Rathalla Review Rosemont College Annual 2016
Our Mission: Rathalla Review is the literary magazine published by the students of Rosemont Collegeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s MFA in Creative Writing and Graduate Publishing programs. Our Mission is to give emerging and established writers and artists an outlet for their creative vision in our online and print publication. We publish the best fiction, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, and art, culled from a nationwide community of writers and artists. Rathalla Reviewâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s staff, comprised of MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Publishing candidates, merges the creative arts and the business of publishing into a shared voice and vision.
All written work in Rathlla Review remains copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced in any form, printed or digital, without the express permission of the author.
Rathalla Review 2016 Annual
Managing Editor Trish Rodriguez
Production Manager Andrew Whitehead
Fiction Editor Yalonda Rice
Art Editor Kim Callan
Poetry Editor Maria Ceferatti
Assistant Fiction Editor Genna Walker
Flash Fiction Editor Max Wasserman
Creative Nonfiction Editor Eli Tomaszewski Copy Editor Monica Murray Selection Staff
Elvis Alves Kara Cochran Brandon Hartman Donna Keegan
Ed Krizek Nicole Miyashiro Eileen Moeller Curtis Moore
Tara Rupiper Ruth Sensabaugh Sean West
Contents vi 1
Featured Artists Cinema Muto in Fiamme Richard K. Ostrander (Poetry)
The Sins of Eve Cheyenne Marco (Fiction)
Cara Long Corra (Flash Fiction)
Death of a Mouse Nancy Wyland (Creative Nonfiction)
Waking the Dancerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Bones Carol Barrett (Poetry)
Kristen MacKenzie (Flash Fiction)
Claire Scott (Poetry)
The Mud Seller Ivan Faute (Fiction)
Laura Widener (Flash Fiction)
Elder Mistrust Samuel Cole (Fiction)
Fred Arroyo (Creative Nonfiction)
Letter from the Editor: It has been a pleasure to lead this conscientious team of editors and readers who volunteered their time to produce this issue. Evaluation of creative arts will always be subjective no matter the metrics used. In this issue, you will find an eclectic bevy of works: an essay about a fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dinner tale while flush with hot peppers, a poem illustrating the movements of a dancer, and meditations of an ant. To complement the writing, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve published photography, collage paintings, and Indian folk art. Producing this issue would not have been possible without the people and organizations who provided us support. Thank you to Rosemont College for giving us a forum in which to publish all the fabulous poetry, art, essays, and stories contained in this issue. Thank you to the many artists and writers who submitted, thus giving us so much wonderful work from which to choose. And, thank you to the organizations that provided financial support in our fundraising efforts including the Media Theatre, Barre3 at Rosemont, FlyWheel at Bryn Mawr, the Arden Theatre, Joseph Anthony Salon and Spa, the Lantern Theater Company, the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, and Theatre Horizon. Finally, I would like to thank our advisors, Carla Spataro and Marshall Warfield. They guided us, providing both the wisdom and the space to produce a journal we hope will impact the literary community. And, thanks to you for taking the time to read Rathalla Review. Yours truly, Trish L. Rodriguez Managing Editor, Rathalla Review
Featured Artists Rinal Parikh Indian Folk Paintings
Pam McLean-Parker Alwyn Series
inal is biochemist by education and artist by passion. Her art reflects the heritage and vibrant culture of her native India. She draws on a childhood fascination with color and composition, portraying spontaneity and energy with saturated color in various media. Her subjects are influenced by her life in India, nature and on everyday experiences. She studies the many different styles of Indian painting that vary from state to state: “Although they are from the same country,” she says, “they are very different from each other- I find it intriguing.” She describes her work as modern adaption of Indian folkart.
ith a passion for Fine Art and Photography, Pam McLean-Parker began exhibiting her unique photographs in 1988 while working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Rosemont College. In the Philadelphia area and beyond her work has appeared on exhibit in galleries and art centers for over a quarter of a century and has received a handsome measure of recognition. McLean-Parker serves as director for the Montgomery County Guild of Professional Artists and is on the board of directors for Philadelphia/Tri-State Artists Equity Association. She is passionate about the visual arts and creative endeavors and believes that access to art and art-making for all ages is of the utmost importance to vibrant and successful communities.
Bill Wolak 10 Collages
ill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. His collages have been published in over a hundred magazines including: The Annual, Peculiar Mormyrid, Danse Macabre, Dirty Chai, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Lost Coast Review, Mad Swirl, Otis Nebula, and Horror Sleaze Trash. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Brian Michael Barbeito MOSAICS
rian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer and photographer.
Albert Shelton lbert Shelton’s work is a reflection of his surroundings, inspired by the starkness of photo journalism, the traditionalism of early American Realist painters, and the existentialist critique of the early twentieth century Dada artists. His hyper realistic paintings juxtapose silent moments from both private and public spaces to create a moving stillness. Time is suspended and place becomes an illusion of itself. Portrait-like drawings of iconic objects and buildings suggest cryptic symbologies of Americana. Photographs show a world in constant flux, yet suspended in an abstracted state. Printmaking techniques pair objects alone with ambiguous passages of text to stir ideas on our conditioned associations. Collage work composites forms out of images, manipulating visual space and poking reality with a narrative stick of absurdity. Conceptual performance installations embody the temporality of life and the conflicts within all forms of balance. Together, his whole body of work is an expression of the universal forces of identity and change. For event booking, art sales, commissions, proposals, licensing, and consignments please contact albert. firstname.lastname@example.org. All works copyright ©Albert Shelton 2016
Cover & Editor Image: “The Mask of Frozen Tears” by Bill Wolak
Cinema Muto in Fiamme Richard K. Ostrander This was our cinema A director, producer and audience of two. It called for recasting. But we stayed in role otherwise, understudies separated in our seats in front of the big screen. My bag of popcorn merely kernels to see. We saw a silent movie. Its subject a cold war waged in dry ice. The film was on fire, every frame frozen in flame. My mouth only moved; clothes of my wife calling me stranger.
ichard K. Ostrander currently resides in the Carolinas. On numerous occasions, Richard has been invited to read and give seminars on poetry at the local schools in his community. He has also hosted various open mics in his local area. Richard has had work published in The Paterson Literary Review, Megaera, and Main Street Rag, as well as 2 books, The Epic of Hell Freeze and The Metaphysicianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Daughter both published by BlazeVox.
The Sins of Eve Cheyenne Marco
“See with what heat these Dogs of Hell advance/To waste and havoc yonder world.” –John Milton, Paradise Lost A. Eve knelt on the hard ground. Twigs and grass cut into her skin. The blood caught behind her kneecaps, pushing against a damn that couldn’t be broken. Her lower legs were going numb, and she sat up into a squat. Her knees screamed from the weight, and the sins of the ground dug into her soles. No matter how she arranged herself, she couldn’t escape the sensation of pain. Pain in her feet. Pain in her legs. Pain in her back. Everything outside the Garden was pain. Had she always been in pain? Had the grass in the Garden been as prickly? Had the sun burned so brightly that her skin chafed? Had it always been, and now she just knew? She sat down and pulled her foot up into her lap, brushing off the dirt. Her toes were smeared with the brown and green of life. Mother Earth buried her essence in Eve’s pores, and as she beheld the soil blending into her own bronze skin, the pain didn’t seem so bad. In fact, it almost seemed worth it. When she’d finished rubbing her feet, she rubbed her hands across her swollen belly, leaving muddy marks across the vessel that contained her baby. She grinned at the thought that this too was painful but worth it. A breeze kicked up the smell of dust and burnt vegetation. The air tasted gritty. The greens around her were slowly bleaching to gold. It
seemed as if the world was turning to sand. Was God so vindictive that he would take this from them too? She wanted to yell the question at the sky, but she kept her lips tight, trapping the words and particles of dirt on the tip of her tongue. Eve rolled back to her knees and began scratching at the earth with her nails. As clods came up, she tossed them to the side. Adam had ordered her to clear the land so they could plant a garden. He argued that the foraging journeys at night were too inconvenient. The walks caused too much pain for his muscles, made him too tired, made him too thirsty. She suggested sending Cane and Abel to do the scavenging, but neither parent enjoyed the thought of sending their adolescent sons into the wild. The sheep kept them busy enough, and sometimes they failed at that. They required their father’s constant, watchful eye. “I will not send them. I will not let the boys risk their lives for your sins. They would get eaten by wolves in the forest,” the father argued. “If they were girls, I would send them. If the next one is a girl, we’ll send her for the fruits.” Eve blushed and looked down. She could be eaten just as easily. “No, my dear. She would be able to convince the beast to open his jaws and let her alone, even if the wretch were starving.” And she will pay for my sins. The words made her paw harder and faster at the ground. If the baby were a girl, the garden would save her. And if it were a boy, he would be safe. As she flung the grasses away,
she prayed the baby would be a boy. Please Lord, a boy. Take the land, take my life, take my soul. But give me a boy. B. Nebraska was hell. A jackrabbit infested, treeless, hill-less, dust-filled hell. And where was Jack? That brainless, heartless, hopeless ruffian who told her moving West from Pennsylvania would be a step up in the world—conquering that frontier. That man who promised her herds of cattle and fields of wheat in their wedding vows. That jerk who wouldn’t give up for California, even after Mrs. Hennessey lit out, leaving Eve without a friend in the world. She was the only woman in forty miles. She knew it by all the darkened, unclean windows and by every pair of jeans she had to mend. Sad men orbited the house to stare at her, to find in her form the memory of the shape of all the women they’d given to pneumonia or starvation. Where was Jack? That coward of a man who dissolved into a ghost, a phantom even among the waifs of Eden Bluff. Lookin’ for work. Always looking for work and only finding the kind that required him to lift a bottle off the bar up to ready lips. But he never hit her or the kids, so maybe he wasn’t all bad. Then again, sometimes she wished he did, so she could feel like she had a reason for being so mad. Eve launched herself out of her rocking chair, needing a little extra energy to propel her forward. She was so big. She didn’t remember
Left Image: From Mosaics, Journey Through Landscapes Urban and Rural by Brian Michael Barbeito
being this big with Emma, Sarah, or Myra. Maybe this one would finally be a boy. Jack would like that. It might even make him overlook a few things—like a discrepancy in eye color or shade of the hair. Jack had enough daughters where one could be cast aside. But a boy. He needed a boy. A hunter. A partner. A rascal. What a wonderful thing a boy would be. She stroked her stomach. It’d make her feel less guilty. As she walked out of the living room, she left footprints in the dust on the wooden floors. The zigzagging tracks of her girls were already being covered up. Part of her considered grabbing a broom, but the thought of kicking up even more dirt made her lungs tighten in anticipation. Why fight the losing battle anyway? Instead, she lumbered through the kitchen and out the back door. The dry air stole her breath, and her knees felt like they would give out. She lowered herself onto the concrete stoop and let her head drop forward. Tension built up at the base of her skull, and she had to force herself to look up. The view seemed worth the work. From her spot on those stairs, she could’ve confused this scene with one of their farm from the bygone happy days. Not much had changed. Directly in front of her stood the barn. The paint was a little more pink than red, but it still clung to the rough planks that looked more like driftwood than lumber. To the right stood a corn crib. Even in the better years this remained empty. The sole purpose of the edifice seemed to be that the metal crisscrossed in such a way that hundreds of tiny squares became picture frames for the impeccably blue sky. The landscape’s consistency 4
inspired her to her feet. She stuck her hand in her apron and fished out a handful of corn. She tossed it against the barn door, and the corn made hard, staccato pops. The dry knocks of a life coughed out of a heaving chest. Another death on the prairie. Two chickens screamed forward. They pecked the corn, and as the kernels dwindled in number, they turned on each other. Blood and dust mixed, and it was the most moisture the ground had seen this season. Eve slipped behind the barn, leaving the chickens to their cannibalism. Whoever fell would be supper tonight. Then the fight would continue over its body. Sarah, Emma, and Myra would tear at the scrawny bird, and no one would get their fill. The image of her daughters’ bones haunted Eve. She tried to focus on the little garden she had cultivated. Rows and rows of beans and peppers reached stunted arms up to the heavens. Her ancient rhubarb plant held out small, green hands. Toward the back of the plot, the corn plants were at knee height. The leaves were curled into tight wicks, and stalks were the greengold color of light shining through a dense forest. Eve had seen the color a million times, but it still seemed uniquely tragic. The plant was dying. If it wasn’t already dead. Nothing would come from the water Eve could give it. Eve bent over. Something in the movement made her stomach growl and the baby kick. “That’s enough out of you.” Eve patted her belly, not sure who she was yelling at. Her pat turned into a caress as she tried to soothe them both. As her left hand coaxed the worries from her torso, her right uprooted the dying corn.
