Montana Mouthful: Out Of This World

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Dear Montana Mouthful Readers, Welcome to our “Out of This World” issue. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a brief escape into worlds other than the one we’ve been dealing with during 2020 and early 2021. We felt this theme would be fitting after the publication of our previous issue, “Quarantine,” which was loaded with strong ideas and feeling about the global pandemic. To say it was a “heavy” issue is likely an understatement, and we were glad to be able to provide a platform for individuals to vent their frustrations and fears through writing and art. Most of us, if not all of us, have been affected by COVID-19 in some manner, whether it be through testing positive and struggling through illness, or watching loved ones struggle with illness. Many people lost their jobs, or those jobs changed in a very significant manner. Incomes fluctuated and people grew depressed due to intense feelings of isolation. Students struggled with home-based learning, or perhaps their extra-curricular activities were altered or even cancelled. Whatever impact the Coronavirus had on you and your loved ones, we hope that we are collectively on the way to healing and a return to normalcy, however that might look. In the meantime, we are excited to present this latest issue, full of out of this world stories, poems, essays, and artwork that, if only for a moment, takes us away from our current reality. As expected, some of the contributions bring us to outer space, where planets loom and astronauts cope with everyday issues. Other pieces take us in totally unexpected directions, to a catered party, to the inner city, on trains under the ocean, and even onto a neighbor’s sofa. We found the artwork to be particularly stunning for this issue, and we hope you enjoy it too. On that note, sit back, unwind, and let this issue carry you away to places out of this world. With warmest thanks, Jasmine Lamb, Co-Editor, Montana Mouthful

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Out of this World VOLUME FOUR • 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)

Introduction .......................................................................II Love in the Time of Astronauts..........................................2 Another Time, Another Place.............................................7 A Scrap of Infinity ..............................................................9 Icarus in Iridescent Green.................................................10 Sofa 4 Free ........................................................................12 Our unfolding symmetry ..................................................17 Second Skin ......................................................................18 The Faraway ......................................................................20 Star Gazing.......................................................................25 The Calls ...........................................................................27 Horizontal Lightning .......................................................29 The Widow of Chilil -(for Catarina of the Hills) .............30 Moonrise...........................................................................31 Purple Summer .................................................................33 I Put A Spell On You .......................................................34 My Sister’s Cult ................................................................38 (H)AUNT ........................................................................44

Artwork/Photography Up to 10 images

Galactic Mortification Dissipates Through Time .............47

SUBMISSIONS Please send us your work via Submittable at Emailed submissions will not be accepted.

The Medium .....................................................................54

A Sky Undersea ................................................................51 Drop Risk .........................................................................58 The Party on the Edge of Forever .....................................60


The Oddness of Pluto .......................................................65


Tiny Scattered Limbs .......................................................66


The Other Side .................................................................69


Editor’s Enclosure: My Peculiar Year ................................73


Editor’s Note.....................................................................75



Twitter: DESIGN Layout and graphic design by Luke Duran, Element L Design

Cover art:

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing


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Love in the Time of Astronauts by Thomas Howarth I spent my infancy in zero gravity. It wasn’t some sort of scientific experiment—I was an accident. These things happen when you’re 300,000 miles from home. As you’ll know, Jack Kerwin and Viola Sharman were the first couple to get married on the Moon. It wasn’t the first commercial flight up there, but they were the first people to exchange vows in the presence of an ordained lunar pilot. The only people, so far. Moonshot Wedding (Disney Plus-Ultra) was the streaming event of the decade. Millions or billions or trillions watched as Jack and Viola swapped words and rings in the cramped matrimonial pod. The main craft orbited above, under the charge of Pilot #1, whilst Pilot #2 sat with Jack and Viola in the pod, parked on the gunpowder desert of the Moon, smiling and announcing and making sure the cameras were working. Viola’s veil was weighted. Jack lifted it, and they kissed, and the viewing world went crazy. Despite the cheesiness inherent in anything being filmed, I’ll admit that their vows were 2 | Montana Mouthful

touching. Even now, they move me to recall (though I don’t often rewatch them). They outlined their story: Jack and Viola met when they were eighteen at a convention for nerds, a celebration of science-fiction movies and expensive autographs. Viola was dressed as Sigourney Weaver in Alien. Jack was working as an assistant to a grumpy actor hawking his wares. Viola paid (far too much money) for a photo with the actor, and then she saw Jack, standing at the side with a lanyard displaying his name. Nice to meet you, Jack Kerwin, she said, and then they went on a date, moved in together, split bills, had a few arguments, watched films, got jealous about crushes, learned what food the other disliked, and entered the Moonshot Wedding competition. They won and got married on the Moon. Everybody watched it, but you had to pay an additional subscription fee to keep up with the honeymoon. It takes three days to get to the Moon. It takes another nine months to reach Mars. You can squeeze loads of episodes out of that. And they did. Moonshot Wedding: Honeymoon Period drew millions of viewers week Vol. 4 • Issue 1


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upon week, as the newlyweds zoomed off to orbit the red planet. Before lift-off, Jack and Viola had been given a list of prohibited activities. Obviously, some intimacy was permissible—it was a honeymoon, after all—but sex of the classic heteronormative penetrative variety was banned. Totally, cruelly outlawed. The risk of pregnancy was too great, the officials said, and pregnancy, most of all, was not permitted. Nevertheless, naturally, the young bride fell pregnant.

her face. My scant black hair floated freely. The viewership delighted in this burbling little addition to Honeymoon Period. I was a global megastar before I’d had my first shit (they didn’t show that on TV; poor Pilot #2 helped deal with it off-camera). My parents and I were the image of domestic bliss, the constellations outside substituting for a white picket fence. It was just that: an image. Offscreen, and over my tiny head, Jack and Viola argued. They’d been tetchy since the Moon—with as little privacy as gravity, anyone would be—but I think the prospect of a long voyage to Mars suddenly shocked the reality She floated pregnant, and there was no option of into them. Like setting out on a long turning back. Even if there was, Jack and Viola drive and realising, too late, that you need to go to the toilet. Under-prewere contractually obliged to provide twelve pared, they contended with the months of streamable inter-planetary honey- paradoxical solitude of space. The moon content. So the ship sailed on to Mars, and dissonant sensation of confinement I was born as we slipped gracefully into orbit. in an endless void. NASA never sent couples up together—the inter-planeThe first birth in space. It was TV gold. tary relationship was untested. I said at the beginning that I wasn’t an experiment—but my parents were (Do you still ‘fall’ pregnant in zero gravity? beginning to live one. For accuracy, let’s say she floated pregnant). As we circled Mars, they spent time She floated pregnant, and there was no gazing out of different windows. The execs option of turning back. Even if there was, Jack managed to edit the footage so it looked like and Viola were contractually obliged to provide they were sitting together. My father retreated twelve months of streamable inter-planetary to the gymnasium, whilst my mother stared at honeymoon content. So the ship sailed on to the orange globe and held me tight. They Mars, and I was born as we slipped gracefully shouted occasionally, but lowered their voices in into orbit. The first birth in space. It was TV deference to the pilots, who would glance awkgold. Experts debated my nationality. Pilot #2 wardly and say nothing. Pilot #2 looked after (everything fell to Pilot #2) assisted in the me whenever my mother needed to cry alone. delivery, and I was carefully framed for a shot The best argument was over orange juice. against the window with the Martian ice cap in Somebody had popped a carton of orange juice, the background. My mother cradled me and spraying sticky globules across the cabin. It was sobbed, big bulbous tears that had to be dabbed nothing—proverbial spilt milk—but the sight away by Pilot #2 so that they didn’t consume of it cast my father into an unprecedented rage. 4 | Montana Mouthful

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He slammed about (as best he could) and shouted that he wished he’d never got into this damn stupid spaceship with these damn stupid pilots or had that damn stupid wedding on the damn stupid Moon. My mother agreed with him, and they didn’t speak for three days (until my mother accidentally popped a carton of blackcurrant juice, and they managed to laugh about it for a few seconds). I know all this because I’ve seen the tapes. Like I say, they were edited for broadcast on Earth, but I’ve seen the unredacted stuff. There’s a reason it didn’t go out live. Some people pointed to the delayed broadcast as evidence that it was all faked, filmed on a soundstage with actors and a doll, dangling from invisible harnesses. No, it wasn’t faked, but it was edited into a black hole. I don’t remember any of the flight, but I do remember slowly learning to walk in the years afterwards; a bitter struggle, thanks to my depleted bone mass and the nine-month absence of gravity. I’d had no practice. I’d never even crawled. I took to swimming, though. I swim competitively now. Very competitively. Returning to Earth, we were granted a celebrities’ welcome (Moonshot Wedding: Splashdown). The pilots stood back, smiling and waving if a camera bothered looking their way. We

were taken in a big car to a big hotel, where we received another big reception. My parents were gifted civilian medals, and a congratulatory phonecall with the president. Scientists and medics clambered over each other to see me; I was a marvel. When my mother put me down on solid ground for the first time in my life, I was a beached fish. Once the door to our suite closed on the cameras and journalists, Jack and Viola went into separate rooms. The editing process has continued into real life. The studio execs have done a commendable job covering it up, but it’s a secret statistic: 100% of space marriages end in divorce. My parents reunited for a special episode—Moonshot Marriage: Ten Years On—with too-big smiles that should have given the game away to anyone watching closely. I said cute unscripted things to camera. My parents laughed when an interviewer asked if they’d recommend the experience. They live in different towns now, but it’s never been reported. They look up at the same Moon. Even Wikipedia still regards them as ‘together’. The execs keep everything quiet, and have elected not to broadcast a sequel series with another couple. We are the faces of a generation, but my uncanny resemblance to Pilot #2 has never been mentioned.

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Pilgrimage 6 | Montana Mouthful

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Another Time, Another Place by Dan A. Cardoza As I cross Alameda and head toward Main, in the near distance, I see an unkempt man on his back, passed out on the sidewalk. He’s pissed his pants. Legs tucked up, his knees pointing to Venus, an hour before she’ll appear. Next to him, in an upside-down cage of a shopping cart meows an anorexic excuse for a cat. As I walk past, navigate the littered sidewalk, the cat paces side to side, rubbing its fur off the bars. Like everything else on this planet, it cries to be free. Dad says, “Don’t make eye contact they’ll want something from you.” I’m barely seventeen, but I’ve never met someone who didn’t. I’m part of a Social Science project we’ve titled, What Went Wrong in America. What better place to research than a city named after Angels? From the front porch at the back of the universe, we must appear as a dying star about to enter a black hole. You’re not supposed to be here, in the streets, unless you’ve run out of purpose. Granted, they’re wayward asteroids out here,

the ones streaking past La-La Land seeking otherworldly distractions, interplanetary tourists, slung out of orbits, sporting odd names like Omaha, Nebraska, Spokane and Boise. They appear out of nowhere, as I do, aliens, at the expense of the inhabitants. They create digital photos on smart phones to prove what they see on T.V. Los Angeles is one of a handful of Petri Dish cities on our planet. A environ where Mad Men test market strength, how to move money from the bottom to the top, regardless of product. Sociologists say it’s due to the thatch of ethnicity in L.A., and the brambles of homogenous demography. The city has often been compared to a metaphorical, mongrel-mutt down at the S.P.C.A., a little of this, a little of that. Certain cities have created control groups, existential experiments, to see if something is going to sell. If it doesn’t, then it spreads to other cities, counties, and states. Just like any other social disease. I choose not to stick out, so I haven’t bathed in days, a week if I’m being honest. Dad says, “If Montana Mouthful | 7

you’re going to do something, do it right. Go all in.” I’ve even wiped the stink of aftershave from my unshaven face.

ends up between two yellow, stiff sheets of white bread, hold the mayo, please. All of this takes my breath away. Hell, what am I saying? This adjunct emptiness takes away all of my senses. It must be the chill in the air that makes my I've seen enough for my essay, much more eyes water. I’ve watched plenty of horror movies. than I expected. It takes a while to get my As I glance at my watch, I notice I’ve been bearings. I’m headed back in the direction of walking for over an hour. I’m too sick to take my pickup. I've completely lost track of time. notes about all the cardboard condo’s and seeIt's easy to do when you lose your way. In layers thru Visqueen houses. Army/Navy surplus tents, of swelling darkness, the universe begins to make-shift dens, the occasional desolate family feast on the weakest shadows. That’s how room, sticky damp under blue weathered plastic. blackness makes everything invisible. I'll be honest. It’s the same smell as the shitMy throat feels tight. It’s like when you and house up at the state fair in Sacramento. Capital your childhood buddies choke each other dizzy and high until you become unstable, stumble, and nearly pass out on the From the front porch at the back of the lawn. Sometimes you end up on your universe, we must appear as a dying star about hands and knees, look up and amaze yourself with all the sparkling pinholes to enter a black hole. You’re not supposed in the expanding blackness. to be here, in the streets, unless you’ve run The last you recall before you’re in out of purpose.” control again, is the laughter, and the sound wind escaping the planet, the rush. And then, for one split second, Cow Town is what we call it. The city is all you are one of the stars. Only today isn’t fun. about politics, a place where hardly anything It’s horrifying. gets done but collecting taxes. Based on what I’ve seen, I should be afraid, I look straight ahead as I walk. But it’s but I’m not. I’m disgusted. difficult not to see. Bankrupt armies have won Somehow, I find my truck. I unlock the door battles to liberate real estate. The legions don’t and get inside. seem to care if I’m here. They're too distracted I freeze in place. Everything freezes. I think, with the business of surviving, or worse, dying. is this how the new world ends? There’s the ever present smell of shitty weed, After the longest time, maybe a minute, a sure sign of escape. Vomit, and slip and slide I start the engine and exit the parking lot. I that looks a lot like food, broken whiskey bottles head out for one of those L.A. freeways. I don’t that crack under my shoes, empty needles and remember the directions, I’ll trust that my GPS tiny scorched aluminum bowls. Vegetables and knows its way back. fresh fruit are ghosts. Everything consumed here Soon I’ll re-enter the atmosphere, an alien.

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A Scrap of Infinity by William Doreski A meteor skewers the dark, pierces the general store roof. I saw and felt the wound open. Three fists of nickel. two iron, a few pounds of uncertain matter, Worth a fortune at auction but who will reshingle the roof? A voice roams the night, debating. Left, the river boiling along, right, the highway dark at three AM, the principle beauty of the village snugged safely in bed. The meteorite is a precious gem science desires more than money, but that lone voice shrugs it off on me, for my rock garden.

Shame prevents me from profiting, so I truck it home as dawn rakes the staggering pines and plop it where in May exotic Hosta will fluster from the tepid soil. A ramshackle morning, cereal perking in a bowl, orange juice so acidic it scalds my tongue to silence the glee I suffer. In the back yard the meteorite snugs up to ordinary rocks but still glows the ruddy glow that thrilled it through the atmosphere. I’ll will it to the Smithsonian. For the moment it’s only a scrap of infinity, a mote or particle sparked by the same lack of thought that makes this moment plausible.

