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nib. October/November - 2012

Issue One

/// featuring

Leesa Cross-Smith Marcus Lund Crissy Van Meter Kristina England Jennifer Lenhardt S.E.Franz ...and many more

poetry & short fiction from emerging writers


Editor’s Notes |

Issue One

A warm welcome to the first issue of Nib, an online magazine that aims to showcase the very best emerging writing talents. Putting this issue together hasn’t been easy, and it couldn’t have been done at all without the fantastic people that have helped with content, submission management, pagination and web design. In fact, the whole launch of the website has been an incredible challenge and a huge, time consuming venture for everybody involved. It’s obvious that without the numerous volunteers (numbers of which are growing), we wouldn’t be here at all, so thank you to everyone who asked to be involved. This first issue is full of great poetry and short fiction from a varied bunch of writers, some who have already enjoyed publishing success, others who have never been published before. It’s that sort of variety that we’re seeking, and we hope you’ll agree that the writing within these pages is fresh, exciting and original. In the future we anticipate that issues will be slightly smaller, with a better mix of creative non-fiction too, but for now we hope that you appreciate the content selected for this issue. We hope you enjoy the writing so much that you go on to seek out more work from those authors that you really connect with, because that’s what Nib is really about, promoting great writers and giving them a voice and a foundation for future success. Enjoy. Chris.


Poetry Amsterdam | S.E. Franz Mirror | Kristina England Le Amore es un Cane Che Viene Del Inferno | Ray Santos Born in the Year of the Lumberjack | Dalton Day Hitchcock Sonnets | Peter Swanson Chorus | John Gray Patterns | George Bishop Twilight, Route 2 Detour | Anne Britting Oleson Soft Spring Rain | Mike Berger Dizzied by Chance Adam Moursy Gray Pieces of Everest | Jennifer Lenhardt Ramblings | Dale Murphy Autumn, 2004 | Susan Dale Dressage AJ Huffman

1 3 4 7 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 19

Short Fiction Hem | Leesa Cross-Smith Their Trash is my Treasure Marcus Lund A Mound of his Own | Tom Janikowski The Museum of Virtual Life Christopher Nosnibor Glory and Consequence on Veteran’s Day | Ian Swanson A Moment of Doubt | Wynn Wheldon To Ferret | Miles Coleman Letters to the Vatican | Crissy Van Meter Two More Mojitos from Cleopatra | Jane Bradley Windswept | Anthony Martin

20 30 38 45 52 58 62 65 74 79

Non-Fiction review | NowTrends | Karl Taro GreenField

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Contributors

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Amsterdam

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S.E. Franz

I wake to the curtain blowing. The gusts bring with them the sounds of the street below. The hum of an electric tram. The distant call of bicycle bells. There are people nearby, talking in a tongue I don’t understand. It’s eight o’clock on a soft morning and I don’t need to look out of the window to see that the city is alive. My wife is waking too. Stirring from a restful sleep. Later, we go downstairs and toast squares of sweet white bread. We drink coffee from chipped mugs. We smoke until we’re happy. “We should do something,” she says. So we head out to a place we know off bloemgracht; Canal of Flowers. We walk out and I tell you, we’re in love with the day. We feel like we’re finally home. There’s nothing on these shoulders. It’s before all those days of uncertainty. Of troubled seas.

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The leaves shudder in end-of-summer wind. The bells of the westerkerk are all iron and noise in our ears. An old man atop an ancient bicycle passes and tips his hat to us. He bids us good morning. Birds chirp along the black wires. We remember this forever. In the cafe we order drinks and something to smoke. We sit there, unafraid. Life is kind here, to heart and soul. We drink the hot tea. We smoke the fruit of that mystical plant. The two of us, before everything, truly happy. Truly happy.

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Mirror

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Kristina England

There was a fist, a shattering of glass, because that’s what glass does – it shatters. There was a smile her reflection missed, a parting of ways, a breaking of bad habits, a point when all her pieces became whole, a moment where she walked over the jagged shards of her past and heard a likeness that resembled laughter humming through her body. I know. I was her.

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Le Amore Es Un Cane Che Viene Del Inferno

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Ray Santos

She said I reminded her of Bukowski I took that as a compliment But later on I thought about it She might have just meant I looked old And jaded Rough around the edges Worn down and down and out I took it as a compliment anyway Maybe it was because we had just had sex And were laying in bed naked And she read me “Love is a Dog From Hell� in Italian while we lay there It sounded even better in her language In that sweet voice of hers like music She said she liked sex at night and in the morning At night to help her sleep In the morning to start her day off right She bought the book by Bukowski after a bad break up And she was mad with love She was looking for something to help her cope When she saw the title she knew that was the book It was in Italian with the English translations side by side

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So she taught herself English by reading Bukowski If you really want to learn a language, she said You have to first learn the curse words. She loves chaos She told me, it draws her Like a moth to the flame So naturally this is her city I always attract the mad ones I told her as she laughed And fell asleep in my arms in that hot sweaty night In the old historic part of town most of the flats have no AC so you have to leave the windows open at night So in Naples, when you fuck, the whole block fucks with you. We had pizza and drank Belgian beer We held hands I put my arm around her We kissed in public In front of all those Italians And sun burnt tourists In front of the facades of churches and palaces Hundreds of feet high Hundreds of years old Facades that saw kings crowned and later sent to the guillotine without ever flinching or giving a rat’s ass either way

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and neither did we Our love could be eternal can withstand anything just like those buildings we thought as we went back to her flat and fucked one last time I felt like I could stay there forever With her in those sweaty sheets In her city and its dirty streets But it was time to move on so I caught the first train out of town the next morning and just let it be.

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Born in the Year of the Lumberjack

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Dalton Day

He cuts down the trees when the moon is bowl half-full of milk. The bite of the axe into the bark vibrates through his arms, until they begin to quiver. The animals sleep in the ground. When the tree is cut he will build it into a boat or a piano. Sometimes he only makes a bookshelf for her. The house he has made spills with so many books. The tree finally falls. It’s branches split like the fragments of some dark beast. The wind breaks across his forehead. He stares at the stump, kissed old under the sweet light and plunges the axe into it. He walks out of the woods. He leaves the axe there.

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Secret Agent

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Peter Swanson

He was the Hamlet type, raw-boned and versed In ambiguities. He came along To start the best parts and the worst Parts of my life. Before him I liked pretty men, And thoughts that chocked like roulette balls Into their coloured slots. With him the killings sang Like coins that spin inside of copper bowls. Unpleasant harmonies, ambivalence. The moral world is better off without me. I’d let a faceless million die if it meant I’d never know a killing at close quarters. I’d let it happen to have you put your arm round me, And say, my dear, it’s getting cold, let’s go on in. For that I’d hand the world to murderers.

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The Man Who Knew Too Much

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Peter Swanson

Everything I touch becomes a song. Each highball glass, each cigarette, My acre of suburban blue and green. They used to fill my lungs, not just my head. But now I wake to soundless tunes That patter constantly, footfalls Through long-gone childhood rooms. Someone is dying while a song unfurls. A man bewitched me once, a son Was taken away, a faceless audience No longer hears the beauty in my voice. And all this grief is scored by a violin That tells me this music, like the silence That’s to come, has never been a choice.

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Chorus

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John Grey

There’s a chorus we all must come to. Enough with the ephemeral, the crushed armadillo by the roadside, the glimpse of beauty in a bus window. It’s what coerces our morning’s resurrection. A man who drinks coffee. A woman who turns on the “Today Show” for soundtrack. Ten thousand kisses have spat us up. Passions and hunger have reaped a loin-less crop, left a little on top, for reflection, not regret. There’s these catchy lines that resonate when sung together. A dropped word is obvious. Straying from tune defeats the purpose. And purpose likes to win. Armadillo’s in armadillo heaven. Beauty’s gone on to others’ glimpses. We’re stuck with what can be counted on. So how many sing-songs does that make it?

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Patterns

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George Bishop

Waiting for a traffic light to change, I noticed a funeral breaking up, family and friends getting together in new skins of sadness, separated only by the bone hard, brittle silence of personal strangers. A black iron fence hugged the grounds, came within a few feet of the car door— the passenger’s side. Each post pointed to the sky while their faces were pulled to the ground, left to believe something has to grow back, our best hope resting on things to grow over days like this. I don’t remember when it happened but the light changed and now I’m miles from the grave. I might be dead back there. I could be waiting for a different light to change, my family and friends making the necessary arrangements— unaware of the traffic, the funeral, how I looked a little like everyone.

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Twilight, Route 2 Detour

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Anne Britting Oleson

Normally the road, once narrowed to two lanes, runs on through farms and pastures straight until night or New York. Tonight: workmen, in their orange vests, with their flags, their barricades, their Halloween signs shouting a diversion and pointing through the thickening summer evening-a detour, revealing a present of nostalgic delight-mill town of identical Queen Anne houses, shoulder to shoulder in the dusk, tiny porches sheltering laughing neighbors, old couples, boys with backwards baseball caps, white tee shirts, cigarettes and out-of-tune guitars: a life unknown to those never forced from the highway.

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Soft Spring Rain

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Mike Berger

My nylon jacket took the brunt of the soft spring storm. Rain drops splatted it on its surface. Shuffling along in the rain but going nowhere. Raindrops dripped from my nose. It’s stopping to watch the crazy ballet as raindrops danced on puddles. Wet cobblestones in the pathway glistened. The scent of wet earth tickled. Two young people went rushing by hiding under a black umbrella. They gave me a second glance, thinking I must be crazy. Soft mist swirled as raindrops distilled on my head. Thrusting my hands deep in my pockets, they offered little relief. Swirling mist billowed up from paved streets. It tried to hide fields of wildflowers. Sun baked, the flowers raised their droopy heads creating a rainbow tapestry.

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Dizzied By Chance | Adam Moursy forget statistics, either you’re hot or you’re not. it’s 90 degrees in New York City today and I’m as cold as an Alaskan moon.

yet I can’t help but think about the boys out on the street, washing windows with a squeegee for quarters, or digging through shit for bottles and cans to bring to the nearest recycling center.

some cold spells never end.

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Pieces of Everest

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Jennifer Lenhardt

He should think first for the dirt beneath his own fingernails, take a seat by the river, and contemplate why it is it collects, and why the dirt insists on becoming a part of him, when daily, he washes it away; his work, but his muscles, they never forget, nor the telling sun on his face, and how browned the skin, it turns. He does not realize I love him. He does not know what love is, buried in those waters; the river, that takes with it a part of the mountains. He does not realize buried beneath the tips of his own fingers are pieces of Everest, that will call a man to climb, to find, where the river begins.

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Ramblings

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Dale Murphy

the sky is the same color it was yesterday the day that we slept in a fort made of blankets, sheets, and towels that we constructed under your bed. how silly we must have looked, two adults peering out from behind a blue sheet draped over one side of your bed. in that moment, i felt like a kid. you make me feel like a kid. maybe i shouldn’t have written that, because now this is beginning to sound like just another love poem, for you. i guess it could be, i suppose just not the kind that you’ve come to know. as i sit here, i catch a reflection of myself tangled matted hair from a night spent swimming in blankets mimicking the waves and the shore the ebb and the flow, the less and the more black eyeliner is smudged under my eyes which grow darker with each night that i choose to spend restlessly so i can feel your warmth beside me. my mind is a kaleidoscope of thoughts some are at war with themselves often i get lost in them but when i find my way back

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all the noises become clear (like when you bring your head above water) i don’t remember where i had been now i wonder what i would be thinking if i had never met you. how this moment would feel if you didn’t exist. but i run into a wall; i can’t go to that place. i’ve been making up stories since i can remember, constructing characters that do not live, feelings that have never existed and words that have never been said but it’s impossible to imagine my life now, if you had never been in it. there i go again. writing another love poem. but you see i have no other choice, everything i write from this moment on will be a love poem for you. because everything i write is woven from the threads of my life, my experiences and now you are that thread, that holds the others together, the thread i cannot imagine life without.

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Autumn, 2004

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Susan Dale

Washed in the rains of autumn there comes to settle a distance in our eyes. Speeds splash by on roads between roads. And skies without color stretch to meet waters without reflection Filmy webs of summer’s dregs are webbed in the windows of summer daydreams. While in the ground the death rattle of a thousand fireflies replaces the rustling spurts of summer’s bounty Leaving again Crinkling, falling misting away in morning fogs. Dark are long nights coming Long days leaving on roads that journey to the back of beyond.

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Dressage

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AJ Huffman

Concentrate on the basics: gait, pace, physique (the horse’s), attitude and rideability. It is all about communicating the beat. The connection extending from gloved hand, soft touch, through reigns and bit, flowing into magnificently maned muscle. Work the arena. Imagine the center- and quarterlines. Forget the crowd, only five sets of eyes matter. Breath holding, the pair paces. Awaits the judges final score.

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Hem

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Leesa Cross-Smith

S

ame thing every night. When her light goes out I’ll leave. I know if she looks out here she’ll see my car. I know that. But she never looks out. I see it as more obsessive than stalkerish. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t used to date. It’s not like I don’t know her. I just want to see what she’s doing. I want to see if she’s hanging out with anybody. If I think about what I’m doing too much, I get embarrassed. So I don’t overanalyze it. I simplify it. All I’m doing is sitting in my car. All I’m doing is looking over at the second floor of this house apartment. All I’m doing is drinking the rest of this beer. All I’m doing is listening to the radio. All I’m doing is turning the radio off. One thing at a time. Her light goes out and I grimace as I start up the car. I finish my beer, crush the can and toss it out the window. I feel guilty immediately and think about turning around to go pick it up. I should’ve at least aimed for someone’s recycling bin. It takes me exactly six minutes to get home from her place. Five if I blow through the stop signs, but I don’t this time. I don’t want to get pulled over. I’m not drunk but I know I smell like beer and there are four left of the six pack, still cold and waiting behind my seat. I grab them as I’m getting out of my car. I open one before I put my key in the lock and I take a big drink as I use my shoulder to nudge my front door open. The first thing I see is that picture of Bethany and me that is sitting on top of my bookshelf. She put it in a frame for me. I snatch it off and toss it in the kitchen garbage can like I’ve done at least three different times but this time I promise myself I won’t fish it out. I won’t. I can’t. I have to stop this. I’ve been sitting in front of her place every night for a month now. It was a month ago when she broke up with me. And I started going over there because I figured she’d already found someone else and I wanted to know who he was and why he was better than me and why I wasn’t good enough. I never saw anyone else, though. Just her. Bethany and I were pretty serious for about eight months before she broke it off. I thought we mattered, but I guess we didn’t. I’m too lazy to move on. I used to love her. I loved her even when she was frustrated with me and talked to me like I was a yellow balloon that had foolishly slipped away, floating up and up out of her reach. Sitting out in front of her place has become a ritual for me and I don’t have very many others. I’d miss it too much if I stopped now. It’s pathetic and stupid, I know. But I like what I like. And right now I like going over there at midnight every night and sitting until her light

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goes out and coming back to my place to finish my beers and go to bed. Then I get up and teach senior English at the high school around the corner like I have every morning for the past two years. And every morning I wish I was in high school again. Oh God I wish I still believed in all of that you can be whatever you want to be you can change the world you can do anything if you set your mind to it bullshit. “Mr. Raynor, can I turn in my book report late? Tomorrow, I promise!” One student says to me after class has ended. She’s holding her hands together as if she’s praying. She takes her fingers and crosses them and grits her teeth at me. She says pretty please. I nod my head okay. “You should be glad I’m in a good mood. And it’d better be the best book report I’ve ever read and I mean it. I want it to make me howl and weep and beat my chest,” I say. “Thank you, Mr. Raynor. It will, I swear,” she says before turning to leave the room. I stand up from my desk and slip my hands in my pockets as I walk to the doorway. “Howling and weeping!” I say to her as my next class files in. “Is your band playing tonight, Mr. Raynor?” Another student asks me as he enters. “You’re underage. That’s confidential information,” I say to him and smile. “I’ll be eighteen next month.” “You’re still gonna have to wait three more years.” “Well you’ll see my band play at Battle of the Bands next week and maybe if you guys need a bass player, I’ll fit you into my schedule. I’m awesome,” he says, pointing at me with that bravado that only an almost-eighteen year old can get away with. “I bet you are. Make sure your book report is awesome too. And go put it on my desk,” I say, motioning with my head. After school, I wait until I’m down the steps and by my car to light my cigarette. I see another English teacher, Merit Woodland, walking towards me in these great, ridiculous high heeled shoes. She usually wears black slip-on Vans, which I’ve secretly noticed and love. She has a red ribbon tied around her wrist. “Is that so you won’t forget something?” I ask and point to her wrist. She rolls her eyes as I’m lighting her cigarette for her. She takes a big drag and puts her bag up on the top of my car with a thump. “Whatcha got in there, bodies?” I ask. “Hell yes. The tiny little bodies of the miniature people I’ve murdered. That’s what it is. Not books, of course. That’s too normal.”

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“Well, you are a freak. A nice one, but a freak none the less.” I do a big exaggerated shrug like I’m waiting for an old-timey laugh track to kick in. She laughs and tells me to shut up. She holds her cigarette out behind her with one hand and fishes around in her bag for something. She pulls out a half-full bottle of Diet Coke and opens it. A flock of geese flies over us, honking loudly. I’m so fucking glad it’s finally spring, I want to scream. Merit touches the ribbon around her wrist. “I thought it was pretty,” she says. “It is. I noticed the shoes too,” I say, motioning towards them. I lean against my car and loosen my tie. “You like? I’m trying them out. I’ve been wearing the same black Vans every day for like, four years. It’s time to spice it up, right?” “Totally,” I say. She’s a pretty little thing and I like that she doesn’t take my shit. I never noticed how well we got along until Bethany broke up with me. I didn’t notice anything about anyone when Bethany and I were together. Too much of my brain was spent on her. It’s a wonder I remembered to get dressed and eat and sleep. “Are you still sitting in front of your ex-girlfriend’s apartment every night?” She asks without looking at me. She’s staring down the road and flicking her ash. “No. Not every night,” I lie, feeling a hot pit in my stomach. I hate that I told her about that. “Well how is she gonna know you mean business if you can’t even commit to stalking her every night? Show some dedication, Mitchell. When I was stalking my ex-boyfriend, I pulled out the big guns. I was this close to hiding in his garbage can with nothing but a pair of night vision goggles,” she holds up her fingers to show how close she was. She takes another drink of her Diet Coke and puts the bottle back in the bag. “Why were you stalking him?” “Because I hated him. Or because I loved him. I don’t know. It was both,” she says, shaking her head as if to make herself stop talking. “How’d that work out for you?” “I stopped stalking him. So that part worked out for both of us,” she says. “I really wouldn’t call it stalking. I’d never hurt her. It sounds crazy now that I’m saying it aloud. I’m stopping. Officially stopping. It’s crazy. What the hell...” I say, scratching at my head and smoking. “Well don’t stop smoking. At least promise me that. You’re the only person I like who smokes around here,” she says. “Promise,” I say, squinting in the sun.