C. The whole town smelled like smoke and crushed concrete. Eve never even knew that crushed rock had a smell. It was the smell of hot dust, like when someone turned on an old light in a forgotten room. How were things still smoking? It had been a month since the last wave of fires. This had to be something stronger than nuclear, something far worse. Maybe the molten core of the earth was burning its way through all the layers of rock and making its way to the surface, killing the earth from the inside out. Maybe the sun had gone supernova. Maybe their country had pissed off the wrong people. She didn’t know. How could she? The world wasn’t a place of questions and answers anymore, just drive. Food. Water. Sleep. Sex. The last Eve could do without, but it usually got her food and a safe place to sleep. It wasn’t without consequence. Eve pressed her hand against the bump. It was possibly the man who she bartered with for a bottle of water, but it was probably the guy she asked to help hotwire the car. The car, crumpled and not long for the world, got her to the river when she decided she didn’t want to do the things she had to do inland for water. It gave her a new home: a little den in the rubble of what used to be a suspension bridge. When the sun rose in the morning, she could almost forget that the world was so terrible. The baby kicked its foot against the membranous envelop that was her body. She hoped it was Hotwire. Eve hid behind a column in what used to be a parking structure, yearning for the dark comfort of her
home. Food didn’t come as easy as it used to. The world had a distain for pregnancy but no sympathy, and running with a ten-pound water balloon strapped to her stomach didn’t simplify the process. She wanted it out of her. The angry buzzing of her thoughts deafened her, and she forced herself to pay attention. The space magnified every sound, and she listened. No footsteps. No rustling. Just someone’s exaggerated breaths giving way to a whistle and finally a snore. Eve counted them. When she counted to ten, she slipped one column closer to the sleeping figure. Another ten. Another column. Finally, she reached the last column. The stranger slept next to a canvas sack. She had a small gathering at her head: an orange, three boots, and a teddy bear. The toy’s eyes stared straight at her and judged her every step. She ignored it and concentrated on the old woman, legs tensed to run and hands poised to strike. Her eyes twitched, and the rhythm of her body made lines of light shimmer down her greasy hair. The frail shape of the woman’s body planted a seed of guilt in Eve’s belly, seeming to add to the weight of the baby. She carried the weight of the world in her womb. The guilt didn’t hold her back. The woman had what she needed. It would feed two. As if utilitarianism was the law of the land. Eve couldn’t even fool herself with that. The law was survival. Eve had too much blood on her hands, had had too many men inside her, had too many thefts to her name to deny the law. She bore too many sins to worry about ill-gotten fruit. As slowly as humanly possible, Eve bent down and picked up the orange. When she felt the fruit in
her hand, she slunk backwards, only waiting for two snores to switch columns. She reached the stairs and let out an unmeasured breath; she felt the freedom of breathing loudly and freely. “What you got there?” The voice came from up the stairs. “Something that belongs to us?” Another one chimed in. Eve sprinted down the stairs, but her belly bounced up and down and she felt like she might fall forward. Still, she kept her eye on the next step, willing her feet to find the fastest rhythm down. The prowlers caught up without even breaking a sweat. One grabbed her hair and pulled back. She managed to grab the rail but only managed to save herself from falling. They took advantage of her distraction and took the orange from her hand. “We’ve seen you staking the place out.” The man held the orange up and looked at it with reverence. “Thanks for your hard work.” “Hopefully, we’ll catch up with you again.” The other man bowed, and the thieves descended the stairs. Eve sat down. She glared at her abdomen. She wanted to rip the creature out. More than that, as she pulled it out, she hoped it would dig its fingers into the walls of her womb and tear that out too. Then this could never happen again. And the prowlers and traders wouldn’t have an emptiness to fill. She could walk with the assuredness of a man that nothing could be taken from her. Again, with malice, she contemplated her bulge. If the thing had any sense, it would come out a male. She pulled herself up from the step, not entirely sure where to go next.
A. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and Eve cowered into herself. As much as the storm frightened her, she knew the lands needed the rain. It would probably not reach them anyway. The thought saddened and bolstered her as she headed west, toward the building tempest. The earth’s surface heaved and sighed, gradually arching up into a knoll and finally running up to the sky. Eve wondered if she could get to Heaven that way. However, the exertion of climbing the hill robbed her of her breath and loftier ambitions. Her heartbeat throbbed in her fingertips, her eyeballs, and her stomach. She could feel the life she carried there, and she was content. In her arms, Eve carried a bunch of oranges. The boys would certainly be hungry from chasing errant sheep. “Say it!” Cane’s voice cut through the air. It was filled with a violence that quickened Eve’s heart. “What?” Abel shouted back. Eve hustled through the trees and into the clearing. Her arms slackened, and the oranges fell to the ground. “Say it!” Cane repeated. “It!” Eve broke came upon the two boys standing toe to toe. The sheep looked on as witnesses. Cane’s hand flicked out, and the butt of his palm struck Abel’s nose. Blood began to flow, and Abel cupped his wound. Cane took advantage of his brother’s defenselessness and gave him another blow to the stomach. As Abel toppled forward, Cane pushed him to the ground and sat on his back. “Say it!” “Boys!” Eve cried as she rushed over to her sons. Her stomach bobbled and kept her from running 5
as fast as she’d like. She used her hands to steady it while she continued to charge. “Get off him! What’s the matter with you?” “Say it!” “I don’t know what you want.” The words emerged distorted from the lips that were partially pressed into the ground. Eve reached out to Cane. “What are you doing? Get off of him now.” She grabbed his arm and began to tug. Cane’s cruel hand delivered a slap. She reeled back but managed not to fall. “Stay out of this, woman. You’ve done enough damage in this life.” He returned his glare to his brother. “Now, say it.” “What’s he supposed to say?” Eve demanded. “He knows.” “No, I don’t!” Abel stilled for a moment under his brother’s weight. Eve cautiously approached her sons again. “What do I need to do to get you off of him?” Abel’s quietude ended, and he bucked Cane off. The boys rose to their feet and moved in on each other. “I’m going to kill you,” Cane declared, clenching his fingers into fists. “Try, brother.” Eve thrust herself between the two, putting one hand on each of their chests. “Enough.” She looked deep into her sons’ faces: the deep blue eyes of Abel and the comforting brown of Cane. “You two are brothers. You’re not supposed to destroy each other.” Abel’s chest heaved with anger. “No? Is destruction only a woman’s lot?” “Grant us a sister, Mother, so we’ll have a worthy adversary. Someone 6
to thrash and rape and chastise. Give us a one who deserves to be the victim of the type of destruction her kind has wrought. Give us a girl, and we’re sure to leave each other’s throats for a much more deserving one. Until then, leave us be,” said Cane. Abel wiped his hand across his face and spit into the dirt. Behind his eyes, she could see him reveling at the prospect of a new target for his brother’s ire. Perhaps it would mean his deliverance from abuse. “That’s enough from you. Mind me or I will call your father and tell him you’ve neglected the sheep. Then you will both get a deserved thrashing.” She examined the flock. “Cane, pick up your staff and tend to the sheep to the north. Abel, attend to the little one to the west who is straying.” She looked over to the oranges scattered across the ground. She couldn’t just leave them there. One by one, she gathered them back into her arms and carried them a small way toward the mountain. A creek of cold water rushed down the slope. It wasn’t very wide but fairly deep. She dropped them in the water and let them float away. B. “Mama, I’m hungry,” Myra said, running circles around the rocking chair. “I know, darling. If you stopped moving around so much, that might help.” Eve massaged her temples, trying to dispel her headache. “Mama, I’m hungry.” Her pace didn’t slow down. “I know, darling.” “Mama—“ “I know!” She pressed her palm against her forehead. “Mama, Mr. Arno’s here.”
The name sent Eve’s limbs into quivers. Sure enough, a tap sounded on the door. “Mama—“ “Go play outside, Myra. You and Em gather up some crickets if you’re so hungry.” The little girl shrugged her shoulders and fled out the backdoor. Eve stood up and smoothed her apron over her belly. She was thankful she was wearing her dark blue dress with the light pink flowers. It was her favorite. Something about it made her seem less puffy. She wiped at her hair, hoping she dispelled some of the dust. Finally, she thrust up her chest with as much dignity she could manage and opened the door. “Derek,” she hissed. “Eve. How are you?” The man removed his cap and held it over his heart. Dirt stained his fingernails and the collar of his shirt. His entirety consisted of one color: tan. His sand-colored hair flowed into his cream complexion which absorbed his whitewashed clothes. The only thing that stood out from his monotone appearance were his green eyes. They seemed to contain the world, the life among the sands. “I told you not to come here. Jack will kill you.” “Jack’s at the bar, and I had to see you.” His arms dropped to his side, and he clenched his hat in his right hand. He always played with his hat when he was nervous; it was his worry stone. “What do you want?” “It’s been about eight months since I seen you last. I figured maybe…” He nodded to her stomach. She crossed her arms. “Nope.” “I just wanted to see it. I know it’s better for the both of you if it didn’t
look like me, but…I just wanted to see.” Her heart squeezed for him. She reached forward, took his hand, and moved it to her bulge. The baby kicked. It ceased being a miracle to her and was now more of a nuisance. The kid was always kicking. But she gave this to Derek. She missed him, but she couldn’t admit it. “It’s a fighter. It’s got that from you.” She kept her hand over top of his. “Naw. That’s something he gets from you.” His hand slid off of her and went straight to his hat. “Arno! You mangy pole cat! I thought I told you to blow town or I’d blow your head off.” Derek whirled around, and Eve saw her husband coming up the drive. “I was just—“ “You was just nothing. You don’t go snooping around another man’s wife while he’s away. It ain’t Christian.” Jack grabbed Derek by the collar and jerked him out of the doorway. “Now git before I come back with a shotgun. I shot Duelly in the ass. Don’t think I won’t do the same to you.” Jack slammed the door shut. “What the hell were you doing?” Jack demanded. He tugged her toward her rocking chair. “I was just seeing if he needed anything. He might’ve needed something stitched up.” Eve let herself fall into her chair. “The guys know if they need you they gotta come through me first. I don’t like the thought of all these men lurking around, coming after what I got. You’re one in a million in these parts, and I’d kill any damn fool that’d dare try to mess with that.”
