DESCENDANTS OF THE UNBROKEN ENERGY (MODUL 38_17)
WAYS TO MAKE ME LEAVE YOU FRIENDS DO FUNNY THINGS
Christina Dalcher Azia DuPont
MOMENTS THAT BOMB
Paul A. Hamilton
URBAN LIFE DECAYS
BENADRYL DESTROYED MY BRAIN SPOILS OF WAR
Cathryn Shea Georgene Smith Goodin
THE BIRDS WE DRANK
GHOSTS IN THE METRONOME
Ron Gibson, Jr.
Music defines us. It unites us. It brings together people of different generations, different backgrounds, and different cultures in a common vision: to move and be moved. The music of 2000 through 2009 represented a departure from what had come before, but couldnâ€™t disconnect itself completely. This split is what Aught/Naught explores. We celebrated the turn of the millennium, watched the dot-com bubble burst, saw the end of Concorde flights, the downgrading of Pluto, and the launch of Wikipedia. We watched as spacestation Mir deorbited, the iPod was launched, Iraq was invaded, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all launched, and Hurricane Katrina devastated the American South. Through all of this, we sang and danced and killed and did drugs and tried to cope with an everchanging global landscape we would never recognize again. In the pages that follow, authors from around the globe dissect a decade that musically, politically, emotionally, was both salve and wound. The words are meant to rip you open, to heal you. The words are written to remind you of one thing that a decade of dichotomy could not change: we are all human, and this connects us.
DESCENDANTS OF THE UNBROKEN ENERGY (MODUL 38_17) Ryu Ando Inspired by: “Modul 38_17”, Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, STOA (2006) 38_01 | The ki |気 | Of life flows | Faster | Through our quicksilver | Gradient hands; 38_02 | I’ve watched as our | So-called | Immortals | Have proved mortal, 38_03 | Subject to decay | And dispersal | As the | Chasms | Gaping before us 38_04 | Close and crumble, | Return and rise | As flocks | Of blackened birds; 38_05 | As swarms of hollow locust; | As troupes of dance-spiraling bees; | As thunder-peal 38_06 | And staccato rumble. | You once said | “We are the ancients, | Returned to ourselves, 38_07 | Spanning centuries | In beautiful silence | Serene at granite’s | Edge | And Eden’s 38_08 | Subductive flows; | Returned to our quantum | Chemical gardens, | Infused in nectars 38_09 | Of dry spice and | Bruised, eloquent poppies. | Reborn.” | But I’ve watched | (As we sink 38_10 | Beneath the quiet seal | Of the ocean’s still surfaces, | In thrall to warped, entropic forces) 38_11 | Us speak | Only of extinction; | Of swamp gardens | And the thousand faces | Of dark orchids 38_12 | That smell of our own flesh | And sour, briny sweat; | Of muddy fountains | River-running 38_13 | Through broken, | Bone-tiled courtyards, | Surrounding the fractured | Dry-rot branches 38_14 | Of trees | (Haunted | By the wind's madness), | That span upward to the sharp | Slivers 38_15 | Of nearly-infinite | Transparent blue; | Unaware that we wander | From the center, 38_16 | Lost yet found, | Lodged, like stray bullets | Or wave-particle shrapnel, | Deep in the final chamber 38_17 | Of the nautilus spiral | φ.
9 CRIMES Jennifer Todhunter Inspired by: “9 Crimes”, Damien Rice, 9 (2006) Lily appeared from the kitchen wearing patchouli, her crooked smile, and the scarf I’d given her on our wedding day. I’d chosen one covered in great horned owls because she hadn’t slept through the night in the six years we’d known each other. She never wanted to miss a thing. “It’s nothing to worry about, Tim,” she said, collecting her keys. “You don’t have to come with me.” I tried to smile, to ignore the fact that she’d felt like shit since returning from our honeymoon three months earlier, and grabbed my jacket off its hook. “I took the day off,” I said. “We can go for lunch afterwards—try the sushi place you’ve been talking about.” Lily was silent when she got the news, her right-hand braced against the doctor’s desk, her left grabbing at air. I mumbled something about going to the bathroom, when I really just needed to get away. The truth filled the room and made it impossible to catch my breath. I ripped the paper towel dispenser off the tile wall, and slammed it against the mirror. A wide gash split across my knuckles, and I tried to stop the bleeding with a handful of toilet paper before facing all the eyes in the waiting room. Sitting outside in the crisp winter air, Lily asked if I’d share a plate of sashimi with her and told me she finally wanted to try the namako. She wrapped her scarf around my hand, and my blood stained her owls bright red. I wondered how the hell I was going to look after her when I couldn’t look after myself. Crime: Property Damage # We were living on my income, in a house we couldn’t afford to keep and couldn’t afford to sell. We sold our car, our couch, and our wedding china, but it wasn’t enough. When a young family with two-month-old twins offered us twenty percent below asking, I looked at our projected medical bills and told Lily we had no choice. Her illness didn’t understand our finances. Recovering from her seventh treatment on the couch in our rented one-bedroom apartment, she flipped the page of a climate change article and said, “My sister’s coming over tonight. Why don’t you take the night off.” “You’re not something I need to take a night off from,” I said stiffly. Three hours and eleven fingers of scotch later, I stood orating on the steps of the public library about how my company wouldn’t grant me living bereavement. “What if she dies?” I yelled. “I don’t need time off after she dies. I need time off while she’s still alive.” Crime: Public Intoxication # Lily wasn’t responding to treatments, to her sister’s late-night telephone calls, to the soup and pastries and gifts her friends dropped by with unannounced. Every day, she’d wordlessly pile another aromatherapy candle or photograph album or