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Every Friday night, my band plays at this little dive run by some old hippies. We call ourselves Skeleton Wolf. I didn’t come up with it, but I wish I did. I play guitar and sing. My little brother plays bass. There’s a good-sized crowd here already. More than usual. It’s probably because it’s warm and the winter was so cold and long, at the first sign of green buds and warm sunlight, everyone threw open their doors and windows and climbed out. We took to wandering around aimlessly, glad to be alive. I know this will keep me distracted. Maybe I won’t be tempted to go by Bethany’s tonight. And then I see her out of the corner of my eye. She has feathers in her hair. She looks different because I haven’t seen her up close in a month. Her face is new to me even though I know it well. When I look at her I feel the same way I feel whenever I come back to my house after I’ve been on vacation for a week. I look away quickly. I didn’t see if she was with someone or not. I bend down to pretend like I’m adjusting the amp. I get down on my knees and turn my back to the crowd. “Mitchell! Hey Mitchell,” I hear her say behind me. I turn my head around and all I can think to say is oh. “I was walking past. Thought I’d pop in and say hey,” she says. She’s holding a small plastic cup with a red stirrer sticking out of it. I know it’s vodka and cranberry juice because that’s her drink. I notice her nails are red too, like a warning. I reach down for my bottle of beer and nod at her. “It’s crowded tonight. Good for y’all,” she says, smiling. “Yeah,” I say. I don’t want to talk to her. I was only beginning to feel better. Shit. “My friends are over there,” she nods towards the bar. “Cool.” “Good to see you,” she says. I put my arm straight up to raise my beer and I say sure. I turn back around when she walks away. When I step up to the mic to start singing, I purposely focus on a spot straight ahead in between the bathrooms, where there’s a lantern with a fake flickering light. I stare at the light and sing our first song. I wrote it about Bethany and tonight I sing it and pretend like I wrote it for someone else. We play a couple of songs and take a break. I go up to the bar to buy some beers for the band. I scan the girls to see if any them are Bethany. I don’t know if she’s still here or not but I don’t want to be surprised by her again. I spy her sitting in a corner booth with some girls and maybe two guys but I can’t tell. I decide to go over there.

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I stop at the edge of their table and catch Bethany’s eye. “Hey, Mitch,” she says. She introduces me to the people I don’t know. I say hello to them and then I ask her if I can talk to her for a second even though I have no idea what I’ll say. She says okay and follows me. I walk out of the side door and stand out back on the gravel over by the fence separating the back patio from the road. I get a cigarette out of my front pocket, light one and smoke it. “Why did you come here?” I ask her. “I told you. I was walking past and wanted to stop in and say hey,” she says, crossing her arms like it’s cold out here, even though it isn’t. Watching her do that made me miss her arms. I missed her whole body, the curves and fleshiness of it and how we’d fit together when we tangled ourselves on her couch or in my bed. I missed how warm she was when we slept in the same bed together. I missed brushing my teeth with her and how sometimes I’d come back to my place after work and she’d be in my bedroom fussing at me about leaving wet towels on the bed. God, I really missed her and now that was spilling out of my brain and heart again like a broken faucet I couldn’t shut off. “I’m angry with you for coming when you know I play here every Friday night,” I say softly, leaving my eyes on the gravel underneath my shoes for a moment before looking back at her. She leans her back against the wooden fence, jutting her hips out towards me and looking away. “I’m seeing someone else. His name is Roger. The guy sitting in there by the window,” she says. “I don’t care, Bethany,” I lie. “And I wanted to come here tonight. That’s all. I can go where I want.” “You’re exactly fucking right,” I smoke and nod. “And it’s not like I don’t care about you.” “Whatever.” “Roger just fits me better, that’s all. He’s a better fit than you and me.” “What, like he’s a fucking dress?” I say, moving my hands too much. I realize it and stop. “You’re right. Like he is a fucking really great dress. And you weren’t for me. You were like...the hem of a really great dress,” she says, uncrossing her arms and putting her hands on her hips. “As if I have a clue what that means,” I mumble, because I know she hates when I mumble. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it...come here. I don’t know why I’m so mean.”

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“I’ve gotta play,” I say. I put my cigarette out and walk back inside, leaving her out there with strangers and the feral cat that hangs out by the garbage cans. And it hurts to walk away but I do it anyway. We play some more songs and when our set is over my brother asks if I want to grab something to eat at the diner like we do sometimes but I tell him I’m tired and that I’m going home. But I don’t go home. I go and sit outside of Bethany’s until her light goes out. She and Roger probably turned it out so they could fuck or maybe they fuck with the lights on. I’m thinking about that as I ditch one empty beer can out of the window. And on my way home, I call Merit even though it’s late. “Merit, it’s Mitchell. This isn’t weird, is it?” “No. No it’s not weird. Unless you’re doing something weird. Are you doing something weird?” “No. I’m not. I was on my way home and wanted to talk to somebody, that’s all.” “You out stalking your ex-girlfriend again?” “Last time, I swear.” “Why don’t you come over here? I’m up. And let’s see...I have half a pizza and half a pack of cigarettes. We’re set,” she says. She tells me where she lives and it’s not far. I imagine having sex with her and it makes me feel better. Apparently she has a huge dog because I hear its deep, monstrous barking after I knock on the door. Merit’s standing there soon afterwards and she still has the red ribbon tied around her wrist. “Hey boyfriend,” she says as I walk inside. I love seeing someone’s digs for the first time. Her house is full of color and strange things, like I thought it would be. I’ve known Merit for a year. She teaches down the hallway from me. Sometimes I’ll go down and borrow her stapler. Sometimes she comes to my room for an extra copy of a book. She usually has a boyfriend. Or at least, I think she does. I’ve seen guys come to pick her up after work. One time I saw her at the coffee shop downtown, holding hands with some dude. And her dog is a big, friendly, hairy mop of a beast. He reminds me of the dog on Sesame Street. I tell her that. “He totally does. His name is Sean. I love animals with human names,” she says petting his head. I pet his head too. I ask her if she has a boyfriend. I tell her I don’t want any confusion if some guy comes to the door. “Eh,” she throws up her hand, dismissing me. I scrunch up my nose.

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“I never have a boyfriend for very long,” she says. “I’ve seen you before. With a couple of guys,” I say, not knowing if I should sit until she motions to the couch. “Oh, so now I’m a whore?” She says, raising an eyebrow. “In every way,” I say. “Yaaay,” she claps and asks me if I want a piece of pizza. I say yes. We talk shop for awhile. Our principal and budget cuts and some students we both know. She says she’s thinking of moving to Colorado. She has some friends who live there. She asks me if I think I can ever get over Bethany and I tell her of course. “Then why don’t you do it?” “Maybe I have to find something else to do instead. It’s basically just mismanagement of time, that’s all,” I say. “Oh we both know that’s not true, Mitchell Raynor,” she says. She asks me what my middle name is. “James. What’s yours?” “Paige.” “Merit Paige Woodland. Sounds like a faerie name. I like it,” I say, relaxing some more. She flutters her eyelashes and wiggles her fingers at me. I keep changing my mind about her. We should be better friends. We should sleep together once just to try it out. We should fuck a lot all the time and pretend like we aren’t. Or maybe we should get married and move to Colorado together. We should have more times like this with the windows open wide like mouths – breathing in and out, the warm air and “the starry dynamo in the machinery of night” like Ginsberg says in ‘Howl’. I always think about that on nights like this when if feels like something special could happen, even if it doesn’t. I need a cigarette and a moment of not thinking. I ask her if she wants to step outside and smoke with me. She hops up with her bare feet and striped pajama pants that brush the floor. She’s smoking and talking and I watch her mouth a lot. Her top lip is smushy and goes sort of crooked when she talks and I wonder if she’s self-conscious about it or if she loves it. It makes her look younger than she is, even though I realize I don’t know her age. “I didn’t do anything tonight. I had exciting plans to get drunk on champagne and shop for earrings online, but you called and I’m glad you did. I don’t have people over that much,” she says.

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I listen and wish I was drunk so I could get away with kissing her right now. The bottom of our legs are touching, our thighs leaning on each other. We’re sitting on the front steps of her porch and I don’t know how she feels about me. Maybe she’s this nice to everyone. Maybe she feels sorry for me. Maybe I want to sleep with her because she’s not Bethany. But I know that’s not true. See. I’m always talking myself out of things. I snatch a leaf from the bush next to the steps and twist it between my fingers while I smoke and talk. “Shitty friends are overrated. I don’t want to hang out with people just so I can say I’m hanging out with people. What’s that about?” I add. “Exactly. That’s the worst.” “I’d like it if we could be friends, though. I like talking to you.” “You don’t think we’re friends?” She widens her eyes and puts her head on my shoulder. “Well, I mean. Better friends. We should be better friends, then. That’s what I’m saying,” I say, trying not to stumble over my words. I got nervous halfway through the sentence. I toss the leaf into the darkness and brush my hand off on my shirt. “I think you’re cool people,” she says. And maybe this is it. Maybe I should say something more or touch her somehow. But she stands up. She asks me if I want to go for a walk with her. She says we’ll take Sean. I say okay and finish smoking while she goes inside. We circle the block, letting the dog shit in the grass by the flagpole. Merit picks it up with the plastic bag she brought with her. I realize I’ve been feeling more like that shit than I’ve admitted to myself. And I don’t try anything when we get back. I tell her thanks for letting me come over and I give her a hug and go home. I drink two beers and fall asleep on the couch watching some show about animals that makes me sad. The next night, I’m getting ready to go sit outside of Bethany’s place again. I don’t have anything else to do. I’m feeling sorry for myself and knowing better and all of that. My phone rings and it’s Merit asking if I want some company so I say okay. Yes. I do want some company. I need to feel like someone cares about me. I don’t say that aloud but I’m thinking it as I hang up the phone. I go around putting my clothes where they should be. I start a load of laundry and empty the dishwasher. I take out the garbage and change my shirt. Merit’s here and she admires my bookshelf and talks about how she organized her bookshelves by color and I tell her that I noticed that and I ask her if she’ll help me do mine. She says only if. I say only if what. And she says only if we go to Bethany’s tonight. Together.

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For the last time. And I don’t want to. I really don’t want to. But I say okay half because I want to impress her and half because it is time to go. Somehow my body knows it. I feel like part of me is underwater, not real. We get in my car and I stop at the gas station for a six pack and Merit also gets one of those huge fountain Diet Cokes in a red plastic cup with a long blue straw. She gets a pack of gum and another pack of cigarettes and two bags of spicy potato chips. “Provisions,” she says, reaching for some Ring Pops. I park a little further back this time. I feel like the biggest asshole as I turn the car off and open a beer. I light my cigarette and lean my seat back. “It’s the perfect temperature tonight,” Merit says, sticking her hand out of the window, the wet purple Ring Pop on her finger, catching the streetlamp light. “It’s what, like sixty-five degrees?” I put my hand out into the Kentucky spring darkness; to its crickets and waning moon. “Let’s go with that,” she says, leaning her seat back so she can turn and see me eye to eye. She takes my can of beer from me and takes a sip. She asks me what’s so special about this girl anyway. And I realize I haven’t told her anything real about Bethany. I look down at the bag of chips and decide I’m not hungry. “I don’t know. Isn’t that awful? I was in love with her and she broke my heart. That’s all.” “I think in a way, everyone breaks everyone’s heart,” she says. She asks me if Bethany is crazy-fantastically beautiful. I tell her that Bethany is really pretty, yes. She asks me if Bethany was crazy-fantastic in bed. I tell her that Bethany was good in bed, sure. I get embarrassed when she asks me that but I try to hide it. I ask her about her last boyfriend, not the ex she sorta kinda stalked but the latest one. She says she shouldn’t have dated him in the first place. That her body screamed it, but she ignored it. “He was gross,” she says, sticking her tongue out, “let’s not talk about him anymore.” “Fair enough,” I say, smiling at her crooked top lip. “I came to hear your band play one night. It was a couple of months ago. I never said anything. I don’t think you saw me. I should’ve said something,” she says, tapping her finger on top of her straw. “That sucks. I didn’t know you came. I didn’t see you,” I say. “You guys are good. Skeleton Wolf. How great is that? I’ll come see you next Friday,” she says. I hope she’s not just saying that to be nice. I hope I do see her out there in the crowd, in her black slip-on Vans and maybe she’ll wear the red ribbon around her wrist. Maybe we’ll hang out afterwards.

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“Is this all you do when you come here? Sit and smoke and drink beer and stare at her window? I say yes. “It makes me sad, thinking about you doing that,” she says softly. “I think it makes me sad, too,” I say, “and I can’t believe I brought you with me tonight. It’s so fucking stupid.” I lean forward so I can turn the keys in the ignition and get out of there. “Mitchell, don’t. It’s your last night here. Let’s enjoy it,” she says and takes her hand and puts it on my chest. And we hold hands, our fingers laced and warm in between our seats, our other hands hanging out of the windows, smoking. When Bethany’s bedroom light goes out, Merit says okay good and lets my hand go and I start feeling all empty again. We go back to my place and pull off all of the books on the shelf in my bedroom and sit on the floor. I ask if she wants some wine and she says yes so I go get both of us a glass. I bring two Mason jars of Shiraz back to my bedroom and Merit takes a jar, tells me she loves Mason jars and asks me to promise her something. “Shoot,” I say, taking a sip. “I know I said before that you weren’t taking the stalking seriously enough. And I told you the thing about my ex-boyfriend, night vision goggles...all of that,” she says. I nod. “Well I think you should stop. It’s hurting you. You’re tenderhearted.” “Am I?” “You know you are.” My eyes are nearly welling and I look down at the floor. “You’re worth more than that,” she says, looking at me until I put my eyes on hers. And she starts with the blues. She makes a stack and sets aside the green-blues, saving them for later. We work in silence and after I finish my jar of wine I stand up and I wish I had the nerve to tell her how much this means to me. All of it. But I don’t yet. I want her to stay here. I want her to spend the night and wear my clothes in the morning. I’ll make her pancakes and coffee. I want to say stay. I want to say I need someone aloud. I go to the kitchen to refill our jars and by the time I get back, she’s putting the green-blues on the shelf. Fuck it. I begin, “So um, thank you. Bethany told me I was the hem of a dress and not the whole dress last night. And that shit can crush a person, y’know? And to be honest, I don’t even know what it means,” I say, laughing nervously and shrugging before giving her the wine. Merit takes off her shoes and grabs the jar in both of her hands, sits cross-legged on the floor next to a newly-made stack of the books with green spines. “That’s terrible. I hate that,” she says, letting her face fall, “but also –”

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I look at her and turn my head to the side. I probably look a bit like a puppy that has heard its name or a high-pitched sound. “That woman in the Bible just wanted to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment so...that’s something too.” She lifts her shoulders up in the tiniest way – like she’s already finished trying to convince me of it if I’m not buying it, but I am. I am buying it. “I forgot that story. I always liked that one,” I say. And by the time we’re putting the yellows and orange-yellows and oranges on the shelf, I’ve let her see that I’m on the verge of tears. That not crying is like walking a tightrope for me right now; I’m shaky, using my long arms for balance, wildly trying to catch myself. Once we get to the so-deep-they’re-almost-black reds, she reaches out to hold my hand. I tell her she’s more beautiful than mountains and I mean it. I do.


Their Trash is my Treasure

|

Marcus Lund

Item: Telephone Date/Period of Manufacture: The late summer of 1997 Condition: The cord often tangles on itself, which makes answering phone calls difficult. The beige paint on the handset has rubbed off on the earpiece. Market Value: $15.00 Appraiser’s Comments: He used my work number, and his voice cracked when he told me they’d been in an accident and did not survive, but when I asked why you had not called me, why I had to hear it from him and not you, he answered that you didn’t know yet, that you were still in Ireland and would not be back until the following weekend, and so I replied that it was most unfortunate that I had to hear it from our attorney, and he told me he was sorry. I placed the phone back on the cradle. Because it was Saturday I was alone, but then I heard someone walking around, a janitor probably, and I thought they might have heard me crying. I walked softly through the rear parking lot, careful not to slip on the ice. I called my boss from the car and got his machine. I left a brief message about having to miss work for a week, because they were dead, and I let him know I’d keep him posted. Flat, flat land below and the crushing ceiling of clouds and nothing but straight road ahead. No memories at all. Item: Luggage Date/Period of Manufacture: 2003 Condition: Excellent. One train station transfer tag hangs off the top handle. Market Value: $100.00 Appraiser’s Comments: I leaned my suitcase near the front door and slipped off my shoes. I expected you to be in the kitchen stirring something, an apron around your waist. I expected them to walk out of the back room, but there was only the smell of staleness and the wind that threw the screen door against the jamb. I walked through the house and I touched everything that my fingers could

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reach. Their house was filled with hills of things. A narrow path was carved through their possessions. I turned around and saw my luggage by the front door and I remembered that when I left for college I placed my suitcase in that exact place, and when I came home to visit, that was where the suitcase lived for the first few hours until I would settle in and open it so I could retrieve my toothbrush and brush my teeth. Then I remembered your luggage sat there the day you left. You put it there so you could grab it quickly, so you wouldn’t have to take the time to pack after they found out. I was sure you still used the same suitcase. Stickers and postcards covered the hard, stretched leather, and they would say you ruined a perfectly good suitcase, but I thought it looked nice. I imagined our suitcases sitting next to each other by the door and decided to leave mine there so it could wait for yours. I searched the kitchen cabinets for a plate, but they were empty. A tower of pots and pans were stacked in the sink. I reached for a dirty plate from the top of the stack and the pile came crashing down. I closed my eyes for a moment and saw them standing over the sink, stacking each dirty dish individually, saving the chore for a later date. I picked through and found one pot and a plate and left the rest. I washed the oil out of the pot and realized that it could have been from the last meal they cooked. A few mushrooms stuck stubbornly to the plate and I had to use a knife to scrape them off. The stove clicked several times before igniting, and the room soon filled with the smell of rotten eggs. A small flame walked up the side of the pot. The noodles and water remained still, until the boiling water splashed up over the side of the pot several minutes later. I poured a jar of red sauce over the noodles and sat in the living room, surrounded by their things. Item: Oak Bed Frame Date/Period of Manufacture: 1920s Condition: The sideboards contain several surface scratches. The headboard is at an inconvenient height for sitting if one wants to read before bed. Also, the twin size mattress forces a grown man’s feet to hang slightly off the end. Market Value: $300.00 Appraiser’s Comments: You slept with your head to the north and I slept with my feet to the south. Both of us slept facing the east. You and I used to talk while facing away from their room and sometimes they would talk behind the wall at our backs. Their hushed tones were difficult to hear from across the room, so we would climb down from our beds and place our ears to the shared wall. They whispered about things we didn’t