Eve continued to pet her stomach. “That’s why Hennessey left. Ole Paul and Minnie were playing around behind Dave’s back. If I was Dave, I’d have killed ‘em both. It ain’t right.” “Dave loves Minnie. I guess that makes him more forgiving.” “Makes him damn weak in my book. A jackass won’t defend what he’s got. It’s unappreciative or something. Anyway, I’m gonna tell you again. Don’t you entertain those ruffians while I’m away or the both of you’ll pay for it. Keep ‘em all out, and if they won’t listen to you, shotgun’s behind the bedroom door. You gotta defend what’s mine. That’s in the Bible somewhere.” He rubbed his beard and looked out the window. His eyes, brown as hers, twinkled in the light. “We got any beans ready?” She nodded. “I’d sure like some beans.” Eve got up from her chair and went for her garden, prepared to reap what she’d sown.
from the air and made her sick. She looked up to the sky and saw it shifting from azure to auburn. “Well, number one, in the spirit of watching our own asses, I’d say we don’t have a lot of time. So stop fucking me around and tell me what it’s going to take.” “There’s our normal arrangement, of course. Preferably you’d pay up in a week when hopefully this is taken care of.” He waved a hand over her stomach. “Or you could get me a girl.” “Come on, Reilly. Be a decent fucking human being for once and ask me for cigarettes or a flashlight.” Reilly sighed and shifted his weight. “You got a lighter or some matches?” “Yes!” She reached her hand into her bag and fought around for the lighter she knew existed at the bottom. She pulled out a yellow Bic and handed it to Reilly. Reilly twisted it and flicked it on to make sure it worked. He reached into his own bag and pulled out a loaf of bread. “Enjoy my rare C. moment of generosity and get out of “I can get you some rope,” Eve here before I change my mind.” offered. Her stomach felt deflated, She turned on her heals and which contradicted how big she scurried away. actually was. “And remember this! For next “Please. What do I need rope for?” time!” the trader said, crossing his arms Eve hurried down the street, indignantly. zigzagging around the piles of former “Come on, Reilly. I’m desperate. buildings and cars. The streets were You really going to let a pregnant mainly clear. Most people had woman starve?” She focused on already taken shelter. Another wave make her lips form the words. It was coming. She could feel the heat seemed too easy to let them slip into in her bones. It felt like it would mush. She could close her eyes and melt her skin and leave her skeleton never wake. to cure like a pot in a kiln. Sweat Reilly shrugged his shoulders. gathered at the back of her neck and “Sorry, kid. We all gotta look out for in the small of her back. She could number one these days.” feel the rivulets coursing down her The wind whipped a scorching skin. breeze over them. It stole the oxygen At her brisk pace, she managed 7
to return to the river in a matter of minutes. She arrived panting and drenched, but she was happy with her progress. She pulled away the car door she used as a roof and a door to her den. When she was inside, she tore away the bread bag and shoved the loaf into her face. It occurred to her that she might choke, but she didn’t care. Though she could eat the whole thing, she made herself stop at half. She placed the remainder of the loaf on her makeshift table: a rock she rolled in. Even in the ground, the heat was starting to seep in, and she crawled out of her hole. She replaced the door and waded to the river. The water embraced her, and she sank down to the shore. Small waves lapped at her hips and ankles. She looked downriver and saw the sky turning an angry red. Flames leapt and curled up toward the sky. Black smoke added sinister clouds to the scene. She wondered if she would survive this round, too. Part of her hoped maybe not. A. The oranges bobbed in the river like little suns—a bright spot in the dark water. As soon as she’d tossed them into the water, Eve wished she hadn’t. It filled her with an immense sadness. Her sons’ shouting in the background rekindled her ire, and she was ultimately glad she had tossed the fruit. She imagined the oranges would float away to a happier land. They would split open, and their seeds would take hold in virgin soil. But they could only succeed in a far off land. This land was poisoned. Only hatred watered the lands, raindrops of blood and the thunder of voices. “You’re doing it wrong!” Cane shouted. “Get that sheep over here. 8
Don’t be gentle about it!” The words stabbed deep into Eve’s heart and wrenched down to her gut, and the pain didn’t dispel. It became unbearable. She dropped down into the grass and placed her hand on her stomach. She suppressed her scream so the boys wouldn’t come. When she cried during her sons’ births, Adam told her this was what she’d done. The pain of childbirth had birthed itself on her tongue with the taste of Forbidden Fruit. She didn’t want to hear him condemn her as she brought this one into the world. She didn’t want Cane and Abel’s squabbling voices and rough hands to be the first thing it experienced. She squatted down over the grass, her legs quivering, and counted the time between the pains. The babies seemed to come when the pains were closer together. Her stomach, thighs, and loins burned. She could feel the muscles trying to rip apart. She wondered how her bones could stand the tension. Her mind would go blank, and she would dig her fingers into the soil. All she could think to do was breathe. Breathe harder. Breathe faster. Breathing was how she knew she was alive, that she’d survived another pain. The pains came one on top of the other, and she knew it was time. She dug her heels into the soft earth and pushed against it. She pushed hard, feeling her chest strain with the effort. She pushed and pushed and pushed until she heard the soft yelping of her child. She didn’t allow herself the luxury of recovery. Her hands fumbled between her legs, looking for her baby. When her fingers found its slippery skin, she pulled it up to her bosom. She held it there tightly for a moment, crying. Her tears mixed with the blood and grass that
covered the newborn. Though it was so small, its weight felt substantial against her breast. The weight of a whole new world. Through the tears, she managed to pull the child away and see its perfectly round face. The hair was dark with moisture. She brushed her fingers across the cheek. Then, she looked at what she hadn’t dared investigate the moment the baby took its first breath. Holding the baby no farther away than was absolutely necessary, Eve looked. She marveled. Her heart broke with happiness and fear. She brought her daughter back tight to her chest. B. As Eve stepped off the stoop, Jack called to her. “I’m going to run into town while you cook us up supper.” She turned back and waved him off. Her thoughts were too heavy and dense for her to form a response. Beans. That’s all she could focus on. That’s all she needed to focus on. Steamed beans for supper. That’d be good. The chickens panted in the shade and barely paid attention as she passed by. They usually lost one or two to a heart attack in this kind of heat. Maybe steamed beans and chicken. She rifled through her bean plants, plucking pods if they were ready or not. They were hungry. And it’d encourage the plants to grow more anyway. She slid the beans into her apron and walked over to the well. The bucket was oversized, but they had a winch to help get it up and over the stone wall. She lowered the bucket and started to crank. It was full. She needed enough water to wash the beans and fill the pot. It took all her strength to elevate
the water. She strained as she took it off the rope and placed it on the ground. The right move would’ve been to carry it straight into the house. Now she had to pick it up again. But her back was on fire, and her heart was racing like crazy. Her stomach jolted, and she knew. She sat down on the ground and thanked God for small miracles. Jack wouldn’t be back for hours. If he came back at all tonight. And the girls never came unless called. She’d have the time she’d need to work it all out. A sharp pain punished her for the thought. She bit down hard on her lower lip until she tasted blood. Then, she dipped her hands in the bucket and rubbed them against her face. Her fingers came back muddy, but she didn’t care. She lay down on the ground and focused on touching as much skin to the earth as possible. Her soles pushed against the dirt. Occasionally, a cry escaped. She panted like the chickens. There wasn’t enough air, and she was sure she was suffocating. The relief she felt at the baby sliding out of her couldn’t be rivaled. Even if she held it up and beheld Jack’s very own visage, it couldn’t compete with the end of labor. The baby didn’t wail. It coughed. Eve sat upright and grabbed the newborn. A girl. Barely. The bones pressing against the flesh made her more skeleton than human. The sight sent a shiver down Eve’s spine. The girl caught Eve’s face, staring with an adult-like intensity through gray eyes hinting at green. The ashen hair and skin, the same perfect monotone, highlighted the buried flash of color. The baby made a sucking motion with its lips. It was hungry.
C. All of a sudden, the water felt harsh against Eve’s skin, like it was pushing in too hard. She wanted to push out. Every muscle in her body tensed, and she felt like she had to pee. She scrambled out of the water, but water continued to gush from between her legs. This was it. The past year had robbed Eve of her sentimental what ifs. The ones that remained were “what if I don’t find food” or “what if I catch pneumonia.” For a moment, she allowed herself that sentimentality. What if her mother were there. What words of advice would she have. What if she were having this baby with a husband. Would she have wanted him in in the delivery room or would she have banished him to the waiting room. As immature as it may have been, she thought it was gross to watch a human being expelled from a vagina. She wasn’t quite sure she’d want anyone but a doctor to have a ticket to that show. Now, she would’ve invited anyone to be a second set of hands. She sat on the bank, trying to press her whole body into the ground. For the first time, she had an answer for the fire source. It was burning within her. The pain scorched her very nerves. Why didn’t a flame shoot up from the ground and consume her right then and there? She begged for death and screamed profanity. It didn’t matter who heard her. If they came and beat her to death, it would be a kinder fate than she was suffering now. What kind of way was this to make babies? Why would God do this to women? He was a jerk. She’d been pretty sure of that before, but
now she was certain. Eve didn’t know a lot of people who had babies, but she’d seen enough on TV to know that she had to breathe and wait for the contractions to get closer together. Each break was heaven, but she knew that meant it wasn’t over. The pain became nearly uninterrupted, and all her muscles contracted. She pushed as hard as she could, and she felt the head and shoulders slide out of her. Next came relief. She laughed. Nothing would hurt her anymore after that. Even if she was burned alive, it’d be tempered by this pain. Tears of mirth rolled down her face, and her chortles drowned out the sound of the newborn’s cries. When she picked up the babe, something washed through her that she hadn’t expected. The baby looked like Hotwire. It had his sandy hair but her bright green eyes. And it wasn’t an “it” any longer. It was a she. Eve pulled her tight to her chest, feeling her maternal heart beat towards the girl. She kissed the top of her head. As she rocked her back and forth, Eve looked over the baby girl’s head and into the black smoke of the approaching flames. D. Eve held her daughter to her chest stroking her back. The wails turned to gurgles, and the gurgles turned to deep, sleepy inhalations. As the girl slept, the mother imagined the future. She saw all the beatings the girl would take in the name of her mother. The baby slept on, unaware of her inheritance. Eve looked into the water beside her. It shimmered in the sunlight, so clear it was almost blue. After 9
the pangs of birth, it looked so refreshing, and she remembered the times she had buried herself in water. It always seemed to wash away the worst sins. Maybe water could fix everything. She felt the weight of her daughter, and that she could handle. She felt the weight pressing down on her baby girl, and that she could not handle. There was enough suffering in the world. She wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t give that legacy to her love, her innocent. With tears already gathering in her eyes and the pain of childbirth still not completely erased from her loins, Eve knelt over the water. Her own tears added to the volume. She kissed the babyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s forehead, and thanked God that she did not stir.
heyenne Marco grew up on a Minnesota poultry farm and finds inspiration in her rural upbringing. She works on the South Dakota Review and does outreach for Friends of the Big Sioux River. Her works have appeared in Lake Region Review, Turk's Head, and Prairie Winds.
Cara Long Corra
I was hoeing the garden when my lower jaw disconnected and fell off. Or, I should say, was nudged out. I had to help it along – it was a jaw after all. I stopped hoeing and kicked at it with my foot. I bent over to look at it, the skin on the lower half of my face flapping gently along with the breeze. “Huh,” I said, in my now broken English. “Huh.” I picked the jaw up. It didn’t have much heft, but my teeth did look whiter than usual. Maybe it was the sun making my teeth look newer. Or maybe it was the soil which clung to it. I admired my molars, which were large and unblemished. My incisors, however, were a bit crooked. When my jaw was in my mouth, I had never really noticed. I contemplated shoving the jaw back inside my mouth, but thought better of it. Unhygienic. Instead I carried the jaw inside. My husband asked what I was up to and I shrugged, pointing to the jaw in my hand. “Well I’ll be,” he said, standing up from his chair. “Did you find that in the garden?” I pointed to my face, which I knew had to look different. My husband came closer, examining me and then peering into the strange hole my mouth had become. He wiped away some spittle. “How are we going to fix that?” he asked. I motioned him over to the sink. We had to clean the jaw before doing anything. My husband grabbed a pen and paper, and I scribbled down, “I must
clean it!” I ran the jaw under the water and then plunked it into the washing basin. “Get glue,” I wrote down for my husband. I scrubbed the jaw until my teeth squeaked. I didn’t like touching the wet gum tissue and had to turn away when handling it. When my husband came back I was holding the jaw out away from me, letting it air dry. I took the glue from him and applied it to the hinges. I walked into the hallway and stood in front of the mirror. I motioned for my husband to help hold back my facial skin so I could fit the jaw in without interference. It was easier than you’d think. I lined the jaw up as best I could until the hinges clicked in place. I kept my mouth hanging open until the glue set, which took about a minute. I opened and closed a few times. “Alright?” I said to my husband. He took hold of my chin and moved my head around. “It looks like you got it,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I guess you’re lucky it came out and went back in in one piece.” “Yes,” I said, wiggling my mouth to test the jaw. “I do feel rather lucky today.”
ara Long Corra presently lives in upstate New York where she works as an affordable housing advocate. Her first collection of short stories, Partly Gone, was published in June 2014 by Unsolicited Press.
