QUARTO 2005 Volume 57
THE LITERARY MAGAZINE OF THE UNDERGRADUATE CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAM, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
QUARTO · Submissions Current and recent undergraduate Creative Writing students—including non-degree students and students enrolled in other divisions of Columbia University who are taking undergraduate creative writing courses—are encouraged to submit to Quarto. We welcome poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama, including excerpts from longer works. Submissions are nonreturnable. Please include your contact information (name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address) on your manuscript. Manuscripts may be considered elsewhere while under consideration at Quarto. Please notify us of acceptance by another publication. Address all submissions and correspondence to: Quarto 612 Lewisohn Hall 2970 Broadway Mail Code 4108 Columbia University New York, NY 10027 For information on becoming a patron of Quarto, please call the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at (212) 8543774. Text set in Garamond. Cover photograph by Katya Apekina, 2005. Copyright Quarto 2005 All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists on publication. ISSN 0735-6536
QUARTO · Editorial Board
EXECUTIVE EDITORS Katya Apekina Claire Snyder SENIOR EDITORS Nick Barr Esinam Bediako Anya Cherneff Jessica Gresko Teresa Hermann Sara Moorman Tori Preston Timothy Rosenblum Allison Sturm Nicholas Summers Elizabeth Woodard EDITORIAL ADVISOR Christina Rumpf FACULTY ADVISOR Leslie T. Sharpe DIRECTOR, UNDERGRADUATE CREATIVE WRITING Leslie Woodard
QUARTO 路 Contents
OUTLAW Alexia Semlek THE SATURDAYS Miranda Shafer ONE DAY I AM SOMETHING OTHER THAN
HUMAN Katie Herman LITTLE DEATHS Yi-Sheng Ng GREAT AUNT CELIA Bridget Potter VAN GOGH'S STARRY STARRY NIGHT CONFIRMED BY HUBBLE TELESCOPE Nick Bredie MAYTE Mary O'Brien
POEM Archie IngersoU ESTATE TACTICS Matt Grice THE BICYCLIST Lillian Hsu
ARMY OF ONE Michelle Legro
SELF-PORTRAIT AS AN ELEVATOR Tomoko Yagi
THE AIR WE BREATHE Elizabeth Kim
MAKING BABIES Matt Grice
STREETS/SCENERY Julia Kite
DISTINCTION BETWEEN PRETERIT AND IMPERFECT TENSES Katarzyna Kozanecka WHITE MORNING Yen Feng
OUTLAW Alexia Semlek
I think I might have loved you the way poker chips fall on a table when opponents stare without blinking, looking for secrets and hoping for lies. We were likely lovers in a cowboy romance of Arizonaâ€” sepia tones fading to painted frames, the echoes of rifles remastered in stereo sound. There are no rules in a knife fight but women undress quicker for outlaws, so I unlaced my own corset in blue prairie mornings and red desert nights. Somewhere south of the border we became hypocrites and horse thieves. The west, now too civilized was just the place we used to be. Like dynamite on steam engines we just kept exploding, falling in love with each other's sidekicks, and running from the law. And we'll go out in a blaze of glory
clinging to our pistols, pointed at our temples, while dusty whiskey bottles forever hold our last drink.
T H E SATURDAYS Miranda Shafer
Last Thanksgiving was spent at my sister, Tara's, house. It was your standard dull holiday affair except for the fact that the carbon monoxide alarm went off three times in one and a half days. The first time the alarm went off my sister took off her apron, grabbed her baby and we stood outside waiting for the firemen to come. We passed the time talking about old children's books. "Remember the one where the brother saves his family from carbon monoxide poisoning? His dog wakes him up by barking?" I said. "Yeah that was The Saturdays, by Eli2abeth Enright. The sister's name was Miranda, " said Tara. "But her family call her Randy," I said. Tara was silent for a moment. "I'm glad you never got stuck with that nickname." The second time the alarm went off, a fireman started talking to me about a jumper that they had to coax down from the bridge. "Welcome to the holidays," the fireman said ruefully. The third time the alarm went off it was about 11 o'clock at night. "Godfuckingchristgodfuckingchrist," my sister said as she stumbled around her dark house. My brother in law was driving his mother back to Connecticut. My sister and I stood outside. I held the baby and she held a lit cigarette. For a while we didn't say anything. Nearby someone had been burning a pile of leaves. The air smelled like autumn, sleepy and full of promise. Finally, my sister spoke. "When the firemen come, we switchâ€”I hold the baby and you hold the cigarette, okay?" said Tara. "Okay," I said. My sister is a closet smoker these days, meaning that she
smokes outside the house and all het clothes smell like cigarettes but my mother never says anything. She still smokes as much as she did when she was sixteen. When I was seven she was sixteen. For me, she will always be the teenager who smelled like smoke and cold air. These days, I smoke outside with her and we ash out our cigarettes on the limestone patio her husband installed. Tara is a professor at Marist College. She once said, "I like being a professor, I think I'm good at it, I enjoy lecturing people." She also enjoys prodding people about talking about their feelings with a capital "F." A few weeks after the three-alarm Thanksgiving, I visited Tara and my nephew. At dinner, the conversation passed some narrow corners and I thought I had escaped the invasive questions when she said, "Now Miranda, can you tell me when you first stopped respecting Mom? I just want to know what not to do, so when Reid grows up he won't avoid my phone calls." I would rather chew glass than answer questions like this. I gave her some sort of half-hearted response. She talked about her need to meet people halfway and lamented our parents' inability to talk about emotions, which I think is a fine quality in parents. I went to bed that night. The next morning she asked me if I wanted to go see a farm. It was eight in the morning. "Urn, why don't I stay here and make sure the puppy doesn't tear up anything," I said. "Reid wants you to come," she said. "All right, I'll come I guess," I said. We got in the car and drove to the farm. The ground was frozen. The sheep stood facing the wall and lifted up their tails and shat disdainfully in a corner of wet hay. We fed the llama, named Lava, which was, of course, only interested in us when we shook a bucket of food. This visit to the farm lasted for about an hour and a half, at the end of the visit I was ready to chew off my own left hand. I was so bored. There was a barn cat that slept on the back of a yearling. The yearling stood in the damp hay. It exhaled, and so did I, a sigh of boredom. I watched Reid touch the sheep's oily crimped wool with gentle reverence. He
seemed happy and gentle for an hour or so, then he started to fuss and cry. "I think it's time we took him home for a nap," said Tara. We drove up the hill past the farm and the cookie cutter houses that the town was built around. We drove past the mall that was built over an old farm, and stopped by the side of the road. "I need a breather," said Tara and got out of the car, lit a cigarette and stood in a grove of white ash trees. I picked up the baby and followed her from the car to the grove of trees. "Did you know that white ash trees are kind of like weeds? They grow where other trees have been wiped out by disease or fire, I always liked that," I said. Tara didn't say anything. She was probably thinking about the laundry list of things she had to do that day, the one I had seen taped to the refrigerator. She pursed her full lips and said, "I really don't want to make dinner tonight but I'm so tired of pizza." On the car ride home she tried to get me to talk about our mother again. I snapped. "What do you think of Mom's new job?" said Tara. "It's okay," I said. "I sometimes wonder whether or not being a working mom will affect my relationship with Reid. What do you think?" "Why do you think I would want to talk about these things?" "Don't you think it's important to express these emotions?" said Tara. "No," I said, exasperated. I remembered her speech about meeting people halfway and simmered but didn't say anything. Reid sat in the backseat and repeated the same request over and over again; he wanted to see the sheep. "Soon baby, soon," cooed my sister. "Reid, enough," I said. Tara was quiet for a second before saying, "He's two yeats old Miranda." Later that day, I stood on a train platform watching chunks of ice bob in the water. I spoke to my boyfriend on a cell
phone. "The problem with mothers," I said,' "is they vastly overestimate how interesting their children are." In terms of emotions, I am like a potato bug; if you poke me I just curl up into a smaller ball. We already spoke the same language. We referenced the same children's books and remembered the same camp songs. Why wasn't she content to sit on a porch, on a quiet fall night with the smell of burning leaves in the air, and wait for the fire trucks to come?