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care about, bills, schedules, coworkers, but we listened because their tone was urgent, hurried. The wall would feel cold at first, but our ears pressed to it would warm it up. A wave building in the distance, we heard their conversation grow more frantic. We heard the crest when one of them would yell God dammit. What am I supposed to do? She doesn’t feel like ours! The silence that followed was the wave retreating from the shoreline. I’d realize I was holding your hand and it was sweaty and so was mine. We would look at each other through the dark room and sprint back to our beds. We’d try to face the east wall and talk like we had not heard them, but we could not. I would wish I had never pressed my ear to the shared wall, that I had never seen the wave. I felt the wall as an adult. It was still cold, and I traced the plastered texture, remembering they were dead and that you were still gone and that my feet hung over the edge of the bed. I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning to the doorbell ringing and my pant legs twisted around my calves. I tried to pull myself together and look presentable like I had not been sleeping but I could not. I followed the path cleared through the forest of their stuff and opened the door to find a small tray of fruit cobbler where a man should have been. The image of a dessert ringing the doorbell ran through my head and I saw a note attached that read simply, we are sorry for your loss. I picked up the tray of dessert goods and set it down on a stack of magazines near the front door. The living room clutter grew out of the ground, out of the tables and chairs, and I was pretty sure it had swollen since the day before. It was hard to imagine going through any of their stuff without you, so I decided to take a walk through their property. Leaves crunched beneath my feet like a muffled heartbeat and the air nipped at my nose. When I got back to the house I used the same pot and plate as the day before and set to boiling some noodles. They never replaced the wallpaper at the back of the stove. You were so calm when you told them, explained to them how you were. You were calm, like the moment in between rain drops in a storm. They were the ones yelling. They were the ones who knocked the pot of boiling water off the burner, causing the wallpaper to swell and blister, to peel. You left then. The water boiled in the pot and I ran my fingers along the blistered wallpaper. My fingers slid in and out of the cracks, a kitchen scarred. I developed a routine over the following weeks and then months. Once a week, I woke up to a tray of desserts ringing the doorbell, and I walked through the property. I called you a couple of times to tell you they were dead but you were never near your phone, so my suitcase never left the front door. The clutter grew to overwhelming proportions and I was running out of places to set the desserts. I ran my tongue along my teeth and felt the layer of grime, but my

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breath no longer bothered me and I only spoke to people over the phone, so I thought it’d be better to wait for you to arrive before I unpacked my toothbrush. Item: Fireplace Mantel Date/Period of Manufacture: From the winter of 1956 through the summer of 1958. Condition: All hand carved mahogany. There are small flower-like circles that climb up the side of the mantel. The top is lined with tiny art-deco rectangles that could be used as small pretend homes for a child’s dolls and toy soldiers. Market Value: $650.00 Appraiser’s Comments: I decided to build a fire. I wanted to wait until you got here, but I thought maybe it would be nice if you came today and there was a fire roaring in the fireplace, or I thought you might see the smoke spiraling out of the chimney and you would know it was me summoning you, inviting you, sending you smoke signals. I felt at home, and my apartment in the city was long forgotten, and mostly I was cold, so I brought in armloads of firewood and set it on the carpeted floor near the fireplace. I could tell the damper had been shut for some time because I had a difficult time opening it, and when I did get it open, I could tell there was something blocking it, so I did what they used to do, and I opened it and closed it in quick succession until small twigs fell, and I could tell that it was working so I opened and closed it quicker, and more twigs and some dirt clods fell and the chimney echoed with commotion and then, two baby birds fell onto the hearth. The two brown finches lay on the stone surrounded by a collapsed nest. I picked up the birds, my hands dirty with soot and bark. The delicate fledglings inhaled lightly but were injured. I knew what I had to do. Item: Shoebox Date/Period of Manufacture: 2008 Condition: The tennis shoe brand is still legible on the side of the box, but the edges of the top are worn and the corners are peeling. It looks similar to another shoe box that was used nearly thirty years earlier to hold a small salamander that had been caught in the creek near the back of the property. The creature was later released because the child was unsure of what it was salamanders ate. Market Value: $0.25 Appraiser’s Comments:

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I went into the kitchen and found a long serrated knife and carved holes into the top of the shoebox, and then I scoured their things, searching for something to place in the bottom, a towel, maybe, or a small pillow, and I came across a closet full of hand towels. I lined the box with the small washcloths. I went back into the living room and dipped down into the hearth and placed the injured birds in the bed I had made. I sat quietly for a while, wondering what it would look like if you walked in just then, and I was holding a box of baby birds who were near the edge of death. I watched the birds breathe at alternating rhythms and then I realized the one with the broken leg was no longer breathing. The wind blew down the chimney and rattled the newspaper I had found when I was still going to build a fire. I closed the flue and thought about removing the dead bird, but I realized that it would be better if the birds were together even if one was dead. I missed the first bird’s last breath and I didn’t want to make the mistake again, so I watched its sibling for several hours. I got up only to make some noodles for dinner, and even then, I brought the shoebox with me, my eyes only darting to the pot of noodles, making sure the moment of death did not escape me. I ate my noodles near the fireplace with my legs crossed and the shoebox in my lap. I finished my meal and set the plate down and called you and left a message detailing my tragic adventure with the birds. I explained that when you arrived we would need two funerals, one for them and one for the bird. I set down the phone and petted the small finch. I watched the bird until darkness grew across the room. Then I moved where the moonlight cut through the window and cast a single strip of light across the box. The bird and I followed the stripe of moonlight across the living room for the night. I heard footsteps on the porch just before morning, and in a state of delirium, I thought it must be you arriving, and I nearly flung the shoebox off my lap, but then I realized that it was most likely the fruit cobbler arriving for the day. When the doorbell rang I was waiting to open the door. In the early morning light, there was a man hunched over a pan of baked goods. Item: Rocking Chair Date/Period of Manufacture: 2004 Condition: The chair is made from that cheap plastic covered wood. Given its quality, its condition is decent. Market Value: $25.00 Appraiser’s Comments: I asked the gentleman if he could wait for a moment, and he replied that he could, that he didn’t expect anyone to answer the door. The door hung open and I ran back to grab the shoebox I had placed on the fireplace. The bird was still alive.

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I returned to the door and asked him to come inside. He seemed surprised at the condition of the house, and for the first time I realized I had not gotten much work done. I explained I was waiting for you to come before I went through their stuff. Then, I removed two desserts and two years’ worth of Life magazines from a rocking chair and asked him to have a seat. Mostly the gentleman wanted to sit and look around. I made sure to make a quick survey of his appearance, so I could describe him to you when you got here. He had dirty brown hair that hung out of his stocking cap, a beard and his flannel shirt was rolled up to his elbows. For the first ten minutes we just sat there. I knew I should use better descriptors so I could truly build the scene for you. I should say the chair creaked because he rocked ever so slowly, that I thought the bird died for a moment but then it inhaled again, and I should say I could hear the man’s exhales whistle through his beard like the wind used to whistle through the grass in the empty lot, before you left, where we would play hide and seek, but really, we just sat there. His loud cough shook me, and he started rambling on about how he loved them and they were great people who loved each other and loved their country, and he had learned a lot from them. I watched the bird and listened to his words. I tried to tune him out and only watch the bird, but then he said they talked about us a lot and this caught my attention, because I wondered what they said about us, if they ever mentioned the night you had to leave because they said you couldn’t stay here. But then I remembered to watch the bird. Soon he was telling me that everyone in the area had come together when they died, and their friends each took turns dropping off dessert for us, because we were working so hard to clear up their mess of a house. His eyes scanned the room and catalogued all of the desserts that were ridden with flies. No longer resembling cobblers, they had grown into trash. I said that it was nice of the community, but I didn’t want to eat anything without you. I explained that it would be selfish and rude. He asked what I had in the box and I told him about the two birds that had fallen from the chimney and how one had died and that I had missed its last moment, but I thought the other one might die too, so I was watching it. Then I told him that we’d known the same people but we knew them differently. That life as their children was messy, like the living room was now. I explained that there were a lot of great things, but mostly these treasures were covered with trash heaps that stunk. He told me when he lost someone he tried to remember all of the good things because they were dead and what was the use of tying yourself up in a knot of hate, when there was no longer any physical thing to direct that hate towards. Then, he asked to look at the bird.

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I warned him that he might witness a death, an onlooker to my second homicide. He promised that he would not tell anyone what had happened. I told him it was okay, because I had already called you, and once one person knew you were a murderer the whole world might as well know. I brought the box over and showed him the bird that still clung to life. He said they would have been proud, and I doubted it, but I kept my mouth shut. We looked at the bird for a few minutes, and I felt like crying. I hadn’t cried since the day at the office when the attorney had called to say they had died and I couldn’t reach you. My chest wound itself tightly, and I knew if I cried it would be a wail, so I held it in. Then, the bird’s chest fell and did not rise. The stranger and I held our breath and the shoebox shook, because my hands trembled, and I saw tear drops begin to fall onto the hand towels that lined the bottom of the box, but the tears weren’t mine. I just shook and tried not to drop the box. The rocking chair creaked and the man braced himself to stand up. I stepped back, astonished still that I had seen it, that I had watched the bird die, and I wonder which was worse, seeing it or not. The man cleared his throat and mentioned something about work. I told him that you should be arriving today and that we were going to have a funeral for the birds. When he thought I wasn’t looking, he wiped his face with the back of his calloused hand and snot roped to his forearm. He said you didn’t know the birds, so I should have the funeral without you, that it would be awkward with you there, like the pastors at funerals who didn’t know the deceased and were forced to rattle off a generic history and read a psalm. I said maybe he was right and thanked him for the dessert. He told me he’d had a nice chat and left. I placed the lid with the holes cut out on top of the box and set it near the fireplace. Then I built up a teepee out of kindling, surrounded it with a miniature log cabin, stuffed it full of newspaper and opened the flue. Then I lit a fire. I took the lid off of the shoebox and looked at the two finches once more, and I set it in the fireplace. The flames tiptoed around the box. Then, the flames jumped into the shoebox, diving head first. The box melted into itself, and I imagined the smoke carrying the birds up into the air, and you seeing it from your office window and remembering that you were supposed to be here helping me, because I couldn’t do it without you, and you understood you could come home again because they were gone. The box became unrecognizable, an ashen mess. I wiped the soot onto my jeans and stood up. Item: China (Plate) Date/Period of Manufacture: 1966 Condition: The plate is small, probably meant for salads. It is outlined in gold and a bouquet of flowers is painted in the center. The plate is the last of a set.

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Market Value: $4.00 Appraiser’s Comments: My chest was pushing up tears and I could no longer hold them back, so I walked into the kitchen. I ran the faucet and tears flooded my vision and mixed with the warm soapy water in the sink below. I set to washing dishes, because you should be here soon, and there was no use waiting around.

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A Mound of His Own

|

Thomas Janikowski

A

long time ago my Uncle Lefty killed a man with a fastball. It was in the bottom of the sixth in the second game of a double header. Uncle Lefty threw in the Eastern League, but no, he didn’t throw for Utica, which is what I bet you were thinking. I bet you were also thinking the biggest truth in all of it – that Uncle Lefty wanted to throw in the big leagues. So he killed a man with what wasn’t anything more than an ordinary fastball. Yeah, Uncle Lefty threw pretty fast, but he could make a curve turn around like it was possessed – so the fastball wasn’t really his bread and butter. My dad – his kid brother – he threw a knuckle ball as well as any guy in the Eastern League, but my Uncle Lefty had what I would have called a killer curve ball. But as it turned out, it was his fastball that was the real killer. I remember looking down into the pocket of my new glove when I was about 9 or 10. It was a Tom Seaver signature glove, and I was crazy about Tom Seaver – it was right about the time he was traded from the Mets to the Reds, and so I felt better about liking him, as the Yankees were sacred in our household and it just would not do for me to idolize a pitcher from the crosstown rivals. A scout from the Yankees had given my dad his card in ‘43 and he carried that card in his wallet and seabag all the way through the rest of the War, so the Yankees were sacrosanct. And I looked down into the pocket of that glove and I remember my dad saying the strangest thing that at the time I really didn’t understand. “Tommy,” he said, “your uncle once killed a man with a fastball.” Anyhow, this story is about my uncle Lefty and how he killed a man, or rather about how that killing of a man nearly killed him. But damn, there I went and told essentially the entire story. You can probably guess some of the parts. I’ll fill you in on the rest. First off, his name was not really Lefty, but then you probably figured that out right off the bat. Back in the day, guys could give you a nickname for the most obvious reason, and it didn’t seem strange. Lefty. Red. Ski. Fatty. Bumps. Guys didn’t care if you were stating the obvious or amplifying something they would rather you not focus on. Steve, the kid who had a limp from childhood polio was called “Chester” because he was “gimpy” - the “Chester” coming from a “gimpy” character on some TV Western, the way I understand it. “Red” had red hair. “Fatty” was overweight. “Bumps” had a goiter. OK, maybe he didn’t have a goiter – I am not really sure how he got the nickname “Bumps,” and he died several years before I was born and I only

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saw photos of him in an old album, but you get the idea. I get the distinct feeling that people were a lot less sensitive back then – or at least they didn’t let it show. So the man who could have been “Uncle Gene” became “Uncle Lefty” because of that awesome left arm of his – the arm that hung down about six inches lower than the right and that was going to be his meal ticket someday, only that day never came. The day he killed the guy was not really all that spectacular, either. It was, as I said, a double header, and the day was pretty pleasant – all the way into the early evening. The lights had just gone on and Uncle Lefty was throwing pretty hot. The count was two and one, and no one was expecting anything unusual out of the pitch. Uncle Lefty wound up and let one sail, and it just kind of got away from him a little bit – he wasn’t trying to dust him back or anything. He just got a little wild with one of his fastballs, and it went high and inside...really high and really inside, as it turned out. That big old center-fielder who was facing him went down like he had been shot. He never moved or flopped around or anything. Boom. He was down in the dust and everyone poured out of the dugouts and huddled around him. I think they knew he was dead as soon as they got out to him, so they kind of kept Uncle Lefty away and didn’t say anything at first. Uncle Lefty was trying to get to him and see what was going on, but people were keeping him back, probably for good reason. Well, an ambulance showed up with its lights and siren blaring, but it went away quiet, and all the world knew that that big old center-fielder was dead. Uncle Lefty went to the showers and then to the bottle. I guess if they even finished the game they had to put in another pitcher, but no one in the family ever talked about if they finished the game. I don’t know if there are any rules in baseball about a death on the field. There has been speculation about a player dropping dead after hitting one out of the park – could another runner drag his body around and touch all the bases so that they are awarded the runs? I guess they would have to have runners on at the time, because I think the rules state that only another runner can assist the man rounding the bases – if someone else assists him he is called out. Anyhow, that isn’t the point. Uncle Lefty went home and spent some quality time with a fifth of bourbon. The years went on and they weren’t exceptionally kind to Uncle Lefty or to his awesome left arm. He finished another two seasons, but after a summer with a 6.02 ERA and a final game of the season that saw six hits off of him in the first inning, Lefty went back home and got a job in a factory. He hung up his cleats and never looked back. My dad said that he just lost that fire in his eyes and that drive in his heart. I suppose that dropping a big old center-fielder like a prize 12-point buck can do that to a man. Well, to do this story any kind of justice, I have to kind of cut to the chase. It seems that after he retired from the factory and as he started to get a little long in the tooth, Uncle Lefty went

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to live somewhere in Southern California and all he would ever do was fish all day long. Not a really bad way to retire, I guess, if you think about it – sun, ocean, fish and the occasional cold beer. Occasional, that is, if you call a daily six pack before noon ‘occasional’. The afternoons he napped and then got up to fry a fish for dinner, and the evenings were spent drinking himself to sleep. It went on this way for a few years, and Uncle Lefty kind of dropped out of touch. Hell, he might as well have dropped off the planet. In the summer of his seventy-first year, Uncle Lefty found himself standing waist deep in the ocean and throwing out a net of some sort. He saw a young man approaching on foot from the nearby coastal road. He was a slender kid with an athletic build, and he was carrying a glove and a baseball. As he drew closer, Uncle Lefty pulled his net to the edge of the water and went up to meet him. “Howdy,” said Uncle Lefty. “Hey. You Mr. Andrews, the pitcher?” Uncle Lefty twisted his face into a question mark. “Huh?” he asked. “Are you Mr. Andrews, who used to throw back in the Eastern League?” Uncle Lefty took a long look at the surf. “That was a long time ago,” he said, turning to the kid, “but yeah.” “You think you could show me your curve?” he asked, holding the ball out for him. Uncle Lefty just laughed and looked back out toward the ocean. “Where the hell did you come from, kid?” he asked. “What the hell do you come here asking me to throw a pitch for?” “I don’t want you to just throw it,” said the kid, “I want you to show me how to throw it.” Uncle Lefty laughed again, dropped the net and took the ball from his hand. It was pretty new, and the horsehide felt kind of cool and damp in his hand. He rolled the ball in the palm of his right hand and with his left index finger he traced the seam. It was like a Moebius band, he had always thought. The seam was like an expression of infinity. 108 stitches. Five ounces. Nine inches in circumference. Solid cork with a rubber center and a leather cover. Essentially unchanged since 1920. Infinite. Eternal. Beautiful. Divine.