Death of a Mouse Nancy Wyland
My job is to catch the fainters. There are usually one or two when we cram a bunch of adolescent bodies into a small, hot room to watch a mouse dissection. Each of them takes a lab coat and a pair of safety goggles from the table, making them “official” scientists for the duration of surgery. Some of them pass on the goggles – too dorky. Others like the authoritative look and can’t wait to put them on. The coats vary in size as much as the kids do at this age. A size 18 boy tries jamming his arm into a size 12 coat, while a waifish kid swims in white cotton. For the most part, they don’t really care. This is the big time. Hard core science. On a warm day, our University of Iowa lab can smell like an old farmhouse that’s seen generations of mice. In my role as research administrator, I normally don’t have to smell the musky, mousy odor from the other side of the door, but during these middle school field trips, I have a role – fainter catcher. The irony that our facility is an inhalation toxicology lab is lost on these kids. This is where scientists learn about those things we breathe into our lungs – dust, mold, smoke, aerosols – and what they do to our bodies once they get there. So, while we must inhale the mousy musk in the name of science, the mice must in turn inhale toxins of our choosing. A few of the kids cover their noses and mouths with a sleeve. One of our scientists, Andrea, peels a squirmy grey mouse from its cage, a Tupperware-like contraption with pellets and bedding in the 12
bottom. For some reason, the mice like to hang upside down from the barred lid like bats. This one is no exception. Snug now in Andrea’s clasped hand, the little fellow inspects the sights and smells of the outside world, wiggling and wagging his nose with frantic excitement, eyes darting in all directions. A couple of the girls croon, “Oooh! He’s so cute!” Andrea places the mouse out of sight under a fume hood, turns a couple knobs and stands aside for a moment, hands concealed inside her lab coat pockets. A small boy standing next to the Tupperware box watches the remaining mouse scamper around inside alone. “Poor little guy,” he says to no one in particular. The boys find Andrea and her lab partner, Suzana exotic and beautiful. They are among many international scientists in our lab, almost all of who are women. Never mind that they’re chemists and veterinarians or that they come from war-torn and former Communist countries. Andrea is petite and blonde, Suzana is a tall brunette. Their pronunciation of body parts like “trackee-uh” and “lee-ver” is curious and charming. That’s more than enough for a 12-year old boy. “We have exposed the mouse to tiny dust particles which he breathes into his nose, and now we are putting him to sleep,” Andrea explains. “We give him a large dose of anesthesia, which makes him go to sleep so that he doesn’t wake up.” Suzana offers her own gentle translation, “That’s right, he doesn’t feel anything anymore. He’s
completely out - gone.” “You mean he’s dead.” one of the boys clarifies for everyone. “Well, yes. He’s dead.” Andrea opens the hood and takes the limp mouse into the palm of her hand. He looks like Stuart Little, D.O.A. On his back, his wrists are limp as if he was begging, and we can see up his nostrils, which no longer wiggle. Gasps all around. A small boy interjects, “I wonder what his parents think about him being dead.” “Nothing,” another responds. “They’re dead, too.” Actually, Stuart’s parents are probably busy procreating under the neon glow of the climate-controlled room next door. Little Tupperware condos line up side by side on metal shelves, marked with identifiers for each of the scurrying rodent families. Sometimes these specially bred mice are studied for generations. They can be expensive, too, costing anywhere between $100 to $5,000, depending on the rarity of the breed and the disease under study. Because of this investment and animal care regulations, the mice live a fairly comfortable life prior to their sacrifice. They eat, drink, have sex, and make little mice. Once in awhile, though, the mother devours all of her pups, and research has to wait for the next litter. One theory is she becomes stressed by overcrowding. She loses it and does the only thing within her power for relief – she sacrifices her family. It’s Nature exacting its own efficient settlement. We don’t tell the kids any of this.
These adolescents know a few things about their bodies, death and nature’s propensity for cruel surprise. The girls have figured out that their first period and breast buds aren’t exactly the joyous leap into womanhood mom described, and no boy ever expects his catechism teacher to star in his first wet dream. It’s a time of horrifying firsts – first love, first pimple, first broken heart – most of which play out under the harsh glare of unforgiving peers. Sixth grade is usually the first time kids are exposed to animal dissection in the classroom, too. When I was their age we didn’t start right off the bat with Stuart, but were introduced to a succession of creatures in evolutionary increments. We started with a sponge, moved on to the earthworm, the crayfish, the codfish, the frog, and finally, the king of the corpse heap, a fetal pig. Our animals came to us long dead and sealed in thick plastic bags. They were furless and rubbery and smelled of formaldehyde. My lab partner was Steve Schleining. His name rhymed with “shining” and sounded like something Jerry Lewis might involuntarily blurt when nervous. Steve was a testament to geekdom. He was a slight kid with pale skin and blackrimmed glasses. He also possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the wildly popular Star Trek Original Series. In particular, he liked to pretend he was Chief Engineer Scotty. Most days, he followed me along the halls of the junior high in his red Command Uniform T-shirt, shooting at me with an imaginary phaser, shouting things like, “I don't know if I can hold her much longer Captain!” with a jaunty brogue. I had to work hard to ignore him. Schleining was in my face at every
turn. During dissection, he plucked the frog’s heart and kidneys out with a teasing needle and waved them in front of my mouth and nose. Then he smeared my bare arm with his gut-stained rubber glove and laughed about it. If Schleining or any other boy felt woozy during dissection, I don’t remember it. We didn’t have any empathy for the pre-packaged animals before us, either; they were so clearly dead and goopy, and the smell of formaldehyde was not particularly endearing. In fact, all the boys delighted in desecrating their frog corpses, stabbing their grey hearts with scalpels, throwing the livers at each other in a kind of cadaver battle. Now and then, one would ricochet off my desk, drawing guffaws from the boys, the most enthusiastic of which was Schleining. When I complained to my mother about Schleining’s behavior, she broke into a little smile. “It sounds like he likes you.” Likes me? She’s got to be kidding. I’ve never known mom to be so wrong. After several weeks of this, I’d had it. The tipping point came when I entered the biology room for another afternoon of carcass carnage, and Schleining leapt out from behind the door. “The Enterprise takes no orders!” he declared, aiming his invisible phaser at my face. “Get away from me, you queer!” I screamed. “I hate you! God! Leave me alone!” Much to my surprise, he did. He lowered his phaser and stopped aiming weaponry at me altogether. He set off in search of a new target and never looked back. Just like that. He didn’t raise his eyes to meet mine anymore, didn’t try to sit near me in class or follow me out to my bike after school. He didn’t seem to be
aware of me at all after that. It was as if I had flipped a switch on the Schleining machine and powered him down. At first, I thought, Cool. Finally, I was rid of him. I could walk the halls of the junior high without dread. Free at last! But, I’d also seen his face melt like a Dali timepiece at my cruel words. Wow, I thought. I did that to him. Thrill and shame surged together through my veins like venom. These boys are just as awkward and energetic, electric bodies and brains barely within their control. They form a sweaty cluster around the examination table. Stuart lies compliant while Suzana clamps a hemostat over his toes. “To make sure he is dead before we start surgery, we pinch his foot like this.” The mouse doesn’t flinch. “So you see, mouse is dead.” In a business-like manner, Suzana lays the mouse on its back and begins to pin its hind legs to an examination board covered in white paper. “This stabilizes him so we can cut without accidentally damaging organs.” She sprays some fluid on its furry chest and with a pair of scissors, snips a tiny hole in the skin over the heart. A couple of the kids cringe. “Are you sure he’s dead?” someone asks. “Oh, yes. He can’t feel a thing. Don’t worry.” Suzana makes a long incision down the mouse’s chest, pulls the skin open like a pair of cupboard doors and pins the flaps to the table on either side. Splayed open, we can now see the internal machinery of this tiny creature. Its heart, lungs, and rib cage, intricate bean shapes and wiring are still glistening pink and garnet with life. A little blood pools under the mouse, 13
and all the kids lean in to see. “Awesome!” someone at the back of the room cries out unconsciously. A couple of the girls exaggerate bug-eyes. “We study the mouse, because he is very much like us,” Suzana explains. “It was hard for me to do this at first because I am a veterinarian, but I am used to it now.” Andrea takes the hemostat and leans in to push aside the heart. Without meaning to, she presses against a muscle, causing Stuart to involuntarily raise his head off the table for a moment, as if he has something to say about all of this. The kids freeze. All eyes are trained on the mouse, and for a moment, the promise of a miracle hangs in the air. “Oops,” Andrea giggles and shrugs. Then reassures the kids, “Mouse really is dead; I must have touched a nerve or a muscle. The reflexes still work a little bit after death.” She removes the hemostat. Stuart lays back down, apparently at a loss for words. I scan the horror-struck faces, looking for that unique shade of ivory that appears when blood suddenly drains beneath the skin, as if racing away from the source of image and understanding. It’s hard to tell with some of these kids. At this age, their freckles are charming, their pale skin relatively unblemished by the ravages of time. What might be considered a sickly pall on a fortyyear old woman could be a lovely porcelain glow in a twelve-year old girl. It makes it hard to discern who among them is most vulnerable. “If anyone is having trouble, feels like they’re going to be sick or pass out, just let me know,” I offer. The girls don’t have any problem with this. They don’t even wait for 14
the lightheadedness or nausea to overtake them. One or two take a seat outside the room where they wait for the others. It’s the boys who refuse to surrender, especially in the company of girls. The boys will wrestle their vulnerability all the way to the floor. “The mouse was exposed to dust particles,” Suzana continues. “Sometimes it is grain dust, sometimes it is endotoxin or other allergens. Now we flush his lungs with saline.” She inserts a tiny catheter into one of the collapsed lungs, and they begin to expand. “See how the lungs are filling up with fluid? Now we drain the fluid into this tube to collect cells. We can look at them under the microscope and see if the dust has changed them in some way. From this, we can learn about breathing problems that affect people, like asthma.” Suzana holds the test tube slightly below the edge of the table, letting gravity do the work of transporting cells through the plastic tubing. She takes the opportunity to mollify the animal lovers in the room. “The research is important, because we cannot learn this information through computer models, and we cannot test humans in this way, of course.” The kids try to understand. In the space of eight minutes, we have together witnessed the execution of a playful, gentle creature, watched its chest bloom from under the skin and harvested bits of its body so that we might better know ourselves. By now, the mouse is looking a little deflated. Its cavity is partially emptied of the button-sized organs that lay alongside the body. Everything pink has begun to grey and the pool of blood is drying along the
edges. One of the boys throws up his hands all of a sudden. “Oh, no, oh, no... I can’t watch this,” he stammers and rushes from the room. I follow him out, and get a chair and a cup of water. His nametag reads Andrew. We sit together and begin to talk. It occurs to me that he resembles Schleining a little. No, more than a little – a lot. Same black cropped hair, same black glasses, same geeky awkwardness. “I’m no good at this kind of thing,” Andrew says loudly, without embarrassment. He stares blankly at the floor and shakes his head. “It’s all right. A lot of kids can’t watch dissection. And you know what? More boys than girls have trouble with it, and sometimes it’s the football players or the guys who hunt deer that are the first to go down.” “Well, that’s not me. I’m not really into sports. I like to write poetry.” He rolls his eyes. “Boys aren’t supposed to write poetry.” Unlike my aversion to Schleining long ago, I feel maternal with this particular boy. I raised two sons, after all, one of whom is gay and the other, a perpetual bully target. Adolescence spares no one the indignities of growing up. “That’s not true,” I offer. “Don’t let anyone tell you that boys aren’t supposed to write poetry. Believe me, in a few years that’s the stuff that will get the girls,” I offer. He brightens a little. “I wrote a poem about Halloween.” He doesn’t ask if I want to hear it, but begins reciting his poem about the things that frighten him. He knows it by heart, and it’s long. He catches my eye at one point, and I recognize pride in his face. He tells me he plays in a band and they’re trying to get
gigs. “One lady wants us to play for her daughter’s birthday party,” he says with hope in his voice, and I realize, He’s trying to impress me. I’m not sure he hears me, but I say it anyway. “You keep at the poetry,” I tell him. “There’s no reason you can’t be a writer if it’s what you want.” If Schleining had tried poetry instead of pestering me with his Chief Engineer Scotty routine, would it have made a difference? I wondered if Andrew would remember my words thirty years from now, and if they might somehow have an impact on his trajectory. And, I wondered the same thing about Schleining. Suzana announces, “It looks like we’re out of time.” She lays down her surgical instruments signaling the end of Stuart’s autopsy. I quiz the group. “So, what did you think?” “Gross!” a girl with braces says, sticking her tongue out between silvery teeth and slamming her white coat atop the pile. “That was so cool!” says one of the boys. A smallish blonde girl asks, “Where’s Andrew? Did he faint? Is he okay?” She’s smiling and her eyebrows are arched in curiosity. No empathy. She wants “the dirt” on him. “No,” I tell her. “He didn’t faint. Andrew’s going to be all right.”
