries of the hawk. Unlike last year, this one has been dry. This is a thirsty county full of dying corn fields, empty wallets and fearful eyes. I’m glad 20 | Montana Mouthful

to be here on the bridge, away from the town, the desperate people and hopeless air. Here, where the cool mist, despite everything, promises me rebirth and brushes against my face and dampens my hair. I try to gain some inches between myself and Ash and lean out further, peering over the rail and into cloud. The once bulging river below must be more of a stream now. A wandering trickle, that stumbles along dog eared and tired, sniffing at the edges for traces of what used to be. Last year, people said the sky had dropped all its rain in a torrent of shapeless tears. Within the confines of just a few months it had rained more than it had in twenty two years. The river ran full and swift, swelled, as if ready to give birth. It flooded the valley with sad memories, left devastation and questions in its path. The townspeople’s glares had stomped right past my mother in law, past Ash, past the wall I’d painstakingly built, and embedded in me like nails. They blamed me. As if I controlled the heavens. As if there was some connection between my pain and the weather. My pain. When it happened I refused to believe it. Little girls aren’t supposed to die. I lived suspended in some altered state of the past, tried to find happiness in distorting the facts. My reality was not theirs. She wasn’t in the ground or sky or some other planet made of celestial light. “She’ll be back.” I’d said. The few friends who came to mourn, were greeted with confusion, with yellow balloons, and small patched bears. I’d serve them lukewarm peppermint tea from mini cups whose bottom was stamped, Hasbro. For those who had been closest, there were cookies from an Easy Bake oven scarred with purple crayon Vol. 3 • Issue 1


and a garage sale tag that read five. And there was Ash. And of course, his mother, Fiammetta. She feverishly plastered pamphlets about God, and death, and sometimes sales at Walmart, under the Make America Great magnet she’d brought us. I’d rip them from the fridge and use them for coasters. “The Plan of Salvation” was now ringed with coffee stains—it didn’t occur to me to open it and see what it said. As the months fell behind I began to believe she wasn’t coming back. Within this realization my heart shriveled to the size of a dried pea. And the horror in the words that were whispered as I passed others in town began to dawn on me. I could no longer protect myself in a bubble of make-believe. It had popped and their mean sentiments sauntered freely in my ear, where they flounced like smug society girls in petticoats staring down at me as if my very soul was a handful of dirty rags. It was as if someone had pinned a little grey cloud inches above my head, so that I’d never feel the warmth of others again. But what did I care? No one understood the weight I carried, the endless searches for my heart, for justice, for just one clue. Nor did they hear the sing song laughter of the ghost that filled our house at night and left me clinging to the sheets for fear I, too, would disappear. I was convinced Ash was going deaf because he’d snore through it all…When my mother lay dying she had told me not to worry, that the soul leaves the body every night when you sleep, that this would be just like that…So, on those sleepless nights I’d watch for Ash’s soul as he fell asleep, but nothing appeared, no ethereal light, not even the slightest hint of a whoosh. I’d lie there and wonder what it meant. montanamouthful.com

The word breakdown was nothing new around these parts, in this land of fiscal fallout, marital doom, and rusted cars. This however… was not that. This was something new. It was twisted with horror and wrapped in blankets crocheted by the yellow stained fingers of a crazy woman. The question, the who, sat unanswered for one to ponder behind closed curtains at night, like a piece of steak one chewed and chewed, but couldn’t quite swallow. Then the moment came. Lucidity, laced with ‘ah ha!’ and followed with desperate despair. It arrived in the form of a few simple words Ash uttered one cold night, undressing the truth, leaving it naked and white. It drifted out on a single breath. Blowing his cover, while in the confines of some ghoulish nightmare or monstrous memory moving through the sheets. And, innocently, landed on my pillow like a lost flake of snow.

The townspeople’s glares had stomped right past my mother in law, past Ash, past the wall I’d painstakingly built, and embedded in me like nails. They blamed me. As if I controlled the heavens. As if there was some connection between my pain and the weather. It’d been a struggle not to kill him in his sleep. But my feet were frozen, my hands too weak. Nighttime found me roaming the halls clumsy in dream, drunken from bottles filled with denial I kept on the shelf next to his peanut butter. Heartsick and alone I’d find Montana Mouthful | 21


myself in her room. Lying on the rug, I’d marvel at how this place, more than any other, shone like the silver breaths of wolves in the light of the full moon. The wall, peeling and torn, part vintage 60‘s of someone else’s life, part our devastated Hundred Acre Wood. And the one curious Winnie the Pooh eye still peering through, as if searching amongst the tattered paper for someone to tell his secret too. E Now on the bridge, with Ash and the fog and the cries of the hawk, I want to run. Or perhaps follow the hawk and fly away…from the incessant nerve driven chatter that falls from his hideous lips, from the town that now lies covered in the veil of cloud somewhere to the East. My bare toes, nails yellowed with neglect, push through a link in the fence, looking for the lost shoe that by now would be turning pointless circles in some shallow eddy, like a ballerina who’d missed her cue. “I don’t know what you want from me!” His voice is far off, swimming in a pool of a foreign day, muffled and distorted through the waters of time. I want to strangle him, push him down, hold him under. “Bring her back. Bastard. Bring her back.” He takes a step away, studies my figure, then my face. First his left eye, then the other — sloppy and slow like a kid in hand me down shoes. “Look at yourself, you’re a basket case!” I turn from him as he walks down the bridge, heading away. And think of the long

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road ahead. Of court dates, doctors and testimonies. Of death threats in Fiammetta’s signature font. Of reliving it all again. Only inches below me the thick fog swirls like mother’s milk. I could just jump. If all that God nonsense was true, my child was someplace better now. I could reunite with my sweet baby girl, smell her soft locks of hair and the sweetness of her breath. I would take her hand, I would sing to her, her favorite song, and we’d sleep in each other’s arms under pretty pink skies and marshmallow moons. There would be no bad dreams, no fires, no ghosts. Together we would greet the bright and glorious dawn. I would live just to see her tiny yawn, breathe in her breath, make her laugh, help her forget. But I am the only one. The only one who knows. I have to make them see, have to make him pay. I watch Ash now, his slow retreat, on this path amongst the clouds. His shoes glide lightly over the steel bridge — as if he really is only ash. As if he has no guilt at all. At any moment he might catch a breeze and float up to heaven. He holds his shoulders back, his head high, he is untouchable, a backwoods God clad in denim. He turns and cups his hands to light a cigarette, as he stares at me through his mother’s eyes—across the small gap of vast space between us. I take a step closer and my hands feel strong. The air is thick with anticipation as the smoke swirls up from his lips forming a distorted question mark — and already I see his ghost.

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

Walking Matrimonial Trail in New Mexico Alone by Tricia Knoll A man in town promised I could not get lost taking this trail from one side of the ranch to the other, suggested you meet me at the other end. Start north of the cattle guard. Slog up a double-rutted wagon trail, a gutter-wash to flash-flood rains. Two could ascend as equals, side by side, and skirt the red dust horses churned. Some blue boulders. Two grandiose anthills. Dry chemisa bloom. A view unfolds back to the reservoir, the plateau, that hill of flint—Cerro Pedernal. A mile on, the trail swells. A circle for attendants, where a ministrant might drone reassuring vows. A soft wind dries climb sweat. A smell of commitment, blue asters. sage and nodding grasses. I stop. Reminisce where love brought me— switchbacks to a vista of sandstone striped white, blue, adobe red, and light-gold.

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Hold still to imagine ceremony. Then the trail thins to a tightrope, slopes, a slant to a long, long way down. I brace against where fear of drop-offs battles twins of will and curiosity. Fright wins. I retrace the hot hike back to the faded wood sign at the road. Each step a memory of wedded failures—one black eye, large hands that pound piano keys, a green pick-up truck, and canned spaghetti mixed with scrambled eggs. I have done this all my life. Backtracked. Reversed when going gets edgy. My cell phone catches a tower. I tell you. I cannot meet you on the other side. As some third marriages work, you get it.

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Would Too/Would Not | MEG FREER 24 | Montana Mouthful

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FICTION

Reading Your Future in Thrift Store Ephemera by Robin Michel

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ou find the photograph torn in two, the two halves paper-clipped together. It is a wedding photograph, and judging by the clothing, taken in the late 60’s or early 70’s, one of those hippie weddings: “Do you, Sunshine, take this man Jeremiah…” and listening to their names, you suspect that only one of the names was given at birth and the other name self-selected, or bestowed by the woman’s beloved. Or maybe the photo was taken later, in the early 80’s, hippie offspring of trailblazing hippies of the first generation: “Sunshine Wilson do you take this man Jeremiah Bullfrog…?” An outdoor wedding, maybe Golden Gate Park? Sunshine wears daisies in her hair, and her dress is an off-white cotton, or muslin, fabric with billowy sleeves trimmed in crocheted lace—thick strands of thread, more macramé than lace. And you imagine that she spun the thread herself on a handmade spinning wheel at the commune where waited the conjugal bed. montanamouthful.com

Jeremiah is dressed in bellbottoms and a white cotton shirt with a faded flower print and pearl snaps. His is a rugged yet sensitive hippie cowboy look, not like one of the slim twenty-first century hipsters that often catches your eye. You imagine your boyfriend Brandon dressing up in similar clothes bought secondhand posing for a selfie in front of the Janis Joplin mural in the Haight. This is the third Brandon you have dated. You think about how when he forced his tongue upon you the first time, saying “Three’s a charm,” you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Like your Brandon, Jeremiah looks Irish, only his face is cleanshaven and his red hair ratted into an impressive Afro. You’ve never had the courage to tell Brandon that his beard scratches, even though you both agree: this is serious. Even though he said maybe it is time to do the adult thing and get married. You were silent, but everyone knows, silence is consent. Montana Mouthful | 25


The wedding photograph had faded over time, and appears to have been taken with one of those antique instant cameras your grandmother had. Sunshine and Jeremiah are both shoeless and sockless; their twenty bare toes are One with Mother Earth. You envy them. They have no fear of stepping on dog shit, discarded needles, or broken glass. You stand inside the thrift store, your nose itching from the dust, wondering why you cannot put the photograph down. It must mean something, you tell yourself, then laugh at how much you sound like your mother, and your grandmother. The fact that the photograph has been torn asunder feels ominous. The fading color and the silver

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leeching out between the chemical layers making up the photo is making you sad. You feel your own color draining away and a doomed atmosphere is now overlaying the happiness you brought into the store, looking for “something old” and “something blue.” Your cell phone begins to vibrate in your back pocket, and you know that it is Brandon Number Three calling again. You do not pick it up. Looking again at Sunshine’s wedding photograph, you realize that the most frightening place in the snapshot’s halved composition is the ragged edges of paper, the details of the future you could not see.