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His finger traced another lap around that seam, and he looked at that horsehide as though it were a crystal ball. He could almost see his mother and father, now dead these many years. He could almost see his ex-wife who had left him when his drinking got to be a bit too much to take. He could see himself, standing on a mound. He could see a big center-fielder staring at him, waiting for the pitch. He could see a big center-fielder lying in the dust. “Where you from, kid?” “Just back home,” said the kid. Uncle Lefty decided not to press the matter. When someone answers a basic question like that, you figure it might not be worth trying to tease out any more. “Kid, I can’t show you how to throw a curve,” said Uncle Lefty, “it’s been ages. Almost fifty years.” “Has it been that long?” asked the kid. “Yeah, I bet it has been. I was through pitching well before you were even a gleam in your daddy’s eye. A whole lifetime before.” The kid grew silent at this and a sad smile drew across his lips. His eyes failed to smile, however. Uncle Lefty tossed the ball to him. The kid caught it, but immediately and gently tossed it back. “Well, then,” said the kid, “just teach me how to be a man.” Uncle Lefty tightened his gaze at the kid and kind of screwed up his face. “Whaddya’ mean by that? “When you look into your crystal ball, what do you see?” Uncle Lefty looked at the baseball again. Those 108 stitches all so perfect. The horsehide so white and pure. The Moebius band so infinite and reflecting God’s infinite goodness and mercy. A goodness and a mercy that long ago he had decided had chosen to pass him by in favor of other venues. Justice would have seen a big center-fielder now enjoying retirement and Uncle Lefty having gone on to play major-league ball. Mercy would have proposed at least a good minor league career and maybe the balance of days spent managing a team here or there. Justice and mercy had nothing to say about forty years in a factory, arthritis, and a broken marriage.

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“Kid,” said Uncle Lefty, “I see a whole lot of nothin’. Why don’t you take your ball and go home?” He tossed back the ball, and then turned to pick up his net. “My dad said you had the best curve he’d ever seen. He said you coulda’ struck out the best.” “Who’s your dad?” “It don’t matter,” said the kid, “it just matters that he was right. Everyone used to say so.” “Everyone?” asked Uncle Lefty through a laugh. “People who saw me pitch stopped talking about it probably twenty-five years before you were born.” The kid just stood there, motionless on the sand, and his eyes locked with Uncle Lefty’s for an almost uncomfortable span of time. They were different, decided Lefty, different than the usual teenager’s eyes. These had been around the block a little bit. The way his own brother’s eyes looked after he got back from the War. The rest of him was still Lefty’s ‘kid brother,’ but he had eyes that had done a lot of living and seen a lot of dying. “OK, kid, just a couple of throws.” Lefty had no idea why he was agreeing to do this – throwing a baseball to some strange, persistent kid was the last thing he wanted to be doing on this or on any other day, but he found himself pulling the net in with him as he walked up out of the surf. The dry sand felt hot and good beneath his feet, and he noticed the arthritis in his ankles wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been when he woke up that morning. “Let’s have ‘er here,” he called to the kid, who tossed him the ball. The kid backed up and Uncle Lefty stretched out his arm a little bit. He threw a gentle pitch to the kid – the first he had thrown in almost a half-century. Everything seemed to work just like it used to; it was as though it was still the most natural action in the world, like sneezing or drinking a glass of water. The kid gently lobbed the ball and Lefty caught it bare-handed. It felt good when it came in contact with his palms, like he was alive again. A few more gentle warm ups and Lefty threw the first curve ball to leave his hand in fifty years. Thumb at six o’clock. Snap the wrist. Like falling off a log. The ball gently broke toward the kid’s left, just like it would have fifty years ago. “Beautiful,” said the kid, eyes wide and a broad smile on his face. “You ain’t changed a bit.”

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Uncle Lefty laughed as he looked at his bowlegged shadow on the sand, and the outline of a body that weighed a lot more than it did back then and with a lot less muscle making up the pounds. “I’ve changed a bit,” he said, “believe me, kid, I’ve changed.” After three more gentle curveballs the kid called back “let’s see your heat.” Uncle Lefty caught the gentle return lob, and just held the ball. “No, kid,” he said, “I think we’re done.” “C’mon, Mr. Andrews,” he persisted, “let’s see your heat.” “Kid, I’m seventy-one. I ain’t got no heat. My heat went cold a long time ago.” He started walking toward the kid. “I ain’t leaving until I see your heat,” said the kid, who backed up even as Uncle Lefty came toward him across the sand. Uncle Lefty stopped and stared at the kid. Then he stared down into his horsehide crystal ball again. He brushed off a few errant grains of sand, and looked at the perfection of that beautiful sphere. It was a sphere. A symbol of infinity in its own right. A metaphor for the world, a metaphor for the universe. A metaphor for God. “Thou,” he said aloud, “whom the whole universe cannot contain...” “Let’s see your heat.” Uncle Lefty looked at the kid, standing there in the bright sunlight, and he knew he had seen those eyes before – those eyes that seemed so full of life, so full of having lived. “Just one, kid,” he called out. The kid crouched down and slapped a fist into his glove a couple of times. “Your heat, Lefty...you know the kind I’m talkin’ about. The kind you know you can throw.” Uncle Lefty didn’t even take notice of this young kid calling him “Lefty.” It seemed the most natural thing in the world. He carefully took the ball in his hand, his deeply suntanned fingers making a dark ‘V’ on the white leather. He went into a full stretch (God, he thought, this feels so good), and wound up. In the split-second before the ball left his hand, he saw that big old center-fielder standing there, young and strong, the bat over his shoulder.

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There are times when you can live a lot more in a split-second than you can in an hour of staring at things, and baseball is one of those places where this happens all the time. A splitsecond can spell the difference between a strike and a hit, between a win and a loss, between life and death. It can spell the difference between success and failure, between a superstar and a bench-warmer. A split-second can hold all the world in the palm of its hand, turn it over and leave it to dry on the floor of the dugout. A split second has no justice, only truth; no mercy, only honesty. The ball made a loud slap in the pocket of the kid’s glove. He had not moved it an inch from where he had placed it as a target. “Wow,” he said, “you got some heat, Mr. Andrews.” He jogged across the sand to Uncle Lefty and tossed him the ball. “Thanks.” “For what, kid? I didn’t show you anything.” “Maybe we see different things,” said the kid. “And I know my dad used to talk about that a lot.” “Who’s your dad?” Uncle Lefty asked again. “It don’t matter,” said the kid, “it just matters that he was right.” “Right about what?” “That any pitcher can throw a fastball, but life throws the best curves. You gotta’ watch out for both. That’s what my dad always used to say.” The kid smiled and put out his hand. “Thanks, Mr. Andrews.” “Sure thing,” said my uncle. The kid turned to walk away. He had only gone a few steps across the hot, dry southern California sand when my uncle called out to him. “Hey kid,” he said, and after a pause that could have lasted from a sandy beach in southern California all the way back to well-manicured infield somewhere in the Eastern League, “call me Lefty.”

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The Museum of Virtual Life

J

|

Christopher Nosnibor

ust as he did every evening after dinner, Lewis booted up his laptop and signed into his

email account. It wasn’t that he was expecting anything of great importance, and there was rarely any genuine purpose to this exercise other than the fact it was routine and he liked to keep on top of his email and keep the spam deleted from his account on a regular basis. More often than not, his daily delivery of correspondence consisted of nothing but a few circulars and missives from mailing lists he had signed up to though the years, many of which he intended to cancel his subscriptions to but never quite got around to doing so. There was invariably a handful of forwards, too, but only the very occasional genuine message waiting for him. His standard routine was, once he had deleted the unwanted items from, his mailbox, he would sign into Facebook, update his status, leave a few comments on friends’ status updates, and, if the mood so took him, spend a bit of time on chat if anyone of interest happened to be on line at the same time. Lewis Rawlings liked his on-line communities and the interaction of social networking. He had been engaging with people in this way for some years now, and while most of the people he was in contact with on-line were also friends, colleagues and acquaintances in real life, he had made some new and interesting virtual friends through mutual contacts and recommendations, and through common interests, such as film, music and sports. There wasn’t a great deal of interest in his email this evening. No-one had taken the time to send him any proper correspondence, and even amusing forwards and links were depressingly thin on the ground. Yet amidst the usual dross, the virtual junk that filled his hours and his bandwidth, one email stood out. It was an invitation of sorts, from a sender he hadn’t heard from in a very long time. So long, in fact, he had assumed they had simply severed all contact or otherwise shuffled off the face of the virtual planet. It wasn’t as though they had ever been particularly close, but he was reminded of times past, when they had shared some stimulating and occasionally amusing exchanges, a time long gone. These reflections filled Rawlings with a curious yearning and kindled his previously dormant desire to reconnect. Suddenly alert, Lewis galvanised himself. It was time to embark on a journey of rediscovery. He was curious: why that individual, and why now? What news had they to share with him and the world at large? He took to the highway, accelerating at an exponential rate through time and space until he was moving at a speed, if not faster than the speed of light,

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then faster than the speed of perception. There was a direct linking route, but something made Rawlings take a more circuitous approach to his destination. Before long, he was there, or at least close, on the peripheries of the city. It had been a long time since he had last been there. It felt like coming home, but this feeling was brief. Within moments, as he passed incautiously down the first neon-lined rectilinear street, a cacophony of different music assailed his ears. An incongruous blend of jazz, hip-hop, funk and second-generation nu-metal, he spun in search of the source of the sound, only to discover multifarious sources, many of which were impossible to determine. He moved on quickly, scanning the faces, searching for signs. Everything about him was familiar, and yet... and yet it was strangely, subtly different. He struggled to put his finger on it. It was, he reflected, strangely quiet. The odd car passed here and there, one or two pedestrians passed by on the other side of the street, or otherwise dipped in and out of the shadows, too distant and fast moving for Rawlings to tell if he recognised them or not. However, he would have only recognised comparatively few of those with whom he was acquainted anyway: the way they had tended to meet was under cover, in different guises, something akin to a masked ball. Besides, he reflected once more, it had been a long time. How long since he had last made the trip? He couldn’t remember precisely. A long time. Even the streets he had known so well seemed less familiar with the passing of time. Had they changed, or had he? Had his memory distorted things? Perhaps the images stored in his memory banks were altered by his perception and recollection. But then, if all realities are subject to the refraction of perception, is it possible for there to be a single fixed reality? Such thoughts swirled around his cerebellum, dragging him off course. Rawlings realised how tired he was. He checked his watch. It was after 2am, and he had consumed a significant quantity of vodka during the evening. He had become distracted, his route diverted as he repeatedly allowed his attention to be drawn by various places he thought he recalled, but they had either closed down or been replaced. Some, under new management, were unrecognizable; others were boarded up, the façades derelict and scriven with layer upon layer of unintelligible graffiti, tags and slogans forged with a bastardisation of the language so corrupted as to be rendered code. Rawlings shook himself physically in order to clear his head, arrange and compose his thoughts. He reminded himself that he was there for a purpose, to revisit old friends: one in particular. The invitation may have been casual, but he felt as though he had committed himself to making an appearance, and had done so I the hope of feeling once more some of the thrill of the old days. Accelerating his pace, he made his way through a series of precincts until he came to a quarter he had spent a lot of time in before, a place he had spent many a long hour exchanging ideas and anecdotes with friends and strangers, a place where the atmosphere was

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warm and the sense of community strong. He followed the rectilinear street a few hundred meters, then turned a series of corners; first left, second right, fourth right, until he reached the bar, a favourite haunt from the old days. He was relieved to find it still there, under the same name, and open. Even as he approached the door Rawlings was struck by the quietness: on any given night in the past it would have been possible to have heard the thrum of conversation from a good ten or fifteen paces away on the approach to the building. Nevertheless, he pressed against the door; it swung inward and granted him entry. He felt his heart sink as he surveyed the near-empty space that presented itself before him. Here and there in the darker corners were a handful of people, a couple here and there, three guys hunched over a table, intent on a game of poker. No-one looked up, no-one greeted him. No-one so much as acknowledged his entrance. Lewis looked around, desperately seeking a face he recognised. There was none. He hovered, a little too long to simply turn and retreat back from whence he came, and so got himself a drink and settled down – as best he could, given his ill-ease in the oncefamiliar environment that now felt almost alien – at a table in a recess. As he sipped cautiously, he hoped that it was just the wrong time on the wrong night and that someone he knew would arrive shortly. The longer he remained, however, he felt the likelihood diminish. He pondered the question of what it was about the place that felt so different when its physical appearance seemed exactly the same. Slowly, as the alcohol warmed him from the inside, it dawned on him that the place didn’t seem exactly the same: it was exactly the same. And therein lay the cause of his unease. The posters on the wall were at least four or five years old. But rather than having faded, they remained pristine, as though they had been pinned up only yesterday. The jukebox, too, played music that was contemporary to the posters. Rawlings felt a strange sense of déjà vu, as though he were a time traveller observing the past from the present. Allowing his mind to wander into futile conjecture, Rawlings briefly considered the possibility that he truly had stepped into a parallel plane that had transported him back in time. This, he reasoned, would explain why he seemed as though invisible to the other drinkers as they sat at their tables. Perhaps, he mused, he wasn’t there in the same time/space parameter as they... Rationality kicked in and he concluded that the likelihood was that they were simply engrossed in their own activities and conversations, and that the place had become a retro theme place, with the theme being circa 2007. His head altogether clearer and his focus regained, Lewis drank up and left. He had a place to go. As he made his way along the seemingly endless rectilinear street, Rawlings experienced a strange recurrent and repeating sense of déjà vu. It wasn’t simply that he felt as though he had been here before – he had, and he knew he had – but he felt as though he was traversing the same stretch of terrain over and over, as if in a loop. Rawlings told himself that it was

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simply a case of his mind playing tricks on him, and he was no more experiencing a warping of the time / space continuum than he was regressing to the mudflats of prehistory. He wasn’t spouting gills, but simply subject to a fleeting temporal disorder, his sense of displacement a side-effect of his overwhelming fatigue, the alcohol he had imbibed and his unplanned and unanticipated return to a time and place he had left behind. Being dragged back to any given location, or even an individual associated with the past, was liable to produce similarly bewildering effects. We swim in a sea of facts, data which will intensify and mutate our experience of the real. Facts used like poison gas. Envy is universal, many-to-many. Its refusal to go away is that of an enemy, or a ghost. The facts began to fade into a pixellated fuzz before Lewis’ eyes as he slowly became immersed in the pool of transient memories, swimming agitatedly the everbroadening channel between perception and concrete realty. Dragging himself back, Rawlings continued to traverse the neon-lined streets toward his destination. So many of the places to his left and right held memories; the temptation to call in, or to detour down various side-streets to revisit old haunts and the residences of old friends was incredibly strong and his will wavered more than once. Rawlings found himself walking hesitantly, idling, stalling on corners as he deliberated whether or not to turn off and pursue a given avenue. He felt a certain degree of helplessness: it was as much as he could to to steer himself on his self-designated course without deviation. He realised he had, in fact, lost sight of why it was important to reach his destination, or even why he was here. He was so distractible, and he found this disconcerting. He was quite certain his attention span wasn’t what it used to be. That said, he knew that lack of sleep affected the memory. He had read about it on-line while awake and alert in the small hours a while ago. Above all, though, the Internet was distraction in itself. It wasn’t designed for the long focus: hypertext was the epitome of distraction, one thing leads – literally, or virtually, at least – to another, which leads to another, and the choices are infinite, a labyrinthine choose-your-own adventure story that extends beyond the limits of the imagination in terms of scale and scope. A virtual cosmos of information and misinformation, moving faster than the brain can compute. It was Lewis’ addiction. He was fully aware of this. It was, after all, everyone’s addiction. It was the ultimate expression of globalisation and of the 24/7 society. Drifting through a scaffold of non-verbally articulated dreams, Rawlings felt himself slowly detach from physical reality and into a parallel realm in which time and space were separate entities and the concrete world became altogether more fluid. Prisming light turned radiant hues through a shifting array of kaleidoscopic refractions that radiated, then intersected and crossed and recrossed one another to form a helix, then a lattice more complex than a spider’s web. Lewis was mesmerised and found it impossible not to be drawn into the laser-

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show as it swayed and swirled and formed a gauze of interwoven beams of light before his weary eyes. The sign promised that the building would be open. The building was not open. The streets were deserted. Close to the hub of his old home and the district immediately adjacent to it, its familiarity was beyond striking. Rawlings felt as though he had walked into an old dream and a strange sense of dÊjà -vu once more infiltrated his consciousness. Whereas before he had simply felt a disconcerting sense of things being the same yet subtly different, now the unease stemmed from the marked lack of differences: everything was so exactly as he recalled them it was like a replay. How many times had he re-run this scene? Was it real or was it Memorex? Of course, such a reference was as faded as a warped cassette recording. In the digital age there was no degradation: copies did not deteriorate or vary, they were reliably exact, precise and immutable: a tenth or twentieth generation copy was no different and lo lesser quality than the original. As such, even the idea of a copy or an original was rendered meaningless as it was impossible to discern one from the other. Rawlings was swimming in a sea of script, unable to determine if this was the site or simply a mirror, or even a counterfeit, a hoax, a dummy front into which his life details would be assimilated. can’t tell the real from reflection... Lewis reflected on his predicament: to move on or move out, retreat. No, he had entered the zone with a purpose, and wanted to achieve his objective. Navigating was almost second nature to him, even after this time and he slipped like a ninja through time space and imperceptibly flickering fibre optics onwards toward his destination. Looking into each of the living spaces in turn, he felt a repeating sense of disappointment, of hollowness. In fact, he felt his mood reflected the emptiness of the spaces themselves; vacant, disconsolate, devoid of life. And yet, life still seem to be within a certain proximity. Possessions still remained within these vacant, vacated lots, suggesting that the former inhabitants had left in a hurry. In the haste of their departure, they had left no forwarding details and no clue as to the reason why they had abandoned the domains many of them had inhabited and made their homes for a long time. Why had they left? The evidence suggested that not only had they all left quickly, but also en mass, a wholesale migration. Calendars and diaries lay untouched, unchanged, notices and notifications left in such a way as to signify that the users had every intention of returning but simply failed to do so. Lewis shivered slightly as he contemplated the possible reasons for this. He felt like he was walking the streets in the areas surrounding Hiroshima a few days after August 6th, 1945. A desolate wind funneled through the barren wasteland. There were no signs of life, but on the peripheries, the ground-leveling devastation was not apparent, leaving only an eerie stillness as marked by a complete absence of life and of human activity. A long, dark night had descended and hung heavy and strangely silent as Rawlings nosed his way around, the

