Our Mission: Rathalla Review is the literary magazine published by the students of Rosemont Collegeâ€™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€™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.
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Rathalla Review Spirng 2017
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
PR/Web/Fundraising Sara Kiiskila Selection Staff
Elvis Alves Kara Cochran Brandon Hartman Donna Keegan
Ed Krizek Nicole Miyashiro Eileen Moeller Curtis Moore
Tara Rupiper Ruth Sensabaugh Sean West
Table of Contents 1
A Beginnerâ€™s Guide to Plant Care Allison Epstein
Flesh in the Pan Dick Bentley
Abandoned Waves Gary Mansfield
Pickup Truck Loaded with Snow Tom Hazuka
The Wedding Dress Daniella Levy
On Doubles and Disease Amaris Feland Ketcham
On Staying, Long After the Abuse Has Ended Daniel Garcia
Minibus, Istanbul, March Carl Boon
Interview with Tawni Waters Pieces by Tawni Waters: Kitched Outside the Chapel of Immaculate Conception Fisher of Women Overlooked AWOL Icon: A Love Song Without Music
33 34 35 36 37
Featured Artists Antonella Avogadro is an artist who comes in waves - it can be described as a rocky relationship. You might catch her completely immersed in her computer science classes for months, and all of a sudden see her dropping everything and staying up all night just to draw. To her disadvantage, she values art, music and a clear night sky much more than sleep. Vincent Natale Martinez is from South Philadelphia. His primary medium is oil on canvas and his work now is primarily abstract. He likes to play with the forms found in landscapes and still lifes. He’s studied at the Fleischer Art Memorial and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, where he has also shown his work. In addition to the occasional solo gallery showing in Philadelphia, he’s also exhibited work at the Cape May County Art League.
Christopher Owen Nelson thrives in the vast arid landscape of the American West. As a Colorado native, he studied fine arts at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design where he learned classical methods in drawing and painting. There is a consistent thread that runs throughout all bodies of his work; a need to transform shadow and grit into something beautiful and smooth. Critical attention and art world accolades have been swift and abundant. Recently Nelson’s achievements in the arts have been featured in several national publications. Through prestigious exhibitions and collections, his artworks have travelled the globe. Already in his career, this young artist boasts over a dozen solo exhibitions.
Art Pieces Cover
Chincoteague Lighthouse Vincent Natale Martinez
Untitled (The Tree)
Christopher Owen Nelson
Broad Street in Winter Vincent Natale Martinez
A Beginner’s Guide to Plant Care Allison Epstein It surprises me, how little I cry. Maybe I’ve been preparing myself for this all along. Maybe those years of crying at the wrong times—the last scene of Beauty and the Beast, my cousin scorching the dirty shore of Lake Lansing setting off fireworks, a band in an Irish pub playing Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”—have ruined me for crying when it’s appropriate. I am at my parents’ house for Easter weekend, listening as they tell me what I already know. The first thing I think is that my black dress and sweater are hanging in the closet of my Chicago apartment, 250 miles away. ◊◊◊ My grandfather treated death as conversational Russian roulette—nine times a joke, one time serious. We thought of it as a game, then, too young or too unobservant to sense the difference, or the heaviness of a single shell. He took such pleasure in architecting his own funeral that I couldn’t tell if his inspiration was Tom Sawyer or Edgar Allan Poe. He threatened to write us out of his will when we failed a class or made an inappropriate joke at Thanksgiving in front of Aunt Margaret. Said he wanted to live to ninety because his half-brother had only made it to eighty-eight, and damned if he wasn’t going to win. “Make a big deal out of my funeral,” he said. He was smiling—probably because he knew I didn’t give a damn whether or not he was serious. “Invite everyone I’ve ever met. And cry.” I gave him my deepest side-eye. Cry? Hell if he had to tell me twice. “Cry as loud as you can,” he added, popping up the footrest of his recliner. “If you can’t cry loud enough, hire wailers.” At first, I wondered why he wanted Captain Ahab at the wake. “Wait,” I said. “Wailers. Like you’re Queen Victoria?” He cracked open a jar of peanuts, scooped
out a handful. “Now you get it. And don’t you dare let them read from St. Paul. I hate him.” ◊◊◊ I cry some, of course. He’d have been disappointed by the volume, but I do my best. ◊◊◊ Back in St. Gerard Parish Hall, I clear away paper plates, looking at the large leafy fern sitting on a card table below the window. Just last week, I’d asked my mom where I could get a houseplant. Something big, green, and hard to kill. Thought it would add a homey touch to my apartment. She’d suggested Home Depot, Wal-Mart. Neither of us had thought to consider the parish hall. After an hour spent scooping out macaroni and thanking a hundred people for being nondescriptly sorry, I turned to her, gesturing vaguely at the plant. “How often do I water it?” I ask her, for some reason expecting her to know. She shrugs. “I don’t even know what kind it is. When it starts to droop, water it.” That night, I watch the plant in the rearview. The leaves shiver with every pothole as I drive through five o’clock traffic, merging onto I-94 toward Kalamazoo and, eventually, Chicago. That’s all I need. A dead plant on top of everything. ◊◊◊ The year brings death like algae washed on a beach. It collects on the shore, and I walk barefoot through the mossy detritus, searching for a single shell the water hasn’t broken. I count three deaths in almost as many weeks. First, my dog, quietly, in the back room of the family veterinarian. Next, my grandfather, from a stroke. Then, a high school classmate, hiking alone in Alaska’s Denali National Park. I have nightmares about snowstorms all weekend. When I get the call telling me my ninety-fouryear-old great-great-aunt went into cardiac arrest in the middle of a restaurant, I have almost run out of phrases with which to react. She recovers, but the good news sits strangely. It feels as though someone has made a mistake.
◊◊◊ The grief is polite. It moves into my apartment, but doesn’t bring much. It doesn’t drink my whiskey. We operate in separate circles, most of the time. Grief is the quietest houseguest I’ve ever had. Until it isn’t. Until I’m crying at more than Gordon Lightfoot. I’m crying at the thought of asking strangers questions, answering emails, buying a new shower curtain. An anxious wreck who learned to drive on two-lane highways through cornfields, I’m crying at drivers honking at other drivers—not even me, I know that, they’re not even honking at me. Tiny gnats begin to take up residence in my apartment. I am constantly swatting at spirits I can’t see. I blame the unidentified leafy fern, now sitting in my living room atop a folded-up bag from Whole Foods. ◊◊◊ A few weeks later, I’m driving north on Harlem, heading home after work. I am talking on speakerphone. Mostly I am listening. I am nodding, though what good I think this will do over the phone I don’t know. I am empathizing so aggressively—I think—that my ribs interlace like a clenched fist around my lungs. I nod again. I offer advice. I do not believe in the advice I am offering. Like a casserole that comes mostly out of a can of cream-ofsomething, I offer it anyway, because that is what one does, one offers unwanted things and nods. The voice on the phone thanks me for listening. They say I can always talk to them if I need anything. They don’t notice my silence. I drive by a three-story nursing home on Harlem and 36th, forest-green awnings and 1.5 stars on Yelp. An ambulance tilts askew, parked halfway on the curb. Two paramedics wheel a gurney down the sidewalk toward the ambulance’s open doors. A dark gray blanket covers the gurney, the color of my grandfather’s favorite fleece. I see the outline of a face beneath the blanket, the underwater mountain of the nose, the small canyon of closed lips. The paramedics lift the body into the ambulance, and then I am past, and they are in the rearview.
I hurt. Two hundred yards farther, alone in my car stopped at a train, I crack. My brain feels fuzzy and electric. I am crying. It feels like screaming. I cry until the railroad crossing lights stop clanging, and then I stop crying and drive. I unlock the front door. Grief sighs, slumping into the living room, and kicks off its shoes. I make dinner. I work for a few hours. I go to sleep. As I pull up the blankets, I see a tiny gnat whine in front of my face. Then the light flicks off, and I have no idea where it’s gone. ◊◊◊ Grief is a terrible plus-one. Grief has never been invited. Grief does not have anything productive to share in that email chain. Grief will not spot you at the gym. Grief did not review the agenda before the meeting, as requested. Grief commands me to make space for it. It will not sit silently. It will not raise its hand before it speaks. Grief will not wait in line, it will not take a number, it will not please hold for the next available representative. When grief and I walk boldly side-by-side, I expect to feel crushed, but I do not. I feel like a Bolshevik, a Jacobin, an anarchist swaggering through the streets of Prague with a bomb in a bottle. For the first time in months, I feel powerful. ◊◊◊ The space behind my ribs where I store my grief is not bottomless, but deep, the frightening ocean trenches where glowing, alien fish drift and hunt. Every day, I catch more, another slow dripping stream in my chest. Every day, I remember how to balance. By the time fall sets in, sending a rush of cool air over the lakefront, I walk like myself again. Nothing to defend myself from. I’m able to make jokes, little by little. “You think he died on purpose so he wouldn’t have to see what happened to the Republican Party?” The kind of jokes you can only make after grief starts seeing other people. The bullet casing from a 21-gun salute sits on my desk, next to my phone charger. I turn it over in my palm sometimes, a worry stone against hold music. It’s as close to anarchy as I get now, if an anarchist ever had to call Comcast
Customer Service because what is this cable box doing in my foyer, I didn’t order cable, I don’t even have a TV, Chrissakes. ◊◊◊ The plant remains enshrined atop the folded-up Whole Foods bag. Every few months, I bend down and pull out the dried-up brown leaves by the stem. I’m not sure if the flytrap nearby turns them brown faster, but there’s enough green to go around. Winter, I remind myself, will probably do away with the last of the gnats. October comes, and I Google “how often should I water a fern,” several months after I should have asked a reputable source the question. The internet informs me the plant is probably poisonous. I choose to ignore this. A few days later, the fridge starts leaking. Feeling resourceful, I collect the water in a glass Tupperware and tip the contents into the dirt. Freon, you idiot. The thought comes ten seconds too late, but the plant proves surprisingly difficult to kill.
Allison Epstein is a writer, editor, and marketer living and working in Chicago. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Metaphorosis Magazine, Adios Barbie, and The Huffington Post. She can be found on Twitter @AllisonEpstein2, talking mostly about em dashes, Shakespeare, and Broadway musicals.