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

Virus & the Sock by Frankie A. Soto

The average lifespan of a virus is 1,209,600 seconds When love becomes a final wave. The body becomes infected even if you believe you have built immunity The heart has orbited this ache before and this time you believe you are prepared for any sort of crashing There is no such gravity that keeps us down the way an unexpected goodbye does. The last place your feet touched before I knew they would flee was the living room floor Each couch became a memorial the coffee table full of food wrappers instead of flowers things stop growing when we become a moon

It is said that the brain can only truly focus for 45 minutes without needing a break. I guess we studied too hard without resting. I suppose when you said we needed a break you were saving our brains from becoming as thoughtless as our hearts. Love is a tsunami that sweeps under my legs makes no apologies for using my body like a sock in a washer machine. I once asked a laundry attendant what is the one thing most people forget here ? She said socks I thought it would’ve been love.

forget light doesn’t need to come from out-side of us

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The Self | DYLAN SCILLIA 28 | Montana Mouthful

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FICTION

Dalliance by Ellen White Rook

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ate at night in restaurants, things happen. Things no one intended or could even imagine. Last February, Jess found herself reaching towards him, towards Dan, the tall, cranky cook who talked less than anyone else and always looked tired. She stepped towards him as sure-footed as she had walked down the rolled-out white runner at St. Boniface’s just three weeks before, even though the kitchen’s terra-cotta tiles had just been washed down for the night and were dangerously slick. And he didn’t step back or sneer or laugh. Afterwards, he barely said a word. As they walked back and forth, a little stunned but still needing to finish close-down and lockup, their faces made haphazard ghosts reflecting on the pot lids and hanging spoons. Maybe they walked back and forth more times than needed to fill the space of not talking and not touching. He had a wife and four kids under eight. She had Bob Hope. He was also a chef at the restaurant, working on alternate days from Dan. Obviously, he wasn’t The Bob Hope, in montanamouthful.com

fact he wasn’t funny at all except on the first date, which, she realized, was probably the way he was on every first date. He was a solid guy except he drank too much. Everybody liked him. And she loved his family. What had she done, she wondered as she pushed a light dusting of snow from the headlights of her car. It had felt like the easiest thing in the world. Dan stopped at the all-night supermarket and picked up milk, two loaves of bread, frozen Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, and a bunch of bananas, too green but it was the only bunch not half black. He managed to get the perishables in the fridge, but he left the bread and bananas in the bag and sat down on the couch where he slept upright until it was time to start getting the kids ready for school, and it felt the whole world descending, there was so much noise. When she got home, Bob was already asleep. The TV was on, but she didn’t want to turn it off in case he woke up. Maybe the TV kept her awake. Or maybe she was just too excited. It went on like that, not planning anything, Montana Mouthful | 29


except that as it got warmer, and the cars were not so cold or covered in snow. They ended up in the Impala or Dan’s Malibu, neither ideal but better than doing it against the stainless steel countertop or a booth or the owner’s office where they really weren’t supposed to go, but Jess had the key. You could do anything in a car, and the dumpster doesn’t have eyes. It didn’t happen every time they worked together, just when they were alone at the end of a slow night. Or when he had to put together an order and her close-out was taking a while to come out right. He stayed to make sure she got out to her car safe. She skipped her shift drink sometimes to make sure it was him she wanted, not the Old Fashioned wanting him. Bob was almost always asleep when she got home, a half dozen empties crowding the bedside table, the television on, bright and loud. Dan wasn’t less cranky but he talked more, at least said hello to her. The line chefs still complained about him. The servers still complained about him. Everybody wished he would just smile once in a while. Bob Hope said: “He didn't used to be like that, it’s just too many kids. When the baby starts to sleep through the night, he’ll be a new man. He’s not so bad. I think you’ll like him. You ought to give him a chance.” One hot July morning Dan called her at home. She had never talked to him on the phone and almost didn’t recognize his voice. There were kids shouting in the background, a

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girl and a boy, arguing about something on the TV. And banging. They sounded really angry. It was so noisy she could barely hear him. “I’m leaving today,” he said. “I’ve got to. Come with me. Meet me at 4 at the Hesse station by the Thruway. Bring your things.” She thought about Bob Hope. He seemed far away, although he was just at work where she was on the schedule to come in at 5. She thought about him asleep or passed out in their bed, the after-party smell to their room. She thought about him in the church with one white rose in his buttonhole. She had to imagine the wedding photograph because she couldn’t fix him in her mind. She thought about Dan. She thought about the purple shadows under his eyes. She thought about the wetness of his cranky mouth and his hand finding her waist and her arms pushing against the upholstery in her car. She thought about how, at work, she looked for his reflection in every window, in every silvery thing. She packed a small bag, the overnight bag she had brought on her weekend honeymoon. She drove to the gas station. She was right on time. She sat in the car listening to the radio with the motor running so the air conditioner would cool her down. She was still hot from running around. It seemed like a really long time. When she got to work, she was only a little late. It was not usual for her to be late, but she was only a little late, and no one seemed to notice.

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

Modern Love by Steve Gerson I’m driving the pickup, once heart red now fading to muddied oxblood like our dun cows and as haggard, the bed beat up from my careless throwing of things like fenceposts and accusations, to the end of our road, and I’m looking back at the farm through the rearview, late November sky the color of excuses weary in the leafless trees, our fields barren so even the sheep can barely muzzle blades, our doublewide listing on its tired foundation like spent credit, a tarp covering our broken promises, failing to discourage the Fall, all the windows in the house and outbuildings as black as a murder of crows, unharvested promises blackening on the vine, and those heifers a Greek chorus their all-seeing eyes cow-staring a rebuke. I’ve stopped the truck. The only sounds are the whine of the engine once hot now cold and the dissipating moan of your plane overhead flying elsewhere.

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| RACHEL A. WALL

Missing my Misses 32 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

Missing my Misses by Rachel A. Wall I’ve packed this string of mules since the early years of my youth among the mountains of Montana. Just God and I, alone I ride, where canyons cry and rivers redolent of sweet vermouth. Who knows this land better than I? The trails I must abide. I cinch my chinks. I strap my spurs. I bid my lady farewell. Once again, a journey began, led by the nose of my horse, but the mules mundanely maundered; an end they did foretell. And by and by on this winter ride, somehow, I went o course. Coldness crept through the crease of my coat and cuddled my body while washing away my warmth from the whistling, wailing wind. Fallen. Frozen to the bone marrow my mind became groggy. Thus, I prayed to God while goddess Gaea giggled and grinned because never did I conceive my death in her mountainous basket, missing my misses, as Gaea cradled my corpse in her eternal casket.

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FICTION

Cutest Couple by Margaret LaFleur

F

inally. There is room to breathe. He takes the couch so I lay flat on the floor in the middle of the room. I run my fingers along the divots in the carpet I haven’t yet vacuumed back into place and I imagine ripping it all up, instead. I could find a bright oriental rug, something red and expensive, and I could move the TV to the garage, or better yet, sell it on Craigslist and buy wine with the cash and throw a party and adults could come and admire the new rug, and no one would get down on their hands and knees to wrestle the dog. He took the dog, too. Not that it was a question. The dog was here before me and there after me, too, wherever there is. He does not take his final load of laundry, which I find when I am switching my sheets to the drier. My first thought is Fuck. He’ll come back for it. It goes: Jenny – Missed Call Jenny – Text (“Are you doing ok? I love you!”) My mom – Missed Call My mom – Missed Call Jenny – Text (“Just checking in!”) 34 | Montana Mouthful

My boss – Email My mom – Text (“R U Ok?”) His mom – Missed Call So I turn it off and go to run a bath. I think, then, about the time we tried to fit our naked bodies into the bath, together. We had become all knees and slipping elbows and afterward we had been simply damp, no sexy beads of water anywhere. I stretch my legs the full length of the tub. It was never what I wanted it to be. I’ll say this to my therapist, tomorrow. She knows already, she could probably recite my grievances back to me by heart. I want to think about oriental rugs and nothing but my own dishes in the sink, or about downloading one of those apps, the ones I thought I’d never need. Instead, I think about the mall. There was a day a few months ago. He had to return some shoes that were the wrong color black. The wrong black! And these were sneakers, it is important to note. If I had told my therapist then, I could have watched her note this in on her pad with a bit of satisfaction. He never fusses about “grown-up shoes”—I could have said say and raised my Vol. 3 • Issue 1


Meso | LUKE DURAN

fingers into the air—“quote un-quote.” But sneakers! That day I tagged along, just to get out of the house, and I thought we’d split up once we got there. Then I’d, I don’t know, go to Victoria’s Secret and look at fancy bras and wonder despairingly if he’d ever see it if I bought one. I could have said all of this, it would have been easy, and on-brand for our sessions. But it was warm in the car. We rolled down the windows and spring washed in. A song came on the radio and he sang along a little under his breath in the way that always made me wonder if he realized he was singing. He caught me looking at him and smiled. This was the part I didn’t know how to say. How I tagged along when we got there, too. The surprise of it made him a little giddy and he teased himself about the shoes and I laughed, for maybe the last time. This is what I think about in the bath. The way the clerk called me “your wife” to him and I liked it. How he bought me a coffee and we sat in the middle of the sunny courtyard in the mall and when we drove home he draped his arm just so on the steering wheel. And I think about his face beneath Fourth of July fireworks. And I

think about the goofy polaroid photo from a friend’s wedding that he had tucked into the visor of his car. And I think about his half load of t-shirts and boxer shorts in the basement. I go to retrieve my clean sheets. I fold his load, too. This is the last time. I put it all into a plastic bag and set it by the door. My second thought is Fuck. He won’t come back for it. And then I’ll have a choice: toss it or save it, just in case?

He had to return some shoes that were the wrong color black. The wrong black! And these were sneakers, it is important to note. If I had told my therapist then, I could have watched her note this in on her pad with a bit of satisfaction.

montanamouthful.com

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POETRY

Love Poem for a Dying Wife by Eugene Platt Do not slip away while we sleep, your frame faltering from months of medicine and malignancy, your slenderness curled into an S beneath a floral quilt we found on our honeymoon so long ago at that sweet little store in Savannah, the quilt like a sampler of the real bouquets that much too soon will be strewn around an urn of your ashes in an otherwise sterile funereal room. Do not slip away while we sleep, before I can say I love you once more. Although in all the years we’ve slept together, back to belly, belly to back, I never heard you burp or snore, now at night I worry when dwindling hours pass and you do not make a peep or keep still when normally you would stir. Do not slip away while we sleep, I could not bear having to fear I had missed a sigh of goodbye; I could not bear not to hear a weak, whispered final farewell. Do not slip away while we sleep.

I need to know the moment you cross the bar— as Tennyson (one of the poets whom with wine and candlelight we read together, entwined in bed) said so eloquently to console the bereaved. Do not slip away while we sleep. It is a journey each of us must take alone, I know; but please just let me go with you to the boat. I would truly dread not being there for you as you put into the deep to join the dead. Do not slip away while we sleep. Although the faith we share assures us we shall meet again “In the sweet by-and-by,” the interim of absence, the pain of being apart, would be magnified and I inconsolable if denied the solace of saying goodbye. Do not slip away while we sleep. Would that I could stay awake all night. I need so much to know the moment you leave, to savor those last precious seconds before I must begin to grieve. Do not slip away while we sleep.

