Rind Literary Magazine Issue 11 march 2018
All Works ÂŠ Respective Authors, 2018
Cover Art By: Collette curan
Editor in Chief: Dylan gascon
Fiction Editors: Johnathan Etchart Jenny Lin Melinda Smith Stephen williams Shaymaa Mahmoud
Nonfiction Editors: Collette Curran Owen Torres William Ellars Anastasia Zamora
Poetry Editors: Shaymaa Mahmoud Sean hisaka Lisa cowan
Webmaster: Omar Masri
Blog Manager: Dylan Gascon
Fiction: Trail magic/mark jacobs
switch and bait/Benjamin McCormick
Poetry: Damaged goods/Valerie Ruberto
Seeing eyes/kia hyle
Acknowledgements Thank you to all of our contributors, past and present, for helping us get this thing moving. Thank you to the creative writing faculty of the University of California-Riverside, Mount San Antonio College, Rio Hondo College and Riverside Community College for your continued support of this magazine. Rind is on the look out for original artwork and photography for our upcoming issues. If you or someone you know might be interested in contributing, send us an inquiry for more details. Please support the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival; find them at www.sgvlitfest.com. We’ll be there, and so should you. Check out our listing on Duotrope. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter. Regular updates on RLM and other fun and interesting things can be found at our affiliated blog site: www.thegrovebyrind.wordpress.com. If you would like to contribute to Rind, send your manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers! –The Rind Staff
Damaged Goods By Valerie Ruberto Drowning in the squealed cadence of wet soles kissing linoleum While I’m sprawled across pop up shelves with you. Outside overwhelmed, I hear the clouds are screaming. But me, I always knew the best places to hide. However, I am no match for your veins. I get lost in the spotlights that flood me throughout them. I live in each branch, but privacy eludes you and me. Get lost in intimate familiarity; the floodgates that circumvent honesty. And honestly, tangled in your veins, there’s no earthly place superior. So brain bereft of blood, I’ll reframe us in semantics of a more simplistic love: Pop up shelf princess, I’m a bruised eccentric fruit. You, my dented soup can lover, eat around the rot. Because from my pit we all grow the same. The taste of flesh unchanged by the dirt of peeling skin. Here we leak from unscrewed caps -- floodgates, veins that weren’t tied tight enough; A storm that didn’t shake hard enough; They pop up because they’re meant to be put away.
Farallone Islands By Arnie Gubins
Trail Magic By Mark Jacobs On a cool Carolina morning he was suddenly there, matching her stride for stride as the trail went up a hill through solemn woods. Halfway up they reached a wide flat space hedged on both sides with ferns whose leaves had the pale green of early season growth. Cabbages with a funky design sense. She stopped. He stopped. They unslung their packs and stretched. “I’m Pokey,” she told him. He nodded, looking away. “Ahab.” Ahab was a smallish man with an alert expression as if anticipating something he could not put into words. He seemed to want to hide his blue eyes from her; they would give him away. He was her age, in the neighborhood of forty, so the symmetric dimples were no affectation, they belonged. His brown hair was starting to get a little long, the way some men’s hair got on the trail over the weeks as their bodies toughened up and they learned unexpected things about themselves. She liked his thin wrists, which were almost womanly in their slender strength. Around the left one he wore a leather bracelet. with a single blue bead. He radiated something – for lack of a better word she told herself it was an aura – that made her feel comfortable. No. More than comfortable. She was actually cheerful. “This is my through hike,” she told him. “Georgia all the way to Maine? That’s impressive.” His voice was soft but had a reassuring quality that made her think he might be a doctor. It was easy to imagine him giving calm orders during an operation. She said, “What about you?” He looked away again but answered. “Just seeing how long I can make it last.” Trail etiquette discouraged you from asking questions about a person’s other life. The whole point of a trail name was anonymity. She had given careful thought to this. The beauty of anonymity was how it allowed you to experiment. Your past and the mistakes you lugged around with you did not have to determine who you were today. You could correct your course. Who you were mattered, 8
of course, but so did who you might become. Here, as they crested the hill and soft gold blurred the east sky, was a moment. Good. Moments were why she was on the trail. Experience them, make a necklace of them, get rich and share the wealth. It was too soon to stop again, but they stopped. A bird in the woods was going melodiously nuts. "It's a mockingbird," he told her. "You're a birder." She was not sure whether that impressed or deflated her. "Nah, mockingbirds are easy, they're such show-offs." Impulsively she said, "Let's hike together." Stupid. They were already hiking together. Would he think she was the kind of woman who constantly needed definitions? But he took it in stride, and they hiked. She was trail hardened by now. With ease they passed a plodding German couple earnestly conversing in low voices, and then some white kids with dreads who had stopped for a squirt-gun battle. As the day commenced the trees appeared to stir themselves, like animals, and come awake. Spending weeks in the woods made you aware how much life resided there, how little you knew about its genetic rituals of feeding and mating and killing. You were awed by its complete indifference to the raging furnace that was you. He asked her how she got her trail name. "I was doing day hikes with some people and kept getting sidetracked, going into the woods to look at stuff. What about Ahab? Isn't that the white whale?" "It's the guy that chases the whale." She waited for additional explanation but did not get any. For all his reserve, however, he inspired confidence and seemed interested in the things she said. As the morning spooled past them on the trail she said more.
“My real name is Tressa. I’m a widow.” “I’m sorry. How did your husband die?” “Bill was a pilot. He was testing a new plane for Beechcraft. There was something wrong with the avionics.” Strictly speaking, that was a lie. Her husband’s name was Walter, and he had left her for a recent college graduate who had a knack for dramatizing her career uncertainties. But Tressa was not speaking strictly, she was experimenting. It caused a pleasant hum in her head. “This only works if you tell me something, too,” she said to Ahab. “My life is boring. I used to be married. Now I’m not. I used to work in a bank, but I quit.” Changing the subject seemed like a good idea. She told him she had almost given up the quest. "Can you believe that? My first week on the trail." He pointed into the woods where a fleet shadow stirred the leafy underbrush. She wanted to think she heard rustling. "It's a red fox." She was learning. This was how he was encouraging her to tell the story she wanted to tell him. It was as though he were stepping aside, inviting her to come in. A form of consideration. Walter had never been anything like considerate with her. Stop. Restart. Forget Walter. Walter was the past. The past bored her. "I got a blister on my ankle,” she told him. “It kept getting worse. Moleskin helped some, but there I am hobbling along asking myself is it worth the aggravation? I slept in a lean-to that night. It was crowded, and no one was friendly, like some sort of sorority that didn’t want me pledging. They made me feel like an intruder. No, not an intruder, an imposter. Who was this woman pretending she's going to hike the Appalachian Trail with a bad ankle? In the morning I decided to bag it. There was a place coming up where you had to cross a highway. My plan was to hit the highway and hitch to somewhere I could rent a car and go home. But then on the side of the road I saw a man. He was 10 sitting on the tailgate of an old pickup and looked like a troll of the forest, real short and kind of furry, with funny little fat arms. He had a lisp and spoke very slowly."
sitting on the tailgate of an old pickup and looked like a troll of the forest, real short and kind of furry, with funny little fat arms. He had a lisp and spoke very slowly." She stopped to be sure Ahab was listening. He was. In the right way. "So anyway the guy sprayed my ankle with something, I don't know what it was." "And your ankle got better?" "Instantly. That's not the strangest part, though. What really got me was his jokes. He told me, I don't know, let's say ten jokes, and they were all incredibly hilarious. By the time he got to the last one I was crying from laughing so hard. Here's the thing, though. Ten minutes back on the trail my blister is gone and I can't remember a single joke." "So you believe in trail magic." "I do. I absolutely do." "Good things happen when you hike." It was the kind of comment you could take in several ways, and Tressa took it in all of them. She had been hoping to spend the night in a lean-to, but the one they came across just before dusk was full up with hikers kicking back. One of them was playing spooky blues music on a harmonica. The sound followed Tressa and Ahab up an easy slope to a clearing where they set up their tents close to one another but not too close. They shared a meal. It was good to eat someone else's food even if it was only packaged rations. As the night came down, stars salted the black sky above the clearing like little blinking ads. Be here, be here. This is where you were meant to be. Frogs plucked banjos, and tree toads expressed their collective indignation in waves. Relaxed in the company of a stranger, Tressa was aware of affinities. She felt herself being wrapped in a jacket of connections. Invisible silk threads tied one thing to another: the freckles on her arms to the freckled sky, Ahab's soft deep voice to a bullfrog's. Man and woman, beast and tree, stone and the secret breath of the world, all of them bound in an intimacy that was not so much fragile as transient. She had no wish to break free of it, she longed for it to last. 11
She sat on a bamboo mat in front of her tent, legs crossed, hands folded in her lap, as though she were meditating. There was just enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes from lighting, although once in a while she heard the tiny whine of their frustration. She asked him, "Are you tired?" "No." "Are you tired of hearing me talk?" "No." "I kind of wanted to tell you a story. It's about me, something that happened to me." "I would like to hear it." This was how change happened. You said something that could have been true, should have been true. Saying it filled you out. It gave you a more interesting shape, and a voice no one anticipated, least of all you. Going into the next day you were more formidable. "When I was twelve my mother told me a secret. That her own mother was an Indian. Fullblooded. A Nez Perce. My grandfather always pretended she was Italian. She died when I was little so I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t really remember her, but you can see it in her picture. Anyway that summer my mother sent me by train to Idaho. That's where the Nez Perce have their reservation." As she thought for a moment, picturing what she would have seen, a mosquito landed on her cheek. She picked it off but did not squash it. She saw a hawk in traditional sunshine, silver fish in a heap on the bank of a silver river, smoke from a chimney in a shack in the scrabbly lap of a low hill. "What I want to say is going to sound corny." "Corny is not the same as fake." "You're right. Okay. It changed my life. I spent two years on the reservation with my mother's people. I started having Indian dreams. I still have them. If I hold my wrist with my other hand, like this, the blood feels different."
