rathalla review Vo l . 2 , I s s u e 2
Rosemont College MA in Publishing and MFA in Creative Writing Programs
rathalla review Vo l . 2 , I s s u e 1 S t a f f
Assistant Managing Editor
Creative Nonfiction Editor Tara Lynn Johnson
Alan Beyersdorf Tori Bond David Carpenter Maria Ceferatti Sarah Clark Kara Cochran Rosie Corey Christian Cornier
Selection Staff Christopher Davis Cheryl Dellasega Carol Dwyer Emily Gavigan Tara Lynn Johnson Donna Keegan Joe Lerro Emily London
Cindy McGroarty Matt McKiernan
Jane McNeil Ian Oâ€™Neill Michael Pfister Sharon Ritrovato Susan Ruhl
Featured Artist Paloma Pucci
Fiction A Visit to the Old House Lynn Levin
How You Know Shuly Cawood
Perpetually Moving Diane Payne
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Poetry Labor of Love
We Had Lots of Songs
O, How I Had It All Wrong
Tina Tocco Tina Tocco
An Interview with Randall Brown
All written work in Rathalla Review remains copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced in any form, printed or digital, without express permission of the author.
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Featured Artist: Paloma Pucci Paloma Pucci was born in Lima, Peru in 1988. She graduated from Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American School of Lima. Here, she took part in her first collective exhibit as part of an IB Art class. Soon after finishing school at the age of 17, she transferred to Buenos Aires for a short period of time. In 2007 she transferred to Salamanca, Spain, where she enrolled in the University of Salamanca Art History program. In this environment she discovered her passion for body painting and started organizing small private body painting events. In 2009, she received an 9-month ERASMUS scholarship, so, knowing but a few words in Italian , she moved to Siena, Italy. It took a day in that beautiful medieval city for her to decide to stay and continue her studies. After two years of never-ending bureaucratic battles, she managed to enroll permanently in the Universita degli Studi di Siena and obtained her degree in 2013 in Cultural Heritage Studies (Scienze dei beni culturali- curriculum storico-artistico) with a thesis on Cusqueñan colonial art. In the meantime, she became the only body painter in Siena, and has been invited to and organized many body painting events, one of which was a group interpretation of Picasso’s Guernica in 2012. She is currently enrolled in the “Laurea Specialistica” (Second level degree) in Modern Art History, and has recently concluded an internship in the restoration laboratory of the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena. She has also started another internship as an assistant/translator in the planning of a codicology and Latin paleography course in Ciudad del Mexico. She is now learning French as her fourth language and is moving to Paris in September to start her career all over again, applying to the Institut National du Patrimoine in order to study art restauration and conservation.
We leave our home, our country, and we start our journey, uncertain and alone. We travel from country to country and change lives. We change country again, we change language, we change school, we change house, and we change jobs. Then we travel, we change, and we keep on travelling, and changing. And then… we do it all over again, until we get tired of wanting to move constantly, of being in a constant state of crisis, of change, confusion, self-awareness, and awareness of others. Those “others” remain the only constant of our eternal journey. They are people or small fragments of moments and words, randomly combined in order to remind us of every ship-wreck and of every safe landing. They are the people that we have left behind, those that inhabit our present, and those that we’ll probably meet in the future. We will continue our journey as homeless travelers, but they will always remain embedded in our footsteps, for they are Permanent Residents of our memory.
All artwork in this issue of Rathalla Review copyright Paloma Pucci and may not be reproduced in any form, printed or digital.
Labor of Love The scene is set in the middle of nowhere, A hotel room draped in Best Western swag, Luxury shot like a flare out of Colorado flatland fields. My mother pacing. How do you justify it? She likens my acceptance of pornography to a tolerance for rape. I swelled in your womb, But built my own kaleidoscope brain, My own design, so it seems, Foreign in your hands.
Ellie Swensson Ellie Swensson is currently an MFA candidate at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado. She is inspired by and drawn to the intersections of communal and individual identity and the constant struggle to balance the two. She works as a Writing Fellow and is an editor of Naropa’s student publication, SEMICOLON.
All I feel is the space where my love should reside, A privileged presence replaced by echoes And a fading bite mark accenting her beautiful bones. The hour glass I left in Columbus, Set for two years, Out of sight, but in mind with each gravity stricken grain. Justify it. Bring me the thunder, Her silent, shaking thunder, Her breath, her heart, her gracious metronome pulse. But for now it’s the woman who bore me And sent me wet and reeling into a world we seldom share. I’ll wash my hands clean and bury it again, More hours that I can’t pass through, Thick as blood. The loneliness here is matched only by the sanctuary that greets me With every rising sun, Effortless union with the souls I was taught did not exist, Sweating, passionate, battling bodies with purpose filled tongues Natural and inevitable as fertile tides. This work is never done; That umbilical clamp failed us both, So it seems, You are still cradling your arms to fit my fall. Save your strength for yourself. I am steady.
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How You Know Shuly Cawood Shuly Cawood is a writer and editor, and she’s currently in the MFA creative writing program at Queens University. Her creative writing has appeared in publications such as COMMUNITY JOURNAL, PEGASUS REVIEW, MOVING OUT, HELIX LITERARY MAGAZINE, JOHNSON CITY PRESS, THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY (now INDYWEEK), RED EARTH REVIEW, and NAUGATUCK RIVER REVIEW.
From the moment we met, I didn’t like her. I knew I was supposed to. After all, my husband, Preston, and I had been waiting for her for months, and we had talked on and on about how much joy she would add to our lives. I wanted to like her. I planned to like her. But I didn’t. We stood in the parking lot of Mize’s Farm and Garden on a cold and dreary Friday. She glanced up at me with her yellow-brown eyes, sniffed me a few times, but moments later caught the scent of something else and wiggled away. She tugged at the leash that Preston held, and as he gripped it to make sure she didn’t run off, he said, “What do you think?” He was beaming, and I wanted to say the perfect thing to make my husband of a year and a half happy, but I could think of nothing enthusiastic to say that was truthful. I had half-expected our new pup to come bounding toward me and to instantly fall in love with me, the person who worked at home and who would therefore be the one taking care of her most of the day. But she hadn’t even wagged her tail. At 14 weeks old, her entire ten-pound body was covered with brown ringlets, except for her white chest and the white tip of her tail. Clearly, with her round muzzle and round paws, she looked cuddly the day I met her outside of Mize’s, but I can only see that now, through the lens of three years. She isn’t even cute, I thought back then. She looked like a brown blob and a lot of work, and by the time 24 hours rolled around, my feelings had intensified. I couldn’t stand her. She whimpered, she whined, she howled and howled when I tried to put her in her crate. She wandered and tugged when I tried to walk her on a leash, and I couldn’t tell when she had to pee, so I took her out every half-hour. She hated the cold, so she wouldn’t do a thing until we got back into the warmth of the house, and then she squatted, and I wailed. *** I grew up with one dog, a German Shepherd my father bought without my mother’s permission. “Let’s just go look,” he coaxed when he heard a farm was selling shepherd puppies. “We won’t buy.” My mother agreed, not knowing they would return from the farm with Sable curled in my father’s lap in the front seat as he drove. Sable was a golden German Shepherd, which meant she had mostly yellow fur without the typical black shades. She was the gentlest of the litter, and my father fell flat for her, as did I. At four years old, I spent my every waking moment with Sable, and I didn’t understand canines were a different species than humans.