Note: Lyrics from The Sweet By-and-By, S. Fillmore Bennett

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Vol. 3 • Issue 1


FICTION

Long Train by William Cass

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ust to fill the afternoon, I’d made one of my solitary trips into the city to see a new museum exhibit. I lingered longer than I’d planned, missed the express train back, so was stuck with a commuter packed with people heading home from the city after work. The cars seemed endless as I wandered through one after the other until I finally found an empty seat at the far end. I sat facing the rear, watched the city’s buildings flash by in the falling late-spring light, then selected a podcast on my cell phone, secured my earbuds, and settled in for the long haul. I adjusted my hip to get as comfortable as possible; it was still bothering me from when I’d had it replaced a couple months earlier just after I’d turned sixty-five. The seat across from me remained empty until a young woman plopped herself down into it after about twenty minutes and dropped a daypack to the floor. She turned immediately to the window, blew out a long breath, made a fist, and chewed a knuckle. She was college-aged, slender, and attractive except for the cloud that covered her face. montanamouthful.com

Several moments later, she began to weep. I watched her from the corner of my eye while the train made its first stop. Her shoulders were still shaking well after it had regained speed. When she swiped at a bit of snot under her nose with the back of her hand, I powered down my cell phone and popped out my earbuds, exchanged both with some tissues in my pocket, and reached those across to her. As softly as I could, I said, “Here.” She looked from the tissues to me, nodded once, and took them from me. She wiped her face, blew her nose, and balled the tissues. Then she looked at me again, made a little choking sound, and began to cry harder. I resisted the urge to pat her knee. Instead I said, “Would it help to talk about it?” She blew out another breath and dried her eyes. “My boyfriend,” she said. “I think he just broke up with me.” I felt myself frown. “Here, you mean?” She pointed. “In the front of the train. We were sitting there.” “What happened?” She shook her head. Her eyes welled Montana Mouthful | 37


again, but no tears fell. She exhaled loudly, then said, “We just finished our classes for the day and were heading home. We’re about to graduate in a few weeks, but we still live with our folks to save money. Neighboring towns, but we didn’t meet until our sophomore year in college. We haven’t really spoken about what will happen after graduation until he brought it up a few minutes ago.” Her lips

While she went through another crying bout, I looked out the window and thought about Gwen. We’d been a little older, late twenties, but at a similar crossroads and I’d been the one to break things off. By the time I realized I still loved her, several months had passed, and it was too late; she’d moved on to someone else. trembled. “Said he thought it might be a good idea for us to spend some time apart, try to figure things out.” Her crying resumed. I shook my head. After she regained herself, she said, “Three years of saying, ‘I love you’, every day. Three years. What does that even mean?” She fixed me with a glare that seemed to demand an answer, so I said, “I’m not sure.” “Has anything like that ever happened to you?” I nodded, a flush spreading through me. “Yes,” I said. “It has.”While she went through another crying bout, I looked out the window and thought about Gwen. We’d been a little older, late twenties, but at a similar crossroads and I’d been the one to break things off. By the time I realized I still loved her, several months had passed, and it was too late; she’d

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moved on to someone else. Like always when I thought about it, regret overwhelmed me. “I pushed him” the young woman said suddenly, her eyes narrowing. “When he told me that. I pushed him right off the seat next to me and told him to go fuck himself. He said maybe he should get off and take a different train. I told him to do whatever the hell he wanted, that I never wanted to see him again, and stomped away. Came back here.” I nodded. “But that wasn’t exactly true, was it? The part about not wanting to see him again.” She looked at me, and I watched her shoulders slump. “No,” she said. “It wasn’t true at all.” I tried a small smile, searching for some way to ease her anguish. “Say, how about I go get you a cup of coffee or tea? Bring it back for you.” Her eyes widened a little. “Okay…tea. Thanks.” “Sure,” I said and stood up. “Hang in there. I’ll be back soon.” I made my way to the club car. It was crowded: a few cramped tables and a counter divided roughly in half for alcohol on one side and snacks on the other. I squeezed into a spot at the middle of the counter and ordered two cups of tea from the woman behind it. A young man wearing a daypack sat on a stool next to me on the bar side with his forehead down on the backs of his hands. There was one plastic cup with a spent lime wedge and melting ice cubes in front of him and another nearly empty one next to it. He wasn’t moving. I touched his shoulder and said, “You okay?”

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He sat up straight, his eyes red-rimmed, his lips pursed, and I knew. “Yeah,” he said, “but I just made the biggest mistake of my life.” I nodded. “That usually involves love.” He said, “Mine sure does.” I watched him close his eyes, shake his head, then knock back what was left in his drink. The woman set down my cups of tea. I grabbed two bags of pretzels from a rack on the counter and told her to add those to my tally. After I’d paid, I picked up the pretzel bags with one hand and a tea with the other. I felt the young man watching me. “Hey,” I said to him. “Can you help me and carry that other cup? My hands are full.” He shrugged. “Sure. Better than sitting here beating myself up.” He stood and lifted the second cup of tea off the counter. I gestured with my head towards the back of the train. “You go ahead,” I said. “I’ll tell you when to stop.” We made our way through the litany of cars. On the way, I heard him sigh heavily several times. He froze suddenly about midway down the aisle of our car. I watched the young woman’s eyes meet his, watched her head tilt, watched her bring her fingertips to her lips. I touched the young man’s shoulder again and said, “That cup is for her.” Then I turned and retraced my steps towards the club car, dropping the pretzels in the first trash can I passed. I hoped the stool where the young man had been sitting might still be open, but if it wasn’t, I’d find some other place to sit. There had to be an empty spot somewhere on a train that long.

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POETRY

He Found The Postcard by Jacalyn Shelley It was some time ago. We met on Santorini where life clings to the hollow of an old volcano’s circular edge. He lived in a white-washed stone house with blue roof tiles that dissolved into the sky. Sweet magenta crepe myrtle framed the doorway. I was there only a little while. We read to each other and looked out sunny windows. Then we yawned and stretched, and strolled, each on our own, until his voice no longer touched my ears. Why? My shoulder could curl inside his shoulder’s hollow.

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Vol. 3 • Issue 1

Sweating Under Your Light | JAINA CIPRIANO


NONFICTION

What You Leave Behind by Dan A. Cardoza

S

he walks in, wearing a tiny cross on a choker, gripping it tight like a pin on a hand grenade. There’ve been days she hasn’t wanted to live. I try to sell her a smile she won’t buy. About three weeks ago, she lost an unwanted baby. Though I’m sad for her, to be honest, she’s never looked so beautiful. Dignity is something that’s hard to hide. Marci’s only sixteen, but she already carries a lot of junk in her trunk, the kind that gets boys like me in trouble. We’ve rarely spoken, exchanged eyes, but I warned her, “You’re too young for a child.” A tragedy is the worst way to prove my point. She walks past me toward the merchandise isles, gloomy, as if she’s attending her funeral. Her scent, though. R. Oppenheim, my science partner, schooled me about the etiology and morbidity of postpartum depression. But, I’m not sure it applies if you lose a stillborn baby. But I’m easily confused, when I rub two nickels together in my head, I can’t get a dime. But there’s something about Marci that tells me a loss is a loss. I watch her from behind my register: montanamouthful.com

candies, cosmetics, greeting cards. E In this part of town, I’m the mayor. I control everything here, including which workers get keys to unlock the toothpaste, nail polish, and Tylenol. I love my regulars. They’re family, though peculiar as fuck. Buddy, the tall unfiltered one, who’s not supposed to be behind me, loves his Camel cigarettes. Jimmy over there, in pharmacy, is buying condoms he’s probably too short for, spending his trash can recycle money. I love making change for Quita. She’s the hot Chiquita from Elmwood. Elmwood’s a hood In Philly too poor for a drug store. Quita’s only fifteen, but already pushing her tits up through strata as high as the Pico de Orizaba’s. She always pays in cash. How she loves her exotics? I’m not supposed to sell her Jamaican rum and Tiparillo cigars. Before she leaves, programmed to dick-tease, she tells me, “Someday Ima let youz break my cereza.” We belly-laugh, ‘cause we know it’s already been done. Anyways, she’s too hot. I’d embarrass myself and premaMontana Mouthful | 41


turely evacuate. E I know Marci well enough that she lets me cheat in algebra. Even better, she keeps a good secret. After all, my friends think I’m a math honcho. Unlike most, she’s aware I’m not the brightest L.E.D. in school. I’m no good at numbers or fancy English. People skills are where I excel. I dabble in kindness. I’m told it’s rare these days. I see it on occasion here at Walgreen’s and once in a while near my home on Staub Street in Hunting Park. I knew you’d ask. The term Staub is railroad talk, about the bygone Columbia Railroad. It’s all about the buried bones of iron horses and decaying hash-tag tracks. Back in the day, railroad workers would throw thick wooden steaks into the iron spokes of runway twentieth-century rail carts to stop them. But in my neighborhood, we don’t stop. We’re all running away from something, if not the past––ourselves. Marci’s a good kid, like me, she has a big heart. Family is important to us, even though she has almost none. She lives with her grandpapa, who is elderly, so she’s pretty much on her own, except for a long-distance aunt in the good part of Boston. In school, Marci gets straight A’s, but the suburban girls still shun her. Someday, she’ll get her head on straight, and go places, unlike me. Eventually, she’ll have the family she craves. But for now, she’s down, and missing a part of her she’ll never see again. E When our eyes meet again at the register, she presents me with Bubblicious bubble gum, a pack of colored hairpins, and a greeting card. “Do you have your discount code?” I ask. “You can save seven cents.” In her typical cotton-candy voice, she apologizes, “Not on me.” Her smile opens my soda-cap like a shook-up 42 | Montana Mouthful

Pepsi. It’s electric. At that moment, there’s nothing I can hide, at least from what’s inside. More than usual, she inhales my kindest smile. “I would like a pen, though,” she blushes, as the line dominoes behind her. I say, “Sure,” and quickly reach in the manager’s gun drawer under the counter. All the while, I’m underwater with emotion. After scribbling something on the card, Marci, a someday Ivy League valedictorian, takes the Walgreens bag with her stuff, then slowly walks out of my life through the sliding door. Cable Johnny, the T.V. guy up the street, raises his voice as I read the cover. “What the hell do you think this is?” he grumbles, “Gone with the Wind?” It’s alright; he’s a good guy, just a loudmouth. I make him wait, take my time. ‘Here’s to new beginning’s.” it says. Inside the cover: ‘May your heart bloom orchids whenever you think of me.’ Second-in-line Jessie, who’s holding Ben and Jerry, says their melting, “he can’t wait to get them home.” It’s then I read the handwritten note. “Fidel, I’m leaving town tonight. I wish we could’ve gotten to know each other better. If you come up short in life, it won’t be from the lack of trying. Your kindness will never, ever be forgotten. When you said sorry, and it had nothing to do with you, I felt it. Love, Marci.” As I look up, Cable Johnny is stomping out the front door. He’s left his Chile Picante Corn Nuts, Sour Patch Kids, and Slim Jims alone on the counter to squabble. Ole Johnny’s a drama queen. He’ll be back. Besides, we’re related, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s then my eyes well up, and from somewhere deep inside, I know that tomorrow is going to be good. “Next?” I say as if I have any control. Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