Ahab did not make more of the story than he should. He was like a well, down which a person could drop treasured possessions knowing they would be safe. She went to sleep in her tent wrapped in a sense of peaceful ease. They were attracted to each other. That was pretty obvious. But neither of them was in a hurry. They had all the time they needed to see where it went. If it went nowhere, that would be okay, too. It was her best night's sleep on the trail. Until something startled her awake, her un-Indian blood pumping hard. She sat up and wriggled out of her bag. She crawled to the front of her tent. When she unzipped the door flap she panicked until she realized the figure crouching on one knee in front of the tent was Ahab. "What are you doing?" "I heard a noise." "Something just woke me,â&#x20AC;? she said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Maybe it was the same noise." "Come outside a 'sec." She did not want to but did. As she stood up in the dark so did he. He put a warm hand on her arm. "You're trembling. Are you afraid?" "No." It must be after midnight, making that the first lie of the new day. He gave off a fresh smell that was pleasing to her, as though he had just stepped out of the shower. Why did she say what she said next? "Tomorrow I want to hike alone." He waited just a second too long before assuring her, "Cool. No problem." When he went back into his tent, Tressa stood there in front of hers for a few minutes waiting for the trembling to stop. The breeze at this hour was cool on her skin, a reminder of how relentless time was. At least she would have a day on her own to sort through her feelings and see where they contradicted her thoughts. 13
◉ When she came out of the tent in the morning, the half light of a false dawn gave the east sky a reassuring look. She heard water running and followed the white beam of her flash across the clearing and down a ravine at the bottom of which ran a shallow creek. She knelt on the bank and washed her face. The sting of cold water was better than a cup of coffee. It made her grin, as though she were getting away with something. She unbuttoned her shirt and shucked it. She scooped icy water on her chest and arms, raising goose bumps. The fact was, she had never given serious thought to freedom. The sky was lightening as she made her way back to the tents. Ahab was awake, heating water on a burner. They said good morning. For no reason good or bad she changed her mind again and invited him to hike with her. The low-key way he accepted was the signal she hadn’t known she was looking for. There had been enough drama with Walter, once things went bad, to last a lifetime. She had a sense that Ahab knew the way her mind worked but was not judging it or her. They were a day, maybe a little more, from the Virginia border and fell into a good walking rhythm, better than she had experienced with any of her friends, building up for the through hike. She gave Ahab credit for that, then corrected the impulse and awarded herself a little, too. After lunch she told him what was on her mind. "I would like to know your real name." "It's Ken." When he hesitated, she thought that was all she was going to get from him. But he knew, he knew, she was craving more. "I grew up in Virginia," he told her. "My daddy was a big-time tobacco farmer." She loved the way he said, 'My daddy.' It was natural and affectionate and made what came next all the sadder. "Mr. Arthur, that’s what everybody called him in our part of the county. Every harvest he kept enough burley back for a stock of hand-rolled cigarettes for himself and his friends. An old one14 armed black guy named Randolph made them for him. Randolph rolled the smokes, put them up in
"Mr. Arthur, that’s what everybody called him in our part of the county. Every harvest he kept enough burley back for a stock of hand-rolled cigarettes for himself and his friends. An old onearmed black guy named Randolph made them for him. Randolph rolled the smokes, put them up in packs, managed the whole deal with his one hand. The packs had Mr. Arthur’s private-stock logo on them. He used to hand them out at Christmas. Lung cancer took him out at age fifty three." "I am so sorry." "Don't ask me how I wound up working in a bank. It just kind of happened. After I was there a year I figured out that one of our vice presidents was siphoning off money. He was real good at it. Never got too greedy, and he was meticulous in how he covered his tracks. I only tumbled to what he was doing by accident, but somehow he knew I was onto him. Neither of us said word one, but a couple days after he gave me a fishy look my car blew up while I was inside at the pharmacy. I quit the next day." "You didn't call the cops?" He shook his head. "The way I saw it, anybody that would send a message by detonating a person’s vehicle was not going to be shy about seeking revenge." The story thrilled Tressa, and troubled her. She could not help thinking it might be as true as her own story about the death of her test-pilot husband Bill. She still wanted more, though. She wanted to know about Ken's wife even if what he said was a naked screaming lie. Never mind. The time would come. Meantime the point was to enjoy the pleasure of strong walking, the sweet rank smell of the woods, her dependable companion. Midafternoon, an entry in a notebook register freed her of the smidgen of doubt she had not been able to shake.
They came across the register inside a lean-to. All but the last page of the notebook was full, crammed with entries from hikers leaving practical tips about the trail, along with doggerel verses and the occasional rhapsody on the awesomeness of nature. Tressa and Ken thumbed through it, reading aloud to each other the snippets that took their fancy. Then, toward the end of the book, in black ink in a woman's firm hand, this: Never mind the details of my dream. They are private and would not make sense to you. What matters is the dream's message, which is this. Your fear is a crutch. Quit hobbling. Walk. The bliss of running will follow. Ken did not pay attention to the note, which Tressa took as a sign that it was intended for her alone. That night she sat on her mat watching him build a small fire in a clearing almost identical to the one in which they had spent the previous night. When the fire was blazing he sat behind her and brushed her hair. When had he managed to pull her hairbrush from her pack? Was it thoughtfulness? Not for months had anything felt so good to her, so perfectly right. His brush strokes were regular and smooth. This was not the first time he had brushed a woman's hair. If there was an icy spot in her secret center, she felt it melting around the edge. "I'm Ahab because I don't give up," he said suddenly. "Give up what?" "Anything. Ever. Is that a fault?" She shrugged, which broke the pattern of his brushing. She resisted the urge to apologize and sat still again. "It can be a fault," she said, "but maybe sometimes it can also be a virtue." "I'm glad you think so, Tressa." It was the first time he pronounced her name. It sounded delicious in his mouth, the sweet residue of it sticking to his thin and shapely lips. The lips of a saint, that was what they looked like, although she was under no illusions. The man had his faults, he must have some. She had a sense that he was aroused. Well, she was, too. It was nice not to feel any hurry. No hurry meant no pressure, which might be how you got to free. 16
He stopped brushing. As she moved to stand up, he held her back. She didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t like that. She wanted him to feel the same unhurry she felt, the same deliberate undriven pace. That was important. "Let me go, please." He seemed to understand. He let her go. "Sorry. It was just, I was feeling close." "It's okay." She definitely slept better with Ken in the vicinity. You heard stories about women alone on the trail. They were part of the lore. That night it took diabolical thunder to wake her, although the rain on her tent was light and cheerful. Through the tent's thin fabric she watched lightning make momentary blurred patterns, like the half-formed thoughts of some great creature of the sky. She lay on her back enjoying the spectacle, the sensations, the feeling of safe witness. Why she got out of her bag, left her tent, and crawled to Ken's was beyond her, snug as she was on her own. In the darkness her hand found the front zipper of the tent and pulled. It was strangely like tugging at a different zipper. That one turned out to be superfluous because he was sleeping in his shorts and was unsurprised and made love to her like a traditional Southern gentleman concerned for her pleasure, her comfort. She had not made love since learning about Walter's absurd fling with the girl who couldn't make up her mind whether to take the corporate job or join the Peace Corps. It was like coming back to a pure place she had forgotten, around which rocks presided. A spring ran disappearing into the velvet ground. A turtle sunned itself on a boulder. Head down, a doe lapped water, and joyful voices sang in the cascade. How could you forget such a place existed? Anyway she had, and now she was back. She warned herself not to express gratitude to Ken.
When the time came, she told him she was going back to her tent to sleep. "Don't," he said. His voice was colorless, and she did not know how to interpret the word. She sat up. He pulled her down to the ground and held her there. She smelled his clean fresh smell. In the forgotten place, the turtle clambered down from its rock and disappeared under water. She heard its soundless plop. Only after struggling against him for a few moments did she begin to be afraid. "You're scaring me, Ken." She waited for him to relax his grip on her and apologize. He did neither. "You don't get it," he said. "What don't I get?" "How it works." His vagueness ticked her off. "How what works? Damn it, I have no idea what you're talking about." He was not a bad person. All it took was her little tantrum for him to realize he was overdoing it and let her go. It occurred to her that maybe she should feel flattered by his hanging on. Whatever. She slunk out of the tent into what was now a hard rain. She felt unmoored. Unlashed heavy things rolled across her deck, threatening to capsize her. In her own tent she changed into dry clothes. She was shivering again and felt, for a moment, like a monkey. Monkeys were idiotic. The thunder and lightning, she noticed, had stopped. A little later, so did the rain.
◉ In the morning a murder of crows flew over the clearing like noisy messengers with a warning. Tressa stayed in her tent not exactly thinking. Her mind was airspace, and it was all she could do to prevent one thought from crashing into the next. They moved along unpredictable vectors, vexed her, then disappeared. When she came outside, Ken was heating water on a burner. “Tea?” 18
“Tea?” She nodded and drank a hot mugful watching him gather his gear. She told him, “I want to dry my clothes before I start out.” That elicited a puzzled look, as though she had hurt his feelings. He was plainly playing her. But instead of making her wary, it only brought on a moment of inexplicable satisfaction. Well-being radiated through her. She felt wise. She had climbed the tree of knowledge and could see everything that mattered. “Last night,” she said. He stopped packing, holding a pair of tightly rolled jeans. He stared. “I only wanted to say it felt good.” “Love hurts,” he told her, as though it were a law and needed stating. When his stuff was stowed, he hoisted his pack and said, “Thank you, Tressa. I mean Pokey.” “If you wait until my clothes are dry, we can hike together a ways.” “How far?” She looked at her map. “We’ll definitely make Virginia today. Your home state. Let’s go as far as the border and see how we feel.” He put his pack down. Her clothes dried fast. They reached Virginia in the early afternoon. For the first time since she had set out, going the distance seemed real to Tressa, seemed possible. She had purposely avoided looking up pictures of Mt. Katahdin at trail’s end in Maine. She preferred the mountain of her imagination and would surrender it only to the actual mountain actually observed. A trail angel had left candy bars in a box in a lean-to. They ate peanut butter cups and filled their water bottles. Neither of them said anything about splitting up.
Later that afternoon she was glad she stuck with him because finally he talked about his wife. Her name was Vanessa. Tressa pictured a demure woman, a fitness freak who shopped for expensive clothes and cared about her nails. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea,” Ken told her. “It was my fault. The whole thing was my fault. She was unhappy, and I missed all the signals. I was busy with other things.” “What other things?” The question made him snap. “None of your business.” But immediately he felt bad and told her so. “See? This is why I didn’t want to talk about Vanessa in the first place. It only upsets me, and there’s nothing I can do.” Tears came into his eyes. Only actors cried on command. An odd notion came to her, Ken in a reality series, searching for the one true replacement for the woman who had left him. With the idea, a lump of self-knowledge. Tressa would not be or want to be one of the contestants. “Let’s talk about something else,” she suggested. But they hiked without conversing the rest of the afternoon. She began to feel comfortable again, content with where she was, who she was. Being in shape was its own reward. That evening they lucked into an unoccupied lean-to. “This is luxury,” he said, stretching his arms, his legs, his back. “If we make love,” she told him, “I don’t want you to hurt me.” He gave her that telltale puzzled look as though he could not quite make out the intent behind the words. And then did hurt her. In the dark, on top of her, he put a hand around her throat and choked her as he approached climax. Despite the terror she felt, Tressa responded tactically. She did not fight him or try to escape. She let her body go limp until his fit of passion was spent. When he kissed her cheek, she took it. And when he rolled off her, breathing heavily, she reached for her flash. She packed her things without speaking.