Flesh in the Pan Dick Bentley The National Conference on Self Esteem is having its annual convention at the Des Moines Civic Center. I see a woman who looks almost exactly like an older version of Nora, my first great, deep love. I was seventeen, and back then we sometimes referred to kissing as “making out” or “petting” or “necking.” Nora and I must have been necking because one time I bit her neck — an enthusiastic accident. I apologized, but I did not see much of her again. Now the woman at the conference has my attention. I stare at her as we circle the salad bar. My eyes follow her as she climbs the steps to the hotel’s mezzanine. I think she is beginning to notice how I gape, how I gaze, how I watch her wherever she goes. Embarrassed, I ask a friend from my Breakout Group to speak to the woman and explain, feeling I should keep my distance. The two women become good friends. The first woman, whose name is Laura, says she understands. Then the three of us become friends as we attend panel discussions, powerpoint presentations, and breakout sessions. Laura sweetly forgives me for staring at her all the time. The conference is over; it’s time to leave. We stand in front of the buses, waving goodbye. Some of us are hugging, and I can’t decide whether to kiss Laura on the cheek or on the lips. I decide the cheek, but that side of her face seems to be strangely paralyzed. Maybe it’s just due to aging but then, as my lips brush her cheek, I notice her neck, I notice the scar. She starts to step onto the bus. Then she turns, leans over and says she thought she knew me from somewhere before. “But you weren’t that creep, thank God.”
Dick Bentley has published fiction, poetry, and memoir in over 260 magazines and anthologies on three continents. His books, Post-Freudian Dreaming and A General Theory of Desire, are available on Amazon. His new book, All Rise, contains, along with poems and short stories, samples of his inventive “wall poetry” –poems that are displayed as part of paintings and graphic art. These fresh and unusual works have been shown in collections and art galleries. Dick has served on the board of the Modern Poetry Association (now known as the Poetry Foundation). He’s a Pushcart Prize nominee and was prizewinner in the Paris Review/Paris Writers Workshop International Fiction Awards. In 2012 and 2013, Dick gave readings of his poetry at the famous Paris bistro, Au Chat Noir. Before teaching writing at the University of Massachusetts, Dick was Planning Director for the Boston Housing Authority. He is a Yale graduate with an MFA from Vermont College.
Abandoned Waves Gary Mansfield Abandon boats survey their surroundings On black asphalt, between dead trees, While being picked apart little by little By men with greasy fingers and slimy hair, With casual indifference and mediocre whim. They once told a story; had a life; Made waves. They were once like us; we will one day Be like them.
Right: Chincoteague Lighthouse by Vincent Natale Martinez Gary Mansfield writes poetry, fiction, and essays from his home in Redlands, California. His poetry has been published by Poetry Nook, Paradise Review, Leavesof-Ink, Wilderness House Literary Review, Wild: A Quarterly Journal, Straylight and Oddball Magazine.
Pickup Truck Loaded with Snow Tom Hazuka It shouldn't seem all that unusual. This is Los Angeles, after all. Yet the strangeness arises precisely because this is L.A., warm smog tender as lint all around us on the Santa Monica Freeway. A rusty pickup truck hauling a load of snow fits into this place about as well as I do. The truck passes us and pulls into our lane, sun glistening on the cool white hump. Melted snow leaks through the tailgate, spraying as it hits the air. Droplets pepper our windshield. I smooth my skirt, and find a run in my stockings at the knee. Hellerâ€™s hand covers mine. "It's a metaphor," he says. I don't ask him what he means. Heller hates the obvious, in dialogue or anything else, and I can't blame him. The sun bends through the drops and a tiny rainbow arcs over the dashboard. I look for gold at the end and find only pot. I put the unsmoked half a joint in the ashtray, where coins mingle with ashes and dust, then shut it like a morgue drawer. "Think he's home?" I say. Heller turns on the wipers, smearing everything. "If he's not he will be.â€? I don't argue, though I know better. Heller takes things for granted, thinks it's obvious that things will work out for him because they always have so far. On the other hand, I know Jesus might get offed by some junkie, or the eschatological equivalent, and we could sit on his steps forever before he makes it home. Not that we couldn't just wait in the car, of course, assuming we find a parking space and don't get run over by a truck. The point is we've never been there, and time has passed. "You think we should have called?" "They tap phone lines." Patience and disgust wrestle in his words. Snowdrops spatter the windshield like spit. Heller fishes in the console for the lighter. "Or do you think your lines are special? Direct to God or something? No intervention?"
I don't get his meaning but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Heller works on a different plane, all business, though he seldom lives there. I remember the slogan on the T-shirt my brother wore on Christmas: red, with a picture of Russia in the crosshairs of a gun sight. "Long distance killing," I say. "It's the next best thing to being there." Heller gives me the briefest stare I've ever seen. Mouth curling in a smile, he runs a finger from my knee halfway up my thigh, then opens the ashtray. He fishes out the remnants of the joint and torches it up. "Almost there," he says, smoke shooting from his nostrils. I wave away the offered weed. "No thanks," I say. "I'm good." The bone hangs from Hellerâ€™s lips like a dying Bogart cigarette, twitching, almost aiming at me as he says, "Good. Real good." Cars collect and traffic crawls. The snow spray devolves into a wholesale drip, slithering down the bumper, splashing on the asphalt. I imagine the pockmarks a bag of salt sprinkled over the pile would cause: white acne, pure as the driven snow. Nearly stopped now behind the pickup, Heller reaches under the seat, eyes barely clearing the dashboard. He starts to swear then grunts, suddenly satisfied. He pulls out a gleaming .357 Magnum and lays it within easy grabbing distance, like a book. "I hope I don't have to use this," he says. He downshifts to first. "Not yet." "Lots of sick mothers around here," I say. "You have to protect yourself." I check the safety and am only mildly surprised to find it off. I click it on, put the piece back by the Tic Tacs and chapstick. Heller strokes the barrel. He fondles the trigger. "Name Roy Rogers' horse," he says. "Dale Evans." Heller takes a toothpick from his shirt pocket, hangs it from his lip like the joint. "Back in the saddle again," he says. "Home on the range." Then, "Good dope." "Thank you. I try."
Heller gives me an even shorter stare than the last one. I wonder if he learned that in Iraq or was born with it. For an instant half as small as his stare, I consider asking him, then reconsider almost before it registers. Heller hates the obvious, girl. You know that by now. It's beginning to look like that snow is traveling all the way to the ocean with us. The peaceful Pacific. Maybe for a movie, maybe a commercial or a dare, a fraternity stunt or a quirky birthday gift. Maybe there's nothing better to do than build a snowwoman on the beach and watch her dissolve. What would you think if you came along at sunset, scaring off a pack of scavenging, cawing seagulls and found a mangled carrot nose and coal-chunk eyes lying on a patch of sand still damp from her body? It would be a mystery. Murder is a funny thing. I've had friends killed in accidents and I've had friends murdered, and the fact is most people don't plan on doing either. Getting killed or killing someone, that is. These things happen, we tell ourselves, overwhelmed by endings and ignoring the long chain of circumstances building up to the blood. Blame it on a fit of passion or a hole in a brake line, one drink too many or a sharp blade slicing faster than thought. I try not to do that. We're nothing if not detectives. Teleology maybe, concatenation at least. I sleuth, therefore I am. I think Heller would take that for granted, though I don't dare ask. The traffic jam is raising his blood pressure, red creeping up his neck like mercury in a thermometer. He drums his fingers on the gun. "It's dry heat," he says. "No goddamn humidity." "If he's not home," I say, "maybe it's some kind of sign." "Getting cold feet?" "In this weather?" I shiver as water streams from the truck like spilled milk, and, for the first time since the telephone call, I feel sick. I focus. That always helps. "Mick, why is snow white and water clear?" Heller gnaws his toothpick, looking like he could spit it into a dartboard. "Because God made it that way.” He stares at me, hard and long this time. "Listen, if something's worth doing right, it's worth doing. By definition. OK?"
I nod, trying to focus. That usually helps. Motion had kept things pretty smooth, but bumper-to-bumper is rocky. I find it harder each mile to do what seemed easy from a distance: to imagine someone suddenly not here anymore, gone forever like a bug down the drain, all because you decided that's the way it should be. And the person at your side is driving you to it, carrying you along until by the end it's hardly your choice at all, just the only way left to play the lousy cards they dealt you. "OK," I say. "Those are the breaks." Heller stomps the brakes with a tire-tearing screech. His mind had wandered like a cloud and we nearly buggered the snow truck. "I'm sorry, Ollie," he says. "You certainly are, Stanley.” Traffic begins to move. Heller grips the stick shift, jams it into its slot. "No nookie in two days, sweetheart." "Circumstances. If I was doing any better, you might get some sympathy." "It's hard," Heller says. "Should be after two days.” We pick up speed and ex-snow flies again. Heller takes the Venice Boulevard exit. The snow truck keeps rolling straight toward the sea, aiming for China or Japan, Malibu at least. Heller starts crooning "O Sole Mio," which wouldn't be bad if those weren't the only three words he knows. "Call me the Grand Gondolier," he says. "I will pole you anyplace, pole you to your heart's content." "I'll call you God if you'll stop singing." "Yo me llamo Dios," Heller says. "That's Spanish, Mick." "God is hope," Heller says. "God is an Esperantist." "And I am the cure," I say. "Put away that gun, for God's sake." He covers it with a grease-stained bag from McDonald's. A streak of ketchup bleeds on his wrist and he licks it off. "O Sole Mio," he sings. Heller can't sing for shit. He's no gondolier. He can't walk on water after all. "You're not God anymore," I say, and this time I mean it. "Pharisee," he says. "Money lender." "You should know."