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Icarus in Iridescent Green by William Rudolph They bop from bloom to bloom, moving backward forward left right, refusing to rest. She says

that ruby-throated one who unbendingly clung to the equal transit time fallacy lies on his side

“A hummingbird’s heart beats three-hundred times a minute. At night slowing to ten, it pretty much dies.”

wings slow-slapping the deck boards in despair. The world has won. Look again—above him

Their teacup proportions—having forgotten all about us—sweep past in pairs a breath from our eyes: whisps hurrying

dozens steady themselves mid-air and needle sweetness.

to gather on the head of the nearest pin each settling separately as the memory of a blur. But look—

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Sofa 4 Free by Stuart Watson I was standing at the front window, looking at the new buds on the tree and trying to see if the robins had started another nest when Dave and Lisa from next door came into view. They were carrying a sofa. They moved carefully to keep from tripping. They set the sofa by the edge of the sidewalk. Beside the sofa they set a sign that told passersby they could steal it for their own. “Free,” it said. A deep sadness lay its hand on me, thinking of the exhausted air that filled those cushions. After Dave and Lisa went back inside, I walked to the yard. I walked back and forth, then around the sofa, giving it a preliminary. I don’t know why, but I thought it looked a lot like divorce. Who puts a sofa in the yard for free, unless they’re breaking up? That’s stupid, I thought. What gave me that idea? It’s just what people do when they’re tired of the old and ready for new. It’s not as if they’re pushing all the pain into the yard for the world to compare with their own. They know the sofa still has a lot of good sits in it, so why junk it? See if somebody else can get some use 12 | Montana Mouthful

out of it. Like a husband. Then I thought what a stupid idea that was. A sofa is basically useless. You sit on it. It doesn’t do anything. It just sits there, with you, sitting together. Doing nothing. Watching TV is not doing something. It is like a rock with surf washing over it. If it were a person, it would be into passive abuse. Like a husband. All that said, everybody needs a sofa -- for those times when they want to do nothing. I sat on the sofa. It felt like a fat novel bought in 1987 and dragged with me around the world, a long and sordid travelogue of good intentions. It had a big appetite for butt. Like me, that way. My neighbor came out onto his porch. “Gonna rain, looks like,” Dave said. “I can help you move it. If you want it. Nice to see it stay somewhere close.” Like a wife. Was I ready to read that novel now? How would I know, yet here the sofa sat, offering its stories up. All the people who had sat on it, talking with each other, sharing grief and laughter. I could only imagine the depth of joy and suffering that lay inside its stuffing. Vol. 4 • Issue 1

“Just looking,” I said. “Nice couch. Why are this sofa.” you getting rid of it?” We sat there watching the kids roll by on “Lisa got tired of it. After twenty years, she their bikes, dogs go this way, cats dodge cars started itching for something new.” that way. Dave stood up. “Be right back,” he “Happens, I guess. A little freshen up, said. right?” When he returned he had his arms full of He looked at me as if I had betrayed him. newspaper and a bag of briquets. He crumpled To avoid his glare, I went to my garage and got the paper and set it on the pavement in front of a tarp, dragged it to the yard, draped it over the the sofa. Then he poured briquets on top, pulled sofa and tucked its corners beneath the feet. a box of matches from his pocket and lit the Dave was watching. paper. Before long, we had a hot pile of smok“In case it rains,” I told him. “Not sure yet if ing briquets. I want it.” Dave stood up. “Be right back,” he said. I went back inside. Eve joined me at the When he returned, he had two lengths of window. I was staring at the sofa. She was starsteel coat hangers and some pliers, plus a packet ing at me. of ballpark franks. He got busy straightening “Sad,” I said. the hangers, and before long, we were both “What?” roasting weenies. “Getting rid of an old sofa. Like tossing out Kids stopped to watch. Butch Gerlach, a an old friend.” large kid with a slack jaw, rolled up on his bike. “Some friends need to go.” Another kid across the street scooped up some “Not if they’re friends.” dog turds from a lawn and flung them at Butch. Eve went to the kitchen and started making They hit him in the back. He turned and took soup. She made vegetable soup every day. I liked off after them. sharing a bowl with her. We had shared hundreds of bowls. I wondered if she would ever grow tired of vegetable soup. All that said, everybody needs a sofa—for those The way she went on about it, I thought times when they want to do nothing. I sat on the she would eat it until she died. Maybe sofa. It felt like a fat novel bought in 1987 and even after. She could. She was relentless. dragged with me around the world, a long and After soup, I went back to the window. Dave had pulled back the tarp and sordid travelogue of good intentions. It had a was sitting on the sofa. I grabbed a cou- big appetite for butt. Like me, that way.” ple of beers and went out front. When I extended my arm to him, he looked at the offering, then me, smiled and took a beer. “Nice kids,” Dave said. “I can help you carry it back inside, if that’s “Did you guys empty the bank?” I said, what you’re thinking,” I said. looking at my wiener to see if it was ready. “Lisa would kill me. But it might be worth Dave looked puzzled. I stuck my hand it.” down between the cushions and mined them of “To have her kill you? You must really love the ore they held, quarters and crackers, pens

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and tissue reservoirs for antique influenza. I extracted an envelope, addressed to Lisa. No return address. Not opened. I offered it to him. “Toss it,” he said. I stuffed it in my coat. By now, some of the kids had shown up with their own hot dogs, turning and burning them while they laughed and gave each other shit. Eve had come out and brought us a container of mustard. I offered her a bite off my steaming hot dog. She took the coat hanger and tried to bite the wiener without burning her

No sofa, if you can imagine. We needed a bridge. Surely this old sofa would do the job.

lips. She ended up pulling the entire thing off the wire and it fell to the ground. A dog rushed in and gobbled it up. I gave her a scolding look, and threaded another wiener onto the wire. “Back to the drawing board,” I said. After we had finished our dogs and the fire had turned mostly to ash, Dave poured the last of his beer onto the coals. He helped me tuck the tarp back in place, and we wandered back to our homes. In bed, I could hear Eve drop into soft snoring. I lay there looking at the ceiling. Finally, I slipped from bed and returned to the living room window. I saw Dave sitting on the sofa. Then he leaned to the right, pulled a blanket up and lay down. I thought about him sleeping there, instead of inside with his wife. Had he been nudged from the marriage bed by notions of rectitude and a lack of salty behavior? When 14 | Montana Mouthful

imbalance settled over a couple, who had the job of tilting it back to level? Even after Eve curled up against me in the dark, I couldn’t sleep. Inchoate dreams mingled fitfully with thoughts of Dave and Lisa. In the morning, before making coffee, I hurried to the window. Lisa was sitting on the sofa, talking with Dave. Eventually, they stood up and he, with the blanket around his shoulders, shuffled with his wife back to their house. I went out to the yard and stood near the sofa. I looked toward the house. Eve had come from the bedroom, and stood in the open doorway. I waved to her, standing there wondering what I was doing in the dawn gray. I beckoned. Enduring affection beckons. “Can you help me?” I called. She came to me. “We need to move this,” I said. “It’s ruining Dave and Lisa’s relationship.” She stooped to grab one end and help me haul the sofa home. Her strength is more than enough to carry the weight of the world’s pain. We set it in the living room, in front of the window. We had two lounge chairs facing each other across the room, but nothing between them but a rug. No sofa, if you can imagine. We needed a bridge. Surely this old sofa would do the job. Later, while Eve was making dinner, I sat on the sofa and stared out at the street. I watched Dave wander out from his house, and survey the lawn where he and I had roasted wieners on his sofa. My sofa now. I remembered the envelope and pulled it out. I looked around, like I was about to commit a criminal act: Opening someone’s mail. On the long list of personal violations, it had to rank somewhere near the top, below rape but well above wearing another person’s shoes. It was an unsigned letter to Lisa, asking forVol. 4 • Issue 1

giveness, and pledging a commitment to do more with the writer’s life than sit on the sofa as much, apparently, as the writer had been doing up until the time of composing the letter. It was as if Dave were acknowledging an affair, with a piece of furniture. It had never reached its intended, so in that sense, Dave was talking to himself. How sad is that? You have to feel for somebody who can’t even find a member of the opposite sex to cheat on his wife with. Or should I say cheat with on his wife? After work, I had been home less than five minutes when I heard a knock at the door. It was Dave. He didn’t wait for an invitation. He just walked past me, turned and approached the sofa. He started caressing and patting the overstuffed arms. He fluffed up the cushions. He got down on his knees and slipped his hands and arms under the cushions, sweeping them back and forth. I thought I heard him moan. “Are you OK, Dave?” “Just wanted to make sure she was OK.” “She?” “Sophia,” he said. “Like sofa, with an -eea on the end.” I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I asked if he was referring to the davenport.

He was silent, lost in a reverie, reclining now, his hands running over the fabric. “Oh. Like Hide?” I asked. “Hide?” “Hide-a-bed.” “Hate those fucking things. When they invented them, they really did hide the bed,” he said. It was the first time I had seen him angry. “Inside a crushed cube of car parts.” In the days that followed, Dave gradually made himself more at home. He would come over at all hours, not even bothering to knock, just wandering in and sitting on Sophia. I would get up in the middle of the night, and he would be sitting there, sipping hot tea, talking quietly, then pausing as if to listen to a response that only he could hear. One time, right around 3 in the morning, dark as sin, I stepped into the living room and saw Lisa standing there next to Dave and Sophia. When Dave seemed satisfied with the sofa’s last response, Lisa leaned down and took his hand, gently guided him to his feet and toward the door. As the door clicked shut, I heard them talking. “She’s having trouble sleeping,” he said. “She always did,” Lisa said.

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Our unfolding symmetry by Sean Chapman Crossing over the bridge to the centre of the universe, there rests a vast yew tree. Our consulate to the cosmos emanating out of the ether with unbounded boughs sparkling— foliated with questions and budding with homunculi— all the way down, fractals as far as the mind's eye can see—the loving embrace of totality. An atelier occupies the hollow of the tall trunk where pensive anthroparions curate the heavens—atom by atom crafting force and mass— shaping stars and building black holes. As we descend the four million circuitous steps, all the way back into the recesses of the roots there lies our blueprints before us—starlight sketches of cherry blossom.

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Second Skin by KB Ballentine I could be a mermaid singing in the surf – bright Dyan moon glittering over wavelets like a honeycomb. The drumming, thudding pound around cliffs and crags, ragged gasps of seaspray like diamonds, like stars fragmenting, dropping back to earth. Nothing on land lures me – not hawthorns fermenting the fields, not hares hushed under apple trees, not even laughter and lights from houses and pubs. I might be swayed by a willow spilling branches into a river or by cows shape-shifting into manatees, but, no – I’d rather leap with dolphins, mimic seahorses using only my fin to ripple through deeper tides while my hair weaves wild with salt and seaweed past the thermocline. Whale fall and ship wrecks, starfish and kelp, a whirlpool of worlds under a membrane of brine – a castle, a kingdom, my only home. 18 | Montana Mouthful

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Flower Hat Jellyfish | ALLISON STALBERG

With the sea over my shoulder, the moon-stream will sink over murmuring seals, waves winding coastlines, washing and weathering each shingled shore. Every sand grain and pebble rolled to its core. Over reefs, past jellyfish, salt-stung, flirting with storms and white-caps crashing, racing with salmon past gardens of anemones – the sea summons me till I sing with the surf in a necklace of foam, uncharted on maps, the ocean wide and open – all of it mine.

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The Faraway by Jessica Squier He found her during what the Allegiant’s clocks insisted was evening, pausing at the threshold before stepping into her room. Ariel was lying, listless, on her bed, facing the window, staring at the stars. She had clearly gotten up at some point—she was wearing a new set of clothes, still stiff with creases, and her hair was brushed neat. But he had not seen her on the Allegiant’s decks at any point that day. Not in any of her usual places: not the greenhouse, breathing in the smells of home; not the sterile room where her experiments were kept (he’d set an alert to check on them later that evening—she would be disappointed to miss a day’s observation); not the ship’s crossways where he sometimes found her surveying the void or gazing at a passing attraction—a row of stars, a whirl of light, a pulsing nebula. She didn’t turn to look at him. Nor did she greet him when he entered. He surmised perhaps she had accidentally triggered the door open command when he’d knocked, but then he noticed the room controls nestled in her right hand. “I am very sorry to intrude,” he said. “It is 20 | Montana Mouthful

six o’clock. May I give you your shot?” She nodded—only faintly, but his ocular intake system was designed to register even small, subtle human movements. He sat on the very edge of the bed. Doing so was still novel for him, and he waited for his equilibrimeter to send him a balance adjustment alert, although it did not. He would never have presumed to adopt such a familiar position, of course, but some three weeks ago she had asked if they needed to stand. She frequently felt some discomfort in the evening, after her prescribed exercises in the morning and several hours of antigravity. The answer was no, they did not need to stand: protocol recommended this method for androids delivering treatment to human patients, but adjustments were, he found, very often necessary on this journey. She sat up, clearly with some effort. He had seen this before, different in her than in other humans he had encountered—she appeared to have some discomfort with letting him serve her, and would sometimes make gestures to Vol. 4 • Issue 1

Spaceship Rooms | HUGH FINDLAY

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preserve the fiction that they were equal. Ariel rolled up her sleeve, and he dabbed at her shoulder with an isopropyl alcohol swab, then carefully inserted the thin needle, laying the nutrient pack safely on the bed. She did not react to the brisk jab, nor did she say anything as the nutrients fed through the line and into her body, providing her with sustenance she now required, having emerged from her dormancy pod so far ahead of schedule.

there had already been one close call, shortly after the accident that woke Ariel and extinguished her wife and the two others in Dormancy Suite A. Although he was programmed with encyclopedias of knowledge about human health and behavior, his cognitive systems had failed him when it came to the complexities of grief – a dangerous mistake which ended up with him finding Ariel in the medicenter, sitting on the examination table, calmly injecting herself with a sedative. She was apologetic – embarrassed – afterwards. She regretted He would never have presumed to adopt such the extra work she’d caused him, she a familiar position, of course, but some three weeks had told him several times. And ago she had asked if they needed to stand. She fre- she’d since complied with all of his quently felt some discomfort in the evening, after requests for checks on her health, even on days when she seemed to her prescribed exercises in the morning and several care little about her wellbeing herhours of antigravity. The answer was no, they did self. On this occasion, however, she not need to stand: protocol recommended this method for androids delivering treatment to human provided no reassurance. He decided to start by treading lightly. patients, but adjustments were, he found, Perhaps if he could prompt her to very often necessary on this journey. speak, she might reveal further verbal and physical cues his neuroprocessing system could interpret. The situation was delicate. As part of his “If I can help—” duties aboard the Allegiant, he was required to “Ask me about her.” The response was imcheck, daily, on the welfare of the ship’s crew. mediate, indicating Ariel had been holding the For those comfortably asleep in their pods, this idea on her tongue for some time, he deterwas fairly simple: a quick review of the 24-hour mined. The information slotted quickly into his metrics for the dormancy suite, followed by a understanding of her state. He swiftly calcuvisit to the area and a visual scan of each paslated that it had been 37 days since Ariel last senger for any abnormalities. mentioned Irene. He hadn’t pushed her to do But for Ariel, circumstances were more so, not wanting to prod at a healing wound. In complex. As long as she took her nutrients and humans, talking about the dead could somecompleted her exercise daily, she should be fine, times help, he was aware. But for others, it physically. Weekly checks of variables such as caused more pain. Ariel’s condition was unclear, her temperature confirmed this. The danger, rendering his logic pathways more signpost however, was something he couldn’t spot – and than roadmap. 22 | Montana Mouthful