ONE D A Y I AM SOMETHING OTHER T H A N HUMAN Katie Herman
I am this October rain, grown so fiill I fall away from myself. I spread across the pavement, enter the veins of plants, raise their drooping heads. I would seep into every crack, find the gaps in the inner workings of stones, drown the rat caught in my rising tide. Old bones feel me coming. I am this rain. Of course I fall on you. I can not treat you any differently than this leaf, where I bead at the end. Perhaps I'll linger about your lashes, so many tiny prisms, but I'll move on, carrying my cold mass of air across the continent.
GREAT A U N T CELIA
LITTLE DEATHS Yl-Sheng N g
we've become Victorian women in reverse. after fucking, we wipe down our amusements with handkerchiefs. we strap our awkward smiles into whalebone stays and wire bustles, our hearts disappear under hoop skirts, hiding our legs. our hands unclasp to brew Darjeeling, two lumps. and how is the weather? you make conversation on the Irish question, the kinetoscope, the Vote. we lower our pinkies. over crumpets, you complain and I concur: there are no good husbands anymore outside the colonies. it's after three. cheerio. having fallen, we get up again and call for a hansom. if we kiss goodbye, never fear: it is half in irony. below the chandelier I sigh, sit back and think of England: touched by a thousand invasions and still forever an island.
My mother died, demented, in a nursing home a few months ago. She had not expected to die anywhere other than her own little house in Duchess County. "You're going to carry me out of here in a box," she would insist. A serious joke. Instead, we carried her out in a wheelchair with a broken hip and she was never able to go back. She was English. Two generations back, it was rare that anyone died anywhere other than in their own bed. My grandmother died in her house in Surrey taken care of by her unmarried eldest daughter who had returned to do so from her adventurous life in South Africa. A generation before, my widowed grandmother had taken in both of her older sisters as they became unable to take care of themselves. My Great Aunt Celia was particularly difficult. Within the family, she had always been considered a tad controversial. As a new wife at the turn of the 19th Century, she and her wellto-do older husband, Cuthbert Biddell, had taken the world tour accompanied by their 'companion,' a beautiful young man of indeterminate sexuality, a fact that was never discussed openly but always hung uncomfortably in the air. Cuthbert died while Aunt Celia was still young and left her with no children and a tidy little fortune. She used it to zoom around the world. She was my mother's magic Godmother, a romantic character in my English childhood. She encouraged my stamp collection by sending me postcards. I loved carefully steaming off the stamps over the kitchen kettle, the waxy smell of the melting glue, the dangerous heat of the steam on the tips of my fingers. Then I took the skating rink of the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz, Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, The Taj Mahal, Mount Vesuvius, Sugar Loaf Mountain in Buenos Aires, houses made of paper in Japan because of earthquakes, Blandy's glamorous Hotel in Madeira, to a private and safe place of honor stuck on the inside of the 15
door of the clothes cupboard in my bedroom. I've been taking apart my mother's house to get it ready to be sold and I find myself swimming in family photographs. Here, Great Aunt Celia and my mother have taken a walk together to the cemetery where Great Uncle Cuthbert is buried. It is shortly before the Second World War, some time in the mid 1930's. I'm betting Great Aunt Celia gave my mother the jaunty beret she's wearing just like hers, and the brooch that is pinned to it. She gave my mother lots of treasures. When Aunt Celia died, she left my mother the best gift of all, her little black and white Ford motor-car. Yes. I have a picture. Aunt Celia called it The Magpie. She wasn't about to part with it until her death, even though it had been stored for all those years since she had stopped driving. The Magpie gave my housebound young mother a moment of magic independence. Fairly quickly the car died, proved impossibly expensive to fix, and had to be sold. When my parents moved to the United States, I spent my vacations from boarding school with my grandmother. Great Aunt Celia also lived at Malt House. She had come to be nursed after cataract surgery but showed no signs of wanting to leave. Before the surgery, blinded by cataracts, she had occasionally been read aloud to. When I came downstairs each morning, she would ask that I read her a story from the newspaper. "Bridget, be a dear. Read to me. Read me the story about Princess Margaret's trip to Australia. She was almost bitten by a koala bear, they are quite vicious you know, and there's a lovely picture of her with the Maori dancers. Her hat is atrocious. It's one of those newfangled designers." She had always read every word of the story. She had lived with her servant. Miss Fiskin, for many years and was accustomed to being waited on. "I can't be at her beck and call," my grandmother would state firmly, as we washed up the crockery after dinner in the kitchen. Then, sighing, she would run and answer her older sister's latest demand.
I worried about my grandmother. She woul^ never even so much as snarl at Celia, but it was clear that having her there took a toll on her daily life. "When's she going home, Granny?" "Oh no. She can't go home and be alone. Fiskin's with her daughter now and she couldn't manage anyway. She must stay. You know she's become quite absent minded." Come to think of it, she had. Sometimes she would call me by my mother's name. And more, she would actually seem to think I was my mother. If I dared to correct her, a timid, bewildered look would cross her face, a look that I recognized forty years later, when my mother's dementia started to take hold. On afternoons, no matter what the weather. Great Aunt Celia would gather herself up, put on her brogues or her Wellington boots, take her walking stick or her umbrella from the Chinese urn in the dark front hall of my grandmother's house, put a hat on her head and go for a long walk. A certain tension would leave the house until she returned. "Yoo hoo! I'm ba-ack," she would sing-song as she pushed the heavy wooden door open. "I'd love a cup of tea." One afternoon, while Celia was out, the front door bell rang. "Who could that possibly be?" wondered my grandmother. It was a delegation of neighbors, three prim women who my grandmother knew "by sight" but not well. "Mrs. Hamilton," the tallest woman began, obviously well rehearsed. "We have a delicate matter to discuss." She glanced uneasily in my direction. "Bridget, dear, go to your room, would you mind?" I skittered upstairs. Delicate? What could it be? My grandmother called me down when the delegation had left. "Well, well." Granny was perplexed. "I never did. Oh, my goodness gracious." The neighbors had come tell my grandmother something that they thought she ought to know. For weeks now, my
grandmother's sister had left the house whatever the weather, walked for a few hundred yards down the lane and then stopped in plain view and "relieved herself on the grass verge at the side of the lane. I immediately imagined her wobbling a few steps with her underpants down to reach a nice cluster of dock leaves, pulling one off, wiping herself delicately, pulling up her underpants, standing upright, tossing her hatted head, and proudly continuing her walk. I started to giggle. "Oh my goodness gracious," repeated my grandmother. "It's not really amusing, Bridget." "But Granny.. .Right in the lane?" That's all she needed. We laughed and laughed. Granny's tears streaming down her face, patted dry with her linen hand kerchief, until Celia came home from her daily excursion. A few days later, over the washing up, my grandmother conceded. "Something will have to be done." Great Aunt Celia went to live in Tumbridge Wells. Haddon Hall was called a nursing home, but it bore no com parison to the locked dementia unit of Candlewood Valley where my mother spent her last days in a bed next to Mrs. Brown, a stroke victim. Judging from her attention to Court TV, Mrs. Brown would surely have been the world's leading expert on the Scott Peterson trial if she could have spoken about it. Aunt Celia lived in a vast and ornately furnished Victorian mansion. It had a pipe organ and a grand piano in the massive reception hall. She had a beautiful room, antique furniture and a square oriental rug. A big curved bay window looked out over lavish and manicured gardens. But inevitably. Great Aunt Celia became more and more deluded. At one point she created a scandal at the nursing home and in the family when, now well into her eighties, she demanded that she be allowed to share a room with a man who called himself "The Admiral." I remember him standing at attention in his navy blue blazer, a silk cravat and a nice braided naval cap, binoculars hanging around his neck, staring out of Great Aunt Celia's bay window, saluting the rhododendron bushes outside
as if he were on the prow of his very own ship. He was no more an Admiral than Celia was a Duchess. A nice compromise was worked out. He would move into the recently vacated room next to Aunt Celia's. My mother disapproved, fantasizing that they would marry. "You know, if she decided, nobody could really stop her. Really!" "Why shouldn't they. Mummy?" "Well, it's a bit ridiculous dear. And embarrassing. And then there's the estate." A marriage woijld seriously complicate matters. As the end of Great Aunt Celia's life was obviously approaching, my grandmother insisted that she come home to Malt House where she could watch over her until she died. To me, my grandmother had enormous courage and grace. To her, it was just what was expected. When it seemed to me that my mother was ready to die, I thought about my grandmother and Aunt Celia. Briefly I considered taking my mother home and watching over her, which is what she had always wanted. But forty years later, it was not expected of me. According to what was expected of me, I did very well by my very difficult mother. But I will always look back at my grandmother's time and wonder if I could ever have mustered her courage and her grace as she watched over crazy Great Aunt Celia and helped her to die.