ancy Wyland is an emerging writer from Coralville, Iowa. She received her MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa in 2011 and has published essays in Cedar Valley Divide, Content Magazine, The Daily Palette, and Club Narwahl, and has an essay forthcoming in Drunken Boat. Her full-time career is with the University of Iowa as a research administrator to an environmental health sciences research center.
Waking the Dancer’s Bones Carol Barrett
i She rose in the dark to stretch with imaginary birds on the small deck, day-dreaming heron. The sun shimmied between buildings.
iii How did the finale begin? Did she leap into the abyss of sky, forgetting the floor, limbs pushed off the dreamy
Leotards, black, to illuminate contours, hung on a thin rail.
edge of her world? Perhaps she simply waited too long
She brushed her hair, figure eight taut. The face: dancer’s craft, tilt of brow,
for the call, that final audition, cockatiel in the wild, cold air closing.
cheekbones backlit, sinewy neck sliding to grace the arms. The face too must dance. Contract and release they taught her. Graham technique. ii Breath follows the soul’s lead. No movement without cause. When the ground submits, take to the air: leap, hurdling the dark then tuck, crumpled, landing faultless, still. It must look easy. Feet burn, then bleed, and still the dance, flamingo lifting, fire catching. To dance is to love the air more than the body, to regret nothing, save gravity, the heart flung into cloud. 18
iv Every daughter dances for her father. It is how we begin: quick twirl, rippling skirts. The top spins, and falls, happiness rocking on a bare floor. Balance the leap, and the loss – redbird cape tucked to shoulders; the shroud, body’s ghost. Dancer air-borne. Bird in flight. Bird-daughter. Contract, and release.
arol Barrett holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and creative writing. She coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Union Institute & University. Her books include Calling in the Bones, which won the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies including JAMA, Poetry International, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, and The Women’s Review of Books. Carol has also published articles in psychology, gerontology, art therapy and women’s studies journals. A former NEA Fellowship recipient in Poetry, she lives in Bend, OR.
Previous Image: “The Vapors” by Albert Shelton
I don’t think I’ve ever sat and watched an ant so closely before. It moves without hesitating along the length of the bathtub to the place where my book is balanced. The shape of it shines with the blackpurple of the berries I pick from the beach at the end of summer. I put my book on the floor and sink my arms below the surface. Flakes of un-dissolved Epsom salts drift and settle onto the flat plane of my stomach. My knees lay against either side of the bath and I look at myself. The first time I saw another woman naked, saw her all the way, was in the bathtub. I’d held her, touched her, I had loved her but I’d been afraid to take the next step and she had known. In the water, I saw what I needed to see. The ant has begun to walk closer, reaching forward with its front legs, grasping one feeler after the other, stroking them from root to tip like a girl playing with her hair. I watch it move to the white curve of the tub’s edge and wonder if it will slip, or merely walk its way down to the water before turning back. I feel protective. The book that rests on the mat is a story of loss. “I will think of her every day of my life”. I don’t need the reminder. But, “This isn’t the healing place”, it said, of the time where you long to go back to what can’t be found again. And it isn’t; I know that.1 The water has cooled to bloodwarm, my skin no longer blushed red by the heat. My winter pale is like the inside of the shells I pick up off the beach, and I count the
tiny new moles that dot my torso, new since when? I don’t know. This body is mine but its hers I still see, the little scar just there to the left of her navel from a long-ago surgery, the patch of infinitely fragile flesh around it, so thin and soft I was afraid to touch it. I swish my hand under the water and make the white grains of Epsom roll across my hipbones and into the space between my body and the wall of the tub, invisible against the white porcelain. The ant has decided it doesn’t like the feel of the edge, and moves closer to my head, stopping to flick its antennae some more, and I wonder now if its trying to communicate with those strange motions. I lean forward and watch. I can see the flat black rectangle on the floor beside the sink, an ant trap already full. David Michaelis, “Provincetown” from The American Scholar, 2001 and Best American Essays 2001 1
risten MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are filled with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing, and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rawboned Journal, GALA Magazine, Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit, and is included monthly in Diversity Rules Magazine. Pieces are forthcoming in Blank Fiction, Crack the Spine Magazine, Maudlin House, and MadHat Annual. Her short story, “Cold Comfort,” placed in Honorable Mention in The Women’s National Book Association’s annual writing contest and will be published in a special edition of the association’s journal, Bookwoman, in June.
I press the pillow over her face and I can’t breathe A pact made long ago on a sunlit afternoon as we sipped chardonnay and smoked Virginia Slims watching our children shoot marbles, jump rope Mabel, Mabel set the table Surely we wouldn’t want to be warehoused in Applewood or Sweet Pines squandering our grandchildren’s college funds Surely we wouldn’t want to force friends to visit to feel guilty they prefer golf or pulling dandelions
The pillow falls to the floor I lie down next to my closest friend who no longer knows who I am signals between cells gone silent I run my fingers over her creased face I brush thin hair aside and kiss her dry forehead forgive me I close my eyes as we breathe together scissored from time I see a sunlit afternoon I hear distant voices Mabel, Mabel
Reluctant to see our marbles roll across coffee-stained carpets beta-amyloids destroying synapses Reluctant to see us stare with blank faces, drool Ensure on flowered nightgowns complain about strange men In our closets, under our beds stealing pearl necklaces and sapphire rings plaques multiply and suffocate I let go so I can breathe 20
laire Scott is an award winning poet who has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She was also a semi-finalist for the Pangaea Prize and the Atlantis Award. Claire was the grand prize winner of The Maine Review’s 2015 White Pine Writing Contest. Her first book of poetry, Waiting to be Called, was published in 2015. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.
The Mud Seller Ivan Faute
The year Trung fell in love with Thao and we exchanged piastre for dong was the same year the mud seller appeared. Strangers were not wholly unusual yet. Soldiers from several countries had flown over, been shot down, recovered, forgotten; the roads and busses had decayed and the hamlet resumed its isolation, circulating the same bills and coins, over and over, reading the central committee proclamations plastered on buildings, messages about washing hands before eating, supporting progress by working hard and living frugal, reporting infiltrators disguised as countrymen. Like fiats from the gods who hid in fog that swirled at the top of Mount Fansipan, barely visible from the bend of the road that descended to the marketâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s central plain. Sunday in earliest spring, after the market had gathered, everyone was settled into the same stalls. The mud seller appeared on that bend in the road, silhouetted against the sky. Trung was young, still helping his father, mother and multiple brothers raise and sell pigs, fresh beer, and the plums off the trees that rose up behind their house. His parents' house included a small beer stall and butcher table, situated on the far end of the market space. That Sunday, Trung was dispensing beer, even although it was only mid-morning. Most had risen in darkness to traverse the valleys, streams, and bamboo groves and arrive in town before sunrise. Trung saw him. His legs and arms caked in mud, crusted and flaked like lizard skin, a yoke balanced
across his shoulders with a flat basket on each side, each mounded high with slick, slimy mud. Everyone directed their attention to the filthy beggar, expecting him to follow the road past the village and continue to whatever was below, leaving the village alone. But the old man got to the end of the row and turned aside. He planted his feet as flat and wide as an old buffalo. With a quick turn of his ropey shoulders, he flipped the baskets onto the ground, sending up a flurry of dust, and bent at his knees and hips to sit behind his bamboo containers. The village ignored him. Thao returned to extolling the quality of the scarf. Auntie Binh tended to her donuts. The farmers picked their teeth. Trung poured another beer. However, the earth seemed to have tilted in his direction, as if the plain of the ground had become weighted where he sat and everything was drifting to him. Mr. Canh, who butchered pigs, felt his feet slip and found himself, hands splattered with flecks of crimson blood, standing in front of the crumpled creature. The old man did not look up, did not seem to mind the smelly, fat merchant practically standing on top of him. The man examined fingernails and toes and glanced at the sky, trees, and insects, looking anywhere except where Mr. Canh stood. Not used to being ignored, Canh rumbled, a wet grumbling sound. The muddy man took no notice.. Canh shuffled his feet, thin long feet for such a fat man, and cleared his throat with a flourish, nothing subtle anymore. He spit over the man's
shoulder. "What's that you're selling, grandfather?" It was a little surprising Canh used such polite language, considering how poorly the old man was treating him. "Mud, brother butcher." The man spoke in a thick, country accent, not unexpected. "Just mud?" Canh's confusion showed. He shuffled from thin foot to thin foot, then crossed his beefy forearms. "Would you buy some, comrade butcher?" Canh looked for support but was met with curious stares. Even the mangy dogs, that never stopped wrangling over scraps near the garbage pile, were sitting still, heads cocked to the side, staring. "Is it magic mud?" There had to be something more to it than just mud, Canh reasoned. "I make no claims." The crusty man finally looked up. The mud seller had remarkably clear eyes. Canh would remark on that for years and years, until his own death. "There's a look," Canh would say after a few beers, "that an animal gives you right before you cut its throat." He would spread his hands out, splitting his fingers far apart, into two wide fans. "It looks up at you with such wide eyes. Clear eyes full of understanding at that moment. It says to you, 'I know what you are doing now. I understand why you do it. I know what comes next.' Then you cut the throat and the blood drains into the bowl. All that light drains out." Canh would close his eyes then and make two fists. "That crazy old man had 21
that same clear-eyed look. 'I know what comes next.' That's what he was saying to me. I'll never forget that." Canh would drop his head over his food and drink and stop speaking and we knew not to disturb him. That day though, Mr. Canh gave the man a skeptical turn of his head, then turned to look at the villagers again. "If itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ordinary mud," he said, "what would I need it for? Can't you see we are surrounded by it? Mud's what we donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t need, the thing we are most tired of, always trying to get rid of. Why would we want to buy more?" The mud seller looked down. "You never know," is all he said. Canh laughed. The old man was crazy, stuck up in the mountains alone, had been talking to the forest spirits and wind gods, or the goats. Canh returned to his fresh pork and brushed away the flies. "Nothing but a crazy old man," he announced to no one in particular. That was enough. No one paid attention to the old man anymore that day, relieved no further action was required. He was only a crazy old man. The appearance of the mud seller was not the only amazing thing to happen that day. It was also the day Trung realized he was in love with Thao. He'd known of her his whole life of course, had seen her following her mother around when she could barely eat rice, had seen her grow, week after week. When Thao was still a young girl, a tree had fallen on her father and crushed his legs. Since that day, the father stayed on a mat in his house, a house as far from the market center as possible to still be considered part of the 22
village. Her father, now old and shriveled, understood the world by the evidence Thao brought to him. Thao's brother, sixteen when his father fell ill, had tended the rice fields and other duties, until he fled, years earlier, into the southern jungle to help free his country, and himself. Thao's mother died waiting for the boy, sitting in the rain and cold by the front door, waiting for a son who never returned. Her father was confused and demanding, still expecting the world to come to him. Thao spent her mornings coaxing vegetables to grow, afternoons weaving, and her evenings, in the glow of a single bare bulb, explaining the world to her ever-shrinking father. This is how Trung fell in love with her. At the end of that market day, the mountain dwellers were on the road home and the villagers were gathering their things. The hamlet was sleepy and full, even the dogs were stretched out in long lines, flipping their tails to clear their flanks of flies. Trung's stall was empty, and he sat drinking a beer, smelling the air, watching the last few people wander off. He enjoyed watching the town at that time of day, remembering people and how they moved, wondering about the lives that happened inside their heads, behind the walls of their houses. It was a trait that would serve him when he would become the village storyteller many years later. That afternoon, he saw Thao pack her fabrics, pile them in her basket and lift the bundle on top of her head. She walked past the mud seller, who sat with head down, arms circling his knees. He might have been asleep he was so still. Thao stopped and looked at him. The man