Witnessing suffering throttles the heart. If you’ve never watched something or someone struggle toSable and I romped in the snow and in the grass. ward death, count yourself lucky. We played hide-and-seek. I leaned on her during *** long car rides and fell asleep nestled into her fur. I dressed her in scarves and sunglasses, and I told her my secrets, whispering into her soft ears so no When I met Preston, and as I fell in love with him, I also fell for his two older Jack Russell terriers, one else could hear. We grew up together. Barney and Boog. By the time I met them, the stoWhen I was 17, Sable’s hips gave out, slowly at ries of them digging their way out of the yard and first, then suddenly, until the day my father came biting people had morphed into myth. Barney had home from the vet with just a leash, his head bent lost most of his teeth and he depended on Boog to alert him to doorbells and visitors since he was by toward the ground. then nearly deaf. And if Boog had ever loved to After that, I didn’t pet people’s dogs, I didn’t coo take long walks or run, she had lost all that zest at them, and I certainly didn’t ooh and aah over by the time I knew her. She was content to loll puppy pictures. If we passed a dog, I looked the around on plush doggie beds that I bought for her other way. I would remember Sable struggling to and Barney. get up from the brown pillow she slept on, setting her front legs firmly on the ground while her back After Preston and I married and I moved into his legs quivered, and that memory was enough to house in Johnson City, the dogs slept near my desk while I worked as a writer from home. I was turn me away for a decade. happy for their quiet, to see their bellies rise and *** fall in the afternoon sun. I believed when I grew up, I would be a dog.
Sable’s death was a knot in a string of deaths in my life right around then: my Great Aunt Eloise, a feminist before there were feminists in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and a voracious reader who once read Gone with the Wind cover to cover one night while sitting on the toilet; my maternal grandmother (and the only grandparent I ever knew), who lived in Mexico, wore dark scarves to cover her neck wrinkles, and wouldn’t smile when she laughed so as not to create lines around her mouth; and a high school classmate, who flew out of the backseat of a car after the driver lost control on Route 68 between Xenia, Ohio and our hometown of Yellow Springs, because she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, because it was after midnight, and with five high school kids in the car, they must not have been paying attention.
But we knew Barney’s life was heading toward its end. He began pacing the living room and kitchen with no apparent aim. He walked to walls then stared at them, inches away, for five seconds before realizing where he was and that he needed to turn around. He was beginning to forget where the doggie door was from the backyard so that he wandered and wandered, cutting a path in the grass along the porch, unable to find his way back inside. Winter was coming. Preston and I took a deep breath and tried to come up with a plan.
That’s how the idea of a pup came. At best, a puppy would bring a young energy to Barney and hopefully prod him to move more and play. At the very least, the new dog would be a companion to Boog once Barney died. Barney was two years older than Boog and she had never known a life And because life took things away in instants I did without him. not yet understand. The puppy was our way of holding onto things All those deaths meant more than Sable’s death we could not keep for long: possibility and hope. because they were people in my life, but they *** were less real because they were sudden. I hadn’t watched any of them crawl to life’s tough end. My two relatives lived so many miles away that the “I don’t want a frou-frou dog,” Preston said when news of their passing seemed more like story than we talked about the type we wanted. He sat at his truth, and my classmate’s death I heard of and desk scrolling through breed lists on the computcould picture. But I hadn’t watched her, my great er. I sat on the couch nearby. aunt, or my grandmother suffer. “So a Yorkie is out?” I loved the idea of a pintsized dog I could scoop into my palm.
“Yes.” “How about a Bichon Frisé?” I adored the puff of white fur, and we had decided we wanted a low-shedding dog since Preston had discovered over the years that his eyes watered and itched every time he touched the Jack Russells then touched his face before washing his hands.
people in hospitals, retirement homes, and, in our case, the funeral home that he owned and managed.
But the puppy – we named her Kibbi – wasn’t so great with anyone. When people first saw her, they said, “Oh, how darling!” When they bent down to pet her, she flinched, shrank down, and then urinated, to my great annoyance. When we took “Small dogs like that are notoriously hard to her to our veterinarian that first day, and she saw housebreak.” how scared Kibbi was of everyone, the vet told us, “You’d better socialize her really well, really fast. “Well, I want a dog I can pick up,” I said. If you don’t, she’ll become a fear biter.” This was because of my friend, Scott, and his black lab, Abby. The two of them went hiking one Sat- Great. Just what I needed. urday in Linville Gorge, trotting along the trails *** together, Abby’s tail wagging, until they reached the water below. They rested for a while before be- I had no idea how to train a puppy, much less ginning their ascent, as Abby was older by then, what to do with one all day. She yowled and and Scott, too, needed a break. But soon after they meddled and whined and had no clue where her started their return trek, Abby stopped. Her legs “bathroom” was. were wobbly and she couldn’t make it up. The sun had already begun to slip behind the trees. Scott Preston always says he married me because I’m knew he didn’t have time to hike back alone and warm and kind, but that dog brought out every get help, so he did the only thing he could think shadow side of my personality, all my worst traits of: he picked up Abby and carried her miles, up- shoving forward. I lost my patience with her constantly, swatting her on the butt when she sank hill, back to his truck. her teeth into any garments we left accidentally on the floor. One morning, I left the cabinet be“How about 25 pounds?” Preston asked. low the kitchen sink open and walked out of the I thought for a few moments. Could I carry a room for ten seconds before coming back to find 25-pound dog out of the forest? It wouldn’t be she had gotten a hold of an SOS pad and downed simple, but it was possible, much more possible half of it, leaving a purplish color all around her than an 80-pound dog. “I think so.” muzzle. I yelled so loudly sometimes I even surprised myself with the decibel level and adrenThat’s how we settled on an Italian water dog. aline I felt pumping through my body. On my better days, I forced myself to inhale a few times *** before speaking to her, but most days I just shoutThe Italian water dog, or Lagotto Romagnolo, is ed when she did things like sprint out the front on the stocky side, sturdy and strong, bred now door from behind me when I opened it to grab for hunting truffles and classified as a working the mail. Screaming her name is, frankly, puppy dog. Although we had no work for a dog to do, training 101 on how not to make the dog want to Preston and I liked to hike, and we took walks come back to you. Preston would emerge from the every morning, so we wanted a dog who fit our house and call her name, encouragingly, a happy semi-athletic lifestyle. Lagottos are not frou-frou lilt in his voice. She’d turn around to look at him, lap dogs. They’re active, energetic, and too smart and he commanded her to stay, then strode to her, for their own good sometimes (or rather for our swooped her up and said, “Good girl! Good girl!” own good, I now know: able to dig holes at light- I would grit my teeth and go inside. ning speed in the backyard even as you stand on the porch and bellow a command the dog knows For all my less-than-stellar traits coming forward, Preston’s best traits shone. He was the one who well, say, for example, “Noooooo!”). slept downstairs beside the dog’s crate to take The breed’s also known to be good with fam- her out in the middle of the night to pee. He was ilies, and though Preston and I had no children, the one who scooped her up when he got home, he wanted a dog that could be trained to comfort held her against his chest, stroked her back, and
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rubbed her ears. He was the one who constructed a pen for her on the porch so she would have room to play but be contained while I worked in our home office. He was the one who cleaned up her poop and who enrolled her in puppy classes at PetSmart. I went to these classes begrudgingly. I sat in them with my arms crossed, letting Preston lead Kibbi in exercises. I glanced at the clock every few minutes and told myself the more quickly she got trained, the faster she would be out of the house and out of my hair. When I talked about Kibbi to my friends – and Preston was out of earshot – I called her the little brown demon. *** Six weeks after we got Kibbi, we knew we had to put Barney down. Preston and I had struggled with knowing when the right time was to say goodbye. We had asked our vet for help, and she told us this: write down the five or six things that make Barney’s life a good one, and once two or three of those are gone, you know it’s time. The day we knew, Barney’s back legs were giving out, and we stood at the kitchen window side by side watching Barney out in the yard, walking fine, then stumbling, walking fine, then stumbling, in a rhythm that felt like the ticking away of time. Plus Barney was losing control not just of his bladder – that had started already and was increasing in frequency – but now his bowels, too.