V A N GOGH'S STARRY
CONFIRMED B Y H U B B L E TELESCOPE Nick Bredie
To think everyone thought him mad. Absinthed-out and ear-less, poor man, stuck seeing everything in cadmium, cobalt and zinc. The world is illusory built on paint, on paint, on paint, on pain. Some said he ate his paint sticking brushfulls in his mouth like corn flakes to keep his mornings from dulling to Naples Yellow. Three-hundred-fifty-three miles up at five miles a second, the Hubble sees nothing. A glorified update of Alberti's veil, gridding the galaxy is all it's good for. Still scientists say it shows us celestial beauties we'd never see and what's more they're true. True beauties are good goes the old Platonic trap that made mathematicians poets and painters infetiot carpentry copiers. And so goes Van Gogh. He'd have had a happy life if only he were an astronomer. He would not have had to see French Ultramarine scared with metal white when he trained his telescope on the sky above Saint-Remy, but simply stars infinite and alike in their cold light. Eventually we'd get the same image from the colorblind Hubble, free from a man's touch of madness, and pain, but who cares. The age of paint is over.
MAYTE Mary O'Brien
The phone rang about 10:30 P.M. I was in bed reading the newspaper. I didn't recognize the heavily accented voice. I was curt. "Who is this?" "Miguel," he answered. "I'm calling from Venezuela. I'm a friend of Roberto's. He asked me to call and tell you that Mayte died today. She fell into a coma two days ago and died this evening." For a moment I saw my patient, Mayte, smiling in the University Health Service waiting room where I had first met her two years ago. Then the past four months while she was dying of cancer flashed through my mind. I saw her skeletal face on the pillow unrecognizable except for her thick, shining black hair and deep brown eyes. Mayte had come to New York City from Caracas to study International Affairs at Columbia. English was new to her and she expressed herself simply. When she was looking for a word in English she would purse her lips and say "Mmmm" in an almost musical way as if this physical act would somehow encourage the word to form itself and escape from her lips. Shortly after her arrival at school in the fall of 1994 she had an appointment with me for a routine gynecologic exam. She seemed nervous. She admitted to no significant past medical problems, so I was surprised to see scars on her abdomen and neck. I asked her gently what the surgery was for. She told me that her spleen had been removed when she was a child. "Why?" I asked. "Mmmm," she said and paused. "I had Hodgkin's Disease when I was six." "And your neck? Did you have your thyroid gland removed?" "Yes. Part of it, a few years ago in Venezuela. But it was fine." Something changed after she revealed this to me. I realized 22
that she was terrified of doctors, worried that we might find another cancer or something else wrong with her body. She had already endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation at an age when most kids' biggest challenge is adjusting to first grade. She had lost the carefree invulnerability and ease of youthful health and her reaction had been to avoid doctors. I felt I had to tread gently or she would simply not come back. After I had finished examining her, I told her that her exam was completely normal. We discussed contraception and then I broached the subject of routine annual monitoring for recurrent cancer or the development of a new cancer. "I'd like to keep you perfectly healthy, just as you are now," I said, "and to do that, there are several simple tests that we should do each year: a complete blood count, some blood chemistries, a chest X-ray, a mammogram, and a thyroid ultrasonogram." Although she had been cured of Hodgkin's Disease, a cancer of the lymphoid tissue, she had a several fold increased risk of second cancers as a result of the previous damage ro normal tissue caused by chemotherapy and radiation. She seemed in a hurry to leave but she took the test requisitions that I had given her and we agreed to meet again in a month. When I didn't hear from her I called to see how she was and to encourage her to come for follow-up. I had entered her name, along with other patients that I'm worried about, in a notebook to remind me to keep in touch with her. I cross out their names when they get well. Some names are there only briefly; others with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, depression may be there permanently. I want patients to be involved in their own care so rhey will recognize changes in their condition and adjust their medications or come in to see me. I encourage my diabetic patients to exercise and carefully monitor their blood sugar so rhey can regulate their insulin dose. If patients with hypertension get a home blood pressure monitor and follow their blood pressure at home they are much more likely to keep their blood pres-
sure in normal range and contact me if they need to adjust their medications. I explain to asthmatic patients that if they follow their symptoms and use a meter to measure the peak flow of their breath, a good indicator of active asthma, they can usually prevent severe asthma attacks. They learn to increase their asthma inhalers when they have a bad cold or during allergy season. Sometimes it takes several phone calls and repeated explanations to get a patient to accept treatment but most enjoy the understanding and control they have over their health. And despite my efforts there are always some who only appear when they are seriously ill. In working with college students I have found that it is not unusual to see a patient who has been discharged recently from the hospital after a suicide attempt or who has had cancer as a child but will never mention it to me unless I specifically ask. As astonishing as this seems, a recent study of childhood cancer survivors supports this observation. Gradually I have begun to understand this a little more. Serious illness is an impenetrable wall that separates the healthy and the ill. It's an unwelcome assault, a reminder of the frailty and arbitrariness of life. Illness is like pain, once it relents no one likes to look back. But who is to judge how each of us deals with illness? There are some healthy patients who constantly worry about their bodies always looking for signs of illness. They make themselves miserable and frequently feel sick until proven otherwise. Some patients with chronic illnesses are angry and embarrassed and so ignore their symptoms and disappear from treatment for months. And in a few remarkable patients, serious illness focuses their priorities and strengthens their grasp on life. I called Mayte after she missed her next appointment and gave her the normal results of her blood tests and reminded her to get her chest x-ray and thyroid sonogram. She laughed and promised that she would but another couple of months went by and I didn't hear from her so I called her again. This time I set up a date for the thyroid ultrasonogram. She got it
and it showed an abnormal mass. She would need to get the rest of her thyroid removed. I spoke to the surgeon. He was concerned that the prior thyroid surgery could have distorted the architectural anatomy in the neck. That would make it more difficult to remove the remaining thyroid gland without damaging the adjacent parathyroid glands, tiny endocrine organs in the neck that regulate calcium metabolism. I got her operative report from Venezuela to provide the surgeon with as much information as possible. The pathology report had been included. 1 was surprised to read that the diagnosis was thyroid cancer. Did she know this? Was this why she was reluctant to get medical follow-up and why she was quite anxious about her upcoming surgery? She was busy with her classes and had a new boyfriend, Roberto, so she postponed the surgery until Spring break, 1995. Her mother came up from Venezuela to be with her. She had the surgery and it went well. She was carefully observed for 24 hours with frequent monitoring of her calcium levels to make sure that the parathyroid glands had not been damaged. The mass was benign, and she recovered quickly. She introduced me to her mother, a small, slender, dark haired woman only a few years older than I. She had Mayte's slightly crooked grin and her appealing manner. She only spoke Spanish so Mayte translated. Her mother thanked me for taking care of her daughter. She had been worried about Mayte being so far from home. Then she laughed and told me that her daughter had told her that I was like a second mother and was watching out for her. Although they were pleased with her medical care, they both felt a little nervous about any new medical problem. The two of them were close and affectionate with each other. I tried to imagine how I would have handled one of my sons having cancer. I didn't see Mayte for the rest of that spring semester before her graduation. I missed her. I called and gave her the name of a new doctor who could take care of her after her graduation since she would no longer be eligible to use the student health
services. She told me that she was happy and felt well. During the following fall Mayte stopped by the Health Service a couple of times to say hello and let me know how she had been doing since graduation. She brought me a tiny brightly colored ceramic bus that fit in the palm of my hand with Caracas written across it and a note thanking me for sticking with her and encouraging her to get regular medical care despite her reluctance. We chatted and she told me that she had just started a new job and was living with her boyfriend, Roberto, a Columbia graduate student from Mexico City. She was unabashedly exuberantâ€”all of adult life new to her, a job, an apartment, money, a lover. Several months passed before I heard from Mayte again. She called and left a message, asking for the name and phone number of the doctor I had recommended. She had lost it and was feeling tired. A few days after I had left the information on her answering machine, I got a worried call from the doctor she had just seen. He told me she was jaundiced and had marked elevations in her liver function tests. He was concerned she had cancer. I was stunned. All her labs had been perfectly normal the previous spring when she graduated. Oh God, had I missed something? I ordered her chart and looked through it. Unbeknownst to me she had come to the Health Service during the summer when I was on vacation and had seen one of my colleagues. He had noted in her chart that she had a superficial phlebitis in a vein in her leg, a mild anemia and a slight elevation of alkaline phosphatase, a liver enzyme. Each of these findings in isolation, in an otherwise healthy patient, would not have been cause for alarm but all three of them together in a patient with a history of Hodgkin's were a serious concern and an indication for a complete work-up. The doctor's note said that he informed the patient and advised her to get follow-up medical care. I was furious. Why hadn't he kept after her to get a complete work up? Why hadn't I thought to pull her chart when she stopped by to say hello during the fall after graduation? It would have been so easy. But I had no reason to. I was sick. I