“It was a mistake, Tressa. God, Jesus, I knew I was going to mess this up.” No answer. “Did it at least feel kind of good to you? I mean, it’s one of those things that’s hard to talk about, right?” She said one word, goodbye, gambling that he would not get dressed and chase her. And he didn’t. She spent a slow and miserable night picking her way along the trail with her flash. At one point the beam wore down, and she panicked until she remembered she had fresh batteries and changed them. Outlandish shadows crouched everywhere as she walked, just beyond the light’s reach. No, she answered his question a mile past the lean-to. I am not perverted. It did not feel kind of good. She slogged through sunrise when the morning light made a spectacle of her, bedraggled and haggard. She found herself in a league of sorrow with the sun, whose doleful eye had of course seen much worse: burnt villages, starved farmers, whole armies butchered and butchering. At mid-morning she left the trail, following signs to a hostel for hikers. The place she came to was a classic old stone farmhouse, run by a gray-haired woman with ruddy cheeks who made you think of home-baked pie. Around the house stretched a broad green lawn, sloping in back to a barnyard overrun with chickens and goats. In the front, under shade trees, there were picnic tables and two charcoal grills. Tressa took a room and crashed in the bed trying to decide whether she should call the police. She slept all afternoon, deep and dreamless. She woke having decided there was nothing she could say that the police would take seriously. Ken had been rough. She disliked it. He let her leave. It was over. Who was she kidding? She plugged her phone in to charge. She showered. After dressing, she checked her messages. She sat in a chair and massaged her toes, which were individually tender as though she had insulted them one by one. And when she stepped outside there he was, sitting at one of the picnic tables with a basket. He waved. It could not be dangerous to be with him in a public place. As she approached the table he displayed a bottle of wine. 21
“Hey, Tressa. I rented a car and drove into town. This is the most expensive bottle of red I could find. And there’s food.” “Your wife left you because you hurt her, didn’t she?” “I owe you an explanation.” She was hungry and thirsty. She accepted his turkey-and-cheddar Panini, his spinach salad, his excellent Rioja. In the light of day she did not feel unsafe. Behind the farmhouse, a bare-chested young guy sweated chopping firewood to pay for his stay. It was going to take a day or two to get over last night’s terrible dark hike. Ken tried to persuade her that Vanessa had enjoyed what he called sexon-the-edge. But he was the last thing from offensive about it. He was meek and chastened and knew better than just to apologize again. “I know I did everything wrong,” he said. “I know you don’t trust me now. I just want us to part friends.” It was exhaustion that kept her there, across from him at the table in placid shade. She was pleased when a group of hikers showed up and commandeered a couple of tables. People introduced themselves casually, using their trail names. Everybody was laid back, which was how it was supposed to be on the trail. A man who went by the handle Steady Rambler looked at Ken for a long minute before saying, “I think maybe I know you.” He was strapping, he was authoritatively gray, he was a man who could be intimidating if the circumstances called for it. Ken told him in the roundest of voices that he didn’t think they had ever met. Steady Rambler shrugged. “Sorry, man. I must be mixing you up with somebody else.” “No problem.”
There followed a sequence of thoughts in Tressa’s mind. They had to do with curiosity, and an instinct to soothe that she was not proud of. They triggered a sequence of events that culminated in her allowing Ken to come to her room. “No sex,” she warned him. “Just talk. So we can do what you said, part as friends.” “That’s all I want.” In the moment he said it, the statement was true. She would swear to that. At a certain point in the conversation, which completely engrossed her, they lay down on the bed, careful not to let their bodies touch although they faced one another on their sides. They were both wiped out. Wine and walking and stress had done them in. Then, when she no longer expected it, here came that snaking hand. It encircled her throat. The question was how loud she could scream with her windpipe blocked. She did not have to answer it because somebody was pounding on the door. The sound startled Ken. He pulled away in a panic, got to his feet and lunged for his shoes in a single swift motion as though he had practiced. “I’m coming,” Tressa called, although there was not much voice in her. The invisible imprint of Ken’s hand kept the air from rising through the tube. It was the police. Specifically, Virginia state troopers in their admirable gray uniforms. They had Ken in handcuffs before he could tie his shoes. Then they had him gone. One of the troopers stayed behind with Tressa. He was an older man, bald under his Stetson and with a fatherly manner. He gave her a business card with his name and rank and phone number. He said a number of reassuring and practical things to her. She nodded. When he left, everything he had told her went with him. She sat on the bed for a while, free of thought. When she opened the door, not sure where she was going or what she intended to do, Steady Rambler was out by the picnic tables, standing in the shade. Noticing her, he came over to say he was sorry.
“I tried to get your attention at the table, but you didn’t notice. I was afraid I was going to spook him.” “What happened?” “Son of a bitch murdered his wife. Strangled her. Right here in Virginia, two weeks ago. His picture’s plastered all over the internet. I knew it was him. I called the cops.” “Is his name Ken?” He nodded. “That’s right. Kenneth Wilkes.” Don’t faint. She didn’t. But she wobbled, teeth chattering, and Steady Rambler caught her so she did not go down. He helped her back inside, where she sat in the room’s lone chair. He gave her all the time she needed to stop the spinning. Strangely, when the wave of retroactive terror was gone, she felt new strength flooding her body. Where in the world did that come from? Steady Rambler asked her if she was okay. She nodded. He pulled a phone from his pocket. “Would you like to call someone?” “Not now.” “Is there anything I can do for you?” “He didn’t hurt me. He was going to, he wanted to. But he didn’t.” “I’m glad.” “I’d like to talk a little, if you can listen.” “Of course.” Here was the moment toward which she had been driving all this time without knowing. She had to tell him who she was wasn’t. It was the only way to get to who she was. “This time last year…” He was generous, he was attentive. “Go on.”
“I was in Africa. Ethiopia. It was a project to dig wells. The air smells so clean, out where we were. It was an extraordinary experience. There were rumors about guerrillas, but we didn’t take them seriously.” There was more to the story of what hadn’t happened in Ethiopia. Steady Rambler seemed genuinely interested, so she told it to him as it came to her. The End.
View of the City By Arnie Gubins 26
Beverly By Casey Tingle He saw her, a small dot on the dusty horizon, before she heard the rumbling of his rusty old pickup truck coming up the road behind her. But when she did, her thumb shot out like lightning across the night sky. Richard put his turn signal on and pulled over to the side of the road. He watched her in his rearview mirror as she ran toward him, bowing her head to the dirt that whipped in the wind around her. The truck door creaked when she opened and slammed it shut. “Thanks for the lift,” she said as she slipped the knapsack off her back and placed it on the floor by her feet. Richard noted the slight southern drawl that lay hidden under her words. “Where to?” The girl looked out the front window for a few seconds, lips pursed and nose scrunched as if she were thinking, although Richard was sure she already knew the answer. Turning to him, she said, “Anywhere, really.” Richard gave her a nod. He checked to make sure no traffic was coming—although there was hardly ever any traffic out here—before pulling back onto the road. “So,” Richard said after they had driven a couple of miles in silence, “you gotta name?” “Beverly,” she replied almost too quickly. “You?” “Richard.” “Funny,” Beverly said, “you don’t seem like a Dick to me.” He raised his eyebrows, slightly surprised at her casual tone, as if the crude language was part of her everyday dictionary. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from smirking at the overused joke. “Where you from?” She shrugged. “Oh, you know. Around.”
He watched her for a little bit from the corner of his eye. He noticed the way her wind swept auburn hair framed her dusty, pink face. The way her eyes shined which could be taken as playful or dangerous. As if she would suddenly jump out of his moving truck if she felt like it. “Your parents know you’re out here hitchhiking?” The question had sat in his throat since his truck had approached her, but actually hearing the words come from his mouth made him cringe. A long silence stretched between his question and her answer, so long that Richard didn’t think she would answer him. “How I travel,” Beverly finally said, her voice tense, “is no one’s business but my own.” “I’m just saying, it’s rather desolate out here. If the wrong person were to pick you up–“ “Well then it’s a good thing you came along, now isn’t it?” Richard locked eyes with her for half a second. Her look was a mixture of fire and ice: cold but with the capacity to burn. “Listen, Richard, I’ve had a long couple of days, so I would really appreciate it if you nixed the nice guy speech. OK?” All he could do was stare at the road ahead and nod. The only sound that interrupted their silence was the rumbling of his truck. The sun was almost to the edge of the horizon by time they entered the little town of Lynden. Richard pulled into the parking lot of the town diner. “Go ahead on in. I’ll meet you in a bit.” She climbed out of the truck without hesitation and Richard watched her head into the diner before walking over to the small bus station. He was lucky that they had made it in time. Lynden was not a tourist destination. Not many people came in and not many people left, so the bus schedule was limited. “One ticket, please,” he said to the old man behind the window. “Where to?”
Richard’s eyes scanned the destination list. Recalling the casual way Beverly had told him that she was headed anywhere, he looked the old man in the eyes and said, “Surprise me.” Ticket in hand, he walked into the diner and spied Beverly sitting in a booth in the back. She had been to the restroom to wash some of the dirt off of her face and arms and he thought she looked much better that way. Sliding in the seat across from her, he passed her the bus ticket. “That’s for you.” She looked down at the ticket, then looked at him, her mouth slightly open. “What makes you think I want that?” He shrugged. “You might not, but I wanted you to have it. Just like I want you to have a good meal before you go.” “I’m not hungry,” Beverly insisted. “Nonsense.” Before she could say anything else, Richard raised his hand to catch the attention of the waitress. He ordered them both burgers with a side of fries without thinking that she might have any food allergies or be a vegetarian or anything of that sort. But when the food came out, she almost devoured the burger whole. As he watched her eat, Richard was struck by how much she reminded him of his own sister. The thought must have been there in the back of his mind when he had seen Beverly walking on the side of the road. Thinking about it now, she did move with the same focused determination, as if she would knock down anyone who stood in her way. But that was not all. The way she talked, shooting off her words without seeming to think; the way she bit at the edge of her fingers as they drove in silence; all of these mannerisms brought out previously forgotten memories. When he told her this, Beverly said, “You must be one lucky guy to meet two amazing people in the same lifetime.” Richard laughed, but only a little. As they fell into silence once more, the need to talk ripped its way up his throat. “Listen,” Richard said leaning in from across the table, “I know you don’t want to hear
a nice guy speech right now, but I want you to be careful out there. I don’t know you or what you’re running from, but whatever it is you’re looking for, find it and settle down somewhere safe.” Beverly had her burger halfway to her mouth when the words had come falling out. Now, she put it back on her plate and leaned in toward him. “Any specific reason why?” she asked, her voice lowered. Richard hesitated. Not until she had asked did he realized how unprepared he was to give her an answer. He took a deep breath, his eyes turning toward the window. “My sister… she died. When she was 18.” There was a pause before Beverly asked, “Was she hitchhiking?” “Well, no. It was a car crash. But I just look at you and you remind me so much of her that I feel responsible. Like I should be there protecting you. Not that you need protecting, but—“ Richard stopped the words from spilling out at the feeling of Beverly’s hand on top of his. When he looked at her, she had a small smile pulling at ends of her lips. “I can’t make any promises,” she said, the brightness in her eyes covering a sadness that Richard suspected never fully went away. “But I’ll do my best.” Richard stared at the young woman that sat across from him unsure, as he was from the beginning, of what to think about her. He felt foolish now for showing his worry for her. It must have seemed odd for a complete stranger to be so concerned for your wellbeing. In what he hopped was a casual tone, Richard said, “You better hurry or you’ll miss your bus.” Beverly glanced at the ticket next to her plate. She hesitated before carefully picking it up, as if it would disappear the moment she touched it. “Thanks.” With a small smile, she headed out the front door with her knapsack over one shoulder. Richard waited in the diner, watching as her walk turned into a jog as the bus approached. He saw her turn back toward the diner one more time and wave before stepping onto the bus. As the bust drove away, taking Beverly with it, Richard had a feeling that everything would turn out all right.