Preston let me carry Barney to the car, his body limp and warm. We didn’t turn on the radio, as we usually did while driving, the whole way to Kingsport to the pet crematory, or the whole way home. *** Barney had never minded (perhaps because he hadn’t noticed) Kibbi nipping at him or trotting beside him, but Boog did. She wanted nothing to do with the puppy. If Kibbi crawled into Boog’s bed to sleep beside her, Boog jumped away and curled up someplace else. But it was Boog, not Barney, who was left to live with Kibbi. So was I. *** “I don’t love her,” I confessed to my friend, Katie, several months after acquiring the dog. Katie and I were painting pottery at one of those make-yourown earthenware places. “I don’t even like her.” “That’s OK,” she said, not looking up from the tray she was brushing with bright colors. “I get it.” Katie had two dogs: one had shown up at her house one morning and never left, and the other, Tallulah, had been adopted from an animal rescue. Tallulah, I knew, had experienced anxiety and separation issues for months whenever Katie left the house, and Katie had hired a trainer to help her deal with it. But I knew Katie loved both her dogs now, and I wanted to be as patient and loving as she.
Preston and I drove Barney to an emergency vet out by the airport because it was a Sunday, when our own vet’s office was closed. It was March, “Really?” I stopped painting to look over at her. when winter should have ceased but hadn’t, when “You don’t think I’m a horrible person?” the air still ached with a cold that felt endless. “Nah,” she said, still focused on her tray. “When Barney, with his wanderings and aimlessness, was I first got Tallulah, I used to throw the ball for her thankfully unaware of where we were. His only behind my house. There are woods back there, focus – and the only thing that made him happy you know. And I’d throw that ball as hard as I during the last few weeks of his life – was food, could toward the woods, hoping she’d suddenly any form: pretzels, crackers, chicken pieces, fried dart off into the trees.” eggs, hot dogs. So I had packed a Ziploc of his favorite peanut butter biscuits, and I fed them to I couldn’t imagine sweet, considerate Katie doing him, one by one, sitting with him on the vet’s li- this. noleum floor until our name was called. I saved She stopped painting to smile and look over at me. one biscuit for the end itself, when the vet pushed “I figured if she’d run off, I wouldn’t be to blame. the syringe into a tube connected to Barney, the But of course she never did.” Katie rolled her eyes. last thing tethering him to me. Barney, oblivious, “She always brought that ball right back.” chewed and chewed that biscuit in its entirety and swallowed before slumping onto the metal table. I laughed, and we both began painting again.
For the record, I didn’t neglect Kibbi. I knew the difference between disliking something and not *** taking responsibility for a decision I had made, Here’s a list of things Kibbi massacred by chewing: for something I had gotten myself into, even if tomato stakes, a plastic bucket, two dog bowls and I wanted out. I made sure she had water and one dog bed, lots of fencing, plastic bags, a gar- warmth, and if we were in a place with other den hose, the doggie door, a wooden foot roller, dogs, I didn’t think twice about protecting her cardboard boxes, wastebaskets filled with trash, from the aggressive ones – dogs that slobbered white office paper, pieces of mail, two stuffed an- and snarled as they yanked away from their imals (hers, not ours), tennis balls, and too many owners and toward us. I pulled Kibbi behind of Preston’s black work socks that she pulled off me and puffed myself up, making my body look the clothes dryer and dragged into another room bigger than it was, and deepened my voice before growling back, “Back off!” (Preston shrugged, “I can just get more”). But I didn’t pet her. I didn’t pick her up to cud*** dle her. I didn’t think she was adorable. Her yelAs the months wore on, Preston remained the un- low-brown eyes glanced at me, but never stayed fazed owner in contrast to my frazzled self. This on me. She was aloof to me, at least that’s how she was a man who dealt with death all day as a fu- is in memory. neral director, a job that required persistent calm as people stormed through grief. Nothing rattled She was the first thing I felt forced to love. Or at him, not even the things Kibbi had done wrong least expected to. Every other time I had loved that I listed each day when he walked in the door someone or something, it was a choice, and if I didn’t want or decided not to in the end, I had alfrom work. ways been able to break up or walk away. “You need to focus on the positive,” he said. But here was this little beast nipping at Boog and “What positive? She yelped and barked all day.” scampering around the yard, barking with what seemed like glee, and all I could think was, “She’ll “She didn’t dig out of the fence. She didn’t bite probably live at least 16 years.” anyone. She’s a great puppy. Barney and Boog *** weren’t nearly as good when they were pups.” “Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s gonna be okay.”
“But they were great when I met them.” “They were old.” I couldn’t argue with that fact. “Well, I don’t want a puppy.” “She’ll get easier. This is just a phase.” “What if I never love her?” “You’ll love her,” he said. “When?” “One day.”
The last summer of Boog’s life (though at the time I didn’t know it would be her last), she and I stole away together. I took a ten-day trip back to Yellow Springs for a writer’s workshop. I packed Boog up with me in the Prius and we sped fast from Tennessee and Preston and Kibbi. During that time, Boog slept a few feet away from my bed, and sometimes, when I read at night before turning off my light, I looked up from my book to check on her, and she simultaneously lifted her head up to look at me. We stared at each other a few moments before I resumed reading and she rested her head again on her front paws.
Boog’s kidneys began to falter the following winter, and Preston and I knew the end was near. As Preston prepared to leave for a two-day business “Believe me, I know.” trip, we talked about putting her down when he got back. He packed shirts and pants into a car“But how? How can you be so sure?” ry-on and rolled it down the hallway. I felt queaHe laughed and shook his head. “Because I know you.” sy as he got into the car for the airport. But I dismissed it. *** “How do you know?”