tilted his head and looked at what threw a shadow over him. "Your mud has crusted over, honorable grandfather." The man looked at her, his eyes like stones at the bottom of a stream. "It will refresh itself tomorrow," he said. Thao smiled and walked off. She turned back. "Have a good journey home, grandfather." She smiled again. Trung felt something jump then, like a little fish nibbling at the bottom of his heart. It gave him a shock, and the shock traveled in a thin line through the beating ventricles, up the vein of his neck, circling his left ear until it struck something deep in his mind. From there, a warmth spread throughout his body, and Trung almost fell backwards off his bench. He watched Thao walk away, her blue ao dai flying back behind her, just to make sure, and he nodded his head, realizing it was true. He loved her. The next market day was not as fine. A heavy bank of dark clouds lowered the sky. Trung set out the wooden benches and wiped everything with a rag but was distracted. His father kept calling at him. "You live too far up in your head," his father said. "Pay attention to your hands and feet." Just then Thao came around the bend in the road and caused Trung to trip over a bench so that he had to catch himself on the rough table. "Stupid boy," his father muttered. Trung picked himself up and continued wiping tables, watching Thao. No one expected the mud seller to return. No one wanted him to because that would require them to decide something, to make a
decision about what he meant or who he might be. It was easier if he stayed away and they could ignore him. But he did return. After the market settled, he appeared on the horizon just like before. He took the same spot, the same posture. Although everyone was even more curious than before, they feigned disinterest so they didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have to wonder if they should report him to anyone. Trung was less concerned with the mud man than Thao. He looked for a few minutes to get away, but, despite the cold, cloudy day, everyone wanted beer. He was busy all morning. His brothers and father were nowhere to be found, and his mother kept yelling at him. Close to noon, a few hours before the market finished, Trung looked up and Thao was not at her stall. Concerned that she might have left and he'd have to wait another week to speak to her, he scanned the marketplace. She was purchasing donuts from Auntie Luong. Cradling the hot treats in a banana leaf, she walked next to the old, muddy man. No one had seen the man eat anything, and Thao had become concerned. "The mud is fresh today?" she asked. "Every day," he said. "Hungry, grandfather?" Thao gave him a donut, and he accepted with long, thin fingers, eating the donut in one mouthful. Thao nodded in approval and walked back to her stall. The mud man left as he had the week before. The next day he was the only topic. Would he come back every week now? Is that all he had to offer, mud? Why pick their village? They didn't need any more trouble than they had already. They didn't
need new things. Nothing needed to change. Everyone knew change was dangerous; it attracted attention. Trung thought of the mud seller occasionally, but he was distracted with his growing love for Thao. The small burning spot that started in his heart continued to grow. Every day his love grew, she became more distinct to him. He remembered the way she held her elbows as she walked, the way she favored her right ear, how the waist of her ao dai always seemed to be too high or too low. He hoped to find some excuse to visit her. She lived on the other side of the small valley, and he had no excuse to go that way. The next market day came sunny and especially warm. Everyone set up and sold as usual, they also kept an eye on the bend in the road. No one was ordering beer, and Trung stood, leaning on the bamboo support of the hut, looking between the spot on the road, to Thao, back to the spot on the road. A little brown smudge bobbed up above the edge of the horizon for a moment before it fell away. It popped up larger and closer, and, unmistakable, the old, crusty man was trudging along, a yoke across his shoulders, baskets dripping wet, creamy, brown mud. He took his market spot, and a gust of air, the exhalation of collective breath, escaped from the market. That third week Thao took him a donut and a small cup of tea, as would become her regular habit. Auntie Mai nodded at him when she passed. The butcher's children, six of them, whom no one could tell apart, walked by without even looking at him. The mud seller had become a part of the community, not because they'd welcomed him, but because they didn't want to decide to accept or reject him.
Over the next few weeks, the mud seller returned. Thao took him a small breakfast, and he sold nothing. Watching Thao sell her wares and tend to the old man, Trung's love grew. He rushed through his work, accomplished more than ever. Finally, his father stopped calling him lazy at dinner every night, stopped begrudging him another helping of rice. But every time Trung found some time, an hour in the middle of the day or a soggy hot afternoon, and started off down the road, his mother would call out. "First son," she'd call, "what about the pig fence?" or "First son, we need to have some more wood or bamboo or water or fix the roof, patch the hole in the back wall, clear out the fields for planting." The work seemed to bubble up from the earth to prevent Trung from taking a moment to talk to the one he could not stop thinking about. In midsummer, when Trung thought he could hardly stand being away from Thao one more hour, old woman Bac Thi came down the mountain to the village. Bac Thi lived in a sheltered valley north of town, out of the way of everything. She lived with some grandchildren. No one knew how many because she kept them hidden. Four of them had disappeared during the war, and she feared for the afterlife, that she'd be left to wander the spirit world hungry and cold, only getting a good meal on holidays when everyone felt obligated to offer prayers for ghosts. She kept her remaining family sequestered with her until she could die, then, she said, they could scatter to the winds. For the most part, no one ever saw or heard from any of them. They grew their own rice and fruit, hunted in the forest 23
for meat, and wore trousers until the pants were so thin, the fabric could be used for windowpanes. Twice a year, Bac Thi's thirst for fresh beer overcame her fear of discovery and she wandered into town. She sat all day at Trung's father's beer stall and drank beer after beer until dark. She would wander to the edge of the forest, barely able to stumble, and several pairs of hands would emerge from the thick undergrowth, lift her off her feet and, presumably, carry her home. When Trung answered the knock on the door and saw Bac Thi standing there, he knew he'd not get away that day. He'd have to sit and keep the old woman company. These visits were her chance to catch up on all the goings on of the village. She systematically asked him about everyone she'd known, and, if he didn't know something, she made him run off and find out. Sometimes he'd make up stories about certain people to avoid having to run all over the valley. After Bac Thi had finished asking about everyone she knew, she'd always asked the same question, "And what is new?" That year, Trung considered telling her about his love for Thao. It weighed on his heart heavily. Perhaps this woman was someone he could trust to keep his secret; she'd not have anyone else to tell. While he was considering the wisdom of this idea, he filled the silence by saying that a mud seller had been visiting on market days. "A what?" Bac Thi leaned over the table and looked more attentive and awake than she should have after drinking six or eight or eleven beers. "A mud seller,â&#x20AC;? Trung said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I mean, he doesn't sell any mud. He just sets up two little baskets on the edge of the market street and sits there all day. Then he goes home." 24
"How long has he been coming?" she asked. "Does anyone talk to him? What does he look like?" Before Trung could answer, Bac Thi called for Trung's mother. Thinking something had happened, Trung's mother rushed from inside the house. "Why didn't you tell me a mud seller was come to town?" Bac Thi demanded. "What are you babbling about, grandmother? He's just a crazy old man. Harmless as a summer cloud." Trung's mother gave her son a reproving look and told him to go fetch some noodle soup for Grandmother Bac Thi. Before Trung could leave, the old lady grabbed his forearm. "Has anyone bought anything from him?" she asked. "No, grandmother," Trung said. "Of course not," his mother said. "Who would be foolish enough for that?" "There are many fools in this world, you know." Then Bac Thi did something she never did, she stood up to leave in the middle of the day. "Where are you going old woman?" Trung's mother was as surprised as he was. Bac Thi started to gather her things. "My grandmother used to tell me a saying." She spread her fingers wide. "Fourth month begins the Summer A hard month in the hills Carrying, moving, the deep mud, In old baskets through the streams to the valley." Bac Thi shuffled away. "What does that mean?" Trung asked. "It's just a poem, grandmother," his mother said and waved for Bac Thi to sit down again. Bac Thi shook her fingers and
walked away. "She meant it as a warning," she called over her shoulder. "Don't let anyone buy anything from him." She wandered off into the woods but there were no hands to pick her up. "Crazy old woman," Trung's mother muttered and returned into the house to finish her nap. Trung watched Bac Thi disappear into the forest and realized he had an entire afternoon to himself. He quickly made his way down the road to Thao's side of town. It seemed the whole village was asleep. It was still a time when it was not quite proper for a young man to visit a young woman, when they shouldn't be alone together unless they were already engaged. Trung made his way to Thao's house without seeing anyone. Her house was behind a screen of bamboo with a small goat yard to one side. The four goats were drowsy from the heat and made no noise as Trung made his way to the back. He'd not been to Thao's house since he was a child. The back yard sloped down to a rocky stream. Thao had set up a loom in the back room, and often sat on a stool, propelling her shuttle back and forth, singing low to herself. When Trung rounded the corner, he stood and watched a moment. Now that he had his chance, he had no idea what to do. He'd concentrated so long on getting to Thao's house, he'd not thought about what he should do when he arrived. He cleared his throat, but Thao did not look up. He tried again and shuffled his feet in the gravel. She turned and let out a little yell. "Sorry, sister Thao. I didn't mean to startle you," he said. "Brother Trung. For a moment you looked like someone else. What
are you doing here? Has something happened?" "No, not at all. It's just so hot." "Yes?" Thao stood and took a step forward. "Do you want some tea?" "I thought I'd come and walk in the stream to cool off." "But," Thao took another step forward, "a stream runs past your house too?" "Yes, I know." Trung shuffled his feet. He was a foolish, young man. "It's just that the stream on this side of the village is colder than the one near my house." "Oh." Thao understood. She'd knew Trung stared at her. "Are you hot?" he asked. "What?" "I mean, would you benefit from some cool stream water too?" "Let me check on father." Thao stepped into her house and said something low to a bundle on the floor, then she returned just as quickly. They descended to the stream silently, removed their shoes, and walked in the chilly mountain water. After a few minutes, Thao sat on a large rock. "You've finished all your work for today? You always seem busy." Trung sat on another rock a few feet away. "Bac Thi came to visit, but she left early." "Left? She never leaves early." "I told her about the mud seller and she ran off. She said something about a rhyme her grandmother used to say. She said maybe the old man is a witch. 'Whatever you do,' she said, 'don't buy any of that mud.'" Trung laughed and ran his hand through the water, but Thao creased her forehead. "She said he was magic? That the mud was magic?" "Magic? No. You don't believe
in magic do you?" Trung wiped his hands on his trousers. "Do you have to believe in it for it to work?" But before Trung could answer, Thao stood. "I have to get back to father. Thank you." She started up the hill without waiting for him. "Wait." Trung saw his chances for declaring his love slipping away. When would he have another chance like this? Thao stopped to look down at him, still standing in the water. At a loss for what to say, all he could manage was, "When will I see you again?" "At market, of course. As always." And Trung might have lost all hope and died then, but Thao covered a smile with her hand. The following market day, Thao was set up in her stall and ready to sell.. Trung tended to his beer stall and stared at Thao longer than ever. That week he was rewarded with a return look, not a very long one, but it made his heart pound within him. The mud seller came just on time as he'd done for months. Trung hadn't talked to anyone about what Bac Thi had said, but his mother spread the news, not because she believed that the mud seller was dangerous but she thought Bac Thi was ridiculous and wanted to give evidence of the old woman's regressive ideas. "Someone should go up in the forest and tell those grandchildren the world is moving along without them," she said. But everyone answered her the same way: they'd find out soon enough. And while no one believed the mud seller was magic or dangerous, it was impossible not to watch him a little closer that Sunday. No one did know where he came from. Could you live in the forest with no food