The View By Melani Ciarrocchi
Switch and Bait By Benjamin McCormick Amos drags his leather belt from the driveway to the house, eager to use it on his twin brother Louis who, for once, is firmly in the wrong. He leaves behind his father’s junk ‘92 Volvo station wagon. Well, it’s not his father’s anymore, but it used to be. Its grill is now in the shape of a V after Amos rolled it into the lamppost in Louis’s driveway. He can’t see the flickering lamplight, the only outdoor bulb for a mile in any direction. He isn’t watching the steam rise from the engine, either, but in his periphery he can tell it’s there, not that he gives a damn. For Amos, anger is an exothermic reaction. He kicks open the door to Louis’s decaying farm mansion and yells from the doorway: “Take it now, Louis, or I’ll get you when you’re sleeping.” Against his hot temper, the sounds of Beethoven playing upstairs seem to mock him: a lazy river of violins, violas, and piano. Amos figures it was the first thing Louis plugged in after he pounced on the isolated and foreclosed house a year ago. Rumor had it the soil around it had suddenly dried up. Louis made the announcement to family at Thanksgiving and said the farmers must have forgotten to rotate crops as if he, an IT guy, knew the first thing about farming. Amos offered no speculation because if he learned just one thing in the last two years, it was to shut up when you don’t know something. “Company?” Louis replied to an aunt quizzing him on his new lonesome country life. “I’m the best company I’ve ever had.” Amos starts slow up the stairs, his belt patting every step.
“Take it now or I’ll get you when you’re sleeping.” The stairs spiral around an ornate chandelier, nine pristine crystals the size of grapefruits hanging from a dusty brass ring, not cleaned since well before the foreclosure. At the top, the second floor splits left and right. Two small bedrooms to the left and to the right, where Amos turns, an exceeding brightness from the study. The music is louder now. Amos thumps his left fist along the wall as he walks in. “Take it now, little brother,” he says, “or I’ll get you when you’re sleeping.” Beethoven fills the vast space between the room’s only items: a phonograph near the entrance and a huge mahogany desk on the far side where Louis, lengthy and handsome like his twin brother, is carefully watering a fig plant on his desk. He lets the water sink into the soil before adding more. Nighttime or daytime, Louis’s study is so bright you have to squint when you walk in. He lined the walls with bulbs and they stick out from the wall like small balloons. It’s a wonder he doesn’t blow a fuse so far out in the country keeping this room lit like broadway. Louis bought the place for this very room, mostly for its huge gothic window he keeps uncovered. With the lights on the mansion becomes a lighthouse visible for miles, as if anybody unfortunate enough to be lost in Vernon, Wisconsin wouldn’t be better off crashing into shore and sinking anyway. “Brother,” Louis greets Amos without moving his attention from the fig. “How long?” “Are you serious about hitting me with that belt?” Louis says. “You haven’t hit anything in your life. Well, anything that wasn’t packed with weed.”
Amos drops the belt and switches strategies. Brute force is anything but Louis’s style. Amos lifts the needle from the phonograph. It gets his twin’s attention. “Hey...now you don’t gotta be a dick--” “How long?” Amos fumbles for his Bic lighter. “How long what?” Amos removes the record from the turntable, a 1986 German import Quintet in E-Flat for Piano and Winds, and pinches it between two fingers. He asks Louis point blank: how long as Louis been writing letters to Amos’s ex pretending to be Amos? “She has a name, you know,” Louis replies. “Not just ‘ex.’ Patricia.” Amos twitches his thumb and touches a flame to the wax disc. “Amos, c-c’mon. No need to, to do--” “How long?” The disc begins to shine under the small, persistent blaze. If it drips, even once, it’s ruined. “Nine months! Good God, Amos. Nine months!” Amos drops the disc and Louis dives to scramble it into his hands, careful to keep fingerprints around the edges. “Nine, huh?” Amos grabs Louis’s dress shirt by the shoulders in two fists and lifts, untucking it on his way up. “Ten. Fine, ten.”
Amos lets go and Louis heaves panicked breaths, exhaling each onto the disc. “Patricia called me today,” Amos says, now close to Louis, who can smell him. “Amos, you drunk?” “Patricia called me today,” he repeats, avoiding the bait. “Says she’s ‘thrilled’ we’re meeting for coffee tomorrow. She ‘can’t wait’ to see me in person after all the letters we’ve been writing.” He looks around for somewhere to lean, but there’s nothing around. “You know, it’s funny she said that. I don’t write letters.” Louis places the disc back on the phonograph but leaves the needle down. “Wait, she called you? That’s good, very good…” Louis turns, holding the thought back to the desk to rifle through its drawers. Amos makes an exasperated fist and puts it to his head. “No, it’s not. I haven’t heard from her in two years.” “Actually…” Louis starts, taking a stack of papers from the drawer and waving them. “Yes you have. Nine letters starting in February, right after I got this place, maybe a month after Dad.” Their father succumbed to cancer in his own bed almost a year ago, right after the holidays. Amos and Louis shortened their Dad’s death, wake, visitation, funeral, burial, and subsequent emotional silence to just the word, “Dad.” Talking about it in its component parts would be unbearable. They’ve unknowingly begun to measure time in the only way grieving people can: years after. For them: AD. Not anno domini--After Dad. It’s a weight hanging around both their necks they fear isn’t lightening, but rather swelling and subsiding in waves. The death is addressed little between them.
Louis hands the stack of letters to Amos and continues talking as he often does: “You know, I was surprised…” Amos doesn’t hear another word. He doesn’t read any of Patricia’s script either, instead he checks its authenticity. Could it really be hers? He knew her writing well--she’d spend hours some days hunched over a desk writing prose. She had even handwriting, cursive and curled at the last letter as if it were weightless. Effortless. No doubts anymore--these are from Patricia. “Why didn’t she ever call me? She just wrote letters?” he asks without looking up. “You know Patricia. She believes in miracles.” “And you? The letters here?” “Remember when you asked me to check on your apartment a couple times when you were down bingeing in Ybor City after Dad?” “Visiting relatives,” Amos corrects. They both know their Dad died a year to the day since Amos and Patricia broke up, but neither mentions it. “You know we have all the same relatives, right? And none of them live in Tampa.” Amos sighs. “Healing journey. Remember when they said it’d be a healing journey?” “Crock of shit that was. More like...numb. Numb with tidal waves of panic. More like going bald. Losing part of yourself with no hope of getting it back.” “Then get some Rogaine.” Louis chuckles. “But sometimes there are these moments of peace, where the world seems as it should. It helps to notice them, you know? You ever have those?” In the morning Amos will tell himself it was just the booze talking, but it never really is-tough as they are toward each other, he knows he loves his smart brother. Sometimes it’s like he’s watching Louis from afar, like seeing an wild animal from the bushes: something beautiful in progress to be appreciated, not interrupted. 36
Amos shakes his head. “They’re always gone before I know they were ever there.” “Take a breath sometime when you might think it’s happening. Soak it in.” Louis always fashioned himself holding all the cards. He knows about the letters, how his brother still needs Patricia, about Tampa--but what he doesn’t know is Amos never intended to go as far south as Florida at all, that her first letter wasn’t spontaneous. That she might have already seen him.
Patricia Sharpe spent Saturday mornings reading on a wooden bench outside the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown Atlanta, or as she learned to call it since arriving the week after she split with Amos almost two years ago, Atlanna. After Dad, Amos sat parked in the Volvo across the street one Saturday with four post-it notes of a speech written on the steering wheel: the speech to win her back. It was early February but it felt like spring. A mutual friend wouldn’t give Amos her Atlanta address, but she did tell him about the Margaret Mitchell House. When they dated they’d wake up naked in her twin-sized dorm bed under a rosy duvet. He’d let her tell him over and over again about how she spent many Saturday afternoons with her grandmother watching Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. “Kiss me,” Amos would say, easing his palm to her cheek, playing into her--a different, softer Amos--one not hardened. Still in love with Patricia, in love with the world. “You should be kissed, and often,” she’d reply in a stern voice, folding her thick brown hair in a part just like Rhett from the film. “By someone who know’s what they’re doing.” He loved how she didn’t just say it, but performed it. He was her only audience, but she played all the way to the rafters.
Amos watched from the Volvo. She sat in jeans, one leg folded over the other, consumed by a magazine with little expression, an average Saturday if only she knew it wasn’t. Amos noticed a new golden brown streak dyed into jet black hair, draped behind her shoulder. Two elderly men in gentlemen’s caps played chess on the bench across from her. Amos was careful not to stare, fixing his eyes on the post-its speech. He alternated between practicing it in his head and watching the way she shifted her foot up and down like a metronome in his periphery. He knew how he wanted to start, by touching her knee and asking if the seat next to her was taken, and he had an idea of what he wanted to say. It wasn’t so much that he forgot to appreciate her, it’s that he never knew how much he could miss someone until she left. That his dad just died and he now knows the meaning of only having one life. That he’s changed in the year since they’ve seen each other, but she’s the one thing about him that hasn’t. That the one life he gets he wants with her. But once he lifted the handle on the car door and put his foot on the ground, getting a lift from the southern air, a profound sense of fear compressed behind his eyes. What sad sack is pathetic enough to drive overnight to Atlanta to get a girl back? Sure, maybe this giant part of him hadn’t changed, but what if she had? This girl, this woman, in front of him could be the one from his memories, the same from under the duvet cover, but was she? There were words unsaid here, unfinished, the pressure now on. He could feel in his chest something between them needing a second draft, like their relationship was a first photograph taken out of focus. Carrying on in perfect rhythm with her known universe, Patricia rolled up the magazine, stuffed it into her shoulder bag, and headed straight for Amos. He bunched himself below the window and counted to ten. He dreaded, hoped for a tap at the window. By the time he peaked up again she was gone. He threw the Volvo into gear and took off after her. Made a right onto 10th Street, around the block on Juniper o 8th, south on Peachtree, scanning, scanning for the brown streak and a shoulder
bag, when he found one. Against two lanes of traffic he skidded the Volvo onto the sidewalk to the sound of car horns and “fuck offs,” throwing the hazards on, and sprinting into and over Atlanta residents. He touched her arm, and it felt thin, cold. “Patricia,” he said. A stranger turned around and wiped his hand away. “Who?”