felt that I had somehow let her down. I had watched her so carefully while she was a student as if that attentiveness would somehow protect her from getting sick again. There are different philosophies among doctors toward their patients. Some feel that the patients are absolutely independent and that the physician may make a recommendation but it's up to the patient to make a decision and arrange follow-up. I take a different tack especially with young patients. I would have called Mayte and tried to work with her to arrange further medical evaluation. I had seen Mayte's reluctance to get medical care over the past year and had worked closely with her to coax her into getting treatment. Now another physician with a different approach to patients had seen her and had dropped the ball, as far as I was concerned. I spoke to him about Mayte's case and was surprised at the strength of my anger toward him. I had no desire to let him off the hook. Why hadn't he been more aggressive? Would it have made a difference? Depending on the diagnosis, several months' delay in diagnosis and treatment can make a substantial difference. And what about Mayte? Why hadn't she gotten follow-up when he recommended it? Was she too busy or simply procrastinating and avoiding doctors? In February 1996 she got an abdominal CAT scan which revealed a mass in the liver. She called me, scared and crying. Although she was no longer a patient at the Health Service, she wanted to come in with Roberto to talk to me. She knew me and felt I was her doctor. I had kept her well in rhe past and she hoped that I could help her now. I felt awful. Suppose it was cancer and that it had spread during the several months since the summer? I met with them. She wept, pounding the arm of her chair with her fist, and kept demanding to know why this was happening to her again. "Do you think it's cancer?" she asked. I told her that I was very concerned, just as she was. She would need to have a biopsy to determine the cause and how best
to treat it. I reassured her that I would be there with her through all of it, helping her in whatever way I could. Although I was no longer her doctor, I would work with her new doctors. She was admitted to the hospital where I visited her before she went for the biopsy. She was scared but determined. "We will fight this," she said. "I have won before and I will win again." The biopsy revealed inoperable metastatic cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer originating in the bile ducts of the liver. The delay in diagnoses probably made no difference, since this can cerous tumor is usually untreatable. But who knew for sure? A tube was placed into her bile duct to bypass the blockage and relieve her jaundice and itching. Green bile drained into a bag on her abdomen. She was devastated. She swung between hopeless disbelief and an iron determination to fight this with all her strength. She had a small wooden figure of St. Jude by her bed. "My Mother kept this when I had Hodgkin's and when I had my thyroid surgery, and I have it now to help me through this," she said. She asked me if I believed in God and why God had done this to her. What had she done wrong? Could God help her recover? I was not prepared for this question. I paused. I so wanted to encourage her but I did not want my religious views to influence her and I wanted to be honest. I frowned, trying to figure out how to answer. I know that I automatically call for God's help if one of my kids is sick or I am really worried about something, even though I feel silly afterwards. It's almost an unconscious reflex. But I do not consider myself a religious person and I have not raised my children in any reli gious tradition. But I had never been in Mayte's position. Would I perhaps turn to God if I were dying? Would religious belief give her comfort or strength? I told her that I had grown up in a reli gious Catholic home and had gone to daily Mass as a child and that, at one time, prayer had been an important part of my day. I tried to explain that I no longer believed in a traditional
God. I did not tell her that I have belonged to a women's litur gy group for the past 15 years and that we meet monthly and have supported each other through illness, mourned the loss of friends or family and celebrated our lives together. I asked her about her faith and she told me she believed in God and looked to him for support. She felt that he had helped her through her previous illnesses. When I first became a doctor, I was young and healthy and believed that my body would do whatever I asked of it. I didn't understand very well my patients' experiences of illness until I became quite sick several years ago. I was furious at the randomness and abruptness of this illness interrupting my life. Suddenly I was no longer invulnerable. I struggled with terri ble fatigue and the restrictions of being sick. I felt isolated by the essential separateness of those who are sick and those who are well. Mayte was the first young dying patient I had taken care of since my own illness. I was determined not to abandon her even if there were nothing medical that I could offer her. I wanted my regular visits to give her some hope and comfort and to relieve some of her fears. During the spring, as Mayte was dying, I found that I savored the small pleasures of my days: feeling hungry and eat ing a good meal, sharing a bowl of cold cherries, laughing at the Simpsons with my kids. Playing catch. Walking with my husband, John. Watching my sons play Little League baseball on a clear afternoon, a cool breeze blowing off the Hudson. Seeing the foxglove come back in my garden. Repeatedly, Mayte's image would come to mind—when I was playing ten nis or gardening or tucking Patrick into bed. I visited her almost daily in the hospital and later at home. Sometimes she talked and described what her days were like. Other times we just sat. She was evaluated at Sloan Kettering by a world renowned specialist in cholangiocarcinoma. We all secretly hoped he would have an answer, or at least a strategy. He didn't. He told her that surgery was pointless and so was
chemotherapy. He wanted her to go home and eat and try to get some strength back and then possibly he would consider a trial of chemotherapy. She was to return in two weeks. She came home determined. She learned relaxation and meditation techniques. Roberto read her books on natural healing. She had a healer come to see her regularly. She struggled to eat although she had no appetite. She walked slowly down the street leaning heavily on Roberto's arm â€” sweaty and exhausted after half a block. I can still hear her clear voice: "We will fight this together, the team. I have won before and I will win again." Then her voice dropped off, tired from the slight effort, and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. Roberto had drawn a picture of the team with Mayte in the center surrounded by Roberto, her family, friends, doctors, traditional healer and me. It stood on her bedside table next to her books on healing and nutrition. She was in and out of Sloan Kettering over the next several weeks. She was dehydrated, then the tube in her bile duct became blocked and infected. She grew short of breath and xrays showed that the tumor had spread to her lungs and throughout her abdomen. Her mother came from Venezuela and sat by her bed, tears streaming down her cheeks, stroking Mayte's forehead, combing her thick dark hair, holding her hand. I thought of my own boys and their healthy muscular bodies and it broke my heart to think of witnessing the slow, painful death of one of them. Mayte was often sleeping now when I visited, an effect of both the pain medication and the cancer itself. Visiting her became a routine part of my day. Sometimes I would stop on my way to work, sometimes during lunch, sometimes on my way home. Early one Saturday in May, when I was driving out of the city with my sons, I stopped to run in and see her and left the boys in the car with one of their friends. I stayed longer than I expected and when I arrived back at the car, the boys were hot and impatient. I explained to them that the young woman that I was visiting was dying from cancer. They were shocked.
"Why can't you do something. Mom?" my ten year old son, Pat, asked, a little frightened. "Why can't you make her better?" I sighed. "I wish I could." They were quiet. We stopped for cold drinks. Gradually their conversation and laughter resumed and I wondered whether the words 'cancer' or 'death' meant anything to them. A few weeks later Mayte decided that she wanted to return to Venezuela to see her brothers and to consult a doctor who was using alternative therapies for cancer but she was afraid to travel. She worried that she would die on the airplane. It was finally arranged in late May 1996, barely a year after her graduation. An ambulance would take her to Kennedy Airport and a doctor from Mexico City who was a friend of Roberto's would travel with them. He would care for Mayte and give her whatever pain medication she needed during the flight. She joked that she had never traveled in first class before. I gave her a small soapstone swan that fit in the palm of her hand to take with her on the plane. We hugged and cried and they left. I honestly was relieved when she left although I'm ashamed to admit it. I found it so hard watching her die. At one point she showed me a new engagement ring from Roberto and told me that they were going to marry before she died. She explained that they had no earlier photos of each other so her mother had started taking pictures of them so Robbie, as she called Roberto, would remember her. One was framed next to her bed. There was a smiling, handsome Robbie with his arm around a skeletal, jaundiced woman that I only slowly recognized as Mayte. I didn't want to look at the photos. I wanted to remember her as she had been several months ago as a young healthy woman. Her dying was too agonizing to capture permanently in photos that would remain long after her death, freshly painful with each viewing. "This is my favorite," she told me. "Robbie and me after our engagement." I looked at it quickly and handed it back to her. I won-
dered how long Robbie could endure this. I tried as I walked slowly home from her apartment that evening. I thought about John and me when we had first married, full of plans for the future. Had the notion of such a tragedy like this ever occurred to us? I stopped at the market and bought fresh strawberries and asparagus and fish and hot bread and I conÂ tinued walking home. Absentmindedly, I picked up the mail and unlocked the door to our apartment. Then I heard the boys' voices over their music and I smiled and called out to them. They came running out to the kitchen. We unpacked the food together and began making dinner. They were talkÂ ing and laughing and telling me about school.