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crackling silence amplifying his intense awareness of being entirely alone in an area that had once been populous. Frozen in time, he wended his way in a state of bewilderment through the virtual desert that used to be his playground. It was like a digital Pompeii and would in time become a virtual Hallsands: eventually everything would inevitably crumble, to be washed away by the tides of time, wind, wuthering and system changes. To the centre of the city where all roads meet... looking for not only people, but a time and a zeitgeist that evaporated and transfigured, to disperse and drift, a few grains and encampments at a time, to become eventually relocated, an entire community in a state of digital Diaspora. Rawlings had long lost the trail of the herd, and knew he would never reconnect with many of the members of the community of before. The thought saddened him briefly, but in his heart of hearts he knew that there was no going back in life, and even though he had himself relocated to places and platforms that interfaced on a more immediate level and required less engagement and a shorter attention span, that what had once been never would be again and so there was no point yearning for a golden age that had only ever been a fleeting state of flux and born out of a transient flocking that had never posed any pretense of being anything more than transient. It had been a bloodless revolution, if it could be called a revolution at all. And now, as he found himself in the centre of nothing, the air was unnaturally still: motionless, airless, intangible, a virtual vacuum. He surveyed the barren scene, then neon illuminations glaring out onto nothing and no-one. This was, Rawlings reflected, a rapidly-fading artifact of the past, yet one that he wanted to cling to in some small way. He had fond memories of the people he had encountered, the words they had shared and the time spent. Time marched on, and yet it felt somehow tragic that time, and he, and all of the others, had moved on and left this once-rich hub of social activity and interaction without so much as a formal farewell to either the place or one another, to cut themselves adrift and exist, detached, uncontentualised and all too often unidentifiable, floating in space. More than that: this was a wide open space, marked predominantly by silence. The absence of life brought a chill on the convection currents; it was freezing and he sensed with a cold discomfort that there was nothing, no-one around for miles. But he had started, and so must finish: he would reach his goal. There would be some great reward at the end, of that he was convinced. Yet he knew in his heart of hearts that such optimism was destined to be dashed and that there was unlikely to be any light at the end of the tunnel. At the next turning, he arrived at his destination. The door was open, and so he went inside. The vestibule led into the main public reception room. It was brightly lit, almost blindingly so, the colours washed out in the dazzling illumination, a million hues of halogen and neon. Immediately he realised he was too late: the room was empty, save for the large book

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on the table in the centre. It was open to reveal the latest entry: a short poem, marked with the current date and a time not more than an hour ago. Yet it may as well have been a lifetime ago. The page sat cold and flat. Rawlings read it, took little from it and felt nothing. There was no preamble or preface, no introduction or commentary from the author. Fifteen short lines interweaving seemingly random images with intimations of spite and frustration, presumably directed at some individual unknown to him. He couldn’t relate. He paused and wondered how many others had stopped by, if any. None had left any trace of their being here if they had. He considered, momentarily, signing the guest book to leave some kind of mark, a sign that he had taken the trouble to turn up, that he still existed, still cared. Perhaps doing so would encourage others to follow suite. He sighed. He had nothing to say, so turned and left. Back outside he briskly retraced his steps out of the desolate place, immediately becoming invisible in the flickering flutter of information dispatched in snippets and bounced infinitely in all directions on a solar breeze. He wanted no footsteps to remain, and to simply evaporate in the digital blizzard. It wouldn’t be especially difficult. He felt hollow, a void: he belonged to a time before the infinite stream, the tidal wave of needless, pointless, meaningless updates, the disengagement of interaction. He knew that there was no going back, however, and so he would not return. He would leave it to crumble, to rust, to flake and eventually fall to dust. Perhaps someone would revisit the place and excavate the archive, discover its once-rich heritage, untouched, dormant, an artifact of a brief but vital period past. Maybe they would take something from it, and maybe, just maybe, someone would rebuild it anew, a towering, gleaming empire... or maybe they too would be too late: the switch would be flicked and the entire space plunged into darkness, and then systematically erased.

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Glory & Consequence on Veterans Day

M

|

Ian Swanson

ichael stared out the window into the street. It was grey outside, but he had a feeling

the sun would eventually find its way out of the clouds. He checked his watch and looked back towards the restrooms for Caitlin. It had been almost five minutes since she’d gotten up from the booth. He reached down for his coat, and made sure his letter for her was still there. The waitress was standing at the counter; and he could feel her awkward glances from across the room. The idea of sitting in a diner without ordering anything did seem strange. He glanced at her with raised eyebrows and nodded her over. She was young, younger than him anyways. “Hi there, can I get you something?” she asked as she walked over. “Yes, could I please just have a cup of coffee?” “Sure,” she said as she clicked her pen. “Did you want to order something to eat also, or should I wait until your friend comes back?” “No, thank you. Not today,” he said shyly as he turned back towards the window. With a smile, the waitress clicked her pen again and walked back towards the counter. “Actually miss,” he called back to her, “could I actually order one more cup of coffee please?” “Sure thing,” the young woman called back. Michael looked back into the street. The clouds were looking more white than gray. People were beginning to set their chairs across the sidewalk. The parade would begin soon. All of the street lamps had red and blue banners decorating them. Outside of the diner, Michael could hear a mother scolding her kids to stay out of the way of others gathering along the sidewalks. He’d always hated parades. He heard the bathroom door swing open, and moments later Caitlin was sitting across from him again. He stared at her as she grabbed a menu and began flipping through it. Her cheeks were puffy, and her eyes were red. Over the past month Michael had become accustomed to this face. She was still beautiful. Her light brown hair hung loosely down over her shoulders. And even though her eyes looked tired, there was a softness to her face, and Michael could feel his chest hurt. He opened his mouth to ask her if she was alright, but he stopped when he realized that this would probably make her leave for the bathroom again. “I ordered you some coffee,” he said. She looked up and rolled her eyes at him. “You know I hate coffee.”

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“Well, the waitress came by and asked if we wanted anything and you weren’t here. I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “That’s when you tell her you’re not ready to order yet and that she should come back in a minute,” she snapped back. She flipped back to the front of the menu and began sorting through it again. When she got to the end she turned the menu over and turned her body towards the window. Michael just stared at her. “There should be a lot of people out this year,” she said. “Well, a lot of people came home this year,” he said. Her eyes darted back to him. “You know what, Michael?” she sighed and rolled her eyes again. She grabbed her purse and got up to go to the bathroom. “Come on, Caitlin, I didn’t mean it that way,” he called after her. “Fuck,” he swore but nobody could hear him. The clouds were beginning to part at the end of the street, and a ray of sunshine grazed Michaels face. He checked his coat again. The letter was still in his pocket. Michael had watched many parades throughout his life, and he had never cared for them. He’d never been to this town’s parade, but he imagined it couldn’t be much different than other Veteran’s Day parades. First would come the band, with the drummers following the horns, then the shiny cars filled with local politicians who throw candy out to the kids, then the fire trucks filled with firemen and paramedics, then the old vets from previous foreign wars, followed by the big finale. Michael went over the sequence over and over again in his head. Each time forcing himself to stop when he got to the end of the line. Today’s American soldier is very different than yesterday’s. When Michael saw the old, smiling men in formal pressed suits with metals dangling, images of Iwo Jima and Arlington Cemetery popped into his mind. But when Michael thinks of today’s American soldiers, the soldiers fighting in Iraq, images of bombs over hospitals and baby’s without hands cloud his mind. This was not the same country his father had died for thirty years ago, and it certainly wasn’t anything his grandfather would have died for either. Two cups of coffee were placed in front of him. “Did you guys want to order something to eat?” the waitress asked. After hesitating for a moment, Michael replied, “Coffee’s fine.” The bathroom door swung open just as the waitress walked away, and Michael watched Caitlin walk out for the second time. Her hair was tied back now, and the image reminded Michael of the first time he’d met her. He was sitting in a booth, much like the one they were sharing now, when he heard the bathroom door open and Caitlin walked into his life. It didn’t seem like two years since he worked up the courage to talk to her. Love cannot read time. The image disappeared as Caitlin

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sat back down across from him, and looked down at the cup in front of her. She grabbed a packet of sugar from the basket at the end of the table. “I thought you didn’t drink coffee,” he said. “Well, there’s no use in just letting it sit there,” she said as she poured half of the packet into the cup. “It’s fine if you don’t want it. I should have asked you before I ordered it.” “Ha!” Caitlin laughed, and for the first time since they had gotten out of Michael’s bed that morning, a smile crawled onto her face. “Michael,” she began, “you of all people should know that I won’t turn down a cup of coffee.” He smiled back, and memories of their first night together crept into his mind. The bar was in the middle of their small town, and he remembered the awkward gazes and raised eyebrows of others directed towards him that night. At the hour he met her, a drink is a scandal. Coffee is harmless. Insignificant. Impartial. Unintentional, and unintimidating. The remainder of the night was spent at the bar. Talking, smoking, and drinking coffee. It wasn’t until the sun rose across the pillow the following morning that she admitted to him that she actually hated coffee. He looked down at his coat, and then back at her. With a sigh, Caitlin turned her head to look out the window. Michael stared at her for a moment, and then focused his concentration outside the window as well. “You know, I’ll bet you the majority of those folding chairs are only used for parades,” he said. “Do you expect people to stand?” said Caitlin. “I don’t know, I guess I just never really understood the concept of a parade.” “Well, that’s probably why you’ll never be in one.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, turning back towards her. “I don’t know. Nothing.” “No, really, what did you mean by that?” “I don’t know. Parades are usually held to recognize someone who has done something worth honoring. What have you done in your lifetime to better society?” She asked accusingly. “What have you done?” “I’m not saying I’ve done anything. I’m just saying that there are people in the world who deserve to be honored in front of the people they’ve helped. I don’t really understand how you can criticize these people.” “I’m not saying I don’t appreciate their service, I’m just asking if you don’t think it’s funny that these people can’t even stand up to recognize them? I mean, are all the proceeds from folding chair sales going towards war veteran organizations?” Michael laughed.

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Caitlin sneered. “The point is you’re showing them your appreciation. You’re acknowledging people that have proven that they would die for the greater good of the country. I mean look at the Veterans’ parade. It’s for all the people who have risked their lives to protect the freedoms that we live by, and that people like you take for granted.” Michael laughed to himself. “Geez, you should hear yourself right now.” There was a long pause. Caitlin took her eyes off of Michael and took a sip of her coffee. “I just don’t understand how dedicating a day to people and letting them walk in front of you is really showing that much respect,” Michael said. “It seems more like a reminder rather than a sign of recognition.” Caitlin’s voice deepened to an angry tone. “Are you implying something, Michael?” He opened his mouth to reply, but then stopped himself. The line had been crossed, and Michael did not apologize. His eyes lowered to the cup of coffee in front of him, and he took a small sip. The clouds were breaking, and the sun was peaking into the street. In the distance he could hear the beat of a drum roll, followed by the shouting of the first trumpet. Michael quickly turned his head back to Caitlin, who stared back into his eyes. He pushed the cup of coffee to the left side of the table, and reached his hand across the table to grab Caitlin’s hand. Neither of them spoke as the rest of the horn section joined in. They sat perfectly still, staring at nothing else but each other. All of the spectators lining the sidewalks began to cheer as the band marched down the street. Caitlin finally opened her mouth. “Michael, we both knew this day was going to come.” “I know,” Michael said, staring down at himself. He looked back up with wide eyes, and reached into his coat pocket. “I know. But it doesn’t have to be this way.” He was holding the letter under the table now, unable to decide if he should let her read it. Caitlin took her eyes off of Michael for a moment and looked outside the window. Red and blue Cadillac convertibles full of formally dressed families were passing outside the diner. “This doesn’t have to be the end.” The envelope was crisp in his hand, steady underneath the table’s shield. Caitlin’s eyes were sorry. The choice she didn’t have had already been made. “Things do have to end this way Michael. They always have.” Caitlin looked down and opened her purse. She took from it a small white box. She opened the box in front of him, and removed from it the band he hadn’t seen in two years. Michael knew the band well, and he loved the box. The box was his ally. For two years the box sat at the bottom of a dresser drawer in Caitlin’s unkempt apartment. A prisoner detained. A prisoner until today. A prisoner freed.

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Caitlin pushed the band back onto her finger, and looked up at Michael for the last time. The box went back into her purse. “Goodbye Michael,” she said. And with that, she stood up and walked away from the table. She walked towards the front door of the diner, and she did not stop to look back at him. The envelope shook beneath the table. Michael sighed, and looked down at the cup of coffee in front of him. Clenching his jaw, he pushed the coffee away from him and smirked. He had never actually liked coffee either. Looking out the window, he had to squint. The strength of the sun was hurting his eyes. He watched the old men walking down the street. Some with flags, all with smiles. He focused on Caitlin, who had not yet turned back towards the diner. The old men were almost past him now, and Michael waited for the end of the line to appear. A new section of horns arrived, playing much louder than the set before. Everyone sitting on folding chairs rose to their feet. Some even stood on top of the coolers they had brought with them, and the clapping began. Some people blew whistles. Others threw flowers. Children struggled to get to the front of the crowd, and the ones that couldn’t get to the front were hoisted on the tops of the shoulders of their parents. America has survived another day. A large group appeared behind the second horn section. At the front of the group were two men and a banner. “UNITED STATES. MARINE CORPS.” Following the sign was a group of twenty men in blue. All marching in military formation, all of whom had returned from Iraq, and all of whom had returned that very morning. The sun broke through the clouds. The waitress and cooks walked towards the door of the diner, eager to escape its shadow. Michael followed them outside. He scanned the group of soldiers. The applause was for the entire group, but Michael’s eyes were only searching for one. Three rows back, and Michael spotted him. He was tall, taller than Michael anyways. He was smiling, and he waved to the people on the sidewalks as he passed by. Michael was standing on his toes now; he had to in order to see the other man’s face. Suddenly his heart jumped again, when the other man turned to wave to Michael’s side of the crowd. The other man turned his entire body, and looked right at Michael and waved to him. Michael’s hand held the envelope at his side. The two men made eye contact, and Michael didn’t breathe. The smile never left the man’s face. The man took his eyes off of Michael, and Michael began to breathe. He steadied himself off of his toes, and walked back into the diner. He reseated himself at the table Caitlin had left, and put the letter back into his pocket. Michael watched as the other man follow his group to the end of the block, and his eyes widened as he watched Caitlin run towards him. She jumped off her feet to hug him, and Michael’s chest began to cave. Her hands over his cheeks, and she kissed him the way Michael always wanted to be kissed by her. A kiss that forgot the past. A kiss that knows no future. It

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was not a moment to be passed on. Michael watched from the diner window as Caitlin smiled. She smiled in a way he had never seen, a way he had always wanted her to smile at him.

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A Moment of Doubt

T

|

Wynn Wheldon

he track ended abruptly. Jack and Mary got out of the car and squeezed past on either

side of her mother’s old Fiat. They both had to duck beneath and turn away from long feelers of unkempt briar. They passed through a little wicket gate that had once been painted white. Three or four steps brought them within sight of the house. Jack was surprised at how modern it looked with its flat roof and absence of whitewash, but he said nothing. He was tense. He had heard a lot about Mary’s mother, and not just from Mary. He was keen to impress. A fluffy white puppy ran up to them, yapping good-naturedly. Mary knelt and played with it. Jack stood by and looked down at them. “This will be one of Victoria’s,” said Mary. Jack knew that Victoria was the wife of the farmer who owned the house and who lived on the ground floor, below Mary’s mother. “Sweet,” he said. Mary rose and they continued up the path to the house, the puppy yapping at their ankles. Mary looked around a corner of the house. “No sign,” she said. Jack understood she meant no sign of Victoria or perhaps a member of Victoria’s family. They went up an outside staircase, too steep for the puppy, and Mary pushed open a screen door and then knocked at the open door inside and said loudly, “Hello-o! Mother!” “In here,” Jack heard. They walked down a wide corridor. It was carpeted with worn oriental mats. On the walls were abstract paintings in simple frames, the work, Jack presumed, of Mary’s Italian stepfather, an artist who had been familiar with well-known painters, though himself more or less unknown. They passed two doors and turned into the last room on the right. “Ah, so you’re here,” said Mary’s mother. She sat in a large blue armchair. There was a hard-back book in her lap, and on a bamboo table by her side a glass of red wine and a glass ashtray with three butts in it. Mary’s mother was much more attractive that Jack had expected. She was beautiful, with a firm straight mouth, the lips with a hint of moisture still, thick grey hair, and hard blue eyes. Her skin was weathered but clear. It made things worse, somehow, this beauty. Jack shuffled as Mary bent to kiss her mother. “This is Jack,” said Mary, straightening up and stretching out her arm.

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“Hello Jack,” said Mary’s mother. “Hello,” said Jack, leaning forward to shake her hand. He smiled good-naturedly. Outside the little dog continued its young barking. “Lovely day,” said Mary’s mother, in a tone that suggested to Jack that she might be responsible for its being so. He followed her gaze. She looked out of a thick framed casement window. It was wide open. There was the blue of the water, the blue of the sky, and in the distance the misty blue of mountains. “Yes,” said Mary, cheerfully. “It makes me feel free, free, free!” She twirled, and her white cotton skirt floated free from her legs. Jack clasped his hands behind his back. He loved Mary. “Indeed it is,” he agreed, though he never ever said “indeed”. Sometimes he might say “indeedee”, mocking the schoolmasterly word. He felt, at once, foolish, an impostor. All the blues out there seemed to mock him suddenly. “I’ve prepared some lunch,” said Mary’s mother. “Good, I’m famished,” said Mary. Mary’s mother looked at Jack. “Terrific,” he said. “Terrific?” “He means he’s famished too, mum,” said Mary. “Does he?” said Mary’s mother. “Indeed?” “We had a long drive this morning,” said Jack. “Where did you stop last night?” “Genoa” “Smelly place,” said Mary’s mother, and rose from her chair. She wore a flimsy cotton frock, with a collar and black and white stripes. Jack thought she looked about 50, but knew she was at least ten years older than that. They followed her into the kitchen. Three places were set at the table. In the middle a bowl of green, red and yellow pepper salad and a plate of plum tomatoes sliced length ways flanked an oval platter covered with mortadella and smoked ham and cheese. There was a bowl of black olives and an opened bottle of red wine. Jack and Mary sat down while Mary’s mother removed a loaf of flat Italian bread from a red clay bin and cut off six slices from it. She put the slices in a basket and placed the basket on the table. She opened the fridge and took out a half-drunk bottle of white wine, and put it on the table as she sat down. They commenced the meal. Mary took four olives and offered the bowl to her mother, who waved it away. Mary offered the bowl to Jack, who also took four olives. He ate one. He put the pit on the side of his plate.