and no family for so long and never be heard from until you were an old, crazy man? Should someone have reported him? Should they have not talked to him? Could they get in trouble? Everyone was careful not to look in his direction. If anyone asked, they would say, "What man? A man selling mud? In our village? What a ridiculous idea! If I'd have noticed something so peculiar, don't you think I would have reported it? I'll certainly be more diligent in the future." Could it also be the old man knew something about that mud that no one else did? Everyone could use a little luck, maybe some money or health or happiness. But watching that crusty, dirty creature crouch next to his baskets of wet dirt, everyone shook a chin and went back to business. Everyone but Thao. She spread a blanket over her display and, fetching donut and cup of tea as usual, walked to the mud seller. He drank half the tea, stuffed the donut in his mouth, then washed it down with the rest of the tea. Thao took back the small ceramic cup, but instead of walking away she knelt beside the old man. Trung certainly noticed. The whole village noticed. There were no witches, they all told themselves, but that didn't mean they should be tempting fate. Lighting joss sticks as you passed the divergent point in the road to ensure a good journey didn't mean you believed it would protect your mind from splitting in two, it meant that you respected the ancestors, respected their traditions and built up your native culture. If it appeased someone somewhere, a spirit or a person, what did that matter, what could it hurt? You didn't step into trouble though, and it certainly looked like Thao was trying to step into trouble. Trung, still an 25
impetuous youth, not the wise, observant and careful man he would become, put down the half-empty beer cup and strode the length of the market to intervene. He arrived in time to see Thao press some notes into the old man's hand and see the muddy creature hand Thao a weighty bag of mud. Thao stood and confronted him with her wide open face, closer than he'd ever stood to her. "Good morning, brother Trung," Thao said. "No one wants beer this morning?" Trung took hold of his own mind. "What's that in your hand, little sister?" he asked. Thao smiled. "Auntie Binh's teacup. I have to take it back." "Not that," Trung said. "Maybe it's mud." Thao no longer smiled. "Maybe it's something else." "The material world is what really matters," Trung said. "Mud is all good and fine, but you have plenty of mud at your house. Do you need to dirty your hands with this?" "There's a second verse to the rhyme that Bac Thi said." Thao's breath came. She noticed the market had stopped to watch her. "In midsummer," Thao began and lifted her voice, "when the sun is high and hot, The stream heats, the birds droop, Then the old mountain will offer goodness, Circle to circle, life and death again. Have you heard that before? That's the rest of the riddle." The market was quiet. "Who told you that?" Trung asked. "My father," Thao answered. For the second time in his life Trung felt something stab at his heart. It was not a spark but a 26
drop of cold water. It must have fallen from very high because he winced a little when it struck him, the coldness spread down into his organs, throughout his body, until even the tips of his fingers and toes were cold. Thao, looking in his eyes, saw the cool drop pass over his face. She turned away. The market was subdued then. For the first time, the mud seller packed up his wares before the rest. He walked with the heavy yoke on his shoulders, the mud still slick and wet, but with a large scoop missing. He walked up and down the rows of fruits and eggs and meats. Trung watched him. Trung did not understand the numb feeling he felt, the cold, hard feeling that lay down at the bottom of his bowels. He tried to catch the mud seller's eye as he passed, but the old man kept his face down and walked up the hill, around the bend and away from the town. The day was gloomy. Everyone packed and left the market under a cloud. Trung could only take surreptitious glances at Thao until, finally, when he looked for her, she was already gone. The next day was no better. A cold wind blew in from the high mountains. It was too late in the season for such cold, the fruit trees all drooped and low brown clouds swept across the sky. Trung's mother tried to talk about bad omens, but Trung's father would not allow it. Everyone was in a bad mood. Trung tried several times to get away and visit Thao. Overnight, a hot wind from the south blew and the morning was clear and clean. The wind was strong and hot, everything was dry and dusty by sunrise. Trung was awake to see the sun rise over the trees.
He wiped the benches and tables of the beer stall, willing Thao to come down the road, ready to drop his rag and meet her. He knew, crouching in the bottom of his heart like some wild, dark animal, that she would not appear. The villagers were on edge, thankful for the dry day, but uneasy about what such weather might portend. His mother hovered in the doorway watching him. Trung muttered. "What's did you say?" his mother asked. She was wringing a rag. "He hasn't always appeared," he answered her. "He is a newcomer." "What are you waiting for? Go." It was then he realized his mother understood the world in ways he never imagined. Before she could finish, Trung was running down the center of the hamlet. He was young, able to consume a meter in one stride. He reached Thao's bamboo shade and stopped. The bamboo was shiny as wax, rippling in the wind. He walked slowly around the barrier. Nothing looked any different. He called for Thao. Everything was still. One thing had changed. Along the back wall were faint, brown circles. Mud applied to every available space over and over. He called for Thao again. There was movement in the house, and Trung stepped inside. It was too dark to see. The bundle near the door was gone. He heard her shuffling before he could see anything. Then he smelled wet earth and ashes. Her voice came from the dark. "Do you think it is a matter of good and bad, Trung?" "Come out in the light, Thao." He answered. "When I asked father, he said he didn't know, but we can't change what comes in the future. That's
when I started to believe, I think." Her voice was very low. "It didn't work until today. 'When the sun is high and hot.'" "Come out and let me see you, Thao." Trung stepped forward and stubbed his toe on a ceramic bowl. Its sides were coated with a dried mud. Thao shuffled. "He didn't explain what it all meant. You know how these things work. They speak in riddles. They can't see into the future either." Thao moved forward. "Otherwise, they would use their own magic." She was without clothes, but it took Trung a moment to realize this because she'd covered her entire body with a thin layer of mud. Across her face, her hair, up and down every limb and all across her torso. "Thaoâ&#x20AC;Ś" was all Trung could manage. "Father's gone." She walked past him into the sun. Trung watched her pass. "I'm sorry," he said. "Not like that. I spread the mud on him like he said. Father stood up and walked away. He walked into the future." Trung wasn't sure if Thao had been poisoned with medicine or a spell. "Look here." She pointed at the grass. There was an unsteady set of footprints. Smears of mud on the grass, getting fainter and fainter until they disappeared near the stream. "Do you think I believe in it, Trung?" She turned to him. Trung stepped closer. He should have taken her firmly then and pulled her back to the present, should have held on to her body and pulled her mind back from the edges, but he was young. Stupid. How did he know what would
happen? How could he have understood what went beyond the material world then? It was impossible for him to know. They stood face to face. As Trung looked in her eyes, his body was hollowed out. Thao lifted her arms and placed a hand on each side of his face. Her hands were hot, feverish, and the mud burned his face a little. She dropped her arms and turned away, began to walk toward the stream. Trung watched her go. Just as she reached the edge, she turned back and looked at him. "Where are you going?" is all he could manage. "To the future," she said. She stepped into the cold mountain stream. The mud on her legs began to wash away like smoke in the water, swirling around the stones they'd sat on before. The dirt mixed with the water and dispersed into nothing. A few feet downstream, the effluvia became indistinguishable from the leaves and sticks and little ripples of the stream. Thao was not being washed clean, instead, she, along with the mud, was disappearing. As she sank into the water, her body was washed away, as if she were made only of mud, a soft clay body that could be dissolved. Trung flew to the stream, but just as he made it to the edge, Thao disappeared under the surface, her hair floating up to the top before it, too, dissipated into nothingness. Trung pawed at the water, he splashed and moved stones and flew down the length of the stream to look for her body, but she was gone. Trung searched for Thao all afternoon. He ran back to the village to tell everyone he could, and for days and weeks after, the villagers investigated. The mud seller did not come back that Sunday, even as everyone waited for him. The village
spread the word, and many people were looking for Thao or her father or an old man carrying a yoke with two baskets of mud, but none of them could be located. Thao's house was covered with brown mud circles on every surface. No one wanted the house and it fell quickly into disrepair. Trung left the village soon after, along with his brothers. Two of them never returned. Trung's father died; the world moved forward. No one ever heard of Thao or the mud seller. Trung told the story over and over, but he didn't know if his telling was meant to be a warning or a way to find, in telling the story over and over, a new ending, a different future, a way to stop Thao from disappearing into nothing.
van Faute is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago Program for Writers. His recent prose appears in Crack the Spine and Origami Journal as well as a variety of print journals. His stage adaptation of Cris Mazzâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;a novella Disability will appear as part of the Planet Connections Festivity in New York this summer. His plays have also been produced in Chicago, San Diego, and smaller cities. He is currently a Lecturer in English at Christopher Newport University.
Someone moved my coffee cup, I’m sure of it. No, officer, nobody lives with me or has my key. Someone broke into my home, I tell you. My laundry was scattered everywhere, too. My dining table turned over. Someone was in my home! I don’t care if you can’t find any prints. Don’t you know burglars use gloves? Maybe they covered their tracks, too. I don’t know how they would’ve gotten in. I keep my doors and windows locked. I may be an old woman, but I’m not stupid. Yes, I’ll be fine tonight. I’d appreciate it if you patrolled the neighborhood; they could still be out there. Yes, I’ll call you if I notice anything else. My glasses are just fine, Sandra. You shouldn’t act that way to me; I’m your mother! I know someone was here. My trinkets were moved—you know how I am about my trinkets. I like my trinkets neat and organized. Samson is a cat, Sandra, he can’t knock over a table! He’s not fat, he only eats twice a day. There was a person in my house, a real person. No, nothing seems to be missing. Maybe they just didn’t find anything they wanted. Don’t talk about my trinkets that way. I’ve been collecting them all my life. Your father got those for me. Officer, my music box is gone this time and the window is broken. What do they want with an old woman? My cushions are all over the floor, too. I told you I didn’t see anyone. I was taking a nap. They could have killed me! Why haven’t you found them yet? Maybe I will look into that security system. Did you find blood? Well, they must 28
have used something to break the window then. What’s that? You found my music box? They must have dropped it outside when they ran away! I’m not bothering the police, Sandra. This is a real investigation! I’m worried and you should be too. If you hadn’t moved so far away, maybe you could come here and see how they’re making a mess of my house! I already told you it isn’t Samson doing this. Samson knows better than to mess with my trinkets. He sleeps most of the day anyhow. No, it isn’t a raccoon. My doors and windows are always locked. You know how I make sure to lock up. Hello? Yes, I need to see about getting a security system. Two hundred dollars for installation? My, that’s expensive. I agree, a worthy investment. I’ll take it. Seventy dollars a month, too? Is that with the senior discount? Well, alright. I need it this week. Thank you. I don’t know how this keeps happening. How are they getting in, officer? Past my security system? I already told you, nobody has my key. I keep it in my purse. Right here, I’ll show you. Only my daughter has a copy. No, she lives three states away and hasn’t visited in years. Why would they break my china? It was a wedding present from 1965! No, nothing else seems to be broken or missing. Why didn’t the alarm go off? I already told you, I live alone! Why do you want my daughter’s phone number? Oh, Sandra, I’m so happy you’re here! I’ve missed you. You brought
cameras? That’s a good idea. Shouldn’t we put them on the outside? That’s right, we should see them better inside. Put one right here, by my trinkets. Be careful, that snow globe is very special. Your father gave it to me for our thirtieth anniversary. Yes, right there by the angel statue. I know her wing is broken. I’ve been meaning to get some glue. What would you like for dinner? I can make your favorite, chicken and dumplings! What do you mean they’re not your favorite? Well, they used to be. Virginia changed you too much. Sandra, wake up! It happened again. All of the cabinets are opened! My dishes and pans are everywhere! I didn’t hear anything, I was asleep. I’m going to call the police! Why should we wait? Oh, the cameras. How do you check these cameras? I don’t know what a memory card is. Let me get us some lemonade while you fiddle with those gadgets. You’ve got it ready now? Okay, let us find out who’s doing this. Why, that’s me! What kind of cameras are these? I know good and well I was asleep, not tearing up my own house! That’s crazy! You think I broke my window and my music box? I don’t like that tone of voice, young lady! There’s no way I did that to my own trinkets and my own house! I’m not still upset over your father, it’s been three years and I’m fine on my own! Now you think I should be in an old folks’ home? Well, thanks a lot, my daughter! I can’t have this discussion anymore.