POEM Archie IngersoU Old man ears seeming like ripe vagina. Î&#x; to be an ear trumpet in the bingo hall, to be a Q-tip in the country club locker room, to be this poem read loud in the Home.
ESTATE TACTICS Matt Grice
"Mrs. Addleton-Stephensdowns has upset the teacups again," Edie said, watching her tobacco-stained teeth in the hall mirror. "She does go at them so with her Orientalist slurs," Copsey frowned. "I wonder they don't go to pieces altogether." Outside on tl)e lawn Freddie A.-S. used his croquet-mallet to measure out the distance between the two fountains. "Twelve and a half lengths, mercy." He stood about with his hands in his trouser-pockets. "Have you heard then about her son's trenching?" Edie continued. "He's been digging holes across the grounds. Setting traps." "Asked if I'd lend him a hand. I would never. The animals I shouldn't wonder shall be falling in everywhere and hurting paws." Copsey practiced balancing a tray with a full souptureen on his palm. Freddie peered through the wrong end of a sextant. "And what if they should tunnel through countryside and infiltrate below-stairs? We'd be defenseless," he fluttered. It had only been eight years since he saw the front of the Front.
THE BICYCLIST Lillian Hsu
1. Dad left his godawful red hat at King's Chinese Buffet. 2. On Ventura Blvd. 3. There are a lot of cheap vintage stores on Ventura Blvd. 4. That's why it was my job to pick up the hat. 5. I shouldn't have eaten that chicken. 6. It was dark and I was pulling out. 7. When I hit a trashcan, no, it was a man. 8. He stood up. 9. Leaving a large dent in the hood of my car with his helmet. 10. Prime numbers are hard to think of. 11. They are used for encryption on your credit cards with RSA public-key encryption, inspired by the DiffieHellman exchange. 12. He didn't speak English. 13. Dad wouldn't fix the dent because he said I was bound to total the car sooner or later. 14. Its name was Blue; it was green. 15. My bike got stolen by my btother's girlfriend. 16. Can I put that in there? 17. She had a professor who thought that driving around with no A/C was sympathetic to the plight of third world countries. 18. I had a bike. 19. I don't understand how this is done. 20. I wish I were a hyena. 21. They can eat rancid meat. 22. You wouldn't like me much if I ate rancid meat though. 23. Does it ever go back to the hat? 24. Bikes are expensive. 25. And the warranty doesn't cover theft. 26. Just accidents.
27. At Iguana Clothing you can buy skintight lycra leopard print pants for a dollar. 28. Perfect. 29. Cashmere sweaters for five. 30. So you got to look for holes. 31. Something about climbing a tower. 32. My brother totaled two cars and lost three bikes. 33. Even with the kryptonite chain. 34. Fourteen, "my bike got stolen by my brother's girl friend," sounds like she stole it. 35. I let her borrow it. 36. I was coming home late from Jesus Christ Superstar rehearsal. 37. It ran overtime because Jesus was missing. 38. Never leave food out. 39· King was a big fat man who used to pool shark. 40. Dad could beat him. 41. He ended up losing King's Chinese Buffet shooting craps in Vegas. 42. Dad always wears ridiculous hats when he plays tennis. 43. His favorite is a cowboy hat with an elastic band on the rim. 44. So it doesn't fall off when he serves. 45. At least that one doesn't make him look like a Chinese Elmer Fudd. 46. There are no lights around King's, just the yellow neon sign. 47. I don't think it's legal. 48. It's not King's anyway. 49. Unless it still is. 50. More hookers on Ventura than Hollywood and Vine combined. 51. My tummy is hurting. Damn chicken. 52. I'll be back in five. 53. Christie could make two dishes: fried chicken and apple pie. 54. That's my brother's girlfriend.
55. Where are my flip-flops? 56. Actually, he may have lost the buffet in the divorce. 57. He had an affair with a hostess. 58. I've gone through this before. 59. But not without barfing. 60.1 used to call my brother's girlfriend "monkeyface" because she had a really big forehead. 61. She was nice though. 62. Even if she stole my bike. 63. Euclid's Perfect Number Formula: If 2p-l is a prime number, then 2p-l(2p-l) is a perfect number. 64. Perfect numbers are numbers in which all of the proper divisors add up to the number. 65. Like 28. 66. I got the bike for Christmas. 67. Dad wouldn't let me ride it on the streets. 68. He remembered the riots. 69. I didn't want to get out of the car. 70. Ventura at night. 71. The streetlights are dim or broken. 72. I heard it crumple. 73. The empty parking lot swirled with dust and curry. 74. He didn't talk much. 75. He said he was OK. 76. He had kneepads. 77. First time I ever gave a guy my number. 78. He didn't call. 79· Just rolled off the hood on the passenger side. 80· You can use the Marsenne Rule to find primes. 81. But you need a smaller prime. 82. Use the little fish to catch the big ones. 83. I wish Dad weren't so absent minded. 84. He wasn't even playing tennis that day. 85. Or was he? 86. We ate dachang at King's. 87. Little cue balls of intestine. 88. Fried.
89- But that didn't make me sick. ' 90. Would a forensic scientist be able to tell that I hit a person wearing a red helmet? 91. I didn't really hit him. 92. I was stopped. 93. He hit me. 94. Dad took me to a pool hall when I was twelve. 95. I still have Blue. 96. With the dents. 97. Christie attended Azusa Pacific Theological Seminary. 98. Do bicycle thieves go to Bible School? 99- Dad didn't even want the hat. 100. He left it there on purpose.
ARMY OF ONE
Michelle Legro He was a wonderful father to their child. She could see it now in the after-dinner light. In the way he raked the leaves. Their daughter watched intently like a small bird, every now and then hopping about, making her meager contribution. He raked slowly but assuredly, stiffly bowing to the shrubs and ratcheting straight again. It was painful for him, now that he was home, but she loved him all the more for it. She loved his bravery in the face of drainpipes, his determination in the watering of the lawn. He haunted the house like a mythical beast, silent and prowling. His smell gathered in musty comers and his foot combed tracks in the carpet. She worshiped him like a thing she couldn't see, and he grew taller in her mind as he shrank from her view. They were a beautiful family, she thought, living on a higher plane. Things were so much better now.
Four hundred and sixty-seven days. Well they certainly are specific, why not just one or two more good measure... It's a standard tour of duty that's all, you knew about this. Not when it mattered. I wasn't counting days then. I'll get you a calendar. A watched pot. Or a dog. Who knows its master. A cat then. We're going to have a baby. You can't keep saying that. Get me a calendar. That a girl. I'll take you on a trip to the mountains... She'll be a year old. .. .when I get back. 38
He returned to them in a cast that creepefd steadily up the thigh, threatening to encase his soft organs and mummify him alive. She left the baby upstairs for the hour it took to fit his gnarled frame though the door and into the makeshift bed marooned in the living room. She hovered over him there, her plaster husband, watching him turn to marble as he snored on the downstairs duvet. There was a dream she had most nights of her dying, her husband dying by her side. They were laid on their backs on a wooden floor i n ^ beautiful house, with heads lolling to the side, observing the other intently. It was a game to see would go first. Sometimes she could feel his hand go tight before slipping through her fingers, disappearing in a blink. Sometimes it was a slow burn and a sizzle. Other times, she could feel herself rising, pulling away and then dissolving in all directions, all the while seeing his body grow small to the size of a pinpoint before waking. Once, just after he had returned, she dreamt of it happening at the same time, of two numbed bodies hell-bent on the same destination, of clasping hands and puffs of smoke sucked into an air vent. She awoke with a start to the sound of her own rasping breath. There were soft whines she couldn't quite hear, televisions on in neighboring states or hummingbirds just behind her head. She spent the rest of the night downstairs, awake and watching, shuffling to the kitchen at the first light and making scrambled eggs.