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If she wanted to talk, though, he could do that. He paused to formulate an appropriate question, and she spoke again. “It’s all gone,” she said, “and I want to remember.” She turned, finally looking at him for the first time since he’d entered the room. He did, indeed, have questions about Irene. He had often hypothesized that more information on Ariel’s late wife might assist him in his duties of looking after her. He chose his words carefully. He knew he was at a disadvantage in a conversation regarding emotions. He wanted to encourage Ariel to speak, as she clearly desired to do, without imprinting the conversation with his mechanical signature. “May I ask what you miss about her?” he finally settled on. A small smile. He’d done something right, he inferred. “I miss the way she changed everything,” Ariel said. “The way everything – every place – every day – changed with her in it. I’d get home before her in the evenings, most nights, and the house would be quiet. And then she was there, and it was bright and noisy and a place where good things happened.” She glanced down. “There was this park near my office, where I’d go sometimes for lunch when I didn’t want to be around anyone else. The summer after I met her, we’d go there most weekends, bringing a picnic, or a bottle of wine. And it was somewhere happy, after that.” He considered their greenhouse, with its plant-lined walls. It might be a helpful addition to his working knowledge of humans, he concluded, to one day experience a park. “You cared for her very much,” he said, a half-question, an obvious statement he determined might comfort her. She nodded, her eyes shining, though she turned away before he could assess whether this was due to tears or the angle of the light. “Yes,”

she said. “I would have given anything for her. She’s the reason I’m here. Though you must know that,” she finished quietly. “Yes,” he said – a fact he’d picked up from Irene’s file. “You met her, didn’t you?” “Only very briefly.” “So you saw, then,” she said. “Everywhere we went, people wanted to be around her. She just had this magnetic effect everyone she met.” “On you?” A hint of a flush touched Ariel’s cheeks. “Yeah. God, she was gorgeous that night, in her pilot’s jumpsuit and those waves of brown hair. And her laugh. I heard that laugh, and I saw her, and I thought she was wonderful. And out of everyone at the bar that night, she picked me. It was like I became a different person the moment she – she kissed me.” He glanced at the nutrient pack. “Nearly done,” he said lightly. He wasn’t sure if she registered the comment. “She kissed me good night on board this ship, you know,” Ariel said softly. “That was the last thing before we went to sleep. She said ‘See you in eleven years, babe,’ and kissed me. And that was it.” He recalled this moment, slightly. He’d noticed the couple readying their temporary farewells and turned his back, studying the chamber’s telescreen. It was polite, he was aware, to avoid intruding on scenes of intimacy. “You know,” Ariel said, “after she died, I kept thinking about that moment. Our goodbye. We didn’t know it yet, but that’s what it was. I kept wondering. Was she scared? Did she know how much I loved her? Did she really want to be here?” She looked down, smoothing the sheet with her hand. “But I’ve been trying to think about the other kisses now. Like our first. Or like – like waking up in bed one mornMontana Mouthful | 23

ing—a weekend morning, when it was quiet— and kissing her, and seeing her look back at me, just grinning.” They both sat very still for a moment. He searched for something to say, but the volumes of information on human behavior contained in his knowledge base were unhelpful here. He sensed there was something beyond a locked door that he could not quite access. Perhaps he was missing a module on this subject, something not provided to his subtype. He gently removed the needle from her arm, setting it on her bedside table, sealing a small strip of adhesive over the pinprick puncture. “What does it feel like?” The words came slowly. “To kiss?” He was not especially sure which system had prompted the question. He set an alert to run a diagnostic to check in an hour’s time. She seemed to study him before speaking. “You don’t know?” she asked. “I thought they set you up with all the information they have.” “I am aware that it is pleasurable, and that it is done as a sign of affection or a part of sexual activity,” he responded. “The dictionary definition. All right. Well, it—it depends, I guess. On what’s happening, and who you’re kissing. It’s not always the same. Maybe you’re saying goodbye in the morning, and they give you a peck before heading out the door, and you know something’s wrong. Or maybe with someone you’ve just met—you knock teeth, or you can’t quite figure out how you fit.” She smiled—at, perhaps, some longforgotten memory resurfacing. “I mean, it’s an intimate thing,” she continued. “You’re right there, she’s right there, and she’s all you can see. When it’s with someone

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you love, someone you trust, who cares about you, and wants you—maybe you feel desired, maybe you feel butterflies in your stomach. Maybe you feel safe.” He took in this information, filing it away in his knowledge of human behavior, as he packed the equipment away in its case. Ariel had picked up a photo that sat on her bedside table—the one he’d discovered in Irene’s locker. It showed the couple at their wedding, both in white dresses, beaming as they greeted guests. Ariel contemplated it with a half-smile, lost in some remembrance of her wife’s kisses. “If you need anything, please call,” he said on his way to the door, indicating the room controls, now abandoned on the bed. Ariel looked up from the picture, which had collected a few creases despite her careful handling. “I will. Thank you.” She hesitated. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. “Good night, Ariel,” he said. She was already back to staring at the photo when he closed the door. Status: indeterminate, but in no immediate danger, he logged. This was his standard assessment of Ariel since she’d awoke, but to be extra cautious, he didn’t want to be caught unaware if his logic pathing had failed him. He set an alert to activate the Allegiant’s motion sensor notification system in an hour’s time. As he passed through the ship’s crossways, he lingered, looking out at the stretch of space before him. Another span of darkness—night as far as his advanced ocular modules could see. He stood a minute, watching as the ship drifted, until a far-off star blinked into view, twinkling in some unknowable, unreachable corner of the galaxy.

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Star Gazing by Bonnie Larson Staiger The elderly couple settles into sagging wicker chairs on their front stoop.

And he is oblivious to dementia erasing her memories and her mind.

Inside the TV casts a phosphorescent aura into a darkened house.

In a quiet moment they stare skyward at us while we

We watch them prattle on about aches and ailments and grandchildren coming

peer down at them offering both a path and an invitation.

to visit at Christmas. Doesn’t she know his heart will give out next week?

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The Calls by Taylor McGraw Three days ago I was riddled with anxiety. I laid in a too-hot bath desperately turning the pages of the rolodex in my mind labelled: Things to Obsess Over. I couldn’t figure out the reason why I felt this way, this time. I knew it was an intrusive thought just on the verge of consciousness. My tics remind me of that, as do my rituals of tracing the letters of every word with my finger as I say it in my mind. But this anxiety was bad, and it was so nebulous. It took three rounds of getting too-hot, running out on the porch and getting ice-rained, steaming, to realize that it was a phone call, no two, that I had been putting off. One to a prospective employer who was supposed to call me last week, one to a person I hoped would give me money for doing a clinical presentation on OCD, the very thing that had put me in this state. Better to get money for it while suffering, I thought, but still couldn’t dial the damn phone. Two days ago I made those calls after writing a script for each in the margins of the day’s New York Times: “Hi Diego, My name is Taylor, I’m Jess’s friend and hoping to connect with

you regarding doing a clinical training.” I don’t know why I wrote it in that awkward tense, I guess that’s how I talk. “Hi Caroline, just checking in with you whether you have work for me. Yes it has been crazy,” I correctly predicted she would say. Good thing I was prepared with the response. A+ I wrote on the paper’s margins next to the script after I spoke with her, and circled it three times. “I did a good thing today,” I sang out loud afterwards, as I sat on the toilet. Diego didn’t answer. His voicemail was glitched too. Hi Diego, my name is Taylor. NO MESSAGE RECORDED. After the beep, leave a message. Hi Diego, This is Jess’ friend Taylor, NO MESS..beep. Hi, Taylor, Jess’ friend calling to connect... TO LEAVE A MESSAGE.... HI DIEGO! NO MESSAGE. It killed me obsessively imagining scenarios where I was being punked, this guy I don’t know playing his trick recording out loud for all to hear, “See how many different ways she reframes the request,” fantasy-Diego laughs, “and she wants to do a clinical presentation!” I Wrote A+ by that script too, because my try was Montana Mouthful | 27

very good. I wrote Jess and she gave me his email, which I wrote to, even though I know he is blind, and it would be hard for him to read it. I can’t bear to make another call. B- for that one, but it’s only going to hurt me when I do poorly on tests. After I flipped my phone closed, the only phone I can handle, and after I willed myself to stop replaying my fantasy embarrassment-fest, anxiety lifted considerably for an hour or so. Then my landlord called my partner

and cross my fingers praying that I got to leave a message. If I’m called back, it’s not so bad. One decade ago, I worked at a veterinary office, the entire purpose for doing so to steal ketamine, and one of my jobs was to coldcall pet owners telling them various shots or medicines were due. What a horrible time, but it was worth it for the ketamine. I had to do the sad, dirty deed across from another poor soul, the receptionist, so I really should have done my job. She cheerily made every call and checked them off the list. I sat One day ago I awoke at 6am with anxiety about the call to across from her for hours and the Central Hudson Electric, and couldn’t sleep anticipat- straight up faked every call, talking ing it, even though they don’t open until 8am. I decided to to the dial tone, mimicking her enforce any calls that I could or should make to happen, in thusiasm, “Hi, is this Earline? We succession, so that I wouldn’t have to feel this way again. I have a note here that Pampers and called Grandma. I called Geico. I recalled when describing Skeet are due for their heart worm my anxiety to my partner that in most every job I had, I had medication, come on in and pick some up, thanks!” I don’t think I faked it when I was supposed to call anyone.” even shared this little secret when I made fun of that day’s tasks with (the designated contact person in this relationmy friends at the bar after work. “There I was, ship) to inform us our electricity would be shut more hungover than I have ever been in life, off. Probably for another stupid computer’s glitch, jamming a needle into a dog’s neck,” I’d say inbut it was too late in the evening to call about it. stead. It was funnier, less embarrassing. I passed One day ago I awoke at 6am with anxiety out pills from two bags. One held expired cat about the call to the Central Hudson Electric, valium, the other cat phenobarbital. “I’ll take and couldn’t sleep anticipating it, even though three yellows and two pinks,” one of them they don’t open until 8am. I decided to force would laugh. “Ok, but you only really need douany calls that I could or should make to happen, ble the cat’s dose,” see, I was ethical, “it doesn’t in succession, so that I wouldn’t have to feel this go by weight, I googled it.” I also stole the euway again. I called Grandma. I called Geico. I thanasia drug which was called Fatal Plus. Even recalled when describing my anxiety to my though we carefully handled the syringe I’d partner that in most every job I had, I had sucked up the ketamine in, sprayed the contents faked it when I was supposed to call anyone. At onto the cookie sheet, stuck it in the oven until the psych ward I’d written in the documents, it dried, and snorted it, we never did try the “left message with client’s service provider reFatal Plus. garding their appointment” when I had done no Now I’m shaking and sweating as I sit in such thing. When it was very important, I the waiting room of a Zoom call. My friend has would force myself to call, but I would sweat connected me with a woman who can advise 28 | Montana Mouthful

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me how to get a ketamine prescription. It is being shown in clinical trials to be a great help in working through OCD. I tried once to go through a clinical trial. The appointments leading up to the day of the ketamine infusion were almost unbearable, my skin felt damp and cold. I didn’t want to talk about everything that was required of me. “Some patients say it gives them a few hours of not having OCD. Of knowing what it’s like for the first time what other people feel, without the intrusive thoughts and anxiety.” I wept when I imagined it. But I couldn’t continue the study. The interviews with doctors and staff were too much, I had to recount every horrifying thought, every elaborate

ritual, with men I didn’t know. The phone calls, too. I had to keep up with those. I dropped out in an email. “I can’t do it. The calls, the interviews, they’re too intrusive,” I said. Now I’m hoping the Zoom appointment woman doesn’t answer, though I know that her doing so could be virtually the answer to my prayers. There’s a photo of me as a small child holding a phone. It’s a source of conspiracy among our family. “That’s not connected,” my mom says, “there’s no way.” Anyone can clearly see the phone is connected to the wall. “You would never have been on the phone, see that smile? You’re faking. You’d be scared to even fake though, something is up in this photo.”


Horizontal Lightning by Em Walling I feel my mother’s energy in the sparks as they glow in the sky. Maybe it’s because lightning traveled into her childhood house and scorched the carpet. In one doorway and out the other postern. Perhaps horizontal lightning can travel through time. And that same bolt emerges into the Australian stratosphere, moving through the night clouds. So when I go outside to take a photo, clicking at the auspicious moment, I see my mother’s soul reflected in the clouds.

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The Widow of Chilil (for Catarina of the Hills) by Alfredo Quarto She came from somewhere above the valley to the far bank of the Chilil River stood there in the gathered silence of morning… a Mayan woman alone among tall grasses bidding us to stare our surprised hellos. She carried warm tortillas wrapped in soft cloth of sky colors and her gift shone through the sunrise of her eyes. “Buenas Dias,” she sighed and lifted her long dress to brown ankles to cross the shallow river to our camp. But far more than a river came between us and our awkward words were like sharp stones hidden in the river bottom, We gave her a cabbage and an avocado still green… tried to assure her that our times were not lean. She accepted our gifts, then turned away in her shyness walked back along the path where she’d come… still a stranger, but in her way a friend. We ate her tortillas still warm from the fire tasted the sweet corn grown in her garden somewhere among hills in a distance beyond our view in a country beyond our knowing. 30 | Montana Mouthful

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Moonrise by Michelle M. Mead Only crickets conversed that summer evening, In verse, then, in turn-taking monologues, On the color variants given by the rising moon, Expressing it aloft, for the wilds and worms alike, One could call them experts, if one chose, For they’d seen their fair share of seasons and cosmos, As well as things called human beings in distant castles, At starlight, in the farthest edges of the grasslands, There was something odd about the moon, The way it laughed aloud in the heat of its glowing, Whispered secrets to the softest shades of sleep time, With a lulling of wind gusts and settling of streams, If you looked, you’d see it left footprints in yellow, Dotted straight across the mauve-brown water’s ripples, Nestled deep in muddied green bushes and cat ‘o nine tails, Waving a swift goodbye as it lit upon loftiest treetops, A world left to talk about for those humming insects, Gifted and grateful for their God-given homes, Worshipping the moonrise in the remains of the day, Ever present for the phases of its journey through the sky.