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That night I put Kibbi in her crate, then Boog in hers, and went upstairs to my room. I fell asleep, but for only thirty minutes. Then I lay there another ten, wide awake, my eyes trying to focus and acclimate to darkness. No sounds drifted up the stairs, but I had the feeling I needed to check on Boog, so I rose and went to her.
door between the living room and kitchen as quietly as I could. Then I sat down on the edge of our coffee table, bent over, and pressed my face into my palms.
It was just a few seconds before Kibbi approached me. She began to lick my face, her tongue against my tears. Startled, I sat up and looked at her, and In the forty-five minutes since I had put her in the she sat down and looked right back at me for what crate, she had soiled the mat. The pungent smell felt like the first time. of urine bit the air. When I opened the door to the Animals, more so than humans, see you plainly. crate, she darted out. She had to go again. They don’t catch nuance. They don’t believe lies, not even the ones we tell ourselves: that we can *** lose less if we love less, that it’s best in the end to There’s a cost to loving anyone or anything. No look away. one tells you that when you’re young. You learn it by what you lose, by the things you must give up I reached down and put my arms around her belin order to keep the thing you love, by what you ly, and I let it all go. I let myself cry ugly, guttural must let go of, if what or who you love leaves you. sobs into her fur – the way I might have had I been a child and she had been Sable. The other thing no one tells you: even something small can break your heart if you let it. *** The entire night, Boog sprinted out the doggie door and squatted in the yard every thirty minutes, then later every twenty, then fifteen, then she treaded into our back porch and plopped down on the softest mat I could find for her. She tried to get comfortable, but couldn’t. With her brown eyes, watery and wide, she looked up at me constantly so that I couldn’t turn away. I sat beside her on the stone floor through that long black night. I murmured to her and stroked her back until her eyelids drooped and lowered for a few minutes. Then she’d dart out, come back again, and rest beside me. I didn’t leave her, not once, until I saw the sky shift to grey, to the kind of color that doesn’t tell you whether the day will be bright or dreary, only that it has come. I waited for Boog to fall asleep again before I pressed my hands against the floor and pushed myself up, then walked away from the porch, into our den, through our kitchen, and into the living room where Kibbi slept. I twisted the latch on her crate and let her loose, then leashed her and took her through the front door for a bathroom break outside. She sniffed the air, her nose twitching into morning, before crouching down. Back in the house, I unleashed Kibbi, then shut the
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wanderer Shirley Kuo Shirley Kuo is a sixteen-year-old poet currently residing in California. She breathes for books, early sunrises, and Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1. Still trying to decide whether she fears or loves thunderstorms.
she’s got bouquets of flowers tucked in the shelves of her elbows, mistakes where there shouldn’t be and bulletholes underneath the ladders of her ribs. she’s the girl you briefly passed by at the train station, a small suitcase sandwiched in between the cradle of her knees, her bony elbows tucked neatly into her sides. or maybe she’s the girl with a slew of words sewn on the insides of her wrists with no back bones, but they are a source of comfort to her when the moon goes missing. rattle my bones, one phrase reads. the sun cannot hold me to one place, another says. maybe when he stops sliding his apologetic rays underneath her eyelids she can finally stop unfolding a new wrinkled map and start leaving the door closed.
A Visit to the Old House On the rare occasions that my sister Alice and I traveled back to St. Louis—usually for a wedding or funeral—we had a ritual: a burger and fries at Steak ‘n Shake followed by a visit to our old house. It was a two-story built in the 1930s. Its red brick reminded me of an itchy tweed jacket I used to have. With its arched Tudor door and windows eyebrowed with rays of white stone trim, the front of the house looked like a face mildly surprised to see us. Over thirty-five years had passed since we lived there, and yet we yearned to see the inside once again. We would park in front, sit in our rental car intending to knock, chickening out at the last moment. The aftermath of our childhood was nothing that a fortune in therapy and a commitment to letting go couldn’t fix, but Alice and I were junkies for bad memories. We popped them like pills. Hepped up on the bygones, we would gaze at the curtained picture window and relive the old Punch-and-Judy show. It didn’t make us feel good, but it made us feel real. What sort of family lived there now? A happy one we hoped. We imagined cheerful moms and dads who raised their kids according to the most enlightened theories of child psychology. Never on any of our stakeouts did we catch a glimpse of the residents, not even through a lamp-lit window at night.
Lynn Levin Lynn Levin is a poet, writer, and translator. She is the author of four collections of poems, most recently Miss Plastique (RAGGED SKY PRESS, 2013), and co-author of the craft-of-poetry textbook Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (TEXTURE PRESS, 2013). Her translation from the Spanish of Birds on the Kiswar Tree, a collection of poems by the Peruvian poet Odi Gonzales, will be published by 2LEAFPRESS in spring 2014. Levin’s short stories have appeared in CLEAVER, YOUNG ADULT REVIEW NETWORK, THE RAG, SCHUYLKILL VALLEY JOURNAL, and other places. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.
Our stepmother, Elsa, had called us in a panic. Dad, now eighty-five, was in the hospital, and Elsa feared the worst. We flew in at once, Alice from San Diego, I from Boston. Little movies of good-bye scenes— confession and forgiveness, tearful embraces, the damages of the past blown away in apologies and sighs—played in my mind. I was surprised to see that Alice, two years my junior, had grown so gray. Bleary-eyed and rumpled, she met me, as planned, at the rental car desk at Lambert-St. Louis. We were sisters of a certain age, all right: both of us suited up in oversized tops of ochre and cinnamon, the right hues for fall, and black elastic-waistbanded slacks. As I drove to Missouri Baptist Hospital, Alice treated me to a call-by-call of her scramble to find three different neighbors to care for her three dogs, and she kept phoning and texting those neighbors to see if the dogs were okay. It was easier for me. My cat had died a few months ago. Some condolences from Alice about my loss would have been nice. An infected gall bladder, said Dad’s charge nurse, and caught in the nick of time. Dad’s quick improvement, the physical side of it at least, astounded everyone. We found him in the bed, Gulliver-style, pegged down by leads and tubes. A bag of darkish urine hung by the side of his bed. He turned to us with a friendly but vacant half-smile. Several days of white whiskers (couldn’t someone shave him?) put a frost on his cheeks and chin. Elsa was absent, but I spied two bags from Neiman Marcus on the floor by the window. I assumed that Dad had yelled at her. She was a revenge shopper with excellent taste in clothes and a big stack of store credit cards. Dad had not been so generous with Mom during their marriage, but he got off easy in the divorce.