Don't cry. You knew... I'm not crying, I'm leaking. It's a function not a feeling. You know where I keep everything. The one by the bed and the one in the garage, but I don't know why you insist... There's the box at the bank and the box in the closet. And a box seven paces to the east of the tree in the yard? You thought of this system. When I was seven. Treasure hunting around the house you
don't expect to find... I know, but I was listening. I always listened. I know.
The foot itself looked like the root of a treeâ€”the twisting, gnarling ligaments swirled up his leg in an almost graceful pattern. The doctor had tried to save the big toe but it had followed the rest after a few weeks, and besides, there was a dignity to the way it rounded over now, a satisfying stump. She had only ever touched it once, when he was deeply under, in one of his last nights still sleeping on the downstairs sofa. Wrapped in gauze, it felt a little like the head of their child, newborn and not quite pink. Rub for good luck, she thought, and with the same cupped hand she went upstairs to cradle the soft curls that were just now starting to come in.
Halfway around the world. I'll call. I can always call. Why did we go there? It's clear, like I'm in another room. Why are we even involved? And there's e-mail. I could lose you. You could lose me here too. Hit by a bus. Choked on a bay leaf. Kiss for good luck. For luck.
After the bandages came off, it leaked. He refused to use a crutch when he was inside his own house, and he only hopped when no one was looking, sending dull Shockwaves through the downstairs light fixtures. For the rest of the time he attempted to walk as if nothing had happened, pressing the
wound into the floor, leaving a pale stamp of pain. She knew he suffered and she adored him for it, so she followed obedi ently from room to room with a bottle of seltzer water and a yellow cloth. On the bad days, he turned their house into the scene of a crime. Their daughter would crawl into the kitchen and stare accusingly at the trail of blood that wound about the room and down the hall. He never saw her cleaning up after him, but he also never saw it unclean. She prided herself on her discretion, always following the trail to its completion at a closed door.
widened to take a light-drenched picture of her love. Afterwards she would recall this memory with increasing dif ficulty as the features began to fray with age. But the picture burned sharply now as she opened the drawer and eased out the gun. He would be a wonderful father to their child, she had thought. A wonderful father. And she lovingly, delicately, shattered his foot into a thou sand pieces.
They say it's better for someone to love you more than you love them. Who says that? Your friends? You soak it up like a sponge. What? It weighs you down doesn't it? I'm going to bed. That's why you're going. This is not a discussion. To save the world? Yes. No. This isn't... I love you. I know. You don't.
That night, he had turned off the TV early, before the news and before the weather, rendering the next day sunless, cloud less. Turning his back to her, he had hopes to achieve a dream less night as empty as those skies. She was forced to reach over him to get to the drawer beside their bed, and the aching swell of their unborn child pressed against his chest. Yet something made her stop then, het hand half-hovered over his aquiline face. At that very angle, everything about him flattened into the surrounding sheets, and the aperture of her mind's eye
SELF-PORTRAIT AS A N ELEVATOR *
T H E AIR W E BREATHE Tomoko Yagi
when you press my belly button my body elevates a thousand feet above ground
Friday night we were the last party eating in Joe's Ginger, a restaurant tucked in an unlit Chinatown alley. My boyfriend the economist was explaining to our friend the investment banker the economic outcome of Bush's social security plan. He guessed that in the long run, retirement funding would continue being a costly problem. The banker listened, fully engaged, eyes blinking. He wondered aloud why no one proposed a plan where rich people were forced to contribute more. "You know," he said soberly, "it really makes you realize how the government protects the rich." Having hibernated in the corner up until then, the remark felt like a splash of cold water. I shot up in my chair, slapped my chopsticks on the table and volunteered what turned out to be my sole contribution to the discussion. "And that," I said, brows and finger raised, "is why I am a Marxist." The banker turned to me startled and confused. "You are?" Before I could respond, my boyfriend, unfazed, took up a piece of broccoli, shook his head at me and casually replied, "No, she just likes to say it for shock value." Five years ago when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago studying English, I joined a Marxist reading group. To my discredit, or perhaps credit, depending on how you choose to look at such matters, I never for a minute believed that I was, in fact, a Marxist. As far as I was concerned, I had neither the audacity nor the credentials. Although at times, when I listened to myself talk about the plight of the working poor, the chokehold of the bourgeoisie, etc., etc., I thought I might be able to pull off the fist pounding outrage and hand on heart idealism. But then I would remember that I was depressed and addicted to TV. Somehow I had trouble imagining the war against the ruling class being fought in the afternoon, after Oprah.
The Marxists that I knew didn't watch Oprah, even though she is black and famously generous for giving away both sound advice and brand new automobiles. But that is beside the point, which is that Marxists rarely own televisions, which was partly why I found them suspicious. When I first moved to Chicago I tried living without a TV. But after three months where I sat in a chair and stared out the window at the gas station below, I went mad from the gross lack of unreality. After Christmas I said tp hell with the money and bought myself a present online. A few days later I was jogging on the Midway when I spied the Federal Express truck slowly rounding my corner a half mile away. Pumping my arms, I tore up the street like the track star I never was in high school. The delivery woman was just stepping off the truck with the package when I got there, slightly bent over, gasping for breath, arms wide open. I won't lie to you. It was one of the happiest days of my life. My opiate had arrived, and it came with a remote too. None of the Marxists I met impressed me as the type who needed an opiate. Or so I thought. One day a communist in my history class invited me to her apartment for dinner. New and lonely, I told her I'd be thrilled. That evening no sooner had I pressed her doorbell than I tripped over her road bike— a sign, it turned out, of the blunders that lay ahead. I was rubbing my kneecap and glaring at the culprit when it suddenly dawned on me that a bike might be a very useful thing to have in Chicago. I didn't own a car and except for the university, everything was miles away from where I lived. I asked her straight out how much the bike had cost. She looked away and cleared her throat. "The bike was expensive," was all she would say. I had inadvertently stumbled a second time. After dinner I sat in the living room hugging a gigantic couch pillow. My head rolled around slowly as I panned the communist's apartment. She came out of the kitchen holding a bottle of wine and two glasses. As she poured she divulged that she had heard Fidel Castro speak in Cuba. He was, she said with a deep breath, a great man. Distracted, I tried to
process what she had said. It was not shock I had to conceal, rather the look of longing I had for the shaker furniture and the Mexican folk sculptures. For a communist, she had impeccable taste. The rest of the night was a failure; we had comically dissimilar concerns. She kept up the vague talk of organizing, I wanted to know how much rent she paid. When she brought up her family, I asked her what her parents did. She got stiff and drew back. They were both doctors, she said quietly. Her hesitation embarrassed me. Nevertheless, I could not put an end to the vulgar prying; the wine had loosened me up too much. Very soon after my eyes wandered toward the stereo system she got up to drive me home, and it was just as well. We had run out of things to talk about. In the car I moved to turn on the radio. "It doesn't work," she said. Then as an afterthought, "It's an old car." That night I couldn't sleep. On the wall something resembling a roach crept aimlessly along the edge. Too tired to move, I cringed and pulled over the covers. My third morning in the apartment, I had been awoken by the tickle of flickering roach antennae on my face. For some reason, I never bothered to complain. Instead I put on a brave face and told no one. But when I flipped on the light and saw the glossy backs of vermin scamper across the pale scratched tile, I was repulsed. Inevitably during these times the office job in midtown would beckon me; I could see in vivid haunting detail the revolving glass doors, the bubbling water cooler and the pulsating green light under the copier lid. It was not so much the comfort inside those glass buildings that I yearned for—I knew its unsettling monotony too well—but the daily production of something tangible and finished. The life of the mind was a costly undertaking for me, and like the roaches, the value of it often seemed frustratingly elusive. In the end, more than my purse strings, it was my hopelessly middle-class anxiety that was stretched. The night I came home from dinner with the affluent communist, the sight of a cockroach mocking me with his wiry head put into clear and awfiil perspective the