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Purple Summer by Sharon J. Clark Mother referred to it as a purple summer. She was prone to poetic utterances, many of which made no sense, but on this occasion the phrase was fitting. The weather that summer as we moved from city to country was more purple than any other colour. Each morning the promise of sunshine was proven to be nothing but a tease as clouds rolled in from the plain—first white, then grey, then that ominous shade of bruised flesh that heralded ear-splitting thunder and shocking flashes of horizontal lightning. From a distance the storms were beautiful; a dangerous fascination that caught the watcher up until, too late, they would realise they could

not run from the force of wind and rain. Many lives were lost that summer. My mother’s being one. And so purple summer gave way to a string of barely remembered dusty weekends. Ancient apples hung from the tree in the garden, wrinkled, dry, tasteless. Too wrapped up in my mourning, I didn’t care. I had become a shabby king of a ramshackled house, an acre of land and a stream that the locals called The Barking River. I never did discover the story behind the name. Perhaps once there was another poet in the vicinity. Or perhaps it was just a parent giving a flippant answer to a child’s annoying question.

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I Put A Spell On You by Esther Lee Deitch At the confluence of two rivers, in the shadow of three castles, close by the market stalls, down an alley from the town hall fate led me to the unmarked and remarkable stone walls of the Ottawa School for Magickal Arts. In a shop across the bridge, I found my first wand boar bristles, birchwood handle and the stuff for potions, red and yellow, blue and white; palettes were our cauldrons, and our magick words were “juxtapose and recontextualize.”

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Painting was thought dead, but we brought it back to life, creating ghosts and dragons; we freed creatures trapped in surly blocks of stone and released spirits from tree trunks. Me and my mates were not destined to become famous wizards or celebrities only to continue to practice, incognito, everyday magick for everyone to share.

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Orpheous Eurydice | LYNN HANLEY

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The Truth Is Out There I 36 | Montana Mouthful

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The Truth Is Out There II | JOSH STEIN

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My Sister’s Cult by Wayne Glausser I found out in Fantasyland, near the Mad Hatter. My daughters and I had just finished spinning in one of his teacups. When they ran off to do something else, my sister led me to a bench nearby. She had something very important to tell me. I remember hearing the “unbirthday” song over and over as she delivered her news: she had met God in San Diego. And this God—Gourasana?—had become her passion and purpose in life. It took me a minute to realize that this was no joke. My sister, a sophisticated, secular, feminist attorney with degrees from Berkeley and Harvard, had passed from this world into some sort of loopy Wonderland. I heard more details about her theophany as the teacups whirled with a new batch of riders. Their dizziness would be temporary; my sister’s, as it turned out, would last forever. My sister had joined a cult. She abandoned her career, changed her name, and distanced herself from family. This happened in 1991, when she was 37. She’s 66 now and still devoted to the cheesy, corrupt spiritual community she sincerely believes in. 38 | Montana Mouthful

Before what I now think of as her “unbirthday,” my sister and I had been very close. My wife and I named our first child for her. The cult changed that name, among many other things. We talk occasionally, there have been a few visits, and the sister I knew so well is still recognizable in conversation—except when the conversation turns to matters of her spiritual mission. In important ways, she never really returned from the clutches of Kalindi La Gourasana (née Carol Seidman) and the indoctrination process that changed her forever. Kalindi and her husband, Lord Gourasana (Dennis Swanson), learned a very effective indoctrination method, a version of Large Group Awareness Training. They spruced it up with a smorgasbord of Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian content, and offered “The Intensive” to unhappy yuppies in the greater San Diego area. The basic idea in LGAT training is to undermine participants’ belief in the material, consensual world that constitutes “reality” for most people. It was a perfect vehicle for ushering someone like my sister out of this world into Vol. 4 • Issue 1

loony Gourasanaland. She devoted her life, and care for my father in his infirmity. My sister gave every cent of her money, to Kalindi. (Only returned to what she (understandably) considered Kalindi now: Dennis/Gourasana died not long home. But after a couple of weeks, my brother after his incarnation). and his wife (again, understandably) began to Just in case you think I’m being too hard on feel the strains of a long visit. They suggested Kalindi, consider a few facts. Although that it was time for her to leave the house and Kalindi’s official doctrine preached renunciation get on with things. It was at this point that of worldly attachments, Kalindi was busy using she heard, through a massage therapist, about donated money to purchase expensive homes “The Intensive.” After my sister filled out the for herself in California, Colorado, and Hawaii. preliminary questionnaire, Kalindi knew she On top of that, she spent lavishly on her own had a live one: an emotionally wounded midwardrobe—by one account, over $100,000 career professional with plenty of money from annually. She also used money to self-publish a divorce settlement. an expensive book called Ultimate Freedom, I’ll keep this brief about the mechanics of which consists of page after page of photoThe Intensive—it’s too depressing. A five-day graphs of her, many sexually provocative, and affair in a closed room. Participants are deprived some in the nude. On the back cover, she grins of both protein and sleep; they are led in repetiover her shoulder wearing a black leather studtive chants and dizzying exercises. Leaders ded thong and bra with fishnet stockings. encourage/force each person to dredge up Maybe it’s just me, but it’s an odd look for painful memories—or, as my sister did in one someone teaching Buddhist-style freedom from case, fabricate memories of things that never worldly desires. happened—until they weep uncontrollably, How did a smart, sensible, cool person like my sister get taken in by such goofiness? I was stumped by that How did a smart, sensible, cool person like my question for a little while, but I discovsister get taken in by such goofiness? I was ered that it’s a lot easier than you think. stumped by that question for a little while, but Brainwashing really works! With I discovered that it’s a lot easier than you think. proper techniques, and a vulnerable subject, even a scheme as shoddy as Brainwashing really works! With proper techKalindi’s can grab hold of a psyche. niques, and a vulnerable subject, even a scheme My sister had entered a precarious as shoddy as Kalindi’s can grab hold of a psyche. stage of her life. Her marriage had just come to an end, and she was feeling both guilty and deeply hurt. On top of that, she had quit her job as a corporate lawyer. overcome with suffering and exhaustion. Four In order to gather herself and refocus, she days like this. Finally, on day five, something moved from Massachusetts back to California, they call “Love Bombing.” Kalindi hugs and and planned to stay for a while in our parents’ kisses the sufferers and spreads the Gourasana house near San Diego. They lived there with my gospel of eternal love. brother and his family, who were helping to With my sister, it worked perfectly. She

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needed a new purpose, a new home, new friends, somebody to love—and she thought she was getting all this, along with the comfort of religious conviction. She couldn’t see what her old friends saw, the San Diego journalists saw (who wrote an exposé on Kalindi), her parents and her brother saw: that Kalindi was either a con artist or crazy or both. Kalindi carefully kept my sister out of contact with family for the first few years, to make sure our skepticism would not infect her. Kalindi’s dead now, but her group lives on. When you push all in, as my sister did—money, social connections, beliefs—there’s really no return to the world she left. A few years ago, she sent me a careful explanation of her beliefs. It was addressed to a general audience of potential converts, but I have a feeling she had me in mind. I call it her credo. Her credo shows signs of an internal struggle between my sister’s former rational secularism and the faith she embraced back in 1991. I should first acknowledge the most embarrassing part of this document. Near the end, it sounds like a cheap infomercial. The product she’s selling is the Intensive. Need help finding your way back Home to God? “That help is here, in the form of some extraordinarily powerful transformational energy that works to break up the illusion inside you, and can massively accelerate your journey home.” Change a few words here and there, and it could be something to unclog your drains. When my sister wrote this, she was doing her best to make rational sense of the clunky beliefs that had been dropped into her lap. Specifically, she took pains to reconcile three pieces of dogma: 1) we all began as divine beings in “the spiritual realm,” our “Home”; 2) we chose to leave that realm for the earthly universe (“all the stuff that’s made up of

ter”); 3) our only purpose in life is to return Home as soon as possible. The trickiest tenet is the second one. As my sister admits, “It’s really hard to understand this part.” Why did we choose to leave our divine Home? “We did it because we love God so much,” she says, “and it turns out that this is the highest act of love, the greatest gift we could give Him. That’s because when a soul comes into the material plane and undertakes the journey back Home, by doing that it actually creates more divine love.” Her attempt to rationalize faith links her with countless theologians from mainstream religions. Like them, my sister can only stay with reason up to a point. Somewhere in the argument, a doctrinal black box replaces proper explanation. In the argument summarized above, it’s the idea that when souls struggle with material sufferings, they increase the amount of divine love. My sister must retain enough of her native critical intelligence to recognize a contradiction: if our residence in the material realm increases divine love, then why is Kalindi urging all souls to return Home right away? Why is she selling shortcuts that will “massively accelerate” our trip Home? Why cheat God out of maximal love production? The credo goes into detail about “the illusion,” an evil force that urges us to believe in material causes and ends. The illusion is a “parasite that sucks your life force.” Under the spell of this demonic power, we see ourselves as cosmically insignificant beings; we lose touch with a transfigured version of our lives in which “everything is inconceivably wonderful.” Here’s where my sister’s credo resonates with my own. For many years I have taught and written about the work of William Blake. Blake resisted the domination of materialism and rationalism in the modern world. He didn’t use Montana Mouthful | 41

my sister’s word “illusion” for the “parasite that sucks your life force” (he preferred “spectre”), but he understood perfectly well what she was talking about. And I surely sympathize with my sister’s yearning for transcendence, for the lure of a world elsewhere. Why else do I listen in near rapture when a “Dark Star” performance comes on unexpectedly, as The Dead invite me “through, the transitive nightfall, of diamonds”? My sister and I attended a few Dead concerts together, I should add, back in the day. But here’s the difference. Kalindi convinced my sister that life in this world was something to get rid of as soon as possible. She told her that if she’d obey all the silly Kalindi commands (her “spiritual work”) and stay narrowly focused on enlightenment, she would not be reborn into another bodily life. She would achieve Gourasana Nirvana. Sacrifice whatever remains of this last bodily life for the paradise to come.

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A recent telephone conversation between me and my sister. Me: [says something more or less sarcastic about spirituality]. Sister: “You’re definitely coming back to the body.” Me: “Can I get that in writing?” About twenty years ago, my sister married a guy she met in the cult. He was a big guy, a former Canadian Football League defensive end, who once blocked a punt and scored a touchdown with the ball wedged in his facemask. He took my sister to Vegas to get married. I liked him—I thought there was a chance he might wean her from Kalindi. But they split up, because he “wasn’t serious enough about his spiritual work.” Of course he wasn’t! Viva Las Vegas! Football in his facemask, for Christ’s sake! And as for the late La Gourasana, I dearly wish some burly Canadian had blocked her before she curled her soul-sucking tentacles around my sister.

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Game and I | CAROL JACKO

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(H)AUNT by Tyler James Russel Every morning Claire lifts my niece out of bed to change the linens, check the backside of her legs, clear the feeding line. They could have nurses, but why pay others, Claire says. This is the difference between my sister and I. She posts pictures of Milli’s care, updates like icepicks of optimism. In every picture, Claire is preened, hopeful. I keep track via decoy accounts, lurkers. Any pictures I’m at the edges, neither in or out. *** My sister treats Facebook like a rewound offering plate—take what you like. She and Aaron at a cousin’s wedding with Dad and Paulette. Aaron and Jake boxing in oversized gloves. A single birch tree in their front yard (Family Symbol! Still STANDING after the STORM!!!!). The rest is Milli. Of course, her expression’s always the same, never not in her parlor-room hospital bed, but Claire provides clues—Sorting Hat, unlit sparkler—to the occasion. I take and take. I haven’t talked to them in person for almost five years, since the accident, even though I live less than a mile away. Claire has no idea. I was all over before I came back here. Like water down a drain. My boyfriend, Zeke, talks to the dead. Like that kid. He sings in a novelty band, Channel 5. 44 | Montana Mouthful

All his lyrics—this is true—are from ghosts. Something that’s still relevant on the other side, he says, what else is worth singing about? They have one called “Squish.” “What about someone in a coma?” I asked him. “Like, a vegetable. Could you talk to them? At what point is a person dead enough to hear?” He doesn’t know about Milli. Doesn’t even know I have a sister. *** I should be happy for them, right? Most families would implode. So why aren’t I? Why does their adjustment to suffering feel offensive? I could show up at any time, unannounced, and I know exactly what she’d do. The problem is, I don’t know what she’d mean. Online, my sister is elegantly casual. The illusion of not caring. But anyone that okay is not okay. She’d pull me into a hug (I’ve never blamed you, how could I?), but it would only be performance, photo op. What I really want is to be on the receiving end of one solid, honest haymaker. I want to see if I can take it. *** If anyone would ask me, “Why didn’t you…?” I’d tell them: “You know the dream where you can’t do the simplest things, like scream? Or a man is attacking and you can’t lift your hands?” Vol. 4 • Issue 1

But no one ever asks.

The first drink is like that. It cracks a window. Things melt. They open. *** In the dark, I pause to pry my shoes off. Honestly, I have ambulance lust. I want sirens, for something to force their hand so I don’t have to, but here we are. I need her to admit it.

*** We’re in Costco one Saturday when I see them through gaps in the shelving. Claire is pushing Milli, pointing out colors, while Aaron and Jake check the list. I hit the floor so hard the shelf wobbles. Zeke watches Milli and shakes his head. “So sad,” he says, then picks out soup. I hurry to the bathroom, I spend the afternoon online, shaken, looking for retch into an unflushed toilet, but nothing comes. cracks in their life, not knowing if I want to find I spend the afternoon online, them or not. Usually I tell myself I’m making sure shaken, looking for cracks in their they’re okay, but what’s okay? There’s a new picture life, not knowing if I want to find them or not. Usually I tell myself I’m of Jake, driving a toy car up Milli’s bed. If there were making sure they’re okay, but what’s real people inside, they’d be screaming. okay? There’s a new picture of Jake, driving a toy car up Milli’s bed. If there were real people inside, they’d be screaming. Anything less than hatred is a sham. *** My skull is too small for the angry, swelling Zeke has a show that night. Usually I’d go— thing inside. who doesn’t love choosing to be haunted?—but *** instead I rummage through his tools, the closet Even from the first swipe, I can tell it’ll be almost where he hides liquor. What I’m thinking about impossible to cut all the way through their birch, doing is unwell, I know, but he doesn’t ask, even but I’m nothing if not resolute. I work myself though I got the idea from one of his songs. stupid, out of body, but hardly make a dent. I leave the house wielding a hacksaw and a When did I start crying? I sit down, a child, fifth. I’m tired of holding my breath. and smear snot on the back of my wrist, going *** over and over the memory—Milli’s blubbering, Parked around the corner from my sister’s the sensation of leaking—like a tongue over a place, my knees won’t stop bouncing. cracked tooth. Zeke’s ghosts, are they everywhere? Are *** they here too? It’s so easy to imagine a river of The front door opens, and houselight spills them, their wispy murmurings, under and into the yard. I stand up, commence sawing in around my skin. The car already feels full. And double-time. me—can you call what I do living? Claire’s in jeans, red-eyed. There’s either That afternoon, after seeing them, I took a a tan cream or literal shit all over her wrists. bath. Zeke was looking for me, asking if there The kind of image she’d never allow online. was anything I wanted to say. I plugged my I focus everything I have on cutting, frantic nose and leaned back, letting the water close and wild. The tree shakes, leaves rattling like over my face, and stayed that way for hours. breath. Claire watches. She covers her mouth.