"Hey, I'm good for my debts." Heller grins slowly. "Why do you think we're on this mission?" I shake my head. "God knows.” "You bet he does," Heller says. "Yes, yes, yes." "Right there?" "Yes." "Feels good, doesn't it?" "Mmm," I say. I stretch as hard and as far as I can, hands on the hood, pushing out the kinks, pumping up blood sluggish and stagnant after forever on the freeway. Heller leans like a delinquent against the car, his torso tight as night under his white T-shirt, and runs his hand straight back through his hair. Like an umpire he jerks his thumb toward the house on the corner. "Right there," he says again. I have my leg on the trunk, stretching a throbbing hamstring. I refuse to take another step until I feel halfway human again. Otherwise I'll never go through with it. "Remember when this used to be fun, Mick? It all came easy. We barely had to work at it at all." "And now it's not working. When something's broken, you fix it." He gives me that stare. "Either that or you throw it out. Is that what you're telling me, that you'd rather chuck the whole thing, just flush it down the toilet?" I shrug. "I never said that." Heller returns to the driver's seat. He puts on his Angels jacket, then flips the McDonald's bag into the back seat. I watch the gun disappear in an inside pocket. He comes back outside, standing tall. "Remember," he says. "It's your investment. I've got nothing in this but time." "And not a whole hell of a lot of that, either." I know I should keep my mouth shut, but I can't help it. It pops out like a spent cartridge. Heller just grins. "Let's do it," he says. It's a snug stucco house, with a brown little crewcut of a lawn. Heller searches the gate in the metal fence for a bell, finds none. He reaches through the bars to the latch. A quick flick and the gate swings open. "What's the rush?" I say. "Let's go check out Muscle Beach. We could take a walk under the pier, commune with the weirdos. You're good at
that, Mick." "Later, doll. We've got a job to do.” Climbing the porch steps I say, "Did you ever think how when you eat a banana by yourself, you're the only one in the whole universe who ever will see it? You take off the peel and swallow the inside and it becomes part of you, and no one else can know exactly what that thing was. A banana is like a snowflake, if you look at it that way, no two exactly alike.” Heller stops a step from the top, peering up at the empty sky. The sun we can’t see from here has sunk low over the ocean, a golden reflection for miles in the waves. "It wasn't obvious at all, Mick. I thought you'd appreciate that." "Ring the damn doorbell." "And tell him we're here?" "We're the last thing he's expecting. Believe me." I push the button. My knees are liquid, those sore hamstrings taut jelly. Seconds pass and I reach to hit the bell again. Heller grabs my hand, squeezes it like the handle of a pin-pulled grenade. "Patience, partner." He's acting calm but I know better; I can see his teeth, not the whitest in town but straight and strong. They never come out unless he means it. "Is that your idea of a virtue?" I ask, and am still caught in his grip when the door opens a crack. I see half a smile, tight-lipped behind the safety chain, and one pleading, unblinking eye aimed directly at me. "Hola, Jesus," Heller says, pronouncing it with a hard “j.” He brushes against me and I feel his hard gun, loaded and ready. "Aren't you going to invite your friends in?" "Sure, Mick. You took me by surprise, that's all." The hasp slides; the brass chain drops. "Hey, great to see you guys. Really great." "Likewise," Heller says, stepping across the threshold. "We've been looking forward to it." He pulls me along. "Haven't we, babe?" "For a long time," I say. "You see?" Heller says. "For a long time we've been waiting. Too long." "Life's like that sometimes," Jesus says. "That's the way it goes." Heller pulls out the Magnum, levels it at Jesus’
guts. "Life's a shit sandwich sometimes, too, but that doesn't mean I have to eat it." "No one's asking you to, Mick. Not even with horseradish on a hard roll." No one laughs. Heller inches closer. The pistol twitches in time with his pulse. "Sorry, pal, but nobody takes what's mine. I thought that was obvious. I thought you'd take that for granted." Jesus watches the wavering black hole of the gun barrel. He closes his eyes. "God help me," he says. I feel no joy as I put out Heller's lights, no release, only a certain satisfaction in a job well done as I sink him like the sun with a clean shot to the back of his mind. The black marble Jesus was waiting on the soapbox bookcase, just inside the door, right where Jesus said it would be. He grins. "There's blood on the halo.â€? "I didn't want this to happen," I say. "But the fact is I love you." Heller lies face down on the carpet, sprawled out the way he sleeps, taking up most of the bed. Jesus hugs me so tight that my breasts press flat against him. I like that. I still hold the Jesus statue. Call it superstition, call it belief, but something inside won't let me drop Him like a blackjack or a baseball bat. I hug back with one hand. "Let's get out of here," I say. "Sure, lover," Jesus says. "My life's all packed." He releases me and disappears down the hall, returns with knapsacks, two coolers, a box of books. He goes out and trades his bags for Heller's, leaves me standing alone with the bloody Jesus in case I have to use Him again. But Heller only stirs once, to moan in a way I've heard so often in a different context, then is still. I raise Jesus up, just in case, but He isn't necessary. Jesus stacks Heller's stuff around him like a bunker. He takes Jesus off my hands, and lays Him like a sleeping child in front of Heller's face. "If he wakes up I want him to know what hit him." Jesus smiles at me as he starts the engine. He doesn't have to adjust the seat. He slipped right in with no effort. Somehow this doesn't surprise me at all.
Tom Hazuka has published three novels and over fifty short stories. He edited anthologies such as Flash Fiction, Sudden Flash Youth, and Flash Fiction Funny.
The Wedding Dress Daniella Levy It must have been the dress. Every single day for the past five years, Noya had walked past that same display window on her way to the parking lot in downtown Jerusalem. Some days, she would let herself stop and wryly examine the dresses on the headless white mannequins. Enormous upsidedown cupcakes of fluff and lace, to varying degrees of gaudy. True, for the past year she had stopped every day. Ever since that dress went on display. But go inside? Maybe someone had swept past it on the way to fix something and made the soft, shimmering satin drape just so. Whatever it was, that particular day in early November, Noya could not resist the temptation anymore. It was the wedding gown of her dreams and she was going to try it on. A bell clanged somewhere as the glass door swung open, and with it came Noya’s first pang of regret, but it was too late now. She had already been spotted. “Mazal tov! I’m Meirav, how can I assist you?” The sales girl was probably ten years Noya’s junior, a sleek-haired, mocha-skinned brunette with a grin slightly too wide. She had been perched on a stool by the front desk and scaled the roomy wooden-floored entrance in just a few long strides. She was standing too close. Noya was at a loss for words and she felt her cheeks burn. Her wedding ring was burning through her finger. Meirav waited patiently through the awkward pause, and then grinned again. “What do you think of the dresses on display? Anything strike your fancy?” “That one.” Noya managed a high-pitched stutter and a weak gesture towards the gown. “Which?” Meirav swept past her towards the mannequins in the window. “You mean this one?” She was standing next to one of the lacy horrors. “No. That one. The shiny one.” Meirav turned around and gave the
mannequin a once over. “Ah, this one.” A pause. “Hmm. We don’t have any left in the dressing rooms. It’s going out of style, actually.” She glanced back at Noya with a heavily penciled eyebrow arched in disapproval. “We were going to replace this one tomorrow…” “So take it off the mannequin. I want that one.” Both Meirav and Noya were a little taken aback at her boldness. Meirav recovered quickly and put on her grin. “Of course. Would you like to wait here or in the dressing room?” Meirav hovered over Noya as she tried to undress, chattering about the cleaning lady who was supposed to come yesterday and do this room properly but her uncle’s car was stoned in East Jerusalem by some Arab schoolkids and his elbow was fractured and she had to go fight with his doctors about his treatment and who lets those kids roam around throwing rocks at 10 in the morning anyway, couldn’t they tell he was an Arab himself? Noya was only half-listening as she tossed her shirt and slacks aside and stepped into the dress. “You’ll want that bra off for the full effect, sweetie,” Meirav added, drawing an imaginary neckline over her own chest, and that was when she saw the scar. Noya could tell, because she saw through the floor-to-ceiling mirrors that Meirav quickly averted her eyes downward and cleared her throat as Noya drew the dress up, covering it. “So!” Meirav chirped. “When’s the big day?” Obviously, Noya had not thought this part through. Well, she hadn’t thought any of it through. She didn’t even really know what she was doing there. She was about to confess this, or make up an excuse to get out of there, but then she looked up at her reflection. At the way the satin cascaded about her hips. At the dainty rosette on her right side and the lacy panel that opened up from that point underneath the satin, spreading as it fell to the floor. At the gathered lace pleats that spread diagonally up
her waist. At the glow of her dark brown skin against the dizzying white of the fabric. And she blurted the first date that came to mind. November 30th. Meirav’s eyes widened. “November 30th? Are you serious? That’s less than a month from now! Do you have a hall already? A caterer? The rings? The rabbi?” The truth was simple enough. “The rings we have.” Meirav had one hand on her forehead and was staring at Noya’s reflection open-mouthed. “What’s the rush? If you don’t have a hall, you can still postpone it…” Then an idea clearly dawned on her, because her eyes lowered and narrowed at Noya’s stomach. “I’m not pregnant,” Noya said sharply. “I just need it to be then.” “Well…” Meirav flipped her hair and stepped behind Noya, jerking the zipper up. “We are not used to working on such a tight deadline. I don’t even know if it’s possible to get the alterations done in that time. Depends how much needs to be done. And of course, it’s going to cost you extra.” Her thickly mascaraed eyes flickered up momentarily, giving Noya a pointed look through the mirror. “Money is not a problem,” Noya murmured. Meirav stepped back, examining Noya in the gown, tapping her lip with one finger. Noya stared at the mirror, entranced, slowly turning this way and that. “I have to admit,” Meirav said, resting her chin on her thumb, “ it’s like it was made for you.” “I know,” Noya murmured. There was a reverent silence. Meirav snapped her fingers. “I know just the person you need. One of our brides told me about her a few months ago. Her name is Daria and she takes care of everything. Invitations, halls, catering, flowers, everything except the groom.” She let out a hearty chuckle at her joke, backing towards the door. “Hannah said she can meet any deadline and haggle down even the snobbiest venues. She has connections all over the industry. The best of the best.” She did not wait for Noya to respond. “You go ahead and change, and then you’ll leave your details with me at the desk,” she said, turning the door handle. “I’ll have her call you.”