Wild Horses Grazing by Ken Harmon At each fork of Salt River you guided me, forward shouting instructions, voice echoing along canyon walls and hillside dotted with saguaro cacti, and I felt safe knowing you were there—kayak behind me keeping distance—allowing me to explore I’ll never forget wild horses grazing along river bank, their slick coats glistening in sunlight osprey, falcon, hawk floating near granite rock face, the stillness of water the deep, deep blue of the sky, the silence, the beautiful silence the way the sun rose over the cliff face, a halo of light just over your head as I turned to say I love you. Last night, one month since your death I had the dream again—your kayak capsizing your heavy body slowly sinking among algae that lie beneath surface tangled within it—discarded beer bottles montanamouthful.com

of tubers and kayakers years of weekend binges a constant reminder but I can’t wake up, and all I want is to get to you, lift your body to surface--swim back to shore, feel the warmth of your body, next to mine before you drift drift away down river alone—the final trip If only we could return to our kayaks and float along river again your joyful giggle as we come upon wild horses at a bend in the river, our hearts ripped open by the beauty of shimmering auburn and alabaster coats, the two of them nuzzling snouts, neighing a language they choose to keep between them and that smile, that beautiful smile the one I keep trying to get back to the one I can’t seem to reach. Montana Mouthful | 43


| ALEX STOLIS

Rapunzel 44 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


FICTION

A Kiss is Just a Kiss by Jon Kemsley

I

t was a wretched place to live and nobody thought otherwise. Rain that hung in the air for days. Skips full of broken furniture. Upended paving slabs. Dog shit. And the distinct feeling that everyone was over the other side of town having a better time. Somebody had dumped a stack of old newspapers at the edge of the curb and now they covered the pavement, a wet collage of gossip and scandal, flattened out and worn thin by the back and forth of the public at large. She turned away from the window. The kitchen was in a state. “Let’s go for bagels and coffee. There’s a new place.” He smiled weakly. “I promised we’d all have breakfast together.” “Well, that’s nice.” He rolled his eyes. “It could be. If you’d give her the chance.” “How long is she staying?” She put her hands up to her ears. “I swear if I hear her say candy or sneakers or garbage again I shall scream.” “Listen. We need a fifth person. She wants to move in.” “I’m so pleased.” montanamouthful.com

Americans, she thought, were rubbish at sarcasm because they were always so direct about things. It seemed oddly sexless. And the English, of course, hid behind sarcasm because they were all frigid. She pointed to something at the other end of the kitchen table. “What’s that?” “Nothing. Water.” “Pass it over.” She frowned. “Don’t roll your eyes at me.” He passed the glass over sheepishly. She took a sniff. “It’s vodka. What happened here?” A pause. “Nothing.” He shrugged. “A little thing.” “Here?” Another pause. “Not here. In the front room.” “A little thing in the front room. Did you show her your little thing in the front room?” “Cute.” She was suddenly furious. “Is that English cute or American cute?” “Keep your voice down.” “Shall we ask her? Let’s wake her up and ask her what sort of cute that is.” Montana Mouthful | 45


“Let’s not do that.” “So tell me.” “It was nothing. A drink. A kiss. Nothing.” She blinked. “A kiss isn’t nothing.” “A kiss is just a kiss.” He gave a nervous laugh and, in that single moment, she knew. He changed tack. “Are we having a relationship conversation? Because it’s not like we’re an item or anything.” “Well, that’s a slap in the face,” she said pleasantly. “Thank you so much.” He looked away. He seemed to realise that he’d misjudged the situation. “It was nothing,” he said quietly, only now there was no conviction in his voice. She took a deep breath. “One strike and you’re out.” “That’s an Americanism,” he protested. “And you’ve got it wrong.” She fluttered her eyelashes. “Have I?” she asked sweetly. E Women don’t always cry because they’re sad. Most of the time it’s out of frustration. But she hadn’t given him the satisfaction. Instead, she’d gone to the laundrette. It seemed no more wretched than anywhere else. The aimless chatter from a radio high up in one corner wasn’t so bad. Neither was the young woman in black and pink waterproofs who was shouting into a cell phone. “Yes, babe. Yes, babe. I don’t know, babe.” “Straight up.” “I won’t lie to you.” “He couldn’t. No, babe. Not even.” The young woman went on to detail a number of fairly specific shortcomings and proclivities. She left nothing out. “Serious. And I’m like, mate, you’re not putting those there.” She took a step back and moved her head from 46 | Montana Mouthful

side to side to emphasise her point. “You know it. I know it. And now he knows it.” Eventually the young woman left the laundrette and she was left alone with the radio. “We’re all ears,” said the radio. “Personal. Political. What’s on your mind?” She listened to the rumble of the huge dryers flipping garments nobody seemed to want to collect. The coin slots had all been got at and some of them now refused to take coins. The bins were full of cola bottles and fast food wrappers and the floor needed sweeping. “Keep it here,” said the radio. “We’ll be right back after the break.” She was tempted to call in with a list of all the selfish things he’d done both in and out of bed. But her little domestic drama was hardly going to bring the government to its knees. She remembered a picture of a girl called Christine draped over the back of a chair but she couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t a perfume ad she was thinking of. “The lines are open,” said the radio. “Tell us your thoughts.” She thought about how many times she’d got it completely, hopelessly wrong. Each mistake only serving to underline the previous one until now there were so many thick black lines across the page that she couldn’t read the words any more. “We’re here for you,” said the radio. It ought to be so simple. A single shared moment. And then another. And then another. Like hot coffee and bagels in the street, paid for, consumed, gone. Maybe that, she thought, was why everyone always settled for less in the end. “Here’s our number again,” said the radio. What the hell, she thought. She dialled the number. Vol. 3 • Issue 1


POETRY

Empty Choir by Horia Pop I can't walk straight since you left there's not enough light in our house even the mouse has gone mad spots of burning wax drip down on a cold, cold floor before my bare feet and I still try to walk on my shadow at thirty three bring in the axe & cut deep into me & let's finish it here and now

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our chapel is deserted what's the use of all this masquarade? the priest you once knew sold it to some merchants and I’ve seen all the faithful cross the street for a nickel the choir is empty, the night is coming in, and I have but one last candle to try my faith for another day without you

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Vol. 3 • Issue 1

Do You Even Want Me At All? | MARIA MYLENA


FICTION

Of a Mother by Quinn Doll

T

here was not much we could do for Father. Once Mother had realized what she had done it was too late. But this is how it always goes for the widows. It was when we all lived in the scrapyard. The car in which we’d borne ourselves out of our silken orb is part of the railway: tilted sideways on a dry silt bank, metal walls not yet rusted but paint long worn away. There are a few men, they bring loud boxes that yell about the death of small-town America as they dig up our homes, always burning under the hot sun. But, their waste brings food for catching. On days it rains most of us stay off the ground—there is no root network to hold the soil down. Mother has always been solitary; her mates no longer trick themselves into feeling they were safe. It had been seasons since the council had ever called to trial. Seasons since a mother of any widow’s nest has committed the old sin. It was still the greatest taboo. Fathers are dying, you see. Because they can’t spin. Father was different; we tell each other the story. He was not of any blue-blooded nest, nor was he remarkable in size or courtmontanamouthful.com

ing skill. But he had hubris, he was proud and drawn to our beloved, weak Mother. Her mercurial nature was vice and virtue—and so she was unsure of him. He was trusting, loving, calm. He did not fear her. And he did not listen. Our half-brothers and half-sisters tell us their Fathers did. They left quickly. Most already wary and easily warned away, none brokenhearted. It was all well understood what her weakness was, how it drew her heart into that archaic haze. We like to imagine some were witnesses. That they watched, terror mounting, as she caught and fed. That they saw how she loved us, and that they would never be safe in our home. She tried to resist her place in this story. We’ve heard how it goes. We have mated with the orphans of other widows’ nests. Their call is weaker, and they can resist. Simply stay coldhearted and they sing their tragedies. When father met her, our half-siblings did not like him. He knew nothing of what he was doing, ignored the song of fate. He fell in love with the velvet voice with which Mother spun. Our brothers and sisters pleaded with Mother: Drive him away, before he beMontana Mouthful | 49


comes dangerous. You will lose your connection to us, when his becomes stronger. Choose us; your lineage is too old. In the end, he stayed too long. It came soon after our birth—the day he threatened her bond with us. The anchor line snapped, and we felt the sharp crack—her pain. It washed over us- a current of panic flashed through the web. It pulled our minds

How could he not know what he had done? He had already stayed too long. He had gotten comfortable, taken her for granted. We could not feel his heartbreak. But we felt hers, we feel it still. A dull heavy scorch, an empty lifeline of broken silk. to her. How could he not know what he had done? He had already stayed too long. He had gotten comfortable, taken her for granted. We could not feel his heartbreak. But we felt hers,

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we feel it still. A dull heavy scorch, an empty lifeline of broken silk. We felt the web vibrate as her widow’s bloodline took her mind. She fought hard to keep her agency. For the first time, we saw comprehension, terror on Father’s face. He ran. She caught him. We lost much of the web, but we felt bloodlust through stronger lines of Mother’s silk. Through the pain of that night, we became children of tragedy and rage. She’s wounded now. She has lost her back leg- but more than that as well. Though Mother won’t tell us what. If he’d escaped—if he’s gone for good, her grief will not let us in. New fathers have come, but Mother has steeled her mind against stronger passions. These new Fathers leave, wary. Mother’s web takes longer for her to finish now. Her web more tedious, loving, intricate. It will never be severed for us. Her song is now a pattern of taboo. With every step to the next anchor, we feel it. She dips and catches herself and ties off the line with new movements. But we look through it every evening, and its labyrinths catch for us the stars.

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POETRY

Her Restraining Order by John Grey Kitchen window open, she hears the sounds of the nearby zoo: monkeys shrieking, raucous parrots, the occasional trumpet of an elephant. Sometimes, she takes her children on a weekend, boy balancing his ice-cream while laughing at the great ape, little girl afraid to go into the reptile house. The noises reek of jungle, of wildness, but it's the ones she doesn't hear that she fears the most, the telephone, the doorbell, the car parking on the street below. Surely, he has the sense to stay away. But some growls find other ways to rattle bones, shake nerves.

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Most animals are surrounded by moats, or mini-canyons. A few still pace steel cages. From time to time, they'll stop and gawk, not at the gawkers but the patch of sky behind dumb human heads. She'd let them out if she could. The leopard has grace, she figures. It wouldn't harm her children. And why shouldn't eagles fly? Or sea-lions test their mettle in deep oceans? For all a lawyer's guarantees. it's a man she worries might pick up her smell, stalk her children. One human foot in a comfortable shoe can be the most bestial of roars.

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Vol. 3 • Issue 1

Details—Natural Selection | GEORGE L. STEIN


FICTION

The Wolf and the Cat by Holly Jane

“I

’ll just take this one,” I say with a brisk wave of my hand. Behind the neatly dressed attendant is a wall of silent humans housed in individual chambers. She smiles sweetly and slowly arches her finger. At once, the pods swing round to bring the human to the front that I’d pointed to. They jolt very slightly within the thick glass, but this human doesn’t. She’s peering through to me, despite her total nakedness, and I look away to hand the cash over to the attendant. “Would you like to sample first, sir?” The waitress asks and gestures to the permanent catheter that’s fixed into the human’s wrist. I shake my head impatiently and glance at my watch. The sun would be up shortly, and I’d need to retire. It’d been a long night full of policing the streets, and I just wanted to feel the sweet release of a comfortable bed. “As with all purchases,” the waitress continues to reel. “Keep the cuffs on until you get home. For safety reasons, the catheter will need to be changed every three days if you want to keep this one a bit longer than that, so feel free to bring her back if you need help. If you’d like to keep her in suspended animation, she’ll montanamouthful.com

need to be stored safely in a Cryo chamber and eaten within three months. Can I interest you in our latest pods?” I shake my head politely. She nods and wraps a heavy plastic cloak around the human and proceeds to test the cuff and body ropes. I can hear the queue of commuters behind me shuffle impatiently. Finally, the side door to the kiosk opens, and she’s led out by the waitress who promptly hands her over to me before going back to serve the next customer. The human is still staring at me, and I’m so tired and hungry, that she’s putting me on edge. I roughly take her by the shoulder and tug her all the way over to the car park, next to the bank. She doesn’t make a move to escape, but she’s deliberately dragging her feet. “Takeaway tonight?” O’Leery, the doorman, tips his uniformed hat and opens the lobby doors for me. “Sadly, yes,” I reply. “My Cryo broke yesterday, and I had to dispose of my last supply.” There’s no point in explaining how messy the situation was. O’Leery nods in agreement. “You’d better enjoy it while it lasts,” he Montana Mouthful | 53


says. “I hear they’re selling it by the bottle now. Live humans are running in short supply these days—how much did you pay for her? There can’t be a lot of food in her I’d imagine.” He glances at her small frame up and down over my shoulder. I feel her stiffen in silent annoyance. “Adult female is cheaper than most of the other stuff,” I shrug. “Lower in calories usually. I can’t let myself get lazy with the job.” He nods and laughs in agreement. His fangs glisten in the overhead light of the lobby, and we say goodbye. I reach home quicker than usual. At this time of the morning, most of the city is already in bed, so the streets are mostly clear of the usual traffic. The apartment is silent and the lights fade on automatically, illuminating the basic grey and mahogany décor. It’s chilly, but bearable. There’s a note from the engineers on the breakfast bar written in a hasty scrawl. They explain they need to order a few parts before they can get my Cyro chamber working again and will be back the following day to install them.