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Wonderland 46 | Montana Mouthful

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Galactic Mortification Dissipates Through Time by Mary Beth Stuller The lady in the back of the spaceship said to me, “It’s better you decide now.” Her words, meant to expedite my exit from the vessel, rang sweetly. I couldn’t see her through the thick, black heat, but I imagined a matronly fifth grade teacher. I would’ve climbed back there to hug her for her patience with me if I weren’t drawn to the light outside the capsule, if the passengers’ steely glares weren’t pushing me out the door. I felt beams of hatred exuding from my preteen son David, who feigned interest in the contoured walls. This was years ago when my dad was still alive and he organized a family trip to the National Air and Space Museum. Planes fascinated Dad, who grew up during World War II, followed Chuck Yeager’s success at breaking the sound barrier, and made sure we watched man’s landing on the moon in 1969. I have a black and white picture of us kids in front of the console TV—my saggy diaper proof I wasn’t the priority that day. Dad wanted to share this aircraft interest with his offspring—to pass it on to the next generation. I hadn’t yet learned what else passed through my genes, that neurological disturbances would lead to issues for all my children: Tourette’s Syndrome, epilepsy, addiction.

I had bought tickets for a simulator ride even though I didn’t want to simulate anything. I had reached a certain age, and amusement park rides no longer thrilled me. Besides David, no one else in our party, including his sisters, wanted to be strapped in a big steel egg and thrust into programmed gyrations. Initially, I refused to go, but offered to buy him a ticket. “What’s the point of riding alone?” he asked. “The fun is sharing the experience.” The guilt overwhelmed me. I had brought my son to a museum that celebrates the courage of humankind to venture into unknown territory, yet I couldn’t sit in a little black seat and watch a big screen project starry images. There were toddlers in line to buy tickets; real-old people, too, their heads full of gray hair. I reevaluated my choice. Hadn’t I ridden the Incredible Hulk roller coaster with David a couple years earlier, a ride that plummets and corkscrews and twists over lengths of metal track that whine and squeal with friction? Plus, this contraption wasn’t a real training tool for astronauts—it was a simulator of simulators. I bought the tickets—nonrefundable. The sweating began: palms, armpits, a little trickle down my chest. David’s eyes scrutinized me. Montana Mouthful | 47

We entered the spaceship, ducking under the De Lorean-type door. A family filled the back row; a man with a small child claimed the front; David took the far seat, middle row; and I stood and hunched because of the low ceiling. I surveyed the seats to determine which one provided best access to the exit. My hesitation held up the women behind me, so I reluctantly settled. The women sat by the door, hesitant to get comfortable as they watched me

rolled their eyes. The ride attendant made his pre-flight speech, but the only part I heard was, “If, for any reason, you need to exit the flight simulator during the ride, press the red button on the ceiling.” “This red button?” I asked, thrilled to see it was located directly above my head. “Yes.” “Well, then,” I said. “That’s a great comfort. Okay.” A collective sigh relaxed everyone and the attendant proceeded to shut the electric door. It glided downward, The guilt overwhelmed me. I had brought my son to a inch-by-inch, restricting our access museum that celebrates the courage of humankind to to the fresh museum air, blocking venture into unknown territory, yet I couldn’t sit in a little the fluorescent light till only a black seat and watch a big screen project starry images. crack of brightness squeezed There were toddlers in line to buy tickets; real-old people, through the last inch of freedom. I pushed the red button. The too, their heads full of gray hair. I re-evaluated my choice. door lifted slowly. Lights flashed and beeps reverberated in the little fidget and fan myself. David’s eyes rolled—oh, cabin—was that necessary? I wanted out. I didn’t the mortification. light a bomb. I apologized to everyone. The fifth I sensed the passengers, shadow-like in the grade teacher said, “It’s better you decide now.” dark interior, consisted of a cross-section of ages, Before I waded through the tangle of legs again, races, creeds—a veritable melting pot. The heat I said to David, “I’m sorry.” He looked away. intensified as I realized the capsule had no winMy daughters wanted to know what hapdows. Once the door shut, I wouldn’t be able to pened, and they laughed when I told them. see the exhibition floor or the bench where my For the next eight minutes, I pictured David, daughters waited for us—no view of the exit sitting there alone, feeling pity and anger for stairs—no glimpse of the ceiling-mounted having me as a mother. I knew he was scowlEnola Gay. Once that door shut—we were ing—the ride was basically a video shown in trapped. If the power failed and the door couldn’t a box and the only fun would’ve been the two open, we twelve would be fighting for air. of us laughing at how tame it was. I rose, shoulders bent, hugged my handbag, When the ride ended, he exited and refused and announced to the fake space travelers, “I to talk to me except to say the obvious: “It have to get off.” The ladies beside me regretted wasn’t scary…” their seat as I climbed over their legs to leave. It would’ve been better to refuse him all Stepping through the doorway, I turned to see along. My desire to please him, in spite of my David, and I wanted to weep for failing him. claustrophobia, created a black hole of frustraI re-entered. I climbed over the limbs again tion. Through the years, my love for my son and and sat beside him. Now all the passengers my fear of entrapment are the kinds of forces 48 | Montana Mouthful

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that have repeatedly collided. Oh, the collisions we’ve endured! If only I could’ve pushed a red button to escape—if briefly—the confines of our relationship—a relationship between an anxious mother and an impulsive son whose genetic code led to flights of substance abuse. How naive I was to think public embarrassment at a museum would burden him. In the course of his battles, this snippet of melodrama regis-

ters as a token memory, brief as a shooting star. By now, David knows the power of forgiveness—that sons can’t begrudge mothers who embarrass, and mothers can’t begrudge sons all their missteps. Mostly he knows this, not because he is older, but because he is a father— of two. And a parent’s love—often revealed in strange ways—is something that comes from out of this world.


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Dive 50 | Montana Mouthful

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A Sky Undersea by Johnathan Drake The sea here is dark, invisible inside the tunnel. One day I’ll open the window of this train. My mind can feel water that isn’t there but is. It convinces my hands, sometimes my eyes can see fish in the blue of the seats. I hold breaths until I remember I can breathe undersea, as long as I stay in my seat. From London to Paris, then back again. Faces swim to and fro. Beside me, a woman whose face reminds me of flounder. Color fades and darkens in splotches. Her skin is rippled like the ribbing on fins. How long ‘til my face does the same?

Strike the surface covered in Parisian sunlight. I will swim through ocean, through earth, through countries. I hear the mechanical roar of train on track. Seated, I watch invisible fish float where I cannot. The flounder woman is now gone. I place my hand on the window to feel the damp, and I slide it open to breathe undersea. I stare into the bright, then reflex my eyes closed. I can’t see sun but inside my eyelids make starlight.

I look at my hands, nails painted white but splashes of pink where bare. Never painted blue. I’m sick of the sea and I’m sick of tunnels. One day I’ll open the window of this train. I will learn to swim and butterfly stroke through darkness of tunnel until I reach seawater. I will breathe in starfish and exhale flounder.

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DesSert 52 | Montana Mouthful

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Flying Frog | IGOR ZUSEV

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The Medium by Briana Wipf Millie Wilson stepped into the wobbly old canoe and shifted her weight instinctively as it rocked forward on its rounded keel. “You need help, Millie?” asked Deputy Peterson, halfheartedly reaching out as if to take hold of her elbow. She did not. She had spent quite a lot of time in wobbly old canoes. And she did not appreciate Deputy Peterson calling her by her first name. They really did not know each other. “I’m quite fine,” she said as she sat down, her bottom resting precariously on the narrow wooden seat, already warm from the sun. The heat lately had started to become stifling; it was only nine o’clock in the morning and at least eighty degrees. “We all ready?” Deputy Peterson asked. “I think so. Are you ready, Miss Wilson?” Mr. Vann asked. Millie glanced at the Vann family on the shore – old Grandma Vann and four or five of her children, along with a handful of spouses and grandchildren. Grandma Vann seemed to have aged a decade in the last week. The petite 54 | Montana Mouthful

woman was more hunched, her silver hair had turned the color of wet straw. Her kind face was closed and narrow: her normally lucid blue eyes were squinted and beady. Ellen Rogers, Grandma Vann’s most assertive daughter, nodded reassuringly at Millie. She had her arm around her mother, seeming to hold her up. “Yes, I’m ready,” Millie said. “All right,” said Mr. Vann. He was one of Grandma Vann’s sons, but Millie didn’t know him. He lived in Idaho and didn’t come this way often. A third man, standing on the shore until now, pushed the canoe off the gooey shore and into the river. He slopped a few steps into the warm, slimy water before jumping over the prow and inside. The man, the youngest of the three, shuffled past Mr. Vann and sat immediately in front of Millie, taking the oars and rowing slowly across the breadth of the river. The boat labored under all the weight, and Millie could see the water line lap up high on the side. The ever-present wind meandered through Vol. 4 • Issue 1

the cottonwood stand on the opposite shore and blew Millie’s hair into her eyes. She watched the oar as it dipped into the water, swirled under the brown surface, and sliced back into the atmosphere. No one spoke as the oars splashed in and out of the water and the scraped against the wooden side of the boat. Mosquitoes danced on the water’s surface. “We’ll go wherever you like, Miss Wilson,” Mr. Vann said. “You take your time and tell us what to do.” “Thank you,” Millie said. “This is where he would have been,” Deputy Peterson said. “We pushed off about the same place he did.” Millie nodded. She could feel his eye—just one; he’d lost the other one somewhere in the Pacific during the war—on the back of her head. She cleared her throat, sat up straighter, and folded her hands in her lap. When Millie was three or four, her mother had become convinced she was a psychic medium. Millie told stories of her friend Winifred, a nice old lady who visited her in the garden and told her about her children, Johnny and Sam. Winifred was the name of Millie’s greatgrandmother—her mother’s grandmother—and Johnny and Sam were uncles who had died as children. The details of Winifred’s stories sounded to Millie’s mother like the real stories Winifred had told her before she died. There was no way for Millie to have known them, her mother insisted. No, her daughter must have some connection to the other side. “My daughter is a gifted psychic medium,” Millie’s mother would say, usually within the first few minutes of a conversation with a stranger. Millie’s mother had volunteered her for various seances or psychic readings. Millie had always complied and always managed to say something that made the person she was

reading for at least sympathetic to the idea that she was a legitimate medium. As a teenager, sometimes Millie deliberately made up ridiculous things if she wanted to make fun of the person her mother brought to her. As she aged, she stopped doing that, aware that something was wrong. Winifred had been her invisible friend. But all children have invisible friends. Somehow, she had known Winifred’s stories. Millie did not think she was a psychic medium. She once had to do a reading for Deputy Peterson’s mother during the war. She was worried about her son, and Millie’s mother was kind enough to set up a reading. Millie had told Mrs. Peterson her son would “lose something,” and Mrs. Peterson was devastated, assuming it was his life. It turned out to be his eye, causing Mrs. Peterson much relief. When he returned home and heard of the incident, Deputy Peterson had vociferously doubted the reading. “Jeez, we all lost something out there,” he reportedly said (Millie was never part of these conversations). The Vanns, though, were different from the people her mother would bring her. She had known the family since she was a child; they all attended the same Lutheran church. Sweet Grandma Vann deserved to find the body of her oldest son, who had gone missing ten days ago when he didn’t come home from an afternoon fishing trip on the Missouri River. They found his boat caught on some driftwood about fifty yards downstream of here. Since then, the authorities had dragged the river day after day. After three days, when bodies usually surface, no body appeared. After five days, they found the badly decayed body of a convict who had escaped from the prison in Deer Lodge earlier in the summer. Montana Mouthful | 55

But no Fred Vann. The county stopped searching. The Vanns’ friends came with their boats and kept at it. Yesterday, a phone call. It was Ellen Rogers. “Your grandmother knows my mother. I think you know my mother. Can you help us?” Ellen Rogers said. Millie knew no other response. “Yes,” she croaked into the receiver. The sheriff, to show some support, sent Deputy Peterson. Now the boat zigged back and forth over

felt the sun hot on her neck, and she could see the sweat stamping itself on the shirt of the young man rowing in front of her. She glanced at her wristwatch. It was after ten o’clock. The search crew waiting on the shore with a bigger boat and the long, heavy hooks started fidgeting. Some checked their watches or paced nervously. Grandma Vann returned to her car, a big Oldsmobile, and sat in the back seat with the door open so she could continue to watch; her body crumpled against the seat. “We can go wherever you want, Miss Wilson,” Mr. Vann Millie’s mother had volunteered her for various seances or said. Nobody had spoken for a psychic readings. Millie had always complied and always long time. Millie didn’t know what she managed to say something that made the person she was reading for at least sympathetic to the idea that she was a would say to Grandma Vann when she came ashore and legitimate medium. As a teenager, sometimes Millie could not find her son. deliberately made up ridiculous things if she wanted to make Deputy Peterson cleared his fun of the person her mother brought to her. As she aged, throat behind her as if to remind she stopped doing that, aware that something was wrong. her of the time that had passed. “This way,” Millie said, pointing to the opposite shore. A small whirlpool churned in the the quiet surface of the Missouri. The river was shadow of cottonwood trees. a liar: it looked calm and peaceful, but the water The man rowing the boat made a wide U was deeper than anyone would guess and unand they went in the direction of the copse of dertows yanked at feet and arms that fell inside. cottonwoods. “Don’t swim at Big Bend,” Millie’s mother Deputy Peterson coughed and said quietly, had always told her when she went to the river so only Millie could hear, “We’ve been this way.” with friends. She sat up straighter. Fred Vann liked to fish in his boat at Big They came to the whirlpool under the trees, Bend, but no one would have thought he was a the heat dissipating under the shade. Millie swimmer. He must have stood up to relieve could see a snarl of branches just under the surhimself and fallen in. Everything was in his face. Walleye would be lying down in the warm boat: the net, the fishing pole; even a stringer water below, camouflaged in the rotting wood full of walleye and perch slithered in the water. and waiting for grubs and worms. A thousand Millie wasn’t sure how long they crossed lost fishhooks pierced the submerged branches. back and forth. But it was getting hotter. She “Here,” she said. “I’m feeling a force here.” 56 | Montana Mouthful

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People liked when she said words like “feeling” and “force,” she had learned. Deputy Peterson grunted. Mr. Vann hollered to the searchers on the other shore. They pushed the boat into the water and scurried in as it slid into the river, the boat moving with kinetic energy as three men rowed toward them. “This it?” one of the men asked. “We’ve been around this part.” “You’ve been around every part, and he’s still here somewhere,” Mr. Vann said. “Christ,” another of the searchers said, “like a rat’s nest.” The man with the oars moved their boat out of the way, and the men in the rescue boat moved closer. The deputy threw an anchor overboard, and they sat in the boat and waited as the men in the rescue boat took out their hooks and their picks and dipped them in the deep, deep water. Millie looked at the opposite shore. Grandma Vann had gotten up and stood near the edge of the water now. She used her hand to shield her eyes from the grinding sun. “There ain’t nothing here,” one of the men in the rescue boat barked. They hooked and poked for another fifteen minutes, moving a bit farther away, then moving their way closer. Nothing. Grandma Vann used her other hand to cover her mouth and closed the first hand over her eyes. Ellen Rogers hugged her and whispered something in her ear. Millie saw

Ellen Rogers’ shoulders shake with a sob. One of the men in the rescue boat called out, and the men around him suddenly changed their postures. One of the younger men pulled off his shirt, and they tied a rope around his waist. He lowered himself into the water and pushed vertically off the boat. He came up once, and back down. Twice, and back down. Millie started to feel sick. She shook like she did when she saw blood. This old woman. This poor family. The man came back up, said something to his mates, and then took another rope from the boat and dived again. He emerged a few moments later, the rope now fastened to something. He held onto the side of the boat as the others rowed away. After some resistance, several rotten branches surfaced, pulled loose by the rope. In the next moment, a whoosh and a gray mass emerged amidst the branches. Fred Vann’s body, bloated and waxy. “Jesus,” Deputy Peterson breathed, his voice shaky. Mr. Vann, stoic, turned toward his family and raised his thumb up in the air. “Oh, they found him,” Millie heard Ellen Rogers say. Grandma Vann exclaimed, “Oh, my boy,” and started sobbing. Millie exhaled heavily, a weight lifted, and felt Deputy Peterson’s hand, reassuring, on her shoulder.