She slammed the door shut behind her before Noya could say a word. Noya sat at the pristine white breakfast island dividing the kitchen from the living room in her high-rise Rehavia apartment. The business card from the “Dream of Satin” Bridal Salon, with Meirav’s name and cellphone number scrawled across the bottom in smudged black ink, was in her hands. She just stared at it. Four sets of claws clicked in from the bedroom, and a pointed little whine broke the spell of the business card. Noya looked down at the gray Tibetan terrier, who sat, looking up at her longingly through those impossibly long eyelashes. “Another minute, Lucky.” She glanced down at the card again, then stuffed it into the pocket of her slacks. She heaved herself out of the chair, a cushioned, modern “pod” style thing that Matan had insisted was the height of fashion these days. She pushed it carefully back next to its match at the breakfast island. She had no interest in disturbing Matan’s masterpiece of apartment design. Her job was to maintain it. She slipped her feet into the Crocs by the door and grabbed the leash on the hook. Lucky pranced around her legs in an excited frenzy. “Yes, yes, we’re going, we’re going.” She grabbed Lucky’s collar and hooked on the leash, and they headed out the door towards the elevator. Lucky was skittish about rain, and the sky was looking pretty ominous as Noya swung open the glass door leading to the private courtyard. Both of them hesitated, looking up at the clouds. “Just do what you have to do and we’ll go back inside,” Noya said to the dog. Lucky glanced back at her doubtfully, but with a little tug of the leash she was soon off sniffing the bushes by the gate. A series of beeps sounded from the gate. Noya pulled Lucky away from it and further into the grass, trying to find something to focus on so she could pretend not to notice the neighbor who was about to enter. She heard the gate swing open and a pair of stilettos clop down the path to the building’s entrance. Noya had never really gotten used to living among rich people. It was never something she
imagined herself wanting. Rich people were the ones who exploited her mother’s poor, thickly Amharic-accented Hebrew to cheat her out of her wages, and who were never happy with her father’s hard labor in their pointless, waterwasting gardens. The first time she ran into a neighbor in the elevator, the man had asked her whose apartment she was cleaning and how much she charged per hour. When she told him she had recently moved there, he smiled politely. “Oh, how nice! Is your husband Ethiopian too?” She replied curtly that he was Israeli, just like her, but that his great-grandparents had come from Yemen. The man nodded with a satisfied look, as if her husband’s slightly lighter shade of skin would explain everything. Ever since the business deal that made him rich, Matan had insisted at least twice a week that they hire a cleaning lady. Well, at least he did back when they spoke at least twice a week. But she had always refused. “I don’t need any help,” she would say. He even tried to get her doctor to tell her she shouldn’t clean, but she knew he was lying. Nothing was going to save her uterus, and there was no point in playing the disability card where it wasn’t needed. In her childhood in the housing projects of Rehovot, the social worker from Welfare always remarked that their apartment was the cleanest one in the neighborhood. Her mother was extremely methodical in her cleaning habits, and had involved Noya in her routine from a very young age. There was something soothing in echoing her mother’s movements: the wiping down of the bathroom mirror every morning before brushing her teeth, the laying out of a clean dishtowel every evening before bed. For the past ten years, it had helped her feel her mother’s presence. As she and Lucky walked out of the elevator on the 11th floor, Noya felt her phone buzz in her pocket. She took it out and glanced at the screen, hoping it wasn’t Matan. It wasn’t. She didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?” “Sha-lom,” sang the voice on the other end in a thick Russian accent. “Am I speaking with Noya?”
“Yes?” “This is Daria speaking! I got your number from Meirav at the bridal salon and I understand you are planning a ‘flash wedding’!” “I… yes,” Noya heard herself say. “Well, first of all, mazal tov!” “Uh, thank you.” “So as Meirav probably told you, I am a highly experienced wedding organizer and I would love to help you plan your event.” There was an awkward pause. Noya hated phone pauses. But Daria charged ahead: “If you are interested, we could meet and discuss details, costs, and the like. I charge two hundred shekel for a one-time consultation, but if you decide to hire me, that cost will be deduced from the overall price.” Noya still didn’t know what to say. “Listen, motek,” Daria continued, “I’ve seen many brides who are planning their wedding, it’s a very stressful thing, you know, even when there isn’t such a tight deadline. I know exactly how you feel. My brides are the happiest brides on earth, they sit with their feet up while I take care of everything for them! No headaches, no fighting with people over prices! Now, planning a wedding on such a short deadline is a difficult task. A very difficult task. But it’s possible, and I’ve done it a few times. There was this once…” Daria’s voice chattered on as the image of Noya’s actual wedding floated into her mind. The backyard of the terror victim organization’s headquarters in Katamon, slightly overgrown grass with plastic tables hiding under decorative cloth. The organization had ordered flowers and catering, and set up an impromptu wedding canopy under the blossoming almond tree. She had borrowed a dress from the local lending foundation. They did not have much of a selection in petite sizes, and the one she had reluctantly chosen was too tight around the chest and had far too much lace. There was a constant drizzle of pink and white petals falling around them as this rabbi she had never met before told the video camera about the “terrible ordeals” she and Matan had been through, and the “triumph of love over terror.” The video of their wedding ceremony went viral, and the organization raked in tens of thousands in
donations as a result. Some of it had been given directly to them, and it paid for their refrigerator and washing machine. She tried to remember if she felt stressed about organizing the wedding at the time. Probably not. The ceremony itself was an afterthought. It was surviving day to day that was so difficult. “… And I can assure you that you will end up with the wedding of your dreams, and you will actually be able to enjoy it! Now doesn’t that sound wonderful?” “Yes,” Noya murmured. “That does sound wonderful…” “Excellent! So when would you like to meet? I can come right to your home if that’s easiest. Are you free tomorrow evening at six?” “I… yes,” Noya said. “Wonderful! I’ll be in touch tomorrow for directions. I can’t wait to meet you! Bye-bye.”
“How romantic!” Daria swooned. Yes, most people responded that way. It did sound romantic when Noya thought about it objectively. But it certainly did not feel like the stuff of fairy tales at the time. She was in the hospital for four months, and rehab for six. Lots of internal damage, many surgeries. She had to relearn how to walk, stumbling like a toddler into the arms of someone who was not her mother. That first year of recovery was a blur in her memory, a blur of pain of every imaginable kind, of nightmares, of frustration and despair. The sympathetic strangers disappeared after the first few weeks, but Matan kept visiting, following her progress, volunteering to help her with her rehab exercises. On one such occasion, she collapsed on the floor in despair, crying that she just couldn’t do this, and why couldn’t she just have died with them? He had knelt next to her, and tilted up her chin with his finger, and wiped away her tears, and planted a solid kiss At 6:17 the following evening the doorbell on her lips. rang, and a huge lady in a flamboyant flowerA pause in Daria’s chattering jerked Noya out print blouse and skin-tight black pants burst of her reverie, and she started, realizing that in. Her hair was dyed that unnatural shade of Daria had asked a question. purplish red that only Russians can pull off. She “I’m sorry,” Noya said. “What did you just say?” made a big fuss over the dog with all kinds of “I know,” Daria chuckled. “It seems impossible. high-pitched noises and exclaimed about the But it’s not. Tell me every detail about what you beautiful décor as she bustled Noya over to want the wedding to look like. Go crazy,” she the couch. Noya weakly offered her something said, gesticulating in a wide circle. She reached to drink, and she requested tea with three into her black leather handbag and produced a teaspoons of sugar. tattered notebook and a pen. “So let’s begin,” Daria said, bobbing her tea “I… I don’t know,” Noya stuttered. bag up and down in the mug, “with you and…” “Well, let’s start with the scenery.” Daria “Matan.” flipped through the notebook until she found “Matan. How did you meet?” a blank page, then clicked the pen open. “What It was a story Noya used to tell on autopilot. suits your fancy? A garden? Waterfalls? The She had been interviewed on it at least a seaside?” dozen times for various newspapers. But as “I don’t really care,” Noya said. “Any of that is she opened her mouth to respond, she realized fine.” that it had been a very long time since she had Daria chuckled, scratching Lucky—who told it last. “I was injured in the terror attack seemed to have taken permanent residence on at the shuk in November of 2002,” she said, her her lap—behind the ears. “They always say that,” tone flat and detached. “I was eighteen. My she said. “You think you don’t care. But you do. parents were killed.” She nodded towards the Somewhere deep in your heart is a dream of wall opposite the couch, where she kept a large your perfect day, and my job is to find it and picture frame with a grainy photo of her parents. make it happen. So, let me ask you again. What “Oy, miskena!” Daria exclaimed in sympathy. is your vision about the scenery?” “Matan was a volunteer paramedic. First to Noya chewed on this for a moment, reaching arrive on the scene. He saved my life.” far into the recesses of her memory, where what
once were the dreams for her future still lived. “I think…” she whispered, “I would like a view of the Old City of Jerusalem from the chuppah.” “There you go!” Daria laughed. “Now we have the beginnings of a vision! Let us build from there.” For the next hour, they went through every single detail, from the centerpieces on the table to the streamers on the ceiling, from the hors d’oeuvres to the chocolate soufflé, from the flutes and violins at the reception to the DJ for the dance floor. The more Noya dug into these frivolous desires, the easier it became to grasp, and then describe what she wanted. Daria jotted everything down with excitement, asking questions, offering ideas. Finally, Daria summed up the options, and named some impossibly exorbitant sum as an estimate of what the whole thing would cost, including her fees. Noya, drunk on the freedom of exploring her fantasies in a way she had never done before, did not hesitate to close the deal. Predictably, Matan’s call came when Daria’s down payment check was cashed and a few thousand shekels disappeared from their checking account. Noya had been watching TV, stroking Lucky’s fur idly, as Lucky chewed contentedly on a rawhide bone. Noya heard Matan’s ringtone and sighed, staring at the screen for a few moments before turning off the TV and taking the call. “Yes.” “Noya.” “Yes.” “How’s it going?” “Fine.” “You sure?” “Yes.” “You haven’t called.” “Neither have you.” Noya’s voice came out bitter. “Where are you?” “Now? Berlin. I have a few things to finish up here and then I’m off to London.” “London? I thought you were coming home after Berlin.” “I was. There was a change of plan.” “Weren’t you supposed to be in London at the beginning of December?” “It’s complicated, Noya.” He sounded
impatient. “Listen, I was looking at the checking account and I noticed—“ “Does that mean you’re not coming home until the middle of December?” Noya cut him off. He was startled speechless for a moment. Noya never interrupted him. “Ah… yes, it does.” There was a long pause. “You haven’t been home in a month already.” “Yes.” Matan’s voice was a little incredulous. “Is there… something wrong?” Ever since his success Matan had been traveling nonstop, and Noya had found it very hard to speak through the distance. Over time she began to feel like another of his business partners. Apartment manager. Home administrator. But they had needed the money, at least at first, and Noya could not bring herself to ask him to spend more time at home. It wasn’t like she could have kids she needed help with. By the time they were wealthy, the momentum of that emotional distance was firmly established, and Noya did not have the strength to fight it. She stared at her parents’ smiling faces above the television. “The memorial day,” she said softly. “November 30th. Ten years. I just… I don’t want to be alone.” Tears now splashed down her face, and she found herself gulping back a sob. There was stunned silence on the line, until Matan’s voice, low and tender, spoke. “Noya,” he said. “All you had to do was ask. You want me to come home?” Noya took a deep shuddering breath, trying to pull herself together. Lucky was looking up at her with concern. “Yes,” she said, her voice firmer now, stronger. “I want you to come home.” “I will have to check my schedule. I’m not sure it will be possible on November 30th. But I might be able to get home on December 1st.” “But…” Noya faltered. “You’re sure? It won’t ruin one of your business deals?” “Are we not rich enough for you, Noya?” His voice stung a little. Noya’s chest constricted in pain. “You know I never had any desire to be rich, Matan,” she said sharply. “Then what do you have a desire for, Noya?” The question echoed in her head, and the
images of her dream wedding, the ones she had summoned with Daria, floated before her. Along with the ones she did not tell Daria. Like the ones of her parents clutching her elbows as they escorted her to the chuppah. Her mother’s eyes gleaming with tears as she looked out over the Old City. What your grandmother would have given to see this, her mother would whisper. Matan gave a frustrated sigh. “What does it matter what I want, if I can’t have it?” Noya whispered. There was a pause. “It matters to me,” Matan said softly. Noya just sniffled, wiping away her tears and stroking Lucky. “Are you putting together a memorial ceremony or something?” Matan asked finally. “Is that what the money was for?” Noya’s breath caught in her chest. She couldn’t lie to him. “Something like that,” she muttered. “For November 30th?” “Yes.” “I will try to be there, Noya. I can’t promise. I will try.” Another long, tense pause. “I love you, Noya.” She managed to choke out the words herself. They felt so forced, but she knew it would hurt him so much if she didn’t say them. “Love you.”