He couldn’t go back north--not yet--everything in Wisconsin reminded him of his dad right now. He took the Volvo on I-75 south all to the way to a truck stop just outside Tampa that used to be the site of a monastery. The parking lot spaces were all sized for semi-trucks, so he parked the Volvo in the grass where it’d spend the next month collecting sprouts near the tires. He arrived in near dusk and watched women whose skin was giving into gravity take long strides up to semis and hoist themselves to the window with both hands. A spacey one with a spiral tattoo down her forearm told him the first night he should “dig the bathroom. It’s far out.” A red sign that read “EXIT” hung over the men’s room door, and inside a nose ringed trucker sat at a folding table in front of the sinks counting stacks of cash. He let Amos slide on fifty bucks up front (cops can’t fake how lost he looked), but he’d have to pay one-fifty for a second ride. He gestured toward the stall, where the door was closed. When Amos entered he found no toilet and no wall behind it--it’d been hollowed out and gave way to a room the size of a shipping container. It was lined with three shag sofas, a dozen junkies with tourniquets, and sweat. ---------------------Amos reads just one of Patricia’s greetings, “Aymie,” before shoving the stack of letters back into Louis’s chest.
“Well I don’t want to see her,” he says puffing his jacket, starting the long walk back to the stairs. “We both know she’s the one.” Amos lifts a middle finger behind his shoulder. “Don’t care. Not gonna see her.” “Exactly,” Louis shouts after him. “I am.” Amos turns and Louis finishes his thought. “Well, it’s you, but it’s me. Y’know, how we always did.” They’d been each other on several occasions growing up. Senior year of high school they veritably swapped third period classes--Louis wanted no part of Phy Ed, and Amos wanted even less to do with English, so they exchanged places. Louis was also an expert in the field of forgery, doing both mother and father’s scrawl on permission slips and Amos’s poor test scores. They monetized his abilities for a while, Amos gathering the cash and Louis pumping out signatures. These were strictly business transactions between the two, though. They treated each other more like associates than kin. Frowning, annoyed at the prospect of the high stakes adult version of Louis’s old tricks, Amos says, “Have you put on a little weight, Lou? That shirt looks tight. Cows belong in the fields.” “Nothing wrong with a little bit of domestication, brother--” Brother, it sounded like plastic “-besides, it looks like you’ve made good friends with Little Debbie yourself. You’re a fucking mess.” Louis smiles, looking Amos right in the eye for the first time in many months before tactfully changing the subject, choosing a lesser-of-two-evils strategy. The best way to get someone like Amos to talk about how much he wants, needs Patricia back is to start talking about something he’ll want to talk about even less. Louis takes a seat behind the desk to draw his brother out. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, but you never called. I know this wonderful rehab clinic. It’s in Wauwatosa, a lovely--”
Amos bites, explodes. “You’re sick! Who pretends to be somebody else for months? I suppose you love her now. Is that what this is? Let me tell you, it doesn’t turn out.” Amos catches his balance on the desk, shielding light that casts a wobbling shadow over Louis. Louis lifts from a drawer a small brown music box with both hands as if it were a child. He rubs its fine edges with his thumbs. When he sets it on the desk, he’s trembling. The house groans, enduring a gust of wind. Louis opens it. A faint baby piano chorus of Gone With the Wind’s title music emanates from the steel combs and pins within. In the film it sounds like the strings reaching to the sky for anything to grab hold of, but never holding. Here, it reminds Amos of her hands. They were small and soft. He remembers the first night they spent together, how they grew more comfortable, sinking onto his bare chest as the night hours passed. Amos looks away and, not that he’ll ever admit it, he feels heat rise in his eyes. They listen for a good while and linger when it stops. Louis breaks the silence, his voice cracks. “She mailed this to you. And I knew, I always knew...she’s the one, isn’t she?” He offered Amos a torn envelope, the original. “I’m sorry about what I said at Dad,” Louis continued. “I was upset and too tired to quit smoking myself. Cigarettes killed him, not a wayward son like--” “Yeah,” Amos said forgiving him in the way only brothers can. “Yeah.” Louis went on, honesty springing forth like air let out of a balloon, but Amos pays him no mind. In her perfect script, the letter starts, “My Aymie…” ----------------------
The morning sun fries Amos’s eyelids. It wrestles him awake on the vinyl seats in the back of the Volvo. When he eases himself up, Patricia’s letters fall from his chest to the floor. He opens the door to the smell of mud and reviews them in the sobriety of morning. Atlanta had been kind to her so far, or at least that’s what she’s letting on. She filled him in on everything since they split: writing of how she sped south two days after their last fight and didn’t stop until the Indiana state line. She kept the window cracked and the wind whipped tears from her left eye back into her hair. Somewhere near Tennessee she tossed her phone into the median. It had been ringing on the dash since Chicago. Mom, Dad, sister, cousin...but when Amos called she didn’t hesitate. No dueling images of him as husband material and never-husband material in her head playing King of the Hill on her conscience anymore. One image lasted; from their last fight: Amos on her leather couch in her high rise Milwaukee apartment only making eye contact to say, “I don’t see myself marrying you, and thank god. You’re holding me back. I mean look at this crap.” He throws a book at the glass thermostat. “You say you’ve got dreams to live as a painter, but you can’t live without central air?” Another memory flashes: taking shelter beneath a low concrete bridge during a sudden downpour. Droplets are running off Amos’s nose, his hands wrapping her waist. He’s asking if this, this moment, with her, is how great life can be. She wrote, too, of how without his pushing she would have never gotten serious about oil on canvas, how she still thinks of him often and sometimes wishes she were more patient, how she’s going to drive home just to see how he is. --------------------------Amos is watching a mechanic shove his nose in the narrow crease at the front of the Volvo. Loud reruns of Law & Order are blasting from a TV in the far corner past a few other car stalls. He can’t make out what they’re saying, too quiet under the magnified echoes composed of shouts, metal striking metal, and drills all around-42
the sounds of the dentist’s office in a child’s nightmares. The mechanic is wearing three identical sun patterned handkerchiefs on his body: one in his back pocket, another beneath a sewed-on name tag, and another over his head. He has a light voice. “You said you weren’t drinking? No other cars involved?” “No.” Amos scratches his neck. “And listen, I’m paying you to fix my car, not interrogate me.” Amos looks over the cork board walls and the scores of peaceful looking tools that hung from them: socket wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrenches, levels, all organized from smallest to largest with varying layers of grease across them. A water cooler guards the office door with a duct taped piece of looseleaf over one of its two handles: “HOT ONLY.” “I mean, I’m just having trouble finding another way this could have happened,” says the mechanic, turning his bright eyes back to Amos. “What’s wrong? Your job? Nah, you don’t seem like the working type. Girlfriend?” Amos ignored the accurate job comment. “A guy can’t just get into a, you know, accident? That’s why they call it an accident.” “So you were drinking.” “Are you done yet?” “I just don’t see another way. You’d have to idle for at least five-ten seconds to get enough momentum to do this. Even if you slammed on the gas, a sober guy would have enough time to correct it before doing this kind of damage. You couldn’t even roll a car downhill and do this. A monkey could have hit the brakes in time. You had to be drunk.” The mechanic waits an eternity for a response. Amos tries to glare him out of it. “And, you know,” the mechanic goes on, “anytime I get behind the wheel after a couple pints I leave grip marks on the steering wheel I’m so careful. Something had to be pissing you off. 43
You’re not worse for the wear like it was a big night of drinking or anything--you actually look pretty sharp for a guy who just got in a crash.” “Accident.” The mechanic pushes a button that lifts the Volvo in the air to look underneath. The “girlfriend” guess was a good one and Amos knows it. The sight of this place shakes him into a memory, reminding him of Patricia’s infinitely quotable uncle. He grew up in Lauderdale County, Alabama changing oil in a shop not unlike this one. Once when Amos was being an ass in a restaurant, which could have been many occasions, Patricia relayed one of her uncle’s pearls of wisdom: “Somebody who’s nice to you, but ain’t nice to the waiter ain’t a nice guy. And that hasn’t failed me yet, Amos Larkin.” When she used his full name she was pissed. The mechanic presses another button to send the car back down and starts feeling across the cork board for the right instrument. He combs past an electric saw, past socket wrenches that have proven their belonging over years of use and display. “You know what...” Amos starts, finding it easier to talk without meeting anyone’s gaze. “Girlfriend’s right.” The mechanic chuckles and Amos lets a couple more words spill out. “Yeah, sorry about being a prick, it’s been a tough couple days.” The mechanic picks a giant mallet. “If relationships were easy, nobody’d date anybody,” he says. He lifts the mallet over his left shoulder and thwacks the inside of the grill. Again. And again. To Amos’s surprise the dent comes out like someone’s inflating a balloon behind it in giant breaths. With a small bit of it left, the mechanic turns to Amos, lets a thought pass, and speaks. “If you were a Mercedes owner with a fat bulge coming from your rear pocket, I’d tinker with some shiny tools and spend a full labor hour tapping at this with the backside of a screwdriver.” He sees that Amos doesn’t quite follow and tries it a different way.
“What people rarely understand when they come in here is they have the tools at home to fix most of what they see me for. Even those who know they have the tools for it rarely have the courage to do what they have to. You don’t need to be an apprentice for three years to swing a hammer, maybe to fix your leaky carburetor down there,” he says pointing, “but not a hammer.” He offers Amos the mallet. “Here. You take a good whack at it. Might help.” ----------------A small fan propels the smell of the afternoon’s bakery forward from the coffee shop kitchen in the back. It snakes through and around an array of small tables adorned with chairs that have narrow, metal legs. Sitting all too upright in one of these chairs is Amos. “It’s better that way,” Louis told him on the way there, working his thumbs into his palms. He got his hair cut to look messy like Amos and is wearing one of his black crew neck t-shirts, too. Amos insisted he be allowed to at least see her, much to Louis’s protest. Louis might have agreed Amos could sit at a different table in unfamiliar clothes (not that she’d recognize heavier him anyway), but he still didn’t like leaving anything to chance. “If you want any prayer of your stupid stunt--and that’s what this is, by the way, not my idea--to work” Louis says, “you can’t be you, you have to be somebody else.” Louis goes over the plan one more time. “We can’t arrive together, so you’re going to go in first and sit a while. Did you bring something to read?” “I don’t read.” “Perfect. So did you bring something?” Amos sighs. “I’ll find something there.”