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Drop Risk by Gwen Hart I thought it meant being at risk of dropping something like a heavy wrench from a great height, a tall scaffolding, but, no, my diesel students explain, "It's when you're working on an oil pipeline and you're standing in six inches of muddy water and you could get electrocuted!" "Oh," I say, "so it's you who's going to drop." As an English professor, I have not worried much about this risk, but, when I peer into the boiler room of Cowan Hall—the door open directly across from my classroom—

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I can hear the maintenance crew discussing yet another problem with the heating system, even though I can't see them for the vast and intricate duct work, like a maze, with multiple-storied catwalks, and I am shocked by this world that exists parallel to my own, branching out, as complex as a Victorian novel, full of electric secrets and long, frayed strings of disappointment, sparking, just there, on the other side of the wall.

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The Party on the Edge of Forever by John T. Lewis The wallpaper looked dated. The musty scented furniture seemed out of place, minus the baby grand piano shouldering a corner window. Then again, no one came for the décor… With a quarter century in the catering business, I have witnessed events fizzle due to bad weather, poor attendance, lack of food or too much alcohol. But, among all the arbitrary methods of social ruin, never have I personally been the reason why a party met an untimely death. That was until I entered the dwellings of a Beatle. Well… sort of. Living with diabetes, in a word, sucks! It’s a 24/7 commitment, in the company of ebbs and flows and more round the clock monitoring than an art museum security guard. I have done it for almost three decades, blessed to stay healthy, winning the battle of evermore. Yet, no matter how well the intentions, the power of diabetes can take over and deliver a staggering punch - a driving, unholy fury. My sister Kathy experienced its wrath more than most. A hospital suite, for much of her life, became a second home. EMS units parked in 60 | Montana Mouthful

front of our house more often than emergency vehicles positioned around a NASCAR track. Eventually, the ambulances stopped coming, replaced with a silver hearse. She was two weeks shy of her 32nd birthday. Her wounds were self-inflicted, mostly. Injecting insulin, testing glucose levels, then off to a breakfast of orange juice and a half-dozen glazed doughnuts. Talk about suicide. Love affairs with married men, love affairs with other men while married, addiction to Demerol and a brief roll in the hay with crack cocaine were the more tangible signs of a destructive personality. Kathy was a great mystery, talents ruined, gifts unclaimed. One thing she did prove, however, was the fact that the youngest always gets spoiled. Throughout her adolescence a surly mouth and raucous behavior seemed to go unpunished. Dad wasn’t good at playing the heavy. Enforcing the rules seemed unnatural, a surprise considering his law profession. My mother on the other hand was a much more affective disciplinarian. Her tools of the trade included four, six, even nine letter curse words and a wicked Irish Vol. 4 • Issue 1

temper that could scare the mustard off a corned beef sandwich. When I mouthed off at her, mom didn’t bother with a yardstick. Throwing objects seemed a better idea. Chess pieces, tan, leather Oxford shoes and on occasion, the dull blades of butter knives came flying in my direction. For some unknown reason, my parents took a “laissez-faire” approach to lowering the boom on Kathy. I don’t remember her being spanked or cursed. Never did a butter knife graze her skin. Perhaps it was parental fatigue, Kathy being the youngest of four children. But, I got the feeling they knew that a firm hand approach would be useless. You see, my baby sister possessed a force of the supernatural, an ability to manipulate, exhilarate, make you hate, antagonize, lionize and tell you lies. At seventeen, no girl spoke prouder of being a runaway, jumping a bus to Illinois, the boyfriend along for the ride. Two weeks later she returned home as if nothing happened. By eighteen Kathy was pregnant, the boyfriend hanging on for dear life. Most fell prey to her spell. Men, strong, powerful men, often turned soft as silly putty. Her admirers were many. Even at her most vulnerable, Kathy’s ability to operate intensified. Jeff Bostic, a football player for the Washington Redskins, sporting Super Bowl rings and thighs that looked like beer kegs, charged into her hospital room. His mammoth size hands gripping a bouquet of flowers. How she ‘befriended’ him I can only guess. G. Gordon Liddy, former Nixon attorney and mastermind of the Watergate break-in, showed on another occasion, posing for pictures and imparting well wishes. How Kathy got to know that son-of-a-bitch is more easily explained, she a frequent caller to his then popular radio show. It only made sense that one of America’s most notorious criminals and my kid

sister were somehow chummy. No way would I cave to her charms. She might have fooled everyone else. I wasn’t about to swallow the hook and be pulled down among the suckers. Frustration and displeasure fueled the fighter within. I was so angry once that I threw a long, wooden spoon, aiming at her head, murder the goal, anything short of a bloody corpse would have been a disappointment. “SHIT!” I missed, impaling her bedroom door. Kathy scowled down from the top of the steps. Tears of repugnance filled her eyes, my body still quivering with rage. “HA! YOU MISSED FUCK FACE!” she mocked. Over time, my anger dissolved onto a soft pillow of compassion. Kathy’s unique personality only exacerbated her diabetes. Or was it vice versa? Demons possessed her mind. Suffering the ravages of high blood sugar, internal organs failing, a victim of depression and a disintegrating psyche. Most days I found her balled up in the corner of a couch—silent, listless. I was waiting on tables when first diagnosed, receiving the news from my doctor during a shift meeting. Her words are still fresh in my mind all these years later. “John, are you sitting down?” the MD asked. “No, should I?” responding with enough sarcasm to fill a comedy club. She answered me with a zinger, “You have a blood sugar of over 600.” As a medical layman, even I knew that was not good. “Be at my office in 20 minutes. We’ll take it from there.” As time has elapsed and wisdom garnered, I wear the badge of diabetic proudly, verbalizing my experience and letting anyone who wishes to watch me shoot up. But, in those early years, I kept my condition quiet, unwilling to share the burden with anyone, especially on catering jobs. Montana Mouthful | 61

It was a book that brought them there. Hot words on a page layered with flirtatious innuendo and tousled bed sheets. In 1999, celebrated fiction writer Jackie Collins delivered Dangerous Kiss, the latest literary adventure of her erotic Lucky Santangelo series. And like any good writer, every book launch deserves a good launch party. Hosting the New York gig was none other than Peter Brown, former manager for an English rock-n-roll group with funny haircuts called the Beatles. His Central

ager Edith Keeler. On a whim, she hires Kirk and Spock as day workers, unaware of the futuristic world they come from. Of course, Kirk falls for the sexy Good Samaritan. But, Spock discovers that Keeler somehow alters history and must tragically meet her untimely fate. In the end, McCoy is found. Collins, a la Keeler, is killed. And Kirk beams back to the Enterprise heart broken, lamenting her loss with the phrase, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” In retrospect, I should have uttered the same words before Mr. Brown’s party kicked off. Three of us worked the intimate affair, one chef named As time has elapsed and wisdom garnered, I wear Ralph to man the kitchen, while the badge of diabetic proudly, verbalizing my Marcy, another waiter, and I concentrated on serving food and experience and letting anyone who wishes to watch drink. With preparations comme shoot up. But, in those early years, I kept plete and kitchen set, chef offered my condition quiet, unwilling to share the burden staff meal—the best part of any good catering gig. I went through with anyone, especially on catering jobs. the usual ritual; siphoning the insulin from an inch-long vial, through a hypodermic needle, Park West apartment only a short guitar lick then twisting the sharp, thin metal into my away from the Dakota, John Lennon’s old stomach, pushing the magic liquid to the rest of haunting ground. my blood stream. Most in attendance cared little about bestI enjoyed chef Ralph’s dinner, a zesty sellers, among them opera diva Rene Fleming, arugula salad accompanied by thin crust of Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and baguette bread. But, somehow even then, I worof course Jackie’s famous sister Joan Collins. The ried it might not be enough substantial food to minute I saw the actress I thought of the starship cover the insulin just taken. Hypoglycemia is a Enterprise. “City on the Edge of Forever” is bar diabetic’s worst nightmare. Blood sugar level none my favorite episode of the original Star sinks with the weight and speed of a battleship Trek television series. Beamed down to another anchor. Left unattended, a trite moment of inplanet, Kirk and Spock lead a search party lookdecision can quickly turn into a high-stakes ing for Dr. McCoy who has flipped out from an medical drama. accidental overdose. In their quest, they find a Soon after Mr. Brown started greeting guest mysterious time portal, which takes the crew at the door, trouble came knocking. First, I back to Depression Era New York City. couldn’t keep my balance, finding corners of taCollins plays altruistic soup kitchen manbles, colliding ever so slightly with doorframes. 62 | Montana Mouthful

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Then fatigue came. Giant swells swept over me enticing an overwhelming desire to sleep. “You all right John?” Ralph asked from the kitchen, noticing the odd behavior. I answered confidently, fully committed to my catering tasks, in complete denial of my worsening state. I marched back toward the living room unsure of my next move and forgetting all together why I was there in the first place. Then, I saw her. Transported in front of me stood Joan Collins. “Champagne please!” she requested. How perfect. How fitting. Somehow, I knew she would come, exactly like her character Edith Keeler in “The City on the Edge of Forever,” to rescue me from dire straits. I fell instantly in love with her regal smile, her every word shaped with an intoxicating British accent. “I’d really love a glass of champagne.” My pupils, the size of a camera lens, dilated. Lights began to fade around me. I stood motionless, trapped in the middle of a hypoglycemic rerun. Adrenaline, somehow, sucked me back into reality. “If the lady wants champagne, then champagne she shall have,” I surmised. Positioned perfectly in front of the refrigerator, I popped the cork on a fresh bottle and poured a glass. Oddly, the bottle weighed a ton. Each drop seemed to defy gravity, the way thick maple syrup drips off a six-inch stack of pancakes. Collins waited patiently, bewildered by my slow, deliberate moves. As I passed her the glass, I placed my index finger inside the cold, sparkling liquid. “Yup! Here you are. Ready to go,”

The actress darted out of the kitchen screaming, “PETER! PETER! YOUR WAITER IS DRUNK!” Chef Ralph watched in horror, convinced something was wrong. He ordered Marcy to bring Ms. Collins a new glass of champagne, excluding the finger test, then, escorted me to a back room. “John, should I call a paramedic?” I stared up at him, unable to speak, tangled in mental cobwebs, minutes from losing consciousness. Somehow, Marcy figured it out. He flipped open a can of Coke and forced it down my throat. Both men stood over me waiting. Minutes felt like hours. I soon regained my senses thanks to the sugary substance. The rest of the evening went without a hitch. Chef Ralph spun his best damage control, explaining to Peter Brown and his guest the quirks of low blood sugar. Marcy did double time; passing, bussing, washing and apologizing. I remained in the back room, energy spent, filled with shame and hating the word ‘diabetes’ even more. On occasion, I’ll catch an episode of the old Star Trek series and instantly envision Joan Collins. Her eyes sparkle, her thirsty lips calling for more champagne. Sadly, I do not think of my sister Kathy in the same manner - a grainy figure fading with time. Instead, she is brought to life everyday by the daily rituals of diabetes. Harsh, living reminders of what might have been. But, the biggest lesson learned that night in Peter Brown’s apartment – always keep the blood sugars level and the party on the edge of forever.

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The Oddness of Pluto by Mantz Yorke We’d considered you odd, for you could swing at times inside the orbit of Neptune instead of staying ordered concentrically like the rest.

Now downed to minor status, you show a different oddness in images from our probe: on your surface there exists a heart of frozen nitrogen.

Telescopes then discovered other Kuiper Belt fragments swerving in and out like you: when Eris—smaller than you, but heavier—was found, full planetary membership had to be withdrawn.

Warmed only by a glimmer some five light-hours away, this iced gas becomes a wind bucking planetary orthodoxy, blowing counter to your spin – so you still appear an oddity, but not as once we’d thought.

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Tiny Scattered Limbs by Elizabeth Morelli “It’s a dead Jesus Christ lizard.” “Three swallowtails, five monarchs, a heron— all dead and now a friggin’ lizard. We’ve seen nothing alive, Lou.” “Maybe they just haven’t cleaned this park path in a while.” He could smell the fresh blood. Aiming her camera lens down at the lizard, he watched Sophie release the shutter. “This is about as close as I want to get to deceased Costa Rican reptiles. Maybe J.C. will be resurrected, it being Easter week,” she said, her lips turning to a mock smile. He enjoyed watching her agility. After two years of manning a biology lab, he felt he owed Sofia this tropical respite away from his research, her second-grade students, and the fissure between them— his infertility that quickly became their infertility. So here they were, slogging through sand paths in closed-toed sandals. The almost perfect adventure. “Living spider monkeys, where are you, where are you, where are you?” Sofia sang out in a tune probably from “Wheels on the Bus.” “Howler and capuchin monkeys,” he cor66 | Montana Mouthful

rected gently, “probably nearer a food source.” Costa Rica was easy to choose. Volcanoes for her; rainforests for him. Scuba diving for her; tropical sex for him. So far, he had succeeded at the latter twice on their hotel balcony with rainforest’s bioluminescent plants as their backdrop. Three days in, and he was feeding off the “pura vida” of Costa Rica. “A decapitation. Look at this rat.” He nudged the carcass. “Looks like an infant howler.” Pulling back two arrowhead leaves, he searched for tracks. None were visible. “Listen,” he said. “There’s nothing.” “Exactly. Not a sound.” Possibly the jungle quiet would appeal to her. Their existence could work well in a quiet, untethered world of adults with needs readily answered by each other. His sterility diagnosis surprised him, but while an emotional Sof asked for alternatives, he had breathed an unhampered breath, a long safe exhale, into this new actuality. Now he stepped into ferns to see a small sloth with a vine around its throat, tongue hanging out as if Vol. 4 • Issue 1

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protesting its final breath. Strangled. Normal explanation—it jumped and became entangled, but there was something about the facial expression. Without elaborating, he grabbed Sofia’s hand before she discovered the animal, and they set off in the direction of the park’s beach. Tiny sand tributaries jutted to the right and left of the path causing detours. They skipped over dozens of red-eyed leaf frogs with tiny limbs scattered like dominoes. The frogs’ still-

pushing. Get through the bad. Find the good.” she responded. “But keep searching.”