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Only ten years of alimony, and then she died. “Hi, Dad,” we chimed. We embraced him with quick fluttering touches. Birds landing, birds taking off. We weren’t big on hugs. “Well, I guess I’m someone’s dad,” he said in a sociable tone. Alice and I caught each other’s eye. Elsa had said nothing of dementia. “Do I know you?” Best to try to take it in stride. “We’re Alice and Deborah, your daughtes,” I said, my throat catching for a second. “Elsa said you were in the hospital, so we came to see you.” I told him he looked pretty good for a guy who just had surgery. “I guess they thought I was a goner. They call in the daughters when they think you’re a goner.” “Oh come on, Dad. You’re not a goner,” Alice said. “You want some juice?” She brought a little plastic cup of apple juice with a straw up to Dad’s mouth. He shook his head. Alice flashed him a big smile. He mirrored back a sort of watch-the-birdie grin. Dad asked where Elsa was and when she was coming back. We embarked on upbeat monologues about our jobs. Alice, who worked in the produce department at an Albertson’s, filled Dad in about all the new fall squash. When my turn came to update him about my routine in the mailroom at Boston University, he faded into sleep. The sight of my father ebbing made me not want to let him go. We hung around for a half hour while Dad snoozed. The smudgy humid odor of hospital chow choked the air. None of it was for him. No solid food for at least another day. Alice kept calling and texting her dog sitters. Channel surfing on the staticky hospital TV, I came upon a program about a young Kenyan filmmaker who’d made a movie about reconciliation workshops in Rwanda after the genocide. Perpetrators and survivors got together and talked. Crimes were confessed. There was weeping. Terrible weeping. Following the interview show, a program came on about decluttering your home. Dad continued to sleep, so we left. Steak ‘n Shake, with its familiar red walls and black-and-white tiled floor, its odor of steakburgers, onions, and fries, tried to trick me into thinking it was still old times. A polite teenager in a paper cap took our order. The skinny matchstick
fries arrived piled on the white plate like a little heap of straw. The right mix of crunchy, salty, and hot. As good as ever. I squirted on some ketchup. “Elsa and Dad have side-by-side plots all picked out,” I said. “I don’t think the old man’s checking out yet,” replied Alice. “And I like this dementia thing. It’s smoothed him out some.” She took a long slurp of her milkshake. It had two flavors, strawberry next to chocolate, in one glass. They called it a sideby-side shake. “I wonder how I’ll feel when he’s dead,” she said, her voice flat as a sidewalk. She checked her cell phone for news of her dogs. As a kid, Alice got the worst of Dad. He hit her more. He liked to let her know how disappointed he was in her. Sometimes she couldn’t take it and back-talked. On the day of her eighth birthday, she said she didn’t have to pick up her toys because it was her birthday, and just like that Dad cancelled her party. Sent the little girls home in their party dresses with their wrapped and ribboned gifts. Then he punched the cake Mom had baked and threw it into the garbage. We didn’t plan any birthday parties after that. Images from the Rwanda program hovered in my mind. I told Alice that I kind of wanted Dad to admit he had some regrets about his parenting. That would be enough for me. “Fat chance, that’ll happen. At least he’s got a new personality now. We should just try to enjoy it. The new, refreshing, harmless Elbert Ridley.” “I don’t know. Mean then. Nice now. The old crimes still stand. But before he kicks the bucket. Some admission. Some regret.” I thought of Elsa’s shopping bags in the hospital room. Maybe he didn’t yell at her. Maybe it was retail therapy, not revenge. “It’s not like he’s a war criminal, Deborah. Suppose he did have his mind. Do you think he’d apologize for anything? If you’re so concerned about it, why don’t you just forgive him? Unilaterally.” “Why don’t you?” Alice’s face tightened up. She picked up her phone and started to scroll through her contacts, I guess to call one of her dog people. “Okay, sorry,” I said.
“Okay, sorry,” said Alice. *** It was early October, and the huge maple that shaded the old house shed its leaves in the breeze. As usual, we parked in front. The people who lived there had hung a pineapple flag, the sign of welcome, over the door. I had been taking an American architecture course at BU and now saw that our old house was a textbook example of Depression-era St. Louis brickwork. They didn’t build middle-class houses like this anymore. Symmetries and arch shapes abounded, same and different. A zigzag line of brick demarcated the first story from the second. A checkerboard band of raised and recessed brick wainscoted the front wall just above the foundation. Why had I never noticed that before? I had always admired the white stone rays over the windows, but now I saw that a separate set of rays sunshined over the front door and another set of white stone trim fanned out over the arched, many-mullioned picture window. On the window seat inside, we used to wait long hours for Mom to come home. In junior high, we sentried there on the lookout for Dad. The maple leaves were thick on the lawn. “Deb, do you remember the time that Dad made us rake the leaves, and we got really sore arms and didn’t finish the job?” “And you tried to put a book in your pants so the spanking wouldn’t hurt?” “But then he figured it out and slapped me silly.” “He slapped me silly, too, don’t forget.” A young mom was pushing her baby along in a stroller. “Alice, do you remember when Dad got mad and threw a knife across the table, and it stuck in the milk carton? And it made a white fountain.” “That was a good one,” she said. “Deb, do you remember when Dad hit me so hard he broke his hand?” “And I pulled him off of you?” “Then he started beating on you.” “Well, I did save you.” “Yes, you saved me.”
ing the kids.” “That may have been the all-time best one.” “I wonder if anyone believed him.” Rating Dad’s outbursts was one of our pastimes, but the sob sister thing was starting to bore me. Always the same lousy stories. Not that our Mom was any Shirley Partridge. She screamed at us each morning before we left for school. We miss her anyway. We could cry to her, and she’d understand. She used to make chicken pot pie and decoupaged pictures of the Monkees onto key chains for us. When we were in high school, our parents divorced and sold the old house. Dad moved to Kirkwood, and we went to live with Mom in bland modern condo in Creve Coeur. By the time Mom got ovarian cancer, we were already living on separate coasts. She donated her body to science, so no grave. The young mom with the stroller disappeared down the block. The pineapple flag beckoned. “I’m going in,” I announced, marched up the front path, and banged the brass door knocker. Our old horseshoe-shaped door knocker, but polished now. I rang the ding-dong. No answer. Relief started to wash over me. Emboldened by the owners’ absence, I ventured to the back of the house and immediately found myself in an alternate universe. Not because things were so different, but because they were so the same. The detached wooden one-car garage, repainted in the same brown and beige, still stood at the end of the driveway. The old screened-in porch remained as well. Odd that no one had removed or renovated it. It held a few wicker chairs and end tables. On the floor I spied some brightly colored plastic toddler toys. I remembered how we played there on hot, humid summer days. Then I climbed the old cement stairs, guarded by the same pipe railing, and tapped at the back door. Again, no answer. The amber stained-glass fleur-de-lys still emblazoned the kitchen window. Walking back to the car along the concrete driveway, I squatted down to peek through one of the basement windows. Unable to see anything in the gloom, I recalled the rathskeller’s knotty pine paneling and musty odor, the built-in bench seats with lift-off tops and scary underneath storage compartments, also very musty. In those compartments, we stored broken toys and games with missing parts.
“Then he went around with a cast on his hand, and when anyone asked what happened he chortled like a big kidder that he broke his hand beat- I reported my findings to Alice. She declared that
we would have to return when the owners were there. Then we went for manicures. *** Dad and Elsa were watching a dance show on TV when we came back to the hospital. Like Dad and Mom in their better days, Dad and Elsa were ballroom dancers. Elsa, looking attractive as always, wore a light-blue pantsuit with silver jewelry. She was trying to act extra chipper. Dad recognized us this time. After the greetings, I told them that Alice and I had been by the old house. “Those were the good old days,” Dad said. Alice and I registered no expression. “We were hoping that a happy family lived there,” I said.