I need to lie down. No, I don’t want to hear about the activities at Hidden Oaks. I don’t even want to be here. That breakfast time is too early. You’re not coming to visit me, Sandra, don’t tell stories. I don’t want a roommate. I want to be alone. I’m not participating in those activities. Where will I put my trinkets? I can’t get rid of my trinkets, Sandra. You know how I like my trinkets.
aura Widener is a wife, mother, and coffee addict living in rural Georgia. She completed her MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University. Her previous work can be found in TWJ Magazine, Morpheus Tales, and more.
Above Image: “Alwyn VII” by Pam McLean-Parker
Elder Mistrust Samuel Cole
Hey there, gramps. My English professor mentioned you in class today is what I think I hear my granddaughter say over the cellular telephone tucked between my right shoulder and ever-softening jaw line. At my age, and in my condition, talking on the phone while simultaneously decapitating green sprigs from the tops of ripe strawberries requires the cunning mélange of centrifuge eyes and ambidextrous wrists, which, much like my hearing, worked a lot better in my mid-seventies. But I always take her call, even when I’m fruitlessly wielding a sharp, pointed instrument with my one good hand. I figured she’d mention you at some point is what I think I hear her say as I mumble a reply, my only option anymore, my communication system eternally distorted by buzzing, clanging, and a continual popping sensation in both eardrums. God, I miss hearing the credulous lilt in her voice. Like a Mariposa Lily emerging from desert sand. More, the television volume in the living room is turned up to one-hundred percent because I refuse to wear hearing aids and because I am interested in the subject matter. If some half-wit in Estes Park, Colorado, wants to give me a power chair for free (in most cases) heaven forbid I stand in Medicare’s way. I’m terminal, not naïve. I oughta jot down the one-eight-hundred number except I can never find a writing utensil. JoAnn, my daughter, hides them. A tactic meant to induce exercise. JoAnn’s always had an affinity for playing hide-andseek. I’m not bitter, nor do I shame her for being obsessive-compulsive. 32
We’re too much alike—two bottomless wishing wells devoid of a sturdy bucket or a tight rope. My professor said you were really dense in your day is what I think I hear her say as I notice a new stack of bills sitting on the center island. JoAnn bought me from the dollar store a spongy-tip water-dotter so as to make it easier for me to seal my bills, walk them to the mailbox, and raise the red flag. Doctor Pleshanko’s lab reports confirm a compromised circulatory system. JoAnn has threatened to stick me in the malodourous nursing home at the edge of town if I don’t go outside at least once a day. As a boy, I could spit water like an archer fish. One time in grade school, I bet my friends a full carton of cigarettes that I could spit twelve feet, six inches. Or was it seven? No, it was six. Regardless, now I can barely work up enough saliva to lick the roof of my mouth. Age really does make you dry. My professor said her father worshipped you is what I think I hear her say when I spot my leather wallet cowering beneath the table, gutted and stretched out like taffy. I worry for the person who could commit such a cruel, surreptitious act. I oughta care more about cash. But I’m no good at math either. She wrote your name on the white board and then underlined the title of your book twice is what I think I hear her say when the room becomes dizzy, forcing me to set the cellular telephone on the table and turn on speaker mode. I stick my head between my legs and knock over the black tray table holding the phone book: Joann’s phone number circled
like a windstorm in red pen. I’m glad she remembers my forgetfulness. The crash of the tray makes me smile. At least I can still feel vibration in my one good foot. It sounds like somebody is slamming doors, gramps. Is mom there? is what I think I hear her say as I bring the cellular telephone up to my big, cold ear. Even as a burgeoning teenager in the winter of 1942, cutting down White Pine trees with my father and his bearded crew of sardine smelling men, my ears were big and cold. I’ve always been disproportionately generous in all the wrong places. Last January, waiting hatless for the old people’s bus to come pick me up and transport me downtown to the aquarium where I get to watch sea creatures watch me watch them swim around in a big blue tank, I heard the red-haired boy across the street tell his mother how much I look like a prehistoric gargantuan. He’s right. Call it like you see it. That’s what I do. Or did. When I could. When I told the class you were my grandpa the teacher just about swallowed her glasses is what I think I hear her say when I stand and limp my way to the front door. A delightful wind nibbles my neck the way Sheila, my wife, used to nibble during long, quixotic weekends at the lake house—a time when feeling numb was a good thing. God, I yearn for her signature touch, her thick scent of femininity huddled up against my skin, her morning shuffle beside my novel gait up and down Sycamore Street on pain-free bare feet we took for granted. My poor hands—misshapen barnacles of
Previous Image: “Old Bridge at Fairmount Park” by Rinal Parikh
smoking-arthritis. My poor fingers— all ten have forgotten their names. After class, my teacher asked me if you were still writing, but I didn’t tell her what happened to you, gramps is what I think I hear her say as I press my Skechers (with memory foam) tennis shoes into the dew-laden grass and stare into the eyes of mistress sun, heavens loveliest paramour who continues to offer herself up for the carnal pleasure of mankind. Beauty really is for the taking. My teacher said she heard something about your stroke but wasn’t sure how accurate the information was, given the source is what I think I hear her say as I step indoors, shut the front door, and pull my leg in the direction of the bedroom, leaving the strawberries in the bowl on the kitchen sink for whatever hungry critters might eat here overnight. I nod at the silver-tip knife dripping red juice on the white countertop, neither bloody enough to file fake charges nor thick enough to congeal into anything useful. The clock in the hallway is perpetually stuck on seven-thirty, proving how little I care anymore about revolution. I stumble to the toilet seat and take an emasculating pee, glad that Sheila isn’t here to see how shriveled up my bladder, balls, and beard hairs have become. I blow my nose into a t-shirt. As much paper as I’ve wasted over the years, it’s the least I can do. My teacher wanted me to convey her sympathy and ask if you might sign for the silent auction this fall a few copies of your book Pandemic Seeds of Murmuration, which she says is her total favorite of all time is what I think I hear her say as I lie on the mattress and settle into the thick impressions my body has carved over three decades, ten years now without Sheila, who left me alone with the
living task of spreading each year a few more of her autumnal ashes amongst the springtime flowerbeds, living well and thriving from her death. God, I long to see her again, to leap bombastic bones between the clouds and ascend into heaven. If you could do that for me, gramps, I’d be uber-appreciative is what I think I hear her say as I close my eyes and mumble goodbye: I have nothing more to say; nothing else to write; nothing left to do. I’ve signed my moniker to everything Joann and my sweet granddaughter need to prosper. My epilogue, however embellished, is ready for print. Just sign the books and give them to mom when you see her next Friday and then she can send them to me ASAP. Is that okay, gramps? gramps. Grandpa. Grandpa Joe. Grandpa Joe.
amuel Cole lives in Woodbury, MN, where he finds work in special event management. He is a poet, flash fiction geek, and essayist enthusiast. His work has appeared in many literary journals. He is also a prize-winning card maker and scrapbooker.
My father had driven out to the airport to pick up his younger brother Ché, who was arriving for the first time from Puerto Rico. His brothers Eddie and Ismael were also in the car. They, too, had followed my father to Hartford; as the oldest brother, he helped them find work. Headed back to the city, they passed around a bottle of rum and laughed. The windows were cracked and their cigarette smoke drifted in the lights of the oncoming cars before winding out the windows. My father took a long drink, listened to his swallows. Only after he let out a deep breath did he hear Ché’s shaking voice, hear his name over and over and over, Cha-ging, Cha-ging, Cha-ging. He pulled to the side of the road. He switched on the overhead light. In the backseat, Ché had a cassette case opened on his lap. He raised his head, looked at my father, and held out handfuls of money, his hands trembling as if the bills burned his fingers. Imagine the inside of the terminal: the row of blue seats, the scattered newspapers, the empty paper coffee cups, and there, under the edge of a magazine, the brown cassette case. Ché had never stolen a thing in his life, not even a mango from a stranger’s tree or a pack of gum. That fraction of a second, excited and happy to see his brothers, warm from their embraces, Ché grabbed what seemed—sitting there alone on a seat—a gift of welcome. Back in the car, I can still hear Ché’s shaking voice, and feel the cold air on my face slipping through the opened windows, swirling with wonder and 34
promise and my father’s smile. My father begins his story again. We are eating dinner, bowls of rice with red beans in front of us, a dish of fried chicken in the middle of the table, the pieces steaming, pepper flecked. Next to my father’s plate is a glass of water and a short bottle filled with small yellow, green, and orange peppers. They float in vinegar and pineapple juice, salt and pepper, bits of garlic. My father pauses, takes a long drink of water. Sprinkles the pepper sauce over his plate. Eats a few spoonfuls. Once again he repeats his name three times, becomes Ché, his arms and shoulders shaking as he holds out his empty, trembling hands. He laughs, picks up his spoon. Over $1,500. It’s incredible, he says. He mentions the Numbers, the mafia. There was no one around. All that money sitting there for free. He sometimes became talkative at dinner. Mostly his face was turned down to his plate, his spoon quickly raised to his mouth, his plate clean in four or five minutes. He’d get the hiccups and leave the table, head back out to tend to his garden or work on a car. There were times where he ate slowly, looked around, told stories of his dreams: fantastic events, sea horses as tall as our refrigerator galloping over the Caribbean. And always stories of work. Sometimes the hot pepper sauce was in a pint bottle of rum and I knew then it was homemade, given to my father from someone who had recently returned from the island. Sometimes I found peppers tucked
under the skin of a chicken leg, deep in the red sauce of beans, hiding at the bottom of my rice. I might be laughing at something he said, my mouth full of food. Or, more likely than not, I was quiet—the whole table quiet—my father bent over his plate. My mouth suddenly tingled with heat, and then it grew as if a match had been struck on the back of my tongue. Searing, hot pain, my eyes beginning to tear. I drained my water only for the heat to soar, scorching. My father stopped eating and sat there with the biggest smile. He started laughing, his eyes wrinkled, his cheeks flushed. He didn’t seem to do this out of meanness. He really thought it was funny. I accepted it because anything was better than his silence. He was never much of a talker, but he could express his rage easily, his knuckles quickly striking the top of my head. The peppers hidden in my food were meant to say: I am thinking of you. Never, never waste a bowl of rice. I learned to wait for this loving pain. Wondered where it might be hidden, waited to feel the rising heat, followed his eyes and mouth and hands. Often, nothing happened. Then, as he sat there quietly, I wished he’d say anything. My father scrapes the last pearls of rice from his bowl. There is no conclusion to his story. If there’s a purpose, it only reminds me that money will never be mine to find. I close my eyes, remember my father at the table, and wait for his voice. I listen to it like the rhythm of my breath—breathing in, breathing
outâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;gulping air as I try to cool the fire beginning to burn.
red Arroyo is the author of The Region of Lost Names and Western Avenue and Other Fictions, which have both received wide acclaim. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s currently completing a book of nonfiction stories, Shadows of Palms, and is at work on a new book of fiction. A recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, Fred has published widely in a variety of literary journals, and is included in the anthologies Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing and The Colors of Nature: Essays on Culture, Identity and the Natural World.
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