When he heard the waves, he breathed and fell behind Sof who marched ahead her footprints creating an easy path for him, but also churning up sand. At the edge of the undergrowth, the jungle parted, breaking, as the wide flat beach came into view, and he gulped the sea air. Sofia raced forward to videotape the squawking birds, chicks, and turtles with the satisfaction of a mother taking photos at a birthday party. Her squeals. Their chirps. His feeling Their existence could work well in a quiet, that Costa Rica was returning as an animate adventure. untethered world of adults with needs readily He noticed birds flying above answered by each other. His sterility diagnosis them after a moment. Large birds intent on staying over the beach. surprised him, but while an emotional Sof asked for One swooped downward, and he alternatives, he had breathed an unhampered caught sight of a turtle limb in its breath, a long safe exhale, into this new actuality. mouth and watched as the bird opened its jaw and dispersed the limb directly above his head. Birds were vultures. ness ate through him. Chicks were baby vultures. “Why are they dead, Lou?” Sof was looking Turtles were dying. down and readying her camera for the remains. “Sof,” he beckoned with a jittery hand. She “No. Let them be. Must have been a winddidn’t turn. “Sofia” he screamed as she tried to storm without warning. Just step back.” Weather pat a chick, “They’re predators. Get away.” She could be a predictable godsend this time. looked up with a nurturing expression, a look She looked at him and shook her head. “A that seemed to be permanently implanted in ready answer again? Every time you can’t exher hazel eyes and the corners of gentle lips. plain something you move to a probable explaAs he ran towards her, three thoughts raced nation. Every time. And I’m supposed to accept through his mind. Did the park tally visitors your wind theory. No. These guys are… mutientering with those exiting? Could the Jesus lated.” She readjusted her hair placing it higher Christ lizard really walk across water when anon her head not looking at him. gered? Were children still on their life’s “Sometimes there aren’t answers.” agenda? “And many times, there are. You just keep The Pacific loomed in front of him.

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Here an editor may share a story, essay, poem, artwork or 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, the editors’ mutual friend, Gay Eyman, shares a touching nonfiction piece about a particularly “out of this world” experience on her small farm in the Helena Valley.

The Other Side by Gay Eyman As the sun dipped low, a small shape slumped in the dusty paddock, alone and motionless. It was 2017, and at Glory Farm, my husband and I had been waiting anxiously for our lambs to be born, so as I climbed the fence to investigate, I saw the momma sheep at a distance, causing me to wonder at this early evening event. I approached a tiny black shape snuggled down, dry with curly fleece and big expectant eyes. My grandson, Jameson, named the little lamb, Bell, while the sister born soon after was named Chime. I scooped up Bell’s defenseless, warm body just as the sun set in the hills. She nuzzled into the crook of my arm, and after laying her down in the barn on the straw heap, I ran to get a bottle. This began a 3-year relationship with Belly very unlike the other sheep who ran from my touch, for she trusted me and loved children. I only got a few bottles down Belly before her good momma accepted her and the sister, giving them the milk and protection just right for little lambs. Bell’s birth signaled the on-

slaught of new baby lambs born that late spring. She was the first of 15 lambs born that year from 7 ewes. We watched each one begin its journey as a unique piece of the herd. Almost a week after Belly was born, bouncing all over the paddock, strong and lively, I found one of the Scottish Blackface lambs in the barn almost buried completely in straw, while the mother stood outside nursing 2 more newborn lambs. Again, I ran, got a towel and bottle, and fed the abandoned lamb’s ravenous appetite. I named this lamb, Lark, after the meadowlark that came early that spring, for she was as sweet as the bird’s song and presence. After a while of this bottle routine with Lark, whenever I walked to the barn, she would come leaping to me as if responding to her name. Lark’s mother never did accept her, but as Lark grew bigger from our goat milk bottles, she began to slip in from the back and nurse from her momma on the sly. A footnote here: when Belly would hear the sound

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of Lark slurping hungrily on the bottle, she also came running and together they pushed, slobbered and fought over this human hand that held nutrition. I began to bring 2 bottles for these sweet lambs; they remained pets and gave so much joy to others, mostly to children who fed and loved them. They were tame because in feeding them, trust had joined us. During 2020, Lark and Bell turned three years-old. Recently, this past summer, the day began early, as my husband, Bill, and I prepared to go to work in town by 8:30 am. With all the animals fed and the sun blinding our eastward passage, we left for the day, thinking that, like all days before, we’d come home, feed the animals, and 70 | Montana Mouthful

take care of evening chores. However, as we neared the paddock, we felt an unusual quiet, almost a ghostly hush over our herd of 5 adult ewes (two of them being Lark and Bell), 4 spring lambs, and 3 adult goats. Near the closest gate was sweet baby, Evelyn, dead, with half of her face torn away, while each of the other lambs laid separate and motionless with their heads down. This stance was unusual enough, since sheep generally bunch up, but seeing Evelyn first gave way to an emotion of deep violation that we had not experienced in 12 years of raising animals. Our methodical steps slowed as we approached each animal and with every one there was a train wreck expression on their faces, blood spattered everywhere, with clumps Vol. 4 • Issue 1

of fleece strewn throughout the paddock. It immediately reminded me of the genocide stories I’ve read about in places like Sierra Leone and Rwanda, where people came back to their villages to find their family and friends slaughtered. The only difference was that these were our animals and not our human family. In one corner, tucked in the shelter, were our 3 goats and Lark, appearing untouched by the assault, even though Lark did have blood on her horns, yet none of them had blood anywhere else. Had Lark protected the goats while the sheep ran helter skelter, trying to escape the invader, yet getting attacked over and over? How had this ghost of a monster gotten in or out of the 6 foot fence-enclosed paddock in the middle of the day? These questions were only slightly approached but could never be fully answered, since this assault happened without notice from any neighbors nor from experience ourselves. Instead, we just faced the horrible result of a mystery attack. As we began to unfurl from shock, we called Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Division, as well as our vet, and a previous butcher friend because we knew we needed help in assessing the damage, taking care of wounded animals, and expertise in facing the ordeal. Each person that came gave us

what we needed to take care of our animals. All of them agreed that the attack was most likely from a feral or domestic dog, judging from the place and pattern of attack, teeth spacing, the randomness of attack on all of the sheep, and being that it happened in the middle of the day. We ended up with more questions than answers, but the help from these three sources made all the difference for us in terms mitigating the trauma and loss of our sheep. Sweet Belly is the one I grieve for the most, for she was a presence of kindness and friendship, a union between me as a limited human and her as a trusting lamb, with all the comfort of attentive silence. I could bury my face in her lush brown fleece and tell her all the secrets of sorrow and pain, for she knew how to just listen, how to just love and trust. I can still see her as a bouncy lamb, running at the suction sound of the bottle, and slobbering in the pure delight of it. Missing her, I am contemplating breeding Lark and raising more bottle-fed lambs who might be able to protect the ones they share hay with! It is hard to know what to do with the unanswered questions, the ghosts of randomness that changes the way we look at all we take for granted, and to find peace in what is not within our reach.

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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: It has been a few years now since our students have taken the brave plunge to share their writing out in the world. Although the pandemic has altered our methods of learning, it has not changed the pace at which we are studying, using, and enjoying the English language. We are still here promoting a sense of belonging; providing not just an opportunity to learn the English language, but also an opportunity to belong, to feel less alone in a new land learning a new language. In the past

seven years, we have had a variety of students walk through our doors. They come from different backgrounds and first languages. They come with different hopes and dreams, but all of them want to learn English to be a part of the community where they live. The Shop University and Montana Mouthful provide them the opportunity to share their stories with a wider audience and to be part of a bigger community than they could imagine. Thank you for reading our stories as they debut in English!

This issue features an essay by Yang Cloepfil. Yang has been attending The Shop University for 12 months and is working towards her degree. She has learned many interesting things and enjoys attending class immensely. She would like to thank the staff at the Shop University for their dedication, enthusiasm, and help in motivating her to become a more accomplished student. This is her first published work.

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My Peculiar Year by Yang Cloepfil

2020 was a historical election year and a year to remember for everybody. Many people experienced significant challenges. 2020 has been a year of unprecedented difficulty for my family including a heated presidential election, the fear of COVID-19, the impact of global warming, and the personal hardship of dealing with a sick pet. Although the largest number of people voted in the history of U.S. presidential elections, it was a challenge for many people. Some Native American voters did not have the required I.D. Some elders were not fluent or literate in English, and some had to travel long distances to return their ballots because local governments restricted approved return sites. Also some states restricted allowing people to vote with mail-in ballots by establishing onerous qualifying conditions. They therefore had to vote in person exposing themselves to a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Many citizens are sick and have died from the COVID-19 virus. It transmits easily and infects silently. A large number of businesses have closed and millions of people have lost their jobs. The travel, hospitality, and restaurant industries in particular have been decimated.

As of December 2020, there were still more workers unemployed compared to February of 2020. Our federal government has provided some help to businesses and citizens by providing a financial stimulus package, but I believe it needs to do more since infection rates are skyrocketing and there is little hope for near term improvement. It’s disappointing that the leadership of our federal government isn’t directing an effective and coherent national campaign against the spread of COVID-19 virus. I believe that leaders need to coalesce all government resources to fight the spread of the virus. President Trump has politicized the virus in an attempt to polarize the political arena. By simply advocating for wearing masks, social distancing, and greater testing/ tracing early on he could have changed the course of this pandemic. As a result, there is an ongoing battle with many citizens to follow local government requests to abide and cooperate with their simple restrictions. I have become sensitive to these requests and hope to see us as a nation focus our attention on safer personal habits and show more social responsibility. Natural disasters appear to occur more often as well. These natural disasters impact us in a Montana Mouthful | 73

multitude of ways and affect the surrounding environment. Global climate change and warming has become a very serious issue. 2020 stands to have a high chance of being the warmest year on record for planet earth. There has been more frequent flooding in the central U.S. because of the increase in hurricanes and changed weather patterns. Another aspect of global warming is the dramatic increase in wildfires across the western United States. Many people have lost their homes and others had to evacuate. There are more hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, more typhoons in the Pacific, and more cyclones in the Indian Ocean. Rising sea levels are endangering coastal municipalities worldwide and the resultant higher temperatures are threatening flora and fauna. A “greener” Federal Environmental policy will accompany the new administration and hopefully mitigate some of these problems. If all this wasn’t enough my dog came down with a serious illness. In August, our nine-year-old Siberian Husky (whose name is Coco) shocked us by collapsing early one morning out of the blue. She couldn't get up and wouldn’t eat anything

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either. We took her to the veterinarian and she was diagnosed with a spleen tumor called hemangiosarcoma. The following day she had an operation to remove her spleen and a week later the doctor suggested chemotherapy because this cancer is metastatic. Chemotherapy would not have cured her cancer and would have reduced her quality of life, so we chose not to do it. We don’t know exactly why she became infected with cancer. It could have been caused by chemicals, environment, or genetic factors. We did our best to make her comfortable, took all prescribed palliative measures, and enjoyed her remaining days of companionship until she took her final breath in early December. In conclusion, 2020 has been challenging for everyone, but there are better times ahead. A COVID-19 vaccine is now available to inoculate our citizens. We will have a new president who looks to be more responsive in organizing a federal response to the Coronavirus issue and more receptive to helping state governments address their priorities. This new administration will also stress moving away from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy sources. We all need to work together to overcome these challenges.

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Welcome back to our current reality! Did it feel nice to escape out of this world for a time? Did you gain a new perspective or find yourself cracking a smile? We hope so. As always, we’d like to extend a big thank you to everyone who contributed to this issue. We feel fortunate that so many writers and artists choose Montana Mouthful as a place to send their creative works. Like so many, we’ve had to amend our goals in the last year, so we’re grateful to still be able to publish issues of Montana Mouthful. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who donated to our magazine during 2020. Your support means the world to us, and without it, we couldn’t survive. On that note, the theme for our next issue will be “A Blessing in Disguise.” Most of us are familiar with this phrase—when an apparent misfortune turns up positive results after a time. We look forward to receiving a variety of takes on this theme as it guarantees a happy ending of sorts, and we could all use some silver linings at this point, yes? Submissions for this issue will be open from Monday, March 22 – Monday, May 3, 2021. We aim to publish “A Blessing in Disguise” issue on Monday, June 7, 2021. We’re still limited in our ability to do in-person fundraisers at the moment, but we hope to have one or two events during the second half of 2021 if all goes well. In the meantime, we hope you will continue to donate through our website or Facebook page, so we can keep this digital magazine going. We appreciate the support! Last but not least, here’s a shout-out to our graphic design artist, Luke Duran, of Element L Design. Doesn’t he do fabulous work!? Thanks Luke! And thank you, Readers and Contributors, for being here with us, issue after issue. Your comments, shares, and submissions bring us great joy. Until next time, Jasmine Lamb, co-editor, Montana Mouthful