“When you go in, I’m going to take the car and get her six sunflowers. A dozen’s too many, six’s perfect. There’s a florist in the strip mall across the street and, this is important, you have to wait at least fifteen minutes after we leave for you to leave. We’ll only be an hour, you’ve got work in the afternoon.” “Oh yeah?” Amos scoffs, smiles. “Where do I work?” “Local nonprofit,” Louis said cracking a window and taking long, exasperated cigarette drags. “Fighting cancer. And man, I’ve just gotta say, do you have to smoke this much? I can feel the habit coming back.” Say what you will about Louis, he’s committed. “What if the new Amos quit smoking?” Louis lets out a laugh before it’s smothered by a huge cough. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he gets out. “Next year, after you’re back together with her, for Christmas I want a Huckleberry Finn first edition. Don’t care how much it costs. Lord knows I--” Louis continued on, but Amos daydreamed on the words, “after you’re back together,” as if that was a foregone conclusion. Somehow it seemed plausible. This new version of Amos seems like the guy she deserves. Set for a 1:00 date, Amos entered the shop at 12:30 in a hat he’d never wear, a brown dress shirt, and glasses without lenses. The warm, spectacled high school girl behind the counter serves him a mammoth skim latte he takes to a table at the back, away from the door. He opens the abandoned copy of the New Yorker he found to pass the time. “Stick by your phone, just in case,” Louis told him on his way in. He sets it face up on the table. The latte tasted like espresso and watered down cream cheese. “God damned soy.”
Amos rocks back and forth, seething, imagining how he’d elbow his way to the front of the line and demand a new latte. Maybe he’d let the girl behind the counter know she needs thicker lenses, or maybe go back there and teach her the god damned difference between skim and god damned soy. Amos should have been reading the magazine page he’d opened to, all about the newest New York restaurants that talked about brassiers as if they were food. He should have been building a disguise, not fuming in his seat. His frustrations gives way to unsteady doubts. She won’t recognize me. She’ll have chopped all her hair off. She’ll be vegan now. He tries to block them out. One leg crosses over the other, a profoundly uncomfortable position, and he rests the magazine on his thigh. He trains his eyes upon it while attempting to focus his attention on the periphery. There’s a lone robin in the parking lot, the first he’s seen since the fall, testing a series of gypsy wood chips strewn in the asphalt parking lot. A little after 1:00pm the bell tolls above the door as Patricia walks in. She gives the room a cursory glance. Amos could love her for her ass or her pretty face, but really Amos loves the way she moves-how someone might love the ocean for the way its tide rises upon the shore. She peruses the high drink menu standing on her heels, tilting her head into the maroon scarf draped over her shoulders. When she walks to the cash register then over to wait for her drink, she seems to float from position to position. It then occurs to Amos what had been occurring to Louis since Amos made his demand to see Patricia: that going unnoticed is only half his job--it’s also half hers. It would look bad if she spotted him, the real him, in this ridiculous outfit. Amos never put much work into looking good, but he prided himself on not looking like an idiot. Immediately he felt naked, exposed. He doesn’t wear hats. He hasn’t worn a button-up in years. He didn’t floss, not that he ever does, but this time it would have been nice. There isn’t anything between them, just twenty feet of beige hardwood and cabinets against the counter with bags of coffee beans in neat stacks. Pretending feels at once silly, yet wholly 47 necessary.
against the counter with bags of coffee beans in neat stacks. Pretending feels at once silly, yet wholly necessary. Though left to chance, it’s no surprise Patricia doesn’t see him. Amos blends into the whole tableau of the coffee shop. Most notable is the four year old in a baseball cap three tables over, arranging puzzle pieces with his whole hands and talking them into their proper places. Three tables isn’t far, but Patricia isn’t of a mind to search; she consumes herself with what’s directly in front of her. Here, she’s transfixed by the regular, studying how the barista pours her espresso and pluck bills from the cash register. Amos’s phone illuminates. Call it twin-ESP, call Amos a champion of word association--he reads the words, “Volvo,” “leak,” and “squad car” and understands a catastrophe is at hand. Louis, the new Amos, won’t be coming. He, the fatter, shaggier, disguised Amos, is the only one left. Patricia takes the table right next to the door and her right leg is restless. She gazes out into the parking lot as if she might pass right through the glass, spending lengthy minutes waiting for someone already in the room. Amos’s eyes are on the magazine, but his attention is on her, now trying to recall what he’d written on those post-it notes. He’s careful not remove the hat or do anything to draw attention. He can’t stand up to go to the bathroom, either--when he returns she might be looking right at him, or worse, be gone. It must be well after one now, and he’s too afraid to check his phone. The smell of flour from the kitchen is all that marks the passage of time. All of a sudden the four year-old throws his hands up in triumph and hops down from his chair. The force of his stomp on the floor sinks his hat down to his nose. He shouts with a lisp, “Owl!, ith an owl!” Patricia shifts her attention inside. Conversations halt, and the baristas stop steaming milk to watch the child’s joy in motion.
Arms aloft, the little boy runs, bumping into Amos’s knee, then makes a beeline for Patricia. Two bakers in the back peek out to catch a glimpse. He jumps on the hardwood in front of her. “Owl!” She takes his hands in hers and comes aglow like a friend, like a mother. “Hi, fella.” she says, just to the boy but loud enough for all to hear. Amos is looking now, too, at the boy, not at her. It’s silent. In his periphery he can make out Patricia’s Milk Dud eyes. “My puh-thle!” says the kid through a gap in his teeth. “Ith an owl!” Amos feels a tap on his shoulder. It’s the high schooler, the brilliant soy girl, he can tell. She whispers, “sir, how’s your latte?” Amos looks right at Patricia and pauses, adjusting his lensless glasses. He takes a long, full breath. “Fine,” he says smiling. “Just fine.”
Seeing Eyes By Kia Hyle Look into a newborn’s eyes They’re empty Nothing’s happened to fill them Wonder what will
Can you look into your loved ones eyes See their lowest thought, their worst fears See their immortal mistakes, their darkest regrets
Have you ever looked into a dead man’s eyes And seen their anger, regret, and hopelessness But also their happiness At leaving this cruel, torturous, and confusing world
The Anchor By Melani Ciarrocchi
Slugger By Alan Swyer
No one in her neighborhood, or in all of East LA, or arguably anywhere in Souther California, seemed a less likely candidate for the moniker “Slugger” than Sandra Sanchez. Slim and lithe, she was blessed with an angelic face, plus a body that stood in marked contrast to the girth prevalent among the women in her family. After years of being teased, albeit good-naturedly, for seeming to be the product of a different gene pool – or perhaps another species – than her mom, aunts, and cousins, Sandra, as she entered her teens, went from being labeled flaca to being admired as guapa, bella, and linda. But it wasn’t until her kid sister Elida’s quinceanera that her new English nickname came into being, thanks to a local lightweight contender named Ramon Ramirez, whose boxing handle was Rayo. Translated into English, that meant “Lightnight Bolt”, leading to his street moniker: “The Bolt”. First playfully, then more forcefully, Rayo Tried to get fresh with Sandra, who did her best to keep her distance. When the Bolt kept persisting, eventually cornering her in the kitchen pantry, where his attempts at pawing morphed into a full-fledged grope, Sandra stopped dodging and weaving, then let loose with a right jab. “Ay!” Ramirez screamed as he reached for his nose. “Eso duele! That really hurts!” “Serves you right.” “You hit harder than half the guys I’ve fought,” The Bolt mumbled as he checked again for blood. “You’re a damn slugger!” “C’mon –“ “I mean it. You oughta take up boxing.”
“Right after I sprout wings.” “I’m serious.” “Yhea, sure,” said Sandra, assuming that the issues was settled.
In the weeks, then months, that followed, that proved to be far from the case. At malls, mercados, and gatherings, and even at her favorite, raspados place on Ford Boulevard, or her go-to taco stand on East Olympic, time after time Sandra would hear Rayo’s voice cry out, “Hola, Slugger!” or “Slugger, que tal?” Inevitably, and much to her chagrin, the name stuck. Unhappy about it, Sandra confronted Rayo one evening as he approached a bar he was known to frequent. “Hope you know I’m not proud.” “The way I see it, you oughta be. I know guys who would kill to hit as hard as you.” “Give me a break.” “I mean it. With your punching power and your looks, a few weeks of training and the world would forget Mia St. John and Leila Ali.” “Who?” Ramirez shrugged. Old school names who made serious bucks. I mean it, homegirl. You and me together? We’d be rolling in green.” “Forget you and me together. And above all, forget that Slugger stuff. We good?” “Not really, but I’ll try.”
The use of the dreaded nickname dwindled somewhat as days turned into weeks, then weeks
into months, yet never fully disappeared. Nor, in a remote corner of Sandra’s mind, did the notion that had been instilled. Though most of the time the prospect of boxing seemed bizarre, insane, and almost laughable, at off moments – while doing yoga, or showering, or when awakened in the middle of the night by mariachi music or gunshots – it nonetheless intrigued her. Despite what she considered to be her better judgement, Sandra periodically found herself wondering what it might be like to face an opponent in the ring. And whether her innate shyness would hinder her in front of cheering – or jeering – fans. And most of all, whether she could really hit as hard as her sometime nemesis claimed. Those thoughts, plus a few others that occasionally insinuated their way into Sandra’s consciousness, she chose to lump together in an imaginary folder labeled What if. What if she could somehow become a hero of sorts to young girls with dreams of their own? What if she could achieve even some measure of fame? And above all, what if she could help her hard-working family finally gain some measure of financial stability? Willfully pragmative and level-headed most of the time, Sandra largely, but not entirely, succeeded in dismissing the questions as a form of reverie in which she generally felt unable, or unwilling, to indulge herself.
That thinking began to change, however, when her kid sister, who had always been considered to be the brains in the family, received acceptances from several four-year universities. Even with offers of scholarship money combined with part-time jobs, it seemed that Elida would likely be forced to turn down – or at least defer – UCLA, Berkeley, and Stanford, so as to commute, just as Sandra had done, to the local junior college, known in her neighborhood as ELA. Though publicly a good sport, stating frequently that being with her family was what mattered most, Sandra nevertheless caught Elida crying on several occasions. That led to a considerable
amount of soul-searching, plus a week’s worth of sleepless nights, culminating with a text Sandra sent to Ramon Ramirez: Meet me for coffee tomorrow @ 3? “How long would it take me to turn pro?” Sandra asked Rayo as she joined him as a hipster place she referred to as the anti-Starbucks. “You’re playing with me.” “Never have I been more serious.” “You mean working at that pre-school isn’t the most rewarding position in the world both emotionally and financially?” “Please answer my question.” “Depends how committed you are.” “And if I say 110 percent?” “I can probably get you a three-rounder in a couple of months.” “No sooner?” “Depends on your progress.” “And how much can I possibly make?” “For the fight?” “And eventually.” “Let me ask you a question. Who’s the richest guy on your block?” “Probably Danny Corral.” “With that mini-chain of Mexican seafood joints? With hard work, plus maybe a little luck, you can make his empire look like yesterday’s frijoles.” “Serious?” “Want to know how serious? I’ve got a bout this Saturday down in Tijuana -” “And you’re going out drinking?”