We spend the rest of the evening in silence. In this tiny apartment, there’s no real place for me to store her safely without her suffocating or needing to attend to her normal human needs. It’s like taking care of an angry pet. “Crap,” I mutter. “No Cryo till tomorrow.” I toss the human on the large sofa and head over to the kitchen. “I’d rather you just kill me,” a voice mutters.

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It’s clear as day in defiance and for a moment, I wonder if someone else is in the flat. When I turn back to the living room, there’s no one else but the human. She’s staring at me, unblinkingly again. “I’d rather they made their gags stronger,” I say. “Be quiet. I’m trying to think.” “I’m not some cattle that you can toss around you know.” She whispers under her breath, but my ears are keen enough to pick it up. “You’re still food,” I reply. “Not bovine cattle, but cattle nonetheless.” “We’re just the same. You and I. Except for the fact that you’re bloodsucking scum.” “And you’re a human piece of trash,” I retort. “Frankly, if my equipment wasn’t broken—you’d be on ice right now and I’d be going to bed in peace.” It seems to have the intended effect and she shuts up wisely and scowls. I take the opportunity to pull out a flask from the fridge and grab an empty tumbler. I turn my back to block her from seeing the red liquid. The bloodsucker comment bothers me more than I care to show her. We spend the rest of the evening in silence. In this tiny apartment, there’s no real place for me to store her safely without her suffocating or needing to attend to her normal human needs. It’s like taking care of an angry pet. I sit down on the sofa with my glass and flick through the TV channels. Sitcoms and documentaries mostly. There’s a cop show about a runaway group of humans being tracked across the country, but the obvious uncomfortable anger from somewhere behind me, causes me just to turn the thing off. I stand, toss my tumbler in the kitchen sink. “I’m going to bed,” I announce. “You can

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use the sofa to sleep on. Bathroom’s over by your right. I assume you’d like to keep your dignity, so I’m going to let you use it. I’m not going to loosen those ropes though.” She wearily glances over at the door and checks out the windows but doesn’t reply. “They’re too strong for you. The glass is reinforced, and you’d be too weak to open anything. There’s a scanner on the door. It won’t work for you, so don’t test me and try it out.” “Better not keep your coffin waiting, then.” She mutters and we say nothing more to each other. The next morning, I find her asleep in the corner of the room, her back pressed protectively against the wall. I’d been on my own for so long, I’d forgotten she was even here. My head pounds with the realisation that there’s barely any food left in the fridge and my stomach rumbles angrily. I was hoping to drain from the girl when she was in the Cryo, to avoid a fight, but I was feeling weak. I do it quickly, while she’s still drowsy from sleep. I release her, and she falls to the floor in anger and spits at me. I ignore her and cross to the kitchen, sipping on the thick liquid. It’s common knowledge that drinking from a conscious human would result in odd side effects. Of course, I’d never really done so except for experimental college parties. It takes a few minutes, but wave after wave of memories that weren’t mine, hits me suddenly. A terrifying childhood with a group of humans used to hiding and evading us. A twelfth birthday party that ended watching someone’s parents killed in front to me. Seeing all of the humans around me die painfully but proudly. Tortured. My stomach lurches and I wretch. I want

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to tear my own arms off in a despair that wasn’t my own. The girl—Noah—barely notices as her memories beat down on me, one by one. It’s over in a few minutes, and my head swims and I’m torn with the very taboo ideas

It’s common knowledge that drinking from a conscious human would result in odd side effects. Of course, I’d never really done so except for experimental college parties. that are floating around my head. I glance back at Noah, who’s still pressed against the wall and gazing out at the sunset. She’s gradually bathed in the warm rays of the sun and I see her close her eyes, enjoying the last few moments of freedom. My heart aches, but not in some kind of physical pain. The pain goes deeper to a more moral level and suddenly, I’m jealous of her. I’m jealous of this small, weak human who gets to feel the rays of daylight on her and know the warmth of a warm evening. Even now, I’m automatically drawn myself over to the opposite side of the room where the thick, blackout curtains protect me. She looks over at me and for a second our eyes connect, and we know that we’re silently doomed to live our separate worlds, regardless of want. The repair men arrive in their heavy, protective clothing against the daylight. They get to work on the machine and apologise politely for not getting it done the day before. I nod numbly, I barely hear them. I just want

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them gone. “It’s probably time to get you sleeping,” I say eventually, after they leave, and the flat is filled with a heavy silence. “It won’t hurt. It’ll get too cold too quickly for you to feel it, I’m told. You’ll be asleep before you realise what’s happening.” She nods dimly, the fight’s gone out of her. “Can I have just a few more minutes?” I can’t summon any argument to deny her that and nod in agreement. I can hear her stifling her sobs with some difficulty as she tries to hide them from me. I have to look away in embarrassment on her behalf. I hate myself because I’m torn between what I’m conditioned to think and feel, versus what my heart wanted to suggest. I couldn’t even give the idea words—it was preposterous. My father would have been ashamed to think of me feeling so weak. He’d have hated me for it. But the idea was also appealing in that sense. It set me apart from what he wanted me to be: a bloodsucker in every aspect. Someone to be feared in this world, both in business and my personal life. I shoot across the room with such speed, she’s terrified and freezes when I appear next to her. I wrap myself in the curtain and through the material, I manage to fumble with the window latch. “Go,” I mutter and I hold the window open, still keeping concealed. She blinks at me for a few moments, and I can see the mixture of mistrust, confusion and shock

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flicker across her delicate features. “You’ll get a good couple of hours before the patrol starts. Your best chance is to reach the borders and run into the grassy fields due north. You’ll hit some train tracks eventually, and they’ll be some abandoned buildings out that way.” “Why?” she says sharply, eyebrows knotted together. She assumes it’s a carefully laid trap, and I can’t blame her. “Because I’m not a monster,” I say hotly. “And frankly, you’re just not worth the effort.” I’m not deliberately trying to be cruel, but I’m worried some of the neighbours will hear us with their increased hearing and she’ll be caught before she even gets outside. It works though, because she shoots me an irritated look and leaps from the window onto the scaffolding below with surprising ease for a human. Soon enough, she reaches the concrete below and her feet slap quietly on the ground as she heads for the end of the street and runs along the beams of waning sunlight that drowns the roads. I’m suddenly exhausted, and I close the window and the curtains and slowly sink onto the sofa. When my head hits the material, it’s already wet with moisture from my face. I’m crying for my own freedom that I’ll never receive, my own loneliness and also, for the large possibility that Noah may not even make the train tracks before being found and killed. But for what it was worth, and among my own personal irritation, I hoped that she would.

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POETRY

For Danny by Bonnie Larson Staiger Born one day apart our Moms – best friends labored together in the Bismarck Hospital

He drove all night from Helena when he learned of my divorce just to remind me that we will always be soul mates

We rode bikes in grade school in junior high we played kick-the-can Shared a first kiss

He never missed calling on our birthday even when he had to drive down that mountain to a payphone sometimes he was drunk

We danced cheek-to-cheek I wore a yellow polished-cotton dress and a corsage from him Peggy Helfenstein said I stole her boyfriend—Me? Not Danny not this Danny

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The last call I didn’t tell him about my breast cancer—and he didn’t tell me he was dying Three months later he was gone

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Vol. 3 • Issue 1

"This is not as fun as it is supposed to be… | MARTHA NANCE


POETRY

Sleep Talk by Anthony Salandy I could hear his mind throughout The night of gentile snow fallAs if the weather knew of my paranoia-

For in his deep sleep He repeated his longing Without meaning to-

For as the snow piled higher And higher still on the now covered And seemingly vast expanse

Or perhaps never meaning for me to hear The sound of his body pressing Against the bed as he called and called

That were the moors Of our hilly countryside The snow continued to fall so softly as if to hide

For a man that had been dead For ten or more years now, A man that adored his bodyBut certainly not his mind.

The truth that he called out another In the depths of his slumberWithout meaning to, But in me a fear was awoken that alarmed my restless slumber As if to mock all I had tried to work for And all that I hoped would remain-

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FICTION

Angry Cat by Carolyn Geduld

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y tears at the wedding were not tears of joy. I cried remembering my own wedding, the betrayals that followed, then the divorce. At the reception, I drank too much. The next day, I was in no hurry to go back to the home I once shared with my ex. Instead, I decided to linger in the city, wasting time until I could tolerate the three hour drive across the river, then back through Midwestern flat lands to my home town. I would go to the art museum, described as a gem in travel-site reviews. Divorced women go to museums by themselves without embarrassment, even if they feel odd alone at tables in restaurants and in single seats in theaters. I am the one who has said “shall I move over a seat so you two can sit together?” I am the one who has thought “now I am expendable, a woman alone, no longer young, no longer slim.” I drove through the labyrinth of the city, with its unexpected one-way streets, the GPS re-routing several times, with no husband to help guide or with whom to have a friendly argument about directions to be recalled later, 60 | Montana Mouthful

amusingly and perhaps with affection, on the way to another event in another place. This would happen before the betrayals and between betrayals, after the tears and forgiveness. Finally at the museum, I purchased my single admissions ticket and was given a sitemap. As a woman alone, I no longer had to compromise with an ex who might wish to see the Greek and Roman galleries first, who might insist, who might pout if he didn’t get his way, or punish by walking quickly ahead as if unmarried to me, the aging woman whose hair was gray at the roots, who had to entice him back to my side with a display of enthusiasm I did not altogether feel. “Oh! Look at this one. Did you see this Modigliani? So gorgeous.” The painting would be of a woman so like the women he preferred, tall, slender, the way I had been when we met, before the distortions of the pregnancies, leaving a roll of fat girding my mid-section. Modigliani could bring him back to me, but temporarily, before he might wander off again to the Egyptian exhibit. When we women are by ourselves, the world is our oyster, they say. We can choose Vol. 3 • Issue 1


what we want to choose, skip what we want to skip. I chose to skip the Impressionists, with their cheery pointillist renditions of happy families picnicking or groups of friends at boating parties or fashionable couples strolling through formal gardens. These I avoided, preferring landscapes and still life paintings that didn’t contain false promises, as my marriage contained false promises, as all the things my ex said to persuade me to be with him turned out to be the falsest of promises. While wandering through the European galleries, stopping to read the information plaques posted alongside this or that artwork, or to stare with synthetic interest at the artwork itself for several minutes as the custom in museums dictates, pretending to admire the way the artist depicted water or sky or the play of light, I came upon the Golden Age of Dutch art. There, the dark seventeenth-century portraits of severe men in black by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Dyke reminded me of my father’s sternness. He lived within a circle of silence, presided over by my mother. I could come no closer than the outer perimeter. He was not to be disturbed while reading the newspaper, doing the accounts, or snoozing in his recliner. In an adjacent gallery, still life works of Dutch art were displayed. Paintings of lavish tables with abundant fruit and exotic blooms were startlingly realistic and sensual. Something about them reminded me of sex with my husband. Sometimes, I humiliated myself to keep his flagging interest, positioning myself in novel ways, doing things that secretly disgusted me, pretending to orgasm. Just don’t leave me. I’ll do anything you want. Further along in the room, the artworks montanamouthful.com

changed subject. Now the results of hunts were depicted, hare and pheasants hanging from a post by one leg, with every hair and feather rendered in photographic exactness. These were commissioned works. Who wanted such horrors on the walls of their mansions? It had to be men who needed to display their trophies, the beings they killed, the hearts they broke. The last painting with a hunting theme was unlike the others. It was the one that brought me to a standstill. An oversized,