mouth: “Want to take bets on which pharmacist she’ll choose—the black one or the Arab one?” Mouna sighed deeply. “I don’t even know how you joke about this.” She put on a bright smile and held her hand up to the woman, her fingers pointing towards the ceiling in the shape of a beak, the Middle Eastern gesture for “Just a minute.” “If I don’t laugh about it, I cry.” Noya opened the register and checked the contents. “I’d rather laugh.” “Is that husband of yours back yet from… where was he?” “Berlin. Paris before that. And no.” “I think you’re crazy for staying and working here when you could be living it up in Berlin and Paris.” “What would I do in Berlin and Paris?” Noya shrugged. “I like my work.” “What would you do in Berlin and Paris?” Mouna exclaimed, slamming one of the drawers closed. “Why don’t you bring me along, and I’ll show you?” She chuckled, walking around the counter to open the door for the customer. “Good morning, ma’am. Can I help?” The old lady handed her a prescription, still looking at both of them suspiciously. Mouna went to fetch the medications, and rattled off the instructions in a politely cheerful tone. The woman paid and left without saying a single word to either of them. Mouna was whistling to herself as she Noya sat on the stool by the counter, flitted between the aisles, delivering boxes of regarding Mouna thoughtfully. “Mouna?” she medications to their proper drawers, when Noya asked. walked in the following morning. “Hmm?” “Tough night?” Mouna asked with a “What was your wedding like?” sympathetic smile. Her face was framed by a Mouna looked up in surprise. “My wedding?” bright red hijab. She shrugged. “It was a wedding. You know. It “That’s a nice color for you,” Noya said, was twenty years ago. I have pictures.” gesturing at the scarf. “Was it the best day of your life?” “Don’t change the subject.” Mouna squinted at Mouna thought about that. “No,” she said. her. “Is everything okay?” “It was fun, I suppose. But when I think about Noya sighed. “Nothing. I had trouble sleeping.” the years Abed and I have spent together… it Mouna raised a skeptical eyebrow, but went definitely was not the highlight.” back to stocking the drawers. Noya dropped Noya would never have dared to ask such her bag and went to examine the cash register. personal questions before, but now she couldn’t There was already an old woman standing stop herself. “What was the best day you ever outside the glass door, glancing between Noya spent with Abed?” and Mouna with visible dismay. Noya elbowed Mouna tilted her head at her, carefully Mouna and muttered from the corner of her considering. “I can’t really say,” she said finally,
and then: “Maybe this is strange, but what is coming to mind now is the day Leanne was born. It was an emergency C-section. Scariest day of my life. After the anesthesia wore off I was in so much pain, I could hardly move. And he was just… there. Kept asking me what I needed. His phone was turned off. The baby was in the NICU and we weren’t allowed to visit her yet. So he just sat with me. Stayed with me all day. We talked that day more than we had spoken to each other since before Mahmoud was born.” Noya chewed on her lip. “If you could do it again,” she said slowly. “The wedding, I mean. If you could do the wedding again. Would you do it differently?” Mouna shrugged. “I don’t think it would matter. It’s not the wedding that counts, it’s the marriage.” Noya nodded, lowering her eyes. There were a few moments of silence. And then Noya opened her mouth, and found herself telling Mouna the whole story, from the dress and Meirav to Daria and the wedding plans. By the time she was done, Mouna was staring at her with her mouth hanging open. “Wow,” she said finally. “Wow.” She reached up to adjust her hijab. “So… you’re going to go through with this?” Noya nodded. “And Matan doesn’t know?” Noya shook her head. “It looks like he won’t be home until December 1st anyway.” “But…” Mouna leaned against the counter, resting her forehead on her fingertips. “What are you going to do at a wedding without a groom? When you’re… already married? This is totally crazy, Noya. I didn’t know you had it in you.” She smiled and gave Noya a playful cuff on the arm. “I like crazy. Have you started inviting people?” “Of course not.” “Well you can’t have a wedding without any guests, can you? I assume your wedding planner person doesn’t cover that?” Noya shook her head. “I’ll take care of it then.” Mouna smiled widely. “I think you owe yourself a nice party with you in the center. Give me the number of one of your cousins.”
Before Noya knew it, November was drawing to a close and the date of the wedding was coming up. That is, the party. Or, the memorial service. Noya wasn’t even sure what it was anymore. She had half a mind to call the whole thing off. But then, the week before, she went to the bridal salon for a practice session with the hair and makeup artist. Meirav insisted that she try the dress on again to impress the other workers with how perfectly it fit her the first time. Noya took one more look at herself in that dress and she knew that there was no escaping it. She was going to go through with this. It was the first thing she had ever really given herself. And crazy and frivolous as it was, she knew that she needed it. She got at least three incredulous calls a day from cousins and friends and in-laws, trying to figure out exactly what this event was supposed to be. First, she tried to stutter through a vague explanation that it was some kind of celebration, which no one seemed to understand. Then she just started filtering the calls, answering only when she saw Daria’s name on the screen. Matan did not call at all. The night of November 29th, Noya tossed and turned until even Lucky was exasperated and decided to move to the couch. When Noya finally drifted off to sleep, she had the dream again. The blood, the screaming, the excruciating pain, the darkness of temporary blindness from the blast. The strong, warm hands that dressed her wounds, that carried her to the ambulance, that stroked her cheek as the sirens blared. The soft voice in her ear. Stay with me, girl. The sense of slowly drifting from the pain, from the substance of her body, towards a sensation of glorious nothingness. She thought she could hear her parents’ voices. But then it was only his voice. Stay with me. Stay with me. And she had. When the limousine pulled up to the venue, Noya pursed her lips, took a deep breath, and stepped out. When she finally looked up, she blinked in surprise. She had counted on maybe
twenty guests altogether. But about fifty people were already awaiting her arrival, and they all burst into applause and cheers when they saw her in the wedding gown. She studied their faces for shock or confusion, and started to feel confused herself when she saw none. Mouna was there with her husband and three kids, in a sparkly purple hijab and flowing black dress. She grabbed Noya and kissed her on the cheeks several times. “Mazal tov, mazal tov,” she said. “Mabrook, sister.” Feeling somewhat lightheaded and dizzy, Noya allowed herself to be shepherded to the “bridal throne”—a big comfy chair draped in white satin and decorated with fragrant flowers. Rose petals lined the pathways. Gentle violin and flute music floated above the chatter of the guests. The smells of roasting meat and freshly baked bread rose from the tables with the hors d’oeuvres, mingling with the sweet scent of jasmine. Noya looked around her. It was everything she could possibly have imagined. Daria arrived, in an outrageously colorful dress that revealed a little more of her cleavage than Noya particularly wanted to see, and smothered her with hugs and kisses. Even the social worker from the terror victim organization was there, the one who had arranged her actual wedding. How had Mouna even known to invite her? She smiled and wished Noya mazal tov and went off to eat. Noya’s chest began to clutch in anxiety. Why was everybody acting so normal? There was a sound of drums from a distance. Noya’s heart started pounding and her hands began to sweat. She had told Daria that she wanted the groom to be accompanied to the bridal throne with drums. But there was no ceremony. There was no rabbi. There was no groom, for Heaven’s sake. Noya started glancing around in a panic, looking for Mouna, looking for someone to whom she could explain all this. Her breath grew rapid and shallow. What was she supposed to do? And then the crowd parted, and Noya dropped her bouquet in shock. There, in a beautiful tuxedo, a flower pinned to his lapel and a skullcap on his head, was Matan.
He was smiling radiantly as he slowly advanced towards her. Noya covered her mouth, unable to speak, and then she began to cry. Big, heaving sobs, and she didn’t know why she was crying so hard but she knew she had never felt happier in her life. He reached her and his eyes darted between hers. He reached towards her face and wiped her tears away, then tilted her chin up with his finger and leaned in towards her cheek. “Can we start over?” he whispered in her ear. Noya could only nod. Matan pulled the veil over her face, and then reached out for her hand. She gave it, and he helped her to her feet. They looked at each other, and Noya let out an exhilarated laugh. Matan smiled and offered his elbow. She hooked her arm around his, and together, they began walking up the path to the wedding canopy.
Daniella Levy was born in the USA and moved to Israel with her family as a child. She is the author of Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism, and her debut novel, By Light of Hidden Candles, is forthcoming from Kasva Press. Her short fiction, poetry, and articles have been published by Writer’s Digest, Reckoning, the Jewish Literary Journal, Pnima Magazine, and others. When not writing, translating, or parenting her three sons, she teaches empowerment self-defense to women and children. Connect with her online at Daniella-Levy.com.