box of chocolates into the linen cupboard. “This is bullshit,” I said after someone delivered a blender. Lily shrugged. “They’re just things.” “Things you don’t need.” I grabbed a laundry basket and piled the gifts inside. Lily followed me through the hallway and into the snow-filled back alley, where I dumped the items into a wheelbarrow. “What are you doing?” Lily asked. “I’m sick of watching you deal with this crap,” I said, returning for another load. I brought the butane canister we used to fondue our housewarming supper, sprayed it over the stack, and lit it on fire with a barbecue lighter. Then I pulled a package of marshmallows from my pocket and offered Lily one on a stick. “No more things,” I said, wiping snowflakes from her eyelashes. She smiled her crooked smile. “No more things.” Crime: Arson # I kept four ledgers for four different cheque books, drawn on four different accounts at four different banks, organized on my small desk squished in the corner of our living room. After dinner I would check the activity online, write a new series of fraudulent cheques for deposit on my way to work in the morning, then wash the dishes sitting beside the sink, Lily's food untouched. She never asked what I was up to, maybe because she didn’t care—or maybe because she knew healthcare was the worst kind of oxymoron. Either way, the more devastating the illness became, the faster we went through money we didn’t have, and the harder it was to keep up with spreading the funds and myself around. Crime: Cheque Kiting # Lily became an expert at wrapping her bald head in silk scarves and pushing me away. There was no fondness, no kindness, no damn tactility to our relationship. I was only her caregiver. One afternoon when her fistful of pills wasn’t enough, she leaned against the god-awful, puce-coloured kitchen wall, and met my stare. “I want you to go,” she said. “Where?” I asked. “I don’t care where you go. Just get the fuck out of here.”
I took a cab to the closest bar, and ordered shots and pints until my chest released whatever it was trying to kill. A girl with an eyebrow piercing, wearing a sheer, black tank, squeezed in beside me and ordered a whiskey with her crimson lips, and all I could think about was kissing those lips because maybe they’d breathe some life inside me—maybe they’d tell me what the hell I was doing wrong or how the hell I was going to save Lily. The girl smelled like oranges and vanilla, and when I got all up in her face, thinking I knew what I was doing, she shoved me back and yelled something that clunked around in my mind, unprocessed. A hipster guy in a blazer shoved himself between us and gave me a push. I tried to stand, tried to walk away, but I fell into his space, and he bumped me again. That’s when it all came out—the stress and sadness and grief over Lily. My knuckles cracked when they hit his jaw, and the pain felt good. Crime: Assault # The anxiety surrounding Lily’s terminal diagnosis made her fixated and crazy. The doctors prescribed narcotics, but nothing could argue with the fact that her life was limited—and what life she had left was torture. I called a friend from college who used to deal weed, and bought an eighth off him with money I would’ve spent on food if Lily was interested in eating. At home, Lily reclined in the hospital bed we’d rented a few weeks earlier, and sparked a joint. The rigid pain lines across her face smoothed into milder peaks, and she didn’t pull her hand away when I tucked my fingers around hers. Crime: Possession of a Controlled Substance # Lily wasn’t my owl anymore. She slept more than she was awake, her skin a pallid gray. She began wheezing one night in her sleep, which became a gasping that brought me to my feet. I called an ambulance and waited, pacing in the hallway between our bedroom and the front door, listening to her breathing become softer and softer. Five minutes became ten, ten became fifteen, and by twenty I’d had enough. I scooped her shrinking body into my arms and ran into the night, stepping in front of the first car I saw. The owner refused to listen, so I dragged him out headlong into a parked car, placed Lily in the backseat, and sped to the hospital. Crime: Grand Theft Auto # There was a cabin thirty miles north in the woods, where the great horned owls returned after their winter migration. It sat dormant most of the year, used by clubs in the summer as an outdoor school—like the one Lily volunteered at when she was well. I left Lily at our apartment with her sister one weekend, and hiked along the trails until I reached the clearing that housed the structure. I brought a telescope, strawberries, and the collection of mixed CDs she'd hidden underneath our bed when music started to remind her of too much. I picked the lock, set my things around the space, including the morphine pills I’d bought off a black market chat room at Lily’s request.