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“Jack’s always had a thing about Columbus,” said Mary, helping herself to tomatoes. Mary’s mother looked at Jack inquisitively. She ate peppers. He thought she might say “indeed?” “I hadn’t been to Genoa before,” said Jack. “Mmm,” said Mary’s mother. “His achievement is much over-rated, don’t you think? He was looking for China after all. Tomato, please Mary.” Jack removed another olive pit from his mouth. “He discovered America,” he said. Mary’s mother looked at him, holding the tomatoes in front of her. She said: “I think Columbus was brave, certainly. But it was those who sailed south, who discovered the eastern passage, who were the true explorers”. “Henry the Navigator,” said Jack. “Indeed”, said Mary’s mother. After lunch, Mary’s mother returned to her blue armchair and Jack and Mary went out to look around the farm. It wasn’t really a farm; it was more a smallholding. She showed him the vegetable garden. The fluffy white puppy had disappeared. “Shall we go for a swim?” asked Mary. “Yes,” said Jack. They went to the car and got their bags and went back to the house. “Where do you want us to sleep?” Mary asked her mother. “Do you want to sleep together?” Mary’s mother wanted to know. “Yes of course we do, Mum. We’re lovers,” said Mary, laughing. She smiled at Jack, too. “Then you’d best sleep in the study. It’s not such a good bed, but it is big enough for two.” The study was the first room on the right of the front door. It was full of books. On the desk was a fairly old computer. There was a sofa bed, which the three of them awkwardly set up. Mary’s mother brought two sheets and a large blanket and then left them and they changed into their swimming costumes. Jack watched Mary become naked, and she looked up and saw him staring at her and she smiled and pulled him to her and they hugged. As they hugged she whispered, “she’s not so bad, you see”. Jack pulled away and pulled his shirt over his head. “She’s clever,” he said. Mary pulled her bikini bottoms on and put her head to one side. Jack explained: “I mean, I don’t know. She’s intelligent. She’s not like a mother. I mean, my mother isn’t like her at all.” He pulled out of the bookshelves a copy of a collection of poems by Pasolini. Mary took it from him and replaced it before he’d read a word. She gave him a shove, and said “your Mum’s a sweetie. Come on, let’s go.”

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They walked down to the beach. They swam and then lay on the sand. Mary read her book. Jack stared up into the empty blue sky for a while and then closed his eyes. After a minute he turned on his side and looked at Mary. How would things be different when they were married, he wondered. Mary looked at him looking at her and smiled. She wore sunglasses. “Your mother doesn’t mind us sleeping together, does she” “Not! We’re in love. She believes in love. It’s one of the old-fashioned things about her. She’s been in love lots of times. Why?” “Nothing,” Jack said, and turned on his back again. “Not like my mum,” he added. “She’s only been in love once, I think. Maybe not even once.” “Your mum’s a sweetie,” said Mary. “So you’ve said”. But he didn’t think Mary heard him. She was back in her book. After a while Jack stood up. “I’m going for a stroll,” he said. He looked down at Mary, at the curve of the swimsuit around the sides of her bottom. Such a series of perfect curves. Frightening, somehow. He felt suddenly bilious with jealousy. The curves were irresistible. They could generate much love. “An exploration,” he added. She looked up, sideways, squinting despite the sunglasses. “Okay,” she said. He walked at the very edge of the water. It was a large lake, not salt water, and the water was clear and cold. There were no waves to speak of, just a gentle lapping. He would like to have met Victoria and her husband. He thought he might have felt more at home with them. He wondered what had become of the puppy. He wondered what it meant, to “believe in love”. Did it mean that you had to follow where it led? Even to betrayal? The night was humid. Mary sat in the sofa bed, a single white sheet pulled up to her navel. “I’m knackered,” she said, stretching her arms up the wall behind her. She had caught the sun and her shoulders and arms were tanned, her breasts pale, delicious. Jack stood looking at her, unable to undress, full of desire and despair. He wanted to put his head against her and cry. “What is it Jack?” “Do you believe in love too?”

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To Ferret

|

Miles Coleman

I

t’s just like a heart, Bodi thought to himself while gliding up the escalator at Penn Station. All of the trains, buses, taxis, and people, flow in via their respective veins. The roads, ramps, tracks, sidewalks, and escalators--the arteries- -all meet at the center of the station, only to pump out again, pushing life back into the city, keeping it alive. “Whatchya thinkin’ about?” Demo asks from a few steps up. “Nothing,” Bodi replies, “just that some things need to exist, so that others might also go on.” Ah, your mom and brother still havin’ trouble with you leavin’?” “That wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about, but since you ask, yeah. My mom was up unusually early to make me breakfast, and Mavic was up asking me about the fighting abilities of fantastical animals.” “They’re just worried they’re gonna lose you like they did your dad. Not to mention, Mavic’s already kind of a weird kid. You leavin’ all the way to Boston probably makes for even more worry. You know, like your ditchin’ ‘em,” Demo says with a consoling tone. Bodi looks at his hands and rubs them together. “Thanks that helps.” Demo gives him an oblivious pat on the back and a warm smile, “No sweat, buddy.” Coming to the top of the escalator, Bodi and Demo carefully time their exiting step to avoid being thrown to the ground by the momentum they’d borrowed from the gears and belts turning just below their feet. Like so many things in the world, the unflinching efforts of the mechanisms pushing the escalator, hidden from plain view, are overlooked, left behind, disregarded-- forgotten the moment Bodi and Demo depart their last metal step and watch it sink into the floor. They find their way to the waiting area for the train, which smells peculiar, smooth and sweet like jasmine, but with a sharp, caustic edge, like someone added Turpentine to perfume and poured it all over. Bodi and Demo each take a plastic chair and sit down, trying their best to ignore the acrid smell now engulfing their sinuses. They wait quietly for twenty minutes. Demo counted the tiles on the ceiling, and Bodi thought to himself about what Demo had said about his mom and brother. Breaking the silence is the screech of an automated female voice. “The Northeast Regional is now boarding.”By the time Bodi and Demo make it onboard the train it is quite crowded. Elderly people still meticulously situating their luggage in the overhead racks and small children, chaotically running up and down the walkways, fill out the train’s interior. Demo is the first to find a seat, next to a thin older man in a shirt and tie,

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slung over, sleeping with his mouth wide open and his cheek pressed hard against the window. Bodi waits for Demo to sit down and moves on to the next car to find a seat of his own. On his way down the aisle he notices a beautiful young professional woman, blonde and buxom, using her nicely manicured fingernails to type furiously on a laptop. And next to her is an empty seat. Invigorated by his luck, Bodi slings his backpack off and plops down next to the young lady. “Train sure is chocked full today, huh?” The click-clack of the woman’s fingernails stops; she looks to Bodi politely, “Uh huh,” and returns to her computer screen, continuing to punch buttons on her keyboard. Bodi, begins to ask another question, “Where are you headed t--” when a hand touches his shoulder, interrupting his second attempt at sparking conversation. “I think you’re in my seat,” a stalky dark haired fellow states rather threateningly. To which the woman quickly attests, “Sorry honey, he just sat down.” Bodi, bewildered, gets up, clutching his backpack to his chest and steps aside to let the man claim his seat, “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was taken.” The man gives Bodi a hairy look of contempt and sets down. Scuttling away from the hostility down the corridor, Bodi comes to another open seat. He leans toward a white haired lady sitting next to it and asks cautiously, “Is this seat free?” “Why yes it is, king comrade!” she says happily, scooting her bag across the floor to make room for him. The woman looks to be in her early fifties. Her attire consists of a jean skirt and a black corduroy jacket with a dream catcher on the lapel. She has a book in her hand, which appears to be a compendium of Plato’s philosophical dialogues. Bodi takes a seat and points to the book, “That’s some heavy reading.” The woman reaches down, carefully opens a sandwich bag of Cheerios, and pours it out into her purse, “Why yes it is. Enjoyably heavy. I sure do fancy the thought of myself as an amateur philosopher extraordinaire. But you, my friend, can call me Jewel.” She sits back up in her chair, “What brings you to the Northeast Regional this fine day?” “I’m headed to Boston to sign the final paperwork so I can start medical school,” Bodi answered. “That’s mighty impressive. You must have a brain that dwarfs the size and profundity of the sun itself to have achieved such an opportunity at greatness.” “I don’t know about all that. I mean I did wait until the very last day of the deadline to make up my mind, which is pretty dumb. But I do want to help people.” “Oh yes, the ever so rare, but oh so valuable altruistic soul. Your parents must be proud to have such a selfless young man.” Bodi works his hands against his chin and looks at the back of the seat in front of him, “I don’t think my mom would consider me selfless, and my dad is dead.”

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“Oh, I’m sorry...” “It’s okay, it was a long time ago. He was an NYPD rescue diver. He died trying to save some people when their helicopter crashed into the bay.” “Now why is it that a boy from such noble blood would even think to consider himself as anything less than a knightly character?” “I guess because I’m leaving my mom and my brother all alone.” “I see,” Jewel responds, curling her lips and squinting her eyes. “I think the words of the mighty philosopher, Plutarch, might help us here.” She hunches over once more and begins rustling around in her handbag. She comes back up holding a notepad, a pen, and a small, slender animal, what appears to be a live ferret in an orange chest harness. She holds the black and white creature’s mouth to her ear. It begins to squeak lightly, as though it were telling a secret to Jewel. “He wants to know your name,” she says. “My name is Bodi.” She nods her head, and continues to listen to the hushed squeaks of the ferret, “Yes, I understand. But what of...oh yes, of course.” The squeaks stop and she writes down a sentence on her notepad. “Thank you Plutarch,” she pronounces in a high-pitched voice, rubbing her nose against the ferret’s before nestling it back into her purse. She tears a sheet o paper from her tablet and hands it to Bodi. He turns the paper over and reads it: “It is part of a good man to do great and noble deeds---though he risk everything.”

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Letters to the Vatican

D

|

Crissy Van Meter

ear Pope John Paul II, I am writing you for a prayer. My mother has left California to go find God, or that’s what she said

before she went away. We live in the Southern part of California, near Disneyland. I can send you a souvenir from there if you’d like. I assume that she will visit you in Rome and then make her way up to Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee. Would you light a candle and say a prayer for her safe return? I pray my rosary every night before bed and I usually go to confession on Sundays. But I must confess to you personally, that last week I didn’t actually sin, so I lied to Father Ramos and told him that I broke some dishes in my father’s hotel kitchen. That never really happened. I thought you should know. Please pray for my mother and her safe return. Sincerely (and with undying love), Angie Carpenter P.S. Please send me information about your convent The Balboa Inn creaked in the night and echoed sounds that made it hard to sleep. Liberty sat up in the twin bed next to me and opened the window of our corner room. The dewy smell of sea air breathed a sign of relief onto the white hotel sheets that grew damp if the windows were left open all night. “I miss Mom,” I said. “Want me to get you some milk?” she asked. She stood over my bed and the moonlight hit her chest under her nightgown. I could clearly see two rounded bumps. I cupped my own flat chest and was reminded that I hated her for being the oldest. “You have boobs already,” I said. She sat at my feet and our skittish calico jumped on her lap and then quickly leapt back down to the floor and tucked herself under the bed. Dad panicked when Mom left and he brought home Maxie to keep us company. He seemed just as frightened by us as Maxie did. “You’ll get them when you’re a teenager,” she said. I told her that Marcie Simmons had big ones. Biggest in the fifth grade and she got her period too. Liberty mustered up a laugh as she dabbed her forehead with the edge of her sleeve.

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She shaved her legs the day Mom left us at the Balboa Inn. I caught her with her leg propped up on the side of the tub, hunched over and bleeding from her nicked shins. Faded blood streamed down the drain and she shouted at me to leave once she saw me staring at her naked body. But mostly, I remember her legs, nothing more. “Get some sleep, it’s a big day tomorrow,” she said. Liberty kissed my forehead and she wrapped my arms and legs tightly in the sheets like a tiny burrito, like Mom did when we lived in a house with our own bedrooms. Maxie scooted across our rug and she eased her way to the end of the bed and rested near my still feet. I counted the thunder of waves crashing onto the sand until I fell asleep. Dear John Paul The Second, I have enclosed my favorite prayer. Be for us support when setting out, friendship along the way, a little shade from the sun, a mantle against the cold and rain, a crutch on slippery paths and a haven in shipwreck. Any word of my mother? Yours truly, Angie Carpenter Liberty was already dressed when she shooed Maxie off the bed and shook the side of mine. “Dad says we’ve got to be ready in twenty minutes,” she said. “Breakfast downstairs.” It was hard to peel the sheets from my damp back. Even Maxie moaned with discomfort as I slipped on the white dress that Mom got me for a church Christmas party. Liberty sat in front of the oval seashell mirror and began paint her eyes with black eyeliner. I remembered Mom picking out the mirror at an estate sale in Malibu, but there only enough to fill half of the hotel rooms. She said anyone would be lucky to stay in those rooms. “You look silly,” I said. I crept through the hotel lobby where guests were buzzing around with beach towels, pails, shovels and chairs. We hadn’t been there long, but already Dad’s hotel employees smiled whenever we passed. They liked me more than Liberty, maybe because I smiled back. Most of the women Dad hired were pretty blonde college girls that were home for the summer. They had clean skin and wore less makeup than Liberty. They were always accommodating, asking if I was hungry. They thought I was much younger than I looked and asked me constantly if I was feeling okay. Dad was behind the front desk shuffling through some papers.

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“Angie, eat the eggs in the kitchen and let’s go,” he said. “Where are your shoes?” I snuck behind the counter and sat at his feet and Maxie weaved between his legs. I touched the tops of his toenails poking though his rubber sandals and I examined his feet. Clearly, I had my mother’s feet. His were tan and little black hairs poked freely from tiny skin mounds on his large toe. “How come Liberty gets to wear makeup?” I asked, pulling on the hairs of his feet. Dad jumped in pain and lifted me from the ground. The front desk girl laughed. “If you don’t eat now, you won’t until we get back,” he said. I was insulted that the hotel chef served me three eggs. There was no possible way I could ever eat that much, yet he continued to dump slices of burnt toast on my plate while he whizzed around the kitchen, preparing breakfast for the guests in the dining room. I sat on a stool next to Liberty who already dumped her plate into the trash. Dad hollered from the back and quickly ushered us to the parking lot and into his pickup truck. I felt guilty for the plate of eggs I’d left for someone else to clean up. We all fit in the front seat. Liberty made me sit in the middle, a spot I loved, next to him. There was a faint smell of sweat and cologne that lingered on his t-shirt that eventually filled up the cab if we kept the windows rolled up. Liberty was quiet and she stared out the window as we crept in summer traffic off the peninsula. We listened to muffled sports radio and Dad quizzed us about the Dodgers until we hit Pacific Coast Highway. “Why do we have to listen to this shit?” Liberty asked. He ignored her. That’s what he did now. Liberty didn’t want to be around Dad anymore and mostly, she didn’t want to be around me. I wouldn’t have known this except that she told me once when she caught me brushing Maxie’s orange fur with her wire hairbrush that I found on the bathroom counter. He put on the AM jazz station and eased back into an open stretch of highway. We were traveling against traffic, passing cars with rafts, bikes and colorful surfboards strapped to the top of wagons and cars. Dad rolled down his window, the smell of him escaped instantly, and he rested his arm against the side of the warm metal. He banged on the wheel as if playing jazz drums. “This is the kind of music that makes you feel alive,” he asked. “Do you feel it?” I did. I felt it in my toes and I wanted to move, but Liberty was solemnly staring out at the Bolsa Chica Wild Life Refuge and made it impossible for me to have a good time. The white birds, egrets Dad said, looked like little paper airplanes sitting on top of a puddle of deep blue paint. She didn’t say a word to me, or him. I asked her one night if she blamed Dad or me

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for Mom leaving. She said No. But you couldn’t ever really be sure with Liberty. It wasn’t that she didn’t tell the truth, she just didn’t say anything at all. I wasn’t sure if she even missed Mom. The ocean was to our left, that’s how Dad said I’d know if I was going north. We continued up the coast and hummed to jazz on the radio. I was certain Dad could tell that I had a real sense of rhythm with the tapping of my feet on the floor. We finally hit Seal Beach after a mass of downtown traffic. It was always a mess there, Dad noted. We breathed heavy in the heat. “I don’t understand why we have to take care of her,” Liberty said. Dad turned off the radio. I folded my hands together tightly and anticipated a fight. Sweat dripped from my hands like a piece of leaky fruit and I rubbed them together. “We are all that she has left,” he said. “I need you girls to help me with her at the hotel until we figure things out. Can you do that?” “Yes,” I said quickly. Liberty rolled her eyes. I only had one memory of Aunt Bib. We went to Long Beach, a mile from where Dad was born and we met her in her beachfront craftsman home; she stroked Mom’s hair and asked if she wanted a dog biscuit that she held out in a little basket. I reached for one and Mom slapped the top of my hand. Dad said she moved to Leisure World in the early nineties, a place where the elderly bowled on the lawn. But Mom said it was the last place you go before you die. “The sea air will do her some good,” Dad said. I think he was talking to himself. He punched some numbers into an iron box at the main gate and we entered. A giant globe rotated on the front lawn like a massive Christmas ornament. It was the size of two full houses. Dad mentioned one that you could see if from space, but I know that was impossible. He drove slowly until we reached a little bungalow with a jungle of wind chimes ringing on the front porch. A younger woman, Dad said her caretaker, greeted us in the driveway, seemingly smiling because we were there. Liberty helped me out of the truck and we stood on the front lawn. My feet cooled at the recently watered grass and I wanted to take off my sandals. The woman talked to dad about Aunt Bib and she finally approached. “Do you remember me?” she asked. I looked at Dad. “No,” I said. “I was a good friend of your grandmother. We knew each other in Georgia.” Dad pointed to the open garage and followed Liberty to a pile of packed boxes. They began lifting them and tossing them into the bed of the truck. Dad whispered to the woman

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and suddenly they were hugging. I was the first time I had seen him touch a woman since the divorce. His body was so large that it looked like he was swallowing her in his arms. Aunt Bib appeared on the front porch, wobbly. Dad climbed to her and held her hand and pointed as us. Over the roar of the wind chimes clanking above their heads, she waved. Her skin was loose and seemed to be hanging off her face and the sun against her skin made her appear translucent. Her teeth looked like perfect plastic white buttons and as I got closer, I noticed her eternal scent of cat pee and warm dinner rolls. I grabbed Liberty’s arm in fear. “Such pretty little boys,” she said, touching Liberty’s face. “Girls,” I said. “Do you remember you Great Aunt Bib?” Dad asked. He forced a smile on his face. “Matilda is so pretty,” Bib said. “I’m Liberty,” she said, swatting Bib’s hand away. “You look like you are going to a prom dance,” Bib said. “Matilda is our mom,” I said. Dad asked Liberty to help Aunt Bib into the truck. She moved quickly taking the order from Dad seriously and apparently she was eager to get home. Her makeup began to smear all over her face from the heat radiating off the cement driveway. Though Leisure World was only two miles inland, it felt like an entire world hotter. Aunt Bib sat by the window like a lap dog and Liberty and I were smashed in the middle of the long cab. On the ride back to Balboa she commented on bike bells and said that alligators once roamed the beaches of Southern California. When I laughed, Dad smacked my knee. We were packed so neatly inside of his truck that my bare knees began to fuse together. “You’re going to love your room, Bib,” Dad said. “The girls will get you set up and you can come to Angie’s ninth birthday party next week on the terrace.” “Do you like the ocean?” I asked. The wind blew against her drooping face and her cheeks lightly smacked against her teeth. Liberty peeled her arm from Bib’s and I rested my head against Dad’s shoulder desperately trying to smell the inside of his armpit. “You’re such pretty little boys,” Bib said, smiling. Dad sang along to Ella Fitzgerald and Bib hummed. We battled our way through afternoon summer traffic and edged our way home. Dear Mother Teresa, First, I would like to say that I am sorry that you broke your collarbone. I once did the same thing when the garage door accidentally fell on me. I have been praying for your speedy recovery.