Untitled by Christopher Owen Nelson
On Doubles and Disease Amaris Feland Ketcham Let me begin by saying, lifespans in New Mexico can be cut short by so many things. Gunfights of the drunk, greedy, or hot-tempered are only one kind of threat in the still-wild West. People die by snakebite or scorpion sting, hyperthermia, a horse’s wild toss, flash flood or forest fire, miners’ consumption, cattle stampede, a stray bomblet from White Sands Missile Range and National Park, the hallucination of dissimilar cliffs and canyons, a run-in with a javelina or bear or mountain lion or, in southern New Mexico, even jaguar. It’s an ecologically diverse state. Threats you didn’t think were still possible persist here—Bubonic plague and Hantavirus being two of the stranger Southwestern diseases. Most of the population living back east seem to think that the plague was eradicated during the Middle Ages. They haven’t heard of it since that high school history lesson on the Black Death. Sure, it killed around twenty-five million people, perhaps sixty percent of the European population, but that was the 14th century. We’re in the Information Age now, and still word doesn’t travel across the Mississippi that every few years, somebody contracts plague in Santa Fe. But a handful of antibiotics cures you right away, and before you know it, the swelling in your lymph nodes recedes and they appear less bubonic and you are back to complaining about everyday juniper allergies. Hantavirus is not as well known, but it is deadlier. Contracted from deer mice droppings, this disease causes kidney failure. Blood pools in the lungs. It also causes hemorrhagic fever, which you might recognize as one of the symptoms of Ebola virus. Fluid leaks out of one’s veins—plasma and blood, freed of their channels, can turn a human into a kind of water balloon. Nearly forty percent of people who get it die. The disease wasn’t discovered in the desert until 1993, which must be about the time beer pong broke free from its Dartmouth association
and made it to the small, public universities of the West, such as the University of New Mexico. You may be asking, what is the missing link between beer pong and Hantavirus? Allow me to illustrate with a scene: You may join your friends in the basement one dark, end-of-the-semester night, arrange red plastic cups into mirroring triangles across a plastic table, pouring a couple ounces of lager into each one. Teams of two are formed. The rules are established: if an opposing player throws a Ping-Pong ball into one of your cups, you must drink the beer and remove the cup from the table. If you swipe at an incoming ball, you must take a shot. If you throw out of turn, you must take a shot. If the ball bounces on the table then splashes into a cup, you must drink two cups. The first team without any cups loses. Perhaps when it comes to your turn, you have the morals of an invasive species: you are unstoppable. Left-handed, eyes closed, alley-oop, off the rafters—cup after cup, your Ping-Pong balls make their marks. You start with such muscle, but your partner has the natural ability of the second law of thermodynamics: entropy. He can only be measured in disorder. Like the butterfly flapping its wings to create a tsunami, any failed flick can build to disaster. And here is your partner wobblier and wilder each turn, saying, “I have always relied upon the great power of Oops.” Hell, isn’t that always the way of pairing off? No matter how good you are you still need someone to meet you halfway. You can only hold someone’s head above the High Life for so long. He drinks a cup; you drink a cup. Cup after cup disappears from your side of the table. You are down to one. He throws. The ball pings off the table, rolls along baseboards, and collects dust and fur—and, wouldn’t you know, what looks like excrement from mice. Possibly these mice are deer mice, the very genus of mouse who shits the last kind of shit you want in your mouth. Your opponents retrieve the balls from their
baseboard rolls and dunk them in a water cup. Holy water couldn’t sterilize those Ping-Pong balls. Fear of your inevitable hangover retreats, allowing room for a new fear to swell. Your opponents are practiced—damn, they are good. They must train. They square up; their follow-through has the most beautiful form you have ever seen. Nothing but net. What can you do? Your partner has become inhuman in his stupor. His color is not good— pale and bluish, which could be the alcohol poisoning settling in or cyanosis, indicating that his muscle tissue is not getting oxygen, a clear symptom of Hantavirus. He can’t have another drink. Your opponents high-five. In the corner, a dude switches the stereo over to German death metal. Some kid is running out the door loading a bow and arrow. A girl chases after him, yelling, “Nick, wait! It’s not worth it!” Gaze into the depths of the Solo cup long enough and the Solo cup will gaze back into you. A waft of fur floats atop the beer. Perhaps tequila combined with citric acid from a lime can sterilize whatever therein lies suspended. But is it worth it? You may think that beer pong is a relatively harmless party game. You may be under the impression that light retching on the sidewalks of the student ghetto is the ugliest outcome of a Friday evening spent unfolding tables in their garages, set up Solo cups in opposing triangles, popping the tabs on Miller High Life, the so-called “champagne of beers,” and battling until everyone has a touch of alcohol poisoning. Hangovers, while they may be wicked, do not compare. While I have never heard of someone contracting Hantavirus from beer pong, I have come to believe that it is entirely possible, because the desert can add its own cruel flair to any Friday night. I tell you my hypothesis not just to keep you from ingesting whatever is on the floor of the fraternity house, but because the West is not won; death is still uncivilized in the twenty-first century. Even now, the end begins not with four horsemen, but an errant spark, a bead of rain, or one hideous mouse dropping.
Amaris Feland Ketcham obtained her MFA in Creative Writing from East Washington University. She teaches writing and interdisciplinary courses at the University of New Mexico Honors College, and serves as faculty advisor for the literature and arts magazine, Scribendi. Her work has been published in Eleven Eleven, The Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, and the Utne Reader.
On Staying, Long After the Abuse Has Ended
dawned on you that he wasn’t going to answer. And somehow, you came up with the bright idea Daniel Garcia to scale the backside of the building, all the way up to where his balcony was, jutting out like some jagged finish line. His apartment was on And yet here you are, again. Morning spills across your eyes. This is where the second floor, and you told yourself that if you could just make it to his patio door on the you are reminded that you have, in fact, lost balcony, you’d be able to see him. him. And even though it is over, and you have Somewhere along the climb up, your body not seen him in months, you have, once again, failed you. for some reason, convinced yourself that this is Maybe your hands lost their grip, or your love. And even though it is not love, nor has it ever been love, you have, once again, convinced arms could only support your weight for so long. Maybe your useless legs buckled and gave yourself that it is. This is where you miss him out, or the soles of your shoes slipped on the most, in this state of waking and dreaming, this surface of the building. Either which way, it state of halfway here and not, and even though didn’t occur to you how high you actually were you are doing better than you have most days, until you let go, until you could not help but today, you miss him. wonder if you could have held on just a little bit And maybe it’s because of this state, this longer. In the moment, seconds passed. place of being between waking and dreaming, But here, in the remembering, you swear it that you can convince yourself of the viability was much longer. of this not-love. Here, there are no frantic You swear it must’ve taken years. text messages. No empty promises, nor the Your legs took most of the impact, feet and occasional wayward hand swinging horizontally at your face. He does not take your body without knees and shins kissing the wet earth, and just like that, his hands are there again, airplanes permission; you do not call him fifty times, crashing into your cheek. Pain. Your teeth wondering if he is okay, panicking because clenched as you forced yourself onto those it is nighttime and he is out drunk, and most shaking, useless fucking stilts and trudged back importantly, warning bells do not ring in your to your apartment, wondering when you’d see head and you do not tell yourself that this will him again. be the last time. Again. Your legs protested all the way. Here, when your eyes are still heavy with And this is how you learn grief in the absence sleep, things do not hurt. You can imagine him of a man that has not died. Deep down, you as he should have, could have been, without know that you will not ever see him again, even remembering all the reasons why he wasn’t though you will try to see him again, even after what he could have, should have been. Here, you see the yearning of a boy falling in love with you have hurt yourself again. And later still, you will want him, even after you become angry and a man for the first time, and how it was always curse his name and learn to hold your anger for too much, always at the wrong time, but always every shitty thing he has done to you. You miss able to work itself out without that boy having his arms so much. to do shit except fall in love with this man for And you learn this in the way you search for the first time. This is always the hardest part of missing him. him in the sheets, faces and hands of other men. You remember the tapes: No one will ever Once, you lived at building 9, apartment 201. want me. I don’t want to start over. I will never You don’t remember his apartment number, find anything like him ever again. No one will but that he lived in building 12. After minutes ever love me like he did. I will never get over of knocking on his door one night, it eventually
him, I still miss him, I still love what he could have been. What am I going to do without him? I will never get over him, and you will tell yourself that you are wrong. I don’t want to start over, and you will remember that life will go on, regardless. I will never find anyone like him ever again, and you will say, “That’s the point.” No one will ever love me like he did, and you will remember that it was not love, he never loved you in the first place. I will never get over him— bullshit. I still miss him—okay, true. I still love what he could have been. This is the sorest part of it all. This is the ache that will linger long after you have performed the surgery, cut out the decaying flesh, allowed the infection to drain out of you: You will still learn that grief is, like most immaterial things, a thing that stays, long after he stopped dancing with you. You will miss the forever part of him, the what if, the how he could have been so much of everything you wanted, everything that the yearning of a young boy could equate to. After a time, what you will come to grieve is loss of the absence itself. That is, you will miss the fact that you don’t miss him as intensely as before, and as strange as that sounds, it is true. Because the thing about grief that you have learned is that it, too, ends. And when his ghost becomes the last connection you have to him, it makes sense that you would not want to let him go, even if everything was one-sided, even if it wasn’t a real relationship, even if you did everything you could to stay, beyond all reason. What am I going to do without him? Everything, you will tell yourself. You will do everything. But today, you don’t do that. Because even though you don’t live at apartment 201 anymore, and he is no longer in your life and has not been for months and months, you miss him today. You unravel the sleep behind your eyelids and leave that young boy sobbing in the realm of halfway here and halfway not and go on, because that is what you have learned to do. You say that man’s name instead, practice putting the syllables in your mouth, and try to pretend it is a victory. And try to convince yourself of its proof as a victory in the way you arch your back; stretch and wonder, like many mornings, how in the hell
you are still alive, wonder what it would be like if your shower stall wasn’t a shower stall, but instead, a bathtub, capable of holding a small ocean inside its hips. This does, after all, seem more realistic than scaling a building. But wondering is pointless. Wondering is being half-awake and yearning for the type of not-love that does not end in being alive. Despite his (and your own) best attempts, you are alive, and it isn’t something to marvel over, and it isn’t a fucking miracle. It just is, bitter as that sounds. And even though it is senseless to dream that your shower stall could be anything but a shower stall, or that, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again, could be mistaken for the type of ocean or love that a bathtub could cradle in its hips, you will still dream it as such. And still, you have lost him. And yet here you are. You have lost him, and this is where you remember that losing is a lesson that you are still learning, and as you swirl your legs out from under the sheets, you wander to the bathroom, and decide that maybe it’s good that the shower isn’t a bathtub. And decide that maybe it’s good that bruises, even the ones on the inside, fade, too, and at this point, when your clothes have come off, and steam is filling the bathroom and your hair is plastered over your eyes, you decide that, yes, it must be a good thing that the shower isn’t a bathtub. Because as sad as it is, as fucked up it is, you know that if the shower was a bathtub, you would fill it with water. And you would fill it with water because, if for nothing else, you would sink into this small ocean with your mouth closed, just to see if you could, in fact, hold your breath for what feels like years, and if not that, then maybe hold on just a little bit longer. Daniel Garcia is a writer and poet based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His work has been featured in Write About Now Poetry, Capturing the Corners, the WaterTower Theatre, SUGAR Magazine, and is forthcoming in The Fem. When he isn't writing, Daniel can be found giving as many hugs as possible, living by the words, “You are all that you have,” and falling off the edge of the Earth.