We invited Elsa to go to the movies, but she wanted to stay by Dad’s bedside. They’d been each other’s habit for thirty years, married way longer than Mom and Dad. “We should go back to the old house,” said Alice as we walked to our car. “That family should be home by now.” *** The curtains of the old house were open. The glow of lamplight warmed the windows. The pineapple flag ruffled in the evening breeze. Parked in the driveway was a Mazda; an SUV stood out front. We saw a man walk across the living room. Alice strode to the door and knocked. I stayed a few paces behind.
The man, a good-looking guy with dark wavy “We were happy there,” said Dad, sounding nos- hair, answered the door. Weirdly he was wearing talgic and light-hearted, not at all like himself. The a Weber Land Development sweatshirt. It was historical revisionist thing ran against my princi- that alternate universe thing again. He looked at us like we were about to hand him copies of The ples. And Alice’s. Watchtower. “We were not...” began Alice, but Elsa cut her off by making the “sounds like” sign from charades Blushing and stumbling over her words, Alice and then a shadow-boxing move, by which she got it out that we’d lived in the house as kids and meant sounds like fighting. Instead of speaking, wanted to see it one last time. She added a little Elsa sometimes pantomimed. It was kind of pa- bit about Dad in the hospital and us in from out thetic, but it kept the peace. Elsa said something of town. And what a coincidence: our Dad had about the TV personality who was trying to do the worked at Weber, too. two-step. Dad tilted his head as if he didn’t under- “Had you ever heard of him?” I asked. “Used to stand. Then he stared at the TV. be comptroller. Was a good dancer?” I patted her hand. She was a young senior, only in her seventies. She would be able to care for Dad or at least arrange for attendants who could. It wasn’t like we’d have to change the paternal diapers or anything. Dad and Elsa had plenty of money. Our father had made a good living at Weber Land Development. “He seems a little, uh, jovial,” said Alice.
“Way before my time,” said the man who introduced himself as Mitch. He shook our hands. His hand was warm. “Hey, Mama,” he called to his wife who was sitting on the sofa, reading a book to a little boy and a little girl. “That okay with you? These ladies used to live here.” The wife, Beth, was all for it. She said she was eager to know more about the biography of the house.
Mitch led us into the living room. None of the inside architecture had changed. The shape of the “They have him on Celexa and Wellbutrin,” whis- space felt so familiar that it was like being inside my own head. Now I wanted to confront the pered Elsa. “Makes a difference.” memories, both good and bad—even if they were “You’re serious?” memories that wouldn’t have been made had Celexa and Wellbutrin been around. Maybe. And if “You mean that’s all it took?” said Alice. She our father had agreed to go to a shrink and take looked at Dad this way and that as if to get an the medication, another maybe. ID on him. Elsa shrugged; she, too, was in awe at Dad’s transformation, though she was used to it. There in the time warp, I felt right at home. I knew He’d been on those pills for a year. my way around. I gazed at the living-room fire“Not the same Elbert,” I said.
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place. Its cement mantelpiece now sported a line of neatly angled family photos. I recognized the arch between the living room and dining room and the French doors to the screened porch. I was very impressed with the arch motif. All the previous residents had respected the inside spaces of the house. Never knocked out any walls. “Look how small the window seat is,” I remarked to Alice. “It seemed so big when we were kids.”
mal eyes,” I said, pointing to my old window. “Don’t tell me the place is haunted,” said Beth. “Nah, I had a weird imagination.” We followed Alice as she wandered into her old room. She asked if she could open the closet door. I knew why she had to see it. After Dad had punished her, she would go to the closet to sob. As we grew older, Dad still hit, and hit with words as well: what was to become of you? who would ever marry you? and so on and so forth. But then there was the time Alice got bitten by a dog, and Dad carried her to the car and took her to the emergency room. Sometimes, we’d get through a day with no trauma at all. Not that we could trust the peace.
“Remember when we used to sit there and play ‘the next one’ waiting for Mom to come home?” The young couple exchanged a glance. Beth adjusted her tortoise shell headband. Alice shot me a corrective frown. I worried that Beth, at first so interested in the house’s biography, now took us “I used to think that closet was so big,” Alice said. for a jinx. In the tiny kitchen—new fridge, new stove, of “That was our toy closet,” I told the Mitch and course—the original wood-paneled cabinetry Beth. “Happy times there.” Alice hung back a little remained. I smiled as I looked at the amber as we descended the treacherous stairs. fleur-de-lys in the lattice-patterned window I asked one last favor: permission to see the rathsabove the sink. I always loved the stained keller. Opening the basement door—it was the glass. On the tour, Mitch same planked basement carried the little girl, who door—I sensed a new openhugged her dad’s neck ness and lightness. The and looked at us with walls now wore a coat of big eyes. Beth acted as jonquil. The storage benches tour guide. The boy, who with the dead doll compartseemed to be about six, ments had been removed. followed us clutching a The musty smell was gone. plastic T. Rex. I could tell that Beth wanted to con“Where’s the knotty pine?” tain the tour to the first I asked. floor, but I asked her if “It was too dark down there. we could see our old bedI had to freshen things up,” rooms. Her sense of hossaid Mitch. “I painted over pitality won out over her the paneling. See? And put reluctance, and she led in these overhead lights.” us up the stairs, which were very out of code by today’s standards, I couldn’t recognize the rathskeller. It was so too steep, too shallow. How often we tum- bright. So new. So not Ridley. bled down them to the landing where the telephone niche was, the niche that held our “It’s lovely,” I said, only half meaning it. I regretheavy, black, cloth-corded phone. Now the ted that he’d painted over the knotty pine. niche held the couple’s wedding photo. And Alice and I thanked the couple. They were there was a baby gate at the top of the stairs. old enough to be my children, had I ever had I stepped into my old bedroom. I wanted to get children. I wanted to tell them that the house the feeling back. I expected excitement, fear, may- was happy now, but I didn’t say that. Instead, be anger. Instead, I stood in a mist of regret and I wished them many joyful years there. As we sorrow. “That’s where we had curtains with ani- walked to our car, the mix of strange and famil-
I stepped into my old bedroom. I wanted to get the feeling back. I expected excitement, fear, maybe anger. Instead, I stood in a mist of regret and sorrow.
iar fizzed in my head. I turned to have one last look at the old house. With its open door and bright windows it looked pleased and comfortable with itself. I’m doing just fine, it seemed to say and you should, too. Mitch and Beth waved to us, and we waved back. ***
We extended our visit a few more days, but our leave time was running out. When it came to say good-bye, I held my father’s papery hand then bent my face to his neck. I started to shake and weep. I wept because I was afraid of death, because I felt light and free and not quite myself, because I had a new dad, though not for long.
Although the doctors and nurses kept shak- “There, there,” he said. “Don’t cry. It will be all ing their heads in awe at the miracle of Elbert right. Elsa, Elsa, help this lady. Ask her what is Ridley’s recovery, we knew that our father had wrong.” embarked upon his long slow decline. Mild as milk, he busied himself with word-search puzzles and TV. He grinned a lot, spoke agreeably about everything, took his pills without complaint. Alice, who was still calling her dog sitters three times a day, kept maintaining that we should just enjoy our harmless new old man. But was the past not real? I asked her. Had we not worn it all our years?