Then I went back to get her. Crime: Breaking and Entering # Lily’s breath became labored as my heart thundered inside my chest. The fire spat in the fireplace, the only light in the room. I slipped a pillow underneath Lily’s head. “Is that all right?” I asked, wanting perfection and hating it all the same. This should be messy. We should be messy. Lily put her hand in mine, and curled around me. “I’ve never seen an owl so big,” she whispered. I watched her chest rise and fall, and wished she could fly away on the great horned owl’s wings. Crime: Assisted Suicide
SUCKING LEMONS Christopher Iacono Inspired by: “Everything in Its Right Place”, Radiohead, Kid A (2000) “This Side of the Blue”, Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004) I stand by the window, my beer bottle sweating. The taste is sour, but I want more, so I raise the bottle to my lips and release the bitter stream. It spreads down, burning the ghost of your touch. Closer to the window I step. Is that her? No, someone else. My fingers tighten as the silver label starts to flake. I swish the dregs in the glass’s bottom halo and take one last sip. The last drops trickle down my throat like warm tears - tears of lost love - and sting just as much. I grit my teeth and twist my mouth. Then I pitch the bottle to the wall. While collecting the shards in the cup of my hand, I see you, your body leaning, your eyes telling me we’re nowhere near through. I stop what I’m doing and grab two cold necks, lemon wedges in the mouths. We squeeze the fruit and suck on its flesh. And then we enjoy the moment because I know soon enough, I will once again be standing by the window, waiting for you to come back.
WAYS TO MAKE ME LEAVE YOU Christina Dalcher Inspired by: “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)”, Alison Kruass & Robert Plant, Raising Sand (2007) Buy more of those lacy panties—the kind you haven't worn in ten years because you say Jockey briefs are more practical and the lacy ones make you itch. Shave your legs and blow-dry your hair every morning. Carry your cell phone with you all the time, take it to bed, pretend you're working when you're sexting. Ring me from the office with another "I'll be just a little late tonight, darling, so sorry, order some take-away why don't you." Lock yourself in the laundry room when you think I'm engrossed in the game and can't see the red light over the telephone's Line 1 button. Hide the perfume I didn't buy you in the bottom drawer underneath a box of tampons because you don't believe I'll ever look there. Forget to throw away the receipt from the Two Pines Motel. Come home with the smell of aftershave in your hair. Come to bed believing I can't tell, can't feel the difference inside you. Say you went to the movies with Helen on Saturday afternoon; give me the plot line of a movie that played two weeks ago. Take two hours to shop for groceries. Encourage me to golf more, go to a game, take a road trip to visit Al up in Boston because it's been so long since I've seen him. Go overboard on birthday and Christmas and anniversary gifts. Let me catch you with that faraway look in your eyes while you sit at your computer. Act guilty. Tell me you love me all the time. Tell me your sister bought you the scarf you can't seem to stop wearing. Whisper his name when you're sleeping next to me. Smile to yourself. Lie. Lie some more. Stay out all night on the weekend I'm supposed to visiting Al up in Boston. Stay home with a bad cold on the days you know I have meetings. Get bold. Get stupid. Get the dates mixed up and stay home with a bad cold on a day my meetings end early. Take him to our bed and don't hear the motor in the driveway or the click of the lock or the sound of my footsteps on the stairs.
FRIENDS DO FUNNY THINGS Azia DuPont Inspired by: “Someday”, The Strokes, Is This It? (2002) I want to pretend we didn’t kiss in the bathroom last night. That it was all just a funny joke, see how I’m laughing? See how we’re friends? See how we do things that are funny? It was just a nipple ring. It was just you asking to see it. It was just me taking your hand and leading you into the bathroom. It was just you asking to touch it. It was just me thinking Goddamn! That smile! It was just that the door was closed. It was just that I knew exactly how to kiss you, It was just that I always know how someone wants to be kissed. I can tell by the sound of their laugh, the way they rest their mouth afterwards. I knew you’d like to have your bottom lip between mine. That when I pulled it gently into my mouth, traced it with my tongue, taking a small nibble and then slowly giving it back to you, that you’d pull me into your arms all eager hands. That for a brief moment I’d be the infinity you were looking for. I couldn’t help myself. Maybe this is why you were always filling my cup. Maybe this is why I always let you. Maybe this is why we always end up in the corner laughing. Maybe this is why I want to call you and grab breakfast. Talk about how we’re so funny for doing such funny things. Make sure you know that it’s not a big deal and Act like I don’t want you to say I love you. Act like fate resides in a friendship-sized box.