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Biography KB Ballentine KB Ballentine’s seventh collection, Edge of the Echo, is scheduled to launch in the Spring of 2021 with Iris Press. Her earlier books can be found with Blue Light Press, Middle Creek Publishing, and Celtic Cat Publishing. Published in Crab Orchard Review and Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, among others, her work also appears in anthologies including In Plein Air (2017) and Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace (2017). Learn more at and on Facebook at kbballentinepoet. Clarence Carter Boucher Clarence Carter Boucher is a Visual Artist, Author and Musician. He is a Master Teaching Artist with Arts Access South Carolina, which provides inclusive art experiences for people with disabilities. Find out more about him at Dan A. Cordoza Dan’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction: Apricity, BlazeVOX, Bull, Cleaver, Coffin Bell, Entropy, Fri(c)tion, Gravel, O:JA&L/Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, New Flash Fiction Review, Parentheses, Poetry Northwest, Running Wild Press, Spelk, and Your Impossible Voice. Dan’s nominations: Best Micro Fiction, Tiny Molecules, 2020 and Best Poetry, Coffin Bell, 2020. Find out more about Dan on social media @Cardozabig. Sean Chapman Sean Chapman is a British writer living in Cornwall beside the capricious Atlantic Ocean and amongst the blur of a blue Whippet and a red fox Labrador. His prolonged and wayward adolescence included working in a Taiwanese astrophysics department, on a Salford mental health ward, on the Liverpool docks and in a Manchester disability support office, before washing ashore in a Cornish surf shop. Between daydreams of cowboy adventures and surfing escapades, he writes poems, dedicated to Maggie, some of which have appeared or are forthcoming in Marble Poetry, Raceme, Squawk Back, Prole, Dreich, The Pomegranate London, Trouvaille Review, Feed, The Opiate and Anti-Heroin Chic. Follow Sean on Twitter @SeanChapman_1 Sharon J. Clark Sharon J Clark is a writer based in Milton Keynes. Recent work has been published in The Beautifulest (Pure Slush Vol. 17) and 2021 Still Together (Tawny Owl Publishing). In 2020 she was part of the editorial team that produced MinK#2 City of Dreams, an anthology of new writing – flash fiction and poetry - for the Milton Keynes Literary Festival. She also used the lockdown to selfpublish an anthology of poems: Seats in the Rain. Find out more about Sharon at and

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Yang Cloepfil Yang Cloepfil has been attending The Shop University for 12 months and is working towards her degree. She has learned many interesting things and enjoys attending class immensely. She would like to thank the staff at the Shop University for their dedication, enthusiasm, and help in motivating her to become a more accomplished student. This is her first published work. Esther Lee Deitch Esther Lee Deitch studied at the Ottawa School of Magickal Arts when she was young; she wanted to be a woodcarver, but when she realized she was in the wrong century, she began writing stories instead. She also writes poetry when she needs that form to express herself. Louis Dennis Louis Dennis was born in Hazel Crest, Illinois, in 1960, he moved to Huntington Beach, California, in 1975. As an amateur photographer, he learned photography in a chemical darkroom; photography is his freedom and escapism from daily life. He is a profound lover of images, and he’s been dabbling with photography for many years, as well as designing spaces. His approach is simple and direct in selecting what to photograph and how to choose to photograph it. His source of inspiration is light and contrast and in his searches, he finds surprises where they are least expected, like in the body of work “Behind the View Glass”. Recently, his photographs were exhibited online in the Positive Pandemic Experiment, and published in the Burningword Literary Journal. William Doreski William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He recently retired after many years of teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent book of poetry is Stirring the Soup (2020). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals. Find out more about William at Johnathan Drake Johnathan Drake is a queer writer currently living and writing in Santiago, Chile. He received his MFA from Oklahoma State University. His words have been featured or are forthcoming in Prime Number Magazine and American Book Review. Gay Eyman Gay Eyman is a farmer late in life, a storyteller, a mom and Nana, an adorer of animals, a watcher of nature unfolding, and someone who’s becoming the mystery of which she’s only glimpsed. She is known to crawl on the floor through a tunnel with a two yearold, bursting into laughter at the sheer fun of it. In the years to come, Gay hopes to work less and explore more, diving deep into giving to others through the service of who we are and to have more fun! Vol. 4 • Issue 1

Hugh Findlay

Jeff Mann

Hugh Findlay photographs a lot, sometimes publishes, and would rather be caught fishing. He likes beer and basketball. Find out more about Hugh on Twitter and Instagram @hughmanfindlay.

Once Jeff ’s belief that there are too many cars in the world fused with the amazing variety of car parts and his creative process (response rather than narration/representation) his fate was sealed. While he thinks his work can be interpreted many ways, he’s actually thinking of the theme as, “From this world—what will evolve?” So many of his images are about what is to come if we don’t figure out how to balance our transportation systems with our society’s and our planet’s needs. Since he’s been making skeletons from car parts lately, many of his images involve mortality. You can find out more about Jeff at or on Instagram @jeffautomann

Wayne Glausser Wayne Glausser is Professor Emeritus of English at DePauw University. He has published many essays, including recent ones about semicolons, the movie “Groundhog Day,” and Donald Trump’s use of the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” He has also published three books, the most recent of which is Something Old, Something New: Contemporary Entanglements of Religion and Secularity (Oxford UP, 2018). Lynn Hanley Shaping color on canvas and molding forms into sculpture has been Lynn Hanley’s focus for almost forty years. Her work is informed by music, the sky, and the beauty of the earth. Lynn’s passion is to bring beauty into the world. Our universe is filled with grace and she wants very much for her art to be part of that expression. Follow Lynn on Instagram at: Bananamoonjam. Gwen Hart Gwen Hart teaches writing at Montana State University Northern. Her second poetry collection, The Empress of Kisses, won the X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize from Texas Review Press. Find out more about Gwen at her Amazon author page:

Taylor McGraw Taylor McGraw is and multidisciplinary artist and writer. Her work is deeply rooted in the psychological concepts of pathology, object relations, and the unconscious. Themes center around these preoccupations and mirror the inner-workings of her overcrowded mind as an artist with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Originally from Missouri, she has found inspiration in relocating frequently, and is currently based in Woodstock, NY. She has worked in the mental health field for most of her adult life and has a master’s degree in psychology. Find out more about Taylor at Michelle M. Mead

Thomas Howarth lives in Cork, Ireland, where he writes fiction and performs stand-up whenever therexs not a pandemic on. His writing has appeared in Literally Stories,, and The Bookends Review. Find out more about Thomas on @ThomasHowarthComedian.

Michelle M. Mead is a writer from Upstate New York. She has edited, written (stories, poetry, reviews) illustrated and interviewed for two print zines, Artless & Naked, and Whimsy. She has been published in various print magazines (Polluto, The Thirty First Bird Review, Trespass, Blinking Cursor, Cross Stitch Crazy, etc.) and ezines (Gutter Eloquence, EMG Zine, Apparatus, Under The Juniper Tree, etc.) as well in her books, Moongirls and Nightdreams and Divided Together ( She is currently working on multiple novels.

Carol Jacko

Martine Mooijenkind

Carol Jacko is a photographer from Pittsburgh, PA. She loves the moon, nature, and trains. She is retired and likes to read in her free time. You can find out more about Carol at

Martine Mooijenkind, alias Knutselfabriek, is a collage artist currently situated in Gouda, The Netherlands. In addition to her profession as a care attendant for the disabled, she practices the art of collage making and works as a freelance graphic designer. Her works are mostly surreal.

Thomas Howarth

John T. Lewis A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, John T. Lewis is an actor and writer based out of New York City. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Selling book Radio Master – The Life and Times of Sports Broadcasting Great Ted Husing. (Langdon Street Press) His critically acclaimed one-man show “In the Ballpark” was hailed by Time Out New York as “a symmetry of visual arts rarely seen in theater.” Along with performing and producing several one-man shows, John has appeared in various regional theater productions and several independent films. He is a member of Naked Angels Theater Company. Find out more about John at his Instagram account: @jtlprod and on his website:

Elizabeth Morelli Elizabeth Morelli is a Richmond, Virginia, transplant from New York/New England. She splits her time between travel, librarianship, archival research and auditing literature and writing courses and often combines these activities. Working in non-fiction as well, her short stories have appeared in: Motif Come What May, Apalachee Review, Broadside Magazine. You can find Elizabeth on Facebook and Instagram.

Montana Mouthful | 77

Alfredo Quarto

Bonnie Larson Staiger

Alfredo Quarto is an environmental activist and poet. He’s been published in numerous poetry publications including: Poetry Seattle, Catalyst, Raindance Journal, Piedmont Review, Haiku Zashi Zo, Paperbag Poems, Seattle Arts, Spindrift, Arts Focus, Arnazella, Dan River Anthology, Amelia, Americas Review, Vox, Middle House Review, The Closed Eye Open, and Tidepools. He has also had articles published in The Guardian, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Earth Island Journal, E-Magazine, Wild Earth, Bird Conservation, Tokyo Journal and Biodiversity Magazine. Find Alfredo on Facebook at alfredo.quarto

Bonnie Larson Staiger, North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate and a ND Humanities Scholar is the recipient of the ‘Poetry of the Plains and Prairies Prize’ (NDSU Press, 2018) and the ‘Independent Press Award: Distinguished Favorite’ (2019) for her debut collection, Destiny Manifested. Her second book In Plains Sight is forthcoming from NDSU Press in 2021. She has recently received awards from Flying South Literary Magazine, Persimmon Tree, The MacGuffin’s Best of the Year Anthology, and she was a finalist for the Julia Darling Poetry Prize and the Great Midwest Poetry Prize. Find out more about her at

William Rudolph

Allison Stalberg

William Rudolph, with this poem appearing amid many national challenges, is struck by how a poem’s meaning can change over time—even for the writer: in this case, how context that shifts our fickle hummingbird hearts can either cause us to cling to (often debunked) beliefs and foolishly imagine “the world/has won” or it can cause us to appreciate the world even more. In addition to Montana Mouthful, his poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Midwest Review, The North American Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Quarterly West, Rattle, SLANT, Steam Ticket, and dozens of other journals. He coaches student writers at Grinnell College and in GC’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program.

Allison Stalberg lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as an independent writer, journalist, and photographer. Her photos have been featured in literary journals such as the ecology issue of Qwerty magazine. She is a self-published novelist, with her fantasy book Wander on local bookstore shelves. Find out more about Allison at Josh Stein

Tyler James Russell is a writer and educator from Central Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife Cat and their children. He’s the author of To Drown a Man, a poetry collection from Unsolicited Press. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of British Columbia, his other work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Riddle Fence, Halfway Down the Stairs, AHF, and Solum, among others, and was a nominee for the 2011 Rhysling Award. You can find him at

Josh Stein is a lifelong multi-mode creative artist, musician, writer, professor, and adult beverage maker. With formal training in calligraphy, graphic design, and color work; more than two decades as a researcher, teacher, and writer in cultural analysis in the vein of the Birmingham and Frankfurt Schools; and a decade and a half as a commercial artist and designer for multiple winery clients; he brings his influences of Pop art, Tattoo flash and lining techniques, and Abstract Surrealism and Expressionism to the extreme edge where graphic design and calligraphy meet the Platonic theory of forms. The resulting metallic inks and acrylics on canvas delight and perplex, moving between the worlds of solidity and abstraction. You can find out more about Josh at and on social media @steincreates.

Alana Salguero

Mary Beth Stuller

Alana is a Brooklyn-based mixed-media artist and illustrator. Alana’s paintings, sculptures, and digital art explore the humor and whimsy of altered worlds. Her work has appeared in outlets including Guernica and the Rumpus. You can find more of her work at

Mary Beth Stuller is a high school English teacher who lives in Parkton, Maryland, where she tends chickens and dreams of becoming a flower farmer. She is pursuing an M.A. in Fiction Writing at Johns Hopkins University and volunteers as a reader for The Baltimore Review. Her essays have appeared in Funny Pearls, The Baltimore Sun, and Little Patuxent Review. Find out more about Mary Beth on social media @its_me_MB

Tyler James Russell

Jessica Squier Jessica Squier is a writer based in the UK. Her work explores themes of identity, memory, and relationships. She is currently writing her first novel.

78 | Montana Mouthful

Edward Michael Supranowicz Edward Michael Supranowicz is the grandson of Irish and Russian/ Ukrainian immigrants. He grew up on a small farm in Appalachia. He has a grad background in painting and printmaking. Some of his artwork has recently or will soon appear in Fish Food, Streetlight, Another Chicago Magazine, The Door Is a Jar, The Phoenix, and other journals. Edward is also a published poet. Find out more about Edward at

Vol. 4 • Issue 1

Thomas Terceira

Briana Wipf

Thomas Terceira lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. He earned a BS in Crafts Design from FSU 1n 1977 and a Certificate in Print Design from RISD in 2006. He works in collage, jewelry and plays world percussion instruments. His collages have appeared in Rattle, Glassworks, and other literary journals. He has exhibited his art works both nationally and internationally. Find out more about Thomas on Instagram @thomasterceira

Briana Wipf is a PhD student studying medieval literature and the digital humanities at the University of Pittsburgh. A Montana native, Briana worked as a journalist in the Treasure State and holds a master’s degree in literature from the University of Montana. She lives in Pittsburgh with my husband, Jesse, a freelance journalist, and their dog, Roger Daltrey. Follow her on Twitter @Briana_Wipf.

Chris Vallejo

Mantz Yorke

Chris Vallejo was born in the sunny coast of Barcelona. Her muse is Mother Nature and to observe beauty in the unexpected. Her work has been published in Azahares Spanish Language Literary Magazine, Hispanic Culture Review from the George Mason University and in Montana Mouthful’s Issue three “Haunting”.

Mantz Yorke is a former science teacher and researcher living in Manchester, England. His poems have appeared in print magazines, anthologies and e-magazines in the UK, Ireland, The Netherlands, Israel, Canada, the US, Australia and Hong Kong. His collection Voyager is published by Dempsey & Windle.

James Reade Venable

Igor Zusev

James Reade Venable is a photographer, director and actor currently living in Belgium. He is originally from New York and has been published internationally in publications such as The Moving Force Journal and 3 elements. He recently directed the music video, “Doormat Daddy” for the band, The Allegations. Find out more about James on social media @venableshoots

Igor Zusev is a creator of chaos art. After a lengthy career in tech and AV project management, Igor discovered art as a way to unwind and connect with himself...and it all started with adult coloring books, shortly followed by a gifted paint set. He dove into it with enthusiasm, often scouring thrift stores for elements he could add and experiment with. Igor settled into his unique style of using rollers to paint, and layering cut-outs onto canvas. Sometimes he’ll produce a deeply personal piece, and other times you’ll find him exploring messages he wants to portray in his style. Find out more about Igor at

Em Walling Em Walling’s visual and written work can be found in Streetlight Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, The MacGuffin, poetry anthologies from Shabda Press and University of Hell Press, and other journals. Her writing focuses on the physical, emotional, and psychological connections people have with the environment. Em volunteers at a seabird rescue organization and reads submissions for Slippery Elm Literary Journal. She lives in Australia but will always be an Ohioan caught using the Midwestern Ope in conversation. More information about Em can be found at Twitter and Instagram handles are @writerwalling. Stuart Watson For more than 30 years, Stu Watson wrote news and feature stories for newspapers in Montana, California, Oregon and Alaska. He now devotes his energies to poetry, essay and short fiction. Watson loves writing that pushes narrative technique, everything from Raymond Carver to the Barthelmes (Donald and Frederick), Tobias Wolff and Ann Beattie to Hunter Thompson and Flannery O’Connor and Joy Williams and ... and ... and. His own work ranges from realism to surrealism and back again. Watson’s work has recently appeared (or will soon) in The Maine Review, Two Hawks Quarterly, Revolution John, Wretched Creations, Flash Boulevard and Wanderlust Journal. He lives with his wife and the world’s best dog in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon. Find out more about Stuart at

Montana Mouthful | 79

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80 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 4 • Issue 1

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