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I am writing to you because my mother may be in Calcutta. She said she’s always wanted to see where you spent time with the Sisters of Loretta. We received a postcard from India, however it had endured some sort of water damage and we couldn’t figure out whom it was from. She’s mentioned India many times and I know she’s probably gone to find you. Would you light candle for her safe return? Or if you see her, Matilda Carpenter, please tell her that we are safe and waiting for her. Please feel better soon. Sincerely, Angie Carpenter For the first few days, Liberty took care of Aunt Bib. She made sure she had fresh linens, opened her windows in the mornings and brought her meals. I was too afraid. Her body was so old and fragile and she didn’t know who I was. Her room still smelled something like rotting apples and I tried to avoid her hallway altogether—until Maggie escaped and wandered to the north end of the hotel. Dad agreed we could keep Maxie if we kept her in our room. I followed her cautiously and crept slowly, making sure I didn’t wake any guests. Aunt Bib was awake, her door cracked, and she sat upright in a rocking chair near the window. Her face lit by the tiny lamp on her nightstand, Bib was sitting around a pile of books. Maxie entered first. “Hello,” I said. Her eyes lifted out of their sockets and she glared at me. “You should be in bed,” she said. I walked to her slowly, sinking onto the floor with Maxie in my lap. I began sifting through the pages of her books. “I can’t sleep,” I said. “I’ve been trying to sleep for years,” she said. “You like to read?” I asked her. They were mystery books, paperbacks covered with hand drawings of silly characters with flashlights and notepads. I held one up to the light: a woman in a trench coat hiding behind a tree on a beach. I giggled. “That’s Nancy Drew,” she said. “Those are your mother’s.” She rocked slowly and I noticed her bare feet. Her toenails were long and hard with caked dirt in her nail beds. Her feet were like fossils and I wanted to touch her. I wanted her to know who I was and hoped she’d say something. I flipped through the pages of a book and felt suddenly overwhelmed. I began to read aloud until after ten pages Aunt Bib cleared her throat to stop me.

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“Did my mom like to read?” I asked. Aunt Bib finally she looked at me. “Do you know what bat shit is?” she asked. I assumed she meant shit from bats. At least I knew that shit was shit and that you said it when you were mad, like Liberty did every time she caught me doing something she didn’t like. She said it a lot. “Not really,” I said. “I am bat shit,” she said. “I don’t know why they sent me here. I wish I could just go away.” “Where do you want to go?” I asked. There was silence and we listened to the sound of the curtains flapping against the window. “I want to go to the Wailing Wall,” I said. “You get your prayers answered there. God can take us anywhere.” I was sure of this. I had never been more certain because Mom had talked about it so many times. “I’d like to go to India,” she said. “They have giant elephants there,” I told her. “I don’t really pray or believe in God, she said. “I believe in wishes sometimes.” “Wishes are for fun and prayers are for real,” I said. “Well someone must have wished for the sun to rise and waves to crash, and those came true,” she said. It hurt to watch her move. She was a slow turtle losing a race and it seemed as though her bones made sounds as she moved. She put her hand out and pointed to a book and picked it up with her hands that were like flakey dinner biscuits. I wanted to touch her loose skin as she began read aloud. Her voice was low and smother and her tone frightened me. I waited for her to suddenly forget who I was or to fall out of the sudden lucid state. Dad said she’d do that: forget who she was or who we were. But how could she forget me? I was new. I moved closer to her and rested my head on her feet. I watched the ceiling fan above and Bib’s voice faded until she rested the book on her lap. Her feet looked like they had rotted dinosaur toes and her body jolted as she fell asleep. Her toe poked me in the head and it was then that I wished for my mother.

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Dear Pope John Paul II, I hope you are watching out for my mom while she visits you. I don’t mean to ask too much of you, but my I have one more request. My great aunt wants to go on a vacation, somewhere exotic like India. She talks about snake charmers. Please say a prayer to make her well enough to travel. It is her only wish. I know you are very busy at the Vatican, but if you get this letter please respond. Or if you see my mother could you tell her that I am waiting for her at the Balboa Inn? She is tall with red hair and she squints a lot because she doesn’t wear her glasses. With devotion, Angie Carpenter I was excited to wear one of Liberty’s old dresses for my birthday party; it was a small treat that helped me forget about Mom. When I awoke I was alone and I peered out the window in the morning fog and hoped it would burn off by noon. Dad knocked and came in without a present, not even a smile. Maxie danced around my feet. “Aunt Bib fell asleep last night and didn’t wake up,” he said. “But I was with her last night,” I said. “I was with her every night.” His hands trembled and his deep voice cracked. Some words were much louder than others and he seemed spastic and confused. He tried to hug me, but I ran down the hall and nearly knocked over a housekeeper. I burst in Bib’s room, her bed was made, and her books were stacked neatly on the nightstand. I threw open the closet door but there was nothing in there. Her clothes were gone. “She’s gone to India!” I shouted to Dad. He held me and gripped me tight until he was nearly resting his head on top of my scalp and sniffling in my hair. Liberty appeared in the doorway, sweating. “That’s all of it,” she said. I looked up into Dad’s face and I felt my heart beat quickly. “She told me that she wanted to go see bat shit in India,” I said. “Maybe she decided to go.” Liberty hushed me and sat me on Aunt Bib’s bed. It felt weird to sit on her bed. “She’s not in India, she’s dead,” she began. “Old people die and you are lucky that you spent time with her,” she said. She encouraged me to cry, but I couldn’t. We walked down the hall and Liberty held my hand. She even let me lie on her bed, something she never let me do. “I prayed for her to get to India,” I said. “Can we have your party next week after the funeral?” she asked. “I want to see her.”

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“She’s already gone,” she said. Dear Pope John Paul II, I regret to inform you that my Aunt Bib has passed away. Please say a prayer for her to arrive safely in heaven. My mother is still away. Please pray for her safe return. I imagine she’ll sail home, as she’s mentioned sailing around the world. Yours truly, Angie Carpenter An unexpected cold front moved in that night. I slipped down the hall with my pillowcase full of things I would need as I waited. I made a list that afternoon while everyone tried to figure out what to do, how to move forward and who to contact. They left me in my room with Maxie and I lay on Liberty’s bed. I collected a flashlight, peanut butter cookies, bread rolls, Nancy Drew novels, a blanket, my birthday dress and a fishing pole. I even stole a Coke from the staff break room. I sneaked down the hall and out the service exit and headed to the beach. I began my journey to the edge of the sea as darkness finally filled the night sky. As it got colder, I stuffed my head inside my hoodie. I crossed the boardwalk and briskly walked through the parking lot to the sand. Things felt empty there at night and the sea sounded frightening. I could hear waves spilling on to the beach but I couldn’t see them coming. I dug my toes into the cooled sand and tiptoed to the edge of the water. I said my prayers aloud and asked for safe returns. I closed my eyelids tightly and wished for the waves to break faster, for the wind to blow Mom back. Glancing back at the hotel terrace, I spotted my room window. I flipped on my flashlight and nestled into the sand, covering myself in a blanket. I began to read, keeping a sleepy eye on the far off horizon and I waited for the tide to go out.

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Two More Mojitos from Cleopatra

S

|

Jane Bradley

aturday at Inferno’s again, with the music licking me from the inside out. It came swelling

from the speakers, settling around us like fog. Jack was wearing his fedora with the red feather in it, cobra eyes flashing from the under the brim. He’s a fop, but he’s good looking enough to get away with it. Me, on the other hand, if I dressed like that, I’d just look like a twat. So I keep it simple: black vest, jeans and a DIY Mohican, worn with messy eyeliner and fuck-off army boots. Jack says they make me like look like I’m off to wage war or break bunnies out of a lab. We’re the opposite sides of the same coin, me and him, but you’d never know by looking. We’d been dancing for hours and even with the booze and the amphetamines, Jack was keeping track of everyone: the ones already heading home with their make-up melted, others just arriving, their faces hungry and excited. Then there were the ones who’d been here all night, wrecked and in love on a cocktail of alcopops, cheap coke and synthesisers. It was heading towards one in the morning, and the clock was counting down to the end of the night. Jack can map people’s paths through a club with creepy precision - point at anyone in the room and he can tell you the kind of night that they’re having. Like who they’re with and what they’ve taken. And, more to they point, he’ll know what they’re after. I didn’t even try to test him anymore; I just consulted him like an encyclopaedia when someone caught my eye. “Oi,” I gestured to his empty glass. “Another?” He rattled his ice-cubes, drained the dregs, and gave me a grin and a nod, so we wound our way towards the bar, where I shouted an order for two more mojitos. The barman had long dreadlocks in a topknot and eyeliner like Cleopatra, bopping his head to bleeps, bass and drums as he muddled mint, rum and sugar over ice. Beside me, Jack leant back on his elbows. Strobing lighthouse beams pulsed around the room, shuttering tiny movements in freeze-frame. Two topless men, kissing hot and hard between the speaker stacks, one with a tattooed tiger prowling down his back. A drag queen in gold hot-pants, placing a pill on her tongue with a wink. The DJ laughing like a cartoon genie in his headphones, being swallowed by a belch of dry ice. Cleopatra passed us our cocktails. I handed him a fistful of hot clammy coins, slurping at a straw as Jack surveyed the scene. “The redhead in the sailor dress, did she leave already?” I asked.

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“Nah. Last I saw she was off toward the toilets, but she’s not been back this way. Probably in the tunnel.” The tunnel, with its creamy red leather seats and condensation-drooled walls, was the area that connected the two rooms, where people went to crash when the heat and music got too much. “You scoped out who she’s with?” I still put it as a question, though we both knew what the answer was. Jack grinned again; slow and sleepy-eyed, showing off the chip in his front tooth. “What do you think?” “Alright, Rain Man. Go on.” “Three lads and two lasses. Including that blonde from Bonfire Night.” “Beth’s here? No way.” I whirled around, scanning the dance-floor. “I never saw her.” “Yeah, well.” He blinked. Snake eyes and long eyelashes. The strobe light went off like a camera flash. “You never do, do you?” We’d gone to Angela’s to watch the fireworks. A tiny tower block terrace on the thirteenth floor, in the middle of an estate where the smell of smoke hung on all year round. We leaned over the railings, looking up as stars exploded over our heads. Champagne bubbles of ecstasy pinballed through my blood. Jack slunk off with Angela and I stayed on the balcony with Beth. Before long we could hear Angela’s muffled mewling and the bedsprings squeaking. The sound made my cock start to stir. Stoned and sheepish, Beth chewed her bottom lip like she was trying not to laugh. She was shorter than me by inches, and standing next to her I could smell space cake and cinnamon on her honey-blonde curls. Looking out over the estate, I counted at least eleven bonfires. Rockets sizzled across the sky, accompanied by the usual distant soundtrack of sirens and shouts, and from the bedroom, the metallic wheeze of bed-frame and mattress was getting faster. Beth and I looked at each other, and a cute lopsided smile split her face. That was it. We cracked up laughing, clamping our hands over our mouths. When she kissed me she tasted of vodka and lemonade. With her tongue in my mouth and her hands on my hips, under my t-shirt and over my chest, time distorted. Rotting Halloween pumpkins on either side of the door cackled with caved-in faces. Beth’s lips were soft but her kisses were hard, and I hooked my thumbs through her belt loops, grinding my hips into hers. “Here?” I asked her, and my voice came out croaky and thick. She bit her lip again, checked the adjacent terraces, then nodded, suddenly shy. My heart hummed like a motor, thrumming through my shirt. I pressed her against the railings and slid my hands under her skirt. Her height made it complicated, and it took some fumbling to find a way. I had to lift her

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up and press her hard into the wall. She knotted her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. She was hot and tight and wet, and she had nothing to hang on to but me. I hadn’t seen her since. “No sign of Angela?” I asked. Jack’s smile became a scowl, and he busied himself with his drink. The amphetamines had hit me hard, and the room was starting to blur. “Nah.” Don’t push it, said his snake eyes. But I had a picture of Ange in my head, with her wrists in bandages. It niggled me like a loose tooth. “It feels like forever since I last saw her.” “You don’t say.” “Reckon she’ll ever start coming out again, like she used to?” This time he gave me a proper glare. Only for a second, but that was enough. “I doubt it,” he said, tipping his hat to Cleopatra as he slammed his glass down on the bar. “Not while we’re always here.” At Angela’s for New Year’s Eve, midnight had been and gone. Fireworks had carved up the clouds , and light was starting to leak in between them. Angela had locked herself in the bathroom with a bread knife and a bottle of gin. Jack and I took turns trying to persuade her to come out, while Mrs. Flaherty next door banged on the wall with her walking stick to tell us to keep the noise down. After a long time, Ange stopped sobbing, but she still wouldn’t come out. In the end, Jack shoulder-barged the door down. I hovered behind him, on the phone to the ambulance. It was their busiest night of the year, the operator said. While we waited, we used two towels and three rolls of toilet paper to mop up the blood. They had to bundle her out in a wheelchair; the lift was out of order, as usual, and the stretcher wouldn’t fit down the stairs. We only found out about the baby when we got to A&E. The strobe went off again. I ordered two more mojitos and told Cleopatra to keep the change. The throbbing red walls of the tunnel made it feel like science fiction. Like I’d been shrunk to microscopic size on a space-age mission and injected into a vein. Every cell echoed with a heartbeat thud. Jack was in a corner, with the redhead in the sailor dress backed up against the wall. Beth was slouched on the seats with the others. They’d been doing trays of tequila slammers, and the table was littered with chewed lemon rinds and salt shakers. They were talking over each other, but Beth wasn’t listening. She looked a million miles away. As I stood there wondering what she was on, she looked up and saw me watching. I didn’t look away. We stared each other out for ten stretched seconds, then that lopsided smile started sneaking onto her face. Suddenly, I had to get some air.

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I leant against the wall outside, feeling the bass thump through my feet. It was starting to rain. The pavement was wet and shining, the street-lamps all haloed with insects. Beth sidled up beside me, Eskimo-cute, in a parka with a fur-trimmed hood. She was biting her lip again and she had blushes blooming on both her cheeks. I passed her the spare drink, and she took it without a word. “What was Jack doing with Amy?” she asked after a minute. “Trying to teach me a lesson.” “Yeah? What lesson is that, then?” Beth was kitten-curious, a combination of playful and bored. Like she knew exactly what I was about to say, but was waiting anyway, to see if I’d surprise her. “He’s trying to teach me not to mention Angela.” She nodded, then we stood in silence, watching the rain sputter onto the street. “You ever see her anymore?” I asked her. “Sometimes.” “I haven’t seen her in ages.” I was remembering her dancing in the kitchen in her underwear, burrowing under my duvet on the settee, and watching kid’s cartoons with me while Jack was still asleep. Beth blew bubbles through her straw and shrugged. “Yeah, well. Y’know what they were like, her and Jack. Both as stubborn as each other.” “She alright, though?” “Yeah, much better. Almost back to her old self, sometimes.” “Good.” “It wasn’t Jack’s fault, what happened,” she said, after a pause. “I know.” “Does he?” “Not sure.” I waited until she’d finished her drink. Somewhere down the street, foxes snuffled through bin-bags. A late-night busker played a brassy gold saxophone solo. On impulse, I grabbed Beth’s hand, tugging her into the road. “Come on. I’ve had enough of it here.” “Where are we going?” She was rolling her eyes, but there was a laugh bubbling up in her voice. “Back to mine.” I’ve never been much good at walking the tightrope between cocky and cute. Beth cocked an eyebrow like a loaded gun. “You reckon?” “Yeah.” And we were both laughing then. “But first let’s get chips.”

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I could taste the salt tang already, so I pulled her towards the main road, where there was light and noise, taxis and takeaways. “What about Jack?” “He’ll survive.” She shook her head at that, chuckling and sighing at the same time. But she still followed me. We wolfed down our chips on the back row of the bus. “Will Jack stay with Amy tonight, do you reckon?” I asked with my mouth full. “Nah.” Beth was drawing stars and hearts on the steamed-up windows. Guilt flexed its claws inside my stomach. “Do you think we’d better go back?” She shook her head. “No need. I warned Amy off and phoned Angela. When we left she was on her way down to come and sort stuff out.” “You what?” “Yeah. I thought it was long overdue. Don’t you?”