MOMENTS THAT BOMB Paul A. Hamilton Inspired by: “From Blown Speakers”, The New Pornographers, Electric Version (2003) Smoke prowls around my head, winding in the curls of my hair. My high links past and present. Another moment, age seventeen. Instead of you, it’s Julie Jones passing the joint; instead of standing over our shared bed I’m standing over Julie’s. She’s a wreck of a soul, a former Miss Teen Wordpower—she’ll tell you about it at length, unprompted—and just now the contact high is stronger than the actual one. I’m nervously smoothing the pleats of my skirt and fiddling with the portable stereo next to her bed. It’s obsolete: a CD player/cassette tape deck. Everyone we know is ripping to beige computers and chunky iPods with monochrome screens. “It’s fucked,” Julie says with a slow stoner drawl. “The speakers are blown.” And you, like a bad connection with a split second delay: “I’m fucked up, baby.” “I want to hear something,” I tell Julie. And you. “Fine, go ahead,” you both grant. I have a demo. There’s always a demo. For Julie it’s me, under the influence of my own bad musicianship. For you it’s one of my potential clients with some juvenile moniker; Blood From Bone or Line To The Throne. I make a joke to mask how much I like them. I make a joke to mask how nervous I am for Julie—anyone, really—to hear me raw and exposed like a convict. The recording is bad; I know it in spite of my moxie. It was bad when I played it; when I burned the disc; when I burned my notebook in a fit of youngstupid. But I’m one of the greats on the way, yeah? My decisions are part of my art, if not the whole of it. That’s why when I’m there with you—naked except these black panties and a little extra weight on my hips—I’m only representing the art, not embodying it. Variation of an age old curse: an unrealized dream I slid as close to as possible. A talent scout with no talent of her own. This is what decisions really get you: consequences. “I won a competition,” Julie says, flopping over onto her stomach. “Did I ever tell you? They gave me a title.” “You told me.” “It was a big deal back in my old town.” “So you’re a pageant queen,” I say, “not like that’s something new.” I have to act like I don’t care, like it’s half surprising she’d be a beauty competition winner. But of course I do care. I’d fight to breathe the air she exhales. “More than that. It’s a debate. It’s a talent thing.” She cares about talent. It’s hot in her room with the door closed. Her parents don’t worry about us, but I wish they needed to. I’ve got the CD ready in the beat up old stereo. Maybe I can’t go through with it. I hesitate here, cursor over the track, wondering what you see in me. Whatever it is, it’s not the same thing I see in myself. “It’s just a song,” I say. “Fine.”
The hum of the mic, some artifacts in the audio and I wander away from the stereo with its stain of spilled candle wax and worn-off control labels. I pick up a glass bauble with a red rose inside. “Is it real?” Julie barely looks up, shrugs. It almost slips from my sweating hand. “Is it a real rose?” “Ssh,” Julie scowls at me. I know what’s coming, having listened to it on a boring gray portable with cheap headphones. Orange foam on the earpieces and a thin metal band catching strands of my hair while I bobbed my head and knew it wasn’t good but also thought, maybe. As the first hum from the recording fades to that tiny pause that electrifies the air with potential, I remember how awful the song is. I remember how childish I sound. It’s going to be obvious that the song is for and about Julie and I have to turn it off. I haven’t had a chance to memorize every corner of her room. Her bare legs fold back while she lies on her stomach, playing with the joint in an ashtray. Her ankles cross above her plaid shorts, the little wrinkles in the soles of her feet as she squeezes her toes together. She watches my lunge to shut it off. Her eyes are red and heavy, like her lips. Her wet smile breaks when the first terrible chord rings out because I’m too high to find the stop button with the label worn off like that. And it comes out magical. The blown speakers suit the wretched songwriting. Their flatulent tones mask my insecure strumming. The chafe of the stereo’s static does wonders for my hesitant singing. Julie’s awful little music box sells it, spins it like a spell book, and she sits up. Stares at the shitty little thing like she’s watching the sound come out. She keeps time with her eyelashes. “Is this you?” She waits until the second repeat of the bridge to interrupt, determined (I hope) not to miss anything. I don’t have a real voice, just the one from the CD, so I nod. You never lay on your stomach with your feet up in the air. That’s not your style. I never find myself without a voice around you. “Well?” That’s you, but it’s also me, once Julie’s song is over. She’s cross-legged on the edge of her bed. You’re still waiting for your song. I’m still waiting for Julie’s answer. “Never mind,” I tell you both. I can’t stand to know the truth. What she thought of it. What you think of me. What difference could it make? There will still be seasons crawling because this—or any other—decision isn’t the art. Decisions are just made, without regard for the truth. I know now we float through them and they paint us, not the other way around. Julie shrugs. Goes back to doing her thing. Goes back to her own choice to ignore me. Or to talk about her pageant win. Or to compare. In Julie’s mind it’s me versus her. In my mind it’s now versus then. In your mind… You get up. Cross the room. Lean close to me, stare at my face but not my eyes. Kiss my lips and leave me stripped to my toes. Somewhere there’s an open ended list of lies we tell ourselves. I could borrow your lie. The same one I borrowed from Julie. Time comes through its own blown speakers. Magical, just for a little while. Until the (contact) high wears off and the lies fade with it. Soberly, we’ll choose our blank adventures again.