“Una cerveza max. But check this. If what you’re saying is true, I’ll hang up my gloves for a while to train you full-time.” “I don’t want to mess with your career.” “Which isn’t exactly getting me the championship I dreamed of. And until then, we can work together every afternoon. Deal?” “Deal.” “One last question?” “Honestly?” “Why all of a sudden?” “Honestly?” “Sure.” “None of your business.” The Bolt studied Sandra, then chuckled. “What time you off work the day after tomorrow?” “Why the day after rather than tomorrow?” Rayo reached for his wallet, then pulled out several bills. “Because tomorrow afternoon you’ll be buying the gear I need you to have.” He handed the money to Sandra, then raised his eyebrows. “What time did you say?” “3 PM.” “Then I’ll see you at the Azteca Gym over on Gage at 4.” “Okay.” “No, not okay. That doesn’t mean 4:05 or 4:10. It means 3:50 at the latest.”
Two days later, toting a duffel bag with all the equipment she was instructed to purchase,
Sandra arrived at the Azteca at 3:45. Never having been inside a boxing gym, her head was full of preconceptions, not the least of which was that it would be a temple of violence. To her dismay, that notion was instantly dispelled when everyone – male, female, young, or old – who was not sparring, hitting the speed bag, or jumping rope came over to shake her hand. Then, having been under the impression that training mainly meant climbing into the ring for a certain number of rounds, Sandra was even more stunned that, at least for her, sparring was not in the cards. Instead, she was given her first taste of warm-ups, Bolt-style. Then, after her hands were wrapped, she was introduced to the speed bag, then the heavy bag, and finally a session of shadow boxing. What was exciting initially soon became grueling as the afternoon went on, until Sandra found herself not merely spent, but also frustrated. Assuming that sparring would at some point become part of her workout, she said nothing. Nor, though eager to put what she was learning into use, did she speak up about it in the days that followed. But at the end of the second week, when her laconic mentor, who had been far from effusive with praise, gave her a rare pat on the back as a session was ending, Sandra finally spoke. “So when do I get in the ring?” she asked. “That’s not the key question.” “Then what is?” “How good do you want to be?” “What’s that have to do with anything?” “Other than fear, what’s the toughest thing in the world for a boxer to overcome?” “Tell me.” “Bad habits. I’ve seen it my whole life. Guys who rush things never overcome the bad
stuff they pick up. Rotten balance. A wobbly jab. A sloppy right cross. Read me?” “I guess.” “But guys you probably never heard of like Sugar Ray Leonar, Julio Cesar Chavez -Sr, not his lazy son – Shane Mosley, Tita Trinidad, Israel Vazquez – they maxed the talent they had. If you don’t believe me, check ‘em out on YouTube. One of these days you’ll spar. But know what?” “What’s that?” “When you do, you’ll be ready.”
Lying awake in bed that night, Sandra found herself wondering how much of what Rayo said could be taken at face value, and how much was a mind game designed to test her commitment. Making matters worse was the fact that her workouts were taking place largely in secret. Because her goal was to surprise Elida with the money needed to make a four-year college a reality, she had uttered not one word to anyone in her family about her new adventure, other than to encourage her sister to pick the school of her choice and send in an acceptance. That resulted in a key question: “You win the lottery or something?” “No, but I’ve got something cooking.” “You serious?” “110 percent,” Sandra replied, though that was hardly the case. As for explanations about soreness in parts of her body that had never ached before, plus her recent tendency to yawn repeatedly at the dinner table, all that, Sandra claimed, owed to a decision to be the first member of the Sanchez clan to run the LA marathon.
Workouts took a new direction on a Thursday, when The Bolt put on what are known in boxing as pads. The purpose, he explained, was for Sandra to follow his instructions and use the
the appropriate hands as he called for specific punches or combinations. “You’ve heard the expression that practice makes perfect?” he asked as they were set to begin. “Sure.” “So tell me what’s wrong with it.” “No idea.” “It’s perfect practice that makes perfect. Most fighters when they hit the pads, or mitts, or whatever you want to call ‘em, it’s a farce. It may look impressive, but it’s nothing but mechanical. I give points for style in the ring, not style in the workout. I want each punch and every movement to have a purpose, not just be a part of a dance step. So here’s a question for you . What’s a ‘gym champion?’” “I give up.” “Somebody who looks like a world-beater sparring, but get’s an ass-kicking the moment it’s for real. Ready to have a go?” “You bet.” “Then let me see every single punch count. Left jab…! Another…! Right cross…! Now duck…!” Rayo barked as he swatted the area Sandra’s head was forced to vacate. “Now a left jab…an overhead right…and a left hook!”
As Sandra, having showered and changed, stepped out of the dressing room, she was surprised to find her trainer, who usually bade her farewell with a nod, waiting for her. “Got time for a horchata?” he asked. I thought sugar was a no-no.” “We’ll make an exception. Let’s head down to Chuy’s.” 59
The two of them ambled down the street, then chose a quiet table inside the sweet shop, where Sandra waited until Rayo brought over two of the Mexican drinks made from rice, cinnamon and sugar. “Let me pass on something said to me by a great fighter named Ruben Olivares who’s been largely forgotten.” he then said. “Ready?” Sandra nodded. “Kill the body, and the head will die. Know what that means?” “I suspect you’re going to tell me.” “Wise ass, huh? What’s the best way to get a knockout?” “A shot to the chin?” “What if that’s your opponent’s strong suit? Or what she’s trying to defend? But like the guys in Mexico say, you can’t defend everything, and the body’s a big target. Make sense?” “I guess.” “You guess? You’re smarter than that. And what do Mexicans say is the most vulnerable spot of all?” “I give up.” “The liver! Dig a left hook in – un gancho al higado – and your opponent can’t breath. But if through some miracle she’s still managing to stand, then what?” “I’m listening.” “End it with an overhead right. Been watching the fights I told you about on YouTube?” “Yup.” “Then what’s the biggest problem with fighters today?” “They don’t fight enough?” “That’s a problem, but not the big one. Boxers today through a two- or three-punch combination, then back off. But a Sugar Ray Robinson, an Ali, a Duran in his prime, or a local
guy like Bobby Chacon, they blitzed you with a barrage that just wore you out. So why do you think I’m coming at you with all this at this moment?” “No clue.” “What if I say you’re fighting a week from Saturday?” “B-but-” “Isn’t that what you wanted?” “But I haven’t even sparred.” “How much confidence do you have in me?” “A good amount.” “That’s all?” “Okay, a lot.” “Then have a little faith, okay? And know that I only get something out of this if you do.”
The next day Sandra got to spar. Once she overcame her initial timidity, which vanished swiftly when stung by a jab, she began to realize how well Rayo had prepared her. Her opponent, though older and more experienced, periodically was flat-footed or off balance, resulting in punches that were largely ineffectual. Sandra’s, in contrast, were true, and far more powerful. More to the point, her foe never put together combinations of more than two or three punches. The moment Sandra started countering with volleys of three, four, or even five shots in a row, the tide turned completely. After the third round and final round, she was ebullient. “That was great!” Sandra exclaimed as she removed her mouth guard. “And you know what what you get as a reward?”
“The suspense is killing me.” “To meet me at 5 AM for road work.”
The toughest part of the early morning running proved to be not the exertion itself, but rousting herself in the stillness before dawn. That, however, was less of a problem after the first few days, so that within a week’s time Sandra was enjoying keeping Rayo company as the two of them huffed and puffed through a city not yet fully awake. Sparring, meanwhile, became a series of lessons as The Bolt matched her with different people, each for a specific purpose. There was a lefty, so that Sandra could experience facing a southpaw. Plus a counter-puncher, to learn how not to get impatient or over-eager. Then a greater surprise: a guy! Trying to block her stronger opponent’s punches, Sandra quickly became convinced that she would suffer the ultimate humiliation – knocking herself out – when, upon blocking a punch, her own glove ricocheted into her face. “You gotta make him miss once in a while!” Rayo insisted between rounds. “Which means you move! Sidestep, then smack him.” Once again, The Bolt’s strategy worked. When that session was finished, Rayo did something he’d never done before, immediately ushering in another opponent. At the sight of a woman – and her own size – Sandra, with her adrenaline pumping, became a stalker, cutting off the ring, then pummeling until she literally had to be restrained. “Now you see the animal in you,” Rayo said. “Which means you know it’s there if you need it.” “The next day Sandra was matched against a woman whose left jabs and hooks proved to be surprisingly effective. “How do I deal with those lefts?” she asked after her first round. When somebody’s that good with one hand,” The Bolt replied, “go after that shoulder.” 62
“Is that fair? And legal?” “Fair, legal, and most of all smart. Take out the shoulder, and what good’s the hand?” Putting that strategy into effect provided Sandra with yet another key lesson.
It wasn’t until the night before her pro debut, with her family gathered at the dinner table, that Sandra revealed what until then had been clandestine. “Know how I told you to think about the college you want?” she asked her sister. “Yeah?” “You can tell ‘em you’re coming.” “Did somebody rob a bank?” her mother teased. “Yours truly has a new career.” “I hope it’s not as a Penthouse Pet,” her father teased, which resulted in frowns. “So what’s the scoop?” Elida wondered a moment later. “You won’t believe it if I tell you.” “Try us,” said her mother. “Remember that nickname that was driving me crazy?” “Slugger,” her dad stated. “It’s now part of the way I’m billed.” “As what?” her mom asked. “A boxer. You’re looking at Sandra ‘Slugger’ Sanchez.” “Please tell me that you’re joking,” demanded her mother. “Next you’re gonna say you’ll be a champ,” added her father. “That’s the hope,” Sandra stated proudly. “So, will you be there roaring for me tomorrow night?”
The silence couldn’t have been more deafening.
Sandra was brushing her teeth later that evening when her sister stepped into the bathroom. “You really shouldn’t be doing this for me,” Elida mumbled. “Doing it for you? Or doing it at all?” “ Isn’t it pretty much the same thing?” “ Is this you asking, or Mom and Dad putting you up to it?” Elida shrugged guiltily. “I bet Mom’s already been on the phone blabbing with her sisters, her cousins, and everyone else, moaning that her first-born isn’t being wise, prudent, or worst of all, lady-like.” Elida nodded unhappily. “You and I both known,” Sandra continued, “that instead of me having dreams, she’d rather see me married to a nice Chicano accountant or real estate guy, with two kids plus a third in the oven, and a house in Sherman Oaks or Van Nuys. Right?” Another nod from Elida. “Well, guess what. The 19th Century ended a while ago, and so did the 20th. What you need to know is that I’m doing it for you, but I’m also doing it for myself.” “Really?” “Want the honest truth?” Yet another nod from Elida. “I feel better about myself – and a whole lot more alive – than ever before.”