The painting would be of a woman so like the women he preferred, tall, slender, the way I had been when we met, before the distortions of the pregnancies, leaving a roll of fat girding my mid-section. striped feral cat defended its prey—a dead rooster—from a small, collared dog, while in the distance well-dressed couples stood near a swan-filled lake. The cat bared its teeth, hackles raised, back arched, angry, ferocious, enraged, not about to allow the dog, a miniature breed, have what was hers. I stood there, transfixed, longer than is normal in museums, where visitors may linger but not stop for too long following the unspoken expectation that everyone move along as if in line. Finally, snapping out of a daze, I went to the museum cafeteria. If I had been with my husband, I might have asked for a pastry to share with him. I would have cut it into unequal portions and taken the smaller piece, as if my appetite were dainty and my excess Montana Mouthful | 61


weight a mystery. We might have joked about being on vacation and eating unwisely for once. But as a divorced woman in a strange city, I was unlikely to be observed by anyone who knew me. I could do what I liked. In fact, I could have more than one pastry. I ordered a coffee and three different ones. They were mine. I didn’t have to share. I was ravenous. Quickly, I ate all three, even licking my fingers after each. I might have left the museum at that point. But first I was drawn back to the Dutch Golden Age room to see the angry cat painting again. This time, I sat on the bench in front of it. It dawned on me that the background scene of the placid lake and tame swans was idealized, like the way marriage

It dawned on me that the background scene of the placid lake and tame swans was idealized, like the way marriage was supposed to be, the way the bride and groom at the wedding I attended probably thought their future would be—an easy stroll together along a domesticated, scenic pathway. was supposed to be, the way the bride and groom at the wedding I attended probably thought their future would be—an easy stroll together along a domesticated, scenic pathway. The reality, however, was shown in the foreground, where two possessive, furious animals struggled over spoils. The cat mesmerized me. I stared into its eyes, so realistic that it might have been a real cat staring back. How right it was to be irate.

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The dog, cuter and younger than her, wanted what was hers. She wasn’t about to let her rival have the rooster, her rooster. I sat there, hardly blinking, so intrigued was I by the painting until the lights dimmed three times, indicating that the museum was about to close. Before leaving the building, I found the museum store and bought three prints of the angry cat painting. In the parking lot, I sat in my car feeling strangely irritated. There were few other cars. Most of the visitors had already left. Yet, the abrupt way the remaining vehicles backed out without waiting for me, the older woman driver, who was surely owed some deference, made me angry. I was an angry cat. I hissed at them through clenched teeth. Back on the road, I drove randomly through unfamiliar streets. I had forgotten to set my GPS, but I was too impatient to stop driving to do so. Never had I had road rage, but now other drivers and pedestrians maddened me. The walkers were inconsiderate, arrogant, crossing the street in a leisurely cock-sure way, as if they owned the road. Although it was unusual for a woman who was alone, lonely, and vulnerable, I yelled profanities at them. A few turned their heads or looked at me through passenger-side windows, if they were in cars. Perhaps they could hear me or see my boiled-red face. Not caring, I defied the compass hanging from my rear-view mirror, driving south instead of north toward the river. When red lights turned green, I accelerated fiercely, cutting off the cars that trailed behind, while the wheels of my car gave a satisfying screech. I bared my teeth at other drivers. The road was mine. It wouldn’t be taken from me without a fight.

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Let them try! Only just let them. I noticed I was entering a run-down section of town. The residents were African-American. There was no one sitting beside me in the car who was too busy ogling the attractive black women to listen as I complained about being lost, who would tell me in an aggravated tone that we were not lost, that he knew what he was doing. There was no one to cause me to doubt myself. I laughed out loud. I no longer needed a husband to make me think I was crazy for suspecting he was having an aair. It was my choice now to be crazy. I’ll show him! Up ahead was a large church. People were milling around outside in tuxedos and long, sparkling dresses. A bride appeared in the doorway in a billowing white gown, while the groom held her arm. Both were smiling broadly. What was there to smile about? Did they think they had a right to happiness while

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I sat in my car grinding my teeth in frustration, blocked in by limousines? As they began to descend the church steps, they seemed to look my way. Their smiles seemed to turn to grimaces. They wouldn’t want the betrayed white woman to cloud their good fortune. Was the bride disgusted by the presence of a stranger who had lost her man? Her lip seemed to curl. I was an angry cat. My hackles raised. There was just enough space between the limousines for me to rev the motor. I maneuvered the car while accelerating, aiming for the wedding party. No one would ever again scorn the aging divorced woman, who accelerated, then reversed, then accelerated again several times, smashing into vehicles, the church steps, and anyone who happened to be in the way or who thought for a second that marriage was bliss.

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Editors’ Enclosure is a new feature in Montana Mouthful Magazine. Here an editor may share a story, essay, poem, artwork, or a mixture of these. The work in this “enclosed” space may or may not have a connection to the issue’s theme. In this Editors’ Enclosure, Jasmine Swaney Lamb shares a nonfiction piece about mending a romance gone wrong with parts of herself.

Remembering to Forget by Jasmine Swaney Lamb The cure for pain is in the pain. —Rumi

I

n his book, MindReal, Robert Ornstein likens a person’s mind to a large company (he calls it “Mind Ltd.”)* in which parts of the mind (“pig-headed mind workers”) wheel in and out of a consciousness to perform various tasks.** Ted Dewan provides wonderful illustrations of pig-headed mind workers in the book, so when I read MindReal, I can’t help but visualize the “pig-heads” in my own mind. Some of them I cherish, like my language pig-heads, who tend to work well. However, my memory pig-heads are a different story. They rarely show up for work at Jasmine’s Mind Ltd., especially the pig-heads in charge of my “episodic”† memories, the memories that shape our personal pasts. My memory of prior events is so poor, it’s a running joke in our family. Of a shared experience, someone might quip, “Hey, let’s ask Jasmine about this. I’m sure she’ll remember.” It’s as if my memories are photographs in

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an album, except the photos are few and in no particular order. This deficiency used to cause me embarrassment until recently, when I discovered that my memory pig-heads might have good reason. E In August of 1982, my mother died unexpectedly of a rare heart-lung disease called Primary Pulmonary Hypertension. She was 28 years-old. Without warning, my father (who was also 28) was left with a 3 ½ year-old (me), and my new baby sister who was only two weeks-old. To say we were shocked is a ridiculous understatement, for no words can describe the ensuing turmoil. I’m lucky if I have a handful of episodic memories from the time of my birth until about the third grade, and I have a two-year period following the death of my mother when my memory pig-heads went almost completely off the clock.

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To make matters worse, I have only two memories of my mother.In the first, we are at a beach, and my mother reclines against a large rock with legs submerged in clear water up to her shins. Being at most two or three, I stand next to her, clutching the rock for balance, and watch as she dips one of her beautiful, long-fingered hands into the water to scoop up a shell. She places it in my small, opened palm. The shell is tiny and spiraled, colored cream and gun-blue. E In his book, Trauma and Memory, Peter A. Levine says that a “…traumatic memory can be walled off from the consciousness by… repression and dissociation”.†† This is very true, for at 3 ½ years-old, I became a master of both. One of the few memories I have of that time is lying on the floor, rocking my head back and forth to “The Boxer,” by Simon and Garfunkel, as it plays on the record player. With eyes closed and head rocking, I lost bodily sensation, until I was merely a blank mind, free and euphoric. This was powerful medicine. My ability to dissociate was so effective that I rocked my head to music for the next eighteen years. Over time, head-rocking to one or two songs turned into rocking my head to the same song played on repeat for hours. During these sessions, my imagination pigheads worked overtime, conjuring daydream after daydream, all of which shared the same theme—redemption. A common daydream was to imagine myself rescuing my loved ones from danger, say from a murderous villain, or a toppling building, but always at the expense

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of my own life. I had to die for redemption. Usually, I’d rock my head before bedtime, but sometimes I’d do it when I should have been socializing with friends. Although a bright student and strong athlete, with many peers and teammates, I didn’t seek close friendships. I wasn’t invited to prom or most parties; I had no boyfriend. Not that I cared at the time, nor do I hold it against anyone. I likely seemed a bit serious for a teenager, or too self-contained. From outward appearance, my life looked the same as it did for many others during my twenties and early thirties: I worked, studied, traveled, and formed various relationships. But within my Mind Ltd., things were going awry as various pig-heads tried to manage my unresolved trauma. Sooner or later, I was going to crack. It happened in early January of 2015. Out of nowhere, just as I was preparing dinner, I fell into a panic and was unable to breathe. I rushed to bed and began weeping, which caused further distress because neither I nor my husband could find an external cause for my reaction. We’d just entered a virtually stress-free and comfortable period of our lives. So what was my problem? E Of course, a counselor immediately identified the problem when I laid out my life story days later. Most of my pains and troubles were merely branches on a trunk rooted deep in old trauma. For so long, I’d unconsciously assumed that I couldn’t allow myself to be relaxed or happy, for if I did, something bad would happen, just as it had happened so long ago.