Marva Mariah Montoya Look, look there— Ambling up, the card registrar, not even a lunch lady, who swipes school cards before you enter the cafeteria and says to every person, every time, “Thank you, have a nice day,” and whose back is arched like a graceful C. Zero in on her. Notice her nose sloping downward, curving till it connects with the skin above her old, old lips. Notice her hair white as wall plaster, pieces of it tufting up on the right side. Notice how the light flashes off her glasses as she tells you, “Thank you, have a nice day,” and hands back your card. Take note of her teeth, teeth that have chewed food years longer than yours, teeth that have gritted in frustration for decades, teeth that have grinded in pain, opened in shock, widened in laughter, beamed at pictures, undergone the crucial destruction of the dentist, gaped down at three baby daughters and a newborn son, endured lipstick stains in the younger years, felt the tongue of a man, sunk through ice cream, straightened in braces, erupted out of the soft child’s gum as whole, bright, clean new teeth. Her skin, blotchy where once existed cheekbones, has felt a million kisses from a mother, has gone through inches of makeup put carefully on and washed precariously off, has felt meters of tears coursing down to the neck, has soaked in hoursworth of scorching sun on a hot beach’s day, has formed a wart and had it removed, has crinkled over time with the constant scrunching of the face due to laughter or worry. See the single freckle below her left ear? She had a hickey there once, and called her friend over to twist a spoon on it, but maybe her father caught the bluish mark while she was unwrapping a scarf after school and became so angry he threw a Bible against the wall, which made a hanging picture of the family wobble and crash to the floor, exploding the glass into thousands of sparkling pieces. See her left hand, her puffy, frail, wrinkled left hand? The ring hides in the folds of her skin, the ring of a dead husband
who went to work as a machine operator for a solar power company and never came home. Maybe she lost that ring once at seventy-four years old and spent two days crying relentlessly, begging her daughter to use the mysterious Internet to find it, calling up friends, devouring her own mind to retrace her steps. Then on the third day her grandson Pierce wobbled into the house with a bucket-full of dirt, slugs, and one diamond ring smothered in mucus. Now see the bowl-shaped burn on her hand, right below her ring. Fourteen years old, maybe, and she was sitting by a campfire, and a neighboring family’s two-year-old came running up to the flames and tripped on a squeaky toy dropped by a man named Leroy McPherson, and her hand shot out by instinct, grabbing the child, blistering her skin, saving a baby from destruction. Later she would use that hand to raise in class, asking questions like, “How come you can’t divide a number by zero?” and to help a stumbling classmate pick up dropped pencils, and to hold her best friend’s hand, and to write an essay on Macbeth’s insanity after she fractured her right arm playing soccer, and to fold clothes, drop a bag of groceries in the parking lot, throw away coffee cups, drive a car down a highway in Nevada, make a fist and dig her nails into her palm when her husband died, grasp at her hair when she quit her job as secretary for the realtor’s office, stroke her old, aging, lined face as she applied to be a card-swiper at a school where she is obliged to say “Thank you, have a nice day,” to each boy and girl who passes, including you, whose gaze slides meticulously over her as if she is nobody, an old lady whose time is almost reached, just another prop on the monotonous stage, a woman whose name you don’t know and will never find out because you will never ask or see.
Mariah Montoya is the author of “The Green Shirt with the Cat On It” published in The Bookends Review, and co-author of Gys van Beek’s WWII memoir To Never Forget, available on Amazon.
Minibus, Istanbul, March Carl Boon The driver’s remembering a girl he wanted. I see it in the way he maneuvers through the traffic near Marmara University. It could’ve been simple— a garnet bracelet, her mother preparing Turkish coffee and a plate of chocolate. It could’ve been a union, a wedding in Üsküdar, all gold and flimsy decorations swiped down by teens. It could’ve been more than the more he imagined, all the way to infinity, her hair on the pillow, a Sunday with snow. But now it’s just me, a foreigner waiting to get off at Ayşekadın, walk the six blocks home, wash, and heat last night’s soup. But for a moment we were one, this driver with a two-day beard, this girl that said goodbye, this city that won’t submit. What’s left is a way forward or maybe the gas station across from the Starbucks where three stray dogs face off among a plate of rotten meat. Right: Broad Street in Winter by Vincent Natale Martinez Carl Boon lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at 9 Eylül University. His poems appear in dozens of magazines, most recently Burnt Pine, Two Peach, Lunch Ticket, and Poetry Quarterly. He is also a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee.
Strike Set Alex MacConochie Weeks’ worth of graph paper, palms red from screw -drivers whipping off paint-buckets’ lips, months Of meeting weekly in a classroom to rehearse, Fishing line, unused plywood and blue gels over Backstage lights and someone’s braided belt, All taken out. Cashbox and all in awkward armfuls, Bags, leftover tickets and posters and half-drunk ginger ale. Carried out to borrowed cars, thrown away somewhere (Recycled) once it’s all been sorted out. Shoes and costumes, actors’ Own clothing with scrawled reminders pinned on Thrown over chairs in the office. “Platonic Ideal of the grad student office.” Everything so soon Disposed of, in the sputtering fat rain, piled to be sorted And drinks where I’ve been drunk before. Not now. Some Of the company comes back next year. Others graduate, Study abroad, have other commitments, extraordinary lives. [“Strike Set,” new stanza] Easter weekend, some rush home and we won’t Except at random see them for months or ever. They gave Laughter, gasps, confusion to a couple hundred people, Their hands to build and break it down. Take something else.
Alex MacConochie is currently completing a PhD in English literature at Boston University, where he also teaches writing courses and directs a theater company, Willing Suspension Productions, devoted to the drama of Shakespeare's lesser-known contemporaries. His poems have appeared in The Kentucky Review, Vilas Avenue, Cargo, and elsewhere.
Interview with Tawni Waters Cierra Miller I had the opportunity to reach out to Tawni Waters, a novelist and poet. Tawni frequently teaches at Rosemont’s MFA in Creative Writing Writers’ Retreats. Her debut novel, Beauty of the Broken, was honored with the Housatonic Book Award, the International Literacy Association Award for Young Adults Literature, and was also named the Exceptional Book of 2015 by the Children’s Book Council. Tawni has a book of poetry titled Siren Song, and her second novel, The Long Ride Home, will be available September 5, 2017. To go along with her poetry pieces in this issue of Rathalla Review, I thought it would be a great idea to ask Tawni a few questions about her literary journey. Here is our conversation: Cierra Miller: We look forward the premiere of your poetry pieces in our upcoming issue. We thought it would be a fantastic idea to interview you and have that appear in the issue as well. Tawni Waters: Thanks so much for featuring me and my work in your journal! I'd be honored to answer your questions. Cierra: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? Tawni: Truth be told, my whole life feels like a literary pilgrimage. I’m a bit of a nomad (ok, more than a bit). I live on the road full time, and I go where the wind takes me. I find inspiration everywhere, and I write wherever I can—airports, rest stops, bars, port-a-potties. This January, I had the pleasure of going to Sicily to teach for Rosemont College's study abroad program, and that was mind-blowing. Talk about a literary pilgrimage. Greek myth informs much of my poetry, and I got to see all the places associated with the myths. Mt. Etna and the ancient temples and the field from which Persephone was kidnapped by Hades. My apartment in Ortigia overlooked the sea, and I
spent tons of time on the balcony writing, eating pomegranates, and looking at the water. It was rather life changing. In February, I taught at a conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I got hella inspired there too. Now, I’m editing The Long Ride Home, my novel that comes out in September, in a cabin in the New Mexico woods, being inspired by silence and rattlesnakes. (Actually, I haven’t seen any snakes this trip, and if I had, I would be a lot of things, but inspired probably wouldn’t be one of them.) C: Does writing energize or exhaust you? T: Writing both energizes and exhausts me. It feeds my spirit. If I don’t write, I become a cranky, lifeless husk of a woman. But after I’ve been writing for ten hours, don’t expect me to be able to compose a coherent sentence. I go semi-catatonic. I kinda just sit there and stare for a while. I won’t hear you if you try to talk to me. My kids are used to it. Other people get worried and threaten to call ambulances.
C: What is your writing kryptonite? T: Hmm. My writing kryptonite. Netflix and Hulu. If I get addicted to a series (most recently This Is Us), I’m useless until I finish all available episodes. For that reason, I never watch TV unless I’m in need of a few days of downtime. Because once I go under, I’m not coming back up. But unless I’ve gotten myself deliberately addicted to a TV show, I never stop writing. I’m ridiculous. I try to force myself to take time off, and I can’t. I go to bars without my computer and pick up napkins. I sit in the tub and start writing poems on my iPhone. I actually think I might be a little clinically OCD. Not about everything. Just certain things. When I was little, I was obsessive about schoolwork. It was all I could think about, and I cried if I got a 99%. (I had to have a 100%.) I think I transferred that mental illness to my writing. File under #mentalillnesscanbeyourfriendifyouletit. C: Have you ever gotten reader’s block? T: Yes. This is embarrassing, but since I started teaching writing in 2012, I read way less than I used to. I spend so much time reading other people’s writing for work that when it’s time to rest, the last thing I want to do is read, which is terrible because reading really was my first love. However, when I lived in a medieval village in France last year, I didn’t have the internet or television. Vegging out wasn’t an option. I found myself reading in my downtime. The only other option was hiking, and a woman can only do that for so many hours a day before her feet fall off. C: Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want? T: I try to do both. I am always very conscious of my readers as I write. I think one of the things that makes writing, or any art form, beautiful is that it is a way of transferring consciousness from one human being to another. However, I’m not going to dilute my message to fit it into a box. Last year, a woman wrote me and told me I was losing readers and marring the beauty of
my writing by using the word “fuck.” “Fuck yeah, I am,” I said. No, I didn’t say that, but really, people say “fuck.” I try to use the language of actual human beings when I write. So “fuck” makes its way into my work if it’s the word that most authentically conveys my message. Same goes for all other words. If they are honest, I’m going to use them, no matter who does or does not like them. I don't necessarily try to be original when I write, but I think if you set out to be real, you will be original, because you are the only you there is. C: Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? T: I guess that depends on the kind of writing you’re doing. If you’re writing about engines and lug nuts, you might not need to feel things deeply. But if you’re writing about death or birth or marriage or aging or God or any of the other issues that glorify and haunt the day-to-day existences of human beings? Yeah, you’d better feel it if you want your readers to be moved and changed by it. People are great lie detectors. They know when they’re being bullshitted. If you bullshit your readers, they won’t respond the way they do if you give them authenticity and heart. C: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? T: Wow, this is a tough one. I have so many amazing writer friends. I’ll talk about one here because I just love her and her writing so much. I met Beth Kephart last year, when we were both teaching at Rosemont’s MFA retreat. I heard her read, and her work was so devastatingly powerful, it left me shaking. I approached her afterward and told her it was some of the most beautiful writing I’d ever heard, and we began to talk. We immediately bonded. I read Small Damages after that, and the way she used language blew my head off. I’d never seen anything like it. If I get writer’s block, I read her work, hoping some of her gift will work its way into my subconscious and inspire similar genius.