Study English or Communications with an emphasis on creative writing at
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Half Tina Tocco Tina Tocco’s flash fiction has been published or is forthcoming in HARPUR PALATE, PASSAGES NORTH, POTOMAC REVIEW, ITALIAN AMERICANA, CLOCKHOUSE REVIEW, BORDER CROSSING, VOICES IN ITALIAN AMERICANA, and FICTION FIX. She was a finalist in CALYX’s 2013 Flash Fiction Contest. Tina’s work has also appeared or is pending in INKWELL, THE WESTCHESTER REVIEW, THE SUMMERSET REVIEW, and other publications. In 2008, her poetry was anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian Americana (Fordham University Press). Tina earned her MFA in creative writing from Manhattanville College, where she was editor-in-chief of INKWELL.
I’ve learned to think in halves. Whole is a blending, an amalgamation, a joining. It is the suction of the door as it closes in the morning, his feet up the stairs, the shoes I picked out for him tight in one hand. It is the in-and-out of the top drawer, soft and even, where I have folded his Christmas flannels. It is the humming at the bathroom sink, which I have not heard since our studio in Brighton. But I’ve learned to think in halves. In mine, it is a rumple into the hard spring on my side. The scratch of a pillow case, stiff and unyielding, cooling that new line in my cheek. A breath, when I remember. But it is only half. Whole is breakfast, chairs once scraping close under the little circular table. Then Lifestyles and Business snapped between us. Now quick footsteps over the marble with a Danish I bought him and a travel mug I did not. Eco-Ware. Magenta. With stripes. But I’ve learned to think in halves. In his, it is a shower, past midnight. The top sheet pulled left to right. A giggle. The way he has always done. After. But it is only half. Whole is years of morning murmurs through the shower door. Of exams. Of last night. Aruba. The neighbor’s yards. The children. Then steam dripping cold. No morning wish streaked across the mirror. Just the snap of a compact. A toothbrush dropped in a plastic cup. A light clicked to dark. But I’ve learned to think in halves. In mine, it is the hang-up that one morning. 2:49. Or that Saturday I skipped the gym. It is the sound of keys pulled softly from the credenza for a Sunday meeting. A Honda, motor running, two doors down. But it is only half. Whole is cheering from the sidelines when the boys played varsity. Or calling him to dinner over the porch railing. Or white lilies, remembered. Then a gym membership. Calls stuck in traffic. A hint of lilac, or maybe jasmine, in the wash. But I’ve learned to think in halves. In his, he does not move until morning. He rises without me. No kiss, so I will not wake. He must get to the office early, he told me once, putting his whitening toothpaste away. Have to keep up with the younger guys. But it is only half. It is an arm over my hip at dawn. A squeeze close. A groan. A name. And it is my hand to his. To lift his arm. Bring it near. To keep still, as long as possible, in the half-light.
Bundles It was the fathers who led their boys to the railroad platform. Shouldered to the middle of the mass or hung along its fringe. Said hush when their boys asked why they were there, why they were going, why, why, why. Told their boys to write, or ask someone else to. Told them it would It was the fathers who woke their boys before the be better, west. Pushed the potato or radish into sun climbed over the clutter of factories on the their hands, for later. Pushed them gently, then river. Put coal in the stove. Pumped water into with encouragement, into the cars until their boys the basin left waiting from the night before. Told were packed tighter than the city. Farm homes their boys no chores this morning. Watched their waiting. They hoped. mouths open with wonder. It was the fathers who turned their faces, their It was the fathers who dressed the younger boys. whole bodies. Went searching for work before the Their first time. Made sure the older ones were doors shut. tucked in neat. Matted their hair. Checked their nails, but left them, mostly. Found their coat, if But it was the mothers who always went to the there was a coat. Their shoes, the same. Hid a church, brought the papers home, begged them to slice of bread, maybe a whole biscuit, in their own sign, prayed in bed while the fathers readied the pants pocket. A potato or radish in another. Told bundles. their boys shhh, youâ€™ll wake your mother. Kiss her later. It was the fathers who always readied the bundles. Sunday clothes to the inside, extra coveralls as casing. Hitch knots or square knots, mainly. Pulled at the middle. Twine looped in both directions, if they had to worry about socks. Most didnâ€™t.
It was the fathers who slipped the bundles from their hiding places. Under a bed. Behind the icebox. In the milk tin in the hall, if the bundle was small enough. Took their boys by the hand, even the older ones, the bundle under their opposite arm. It was nothing, if they asked. Nothing. It was the fathers who did not tell their boys to be quiet on the stairs. Did not give them a swat. Instead, walked them under work shirts and aprons strung window to window, grown stiff overnight. Maybe a squeak from a line pulled in before the smells rose. Otherwise, only the sound of boys.
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It was the fathers who gave their boys the slice of bread, the whole biscuit, to stop their mouths. Their words. Watched them chew. Did not watch the man at the ice cart, the milk wagon, the shoe shine, whose heads shook or eyes went to their boots. It was the fathers who turned down one smudge of street and then another, the garbage burning early. Windowsills already dripping with pots used during the night. A tip of a tail scuttling into a heap. Children and rags piled, moved from corner to corner.
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Perpetually Moving In the beginning, I ran like a bat out of hell for the Dead Kennedy. I didn’t even know I was fast until I got the award for being the fastest of all sixth graders – not just the girls, but the boys also. My Presidential Award: a piece of paper with my name. Not even a medal. If Kennedy were alive, he would have made sure I went home with a huge trophy. I wasn’t always running, but it feels that way. In the middle of the night, while we were at the house of family friends, and our parents played cards and drank beer, one of the older girls let me wear her white go-go boots and a mini skirt, and I transformed from a bony, long-nosed girl into Twiggy – not just Twiggy, but way more daring. I became Grace Slick. No, even better, Janis Joplin. For once, I wasn’t me. We four girls left the house and walked down the empty road waiting for someone to drive by. Cars slowed and there were whistles and shouts of “Hey, hotties!” Then a car slowed down, went slower and slower, until a couple of boys leaned out the window, and it sounded like one of the boys called us sluts. I was twelve and nowhere near that point in my life. When my friends started crawling into the car, I took off the white go-go boots, the boots that now seemed to be the works of the devil, just like Grandpa always warned. I tossed them toward the car, then ran barefooted like a bat out of hell all the way back home where the parents never noticed anyone was missing. I was always running, but it doesn’t always feel that way. In the middle of a cool afternoon, my track coach ran up next to me and said, “I can buy you a pair of shoes. If you had good shoes, you’d run like a deer.” I looked at my Red Ball Jets and knew my parents wouldn’t ever allow me to accept shoes from a coach. The only thing worse than being poor and on welfare was accepting handouts from anyone. “Think about it, Turkey Legs,” he said before leaving the track. I wondered if my nickname would change from Turkey Legs to Deer Legs if I got a new pair of fancy running shoes. They always wanted to know: How far do you run? Until I can’t run no more. Late at night, in the middle of a Michigan winter, I’d take off my shoes and run along the snowy roads. I had read about the kids in Japan going outside barefoot in the winter for recess. Makes them healthy. Less likely to have colds. A perpetual insomniac, shoeless, I’d run through town waiting for the stores to open, watching third shift AA members enter dark buildings (except for that one light), bracing themselves for a late night meeting. Every now and then, I’d hear someone yell something about my missing shoes, but I’d just keep running, hair tucked beneath my stocking cap, hoping I looked like a guy. Aren’t you afraid running at night? Not as long as I’m perpetually moving.