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Windswept

|

Anthony Martin

I Inside an overturned strawberry truck lay a middle-aged man, dying. His anguished breaths spread loose dust about the cab, steady like an eighth-note metronome. A few minutes earlier he had been driving along with his arm dangling out the window and a cigarette resting between his chapped lips. When the tire blew, the man’s compensatory pull of the steering wheel caused the truck to tilt over onto its left side, at speed. Now his arm was crushed between the door and the road. The cigarette had come to rest in the crevice between the windshield and the dash, still burning. All there was now for the man was a strange quiet accompanied by a dull pain stirring somewhere deep, pushing and pulling him across the inner precipice separating awareness and blurry somnolence. Outside, not ten feet away, two boys gorged themselves on the strawberries that had spilled out of the truck bed and onto the country road. The gleaming red fruit was all that the boys saw when they rode up on their bicycles. They were far too smitten by the flavor of their serendipitous roadside treasure to notice the labored breathing coming from inside the truck. Their smiles unwittingly celebrated the last yield of a doomed man. # An hour or so earlier, the driver’s wife and son helped him load the wood-and-nail crates onto the truck. It was a mid-century pickup with olive green paint. Its bulbous headlamps and rounded accents gave it a cartoonish face that smiled at the world with chrome bumper lips that were starting to rust. The man stood in the weathered truck bed and organized piecemeal the stuffs that his family handed to him. His energetic boy, eager to anticipate his father’s every next thought, moved most of the weight. As the last two crates exchanged hands, a breeze moved in signaling the day’s slow move toward evening. It cooled their sweat. The man exhaled deeply, jumped down from the cab and mussed the boy’s hair. He kissed his woman before turning to go. “Careful out there, Ern.” # Once he was out on his familiar route, Ernie lit a cigarette. The late afternoon was his favorite time to smoke. He spent these early autumn afternoons with both windows open to the quiet landscapes rushing past him in the opposite direction. He envied their ability to so

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quickly return—to be infinitely returning—to the places that he had just come from. He yearned to go back home, back overseas, back to all the good people who had passed in and out of the frame. Though he could recount some of them with ease, others were forever receding like the shrinking cornfields in his rearview mirror. He took a drag of his cigarette. It seemed that each trip he made, whether delivery route or whiskey bar, shed new light on some clandestine path leading to the high ground between his past and his future, between the fast-fading sun behind him and the new moon rising ahead. From that elusive vantage point he imagined that an internal consensus could finally be reached that would permanently quell his tragic nostalgia. Yet he knew that he was only just setting out on his ascent toward this position of clarity. He was so tired . . . # It was the hollow metallic report of an object bouncing off the truck’s roof that brought Ernie out of his stupor. His eyes opened wide and began darting about the cabin. His breathing mimicked his rising panic, building in a crescendo of sharp breaths. When it peaked he froze, then his body went limp. His consciousness slipped back below the surface, down into the turbid depths of oblivion. II Anthony leaned right to dodge his brother’s projectile. The sound of the rock bouncing off the truck behind him was disguised by his quick rebuke. “Quit it!” “It’s my turn,” asserted Troy. He turned his attention away from his younger brother to the fruit scattered around them. The crimson berries were like droplets of blood against the road’s dusty Earth tones. Troy reached to pick one up. The sun, as if taking rest before the final leg of its westward descent, hung deep in the waning light of the afternoon sky. The boys looked out with silent stares on the fields before them, their sea-glass eyes reflecting nearby crops. The wheat harvest seemed to be respiring the way it swayed with the breeze. Anthony soon forgot his brother’s transgression. He was hypnotized by what he saw. His budding grasp on the real distance between him and the rest of the world was evident in his eyes. Troy was equally captivated, but his age made it easier to fashion imagery for the far off places in his mind. He pictured the ever-bustling metropolises depicted in his schoolbooks, the way they were magically illuminated by perpetual light. He imagined the different languages sounding in the streets: one drifted in from a high-browed political discussion; another

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originated between two critics discussing centuries-old artwork suspended in lacquered wooden frames. He wondered if, in the urban mosaics now materializing in his mind, one tile might depict two boys sitting on the outskirts cross-legged, fingers sticky with sucrose, looking back at him and his brother with commensurate awe. A slow darkening of the sky brought the boys back from their wander lusting. The late sun painted burnt oranges and deep purples on the burgeoning cloud cover now asserting itself on the horizon. Anthony wiped a stray drop of rain from his cheek and looked up. His brother calmly beckoned homeward. “We have time,” he said assuredly as he picked up another strawberry. He held it between his front teeth and leaned back onto a straightened arm. He bit down and reached with his free hand to take away the green leaves. He wiped some red dribble from the corner of his mouth. “We’ll beat it home,” he reiterated, and then paused. Thunder rolled in a series of terse crescendos followed by a rush of cold wind. The air deadened precipitously. A deep chill stirred deep within the boys. It blossomed outward leaving behind sensuous bumps as it permeated the skin and disappeared before the approaching gust. It was time to go. As the boys moved toward their bicycles, Anthony stopped to run his fingers along the finished wood that lined the bed of the truck. He lifted his eyes to his brother who had already stood his bike upright, ready to pedal off. “Hey Troy . . .” Troy turned back and glanced down at where his brother’s hand rested on the automobile. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go home.” III It wasn’t until the sky was completely overcast, long after the boys had departed, that a more aggressive chill crept into the truck. By then the rain was falling slowly in thick gobs that swelled on the road as they congealed with the dust. Some found their way through the open window and smacked gently against Ernie’s cheek. He stirred with a stunted gasp of air and opened his eyes. He could manage little more than a hazy squint through the cracked windshield at the gray, sideways world before him. The wind was pleasant . . . “Is that you honeybee? Hand me the smokes will you? Huh? Spare change? Sorry, I haven’t a dime . . . No, I’ll not be staying much longer. I don’t know when I’ll return . . . No. Unfortunately no.”

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Delusions mingled with the hints of coherent thought resurfacing in Ernie’s mind; they collaborated with the crisp air and its peculiar semblance to places past. He began to slip in and out of the droopy-eyed daydreams that skirted his fleeting consciousness. He was sure that he was back in a foreign land where, years earlier, the same fresh breeze had stopped off along one of its perpetual journeys to touch him. Yes, it had just moved into the city, accompanied by a light drizzle, when a young girl came abreast of him and took his arm. She looked into his eyes and spoke his name. The city, not quite one of those that young boys see off in the distance during contemplative gazes, was breathing again in the Ernie’s mind. It was all right in front him again. He reached out to touch it. He was there and in tune with the tempo of his surroundings as he had been when each alleyway was still virgin. Was it a trip to the grocery store that he was on now? Or had he ventured out to the pub for a pint and a smoke? He looked to the book in his hand and concluded the latter. The girl had run out of the café to meet him when, moments before, she had looked up from her countertop and caught him walking past the window, a two-toned tram passing just beyond his silhouette. With her arm now looped through his, she pulled him into an arched passage that led to a small causeway lined with makeshift stalls on either side. Immigrants with weathered faces hustled sunglasses and handbags to the occasional passerby. They raised their voices to advertise their wares above the din coming from just beyond Ernie’s newfound interlocutor. She asked him about the book he was carrying as she reached to take it from him his hand. Their fingers touched. “It’s fiction,” he said, “it’s an old one.” A slip-up in his response made the girl smile, her pink lips curled up toward youthful dimples. Her rounded cheeks flushed golden red as unknown energy traversed the short distance between them with invisible speed. Whatever planet they were standing on, in whichever galaxy of synapses it was embedded, words and their subtle linguistic nuances had been rendered unimportant. It only mattered that he could feel a sliver of the vibrant energy that this fair-skinned girl exuded. He felt like he was floating, like it wasn’t happening. It was only the sensation of the cool wind blowing over the raindrops on his skin that kept him rooted in that world, capable of reciprocation. The same wind was in the truck with Ernie now. His breath began to shorten and the memory of the city and girl began to fade. In that place, there in the passageway, she might have taken offense had their conversation ended where Ernie’s mind now failed to render the

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details. But she faded nonetheless, perhaps aware that her place was not within the crumbling walls of a doomed temporal kingdom. How long was I adrift in that world? He wondered. Can I reach my cigarettes and light one with my good hand? He tried to wiggle a finger but there was no response. Where is lighter anyway? He thought of his wife and boy. He strained to picture their faces, their eyes, their curls. A sharp jolt of pain shot from his pinned arm and froze him at the top of a lingering breath where a flash of his son’s smile, his wife’s face and the color of the girl’s touch were waiting together like a mirage. But they were loath to stay and quickly turned to black as the pain eased its grip on Ernie’s nerves. With a long exhale, a final bounty of oxygen left his lungs and dissipated into the night air. And the rain, the familiar wind that had preceded it now billowing some many miles away, began to fall steadily. IV It was dark outside the home of the departed. The sun was long gone, and the harvest moon was hidden somewhere behind the overcast now blanketing the sky. Ernie’s wife stood in the kitchen window, waiting. Behind her, through the doorway, a dim yellow light illuminated the dinner table. One chair, a plate and silverware set neatly before it, remained empty and pushed in. Next to it sat the boy waiting silently. He looked to his mother. She wore the same faded summer dress that she wore earlier when she and her boy helped Ernie load the truck. The bottom hem lifted gently as she turned from the window and walked back to the modest dining room. Her barely perceptible nod was all that the boy needed to begin eating. As he dug in, she took a final glance at the window before turning to her own plate, then to the boy, smiling softly at the healthy vigor with which he ate the day’s meal. # A dozen or so miles away, through the sleeping wheat fields and past that fateful intersection now damp and dark, Anthony and Troy sat across from each other. A homecooked meal cooled on the dinner table between them. Their father was finishing grace. “Amen,” he concluded, opening his eyes as he unclasped his hands and took his elbows from the table. He listened to his wife attentively as he picked up his fork and began to eat. “It’s a shame about Penny, you know, for them to just let her go like that.” “I don’t agree with it, but it’s just the way that business is done these days sweetheart.” With his parents occupied, Anthony stole a glance at his older brother before shifting his eyes down to his dinner. He wasn’t hungry. Troy too was slow to begin eating. He used his

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knife to shuffle his fingerling potatoes toward the rim of the plate. He stared at their variegated colors, how they hung on the edge precariously. He waited in vain for his appetite to return lest his mother take notice. She would ask questions, he knew, and for the first time that day he began to consider the fact that an honest response to her queries wouldn’t be simple at all. “Troy,” she would probe, “why aren’t you eating?” Her sharp eyes would bore destructive holes into the synaptic bridges connecting his brain matter. Troy, acutely aware that Anthony would be next in line to answer for his own untimely satiation, would search hopelessly for a workable lie. “Aw Ma,” he’d feign, “it’s just that I’m not feeling so hot.” Anything was better than expressing distaste for his mother’s cuisine. Yet in reality he wasn’t focused on excuses. He was involuntarily pursuing his mother’s theoretical inquisition back to its root, back to the questions that the boys failed to pay mind to earlier that day. The answers were troubling. Anthony began to take notice of his brother’s concern and, meaning to gesture surreptitiously, he instead jerked his hand awkwardly and made a clank with his fork. Troy froze. “Anthony!” his mother snapped with a sideways glance, forced to interrupt the ongoing dialogue with her husband, “elbows off the table.” “Sorry,” he replied sheepishly. His voiced cracked. His mother shifted her attention back to her husband. “Sor-ry,” Troy mimicked, holding his brother’s widening eyes as he said it. “Troy, what did I tell you about teasing your brother?” But he didn’t hear her finish. He didn’t hear anything. He just stared into his brother’s astonished eyes and slowly turned his lips up into a big, self-satisfied grin.

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Review

| NowTrends |

Karl Taro Greenfield

by Ursula Villarreal-Moura Published: 2011 Short Flight/Long Drive Books (www.hobartpulp.com/minibooks) $11.95(338p) ISBN 978-0-9825301-5-3

“That possibility, of changing not just the locale but the content of her life,” is what Sandi in “Australia” and many other of Karl Taro Greenfeld’s characters aim for in his stellar short story collection NowTrends. Set in beach towns, on mountain tops, and cities around the around the globe, these twelve stories examine the delusions people stubbornly cling to, the often unsightly aftermaths of success, the sex industry as two-way streets leading out of and in to poverty, and the pitfalls of unbridled competition. Greenfeld’s prose in these stories is consistently sharp and effortlessly fluid, with only a few syntactically awkward sentences in over three hundreds pages. Drug use features prominently in a couple of these stories and serves as a backdrop for a few others. In “Mistakes Were Made, Errors Happened” a Japanese American boy out of high school scrambles to find his way in his mother’s homeland but instead stumbles into drug use and a shady life of scam artists. In this particular story, the narrator’s drug habit is pivotal to the plot and highlights the narrator’s desperation, naivety, and ultimately his sense of humor regarding his failures. In “Amsterdam,” a story in which a newly published author jaunts from Japan to Amsterdam to Ibiza with his girlfriend and what he perceives to be an unending amount of time and money, the narrator’s reckless drug use feels gratuitous, and like a weak stand-in for a more developed or engaging plot. Greenfeld’s fascination with history and Asian culture is most evident in “The Gymnast” where mothers must part with their young daughters in hopes that their progeny will make the cut for the national team and the Olympics, and in “Even The Gargoyle is Frightened” where kamikaze pilots dying for the Emperor are trained to be believe in their own immortality, a story and message that brings chills to any reader who lived through September 11th. The brightest diamonds of the collection are “Copper Top,” “Death or Glory,” “The Gymnast,” “Australia” and “Even the Gargoyle is Frightened.” In all, these stories are compelling, even energizing, windows into the world of people hungry to change the content, and often the landscape, of their lives. Karl Taro Greenfeld’s latest novel, Triburbia, is also out now.

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Contributors S.E. Franz Samuel Eric Franz lives in Manchester, England. He only started writing last year, at the age of twentyseven. He is predominantly a poet and is currently submitting what he feels are his best pieces to various publications. He takes inspiration from his travels of Europe, Asia and the US. Kristina England Kristina England resides in Worcester, MA. Her poetry is forthcoming or published in Gargoyle, Haggard and Halloo, Red Poppy Review, Strong Verse, and other magazines. For more on her poetry, visit http://kristinaengland.blogspot.com/. Ray Santos Ray Santos is a man of few words. Usually about 2000 to 3000 to be exact. He is currently working on two short story collections about his hometown of Hialeah, Florida and his travels in Europe. His poems and short stories have appeared in such distinguished online publications as Hobo Pancakes and EWR Short Stories. Dalton Day Dalton Day is twenty-something college student living in Asheville, North Carolina. His work has previously appeared in Used Furniture Review as well Headwaters Creative Arts Magazine. He is also a 2012 Recipient of the Topp/Grillot Poetry Award. He drinks a lot of chocolate milk. Peter Swanson His poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Cortland Review, The Interpreter’s House, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, and The Vocabula Review. He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts, and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 feature films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. John Grey John Grey is an Australian born poet, works as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Poem, Spindrift, Prism International and the horror anthology, “What Fears Become” with work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Pinyon. George Bishop George Bishop’s recent work appears in New Plains Review and Naugatuck River Review. New work will be included in the Penwood Review. Bishop is the author of five chapbooks. The most recent is “A Little Like You” forthcoming in 2013 from Alabaster Leaves Publishing. His first full length collection

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“Expecting Delays” is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. He attended Rutgers University and now lives and writes in Kissimmee, Florida. Anne Britting Oleson Anne Britting Oleson has been published widely in the US, UK and Canada. She earned her MFA at the Stonecoast program of USM. She has published two chapbooks, The Church of St. Materiana (2007) and The Beauty of It (2010). Another book, Counting the Days, is scheduled for release next year. Mike Berger Mike Berger is an MFA, PhD. He writes poetry and short stories full time He has been writing poetry for less than four years. His work appear in seventy-one journals. He has published two books of short stories and eight poetry chapbooks .The winner of several poetry contests, he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is a member of The Academy of American Poets. Adam Moursy Adam Moursy lives in New York City. He is a frequent contributor to Wicked With Ink, and has also appeared in Thunderclap! Magazine as well as Leaf Garden Press. Jennifer Lenhardt Jennifer Lenhardt currently resides in the Northern Virginia/DC area where she writes mostly in mornings and preferably with coffee. Her current work can be found at jenniferlenhardt.com Dale Murphy Dale Murphy is a creative writing major at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, originally from Massachusetts. She has never before been published. Susan Dale Susan’s poems and fiction are on Eastown Fiction, Tryst 3, Word Salad, Pens On Fire, Ken *Again, Hackwriters, and Penwood Review. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan. AJ Huffman A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published six collections of poetry all available on Amazon.com. She has also published her work in numerous national and international literary journals. Most recently, she has accepted the position as editor for four online poetry journals for Kind of a Hurricane Press ( www.kindofahurricanepress.com ). Find more about A.J. Huffman, including additional information and links to her work at http:// www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000191382454 and https://twitter.com/#!/poetess222.

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Leesa Cross-Smith Leesa Cross-Smith lives and writes in Kentucky. Her work has appeared in places like Word Riot, Carve Magazine, Juked, matchbook, DOGZPLOT, NAP, Little Fiction, Specter Magazine and Bluestem Magazine, among others. She is co-founding editor of a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. She’s not real big on fancy. Find her at LeesaCrossSmith.com. Marcus Lund Marcus Lund lives in Oakland, CA, where he is an MFA student at Mills College. He is currently working on his first novel. His work has appeared in 34th Parallel, Xenith Magazine, and Brink Magazine, among others. Thomas Janikowski You can read more of Tom’s work at Red Fez, Hackwriters, Side B Magazine, and Brain Harvest, but it is easiest to find him at www.martinipen.com Christopher Nosnibor Christopher Nosnibor is the author of THE PLAGIARIST, Postmodern Fragments: Writings on Work, Technology and Contemporary Living, From Destinations Set and, most recently, This Book is Fucking Stupid, as well as a number of pamphlets, he has had stories published in numerous places including Paraphilia Magazine, Neonbeam, The Toronto Quarterly, I’m Afraid of Everyone, Bad Marmalade and Blacklisted Magazine. Based in York but continually on the move, he contributes regular music reviews to Shout4Music and Reflections of Darkness and has also produced over 800 music reviews for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ in the last three years, and recently became fiction editor for Paraphilia Magazine. A music obsessive and 24/7 enigma, he drinks real ale and single malt whiskies and doesn’t sleep much. Ian Swanson Ian is a recent college graduate, currently living in Chicago, Illinois. “Glory & Consequence On Veteran’s Day” is his first published short story since graduating from the University of Iowa in 2010. Wynn Wheldon Wynn Wheldon has had poetry and fiction published in various magazines and anthologies, including Acumen, Ambit, Gem Street, London Magazine, Orbis, Prole and The Spectator. Other prose has appeared in The Independent, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, and numerous magazines. He is the author of several books, including The Father and Child Companion (Spruce) and Porches (Barron’s). He is married and lives in London.

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Crissy Van Meter Crissy has her MFA from the New School and is the founder of FiveQuarterly.org. She’s a journalist and editor in Brooklyn. Jane Bradley Jane Bradley is an emerging author based in Manchester. Her fiction has been published in both the UK and America, most recently by Papercut Press in New York. She is the co-editor of Short Stack, an anthology of the best new pulp fiction written by women, published by Pulp Press with For Books’ Sake. Anthony Martin Anthony Martin works as a technical writer in Southern California. He is currently enrolled in the MA Program for Rhetoric & Writing Studies at San Diego State University. Though his creative work remains absent from print publications, samples of Anthony Martin’s work can be found on his blog at the following address: http://blavamac.wordpress.com/creative-work/ Ursula Villarreal-Moura Ursula Villarreal-Moura is an American writer. She has worked for various magazines including American Short Fiction and LUMINA. Currently she is completing her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

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Profile for Chris Leech

Nib Magazine  

Issue One - October/November 2012

Nib Magazine  

Issue One - October/November 2012

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