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This sort of thinking had caused my unconscious pig-heads to keep my mind hypervigilant and body braced against all that life had in store. To bring the trauma to light, from denied to accepted, to unconscious to conscious, the counselor explained that I needed to approach not just my mind, but also my body. Because I was so young when my mother died, at an almost pre-verbal stage, most of the trauma was being “held” in my muscles and bodily tissues. Along with cognitive therapy, I needed somatic healing, or “body work.” Anyone who’s undergone somatic healing for old trauma will probably tell you that attempting to undo a lifetime of physical “armoring” is initially so painful and frightening, you’re tempted to quit.‡ This proved true for me, but the alternative, to continue living in a contracted, anxious state, seemed even worse. My approach to somatic healing was three-pronged: private Pilates sessions twice a week; yin yoga on most days; but the most effective method was my daily practice of foam rolling for myofascial release. Night after night, when my friends were gathered at the brewery, or off to a movie, I was stretched out on the floor with one body part or another pressed into the roller until release would come, usually through violent shaking followed by tears. I also found truth in Eastern ideas about emotions being "housed" in various parts of the body, for I released grief from my hips, shoulders, and arms. I felt rage in my back. There was fear in my psoas. Rolling my chest was the worst, like rolling a cold anvil where a warm heart should have been. This went on for weeks. Then weeks turned to months. Then months into a year, until

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eventually, I did start to feel better. I was not as easily dysregulated. I’d gained greater range of motion in my muscles and joints. I’d even started taking photographs of the wads of tissues I’d go through during intense sessions, so I could always remember the power of grief. But I knew I hadn't reached the bottom of my pain, although I knew where to find it, if only I'd look. My memory pig-heads had buried it deep within Mind Ltd. It was the only other memory I had of my mother. E But I needed to find the right moment to recall the memory, when I was alone and courageous. One afternoon, after my husband left the house for a long meeting, I put the dogs in the yard and went upstairs to my yoga room and laid on the floor. Then I closed my eyes. My father holds me in his arms next to my mother’s casket. Behind us, the room crowds with people, shuffling and crying. My father shifts me into his left arm and reaches his right arm toward my mother, who lies still and peaceful, as if she’s napping. “ You can touch her if you want,” Dad whispers and shows me what he means by gently stroking her arm. But instead of reaching out to touch my mother, in one final gesture of connection before they bury her, I turn my face into my father’s shoulder that shakes with his weeping. Peering out into a sea of wet, staring faces, I wish they’d stop looking. I don’t want to be here. I want to leave. I want to leave. Sometimes, you hear a story about a parent who’s lost a child, or a child who’s lost a parent, and how the bereaved let out a cry that seemed not of the earth. I’ve heard that cry because it’s the sound that came out of me

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when I finally faced this memory. I sobbed so hard and so loudly, I was certain the neighbors could hear me and one would soon knock and ask what sort of terror was happening inside. Although no one showed up, how would I’ve explained it? For there’d certainly been a terror inside of me, one desperate to get out for such a long time. I laid there for what felt like an hour, regaining my breath, and I realized why my old, dissociative daydreams had themes of redemption. For all of these years, I’d held it against myself for turning away from my mother in her casket. I felt I’d betrayed her, and I was deeply ashamed. This was my greatest pain in life. But I realized that no one was holding this shame against me but myself. That’s when I knew: I wouldn’t have to die for redemption. The cure was to forgive myself and to love the little girl that I’d lost, the one who’d been deep inside of me all this time, waiting to be held. E

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I wish I could say that grieving my mother’s death has allowed me to recall fresh memories of her, but it hasn’t. I cannot hear her voice, recall her smell, feel her touch. However, this may have something to do with the age I was at the time of her death, for it’s thought that “our earliest episodic memories extend back to the age of 3 ½”,‡‡ my precise age when she died. Perhaps something fundamental happened to my episodic memory pig-heads just as they were getting to work in Mind Ltd. Maybe, instead of being embarrassed by them, I could take a different view, that they’d protected a little girl from her grief until she could handle it, some thirty years later. Losing my mother was a tremendous blow, and I have spent a large part of my life erecting walls for protection. But tearing down those walls and confronting the pain has rekindled a romance between all the parts of myself that I’d deemed lost or unworthy. It’s like Rumi tells us: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Works Cited Levine, Peter A. Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in Search for the Living Past. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2015. Print. Ornstein, Robert E. MindReal: How the Mind Creates its Own Virtual Reality. Los Altos, CA: Malor Books. 2008. Print.

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While Montana Mouthful seeks and accepts stories, essays, poetry, and artwork from around the world, we wish to connect with writers and artists from our local Helena community. Montana Mouthful and The Shop University have teamed up; each issue includes a piece submitted by one of The Shop University’s students. The Shop University was founded and is operated by Suzy Williams, and she writes the following message: The Shop University is so excited to be a regular feature in Montana Mouthful magazine. For the past six years, the ShopU has taught intensive daily English classes to teenagers and adults in the Helena area. In this amount of time over 100 students from over 40 different countries have walked through the door. These students are brave. Picking up your life and moving it to a new country to start over takes strength. Learning a new culture, language, and way of life takes perseverance. Every single one of our students wants to learn English to be able to participate in and give back to the community they live in and love. The ShopU exists to help these students thrive in our community by

meeting their English goals. These goals include getting a job, passing a test, enrolling in college, or simply better communication, so they are understood at the doctor’s office or at their child’s school. Learning a new language is hard. Most adults do not achieve fluency in a second language without extreme dedication and motivation. Writing is often the last of the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) where fluency is developed. Each of our students has dreams, goals, and stories.  Being able to showcase their stories in a language they have worked so hard to learn for the community to read is an unbelievable gift.  

This issue features an essay written by Rachel A. Wall. Rachel currently lives in Helena, Montana, where she is earning her degree in English writing at Carroll College. She is a non-traditional student because before attending college, she served five years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps as a helicopter mechanic where she began traveling and experiencing the world. Now, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, gardening, and spending time with her boyfriend and twin sister.

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ESSAY

English as a First Language by Rachel A. Wall

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y experiences interacting with languages overseas is why I sought an internship teaching English as a second language with Suzy Williams at the Shop University in Helena, Montana. But how I found the Shop University is an entirely different story, and to explain, I must go back several months. As an undergraduate student studying English writing at Carroll College, I am expected to be at an intermediate level in a foreign language. At first, this scared me because my passion for writing was now conflicted with a study I had never been good at; learning languages. So, I embarked on a six-month journey to Ifrane, Morocco, and Annecy, France to study the French language. Unexpectedly, while I was overseas, I discovered that I loved learning English more than any other language. However, my struggles with foreign language began the second I landed in Rabat, Morocco. I needed to somehow ask for a taxi to take me from the airport to the train station that would take me to Fes. From the train station in Fes, I needed another taxi to take me to the bus station where I would montanamouthful.com

travel to the village of Ifrane in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. At two in the morning, I finally arrived in Ifrane after nearly twenty-eight hours of traveling since I left Helena, Montana. I was exhausted and almost in tears. I studied French phrases to aide my travel, but my efforts appeared pointless because I could not remember a single phrase I had prepared. Why? I thought as I laid in my cold, empty room, without heat, and from my window, I watched snowflakes fall to the grounds of Northern Africa. At that moment, I realized if I was going to succeed speaking French, I knew I must better understand the English language. What were gerunds? What was the present continuous tense? And what were past participles? I spoke English fluently. Yet, I knew nothing about the grammatical constructs of the language—though I used it every day! I knew what sounded correct and incorrect, but I didn’t know why. One day, my Moroccan friend Anji, who spoke English as a second language, asked me to edit her paper for a literature class. Seeing English was my first language, I decided to Montana Mouthful | 69


help. Immediately, I empathized with her efforts because, sadly, her English was as bad as my French. However, I was determined to help her become a better writer and speaker of the English language. Every week, we met in the library near a large open window that opened directly over a sizeable white Mosque, with a blue Minaret, and the green Atlas Mountains stretched into the horizon. For hours, by that window, I learned and taught Anji the constructs of the English language. I learned how to explain to her why we restructured each sentence in her papers, and in return, my French also enhanced. Together, we symbiotically helped each other. After five months in Morocco, I went to Annecy, France, to continue learning the French language. I was in an immersion program where I attended four-hour French classes a day, similar in nature to Suzy’s classes. Still, unlike Suzy, my professors were mean, and they laughed at my struggles to speak French. At that moment, I decided I wanted to teach English professionally, so I could help students learn without the same shame and embarrassment I experienced in that classroom. One month later, I stood at the edge of white steps that led into the blue waters of Lake Annecy. I watched the swans feed their babies, the sailboats glide at the base of the massive mountains, and paragliders swinging from the sky, and I knew it was time to go home. That it was time to return to help foreigners in my home community learn to speak English. Finally, I landed in America, with twelve

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college credits in French, achieving my goal. Still, I was ready to get back to teaching English. When I heard of Suzy at the Shop University, without hesitation, I requested a meeting with intentions of presenting my internship proposal. Suzy accepted the proposal teaching English as a second language, and within two weeks, I began the internship. As an intern, I taught several classes a week, guiding my students who were from various parts of the world. I had students from Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe, all of which were at a different level in English. I enjoyed working with every student’s needs, and their motivation encouraged me to learn more as a teacher. With the guidance of Suzy, I taught everything from the parts of speech, verb conjugations, verb tenses, idioms, and phrases through reading, writing, speaking, and music. Every Wednesday night, I attended Suzy’s evening class, where she led the course, and I participated with the students, helping them when needed. After thirteen weeks, I completed one hundred twenty-eight hours of assistant teaching. As I continued learning about the English language, while meeting many amazing students from around the world, all right here in the community of Helena, Montana. Suzy’s Shop University not only positively affects the lives of the students, but she also gave me a unique opportunity to be a part of her team. I am grateful to have interned with Suzy, and I am pleased that students who aim to learn English as a second language have such a kind teacher as she.

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We hope you enjoyed the stories, poems, and artwork related to romance gone wrong in the previous pages, and we thank all of the talented writers, poets, and artists who contributed to this issue. We also wish to thank Suzy Williams, of The Shop University, and her ESL students for their continued partnership and contributions to Montana Mouthful. Last but certainly not least, we want to thank Luke Duran, of Element L Design, for his layout and design work. The “great look” of each and every issue is due to his expertise. Luke is so talented, he recently won first place in a QuarkXPress design contest. Check out his Element L Design Facebook page for more information about him and his work. Recently, we held a vote for the next issue’s theme on our Facebook page, and ‘The Great Outdoors’ was the clear winner.  Beginning on February 17, 2020, submissions will open again for this issue. We can’t wait to see the stories, essays, poetry, artwork and photographs that portray ideas of “The Great Outdoors.” It’s sure to be a beautiful issue to say the least! As always, we’ll post reminders to our website and social media pages when submissions open. Submissions will close April 06, 2020, and we aim to publish “The Great Outdoors” issue on May 18, 2020.  We also thank those who donated to our Facebook fundraiser in December, and those who attended our brewery fundraisers in 2019, at Lewis & Clark Brewery and Snow Hop Brewery in Helena, Montana.  We have additional fundraisers planned as we work toward our dream of paying our submitters for their hard work. Please watch for Montana Mouthful Magazine March Madness Monday’s on Facebook for donation opportunities! We look forward to publishing in 2020, and we appreciate your support for the magazine. Stay Warm,  Cari Divine, Editor