Diane Payne Diane Payne is the MFA Director at University of Arkansas-Monticello. She is the author of Burning Tulips, Freedom’s Just Another Word, and A New Kind of Music. She has been published in hundreds of literary journals.
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We Had Lots of Songs Paul Smith Paul Smith has been writing for about 9 years now, sometimes go to open mics for his poetry. He lives outside of Chicago with his wife, Flavia. As much as he enjoys traditional literature, he keeps his eyes peeled for new things.
We had a song for love There was a song about not having love A song for not loving We had a song about Not wanting love Another one for uselessness & yearning Morning dew on the grass Another about the highway That stared back at us on the Kansas plains And we never asked Did this compendium make sense Or could we reconcile their disparity Because they all had A good beat
Fall Back I pry the screen out of its door frame and replace it with clear glass as sadly as if I’m closing the lid on Snow White’s casket. It’s time to turn away the outside air as if it were a crone with a glistening apple. Don’t listen to her pitiful spiel, her old-lady supplication. But a brisk October wind carries away words of warning, loosens the grasp of prohibitions. The crowns of the trees lean in. Maybe without knowing our heroine sees a possible future – beauty replaced with a vengeful bitterness – is thinking of this as she reaches to take her one-and-only bite.
Steve Burke Steve Burke lives in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia with wifeGiselle & daughter-Mariah. He has been published in MAD POETS REVIEW, PAINTED BRIDE QUARTERLY, PHILADELPHIA STORIES, APIARY, SCHUYLKILL VALLEY JOURNAL, read at many venues throughout the area. He has worked as a labor-and-delivery nurse for 27 years, but has been writing poetry for longer than that.
I am about two-dwarves high – Grumpy and Happy melded – wonder if there is some poison in my veins, wonder if I should just lift the cover, wriggle in next to her,. and, letting the lid re-close, fall back, neither lustful nor heroic, just lying patiently, counting the falling leaves, hoping for a happy ending.
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O, How I Had It All Wrong Randall Brown Randall Brown teaches at Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, now available as a reprinted deluxe edition from PS Books, his essay appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field, and he appears in the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He has been published widely, both online and in print, and blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net. He is also the founder and managing editor of MATTER PRESS and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.
She rolled down the window, no matter the season, over the wind callin’ out anywhere, arising to ride beside me like that promise I made to myself never to be like them, trapped and dreamless. She waited in the car as the conveyor belts sent parts to my spur to count and package and throw in boxes. Parents transformed to bosses as I went into that factory in light, came out in the dark, the car empty. The skies waited, opened up—and Mary in the flood, drowned, a faraway voice yellin’ out let it rain, let it rain. I heard she married a fireman, gave birth to a son the world had no place for. She never was like all those other girls. You’ve got to go home to find her again—to take her to that anywhere that hung forever on her lips. But home is all parts and boxes, fire and water, pharaohs and I used to dream of all the places I could take her. Maybe she’s still that scared and lonely girl waving from the porch, but now it’s good-bye. The garden’s gates are shut tight, like eyes and chests. O Mary, how I dreamed of saving you.
An Interview with Randall Brown We decided—emphatically yet inadvertently—that our first issue specifically open to flash fiction should interview a flash fiction wizard. The problem is catching one in the daylight. We set the task to our Flash Fiction Editor, Christian Cornier, an admitted enthusiast. Armed with a butterfly net and a can of Raid, Christian launched into the Rosemont Gardens in search of the elusive anthologized Randall Brown. Sources say the interview took place after Christian chased Randall up a maple.
RB: Carving involves cutting, and I’m not sure I’d give flash fiction anything too sharp. Flash fiction can be a bit reckless and unpredictable. I don’t think flash cares too much about its place in the literary world. It likes to say “pshaw” to such notions.
RB: By vowing (under penalty of a form rejection from an editor) not to exceed the word count, flash fiction writers might be saying, “I can play by the rules!” And then, inside that confined, bounded space, all h-e-double-hockey-sticks breaks loose.
RR: In what way do you feel flash is best represented? Does it belong in magazines? Online? In collections? Or some other form?
RR: Do you think that the current rise in flash is a direct result of surging social media such as Twitter and Facebook? Are our attention spans getting shorter?
RR: It is incredible how much story writers manage to tell in such a short amount of time. Is the flash fiction experiment changing how we view fiction? Do you feel that there are elements of narrative tending to fall to the wayside more than others in order to make room?
RR: Who in your mind are the ‘Masters of Flash’? What names should we be looking for that define the genre?
RB: It’s a populist form, so anyone at any point can join Rathalla Review: People tend to define flash by the pantheon and become, in an instant, a Maestro of its word count, but do you think there is some- the Micro, a Pro of the Postcard, the King or Queen of thing more distinguishing about flash beyond the that most diminished of forms, that tiniest of prose creform? What are we saying by pledging to not ex- ations, that crazy little short-short with dreams of being nothing other than what it is: Flash Freakin’ Fiction! ceed a certain amount of words?
RB: It belongs wherever someone says it doesn’t.
RR: What type of reader does flash tend RR: It seems you are somewhat of a flash to appeal to? What kind of reader do you fiction aficionado around the Rosemont write for in your own work? campus. What do you try to bring to the flash fiction genre in your own work? RB: I open up my metaphoric veins and spill my metaphoric blood onto a virtual page, not for myRB: Well, first of all, I prefer “flash fiction freak” to self, oh no, but for all of you, for you good people, so aficionado. I think it is fun to try with all my might not only can you glimpse the courage it takes to be a to make something so tiny matter so much. flash writer, the fearlessness, but also so you can be RR: Do you consider your flash more along forever in wonder and eternally in debt to the flash the lines of a short-short story or prose writer, willing to spill herself/himself into words poetry? Is there a difference? Or is flash but for a moment, not out of selfishness, but always for you, Dear Reader. something outside of the other two? RB: If it is a right-justified one-paragraph single-spaced RR: Can you describe flash fiction in six words? thinger-dinger, it’s prose poetry. Otherwise, flash. RB: Yes, I am sure I can.
RB: Oh look, a chicken.
RR: Where can you see flash belonging in the future? Can it carve a place for itself in the lit- RB: Yes, I see flash fiction leading to the death of erary world or is it more of a fad that will devel- beginnings and middles. Soon allstories—short stories, novellas, novels, trilogies, quadrogies— op into other media? will just end.
vol. 2, issue 2
rosemont college rathallareview.org
Published on May 16, 2014
This issue of Rathalla Review includes work by Randall Brown, Lynn Levin, Tina Tocco, Shirley Kuo, and Diane Payne. It features art by Palom...