When I visited her last summer, we had such an incredible time together. You know when you talk to someone, and the air between you is literally charged, like little invisible firecrackers are going off with every word that comes out of your mouths? That’s how it was. I love Beth. I think she is one of the best human beings and writers alive today. C: Do you want each body of work to stand on its own, or are you trying to build connections between each piece you create? T: I definitely let each piece stand on its own. It’s funny that you asked this question today because it came up in a conservation I had yesterday, at least in an oblique sort of way. I’m having a big girl website designed right now. Before, I was using a rudimentary website I’d made myself. It was the website version of one of those macaroni necklaces kindergartners give their moms on Mother’s Day. All you need to know is it featured jellyfish. You can probably imagine how bad it was from there. So I figured, since book number three is on its way, I might want to get a real website. Alex, my website guy, and I exchange emails every morning, and I’m all hyped up on coffee when I write him, so I write weird shit. He told me how funny my emails are and asked if my books are like that. I said, “It can go either way. My second novel is funny, but my first novel was about as funny as a kitten fire.” Then I felt guilty all day about saying the phrase “kitten fire,” because I love kittens, and my god, what was I thinking? But I also laughed at myself because I thought I was hilarious. (One of my hobbies is laughing at my own jokes.) So I was tortured and amused at once. I’m conflicted like that. So is my writing. Whatever wants to come out that day comes out. It may make you laugh. It may make you slit your wrists. It may be inspired by The Epic of Gilgamesh. It may be inspired by a pile of cat vomit. I can’t make any promises either way.
C: If you could tell your younger writing selfanything, what would it be? T: I actually wrote an essay that answers this question for my blog last year, on the anniversary of the day I lost my virginity to an appallingly unworthy candidate. It’s called “A Letter from Me to Me on the Day I Sold my Soul for Nothing.” You can read the whole thing here: https://tawniwaters.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/ a-letter-from-me-to-me-on-the-day-i-sold-mysoul-for-nothing/ But what I wanted to tell myself in that letter was how precious I was, how much love I deserved. I spent so many years in abusive relationships because I didn’t know how much value I had. I sold myself so short. My life didn’t really start taking off until I learned how to protect, love, and honor myself. I learned to trust my gut and follow my heart. So I guess if I had to boil my advice down to a few sentences, it would be, “You are a walking miracle. Do not give your time, energy, heart, or body to anyone who doesn’t deeply love and respect you. Do not ever walk through a door unless you know 100% that you will be loved, cherished, and protected on the other side of that door. Listen to your gut. If it says you’re in danger, you are. If it says you're on the wrong path, you are. If people try to talk you out of listening to your gut, drop them. Your map to greatness is written on your heart. Your most important job is to become the shiny, beautiful, powerful world-changer you were born to be, and if you let abusers steal that destiny from you, you are stealing from the world. There is nothing sacred about allowing yourself to be victimized. That’s blasphemy.” C: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? T: My parents were these brilliant hippiesturned-preachers who moved me up to a deserted New Mexico mountain when I was four. We grew most of our own food, and my mom sewed all our clothes. We had no television and very little access to media of any kind. But we had books. My brother and I would walk to a
nearby library at a deserted hippie commune and “borrow” books. My parents would read to us for hours every night. We were poor, so my dad built our house with his hands. He covered the floors with different colored squares of carpet he’d filched from dumpsters behind carpet stores. To me, that patchwork floor was the most magical thing in the world. I’d sprawl on it and listen to my daddy’s voice, let it whisk me away to Narnia or Middle Earth or ancient Israel. Words were the most beautiful, exciting, powerful things in my world. They still are. They shaped me. They continue to shape me. I see writing as a holy calling, and I think a lot of that has to do with what words have meant to me. I’m so honored to be able to wield them. They are magic. They have the power to save souls, breathe worlds into existence, and burn down kingdoms.
Tawni, as a child (right), with her father (center) and her brother (left).
Kitched Tawni Waters You have bedazzled the stonewashed jean jacket of my skin, studded my flesh with glitter, sequins, and stars. You have expanded my mind like a Chia pet, synapses sprouting stems and leaves, making unicorned shrubs of my dreams. You have dipped the Sea Monkey of my heart in cool water. Its styrofoam grows, bending my ribs ’til they crack. Your Ginsu knives have sliced through the gristly meat of my soul like it was melted butter. (And they’re still sharp!) You have turned my muted voice into a Mr. Microphone. “Hey good lookin’, I’ll catch you later,” I intone all night long. I have become a Lionel Richie song. If I’m not careful, my freckles will reconfigure, forming a constellation mirroring a White Snake cassette cover, the one with the heavy metal viper hatching from an egg. Strangers will point out my resemblance to David Hasslehoff. My bugle-ish boy, from the moment I skidded to a stop on that desert highway determined to ascertain the brand of your jeans I knew when you touched me I would sprout some bling. Thanks to you, a tiny Rubix Cube provocatively dangles from each of my glistening teeth.
Outside the Chapel of Immaculate Conception Tawni Waters Above the church, a stone Mary stands guard, her marble flesh spit-shined by rain and moon. Jewel-backed beetles skitter over stone walls. Sane seekers have long since slinked home breath wine red, tainted with wafers blood washed white, absolved of sin. I breathe out. She breathes in. Granite eyes peer beneath my skin. Blighted by a thousand invisible birthmarks, I wear a map to heaven on my back. At night, constellations swirl to life between my shoulder blades. Having been evicted from my forehead, my third eye sits squarely at the nape of my neck a lesion a tumor a curse. But it is not that. My sight is a flower I can never wear in my hair. She understands, having watched weeping as a thousand witches screamed, the blossoms of their burning flesh blooming orange, staining sky with soot. The stone Mary has a heart. At night, she stands wailing, throttled by starlight, weaving garlands of honeysuckle between cold, gray fingers. Snowflakes graze her cheeks like moth wings. Melting, they seep into her grooves, turn to ice make her crack.
Fisher of Women Tawni Waters You caught the Christ in me and scaled her, tore her down to fishbones. She bleeds red in your net oozing light and visions a gaping, witching wound gasping for cauterization. You caught the Christ in me and threw her back in the River Styx. She had no death wish, but you granted it anyway. Now, knowing that all thoughts are prayers waiting to be answered all songs are hymns all sentences are spells she stares silently entombed in stinking mud. You caught the Christ in me. Casting smooth stones aside with fins long dormant she breaks free and swims for a warped sky that looms just above her water slitted by sunlight sliced by a dream of heaven.
Overlooked Tawni Waters Why does no one write the poem about cockroaches skittering over stone their intricate wings shimmering like polished topaz in the moonlight? Where are all the odes to sewer rats? What has become of the haikus written in honor of the noble earthworm? Pink and supple he emerges from winterâ€™s white hungry for sweet soil.
AWOL Icon: A Love Song Without Music Tawni Waters I vowed if I went, I’d be loving you from the other side of the world, and I airplaned away, wearing only fresh wounds and your worn out boots. I marinated in swimming holes until brackish water raisined my fingers. I plunged under, past pirate ships and sunken plunder, kicked to the core of the earth, kissed jellyfish, liking the electric lick of their transparent tongues on my lips. I filched skeletons from coral beds, red in the light of distant underwater volcanoes. Even in the black heart of the ocean, oysters purpled and blued. The pearls in them shone like halos of Christ. And your ghost, a confused Jesus, walked under the water instead of on it. I couldn’t read the book of his face, couldn’t tell if he thought I was a honeyed twist of Magdalene’s hair, or the hammer that drove in his nails. I’d kiss your feet if you’d let me. I’d walk across the ocean. I’d Lazarus my love for you to life, because it was never dead anyway, not even sleeping. I suffocate it between my palms at night, pinch its nostrils, leave it for dead. The next day, it’s exploding my head again, emerging from its grave, its shroud a cloud that settles over my eyes until all I see is white. Thunder breaks something, and it’s not just the sky. I said if I left, when I died, I’d wait on the other side for you. Death doesn’t scare me now. I dream river bottoms, soggy with longing and won’t-flinch vows. I dream your eyes. I dream red flowers shuddering cold in the fist of winter. I dream you didn’t mean the things you said. I dream you wish my love for you un-dead. I dreams knives. I dream fire. I dream my toes trembling on a circus wire. I dream myself falling, and I don’t care much. My skin doesn’t pink. My heart doesn’t wing. My mouth won’t scream. I used to know the taste of crimson. I used to sweat the smell of light. I could have divided every molecule by a million miracles, laid them out of the table two-by-two, amoebas entering the ark of a strip of bark, or making a raft of a dollop of grass in a glassy puddle. Now I measure my life like this: _________ days until I die. Last night, dream me wondered why you were watching. “I’m loving you from the other side of the world,” you said. I took your blessed head in my hands, pulled the thorns from your graying hair, wound dandelions between your toes, anointed your skin with holy water, made your kneecaps into altars to Mary. We are growing old. I see my wrinkles in the mirror of your face. There is a place just to the left of my to ribcage where I dug a hole and I buried every word you ever whispered. I have memorized the whorls of your fingertips. My lips have traced and tasted every bump of your tongue. Still, your name to me sounds like yellow. Still, I keep the faith. Still, I testify: the only amazing grace I ever knew was sewn like lace around the edges of your teeth. There was never an inch of your secret sins that weren’t mine times ten. There was never a scrap of your sacred skin I didn’t know how to love.
Rathalla Review Rosemont College