Even though she was making her debut in what the boxing world calls a “prelim” - and
only a “three-rounder” at that – it was a thrill for Sandra, upon her arrival at the venue in a SoCal town called Ontario, to see at the bottom of the poster: SANDRA “SLUGGER” SANCHEZ VS “KILLER” KITTY JONES. Trying not to reveal the conflicting emotions surging through her, she did her best to play cool, calm, and collected – or as Rayo often put it, copacetic – as she walked with him and a cutman named Rudy Mendoza toward the entrance. “Not until they had signed in, been greeted by the promoter and publicist, and reached the dressing room did Rayo speak to Sandra about what he was observing. “Nerves I understand,” he said. “But what else is up?” “Nothing.” “Right, and I’m LeBron James.” “If you got a problem, then so do I.” “It’s family stuff.” “You talking about not being what your family considers to be a prim and proper young lady?” “How’d you know?” “Think you’re the first to hear that stuff? Remember when I mentioned Mia St. John?” “Yeah.” “Guess who was born Maria Elena Rosales. And she’s hardly alone. But trust me, they’ll come around.” “Think so?” “I bet some of ‘em even show up tonight.”
Despite Rayo’s plea for her to focus, Sandra was distracted when she stepped into the ring, scanning the crowd in search of familiar faces. That created unexpected opportunities for her foe, who nailed her with a left jab in the opening seconds, then subsequently with a left hook, plus a right to the chin that sent Sandra sprawling. Sandra took a mandatory eight-count, then got to her feet. Flustered, she did her best to hug, hold, and clinch for the rest of the round, drawing boos from those who had shown up well before the main event. Retreating to her corner, Sandra found herself scolded as never before by her trainer. “If your heart’s not in it, let’s go home right now!” Rayo barked. “You want to embarrass yourself? Fine. But no way will I let you embarrass me! Got that?” “I’m sorry.” “Save the self-pity. Show yourself – and me – and most of all the world – what you’ve got inside!” With a nod, Sandra got to her feet, then spotted something that changed everything – her sister entering the arena together with their grandmother. As “Killer” Kitty Jones burst forward cockily at the start of the second round, eager to put away a seemingly outclassed and over-matched opponent, Sandra ducked a left, then unleashed a one…two…three…four…five punch combination. With the surprised audience cheering, Sandra blocked a wobbly counter-punch, then dug in a liver shot – un gancho al higado – which doubled her foe over, setting up the overhead right that followed. Sandra paced in the neutral corner as the referee counted to ten, then smiled as her hand was raised in triumph.
Having showered and changed, Sandra stepped out of the dressing room, then strode toward where her sister and her grandmother were standing. After hugs and congratulations, Sandra grew more serious. “Can I ask an awkward question?” Elida and their grandmother exchanged uncertain looks, then Sandra went on. “Your trip here, was it with Mom and Dad’s blessing?” The two other women said nothing. “Okay,” Sandra continued. “But do they even know?” More uncomfortable silence. “Hey,” said Sandra, “it means a lot that you’re here.”
Not a word was said as Sandra, Rudy Mendoza, and Rayo strode toward The Bolt’s restored ’68 Camaro. While the cutman climbed into the rear, Sandra stopped and faced her trainer. “About how the fight started,” she announced, “I apologize.” “Let me tell you the two things that matter most. First, respect for the sport. Clear?” Sandra nodded. “And most importantly, keeping you from getting hurt. That means focusing every single goddamn second. Without that, we’re finished. Agreed?” “Agreed.” Sandra was conspicuously laconic throughout the drive back to East LA, speaking hardly a word until they dropped Rudy Mendoza off. Then she faced Rayo. “I don’t want to go home,” she mumbled. “So come to my place.” “Not a good idea.” “C’mon homegirl. I’m not hitting on you. My daughter’s living with my ex- down near 67
San Diego now, so her room’s going unused. Besides, think I’m gonna mess with my meal ticket?”
Even as word spread throughout the boxing community about a newcomer with the looks of a fashion model and the punching power of a female Gennady Golovkin, Sandra busied herself with a demanding routine of road work in the morning, followed by her day job, then harder and more advanced efforts at the gym. The result was precious little time to ruminate about the separation from her family, especially once a generous offer came in for her second fight, which would be a far more demanding sixrounder. You’ll be going against a scrapper,” Rayo advised. “She’ll try everyt trick in the book, and then some. So we’ll focus on two things. First, since she’s gone six rounds before – and you haven’t – is stamina. And the second?” “Tell me-” “What to do when things get dirty.” If, The Bolt explained, “Howitzer” Hallahan, in breaking from a clinch, just happened to nail Sandra with an elbow, her job was to wince and bend over, then surreptitiously land an elbow to her opponent’s ribs. And not if, but when, there was an attempt at an illegal headbutt, Sandra was to feign falling forward, then sneak in a rabbit punch to the back of Hallahan’s neck. “I know this is going against your principles, scruples and all that,” The Bolt said. “But you know the old saying?” “Go ahead-” “You can’t live by the Golden Rule in a crowd that don’t play fair!”
Searching for her sister and grandmother proved to be no distraction the night of the second 68
fight, for they were smack dab in the middle of the third row, together with Sandra’s cousin Stephanie from her mother’s side and her cousin Erice from her dad’s. Moved all the way up the card to the co-feature, the bout proved to be a crowd-pleaser right from the opening bell, with fierce exchanges predominating over the customary first round faking, feinting, and feeling each other out. As Rayo predicted, the “Howitzer” lived up to her nickname, tripping, pushing, elbowing, and using a clinch to open a cut over Sandra’s left eye with a head-butt. But instead of being flustered or intimidated, Sandra countered with tricks of her own. First came a not wholly legal shot to the back of Hallahan’s neck after the head-butt. Then a sneaky elbow to Hallahan’s ribs after absorbing a far more blatant elbow following a clinch. When her angry opponent tried to bully her against the ropes with an illegal push, Sandra side-stepped, then launched a five-punch combination, culminating with an uppercut that yielded a knockdown. One round later, with a liver shot then an overhand right, Sandra was again victorious.
Seemingly overnight the woman who had grown proud of being called Slugger had gone from a nobody to someone besieged with calls. In addition to Ring Magazine inquiring about a cover story, plus nonstop internet chatter, overtures started coming in not from just reporters covering sports, but also from those specializing in women’s stories and Latino affairs. But only when a request came in from TMZ did Sandra shaker her head at the phenomenon Rayo had started to call “Sluggermania.” “I owe you,” she said as she and her mentor shared a laugh over a post-run breakfast one morning. “It’s not like you’re the only one who’s benefiting. Got some time to talk later?” 69
“About?” “With Top Rank, Golden Boy, and a nunch of smaller operations calling, we need to discuss promoters.” “Can we talk about something else tonight?” “Such as?” “I want to take you out to dinner to say thanks.”
Training went on hiatus that evening at a place not far from the Azteca Gym called La Casita Mexicana. Starting with rounds of margaritas accompanied by chips and three salsas, then on through soup, fish, and a hearty helping of churros, two people who had begun as adversaries, then had moved on to a mentor-student relationship, relaxed in each others’ company as never before. The warmth continued when they got back to Rayo’s apartment, where what had been strictly platonic grew quickly, yet comfortably, into intimacy.
When Sandra and Rayo awakened before dawn, instead of feeling embarrassment or regret, the two of them seemed closer than they would have imagined possible. Happily, that feeling persisted during their morning run and their afternoon workout, then into the days that followed. With more and more attention coming Sandra’s way as talks began for her first ten-round fight, she was elated when an unexpected call came from her Dad. “Buy you lunch on Saturday?” he asked. A date was set at a Shanghai restaurant in San Gabriel. There, Sandra’s father showed up looking sheepish. “Your Mom feels bad,” he said after they ordered Sandra’s favorite dishes, including what she referred to as a fish “beignets”, plus tofu skins with a strange Chinese green, and a chicken with chestnuts.
“So do I?” “She’s old-fashioned.” “No kidding.” “But she’s trying to change. If, that is, you’re willing to accept her.” “Of course,” Sandra stated with a combination of relief and joy as a steaming platter of dumplings arrived.
With her sister Elida having made the decision to attend Berkeley, her family rallying behind her, and her romance with Rayo adding yet another unexpected dimension to her life, Sandra felt that, for the first time in her entire life, she was following a path entirely of her own choosing. Not that she allowed herself the luxury of indulging in much reverie while prepping with greater zeal than ever for a ten-rounder against a veteran opponent who went by “Bonecrusher” Bonnie Barnes. Handling the media with new-found aplomb, she signed on with a promoter, who promptly started discussing the path to a title. Life, therefore, was filled with positives in a way that previously would have seemed unthinkable when the time arrived for Sandra’s mandatory pre-fight physical. There, after her height, weight, and blood pressure were taken, she was checked over by a doctor, who proceeded to shock her. “Please go through the door on your left,” he announced. “There’s got to be a mistake.” “Why would you think that?” “Because that’s for the gals who are pregnant.” “Exactly.” “B-but-” 71
A wave of painful and difficult thoughts hit Sandra harder than any opponent as she considered the consequences. Unless she was willing to go completely against her upbringing and beliefs, indeed everything that had come to define being a Latina in her family and her community, the fight would have to be called off. With it, at least for the next year or so, would go dreams that heretofore seemed impossible. Which meant losing, or at least deferring, the road toward the hoped-for championship. But worst of all was thte sense that unless the doctor was complexly wrong, the man who served as her mentor, trainer, and lover, had lied when discussing his so-called vasectomy. â&#x20AC;&#x153;How could this be?â&#x20AC;? Sandra wondered, all too painfully and vividly aware that there was no means to slug her way out of the situation she was in.
Sunset at Sea Ranch on the Northern Sonoma Coast By Arnie Gubins
contributors Valerie Ruberto is a student at Tufts University. She has had three poems published in Yellow Chair Review and one published in Halcyon Days. To read more of her poems, go to http://www.valerierubertopoetry.weebly.com/. A former U.S. foreign service officer, Mark Jacobs has published more than 125 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, Playboy, the Idaho review,
the southern review, the Kenyon review, and the Hudson review. His story “How Birds Communicate” won the iowa review fiction prize. His story “Dream State” won the dr. t.j. eckleburg kafka prize. His five books incluse a handful of kings, published by simon and shuster, and stone cowboy, by Soho Press, which won the maria Thomas award. His website can be found at http://www.markjacobauthor.com. Casey tingle (née Murphy) has been writing fiction since fifth grade. Her stories of fantasy, science fiction, and horror can be found in several print and online magazines. Most recently, her short story the voyeur was published by hiddenchapter. follow her at @murphcas Ben McCormick is a writer, high school English teacher, and minimalist from Milwaukee, wi. He is the writer/host of the biographical wwii podcast series
who is Edward wallner?, and his fiction has previously appeared in green blotter magazine. Kia hyle is a writer currently studying in high school. He has been writing only poetry since 2015. This is his first publication. Alan swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose recent documentaries have dealt with eastern spirituality in the western world, the criminal justice system, diabetes, boxing, and singer billy vera. In the realm of music, among his productions is an album of ray Charles love songs. His novel ‘the beard’ was recently published by Harvard square editions.