THE BELIEVERS Aaron Rudolph Inspired by: “Killed Myself When I Was Young”, A.A. Bondy, American Hearts (2007) Four high school boys stuffed into a hatchback are never four physicists theorizing the precise weight of the planet. Every now and then I’d get the call to join the tough crowd, and some nights we’d cruise town and pretend we weren’t blushing at girls in passing cars. We found ways of marveling at the unknown. Mario pulled a gun from his jacket and raised it over his head. The driver, his cousin, even turned back. Everyone but me put out a hand to feel the metal, the power in touching the weapon, wonder if strength could transfer from inanimate object to skin. Then, Mario turned the gun my way offering it like food. Did refusal mean starvation? I felt the gun’s warmth, the moonlight reflecting on its barrel. Holding it, I was sure that the world had shrunk and was compressing inward and I couldn’t escape. The planet was a deflating ball and we were trapped inside, feeling each thrust of escaping air. Taking the gun back, Mario pushed his hand out the open window, He fired three rounds, light bursts flashing upward. The guys turned sitting-in-church quiet. We stopped under a bridge a few miles from town. Before heading back, we caught our breath and looked once more at the gun in Mario’s palm. Then he passed it around again, bread for the hungry, the believers.
URBAN LIFE DECAYS C.J. Pendergast Inspired by: “Slow Motion”, Third Eye Blind, A Collection (2006) Mrs. Jones taught me English, but I think I just shot her son. And in an attempt to be objectively certain, I studied the body. It was a white male, frail build, with black hair. He lay on his back, arms outstretched and above his head in surrender, chest swollen. With a weighty gasp, the boy deflated in front of me. He remained still and silent as a desert. What followed, to my surprise, was surrender to anonymity—blue eyes wide and empty. Became unoccupied. Freckles sank into the skin and dissipated in the light of the sun. I came to the conclusion that in this particular condition—expired from life— it was impossible to predict who inhabited this frame previously. If it were the young Jones, he lost the name with his final breath. He was merely a victim now. I knelt to the pavement, warm from the interminable glow of the afternoon. I shoved my hands into the victim’s pants pockets. Nothing. I closed my eyes and cursed silently. Blood leaked from underneath the boy’s shirt and onto my fingers. The lovely shade of red was thick, and it trickled down my carpels, merging into a gory pond of life in my palms. I gently grazed my hands against each other, washing them with blood. I considered life after death. I wondered if the boy could feel me hovering over him like this—the complete opposite of him— alive. J.C.’s voice trailed with the violent winds, disturbing my peace of mind, “Let’s go, Tre!” I left the gun by the boy’s side and caught up to J.C. in an instant, taking in the infinite scope of the vacant lot. “Man, you should’ve seen it,” I said, leaping into my accomplice’s excuse for a car. I sprawled across the backseat. Shift: Reverse. Neutral. Shift: Drive. The Xanax made me feel as if I was a cloud of molecules. “Did you find anything?” J.C. asked between his panting. With his weight, I’m not sure he’ll ever be reimbursed for the oxygen that he lost during our crime. His eyes darted from me to the road. I watched them, swimming with panic, in the rear view mirror. I watched his chubby fingers tremble on the steering wheel. “Nah,” I said, wiping the blood off on the back of his seat. “You’re kidding right?” The car squealed at the turn as we sped onto the bridge. I wasn’t kidding. I needed the money, but I could get it elsewhere. Maybe rob a bank, or steal a car from someone in the financial district. The fabric on J.C.’s seat was rough and it prickled my hands—I cringed at the feeling. My bony frame left a ghastly image of melting fingers on the chair, like a bleeding ghost reaching out for the life in front of it. J.C.’s eyes shot back again in the mirror. “How could you be so,” he paused, “nonchalant about all of this?” “Ah,” I said raising my finger. “Now that’s a good word!” The fat man glanced back at me confused, but I had other things on my mind. “Take a left here,” I ordered. J.C. obeyed and continued to annoy me, “Are you sure he was dead?” I think it’s something about his voice that makes my veins crawl—it’s whiny. “I didn’t see you feel his pulse. How could you know for sure?” he asked. “Because, you idiot, I felt his last exhale graze across my lips. It was calm and triumphant all at the same time. I opened my mouth and I swallowed it whole.”