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Montana Mouthful | 71


Biography A.J. Atwater Atwater’s fiction is published or forthcoming in Roanoke Review, LitroNY, Blood Tree Literature, Gargoyle, Gravel, Green Mountains Review, Vestal Review, PANK and others. Dan A. Cordoza Dan A. Cardoza’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have met international acceptance. Most recently his work has been featured in Cleaver, Coffin Bell, Entropy, Door=Jar, Five:2:one, Gravel, Midway Journal, Montana Mouthful and New Flash Fiction Review. You can find him on Twitter @Cardozabig. William Cass William Cass has had 200 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. He was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, has received three Pushcart nominations, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California. Jaina Cipriano Jaina Cipriano is creating visual metaphors for emotions she has trouble defining. Without the help of photoshop she builds physical environments that open her models up to becoming part of something bigger. This primes the space for an authenticity that is so raw and visceral it brings you back to your own memories. Jaina’s work takes the shape of a dream you wake up already forgetting, tasting only the vivid edges while the center dissolves. You can find out more about Jaina at jainaphoto.com and on Instagram @jainasphotography. Quinn Doll Quinn is an undergraduate student in Columbia, Missouri. Her degree focus is English with a minor in Art. Her hobbies include hiking, forgetting to do the dishes, and looking up facts about cryptids. Luke Duran Luke Duran is a graphic artist composed mainly of oxygen (65%), carbon (18.5%), hydrogen (9.5%), and a whole mess of trace elements, depending on what he had for dinner last night. He specializes in design for print, and generally puts his artistic energy toward things like education, conservation and the arts. He maintains a snarky page about logos at facebook.com/elementldesign/. Learn more about Luke at his old and outdated website: elementldesign.com 72 | Montana Mouthful

Mary Sophie Filicetti Mary Sophie Filicetti is a teacher who spends her free time writing stories in the myriad coffee shops around DC. Her fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction and is pending in The Magnolia Review and Antimony and Elder Lace. You can find out more about Mary on Facebook (MaryFilicetti) and Twitter @marysfilicetti. Meg Freer Meg Freer grew up in Montana and lives in Kingston, Ontario. She has worked as an editor and currently teaches piano and music history. She enjoys photography and being active outdoors year-round. Her photos and writing have been published in various journals and anthologies such as Vallum, Eastern Iowa Review, Poetry South and Ruminate. In 2017 she won a fellowship and attended the Summer Literary Seminars in Tbilisi. You can find out more about Meg on Facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010014006034) Carolyn Geduld Carolyn Geduld is a mental health professional in Bloomington, Indiana. Her fiction has appeared in The Writing Disorder, Pennsylvania Literary Review, Persimmon Tree, Not Your Mother’s Breastmilk, Dime Show Review, Dual Coast (Prolific Press), Otherwise Engaged, and several others. Her novel Take Me Out The Back will be published by Black Rose in August 2020. You can find out more about Carolyn on Twitter @CarolynGeduld. Steve Gerson Steve Gerson, an emeritus English professor from a Midwestern community college, writes poetry and flash about life’s dissonance and dynamism. He’s proud to have published in Panoplyzine (winning an Editor’s Choice award), The Hungry Chimera, Toe Good, The Write Launch, Route 7, Duck Lake, Coffin Bell, Poets Reading the News, Crack the Spine, White Wall Review, Abstract, Pinkley Press, and In Parenthesis. John Grey John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and failbetter. Ken Harmon Ken Harmon lives in Charlotte, NC, and is an Associate Professor of English at Johnson & Wales University where he teaches literature and writing. He has been Editor of West Trade Review since 2009 and edited its prior incarnation, Encore, from 2005-2008. His criticism and poetry have appeared in Sanskrit, The Spectator, and Creative Loafing among others. When he’s not obsessed with words, he loves listening to waterfalls, climbing mountains, and exploring the outdoors. Vol. 3 • Issue 1


Jenny Hedley

D.S. Maolalai

Jenny Hedley’s writing appears in SCUM, Gone Lawn, Travel Play Live magazine and Vanishing Act. Her poetry is featured on Memoria Podcast. She studies creative writing at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

DS Maolalai has been nominated four times for Best of the Net and twice for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden (Encircle Press, 2016) and Sad Havoc Among the Birds (Turas Press, 2019). You can find out more about D.S. on Twitter: @diarmo1990.

Holly Jane Holly Jane is an aspiring writer slash Vet Care Assistant. When she’s not working, she can be found, hunched in her darkened bedroom with a pen, paper and some messed up ideas. She hopes to be able to write full time one day and is looking to release her debut novel in 2020. You can follow Holly on Twitter @HollyJWrites, on Instagram @hollyjwriterxo, or at https://rosariakai.wordpress.com.

Robin Michel Robin Michel is a writer and poet whose work can be found in Bird’s Thumb, Rappahannock Review, San Pedro River Review, Cowboys & Cocktails, Poetry from the True Grit Saloon and elsewhere. The founder of Raven & Wren Press (est. 2019), she lives in San Francisco and teaches English at a small international high school.

David Jibson

Maria Mylena

Having grown up in rural Michigan. David Jibson now lives in Ann Arbor where he is a co-editor of Third Wednesday, a literary arts journal and a member of The Crazy Wisdom Poetry Circle. He is retired from a long career in Social Work, most recently with a Hospice agency. You can find out more about David at https://thirdwednesdaymagazine.org/.

Maria Mylena is a twenty-six year old queer living in Portland, Maine. She is a self-taught photographer and self portrait artist experimenting with the juxtaposition of youth and dilapidation, staring down the face of the inevitable, with the energy of naive recklessness. She creates with the intention of inspiring and empowering her audience by pulling from the unconventional. You can find out more about Maria on Instagram @foxspit. \

Jon Kemsley Jon Kemsley has been published in Ellipsis, Ginosko, the Fiction Pool, New World Writing, Neon and others. He lives and works on the south coast of England, listens to old jazz records and occasionally remembers to call his brother about whatever it was he promised to do the last time. Tricia Knoll Tricia Knoll is a Vermont poet, aging and wiser after a few “gone wrongs.” Her recent collection How I Learned To Be White received the 2018 Indie Book Award for Motivational Poetry. You can find out more about Tricia at triciaknoll.com. Margaret LaFleur Margaret LaFleur lives, writes, and teaches in the Twin Cities. She can be found online at margaretlafleur.com or on Twitter @margosita. Jasmine Swaney Lamb Jasmine is a co-founder and co-editor of Montana Mouthful magazine. Some of Jasmine’s fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in literary journals, newspapers, and blogs. Originally from Traverse City, Michigan, she currently lives in Helena, Montana, where she edits and teaches writing through The Lamb Group, Inc., a company started with her husband in 2012. You can find out more about Jasmine at www.jasmineswaney.com or follow her on Instagram @jaslamb.

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Martha Nance The photographer is a physician in Minnesota who has become obsessed with the many species of dragon and damselflies that visit her front yard each year, and other little bits of nature that present themselves when she is out there. She has had photos published in The Esthetic Apostle, the Tiny Seed Journal, and Wanderlust, among other journals. Eugene Platt Eugene Platt, an octogenarian, holds a diploma in Anglo-Irish Literature from Trinity College Dublin. He is widely published, with poems having appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, Poet Lore, Crazyhorse, Tar River Poetry, Southwestern Review, South Carolina Review, etc. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his main muses: Canadian-born wife Judith, corgi Henry, and cat Keats. Horia Pop He used to be an English teacher until he found out washing dishes and travelling is far more useful to his hobo soul. Ever since, he wanders here and there, and after writing, waits until a publisher gives him the joy and strength to keep on. Ellen White Rook Ellen White Rook is a poet and teacher of contemplative arts residing in upstate New York. She offers workshops on Japanese flower arranging and regularly leads day-long Sit, Walk, Write retreats that merge meditation, movement, and writing. A member of the Evergreen Poets Workshop since 2017, Ellen is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at Lindenwood University. Montana Mouthful | 73


Anthony Salandy

Bonnie Larson Staiger

Anthony is an aspiring poet who likes to focus on the contrast between nature and humanity but also the many similarities that bring the two together. Anthony enjoys the pastoral as well as the depth of human sentiment and action and tries in earnest to express this in his poetry. Anthony travels frequently and has spent most of his life in Kuwait jostling between the UK and America. Anthony enjoys writing about the impact of multiculturalism in his life as well. Anthony has been published six times in The Kuwait Poets Society’s Ink & Oil Zine ( June 2019), The Showbear Family Circus, Dream Noir Literary Journal, Straylight literary magazine, and Poets Choice. Anthony is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Sociology at The University of Amsterdam. You can find out more about Anthony on Twitter and Instagram @anthony64120.

Bonnie Larson Staiger is a North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate, the recipient of the 2018 ‘Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award’ (NDSU Press) for her debut collection, Destiny Manifested. She often writes of the poignant subtleties of life from the view of the high plains of the New American West as well as the many places she has traveled. You can find out more about Bonnie at www.bonniestaiger.com.

Dylan Scillia Dylan is a recent Susquehanna University graduate who studied Early Childhood Education. While photography has nothing to do with his degree, it is one of his passions, and he tries to indulge in it as often as possible. It is his dream to one day teach in middle schools about the basics to photography, to hopefully open children’s eyes to the artistic possibilities. You can find out more about Dylan at scilliaphotos.com @dscillia. Jacalyn Shelley Jacalyn Shelley has been published in several journals including Sugar House Review, Dunes Review, DASH, San Pedro River Review, Barely South, Shot Glass Journal, and Pilgrimage’s Injustice and Protest Issue. In 2018 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. To read more of her poems go to JacalynShelley.com. Frankie A. Soto Frankie A. Soto is a poet & author by way of New York. He is the 2019 winner of the Multicultural Poet of the year award from the National Spoken Word Poetry Awards and now a 2x winner (2019, 2016) The New York Times called him an absolute force. He’s featured for ABC News, the Mayor of Minnesota & Wisconsin and has traveled all across the country actively touring and running workshops at Colleges/Universities. You can find out more about Frankie at www.frankiesotopoetry.com.

George L Stein George L Stein is a writer and photographer in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area. Interest in monochrome, film and digital photography and urban decay/architectural subject matter has come to include street photography, fashion, fetish, collage, and oppositiional/juxtapositional projects in digital format. His work has been published in Midwest Gothic, NUNUM, Montana Mouthful, Out/Cast, The Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, and DarkSide magazine. You can find out more about George at http://georgelstein.com or on Instagram @steincapitalmgmt. Alex Stolis Alex lives in Minneapolis. Rachel A. Wall Rachel A. Wall currently lives in Helena, Montana, where she is earning her degree in English writing at Carroll College. She is a non-traditional student because before attending college, she served five years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps as a helicopter mechanic where she began traveling and experiencing the world. Now, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, gardening, and spending time with her boyfriend and twin sister. Yixuan Wang Yixuan Wang, M.Ed. TESOL and World Language Education, is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, in the department of language and literacy education with a focus in TESOL and World Language Education. She is currently the Academic Book Review Editor for the Journal of Language and Literacy Education ( JoLLE). Her native language is Chinese, and now she mainly writes poems in English as her second language.

Hollin Stafford

Jim Zola

Hollin Stafford is an author, a freelance writer, and a former flight attendant. Her first young-adult novel, Degrees of Light, was published in 2018 and she’s a frequent contributor to the travel site MilesGeek. In 2019, she was a winner in the Rochester Writers’ Summer Writing Contest. Hollin’s short story, Blue, was featured in Literary Mama and she has a feature article in February ‘20 issue of BirdWatching magazine. Hollin currently lives in Portugal with her husband, son and three dogs. You can find out more about Holly at https://hollinstafford.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/hollin.stafford/).

Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina.

74 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 3 • Issue 1


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Montana Mouthful Vol. 3 Issue 1  

"Romance Gone Wrong," the sixth issue of Montana Mouthful, an independent nonprofit literary magazine devoted to short fiction and nonfictio...

Montana Mouthful Vol. 3 Issue 1  

"Romance Gone Wrong," the sixth issue of Montana Mouthful, an independent nonprofit literary magazine devoted to short fiction and nonfictio...