absurdity of my struggle. While I stayed awake worrying whether I was delusional and spoiled, I imagined that the well-to-do communist snored as she dreamed of smoking cigars with Fidel as they looked out onto the crystal blue Cuban waters. I groped for the remote. And yet. As I look back on my annus terribilis in Chicago, I would be remorseful if I did not mention the things that kept me there, not least among them, the privileges and freedom that came with being a student, the clarity that came from solitude, and the matter-of-fact poverty of the South Side that kept my own in proper perspective. After all is said and done, they, along with that one professor forever etched in my mind, kept the lapping waves of misery and regret at bay. Candace Vogler had the appearance of someone unremarkable. She was tall but feline, someone who could drop quietly out of notice at a party. Had you passed her on the street you might have thought that she was a soccer mom or a social worker or a librarian or the woman on the train who tapped your shoulder on the last stop. Her look was utterly versatile in terms of commonnessâ€”she was at once no one in particular and everyone. And so when you finally came to learn about Candace, the philosophy professor and activist, you were shocked and buoyed by the notion that a radical could have such a perfectly modest disguise. At the Marxist reading group meetings she supervised, the pattern of attendance reflected her appeal. On the nights when Candace was scheduled to teach, we numbered as many as twenty hard-nosed members. On the nights she was not, we didn't make enough for a basketball team. It was then usually left to four of us, conscientious though not especially insightful participants, to come up with something remotely meaningful to say. We mostly cleared our throats, bit our nails, and agreed that Gramsci was "pretty theoretical." Though we patted ourselves on the back for showing up and slandered our truant comrades, I think that privately we shared their senti-
ment that the conversation was pointless without Candace. Ironically, in the end it was probably a bourgeois compulsion, that of keeping up with appearances, that kept us honest. Like many others I had joined the reading group after hearing Candace give a talk on the French Marxist Louis Althusser. I can still remember the awful racket the pipes made that afternoon in the antiquated lecture hall that smelled like damp wood. At the podium Candace brought an invisible cigarette to her lips, lowered her eyelids, exhaled softly and said, "Ideology is the air we breathe." The line was Althusser's, but the delivery her own. From then on, in my mind, the pipes stopped clanging. I will not give you the explanations of dominant ideology, interpolation, hegemony and Ideological State Apparatuses that she made that afternoonâ€”sadly, I think that ability is beyond me now. All I will say is that in her supple hands Marxism was a thing that made sense to me, and for days, months, and years on after, I lit the imaginary cigarette and said to myself and to anyone who cared to listen, "Ideology is the air we breathe." In June I unplugged the television, packed my belongings, and tossed everything but a shopping cart into a rented car. My year in Chicago was over and I was driving home to New York. When I crossed into Indiana, the Midwestern rain I had heard about came crashing down. Awash on a highway, an eternity seemed to pass while I blindly felt for the switch that turned on the wipers. When I finally turned them on, they made almost no difference. Over and over, the rain plopped down in thick coats. Straining to see, I leaned my chest against the wheel and made out a few blurry colored vehicles ahead. We slowed to a tense breathtaking crawl lasting maybe ten to fifteen minutes. Then as suddenly as it had begun, the storm, so spectacular in its intensity, came to an end. As I accelerated, the drops on the windshield trickled swiftly away. I lowered the window, stuck my elbow out and breathed in the thick balmy air. Marveling at the recomposed sky, I felt as if something else had passed, not only the rain.
M A K I N G BABIES
STREETS/SCENERY Matt Grice
Trees with no leaves laugh hard about the situation we are in. Yellow cabs are racing question marks. The elderly Italian men outside the hospital throw up their hands. They don't know. I can see you kicking' a pebble as you walk, as if you want to kick the world. The buildings of the city are not unsympathetic, but their baffled windows are covered by lace curtains. A lady pushes a black antique stroller, and for the space of a breath I think she has the answer, but it is only full of empty beer cans. The wind pulls my coat and scarf, blows your hair into your eyes like a taunt. It is not something taken away from us, exactly, not a surprise, not a jack-in-the-box with blue lips and sightless pupils, But I know that for us two, trudging down the salted sidewalk, it has finally slid out a chair, silent, taken a seat at our table. There are two times when you feel like the first gay man on earth: When you cum on your chest and smell your best friend in it. And when you cum in your guy and hear a gurgle, a phantom coo.
"No, no, listen, sluts. You're not listening. So Jackie chaps the doof, like, she's nearly pissing herself with nerves, and inside it's this old baldy bastard sat behind, y'know, a massive desk. Like a bloody law office." The girls fell apart with that one, but their hands remained swift with combs and scissors while Ruth continued her story. "So Baldy goes, 'What's your name?' And Jackie's spluttering there, not really knowing if she should give her real one or not. But she does, she says it's Jackie, and the bastard asks her to spell it out." I can picture her standing, never sitting, in front of the baldy bastard. More importantly, I can hear her, the way she drags out the A and rises ever so slightly on the second syllable, as if she isn't quite sure she has the right answer. J-A-CK-I-E. How else do you spell it? A strangely straightforward name for a girl who made it her mission to confuse everyone who dared glance in her direction. I know she didn't like her name. Jackie hated Jackie, wanted something less 1960's barmaid, more 1960's filmstar. She loved mine—called it "dead moddish, like." But either way, the chair beside mine is still empty, and now I'm the one sweeping the scraps of hacked hair toward the chute while the others gossip. "Alright. Are you listening? Baldy likes it, says, y'know, it fits you. The whole schoolgirl, innocent-sweetheatt image. You'll be easy—" Like hell she would be. "—to market, if I may put it that way. Poncey shite. But then Jackie freaks. She's like, you're gonna use my real name in the adverts? And baldy goes, well, that's why you gave it to me, aye? Jackie goes, noooooo, I thought you needed it for taxes or summat." The way the girls laugh at this, I'm afraid they'll end up accidentally taking chunks of ear or neck out of the rich bitch51
es caped in their swivel chairs. I catch the eye of the one Aisha's working on, the one who's getting her hair done with Wella Colour Touch 76. My favourite, just the right tinted red. I don't do colouring. I'm not licensed. Doesn't mean I haven't slacked around in the back room looking at all the swatches of dyed hair, real and fake, holding them up to ear level to imagine what I'd look like. Not very good, really. "So they brainstorm. I'm telling you, she better be quicker at figuring out what gets shoved where than at thinking of a, a whatsitcalled, alias, y'know. So baldy asks her where she's from." Aisha laughed from her corner. "Oh God, he couldn't tell?" "Beats me," muttered Ruth. "But she says she's living in the Bronx, and he goes, no, where you're from originally. But everyone knows English girls don't make good strippers or whatever she was applying to do. It's all big-boobed Russians or tiny little Chinese girls they all want. But they're getting somewhere, they're actually getting somewhere." Aisha again, always wanting to know more: "Wait, wait, did she go with splints on or not?" "Not, I guess. Even Jackie's not that daft. Besides, it's only tits and arse they show in the ads, so no one will know she's got no kneecaps and wonky elbows." "Christ. Land of opportunity, America, innit." The Bronx. It didn't sound so strange to me—the night that winter finally hit Manchester and I nearly cried at the thought of sitting on the bus for an hour to get back to my mother's house, Jackie had pushed me into the black cab and ordered the driver to speed towards her home in Gorton. Of course I remember it. It was my first cab ride where the driver had been listening to the World Service, and I reckoned it had been a miracle he'd agreed to take us to the terraces behind Hyde Road. Our vehicle wound its way eastward, moving into the council estates no one has wanted to live in for the past half-century, but they're either too poor or too young or not disabled enough to move. People from Gorton don't take cabs. They probably don't even know what a proper one looks