This either perplexed the airheaded fool, or the reality of the situation outweighed his conscience. J.C. was silent for the rest of the ride. I stepped out of the car, muttered thanks and slammed the door. He rolled down the window before I could escape. “What should I do now?” he asked as if I knew. I kicked his tire and he sped off. # Leah’s apartment was on the seventh floor. I decided to take the stairs because elevators are too easy. As my adrenaline wore off, I felt my body melt from the fading Xanax. I searched my pockets for some coke. I knocked. She stood in the doorway with no pants on, an oversized shirt dangling off of her pale, skeleton frame. It was exquisite. “Come on in,” she slurred. I shut the door behind me and the apartment shook from the tremors. “You holding?” I asked. “Depends on what you’re looking for,” she said, looking up at me with famished eyes, like she wanted to be what I was looking for. “You know.” “I’ve got a balloon of black tar,” she said, floating through the doorway of her room. “At least.” “I’ll make you a deal!” I shouted through the walls. They were as thin as Leah. She slid back into the hallway with the product enclosed in her fist. “Lets hear it,” she said and rolled her eyes slowly, like she was dying. I stepped toward her and put my hand on her side. I felt her ribcage, eating through her skin, so delicate, lovely, ravishing. I whispered graphic fantasies in her ear. She became my words as they rolled off my tongue. Her body quivered as I dangled the bag of coke in front of her face. “We can both get off." She bit her lip. The afterglow rushed through me. It guided me to a wondrous conclusion: I’m detached from all of you. And like the flesh that exploded from the youngster I shot earlier, I was missing a piece. My mind regressed into liquid form, a result bizarrely close to enlightenment. You are not one of me. You’re one of them. And I’m just a character placed here, gloriously, for your own entertainment. Leah awoke from a daydream knotted by overindulgence. I watched as a trickle of red crawled out of her nose. A drop seeped into her bed sheets and spread, trying to become more than it actually was. Ambition. Leah really started to
bleed now. She asked for a tissue, but the ruby-pigmented fuel of life dripping out of her paralyzed me. It was stunningly beautiful. I couldn’t help but sit there and let it rush out of her nostrils and all over her naked body. “Help,” she muttered, reaching a shaking hand toward me. “No.” I backed away and leapt off the bed. I abandoned Leah, passed out in a sea of her own fluids. Her nosebleed was relentless, so I dragged her—like a paraplegic cat—out on the porch where she could see the sunset. Who knows, it could have been her last. # At home, I am perturbed by the incessant whirl of life that is my younger sister. I slam the door, pull out a spoon and ignite the flame. I draw my blinds. The lights across the bay are less than marvelous. A ruckus is going on in the house across the yard. I watch shadows beneath the unkempt streetlight. My neighbor’s masculine screams make my spine crumble. I unlatch my belt, pants shuffle below my waist. My neighbor shoves his wife against the table. She shrieks. I tighten the belt around my forearm. The woman cries out, banging her hand against the windowpane. I wonder if she sees me watching her. I wonder if she thinks I will help. My neighbor arches his back, brings his fist forward and cracks it against the back of her skull. There is another inhuman scream. She turns toward the man and throws her hands up. He whacks her again, this time the blow across her face. Her neck snaps backward. Oh man, what a beautiful thing. I salivate. She slumps, helplessly, and stares into me again. Her eyes desperate, mine shallow. Her hand slaps against the window once more and slides lower down the glass. She disappears. I stuck the needle into my vein. Sinking deep and slowly into another numbing jaunt. But, this time, something went wrong. My lungs closed, chest tightened. My eyeballs seeped deeper into the back of my head, drying out and sizzling my vision to nothingness. Pure black. # As death slides close to me I tell him that I’m going to live forever. I am the dark print, bold type—a headline in tomorrow’s paper. Front page. I am something new for your paranoia to fornicate with. I am something new for somebody else to use, awakening a disposed fear inside of your chest. You know, the one that chokes you when you drive through that bad neighborhood. And it really doesn’t matter if I exist or not. Because I’m more real than the breath you didn’t know that you just took. I’m immortalized by my wrath. Glamorized in the ink of tomorrow’s tabloids and cemented with every word spoken from the late-night news anchors. I’m more significant than you will ever by in your entire, pathetic little lives. And just like that, my life—a crime—starts over with one gunshot, in slow motion.
BENADRYL DESTROYED MY BRAIN Cathryn Shea Inspired by: “These Drugs”, D12, Devil’s Night (2001) Balloons bump against each other where thoughts should be, dozy as a cat napping on a rug. I trace words over and over in tomes to make a palimpsest. My tangerine calm hammers the xylophone into silence. The clang frightens my fins and the hyena doesn’t get the joke. I don’t sneeze anymore. I never knew sleep could be so deep like the old saw, and dreams could be rank but chaste. Huzzah. No threat of addiction. Just a clean clock, free of crucial drivel.
SPOILS OF WAR Georgene Smith Goodin Inspired by: “After the Bombs”, The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (2006) “Fake Empire”, The National, Boxer (2007) “Start a War”, The National, Boxer (2007) The bombing started as you kissed me good night. Our breath was laced with garlic, which we’d joked about as we dug into the rich layers of lasagna at that pizza place with the red-checked tablecloths. You stayed over, even though it was our first date. We huddled, fully clothed, under my dining room table where the glass wouldn’t hit us if the windows shattered. The newspapers had been preaching ‘duck and cover’ for weeks. The blasts deafened. I jolted and cried out at each one, even as they retreated. You gave me the earbuds for your phone. The song we danced to at McGinty’s sounded tinny through such small speakers, but I smiled as I remembered how, just three nights ago, you were odd man out on the dart board, and consoled yourself by buying shots of Bushmills for the only girl in the bar. When the headphones sputtered into silence, you replayed the song. You stroked my back and your lips brushed against my hairline. I’d never been kissed there before. # The factory I worked at crumpled during a raid, so I washed dishes part time at the hospital. Red Cross volunteers set up cots in the hallways for the less critically wounded. Their clothes smelled like smoke and sweat and fear. You spent long days digging through rubble for survivors, sometimes in the very structures you’d once hammered together. The damaged buildings pained you like a sick child. Food grew scarce. In the market, shriveled hands shoved mine aside to grab the best potatoes. Peppers cost what steak once had, and were riddled with black spots that I pared away with surgical precision. “Delicious,” you said after every meal. Inflation spiraled and we moved in together. We chose your place because of the patio. You grew tomatoes on a trellis made from a broken pallet. I learned to pick them while they were still green and to ripen them on the window sill. In war, the neighbors could not be trusted. # We poured the cabernet into red Solo cups, toasted with our ruby chalices. We joined the celebrating mobs and walked two blocks before I realized I hadn’t put on shoes. Laughing, you hoisted me onto your back and I spilled a rorschach test onto your white t-shirt. I pressed my lips to it and sucked, not wanting to waste one drop. You’d exploited the flimsiest of connections to buy it and we’d managed to save it for this day, even though it tempted us on the nights the bombs whizzed by close enough to rattle our foundation. You ripped red oleander from a hedge and made me a bouquet. I braided the stems and crowned you a prince. “I am the emperor of all that you see,” you said, sweeping your arm to encompass the warped facades and mangled steel that lined the block. “And you are my queen.” “Empress,” I said, laughing.