like. Gorton is so shit that even people in Moss Side look down on it, and Moss Side was in flames for half my childhood. But hadn't they told us—or rather, hadn't we learned the way all kids learned, stealing glances at newspapers or catching the odd word off the radio—Moss Side during the riots had looked like the Bronx. Everyone said. The police walked in threes in the Bronx; they walked in threes in Moss Side. Jackie, she was practical. Ruth could say what she liked, but our Jackie, crip hairdresser, aye, she had just as much brains in her head as metal in her joints. "OK, OK, shut up, so after a while, Jackie's loosening up. She's no piece of fresh meat, y'know, starting when she's already twenty-six and a crip to boot, but you know she looks young. So they're building an identity. Her name's gonna be Rosie and she's a cute little English schoolgirl. Some sick bastards get off on thinking you're not legal. But—and you won't believe this, sluts—after she and baldy are in there for a while, she stands up to leave, and sees he's got this—oh God—he's got a massive hard-on. Like she'd never seen." "You assuming Jackie saw quite a few in her time, Ruth?" Aisha pipes up over the roar of dryers. "Hey, I'm just repeating what she said. You know Jackie couldn't tell a lie if it came up behind her and put a knife to her neck. And at least I wrote to her. More than you lot did. Oi, Stella, have you got anyone at half three?" I check the schedule propped up on the mirror. Some chick with a foreign name in desperate need of vowels. "Yeah. Just a cut. Not fancy." "Sucks to be you. I'm outa here early." Ruth flicks on the hair dryer, shakes it about the head of some mercilessly-teased bint who came in with a limp mane and is leaving with a poodle 'do, and I'm not sure which suits her better. But it ain't my business, and I learned that from Jackie. For a girl who could have offered lessons on how to sit back, shut up, and watch other people look like plonkers, I can't imagine that off in her dream of New York she's opening up anything for anyone. That night, she hadn't been able to get her own key into
the front door. Could you shove it in for me, Stel? I had fumbled with the screen, the mesh torn by some shitfaced chav ages earHer. Easy does it, a bit to the left. And shush, my dad's probably in. Her two-up two-down terrace house in East Manchester, Villa Curran, her slice of happiness, only had a single bed for the two of us. But back to today, back to Ruth's grating voice: "Y'know, Jackie says that in the States they've got all these posh supermarkets where they sell stuff like Smarties and Pot Noodle for dunno, four times what we pay here. Poverty grub for more than what we make in a day." "True story?" I reply, knowing full well that it is. Ruth isn't the only person corresponding with the girl. She walks alone at night and carries a flick-knife inside one of her arm splints. She rides subways to the end of the line, gets out, switches trains, and heads back home again. She fixes her hair by taping a brush to the wall and dragging her head back and forth across it, because in New York City she no longer has her father downstairs to help her wash up. At age 26, Jackie has finally found a little independence. But that night in Gorton, there had been no spare room, no futon, no couch in any of the rooms where the Currans kept on the bar-fire. Too cold and tired to care, I had muttered that she could have the side of the bed she wanted, but don't touch, okay? Well, I wasn't planning to. I mean it. / won't. We had huddled there in silence, looking up at the streetlight patterns across her ceiling, until Jackie broke the silence. Stella, you ever have a disabled person? Ever shagged a cripple? I had curtly informed her that it was none of her bloody business and besides she knew the answer as well as I knew hers. 7 haven't had anything but. And I wouldn't want anyone perfect. And her final question, spat out with scorn: You telling me you haven't even thought about whether there could be something different? There had been a blind boy from the Black Country who had stopped in Manchester for a few days with some mates—utter tossers, in Jackie's opinion, but she and the blindy both had half-price bus passes and Mr. Curran had gone back to
Jackie's mother for the umpteenth time, leaving the terrace empty. They sat alone in this very house, snow a foot deep on every side, the bar fire blazing. He—Darren—sat close to it, like a cat would and Jackie said she moved close and the splints, like, they made these little creaky noises warming up. Darren had reached out and she thought he'd try to take off her jumper, but instead he just slid his arms up the sleeves and Jackie kissed him over the eyes. A right treasure-box for him, I bet. What's around this corner? Or rather, what's not? Slowly, the image of imperfection must have built up in his imagination, if this Darren had the ability to envision anything. So are you still with him? I had asked at the end of her story. Jackie had stared at me and laughed. Are you kidding? He caught the train back to Preston the next morning. I called a taxi for 'im. Ah, but he was lovely. Blue eyes, though they looked in different directions. There's something to be said about loving and leaving, I had thought, and I wanted to slap myself for thinking such poncey-Victorian-literature bollocks. Come sunrise Jackie had been sleeping with both splinted arms at her sides. I'd felt the mattress give way under my dirty-stockinged feet as I climbed over her, then stole one look at the wonky knees, or lack of them, peeking out from the bottoms of the pajama tops. Knees are actually square, I realized. Without the kneecap and all. I folded her borrowed shirt into a corner and threw on yesterday's clothes, and let the splintered front door of a house in West Gorton hit me on the way out. Don't tell me you haven't looked for something different. As I had tiptoed toward the bus stop on Hyde Road I had stared toward downtown where the sky was a lighter grey, looking so low that I figured maybe the folks working in the higher buildings could reach out and grab a chunk. That is still my Manchester—wondering about the height of the sky. If Jackie couldn't love that, then it wasn't my problem. And my heart had quickened with my pace, so much so that I had forgotten the bus and trudged through dogshitty sidewalks toward
downtown, watching my city wake. "Stella! You got shit fot brains or what? You takin' over Jackie's role here? Quit standin' round. Christ, you two were perfect for each other, eh?" As I push the mop across the salon floor I imagine Jackie back at her rable and chair, refusing to kiss arse because her mouth was too contorted in concentration. And I want to hate her for that kind of determination, how she could up and move with the contents of her bank account stuffed in her sock and the contents of Villa Curran—the photo from atop the dresser, a wee Jackie on Blackpool Promenade, arms NHS-splinted at right angles like the villain in an old spaghetti western, Bang! Bang!, snuggling against her socks and jumpers—crammed into her suitcase. Outside her airplane window the terraces of east Manchester had shrunken into stiff stone worms, lighter and lighter with the plane's ascent. And I reckon she had stared back and below at the hazy orange lights of our city, half-smiling as she swore she would never come home.
D I S T I N C T I O N BETWEEN PRETERIT A N D IMPERFECT TENSES Katarzyna Kozanecka
Te amé y te amaba. I loved you and I loved you. Te amé: I loved you once one fine night without rain in Barcelona's best hotel after six waltzes, three salsas and a tango in heels and torn panty hose (all the shops had closed at five). In the morning we left the bed unmade. Te amaba: I loved you every day of the fifty years we shared a cat and a roof— outside the house a barrel caught the drain-water. Fifty years I scrambled your eggs, darned your socks. We trimmed each other's hair better than the barber. Our book collections merged without a qualm. I bore your children, your pining for arctic regions, your reading the newspaper aloud. Again and again, sifting through your pocket-loot on wash-day I found your infidelities like strings of lint.
WHITE MORNING Yen Feng
Four years since your dark eyes closed the trees were bare still with winter. The lukewarm twilight grave as a scholar. How like an animal I seek you! To seize your head with my small hands to save from your cold lips a kiss to make mine burn. Each day you are newly unburied. You sit by my bed, unspeaking wearing the look of a man bewildered that our hair has grown so long.
QUARTO · Contributors
Nick Bredie graduated from Columbia College in 2005. He enjoys writing poems and wearing ambitious pants. Yen Feng is delighted to be featured in this issue of Quarto. He thanks his friends for their patience, and his professors at the creative writing program for their guidance and love. Matt Grice graduated from Columbia College in 2005. Katie Herman recently graduated from Columbia with degrees in English and History and a check mark on her transcript from the Creative Writing Program. She is still trying to write, get organized, and move off campus. She is currently working in an editorial capacity at Soho Press. Lillian Hsu (CCO5) majored in biology with a concentration in math. She reminds herself daily that God loves odd numbers. Archie IngersoU lives and works in Minnesota. Elizabeth Kim loves Communism.
Michelle Legro is an art history major and recent graduate from Barnard College and currently no prospects. Really, none whatsoever. She lives in New York City. Yi-Sheng N g (CCO5) majored in Comparative Literature and Society with the Writing Program. He has now returned to his home country of Singapore, but hopes to work abroad. He is currently attempting to publish a collection of his own poems, which should play merry hell with the homophobic censors of his nation. For the past 25 years Mary O'Brien has been a practicing physician in NYC where she lives with her husband and two sons. Bridget Potter has a fantastic collection of cowboy boots. Alexia Semlek graduated from Columbia College in 1918. She has published twelve volumes of poetry. Miranda Shafer is a student in the School of Continuing Education. Tomoko Yagi: "Throw your dreams into sky like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new friend, a new life, a new love, a new country." - Anaïs Nin
Julia Kite has a great last name. Katarzyna Kozanecka does not invent half the things she says. She invents more than half. She is on Roman holiday on the Red Square until September 2006.
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niatt*grice katie · nernian
lillian · nsu I
archie •ingersoll lizaDetn'kim Julia'kite
katarzyna · kozanecka micnelle'Iegro
yi-sheng»ng mary · ο brien Driaget· potter alexia ·3εηιΚη2 miranda · snarer pB toniok o*yagi