When you got down on one knee, the crowd’s cheers drowned my response so I kissed you instead. Our first kiss in peace. A Judas kiss. # We held the wedding on the patio, next to our third crop of tomatoes. The world was still difficult to travel and your sister was the only family in attendance. The neighbors made a potluck feast. Everyone had hoarded during the war, and the elaborate dishes were as much about showing off black market skills as celebrating us. We ate foods we’d nearly forgotten: sharp cheddar, fennel sausage, baklava dripping with honey that emphasized the tang of the cheese. Our upstairs neighbor brought whiskey, which we had not drunk since the night we met. # Life should have been better without the specter of death shading our days, but we had not foreseen the luxury of petty fights. Our battle lines were drawn slowly, subtly. You claimed you’d always left socks on the floor and the cap off the toothpaste, that you’d never done dishes or scrubbed the tub. You looked at me puzzled, wondered why I hadn’t seen this before. Sometimes you caught me staring. I kept trying to recognize you, only to realize you’d never been known. Both of us were shocked when I yelled, “I’m not blind.” # I spent more time away from home, enjoying the pleasures peace laid at my feet. It was easy to linger at the grocery store, contemplating the heft of blemish-free produce; to sit at the café savoring the contrast of hot coffee against cool porcelain instead of drinking it on the go. Once, I went to McGinty’s. I had the bartender pour me a row of shots, and paid the jukebox to play the song we’d danced to, trying to remember who we were before the war. But that “we” was just one night in a bar, and an Italian dinner I only remembered because it ended under my dining room table. # I intended to be gone before you came home, but you caught me as I closed my suitcase. I expected you to be sad or angry, but you surprised me and pulled out those red Solo cups from so long ago. I hadn’t realized you were sentimental. You poured generous shots, and put on a CD. “No,” I said when I heard the first measures of our song, but you pulled me close and made me dance. It was easy to pretend we’d just met, and things could unfold as they should.
The song ended, as had our fake empire, and the tune that rose in its wake was unfamiliar. I wept for all the war had given us, and all it had taken away. “The music’s still playing,” you whispered. “We have time for one more dance.” You kissed that spot along my hairline and kept your arms around my waist.
THE BIRDS WE DRANK Barit Angharad Inspired by: “Chemical Party”, Gavin Degraw, Chariot (2003) “Mad Season”, Matchbox Twenty, Mad Season (2000) We cockfight with bottles, grey geese and wild turkeys fly, thrown down the backs of our gullets, wet and on fire, the fire, only fire we light in the fog night contact high of joint magnetism – the kind where your joints should wrap around mine, my joints should socket yours – we should stick together. Spin that bottle again, your flair is showing, and my predilections for lace waistbands and silk bra straps with zebras underneath that you can’t see racing, stampeding against this voltaic flesh, all raised hairs and goosepimples you brush with jimp fingers as you set down the shot glass. Pass the juice around the jungle we have built in our heaven, in our closet, in this space that belongs to someone else – space that will not remember us in the morning, will not remember undone zippers, sthenic, sweat-soaked zebras, and the birds we drank from each the other's maw beneath blankets scented with sex and the dope in your pockets. I don’t even know my name anymore, I don’t care to know yours, I don’t care what’s in your pants – you aren’t wearing them, you’re wearing me, I’m wearing the curve of your skin – somehow we have pierced each other, somewhere, further, the dawn silence begs lingering, for another battle, for cigarettes and coffee I’ll drink if you will.
GHOSTS IN THE METRONOME Ron Gibson, Jr. Inspired by: "Walking With A Ghost", Tegan & Sara, So Jealous (2004) Inside my backpack, I carry the heart of Thomas Wolfe. Big as a porpoise head; its valves undulate like hungry mouths. It beats out like heavy footsteps from between city street sentences against my hunched spine, like the familiar heartbeat of a lover pressed against heated skin. Everywhere a trail of blood follows. I walk these streets he walked. I hunger for glimpses of hidden lives he hungered for. I hear his melody in the restless wilderness of machinery, in the bloody stampede of humanity, in the gunshots of speeding trains. I hear his voice in each small thunder, in the million-throated moan of loneliness from tarry rooftops, in each and every small arrival and departure. When I stop in a cafe to warm up, I lift Wolfe's heart onto the table for air. When I inspect its flesh, flocks of words line the telegraphy of blue ballpoint left by previous owners -- chain gangs that still busk plaintive tunes for the pure love of sound, whose importance are lost in the architecture of time. I turn the phrases over and over inside my mouth like Rubik's Cubes, hunting for passwords to locked doors, making subtle alterations: 'Go' for 'Stay', 'Stay' for 'Go.' But no matter which way I go or no matter which way I stay, I feel the words burst out of my mind, a thunderhead of dandelion seeds snaking away on hidden windstreams out the door, past the cafe terrace, down ancient streets etched into the palms of boroughs, tiny exploration parties landing ashore from his deep green hills of home, claiming everything they touch with a stroke of the pen. His heart fibrillating in my hands, arcs of blood rainbowing then pooling on and around the table, I see a waiter rush toward me. Before he can kick me out, I return Wolfe's heart to my backpack and leave. My feet carry me with a simplicity, a melodic repetition, ghosts in the metronome. Though tired, the city insists it be rediscovered. The pavement is a churning river; idling cars and trucks, boulders and snags, skyscrapers are riverbanks and shadows, canyons of time. No door in sight, the melody of my footsteps fade, words still dripping from my hands, a voice indelible as the hills.
Ryu Ando writes speculative fiction and poetry. He lives and works in Los Angeles. Inspiration for a lot of his work strike while sitting in long meetings, an occupational hazard. His work has appeared in speculative fiction magazines such as Strange Horizons, Unbroken, Liquid Imagination, and more. Jennifer Todhunter is a number nerd by day, word fiddler at night. She enjoys dark, salty chocolate and running top speed in the other direction. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_. Christopher Iacono lives with his wife and son in Massachusetts. Besides writing fiction and poetry, he has also written book reviews. When he is not writing, he copyedits and proofreads. Christina Dalcher is a novelist from the northern part of the American South. Her short work appears in Maudlin House, Zetetic, and Five 2 One Magazine, among other dark corners of the literary ether. Thirty-five years ago, she fell in love with Robert Plant. Azia DuPont currently resides in Southern California. You can find her and links to her work online at www.aziadupont.com and also connect with her on Twitter @aziadupont. Paul A. Hamilton is a writer, editor, and technologist living in Northern California with his wife and two daughters. His stories feature broken people, reassembled worlds, beautiful monsters, and hideous love. He gets his inspiration by impersonating an old-timey bartender, listening to stories told by lonely strangers. When not writing, he can be found reading, drawing, taking photographs, or riding roller coasters. More from him can be found at www.ironsoap.com, and on Twitter as @ironsoap. Aaron Rudolph is the author of Sacred Things (Bridge Burners Publishing, 2002). He also has poems in the anthologies Two Southwests (VAC, 2008) and Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: New Oklahoma Writing (Mongrel Empire Press, 2010). Currently, he serves as editor for Cuento Magazine, a Twitter magazine for micro writing. C.J. Pendergast is currently in pursuit of his MFA in Creative Non-Fiction at UNC Wilmington. He is a featured music writer for both Encore Magazine and Brooklyn Arts Center and has been published in Atlantis, UNCW's creative magazine. Cathryn Sheaâ€™s poetry is forthcoming or has recently appeared in After the Pause, Gargoyle, Gravel, Main Street Rag, Permafrost, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Snap Bean, is by CC.Marimbo (2014, Berkeley). She is a past editor and adviser for Marin Poetry Center Anthology and is the author of dozens of software and database manuals (a sort of creative non -fiction). Cathryn lives in Fairfax, CA and spends part of each day watching over a covey of California quail. See www.cathrynshea.com. @cathy_shea on Twitter. Georgene Smith Goodinâ€™s work has appeared in numerous publications, and has won the Mash Stories flash fiction competition. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the cartoonist Robert Goodin. When not writing, she is restoring a 1909 Craftsman bungalow with obsessive attention to historic detail. Visit her blog, or follow her on Twitter @gsmithgoodin. Barit Angharad is the shallowest part of the North Atlantic Current. She currently lives in a boat between the shores Nefyn, Wales and Rye, New Hampshire where she writes poems with fish bones and octopus ink. You are the first to decipher her scrawl. Ron Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House, The Vignette Review, Ghost City Review, Word Riot, Cease Cows, Spelk Fiction, Unbroken Journal, Ginosko Literary Journal, and others. He has been included in various anthologies, and been nominated for two Pushcarts. Follow him @sirabsurd.
â€œAught/Naughtâ€?, Pidgeoholes Volume 5.5. Copyright 2016, Pidgeonholes and individual authors. Contents may not be used or duplicated without permission from all parties. Learn more at: http://pidgeonholes.com/ Edited by Nolan Liebert